lamb-leftWhat the Bible Really Says by J. R. Hyland
From Humane Religion

Chapter 4: Moses: The Exodus

After the Hyksos rulers were overthrown by native Egyptians, the Jewish people were used as slave labor for the massive building programs instituted by an ambitious Pharaoh. But even under those adverse conditions, the Hebrew population continued to grow. No matter how difficult the labor or how stringent the work quotas they had to fill, their numbers increased. So Pharaoh instituted a drastic plan to limit their growth. He decreed that all Hebrew males were to be killed at birth. During the time this policy was in effect, Moses was born.

This was the situation the mother of Moses faced when he was born. She was able to keep her son hidden for three months and nurse him past that crucial time, but it then became impossible to keep him concealed. She prepared a waterproof cradle for her son and placed him among the reeds that lined the shore of the Nile, at a place where Egyptian women went to bathe. She hoped that some caring Egyptian might find the child and keep him for her own. And she sent Miriam, sister of Moses, to watch over the infant as he lay at the water’s edge.

“Now Pharaoh’s daughter went down to bathe in the river, and the girls attending her were walking along by the riverside. Among the reeds she noticed the basket, and she sent her maid to fetch it. She opened it and looked, and saw a baby boy, crying; and she was sorry for him. ‘This is a child of one of the Hebrews.’ she said…Pharaoh’s daughter treated him like a son.”[1]

Moses grew to manhood in the royal household and was an adult before he learned of his Jewish heritage. When he learned the truth he set out to investigate the conditions under which his people lived. Because those conditions were so harsh, it was inevitable that sooner or later he would witness the kind of injustice that oppressed people endure. One day he came upon an overseer who was beating one of the laborers. In a fit of rage, he killed the offending Egyptian.

It was a capital offense. Afraid for his own life, Moses fled the country and travelled eastward until he came to the land of Midian. It was desert country, populated by nomadic people and he lived there for the next forty years.

He married the daughter of a local chieftain and spent the years of his exile as a shepherd, taking care of the large flocks that belonged to his father-in-law. It was during those years of solitude,  tending the flocks, that Moses was able to develop a capacity for nurturing and protecting those creatures who were dependant on him for their existence.

He learned to care for and preserve life during his years as a shepherd. The long periods of isolation and solitude that his work entailed gave him time for reflection and introspection; time to develop the wisdom and the intuition he would need for the mission to which he would be called; time to look beyond the material realm and touch the realm of the spirit.

Developing in those ways, Moses outgrew the machismo that characterized him as a young man in Egypt. He outgrew the impulsiveness that led him to murder the Egyptian overseer who was abusing the Hebrew laborer—an act of violence that did nothing to help solve the problems of his people.

It was only after he developed the needed wisdom, concern and nurturing ability he would need that Moses was fit to shepherd his people through the wilderness of the Sinai Peninsula. Only then did God speak to him from the burning bush, saying he must return to Egypt and tell the Jewish people they were to leave the land of their bondage and journey back to Canaan.

Moses did as he was told, but nothing came of his effort. When he arrived back in Egypt and announced the reason for his return, the Israelites “refused to listen to him.” And when he complained to God that on one was paying any attention to what he said, the Lord told him to go directly to Pharaoh and demand that the people be set free. This directive made absolutely no sense to Moses: “Behold the Israelites have not listened to me, how then shall Pharaoh give heed to me.”[2]

His assessment was correct: Pharaoh refused to free the Jews. But soon after his refusal, Egypt began to suffer a series of plagues. First the water supply was contaminated, then a series of infestations blighted the land.[3] The cattle became diseased and finally the Egyptians themselves were dying.

The Bible reports that Moses had predicted each plague and said they would continue as long as the sons of Israel remained in bondage. But Pharaoh refused to accept that explanation. He continued to believe the things that were happening were nature disasters, not supernatural warnings—until members of the royal household died. Then, “Pharaoh rose up in the night, he, all his servants and all the Egyptians; and there was a great cry in Egypt, for there was not a house where there was not one child dead.”[4]

After this, the Jews were allowed to leave. They began their journey to Canaan and Moses soon faced the first of many crises. He was responsible for almost two million people[5] and from the beginning there were bitter complaints. Just six weeks after the Exodus they were ready to turn back. Faced with the bleak landscape that stretched endlessly before them, the people were afraid their food supply would be inadequate and monotonous. They said they would rather be dead than have to suffer the hardships of the desert country. “If only we had died by the lord’s hand in Egypt! There we sat around pots of meat and ate all the food we wanted, but you have brought us out into this desert to starve.”[6]

Later, they became concerned about their water supply and again charged that they had been led out into the wilderness, only to die.  At this point, Moses began to doubt his ability to cope with the situation. (He) “cried out to the Lord, ‘What am I to do with these people? They are almost ready to stone me.’”[7] It was only the first of many confrontations that would take place during the years in the desert.

At one point, the Hebrew’s regressed to idol worship. Moses went to meet with the Lord on Mount Sinai and one of the messages that be brought back from the mountain was “Do not make for yourselves gods of silver or gods of gold.” But soon after his return, he had to go back up into Sinai. This time he was gone longer and the people’s fear gave way to a desire for some excitement. They wanted a change from the Spartan monotony of their lives.

“When the people saw that Moses was so long in coming down from the mountain, they gathered around Aaron and said, ‘Come, make us a god who will go before us. As for this fellow Moses who brought us up out of Egypt, we don’t know what has happened to him.’”[8] So they collected all their jewelry and gave it to Aaron to melt down and cast into the form of a young bull. Then they declared a day of worship for their new idol: a bacchanalian orgy, appropriate to the worship of a bull.[9]

Aaron erected an altar for their golden idol: “the next day the people rose early and sacrificed burnt offerings. Afterward they sat down to eat and drink and go up to indulge in revelry.”[10]  This was the sight that greeted Moses when he came down from Sinai, carrying the stone tablets on which the Ten Commandments were etched. The frenzy and noise of the revelers were so great that Joshua, who had gone to Sinai with him, thought he was hearing the sounds of battle.

“When Moses approached the camp and saw the bullock and the dancing, his anger burned and he threw the tablets out of his hands, breaking them to pieces at the foot of the mountain.”[11] There was a terrible confrontation between those who supported Moses and those who did not: 3,000 people died by sword. They had been in the wilderness for a year and their capacity for violence was undiminished.

By the time another year passed, the Hebrews were finally in a position to enter Canaan. But, again they wanted to rely on the power of force, on physical strength, to gain their objective. Spies were sent ahead to reconnoiter and they came back with a report that “the people who live there are powerful and the cities are fortified. We can’t attack those people, they are stronger than we are.”[12]  Discouraged by this news, the sons of Israel were determined to return to Egypt and they set about trying to find someone who would lead them back.

Only Joshua, the son of Nun, and Celeb, the son of Jephuneh, urged the people to trust that the Lord would bring them safely into the Promised Land. They told them “If the Lord is pleased with us, he will lead us into that land, a land flowing with milk and honeydo not be afraid.”[13]  The population responded to their plea by voting to stone them to death.

Fate intervened and the lives of Joshua and Caleb were spared. But the Israelites did not enter Canaan and lived in the desolate land of the Sinai Peninsula for many more years. During those years there was less and less violence among them. The people did not even have to kill for food; their daily staple was the manna that fell from heaven.

There journey lasted forty years. The Bible makes a point of stating that the wilderness experience lasted long enough for a new nonviolent generation to come of age: “The children of Israel walked forty years in the wilderness till all the people that were men of war, which came out of Egypt, were consumed.”[14]

But the experiment in nonviolent living failed. After shepherding his people through the wilderness, Moses was unable to enter the Promised Land. He died as they were finally camped just outside of Canaan, ready to invade Jericho. The mantle of leadership was passed on to Joshua.

An alien group can take over another nation gradually, through a generational process that allows it to become more powerful than the original settlers. Or, in a more violent takeover, foreigners can invade a country and make the inhabitants a subject people. But Joshua did not use either method to conquer the Promised Land. He chose a more violent policy—a policy that came to be known as harem. It was a military tactic that Bible translators euphemistically refer to as “putting under the ban.” This policy demanded that every man, woman, child and animal who lived in an invaded city be put to death. All living creatures were to be destroyed.

The rationale for this extermination was that it was God’s Will; a means whereby the Lord was assured that his chosen people would not be corrupted by the unholy people whose land they were invading. But in reality, it was a military tactic which insured that when a battle had been won there were no survivors who might someday grow in strength and power to overthrow their conquerors.

Joshua decided that Jericho would be the first city to be invaded, but before the conquest could begin the Israelites had to take time out. None of those born during the forty years in the wilderness had been circumcised, and Joshua insisted that this ritual be carried out before they began their invasion of the Promised Land. “After the circumcision was completed, the whole nation stayed in camp until the wounds had healed….Then all the army went straight up the hill into the city and captured it. With their swords they killed everyone in the city, men and women, young and old. They also killed the cattle, sheep and donkeys.”[15]

The battle of Jericho was the beginning of a bloody epoch in the history of the Jewish people as they tenaciously fought to destroy the Canaanite people and establish their own nation. And it was not just the native population with whom they had to contend. At the same time that the Hebrews were trying to become the dominant power, another nation was determined to conquer the land for themselves. They were the Philistines, who would continue to do battle with the Hebrew people for hundreds of years. They had invaded Canaan from the coastal shore of the Southwest at about the same time that the Hebrews mounted their attack for the East.

The years during which the sons of Israel fought both the Canaanites and the Philistines are referred to as the period of the Judges. During that time, the Hebrew people were ruled by a series of charismatic leaders. Although they were known as Judges, their powers were more like those of a minor potentate. And during a period of about 200 years, a dozen judges assumed positions of authority. Their leadership was less than inspiring and led to the time of their rule being called “the Dark Ages of Israel”.

[1]  Exodus  2:5, 6, 10   JB

[2]  Exodus  6:12   AMP

[3]  The book of Exodus mentions gnats, flies, locusts, frogs, hail, boils and darkness Chapters 9 and 10  AMP

[4]  Exodus 12:30  AMP

[5]  The bible reports that 600,000 men on foot, besides women and children left Egypt, Exodus 12:37    AMP

[6]  Exodus  16:3   NIV

[7]  Exodus  17:4   NIV

[8]  Exodus 32:1   NIV

[9]  Scholars—rather coyly—continue to refer to the ancient worship of sexuality as “fertility” rites, implying that it is centered around a way of insuring that devotees were able to bring forth children. This implication is just as inaccurate as it would be to describe the modern day cult of sexuality as a celebration of fertility, rather than of sexual activity.

[10]  Exodus 32:5, 6  NIV

[11]  Exodus 32:19    NIV

[12]  Numbers 13:28, 31   NIV

[13]  Numbers 14:8, 9       NIV

[14]  Joshua 5:6          JB

[15]  Joshua 6:20, 21 ……….Joshua 5:8   TEV

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