The book of Exodus is broken up into two halves: the first – the liberation of the Hebrews from Egypt; and the second – the establishment of the Covenant at Mount Sinai. The Israelites leave Egypt not as slaves or refugees but as a plundering army with gold and silver, dramatically attesting to the power of God’s deed. From there, they cross the Red Sea and enter into the slower drama of the wilderness experience in the Sinai Desert. There are four main themes associated with the book of Exodus: (1) Revelation (God reveals to Moses and Israel His name, YHWH); (2) Salvation (from Egypt and through the Sea and in the desert); (3) Covenant (the 10 Commandments at Mt. Sinai); and (4) Glory (YHWH comes to dwell with the Israelites in the Meeting Tent, Tabernacle and Mercy Seat on the Ark of the Covenant.)
The Sons of Israel in Egypt:
Joseph and all his brothers eventually died, and “a new king, who knew nothing of Joseph, came to power in Egypt.” The Israelites were “fruitful and increased,” and “became so numerous and strong that the land was filled with them.” Jewish scholars have pointed out that “fruitful and increased” echoes the story of Creation when God told Adam and Eve to be “fruitful and multiply” (Gen. 1:28). This implies a type of “Second Creation” with the forming of the Jewish nation. God charged this specific group of people, the Israelites, with spreading monotheism to the whole world and a universal ethical and moral code. In short, they would make the one true God known to the world. The Jews would become God’s people who would prepare the way, and eventually, give birth to the Messiah.
The Midwives and the Hebrew Boys:
The Pharaoh and the Egyptians, however, grew fearful of them as a foreign people and a foreign bloodline in their country. So, set taskmasters over them, and “reduced them to cruel slavery.” “Thus they had to build for Pharaoh the supply cities of Pithom and Raamses.” The King of Egypt then orders the midwives working for the Hebrews “if it is a boy, kill him; but if it is a girl, she may live.” (Ex. 1:16) “The midwives, however, feared God; they did not do as the king of Egypt had ordered them, but let the boys live.” (Ex. 1:17) After the king confronted the midwives, the Pharaoh then orders all his subjects to: “Throw into the river every boy that is born to the Hebrews, but you may let all the girls life.” (Ex. 1:22)
The Slaughter of the Innocence:
This, of course, is a foreshadowing centuries later of King Herod’s decree to slaughter all the first-born males in Bethlehem, the slaughter of the innocence. Evil feeds off the blood of the most innocent, like the practice of infant sacrifice to Molech. King Herod was troubled by the Magi’s prediction of a male Savior born at the time, so in a jealous rage he tried to kill him, by killing all the young male babies. “Then Herod, when he saw that he had been tricked by the wise men, was in a furious rage, and he sent and killed all the male children in Bethlehem and in all that region who were two years old or under..” (Mt. 2:16) Here too the Egyptians seek to snuff out the life of the Israelites by slaughtering all the newborn males. One source from the Midrash actually relates that Pharaoh was warned by his sorcerers and astrologers that a male savior of the Israelites was about to be born. This would explain why he sought to kill all the young male infants. This would be repeated again in the time of Jesus’ birth. Pharaoh was a type and forerunner to Herod, just as Moses was a type and forerunner to Jesus. Jesus is, in fact, the “new Moses.”
Water and the Birth of Moses:
Moses was born to ordinary Levi parents. However, “When she could hide him no longer, she took a papyrus basket, daubed it with bitumen and pitch, and putting the child in it, placed it among the reeds on the river bank.” (Ex. 2:3) Pharaoh’s daughter came down the Nile River bank and saw the basket among the reeds had her handmaid fetch it. She was “moved with pity” upon seeing the baby Hebrew boy, and decided to have one of the Hebrew women (his own mother) nurse him. Later, after “the child grew” Pharaoh’s daughter adopted him as her son, and called him Moses because “I drew him out of the water.” This is meant as a direct allusion to Noah’s Ark. The Hebrew word tevah is used for both Noah’s Ark and Moses’ wicker basket. Just as God had established a new world with the Flood and saving Noah from the waters in the Ark, YHWH would now establish another creation of the Jewish nation by pulling Moses from the waters. These are, of course, forerunners and a typology for Jesus, who makes us new creations through the waters of Baptism. The precursor creations of Noah and Moses give way to the truly new creation brought about by Jesus Christ the Messiah.
Moses Flight from Egypt:
After Moses had grown up, he witnessed an Egyptian striking a fellow Hebrew, and so, Moses slew him. Soon, the affair was known and Moses became afraid that Pharaoh would try to kill him. Moses fled to the land of Midian in the Arabian Peninsula. There, Moses is invited into the House of Jethro who has seven daughters. He marries his daughter Zipporah and have a son, Gershom.
The Burning Bush:
While tending his flock near the mountain of God, Mount Horeb, “an angel of the Lord appeared to him in fire flaming out of a bush.” (Ex. 3:2) “As he looked on, he was surprised to see that the bush, though on fire, was not consumed. So Moses decided, ‘I must go over to look at this remarkable sight, and see why the bush is not burned.'” (Ex. 3:3) God called out to him from the bush “Moses! Moses!” He answered, “Here I am.” God tells Moses He is the God of his father, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. He has heard the cry of his people in affliction in Egypt. “Therefore I have come down to rescue them from the hands of the Egyptians and lead them out of that land into a good and spacious land, a land flowing with milk and honey..”(Ex. 3:8) God then tells Moses that He is sending him to Pharaoh and to lead His people the Israelites out of Egypt. Moses responds, “Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh and lead the Israelites out of Egypt?” God answers him, “I will be with you.”
Then, Moses asks God if the Israelites ask him what is the name of God that sent him. “God replied, ‘I Am Who Am.’ Then He added: ‘This is what you shall tell the Israelites: I AM sent me to you.'” (Ex. 3:14) God tells Moses that His name is the verb “to be.” God is existence itself. God essence is being itself. “I Am Who Am” forms the letters YHWH, or with the Hebrew vowels, Yahweh. Yahweh is “Being,” “I Am,” or simply “Is.” The Hebrews considered the name of God too holy so subsequently through the Torah God is referred to simply as “Adonai” or “Lord.”
Jesus and I AM:
This is why Jesus’ proclamation centuries later that He is I AM is so shocking and the Jews were so scandalized. John chapter 8 has an incredible dialogue between Jesus and some of the Jewish hierarchy. They claim that Abraham is their ancestor and father. But, Jesus tells them: “‘Abraham your father rejoiced to see my day; he saw it and was glad.’ So the Jews said to him, ‘You are not yet fifty years old and you have seen Abraham?’ Jesus said to them, ‘Amen, amen, I say to you, before Abraham came to be, I AM.’ So they picked up stones to throw at him.” (John 8: 56-59) Jesus claims the name of God, and so, claims equality with God. Jesus and I AM are one.
Yahweh gives Moses his mission. “I am concerned about you and about the way you are being treated in Egypt; so I have decided to lead you up out of the misery of Egypt into the land of the Canaanites, Hittites, Amorites, Perizzites, Hivites, and Jebusites, a land flowing with milk and honey.” (Ex. 3:17) Yahweh then tells Moses to assemble the elders of Israel and go to the Pharaoh to “permit us” to go three days journey into the desert to offer sacrifice to the Lord. God tells Moses beforehand that Pharaoh will not permit it but will force God to work “wondrous deeds.”
Moses objects to God, “suppose they will not believe me, nor listen to my plea?” God then changes Moses staff into a serpent. Then, He commanded Moses to take hold of the serpent, and when he did, it became his staff again. God then tests Moses again by turning his hand leprous, and back to normal again. Moses complains to the Lord again, “If you please, Lord, I have never been eloquent, neither in the past, nor recently, nor now that you have spoken to your servant; but I am slow of speech and tongue.” (Ex. 4:10) The Lord losing patience with Moses commands him: “Go, then!” Yet, Moses persisted “If you please, Lord, send someone else!” Then the Lord became angry with Moses and said, ‘Have you not your brother, Aaron the Levite? I know that he is an eloquent speaker. . . He shall speak to the people for you.”
Moses’ Staff of God:
God commands him to take his shepherding staff with him by which Yahweh will work miracles. Moses remains a shepherd, but now he is the shepherd of the Israelites. This is also reminiscent of the humble David and his sling defeating the giant Goliath. Moses and his shepherd’s staff defeats the military might of Pharaoh and the Egyptian army.
God’s First-Born Son:
The Lord instructed Moses, “‘So you shall say to Pharaoh: ‘Thus says the Lord: Israel is my son, my first-born.'” Israel is God’s firstborn who He called out of Egypt. Israel is a foreshadowing again of Jesus, who is God’s firstborn and only Son. He too is also called out of Egypt.
After Moses and Aaron make the request of Pharaoh to let the Israelites go for three days, even using the word “please” (“nah” in Hebrew) he refuses. Moses was essentially asking Pharaoh to allow the Israelites to offer animal sacrifices to Yahweh, but the Egyptians worshiped animals. The Israelites would in essence be sacrificing the gods of Egypt. Instead, Pharaoh tells the Hebrews, and their taskmasters and foreman, that they shall now have to gather their own straw and make the same amount of bricks for “They are lazy.” “Off to work, then!” Moses then bitterly complained to the Lord, “you have done nothing to rescue them.” (Ex. 5:23)
Yahweh answers Moses, “I am the Lord. I will free you from the forced labor of the Egyptians and will deliver you from their slavery. I will rescue you by my outstretched arm and with mighty acts of judgment. I will take you as My own people, and you shall have Me as your God. You will know that I, the Lord, am your God when I free you from the labor of the Egyptians and bring you into the land which I swore to give to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. I will give it to you as your own possession – I, the Lord!” (Ex. 6:7-8)
The Four Promises and Four Cups:
These are the traditional verses why Jews drink four cups of wine at the Passover Seder. Each cup represents a divine promise: (1) “I will free you.. ” (2) “I will deliver you.. ” (3) “I will rescue/redeem you.. ” (4) “I will take you to be My people.. ” These are the same four cups of wine that Jesus and the Apostles celebrated at the Last Supper – the first Mass and Eucharist – and the next day at the crucifixion. Jesus frees us, delivers us, redeems us, and makes us His people. “And I will take you to be My people” is reminiscent of the ancient Jewish marriage contract (ketubah) in which a woman accepts a marriage proposal from a man and the man takes a wife. Israel and God are often shown metaphorically to be in a marriage relationship and covenant. This foreshadows the true Bridegroom and Bride, Jesus Christ and His Church. With Jesus’ Holy Communion and Crucifixion, He seals the marriage of Himself with His Church. Jesus and His followers are one, just as husband and wife become “one flesh.” The faithful of the Church are the bride to the Messianic groom Christ. In Heaven to come, as depicted in Revelation, the Church is at the “wedding feast of the Lamb.” The Bridegroom and Bride are united forever in the marriage of God and man.