Exodus 1 – 6
The biblical account shows us Moses as one of the greatest prophets ever to serve the Lord. We have more information about Moses from The Pearl of Great Price: the Book of Moses, and from the Book of Mormon and the Doctrine and Covenants. These accounts add to our knowledge of his greatness. “He saw the mysteries of the heavens and much of creation, and received laws from God beyond any other ancient man of whom we have record” ( Mark E. Peterson, Moses, p. 49). Mormons see him as a type of Christ, and the Law of Moses as typifying of Christ and testifying of Christ:
“Yea, and they did keep the law of Moses; for it was expedient that they should keep the law of Moses as yet, for it was not all fulfilled. But notwithstanding the law of Moses, they did look forward to the coming of Christ, considering that the law of Moses was a type of his coming, and believing that they must keep those outward performances until the time that he should be revealed unto them.
The house of Jacob, renamed the House of Israel, had left Canaan for Egypt, when the famine became too sore for them to remain at home. Through the graces of Joseph, they were given the land of Goshen in the Nile delta to dwell in. When they settled there, the family numbered about 70 people. Their descendants remained in Egypt for the next 430 years. “The children of Israel were fruitful, and increased abundantly” (Exodus 1:7). Egypt was essentially the womb for the birth of the House of Israel as a nation.
“The fulfillment of God’s promises to Abraham required that Israel should become numerous. To accomplish this, the little family, numbering only 70 persons ( Genesis 46:26–27 ), needed sufficient time and a peaceful place in which to grow. Egypt was that place. . . .
“. . . Palestine was a battleground for warring nations that moved back and forth in their conquests between the Nile and the Euphrates. Israel would have found no peace there. They required stable conditions for their eventual growth and development. . . .
“Their bondage certainly was not all on the negative side. It too served a good purpose. The cruelty of the taskmasters, the hatred that existed between the Hebrews and the Egyptians, and the length of their trying servitude fused Jacob’s children into a united people. . . .
“The hatred they felt toward the Egyptians prevented intermarriage between the Hebrews and their neighbors. To reap the benefits of the Abrahamic promises, Israel had to remain a pure race, and the Lord used this means to achieve it. . . .
“Yes, Egypt had her role in the Lord’s mighty drama, and she played it well.
“At the end of 430 years, the Lord now decreed that the time had arrived for Israel to occupy her own land and there become that ‘peculiar people’ who would await the coming of their Messiah.” (Petersen, Moses, pp. 27–30.)
In some places in the scriptures Egypt is used interchangeably with Babylon as a symbol of worldliness and sin. However, among biblical curses on heathen nations to occur in the last days, Egypt stands out as the exception, with a prediction of cursing and then healing: “And the Lord shall smite Egypt: he shall smite and heal it: and they shall return even to the Lord, and he shall be intreated of them, and shall heal them” (Isaiah 19:22). Time and time again, she served as a protector to God’s chosen. Abraham sojourned there and taught astronomy to Egypt’s rulers. (See the Pearl of Great Price, Book of Abraham.) Egypt willingly gave land to Jacob and his progeny; and later in history would hospitably receive the Christ-child himself, providing Mary, Joseph, and the baby Jesus safety from Herod in the kingdom of Judah.
The Egyptians called the Hebrews “apirou,” which had a connotation similar to “vermin.” Remember that when Joseph provided a feast for his brothers, they ate in a separate room from the Egyptians. The Hebrews were cattle herders, and the Egyptians worshipped, rather than ate, these sacred beasts. To them the Hebrews were unclean. That Joseph was a leader of the Egyptians gave his family honor, but as hundreds of years passed, the Hebrews became an underclass. Also, in the time leading up to Joseph’s power in Egypt (and perhaps including it) the Hyksos, who were Semitic, had overcome Egypt practically without a fight, and this was humiliating. It is easy to understand how Joseph would be viewed with favor by the Hyksos and also how, when the Hyksos were finally overthrown and driven out of Egypt, the Israelites would suddenly fall from favor with the native Egyptians.
The biblical account tells us that Pharaoh had issued an edict calling for all Israelite babies to be drowned. Certainly the Hebrew population was burgeoning, and if the Egyptians considered them vermin, then this edict is at least explainable, however brutal. The Pharaoh at the time was probably Horemheb, who was not a descendant of Pharaohs. He was a general trying to cement his right to the throne of Egypt. The Pharaoh he had overthrown was Akhenaten, who worshipped One God, Aten, and was perhaps Semitic. His priests and religionwere also overthrown in favor of paganism. Horemheb married Akhenaten’s sister-in-law Mutnezmet (sister of Nefertiti) to validate his position as Pharaoh. But Mutnezmet was barren. It is probably Mutnezmet who found Moses floating in the little ark and brought him into the Egyptian court. It’s almost unimaginable that the Egyptian royal court would have accepted a Hebrew child and raised him as a prince. Mutnezmet may have used some sort of trickery to engineer the baby’s acceptance, either hiding his heritage or feigning pregnancy. Egyptian legend says that Moses was dazzling in his beauty both as an adult and as a babe, making him more appealing to Pharaoh. It may have given Mutnezmet some satisfaction to secretly raise a Hebrew child to take over for the cruel Horemheb, especially because Horemheb had killed most of her family.
The life of Moses, who was a similitude of the Savior (see Moses 1:6 ), was threatened by the ruler of the land, just as the life of Christ was threatened by Herod, who decreed the death of the children of Bethlehem. Remember that Herod ordered the “murder of the innocents” in Bethlehem to try to kill the promised “king of the Jews.” Pharaoh ordered the death of Israelite infants in Egypt many years before. Both the ancient Jewish historian Josephus and Jonathan ben Uzziel, another ancient Jewish writer, recorded that the pharaoh had a dream wherein he was shown that a man soon to be born would deliver Israel from bondage, and this dream motivated the royal decree to drown the male children (see Josephus, Antiquities of the Jews, bk. 2, chap. 9, par. 2; Clarke, Bible Commentary, 1:294).
Moses was a descendant of Levi, from whom the priesthood line would descend. Israel is considered the “first-born” of the population of the world, set apart to serve the Lord. Levites became the first-born of the House of Israel, set apart to serve in the temple. To see the lineage of Moses, click here.
The Nephites, whose prophets wrote the Book of Mormon, were descendants of Joseph who lived in Jerusalem around 600 B.C. They were led away to the Americas by the Lord, so that the Lord could preserve unto Himself a righteous branch of Israel. They brought with them the scriptures that had already been compiled by the Jews, including writings of Joseph. The Book of Mormon quotes Joseph, who prophesied of Moses by name:
And Moses will I raise up, to deliver thy people out of the land of Egypt (2 Nephi 3:10).
In Genesis 50:24 it says, “And Joseph said unto his brethren, I die: and God will surely visit you, and bring you out of this land unto the land which he sware to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob.”
In the New Testament Stephen made a lengthy speech about the dealings of the Lord with the house of Israel. Concerning Moses’ youth, Stephen related, “And Moses was learned in all the wisdom of the Egyptians, and was mighty in words and in deeds” ( Acts 7:22 ).
Josephus said that Moses was a very handsome and educated prince and a mighty warrior in the cause of the Egyptians (see Antiquities, bk. 2, chap. 9, par. 7; chap. 10, pars. 1–2).
As a prince, Moses may have had access to the royal libraries of the Egyptians as well as the scriptural record of the Israelites as taught by his mother. Quite possibly he read the prophecies of Joseph and was led by the Spirit to understand his divine appointment to deliver his brethren the Israelites. Stephen’s address implied that Moses understood his responsibility: “And when he was full forty years old, it came into his heart to visit his brethren the children of Israel. . . . For he supposed his brethren would have understood how that God by his hand would deliver them: but they understood not” ( Acts 7:23, 25 ).
Paul, in Hebrews, added further to the concept, “By faith Moses, when he was come to years, refused to be called the son of Pharaoh’s daughter; . . . esteeming the reproach of Christ greater riches than the treasures of Egypt” ( Hebrews 11:24, 26 ). Moses’ biological mother, Jochebed, likely taught him the principles and righteous traditions of the Hebrews as she nursed and cared for him (see Exodus 2:7–9 ). Notice that Paul says Moses esteemed the reproach of Christ. Book of Mormon prophets testified that Moses knew the Savior:
“Therefore it shall come to pass that whosoever will not believe in my words, who am Jesus Christ, which the Father shall cause him to bring forth unto the Gentiles, and shall give unto him power that he shall bring them forth unto the Gentiles, (it shall be done even as Mosessaid) they shall be cut off from among my people who are of the covenant (3 Nephi 21:11).
“And the Lord will surely prepare a way for his people, unto the fulfilling of the words of Moses, which he spake, saying: A prophet shall the Lord your God raise up unto you, like unto me; him shall ye hear in all things whatsoever he shall say unto you. And it shall come to pass that all those who will not hear that prophet shall be cut off from among the people.
“However, the historian Eusebius says that the slaying was the result of a court intrigue in which certain men plotted to assassinate Moses. In the encounter it is said that Moses successfully warded off the attacker and killed him. (Eusebius IX:27.)
“In the Midrash Rabbah, the traditional Jewish commentary on the Old Testament, it is asserted that Moses, with his bare fists, killed an Egyptian taskmaster who was in the act of seducing a Hebrew woman. This is confirmed in the Koran.
“Certainly there must have been good reason for Moses’ act, and most assuredly the Lord would not have called a murderer to the high office of prophet and liberator for his people Israel.” (Petersen, Moses, p. 42.)
The Joseph Smith Translation of Exodus 3:2 reads, “And again the presence of the Lord appeared unto him” (emphasis added). (Joseph Smith could relate to the experience of Moses. When God the Father and Jesus Christ appeared to him in what we now call the “First Vision,” it appeared to Joseph as if the woods where he was praying was on fire.)
The Pearl of Great Price, Book of Moses, records the revelations of Moses when the Lord spoke to him:
“The words of God, which he spake unto Moses at a time when Moses was caught up into an exceedingly high mountain, And he saw God face to face, and he talked with him, and the glory of God was upon Moses; therefore Moses could endure his presence. And God spake unto Moses, saying: Behold, I am the Lord God Almighty, and Endless is my name; for I am without beginning of days or end of years; and is not this endless?