Sunday, January 9, 2011
Scripture Sunday: The Book of Exodus
Joseph brought his whole family to Egypt at the end of Genesis, but when you stay in a country for 400 years, the times they are sure to change. The Hebrew population increases so much that one of the pharaohs has them all enslaved, but their numbers keep growing even in slavery, and fear motivates a pharaoh to order all the baby boys killed. This becomes standard policy in Egypt, but one lady protects her baby by putting him in a floating basket and setting him beside the river. Ironically, he is found and adopted by the Pharaoh's daughter, who names him Moses.
Moses apparently grows up with some knowledge of his true heritage, because when he's an adult, he kills an Egyptian who is beating a Hebrew. Moses is now wanted for murder, so he flees Egypt and settles in Midian, where he marries, tends sheep, and wiles away forty years (important phases of time seem to pass in 40-year increments in Exodus). God appears to him in a burning bush and says to go deliver the Hebrews from slavery, but Moses gives a lot of excuses about why he's not the right man for the job. God sends Aaron with Moses as a spokesman, but Moses is still the guy in charge. He meets with Pharaoh and delivers God's “let my people go” message. Pharaoh refuses, a series of horrific plagues ensues, and finally the Hebrews are allowed to go free.
Due to the way the story is portrayed in movies and storybooks, it sounds like we've heard the full and complete story of Exodus at this point, except for Moses getting the Ten Commandments. In actuality, the Hebrews leave Egypt in chapter 12 and the book has 40 chapters total, so there's a lot more ground to cover, most of it dealing with the Hebrews complaining and disobeying God. Some examples of the complaints, going by their location:
-At Marah: The water is bitter. They think they're going to die of thirst. God heals the water.
-At the wilderness: They think they're going to die of hunger. They want to go back to Egypt. God rains bread down from the sky.
-At Rephidim: There's no water. They think they're going to die of thirst. Moses hits a rock, and water flows out of it.
And there are many similar episodes. It's no wonder that the middle and end of Exodus are seldom talked about, because it's very depressing to see God's chosen people acting this way. Also, there are some long sections detailing how the tabernacle and the ark of the covenant were made, which is something that most people will only read about if they are doing a read-through of the whole Bible or if they have a particular historical or bible-study-related interest in the subject. Exodus ends with God's presence filling the tabernacle the Hebrews have made, though, so that's an up note. God hasn't abandoned his people during their rebellion, in fact, he has come to dwell with them.
Note on film adaptations: I'm actually very fond of two film adaptations of the first part of Exodus: The Ten Commandments directed by Cecil B. DeMille, and The Prince of Egypt from Dreamworks. There's a ton of creative licence taken in both movies, though they do give a general idea of the characters and concepts of Exodus. The Ten Commandments is an amazing epic film with a tremendous dramatic cast, and The Prince of Egypt has a score full of awe-inspiring songs.