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More than 400 years passed from the time God made His promise to Abraham, and the Israelites still had not seen its fulfillment. A new pharaoh—one who knew nothing of Joseph or God’s promises—ruled over Egypt. The Egyptians feared the Hebrews, that they would grow into a mighty nation and overtake them, so they forced them to work as slaves. Day after day, the Israelites worked in the heat of the sun and sand, the taskmasters whipping their backs, sweat stinging their wounds. But the nation of Israel continued to grow.
One day, Pharaoh sent out a terrible decree: Every son born to the Israelites would be thrown into the Nile River. But a Levite couple defied this order. When they could no longer hide their baby boy, the mother placed him in a basket and into the river, trusting God’s will for his life.
And God did have a plan for the child. Pharaoh’s daughter found the basket, caught in the reeds beside the river. She took pity on the crying baby and decided to take him in as her own child. She named him “Moses” because he was drawn out of the water.
The years went by, and Moses grew into a man within the walls of the palace. But when he saw the suffering of his people, anger burned within him. After he witnessed an Egyptian beating an Israelite, Moses killed the man and fled Egypt to hide in the desert.
But Moses could not escape the path God had for him. One day, he came upon a bush, consumed by flames but not burned to ash. Then the voice of God called out to Moses. God told Moses that He saw the persecution of His people and heard their cries. He promised to deliver them from slavery, and He commanded Moses to go before Pharaoh, the very man Moses had escaped from. Moses was terrified to return. But God sent Moses’ brother, Aaron, to go with him, and they obeyed.
But Pharaoh would not listen. God had hardened his heart, and the king of Egypt would not be moved by signs and wonders. Even when Aaron’s staff transformed into a snake, slithering on the sand, Pharaoh refused to believe. So the God of the Hebrews brought down plagues upon Egypt. The water of the Nile turned to blood. Frogs, gnats & flies swarmed over every inch of land, and locusts consumed the fields. Darkness descended, blotting out the sun for days. Nine plagues in all, but Pharaoh’s heart remained hard as stone.
To prepare for the tenth and final plague, Moses had the Israelites mark their doors with the blood of spotless lambs. That night, the Passover, the angel of death passed through the kingdom, killing the firstborn child of every Egyptian household that did not bear the mark. Not even the child of Pharaoh was spared.
With that, Pharaoh told Moses and Aaron to take the Israelites and go. They were free. Thousands of men, women and children journeyed out toward the Promised Land. By night, a pillar of fire led the people, and by daylight, a pillar of cloud. This was the Spirit of the Lord, who did not leave the people.
Then God warned Moses: Pharaoh and the Egyptian army were coming to recapture the Israelites. When the Israelites came to the Red Sea, they cried out in fear. Certain death awaited them on either side—the sea ahead or the chariots of the Egyptian army behind. But Moses lifted his staff to the sky, and the waters parted. The Israelites passed through the towering waves that stood like walls on each side of them, but the Egyptians—they were swallowed by the sea. God had indeed drawn His people out of bondage, out of darkness, and He would dwell with them soon.
After fleeing Egypt and escaping Pharaoh and his army through the Red Sea, the Israelites entered the wilderness of Sin. Though they had witnessed God’s power and might in rescuing them from persecution and slavery, the people complained about their new misfortunes. Once they had had bread and meat; now they had nothing to satisfy their hunger.
Hearing the people’s complaints, the Lord promised to sustain them, so that they would know He was their God. And the next day, the people saw tiny flakes on the ground, sweet and good to eat. They called it manna.
Though food came daily to them, the people again complained, this time of thirst. So the Lord told Moses to strike a rock with his staff, and water gushed out. The Lord had provided yet again, and the people continued on their journey.
Three months after their escape, the Israelites came to Mount Sinai. Moses gave the people a word from God: If they obeyed and kept God’s covenant, they would be His treasured possession, a kingdom of priests and a holy nation. And the people promised to do so.
Three days later, the mountain shook with thunder, and lightning flashed in the sky. Moses brought the Israelites to the mountain, and the people covered their ears as a deafening sound, like a trumpet, grew louder and louder. They cried in fear of their lives. Then the Lord came down in fire and smoke and told Moses to keep the people back so they wouldn’t die from seeing Him in His true glory. When the people heard God’s voice, they grew afraid, and they asked Moses to speak with God on their behalf.
God gave Moses many laws, including the Ten Commandments, the first being that they would have no other gods but Him. And the Israelites promised to worship the Lord alone and to keep all His laws.
Moses spent 40 days and nights on the mountain with God. But upon his return, he found the people bowing down to an idol—a golden calf that Aaron made for them out of the jewelry they had taken from the Egyptians. They had forgotten their promise to God. In his anger, Moses broke the stone tablets on which God had inscribed the Law, burned the golden calf and atoned for the sin of the faithless. God’s wrath burned against the Israelites, and He punished them but did not destroy them altogether. He remembered His promise to make them a great nation.
After the Israelites repented, they went to work making everything that the Lord had instructed. They built the ark of the covenant to hold the tablets of the Law. They made fine garments with precious stones for Aaron and his sons, consecrating them with oil for their service as priests.
And they built the tabernacle, the place where God would dwell with His people. It was beautifully crafted—with gold, silver and bronze, and acacia wood, and blue and purple and scarlet linen for its curtains. They anointed the tabernacle and the altar with oil and spices and brought the ark inside the dwelling place of God.
Then God’s glory descended and filled the tabernacle, and the people fell down and worshiped their God—Yahweh—the One who drew them out of their slavery. The One who drew them out of Egypt and drew them into His presence in the wilderness lands. And though the Israelites would continue in strife and doubt, and even disobedience, God steadfastly and compassionately drew them toward the Promised Land.