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The Exodus

Exodus 4 – 12

Negev desertWhen he was first called to the task, when the Lord spoke to him from the burning bush, Moses did not feel confident in his ability to lead the Israelites out of bondage.  He told the Lord he was slow of speech and did not generally feel up to the task. “Who am I, that I should go unto Pharaoh, and that I should bring forth the children of Israel out of Egypt” (Exodus 3:12)?  It’s interesting that Moses should shrink from this task.  As a young man he had been a military hero for Egypt, which would certainly take courage.  But he had been living a humble life in Midian for 40 years.  There are hints that Moses may have been slow of speech, but this had not hampered him as a great military leader.  Many scholars feel Moses’ difficulty was with the Hebrew language and maybe even Egyptian, since he had been so many years away from Egypt, and had not been raised in the Israelite culture.  His brother Aaron, then, was appointed to be a spokesman for him.  Aaron had spent all his time among the Hebrews, and so was linguistically and culturally fluent.

Moses’ concept of his relationship with God shows progress in the Pearl of Great Price account in Moses 1.  This time Moses sees God face to face and is shown every molecule of this earth, as well as every person dwelling upon it.  He realizes that “man is nothing,” compared to God, but his confidence grows as the Lord tells him that he is created after the image of the Lord’s Only Begotten Son.  After Moses is left to himself, it takes quite awhile for him to regain his strength, and then Satan appears and demands veneration.  Moses is confident enough not to be fooled, and calling upon the name of the Only Begotten, is able to dismiss Satan from his presence.

The Lord introduced Himself to Moses as I AM. This is the tetragrammaton, YHWH, the present form of “to be” in Hebrew.  This name is not uttered by the Jews, who substitute the word Adonai, (written as L ORD in scripture).  (In fact, the present tense form of “to be” is not even used in everyday Hebrew speech.)  Whenever the word Lord is found in the Bible in capitals, it is a substitution for the Lord’s name. Although this is the first time this name appears in the Bible, it is obvious that if the name had not been known to the Israelites, its value for identifying the Lord would have been useless. Correct identification was crucial to Moses in authenticating his call to the Israelites. This name does not appear frequently in the Bible; however, Jesus (the Jehovah of the Old Testament) used it on other occasions to identify Himself to Abraham (see Abraham 1:16 ), to the Jews (see John 8:58 ), and to modern Israel (see Doctrine and Covenants 29:1 ).  The King James Version of Exodus 6:3  suggests that the name Jehovah was unknown to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.  But the Joseph Smith Translation reads as follows:  “And I appeared unto Abraham, unto Isaac, and unto Jacob. I am the Lord God Almighty; the Lord JEHOVAH.  And was not my name known unto them?” ( JST, Exodus 6:3 .)

Did the Lord harden Pharaoh’s heart?

The Joseph Smith translation of Exodus 4:21 says, “I will prosper thee; but Pharaoh will harden his heart, and he will not let the people go.”  Wherever the King James Version says that the Lord hardened Pharaoh’s heart, this more correct phrase should be substituted.

The power of Pharaoh’s sorcerers

“All down through the ages and in almost all countries, men have exercised great occult and mystical powers, even to the healing of the sick and the performing of miracles. Soothsayers, magicians, and astrologers were found in the courts of ancient kings. They had certain powers by which they divined and solved the monarch’s problems, dreams, etc. One of the most striking examples of this is recorded in Exodus, where Pharaoh called ‘the wise men and the sorcerers who duplicated some of the miracles the Lord had commanded Moses and Aaron to perform. When Aaron threw down his rod, it became a serpent. The Egyptian magicians threw down their rods, and they also became serpents. . . .

“. . . The Savior declared that Satan had the power to bind bodies of men and women and sorely afflict them [see Matthew 7:22–23 ; Luke 13:16 ]. If Satan has power to bind the bodies, he surely must have power to loose them. It should be remembered that Satan has great knowledge and thereby can exercise authority and to some extent control the elements, when some greater power does not intervene.” (Smith, Answers to Gospel Questions, 1:176, 178.) (Exodus 7:11–12.)

The plagues of Egypt

Ten Commandments Mormon MosesEach one of the ten plagues attacked something that the Egyptians worshipped.  Certainly, the symbolism was not completely lost on the Egyptians, who from time to time had been enlightened with religious truth in between their long periods of pagan worship.  By the time spring approached, and along with it the great feast honoring Pharaoh’s god Amun, the land was decimated.

Part, in fact a huge part, of the miracle of the curses on Egypt is that the Israelites did not suffer the same curses.  When darkness descended upon the habitations of the Egyptians, for instance, it was light where the Israelites lived.

There have been numerous attempts through the ages to explain the plagues described in these chapters of Exodus. Some have tried to show that the various plagues were the result of some natural phenomenon such as passing meteorites or the explosion of a volcanic island in the Mediterranean Sea. While there is some degree of logical progression in the plagues (the river’s pollution could have driven the frogs out of the marshes to die, and this situation would then have bred lice, flies, and disease), it is not possible at present to explain how the Lord brought about these miraculous events. The fact that the plagues were selective (that is, sent upon the Egyptians but not the Israelites) adds to their miraculous nature. God often works through natural means to bring about His purposes, but that fact does not lessen the miraculous nature of His work. In the plagues and eventual deliverance of Israel from the bondage of Egypt is a record of remarkable and miraculous intervention by God in behalf of His children. How He actually intervened is not nearly so significant as that He did intervene (Exodus 7–10 ).

The Exodus — A walk through the Plan of Salvation

There is a huge amount of important symbolism in the Exodus.  During the Exodus, the Lord ordained and commanded the Israelites to observe seven holy convocations.  The symbolism of the Exodus, and of these holy convocations come together to lay out the plan of redemption, and the shape of the earth’s religious history and future.

Moses was a restorer.  We have no record of any prophets between the deaths of Jacob and Joseph and the calling of Moses.  Israel had become numerous, but in their afflictions, the people had grown accustomed to the fleshpots of Egypt.  In delivering them, the Lord wanted to set apart and nurture a nation of priests, so in turn, Israel could minister unto the world.  Not every Israelite listened to Moses.  Non-biblical sources sometimes say that as many as 80% of the Israelites stayed behind in Egypt.  As we observe in the Exodus account, even though the Israelites who were willing to follow Moses had seen great miracles, they began to lose faith as soon as they left Eygpt and began to wander in the wilderness.

The onset of the Exodus was a symbol of rebirth.  Egypt was the womb; Israel was born through water (the Red Sea) and into a wilderness of testing, in search of the promised land.  This is symbolic both of mortal existence and of baptism and rebirth spiritually.

At the time, the new year was in the fall upon the final harvest, but to begin the symbolism of deliverance and redemption, the Lord reshaped the year and commanded that it now begin in the Spring, in the month of Aviv (Nisan).  This is highly symbolic.  Joseph Smith received the revelation that Jesus was born on (what would be on our calendar) April 6th.  Jesus was born and was crucified on the Passover.  The Passover, the first holy day of the Exodus, fully symbolized redemption and deliverance, and Christ as the redeemer and deliverer.  One should note that the Lord said that Christ would come in the “meridian of time.”  This prophecy holds up not only in thousands of years, but within the year itself.  Passover fell exactly in the middle of the Jewish year, balanced exactly by the fall holidays that typify the Second Coming of the Redeemer.

Once the year had been reset, the Israelites were commanded to bring into their homes a perfect, firstborn, male lamb.  This was done on the 10th of Nisan.  Anyone who has been in the company of a baby lamb knows how easy it is to love it.  The lamb was part of the family for four days until it was sacrificed on the 14th of Nisan, the High Holy Day of Passover.  It was an animal sacrifice made in sorrow.  With hyssop (a healing herb later used to offer vinegar to Christ on the cross) each family was to spread the blood of the lamb on the lintel of the outside door of their home.  This not only symbolizes the saving and atoning blood of the lamb (Christ), but typifies the fact that the Lord saves us with our families.  The destroying angel passed over the homes that were marked with the blood of the lamb.   The sacrifice had been performed between three and five in the afternoon on the 14th of Nisan — the date and time of Christ’s future crucifixion.

The families were then to roast the lamb, with no bones broken.  Christ suffered no broken bones when He gave his life for us, and he was the perfect, firstborn lamb of God.  The paschal lamb was to be roasted, in order that it might be placed upon the table undivided and essentially unchanged. ‘Through the unity and integrity of the lamb given them to eat, the participants were to be joined into an undivided unity and fellowship with the Lord, who had provided them with the meal.’” ( Commentary, 1:2:14–15.)  As to the eating the flesh of the sacrificial lamb, the divine word was, ‘No uncircumcised person shall eat thereof,’ signifying that the blessings of the gospel are reserved for those who come into the fold of Israel, who join the Church, who carry their part of the burden in bearing off the kingdom; signifying also that those who eat his flesh and drink his blood, as he said, shall have eternal life and he will raise them up at the last day ( John 6:54 ).

At the first Passover, the Lord commanded the Israelites to keep the holiday forever.  Later, Christ used the imagery in the holiday to testify of Himself as the Messiah.  Both His birth and death held to the imagery of the Passover, as He was born in a stable like an innocent lamb on the Passover holiday, and later sacrificed as the Passover lambs were being slain at the temple.

The Five Covenants

The Lord made five covenants with the children of Israel to be commemorated at the Passover.  They are as follows: 1)  I will bring you out of Egypt;  2) I will deliver you out of slavery; 3) I will redeem you with an outstretched arm; 4) I will be your God, and you will be my people; 5) I will bring you into the promised land (Exodus 6:6-8).  These are represented in the Passover ritual by four covenantal cups of wine and a toast promising a return to the rebuilt Jerusalem.

The Israelites prepare to leave Egypt

In Exodus 11:2 it says that the Israelites “borrowed” jewels and treasures from the Egyptians before they left into the wilderness.

“This is certainly not a very correct translation: the original word . . . shaal signifies simply to ask, request, demand, require, inquire, &c.; but it does not signify to borrow in the proper sense of that word, though in a very few places of Scripture it is thus used. In this and the parallel place, chap. xii. 35 , the word signifies to ask or demand, and not to borrow, which is a gross mistake . . . . God commanded the Israelites to ask or demand a certain recompense for their past services, and he inclined the hearts of the Egyptians to give liberally; and this, far from a matter of oppression, wrong, or even charity, was no more than a very partial recompense for the long and painful services which we may say six hundred thousand Israelites had rendered to Egypt, during a considerable number of years. And there can be no doubt that while their heaviest oppression lasted, they were permitted to accumulate no kind of property, as all their gains went to their oppressors.” ( Clarke, Bible Commentary, 1:307.)

The Egyptians, who seem to have been less hard-hearted than their pharaoh and more impressed with the powers of Moses, responded to this commandment, and the Israelites seem to have taken great wealth with them (see Exodus 12:35–36 ). Probably some of these spoils were later used in the construction of the golden calf (see Exodus 32:1–4 ) and in the building of the tabernacle (see Exodus 35:22–24 ). The wealth of the Egyptians also fulfilled the promise given to Abraham that the children of Israel would “come out with great substance” ( Genesis 15:14 ).

To read about symbolism in the Old Testament, click here.

*Parts of this lesson were adapted from the LDS Institute Old Testament Manual.

Go to Exodus 2.

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