Lesson 5 – The Book of Exodus

Before reading my explanations, it is preferable that you read the whole Book of Exodus in order to familiarize yourself with its contents. Then, come back to the following points:

The long stay of the Israelites in Egypt


Drawn from the book “Moses and Pharaoh” by Dr. M. Bucaille

The long stay of the Jews in Egypt for four centuries made them forget monotheism, and they worshipped the Egyptian divinities. In the desert, during their return toward Palestine, we see them adoring again the calf “Apis”, one of the Egyptian gods of the time (Exodus 32). This shows to which point they had moved away from God’s plan with Abraham. This plan sought in sending the Messiah to the world by Abraham’s descendants.
It was necessary then, that God isolates this community contaminated by idolatry by getting it out of Egypt, just as He had isolated Abraham 700 years before by getting him out of Haran toward Canaan, more in the South, to safeguard his faith, still embryonic, from the surrounding paganism (Genesis 12,1-5). You must know that the word “Israelite” refers to the Jewish religion, to the spiritual community, but “Israeli”, on the contrary, refers to Jewish nationalism, the Jewish State, and means a political identity never desired by God.
The Israelite community, of Syrian origin, represents the social matrix which gave rise to the Messiah, Jesus of Nazareth, who came thirteen centuries later. This is the sole reason for its creation, and its importance.

Moses’ vocation

Getting the Jews out of Egypt was not a small venture: it was first necessary to convince the Jews themselves of its moral importance. Moses was chosen by God to this end and, since his birth, he was oriented to successfully lead this vocation, having grown up in the Pharaoh’s palace.
Moses is from the tribe of Lévi (Exodus 2,1). His name in Hebrew means “Saved-from-water” (“Mo”: water and “she”: saved). Pharaoh’s daughter “treated him like a son” (Exodus 2,10) and he thus he grew up in the palace, imbued in the cult of the Pharaonic religion. For this reason Jews and Muslims hold this daughter of the Pharaoh in high esteem.
When God appeared to Moses in the burning bush (Exodus 3,1-15), he did not recognize the God of his ancestors, and did not know how to present Him to the Israelites who, them too, had forgotten Him. This new divine manifestation to Moses was necessary to carry on the plan which was established with Abraham.
Believing that God had a name like the gods of mythology, Moses asked God his name. God answers that his Name is “I am the One Who Is”, “The Being” par excellence, contrary to the gods of mythology, who “are not” divinities because they do not exist. God asks Moses to make Him known to the Jews whom have forgotten Him under the Name of “Yahweh”. This name means “I Am”. In Hebrew, this name is written in 4 letters (YHWH) and thus is known as the “Tetragram” (the 4 letters). It is often inscribed above certain Jewish religious buildings (synagogues). “This is my Name for all times, and thus I am to be invoked for all generations to come” said the Creator (Exodus 3,15). One should not stop at the literal resonance of this Name, as certain Jews do, but to its deep spiritual significance: I AM, unfortunately neglected by the believers.


The Tetragram

Jesus teaches us to address ourselves to God like sons to their Father and to ask Him: “Father, Hallowed be Thy Name” (Matthew 6,9) i.e. purified. He does not speak of the name Yahweh, an articulated word, but of the Being of God, what He really is. Christ’s intention is thus not to “sanctify” God who is already perfect, but to purify the knowledge that we have of Him, the idea that man has about Him. God is not like most religions from all sides present him, who have a false conception of Him and give an erroneous image of His Person. Many refuse to believe in Him because of that and a great number of atheists reject this false image rather than God. And should they come to know God as He really is, these atheists would become better believers than the various clergies who have profaned the name of the Creator by doing evil in the Name of God. The prophets have denounced this profanity and those who, by their injustices, carry their prejudice in the Name of God and distort his Image:

“You will stop profaning my Holy Name with your offerings and your idols…” (Ezekiel 20,39)

“They have profaned my Holy Name among the nations where they have gone, so that people say of them: ‘These are the people of Yahweh…’ But I have been concerned about my Holy Name, which the House of Israel has profaned… I mean to display the holiness of my Great Name, which has been profaned among the nations, which you have profaned among them.” (Ezekiel 36,20-23 / Romans 2,24)

“… they have sold the virtuous man for silver… they trample on the heads of ordinary people and push the poor out of their path, because son and father have both resorted to the same girl, profaning my Holy Name.” (Amos 2,6-7)

“… my Name is honored among the nations… But you, you profane it…” (Malachi 1,11-12)

God has sanctified his holy Name by the real image that He gave us of Himself in the Person of his Messiah who says: “And eternal life is this, to know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent” (John 17,3). Jesus has sanctified the name of God, making Him known to us as He is: Love, Goodness and Simplicity. God is a tender Father to those who approach Him through Jesus who declared in front of his Apostles: “I have made your Name known to them and I will continue to make it known” (John 17,26), insofar they purify their souls. May the Holy Name of God in us all be sanctified. Amen.

Still today this Holy Name is profaned everywhere and Christians have disfigured, in their turn, the names of God and of his Messiah.

Notice that Moses married a Midianite, not a Jewess. This is why the Jews do not regard his two sons as Jews (Exodus 2,16-22 and 18,6). In fact, the rabbis recognize as Jewish only those whose mothers are Jewish. This is why the Book of Numbers reports that “Miriam, and Aaron too, spoke against Moses in connection with the Cushite woman (Midianite) he had taken. For he had married a Cushite woman.” (Numbers 12,1) Notice too, that the father-in-law of Moses is called “Reuel” (Exodus 2,18) and elsewhere “Jethro” (Exodus 3,1 / 4,18). This is due to the various oral traditions.

Moses found himself in Midian, having fled Egypt after having killed an Egyptian to defend a Jew (Exodus 2,11-15). He thus knew that he was a Jew himself, the Pharaoh’s daughter having informed him. She had discovered his Jewish identity because of the circumcision (Exodus 2,6).

Notice that Moses, intimidated by his mission, and having difficulty in speaking, asked God to assign him Aaron his brother, a better speaker (Exodus 4,10-17). Many of the prophets have hesitated in assuming the difficult mission that God entrusted to them (Jeremiah 1,6-7).

On the way back to Egypt, Moses took along with him his wife and her son on a donkey. During a stop, Moses had a crisis of conscience because of the uncircumcision of his son. The writer, believing in the importance of circumcision, interprets this crisis as an encounter with God who wanted to kill Moses because of his uncircumcised son. Zipporah, Moses’ wife, who was not Jewish, was unaware of this foreign practice in the country of Midian and did not understand her husband’s crisis. Facing his insistence, she circumcised her son herself with a sharp flint and, in an irritated gesture, “touched the genitals of Moses with the cut off foreskin of her son and said, ‘Truly, you are a bridegroom of blood to me!’” (Exodus 4,24-26) We can compare this unjustifiable crisis to that which Abraham had had, who wanted to offer Isaac in sacrifice to God.

If the Name of God was sanctified in them, neither Abraham would have thought of offering his son, nor Moses in circumcising his. It is important to understand God so not to dull ourselves by actions, rites and worships that He does not want.

The affair of circumcision is probably the cause of separation between the couple because after this incident, Moses is alone in Egypt, without his wife and their two sons. He meets them later, after leaving Egypt, when his father-in-law went to meet him with his two sons: “Jethro, Moses’ father-in-law, brought Moses’ wife Zipporah—after she had been dismissed…” (Exodus 18,1-6) Note well that Moses “went out to greet his father-in-law and bowing low before him he kissed him… (Exodus 18,7)” It is not said in the account that Moses hurried to embrace his wife and his two sons who were however present. This negligence is meant by the Jewish narrators to depreciate the wife and the two sons, considered non-Jewish.

Remark that Jethro recognizes that God “is greater than all the gods… and offered a holocaust and sacrifices to God” (Exodus 18,11-12). But he did not understood that He is the only God. After this sacrifice, “Aaron came with all the elders of Israel came to share the meal with Moses’ father-in-law in the presence of God” (Exodus 18,12). It suffices then, to believe in God to be in his presence, in his affectionate company. The Jews should always act like Moses did with Jethro: to make God and his wonders known to those who do not know Him in a spirit of fraternity and friendship.

The 10 plagues of Egypt

One should not see historical realities in these plagues. Through this fabulation, we can conceive the power of God who triumphs over evil. Note that the Egyptian sorcerers managed to imitate some of the prodigies accomplished by Moses, but it was always the latter who prevailed in the end. God has the upper over the devil. It is, indeed, the snake of Moses which swallowed up the magicians’: despite that Pharaoh’s heart remained obstinate and cold, commented the scribes (Exodus 7,12-13). The magicians could have reproduced, with their magic spells, the miracle of the frogs, but could not stop the plague caused by themselves, and Pharaoh had to resort to Moses who managed to put an end to it by prayer (Exodus 8,1-11). With the plague of the mosquitos, Moses filled the country with these insects and “all the dust of the ground changed into mosquitoes throughout the whole of Egypt” (picturesque manner to describe the intensity of this plague). The Egyptian sorcerers were unable to compete with the envoy of God and recognized that “the Finger of God is there”, before the power that overwhelmed them (Exodus 8,12-15). Finally, when God strikes the Egyptians with an epidemic of ulcers, the magicians themselves are affected by it and could not appear before the Pharaoh (Exodus 9,8-12). Despite that, Pharaoh remained imperturbable and refused to let the Jews go, contrary to his promise. The text says: “Yahweh hardened the heart of Pharaoh” (Exodus 9,12): it is an erroneous way to explain the stubbornness of the Pharaoh because God does hardens the heart of no-one, but in that time, believers thought that God was the instigator of all our decisions. This is wrong! God respects our freedom and this is why He judges us. Otherwise He would be unjust.

Retain from this imaginary narrative that the daemons have the power to do wonders on this earth to mislead men. But true believers are able to foil the satanic magic spells. The devil is “God’s monkey”, but his monkey-business always ends up being uncovered when we know how to distinguish the true light of God, and that one can wait with faith and unwavering strength to see the end of the power of evil.

The Passover

In Hebrew, Passover is “Pessah”, and in Arabic “Fesseh”. It is an annual Jewish festival celebrated in spring. It coincides sometimes with the Christian Easter.

The Jewish Passover, which means “passage”, “to take the step”, commemorates the exit of the Jews from Egypt after the “passage” of the angel of death who struck the first-born Egyptians, followed by the “passage” of the Jewish community through the Red Sea, fleeing from Pharaoh’s army.

The Torah demands the Jews to celebrate an annual meal to commemorate this feast of the passage from the country of slavery to the “promised land”. This meal consists of a lamb marinated with bitter herbs. It is the meal of the Passover which the Jews name the “Seder”: “… You shall eat it hastily: it is a Passover (passage) in Yahweh’s honor… This day is to be a day of remembrance for you…” (Exodus 12,11-14). The Jews commemorate this Passover every year by a family seder. They share the Passover lamb and the wine with some formulas of blessings.


Moses and Pharaoh

Jesus was recognized as the new Passover Lamb by John the Baptist: “Here is the lamb of God”, he said (John 1,36). We must thus forget the lamb of the Passover of Egypt for another “Lamb”, and a new Easter. Jesus is the Messiah sent by God to deliver us from spiritual death and make us “pass” to Eternal Life. He is the Easter for all men who believe in him and remain faithful to him. It is why, on the eve of being delivered to the cross, and in eating the Seder with his disciples, He offers himself, not the lamb, as the effective food for the forgiveness of sins and eternal life: “Take it and eat, this is my body (my flesh or my meat, not that of the traditional lamb)… Drink from this all of you, for this is my blood, the blood of the Covenant poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins” (Matthew 26,26-28): “There is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world”, John the Baptist also added (John 1,29). Jesus had also said: “I am the living bread which has come down from Heaven. Anyone who eats this bread will live forever. And the bread that I shall give is my flesh, for the life of the world…” (John 6,51-58). The Christian Seder, or the “the Lord’s Supper” (1 Corinthians 11,20) makes us pass from this perishable world to the Other, and this is from hereon… Our Vehicle is the living Christ in the Eucharist. It is to help us exalt our lives that Jesus asks us to repeat this act by saying: “Do this as a memorial of me.” (Luke 22,19)

Notice that the Jews, at the time of their exit from Egypt, “stripped” the Egyptians of their jewels (Exodus 12,35) … These stolen jewels served for the construction of the golden Calf adored by them (Exodus 32,1-6). This dispossession of the property of others arises often in the Bible (Numbers 33,50-56).

The Jewish priesthood

Before Moses, the notion of a priesthood was unknown in the Jewish community. God had never spoken about it to Abraham. During the centuries after him, the first monotheistic community had no priests, the faithful offered their sacrifices themselves. The priesthood was instituted after the stay of the Israelites in Egypt and was inspired and copied from Egyptian mythology. One should not forget that Moses grew up in Pharaoh’s palace, imbued in Egyptian worship from which he had well-known the priests. He wanted to institute a Jewish priesthood similar to the Egyptian’s. This consisted of offering to the gods and the idols animals in sacrifice. Only priests were entitled to this worship after a strict formation. This inspired Moses, but instead of presenting the sacrifices to idols, he made it an obligation to offer them to God.

From the onset, there was no sacerdotal institution, not even sacrifices since Abraham addressed himself to God simply, without recurring to a special worship (Genesis 18,22-33).

When the Jewish priesthood was instituted, “all the first-born among the Israelites” were to be consecrated as priests (Exodus 13,1-2). Following this, Moses consecrated the Levites, exclusively, to the worship service “in the place of all the first-born ones of the children of Israel”. The first-born of the other tribes were repurchased by their parents; the money of this “ransom was given to Aaron and his sons, at Yahweh’s bidding, as Yahweh (?!) had ordered Moses (!)” (Numbers 3,44-51). We should not forget that Moses and Aaron are from the tribe of Levi, a tribe privileged by them, not by God. It is to it that all this money returned… under the pretext of a divine order. I do not think that God is for anything in this worship and this priesthood exactly copied from Egyptian mythology. Because God had announced the advent of unique priesthood that He approved, namely that of the Messiah, Jesus, and according to the order of Melchizedek, not of Levi (Psalms 110 (109),4). See on this subject what Paul says in his letter to the Hebrews (Hebrews 5,1 to 7,19).

The priesthood according to Jesus takes full flight in the apocalyptic era. With the revelation of the message of the Book of Revelation, Jesus institutes a new priesthood in favor of all those who believe in its content: “You are worthy to take the scroll and break the seals of it, because you were sacrificed, and with your blood you bought men for God of every race… and made them a line of kings and priests, to serve our God and to rule the world” (Revelation 5,9-10). It is thus in the opening of the Book of Revelation that Jesus makes his new priests free from the sacerdotal conceptions of the past.

The Hymn of Moses (Exodus 15)

After the crossing of the Red Sea, the Jews “sang this song in Yahweh’s honor”, a song of joy and gratitude because “horse and rider He has thrown into the sea”, of the Egyptian army (Exodus 15,1-21). It is the hymn of Moses which is well-known in the Jewish community. It is sung whilst dancing on occasions of Israeli victories, like Miriam, sister of Moses, had done in bygone days (Exodus 15,20-21).

Chapter 15 of the Book of Revelation mentions the “hymn of Moses” as well as the “hymn of the Lamb”. The latter hymn will be launched by the disciples of Jesus, those of the end of times, after their triumph over the Beast, the enemy of Christ, the Antichrist. This victory corresponds to the crossing of the Red Sea, being a glorious crossing through the difficulties provoked by the enemies of Jesus. They will enter, then, their hymn of triumph, the canticle of the Lamb. This is why John saw “a glass lake (a spiritual sea and no longer the Red Sea) suffused with fire (the fire of the trials), and standing by the lake of glass, those who had fought against the Beast and won… they were singing the hymn of Moses… and of the Lamb” (Revelation 15,2-3).

The Manna (Exodus 16)

The Israelis were famished in the desert. God gave them manna to eat by a miracle, recommending them to suffice themselves with it everyday and not to put some aside for the next day. This is a lesson: we must fully confide in God, being satisfied with our daily bread and not worrying about tomorrow, like Jesus taught (Matthew 6,11 / 6,25-34).

The episode of the manna was brought back by Jesus in the Gospel, where he presents himself as the heavenly manna, the true bread of heaven that nourishes the soul: “It was not Moses who gave you the bread from heaven… I am the bread of life from heaven…” (John 6,32-51).

A new manna is reserved for the apocalyptic times (Revelation 2,17). It is a “hidden” manna, a mystical one from which the apocalyptic disciples of the end of times will be nourished: the Eucharist in family (Revelation 3,20 / 12,6 / 12,14).

The Law of Moses (Exodus 20-31)

The law of Moses (Torah) is divided into two parts:

  1. the 10 commandments (or the Decalogue)
  2. the law of works or practices of worship (circumcision, pure and impure foods, etc…)

The Decalogue

The majority of these commandments already existed and appeared in the law of king Hammurabi (You will not kill, not steal, etc…) What is new, are the first 3 commandments concerning the one God: “You shall have no other gods to rival Me, etc…” The Decalogue will always be valid and Jesus summarized it in the word “love”, because the one who loves does not kill, does not steal and does not insult. Meditate well the words of Christ in Matthew 22,36-40, and of Paul’s in Romans 13,8-10: “… all the other commandments are summed up in the single phrase: You must love your neighbor as yourself. Love can cause no harm to your neighbor”. Likewise, St Augustine had said: “Love, then do whatever you want”, knowing well that the person who really loves does not commit any offences. We do not recommend to a loving mother not to discipline her children… That goes without saying.

The law of “works and practices”

The mosaic law prescribes practices of worship such as circumcision, the Sabbath, pure and impure foods, sacrifices, etc… It is a law which is not only outdated, but which was never been inspired by the Creator, as the prophet Jeremiah already revealed: “For when I brought your ancestors out of the land of Egypt, I said nothing to them, gave them no orders, about holocaust and sacrifice” (Jeremiah 7,22).

All these practices were invented by the priests and the scribes for their material advantage. Scribes and priests have added, along the centuries, more than 600 practices to be respected under penalty of sin. Apart from circumcision, etc… switching on the lights on Saturdays, to do your hair each Friday after sunset onwards, to walk more than a kilometer on Saturdays, to touch a woman at her period or an object she had already touched, etc… all that is considered impure and necessitates a purification which the priest must operate and that brings in money… naturally. It is again Jeremiah who denounced “the lying pen of the scribes” (Jeremiah 8,8).

Isaiah had also declared that worship practiced by the Jews was in vain as it is of human inspiration, not divine: “Because this people approaches me only in words… while their hearts are far from Me, and my religion, as far as they are concerned, is nothing but human commandment, a lesson memorized” (Isaiah 29,13). Jesus, basing himself on the words of this great prophet, condemns the tradition practiced by the Pharisees and the scribes and calls them hypocrites: “Hypocrites! It was you Isaiah meant when he so rightly prophesied: This people honors me only with lip service, while their hearts are far from me. The worship they offer me is worthless; the doctrines they teach are only human regulations.” (Matthew 15,7-9) These vain precepts are no other than those in the Torah, the mosaic law. This useless and heavy worship is counterfeit to the Word of God. Isaiah explains this subject by saying: “The word of the Lord was unto them precept upon precept, line upon line, here a little and there a little, so that when they walk they may fall over backward and be broken, snared and made captive.” (Isaiah 28,13). Jesus denounced the scribes and the Pharisees because “they tie up heavy burdens (the precepts of the Torah) and lay them on people’s shoulders, but will they lift a finger to move them? Not they!” (Matthew 23,4)

The prophet Hosea did not hesitate to reveal what God had told him on his refusal of animal sacrifices, and on the futility of the mosaic cult: “… since what I want is love, not sacrifice; knowledge of God, not holocausts” (Hosea 6,4-6). The prophet Micah also declared: “With what gift shall I come into Yahweh’s presence… with holocausts, with calves one year old? … What is good has been explained to you, man; only this, to act justly, to love tenderly, and to walk humbly with your God” (Micah 6,6-8).

St Paul denounced, he too, this law of rites and worships, and declared that it was a “curse” from which Jesus saved us (Galatians 3,13): he said it was useless for salvation and that one is saved not by practicing the precepts of this law, but through faith in Jesus (Romans 3,28). All the efforts of Jesus and the Apostles, aim at the liberation of believers from the practice of this law of superstition.

The Ark of the Covenant and the Candelabrum (Exodus 25)

In the desert, Moses had a tent built like a sanctuary for prayer. Remember above all, the Ark of the Covenant and the Candelabrum with 7 branches. The first was a portable case which contained the two stones of the 10 commandments, the second is a chandelier with seven branches, symbol of the divine light. The figure seven is to be retained because it symbolizes plenitude, full clarity by the divine light.


Ark of the Covenant

Seven-branched candelabrum

The Ark of the Covenant played a great role in Jewish history. It was lost after the destruction of the Temple, as well as the candelabrum. The Ark is currently and actively sought by Jewish archaeologists. However, Jeremiah had predicted that in the Messianic times “no one will ever say again: Where is the Ark of the Covenant of Yahweh? There will be no thought of it, no memory of it, no regret for it, no making of another.” (Jeremiah 3,16) The disappearance of this Ark is a sign that the Messianic time is well-accomplished with Jesus. It is, indeed, after him, in 70 AD that the Romans destroyed the Temple and the Ark disappeared.

The golden calf (Exodus 32)

The Jews, impatient in the desert into which they crossed in sufferance and deprivation, rejected the one God for whom they had abandoned their comfort in Egypt. Discouraged and revolted, they made up for themselves a visible god-idol, a golden calf which evokes the god Apis (worshipped in Egypt under the form of a calf). Instead of moving them away from it, Aaron consented to it, he the priest. This provoked the anger of Moses who, in his fury, broke the 2 tablets of the 10 commandments.

In our spiritual itinerary, we too, have to pass in ups and downs. Let us be wary of fatigue and lassitude in our spiritual desert, like others do to the point of making a false image of God for themselves, an image which is convenient to them and can satisfy their materialistic inclinations, which moves them away from God. Patience makes us more mature and purifies us.

Questionnaire

  1. What have you understood from the name of God Yahweh?
  2. What is the difference between the miracles of Moses and those of the Egyptian magicians?
  3. What is Passover?
  4. What is stable in the Law of Moses?
  5. The Ark of the Covenant and the Candelabrum.
  6. What do you think of the animal sacrifices to offer?
  7. What do you think of the sacerdotal clothing prescribed by “God” (Exodus 28)?
  8. What do you think of the consecration rites of the priests (Exodus 29)?

Reflection
The Exodus says that the Jews, in Egypt, at the time of Moses, had become “numerous and extremely powerful and that eventually the whole land was full of them” (Exodus 1,7). It is to Joseph, their ancestor, that they owed this power, being himself high placed, and “powerful to the extreme”. He had designated his brothers, as well as other Jews, in high positions in the State since their entry into Egypt. With time, becoming numerous and powerful, they wanted to control the whole country, from where Pharaoh’s reaction arose.


Sinai Peninsula and the main sites mentioned in Book of Exodus