The children of Israel stayed in the land of Egypt much longer than they
had expected to stay. They were in that land about four hundred years.
And the going down to Egypt proved a great blessing to them. It saved
their lives during the years of famine and need. After the years of need
were over, they found the soil in the land of Goshen, that part of Egypt
where they were living, very rich, so that they could gather three or
four crops every year.
Then, too, the sons of Israel, before they came to Egypt, had begun to
marry the women in the land of Canaan who worshipped idols, and not the
Lord. If they had stayed there, their children would have grown up like
the people around them and soon would have lost all knowledge of God.
But in Goshen they lived alone and apart from the people of Egypt. They
worshipped the Lord God, and were kept away from the idols of Egypt. And
in that land, as the years went on, from being seventy people, they grew
in number until they became a great multitude. Each of the twelve sons
of Jacob was the father of a tribe, and Joseph was the father of two
tribes, named after his two sons, Ephraim and Manasseh.
As long as Joseph lived, and for some time after, the people of Israel
were treated kindly by the Egyptians, out of their love for Joseph, who
had saved Egypt from suffering by famine. But after a long time another
king began to rule over Egypt, who cared nothing for Joseph or Joseph’s
people. He saw that the Israelites (as the children of Israel were
called) were very many, and he feared that they would soon become
greater in number and in power than the Egyptians.
He said to his people: “Let us rule these Israelites more strictly. They
are growing too strong.”
Then they set harsh rules over the Israelites, and laid heavy burdens on
them. They made the Israelites work hard for the Egyptians, and build
cities for them, and give to the Egyptians a large part of the crops
from their fields. They set them at work in making brick and in building
storehouses. They were so afraid that the Israelites would grow in
number that they gave orders to kill all the little boys that were born
to the Israelites; though their little girls might be allowed to live.
But in the face of all this hate, and wrong, and cruelty, the people of
Israel were growing in number, and becoming greater and greater.
At this time, when the wrongs of the Israelites were the greatest, and
when their little children were being killed, one little boy was born.
He was such a lovely child that his mother kept him hid, so that the
enemies did not find him. When she could no longer hide him, she formed
a plan to save his life; believing that God would help her and save her
beautiful little boy.
She made a little box like a boat and covered it with something that
would not let the water into it. Such a boat as this covered over was
called “an ark.” She knew that at certain times the daughter of king
Pharaoh–all the kings of Egypt were called Pharaoh, for Pharaoh means
a king–would come down to the river for a bath. She placed her baby
boy in the ark, and let it float down the river where the princess,
Pharaoh’s daughter, would see it. And she sent her own daughter, a
little girl named Miriam, twelve years old, to watch close at hand. How
anxious the mother and the sister were as they saw the little ark
floating away from them on the river!
Pharaoh’s daughter, with her maids, came down to the river, and they saw
the ark floating on the water, among the reeds. She sent one of her
maids to bring it to her so that she might see what was in the curious
box. They opened it, and there was a beautiful little baby, who began to
cry to be taken up.
The princess felt kind toward the little one, and loved it at once. She
said: “This is one of the Hebrews’ children.” You have heard how the
children of Israel came to be called Hebrews. Pharaoh’s daughter
thought that it would be cruel to let such a lovely baby as this die out
on the water. And just then a little girl came running up to her, as if
by accident, and she looked at the baby also, and she said: “Shall I go
and find some woman of the Hebrews to be a nurse to the child for you
and take care of it?”
“Yes,” said the princess. “Go and find a nurse for me.”
The little girl–who was Miriam, the baby’s sister–ran as quickly as
she could and brought the baby’s own mother to the princess. Miriam
showed in this act that she was a wise and thoughtful little girl. The
princess said to the little baby’s mother: “Take this child to your home
and nurse it for me, and I will pay you wages for it.”
How glad the Hebrew mother was to take her child home! No one could harm
her boy now, for he was protected by the princess of Egypt, the daughter
of the king.
When the child was large enough to leave his mother Pharaoh’s daughter
took him into her own house in the palace. She named him “Moses,” a word
that means “drawn out,” because he was drawn out of the water.
So Moses, the Hebrew boy, lived in the palace among the nobles of the
land, as the son of the princess. There he learned much more than he
could have learned among his own people; for there were very wise
teachers. Moses gained all the knowledge that the Egyptians had to give.
There in the court of the cruel king who had made slaves of the
Israelites, God’s people, was growing up our Israelite boy who should at
some time set his people free!
Although Moses grew up among the Egyptians, and gained their learning,
he loved his own people. They were poor and were hated, and were slaves,
but he loved them, because they were the people who served the Lord God,
while the Egyptians worshipped idols and animals. Strange it was that so
wise a people as these should bow down and pray to an ox, or to a cat,
or to a snake, as did the Egyptians.
When Moses became a man, he went among his own people, leaving the
riches and ease that he might have enjoyed among the Egyptians. He felt
a call from God to lift up the Israelites and set them free. But at that
time he found that he could do nothing to help them. They would not let
him lead them, and as the king of Egypt had now become his enemy, Moses
went away from Egypt into a country in Arabia, called Midian.
He was sitting by a well, in that land, tired from his long journey,
when he saw some young women come to draw water for their flocks of
sheep. But some rough men came, and drove the women away, and took the
water for their own flocks. Moses saw it, and helped the women and drew
the water for them.
These young women were sisters, the daughters of a man named Jethro, who
was a priest in the land of Midian. He asked Moses to live with him, and
to help him in the care of his flocks. Moses stayed with Jethro and
married one of his daughters. So from being a prince in the king’s
palace in Egypt, Moses became a shepherd in the wilderness of Midian.
But Moses did not remain a shepherd. While he was tending his sheep God
appeared to him in a burning bush and told him that he should return to
Egypt and become the leader of his people. The Lord told him that the
wicked Egyptians would be punished for the ill-treatment they were
giving the Israelites. In your Bible you will find in the book of Exodus
how God wonderfully fulfilled his promise. The Egyptians were punished
by many plagues, and finally allowed the Israelites to go. They crossed
the Red Sea in a wonderful way, and traveled for a long time through a
wilderness, where God fed them day by day with manna from heaven. God
also gave them rules as a guide for their daily living; these rules we
call the Ten Commandments; yet they forgot the Lord so far as to make
images and worship them.