Following the time of Abraham, the people of God embark on an incredible journey. There’s some good, there’s some bad, and there’s some ugly. The descendants of Israel (Jacob) had grown from twelve sons into twelve tribes – and they’d gone to live in Egypt, as God had used the jealousy of brothers to save his people. Unfortunately for the Israelites, their time in Egypt had taken a turn for the worse so that at the time of Moses’ birth, they found themselves in Egypt working as Pharaoh’s slaves and crying out desperately for a rescue.
God’s family plan made its way down the river, in the basket (Exodus 2:1-4)… and God again chose an unlikely hero.
Moses was found by the daughter of Pharaoh – the man who was enslaving his people and killing the other baby boys born to Hebrew women – but that death was not to be Moses’ fate. He was to be raised in the royal court with all the rights and privileges accorded to a prince of Egypt: education, clothing, food… and one day, in a fit of rage, he killed an Egyptian soldier. He was on the run and made his way to the desert, where he got married, had a family, and worked as a shepherd.
In many ways, he couldn’t have been happier. But God’s people were not happy – and God heard and answered their cries by reaching out to Moses (Exodus 3). Moses encounters God under the form of a burning bush – and Moses began to argue as to why it should be someone else – anyone else – but him. He was happy with his life. He had never lived among his people – he’d lived among their enemy. He’d murdered a man. He had a speech impediment.
And God chose him anyway.
Moses’ request that Pharaoh let the Hebrews go fell on deaf ears – after all, if you had an army of slaves to do whatever you wanted them to, would you give them away on a whim? So through Moses, God unleashed plague after plague on the Egyptian people (Exodus 7-10). Each of the ten plagues was more dramatic than the one that came before it, and each one somehow put an Egyptian god in its place (the Egyptians worshiped the Nile, cattle, the sun – and each plague constituted an attack on their divine power. God was showing Egypt that he was bigger than any of their so-called Gods. The final plague – the death of the first born – was the worst of all the plagues not only because it involved the loss of human life, but because of the way it would put Egypt into chaos. Pharaoh was considered to be divine – and so was his son. The death of the son of Pharaoh would create a power vacuum that would leave Israel room to escape.
Exodus 12 tells Israel’s side of the story- the way in which God set them free. How they took a lamb, killed it, spread it’s blood on the door post, and then they ate the lamb. The lamb had been sacrificed to God so they wouldn’t have to die – and the blood on their doorposts would be a sign that would save them from the coming plague.
The whole company of Israel, dressed and ready to leave, would head out. Having come to town as a tribe – Jacob’s twelve sons and their children and grandchildren – they now left 430 years later numbering six hundred thousand men (plus the women and children). When Pharaoh changed his mind and chased them down – God delivered them in miraculous fashion, as they crossed the red sea: “The dramatic crossing of the Red Sea described in Exodus 13 and 14 paints a vivid picture of God’s love and power as expressed on behalf of those he had come to save” (Dr. Scott Hahn). The parallels to Christianity are as numerous as they are crucial. Jesus Himself is the lamb of God – and His death takes the place of our death, His blood saves us from eternal damnation. We are invited to eat the lamb- to make ourselves a part of the sacrifice of God (a sacrifice we continue to commemorate.) And we, too, pass through waters on the road to freedom (AKA Baptism).
All that being said, once freed from the slavery of Egyptian taskmasters, God set to work on freeing them from the spiritual slavery to other gods they had picked up along the way. God rescued Israel from Egypt rather quickly, all things considered, but it would take forty years for Him to get Egypt out of them. The road through the desertwas a long, arduous one that last forty years of grumbling, complaining, and struggling to remain faithful to God.
But it is during this time that a covenant is declared between God and Moses:
“Moses came and told the people all the words of the Lord and all the ordinances; and all the people answered with one voice, and said, “All the words that the Lord has spoken we will do.” And Moses wrote down all the words of the Lord. He rose early in the morning, and built an altar at the foot of the mountain, and set up twelve pillars, corresponding to the twelve tribes of Israel. He sent young men of the people of Israel, who offered burnt offerings and sacrificed oxen as offerings of well- being to the Lord. Moses took half of the blood and put it in basins, and half of the blood he dashed against the altar. Then he took the book of the covenant, and read it in the hearing of the people; and they said, “All that the Lord has spoken we will do, and we will be obedient.” Moses took the blood and dashed it on the people, and said, “See the blood of the covenant that the Lord has made with you in accordance with all these words.“ (Exodus 24:3-8)
Basically, God had the Israelites make an offering to God; then Moses took the blood from the sacrifice and made it the ritual sign of a covenant which directed their relationship with God. In the words of the actual covenant, we find a dual symbolsim of the blood:
- The actual covenant between God & Israel; an intimate familial relationship with God
- The solemn curse under which Israel had placed itself should their faith be found wanting (essentially, what they said to God is “we’ll follow you or else we will be cursed ourselves.”
It was a rough go – but a journey which would eventually find its completion, living in the shadow of this covenant between God and Moses.