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Outlines Of Jewish History -Rev. Francis E. Gigot D.D.



              Birth and Education (Exodus 2:1–10; Acts 7:20–22).


              Flight and Sojourn in Madian (Exodus 2:11–22; Acts, 7:23–29).


              Return into Egypt (Exodus 2:23–Ex 4; Acts 7:30–35).






              A. Opposition to Departure:

              1. Why and how raised by Pharao (Exodus 5–7:9)?


                            2. How met by Moses? (Exodus 7:10–Ex 10).

              The Nice First Plagues.

              Analogy with natural scourges.


                                                        Miraculous character


                                                        Opposition of Egyptian idolatry.




              B. The Departure:

              1. Preparatory events.

              The First Pasch.


                                          The Tenth Plague (No Egyptian record).




                            2. Execution.

              The gathering and simultaneous departure of the Israelites.


                                          Their number; the spoils of Egypt.




              C. The length of stay in Egypt (Exodus 12:40, 41; Galatians 3:17).






              1. The road followed from Ramesses to the Red Sea.




              2. The passage of the Sea:

              A. Northern limit of the western arm of the Red Sea in the time of Moses.


                            B. The pursuit of the Israelites by Pharao.


                            C. The passage described: its miraculous character.


                            D. Egyptian account of this escape, and other traditions.




              3. The Canticle of Moses (Exodus 15:1–21).


§ 1. Moses the Deliverer

1. Birth and Education (Exod. 2:1–10). Whilst the King of Egypt was bent on crushing Israel out of existence, a child was born of the tribe of Levi destined to free forever God’s people from Egypt’s bondage, and to introduce a new era into the history of the Jewish religion and nation. His parents Amram and Jochabed (Exod. 6:20) who lived apparently near the habitual residence of Ramesses II, had had already two children, one daughter called Mary and a son named Aaron. Struck with the infantine beauty of her second son, Jochabed resolved to save him by concealing his birth from the Egyptians who, according to Pharao’s recent order, cast into the Nile any newly-born Israelite male child they could lay their hands on. The story of the manner in which after three months of concealment the child was exposed on the waters of the Nile, and then rescued, adopted and trusted by the daughter of Pharao to the fostering care of Jochabed herself, is known to all, and needs no further mention here.

During his youth and early manhood, Moses—for thus was the child called henceforth because he had been “saved from the waters” of the Nile—underwent a twofold influence. On the one hand, as the son of Jochabed, he learned from his real mother who and what he was, and what great designs God ever had respecting His chosen people; on the other hand, as the adopted son of Pharao’s daughter “he was instructed in all the wisdom of the Egyptians” (Acts 7:22), that is, in all the learning, literary, scientific and religious, of the priests.

2. Flight and Sojourn in Madian (Exod. 2:11–22). The deep influence of Jochabed on the mind of Moses is evidenced by the fact that though brought up in the midst of the refinement and luxury of Pharao’s court, he did not hesitate, when the time came, to cast his lot with the oppressed children of Israel (cfr. Heb. 11:24 sq.). One day, in his indignation against an Egyptian taskmaster whom he saw striking an Israelite, he slew him, buried him hastily in the sand and relied on the discretion of those whose defence he had thus boldly taken. Moses, however, was deceived in his expectation, his bold deed was soon known, and he took to flight from the vengeance of Pharao.

The place of his retreat was the “Land of Madian,” a pastoral district beyond the Egyptian possessions in the peninsula of Sinai, and somewhat to the north and to the east of them. There he remained long years during which he led the humble shepherd life of the patriarchs of old, and became the son-in-law of Jethro the prince and priest of Madian.

3. Return into Egypt (Exod. 2:23–4). Meantime Ramesses II died, and was succeeded by Meneptah I, to whom the Israelites appealed in vain for relief. But Jehovah “heard their groaning” and took actual steps to rescue them from their misery. For this purpose He first appeared to Moses in the vicinity of Mount Horeb, in the southern part of the peninsula of Sinai, revealed to him the name under which He was to be made known to the Israelites and directed him to return to Egypt. He also bade Moses gather together the ancients of Israel, announce to them the good news of Divine deliverance, and together with them deliver to Pharao God’s message, that he should allow Israel to go a three days’ journey to offer a sacrifice to Jehovah, their God. This mission appeared to Moses fraught with difficulties, but he finally accepted it because God supplied him with miraculous powers and promised that he would find in his brother Aaron a faithful and eloquent spokesman. With Jethro’s consent, Moses left Madian and soon met Aaron, whom he made acquainted both with the mission and with the power of performing miracles Jehovah had entrusted to him.

Upon their arrival at the Israelite settlements, the two brothers gathered together the ancients of the people, and, agreeably to the Divine promise, Aaron proved a most successful spokesman near them; finally, Aaron’s words backed up by miracles convinced the people at large that Jehovah had indeed “visited the children of Israel and that He had looked upon their affliction.”

§ 2. Departure of the Israelites

1. Opposition to Departure (Exod. 5–10). As might naturally be expected, Pharao was not to be so easily persuaded of the Divine mission of Moses as the children of Israel, and, in point of fact, when Moses and Aaron together with the ancients of the people requested him in the name of Jehovah, “the God of Israel,” that he should let His people go and offer Him a sacrifice in the desert, the King of Egypt answered that Jehovah was a god unknown to him and that he would not let Israel go. What was asked of him was in entire opposition with his twofold policy of using every available man for his public works and of preventing the increase of the Israelites by excessive labor, and in consequence, the very same day he gave to the Egyptian task masters orders of an almost incredible severity against the children of Israel. Henceforth these bondmen of Pharao must find for themselves the chopped straw they needed to make brick, and yet furnish each day exactly the same number of bricks as when straw was supplied to them. They indeed appealed to the King against such oppression, but Pharao maintained his orders that they must keep on supplying bricks, sun-baked, and made with whatever straw, or even sedges, rushes and water-plants, they could find, with such binding materials, in a word, as we know were employed in the construction of the brick walls of Phithom discovered by M. de Naville in 1884.

It is not, therefore, to be wondered at, that, groaning under their increased misery, the children of Israel complained against Moses and Aaron, who had brought it upon them, and positively refused to give credence to the message which a little later Moses delivered to them in the name of Jehovah.

At this juncture, God bade Moses and Aaron appear again before Pharao, requesting him that he should allow the departure of the Israelites, and instructed the two brothers to change into a serpent the rod Aaron was supplied with, as a sign of their Divine mission. This they did, to the amazement of Pharao, who, however, having called upon his wise men and magicians and having witnessed what seemed to be the performance of a prodigy similar to that of Moses and Aaron, refused to grant what was requested of him. After this refusal of Pharao, God inflicted on the country, by the ministry of Moses and Aaron, the various scourges so well known under the name of the Plagues of Egypt. The first of these plagues—the turning of the water of the Nile into blood—is clearly analogous with the annual phenomenon of the Red Nile, already referred to in the preceding chapter, and whereby this river appears in the eyes of all as a river of blood. The same close resemblance of the next eight plagues with corresponding natural scourges which occur from time to time in Egypt, is also borne witness to by very reliable recent travellers, and this has led many Rationalists to look upon the first nine plagues described in the Bible as mere natural phenomena. But if this analogy of the plagues with natural scourges is undoubted and in so far proves the historical character of the Biblical narrative, it is no less unquestionable that several things connected with the production of the plagues of Egypt prove their miraculous character. Take for instance the first of these plagues: the turning of the water of the Nile into blood cannot be identified absolutely with the annual and natural phenomenon of the Red Nile, since the ordinary redness at the time of the Nile’s overflow does not render the water unfit for use or injurious to the fish in the river, whilst the reverse is positively affirmed by the Bible in connection with the first plague (Exod. 7:20, 21). Again, it should be noticed that the effect of the stretching of Aaron’s rod was immediate, that it had been predicted, that it extended at once to all the canals, trenches and pools connected with the Nile, and even to the water which had previously been taken from the river (Exod. 7:19–21), which circumstances, of course, are not realized in connection with the annual phenomenon of the Red Nile. It is plain therefore that several features of the first plague clearly distinguish it from the natural phenomenon of the Red Nile and mark it as a miraculous event, and a similar conclusion is forced upon us about the eight following plagues when we compare them with the corresponding natural scourges which occur from time to time in the valley of the Nile. (For details respecting the plagues of Egypt, see VIGOUROUX, vol. ii; GEIKIE, vol. ii.)

These various miracles had not however for their sole object to wrest from Pharao his consent to the departure of the Israelites (Exod. 6:1), they were also intended to teach the children of Israel the utter powerlessness of the Egyptian gods when confronted with Jehovah (Numb. 33:4; Exod. 10:2; Wisdom 12:27). Thus the beneficent power of the Nile, worshipped as the representation of Osiris, felt the stroke of Jehovah’s power in the first plague; in the second plague, that of the frogs, Heki, “the driver away of the frogs,” proved powerless in behalf of his worshippers; in the third plague, the soil of Egypt, adored as “the father of the gods,” under the name of Seb, was defiled, and its dust seemed turned into sciniphs to torment its worshippers; in the next plagues, the several animal-deities of the land were in like manner derided, whilst in the ninth, even the Sun, the supreme Egyptian god, had to veil its face before Jehovah.

2. The Departure of the Israelites (Exod. 11–12:36). It was to complete the Divine judgment upon the gods of Egypt (Exod. 13:12), and also finally to compel Pharao and his subjects to send away His chosen people, that Jehovah, setting aside the agency of the elements of nature He had heretofore used against the Egyptians, declared that He would Himself smite “every first-born in the land of Egypt, from the first-born of man to the first-born of beasts.” The time fixed for this tenth and last plague was the hour of midnight on the fourteenth of the month which was already begun, and which was henceforth to be considered by the Israelites as the first month of their sacred year. Meantime, each Israelite household was (1) to select, on the tenth of the month, a lamb or kid, one year old and without blemish; (2) to slay it on the fourteenth, just before the evening twilight, and to sprinkle some of its blood upon the door-posts of each house, and (3) on the very same evening, before midnight, to eat it with unleavened bread and bitter herbs, and in haste, with their loins girded, their shoes on their feet, and their staves in hand, like persons in a hurry to depart. All the Divine orders relating to this first Pasch, were, of course, carried out with the utmost exactitude by the children of Israel, and at midnight on the fourteenth of the month of Abib, Jehovah passing over the houses which He saw marked with blood, smote all the first-born in the land of Egypt.

Struck with terror by the awful blow which the God of Israel had dealt to every Egyptian family, Pharao and his subjects pressed the Israelites to depart at once. As has been well said by Rawlinson, “Moses had no need to give any signal, or to send his orders by messengers, that all the Israelites should set out at early dawn on the fifteenth of the month. For by fixing the Passover feast for a definite day, and requiring that after eating it none should go forth “until the morning” (Exod. 12:22), he had made all acquainted with the day and hour of departure; he had also caused all to be prepared for setting forth; and, if any had been inclined to linger, the Egyptians themselves would not have allowed it (Exod. 12:33). So that an almost simultaneous departure was actually secured” (Moses, p. 118).

The sacred text informs us that when they left Egypt, the Israelites were “about 600,000 men besides children,” which makes it probable that they formed a body of emigrants which exceeded two millions of souls. This great number renders it indeed difficult for us to imagine how the whole Hebrew nation could depart under the circumstances narrated; yet this actual migration of an entire people is not without parallel in profane history, for we read in the history of Russia that, in the last century, 400,000 Tartars, under the cover of a single night, departed from Russia and made their way over several thousand miles of steppes to the frontiers of China.

Together with their national freedom, the Israelites obtained most valuable gifts from the panic-stricken Egyptians. They had been instructed by Moses that on the night of the exodus, they should ask jewels of silver and gold, and raiment from their oppressors, and under the excitement which the tenth plague caused in each Egyptian household, they obtained at once whatever they asked for. These were, of course, very valuable things, but however precious, they were but a feeble compensation secured by Jehovah to His chosen people for their long years of unpaid labor.

Thus ended the sojourn of the Israelites in the land of Egypt. The length of their stay is variously given in the Hebrew text and in the Septuagint or oldest Greek translation of the Old Testament. According to the former it extended to 430 years, according to the latter (cfr. also Galat. 3:17) it was much shorter, about 125 years; the longer duration is more probable (cfr. CRELIER, Exode, p. 103).

3. The Passage of the Red Sea (Exod. 12:37–15:21). Of the road which the Israelites followed from Ramesses to the Red Sea, nothing is known except its general direction. As the goal of their journey was the Land of Chanaan, they naturally made for the Arabian desert, and having reached its borders, they turned south toward the Red Sea, in order to avoid the armed opposition they would have met with from the Philistines had they continued their journey to the northeast. It is true that besides this general direction, the sacred narrative mentions the encampments of the children of Israel at Soccoth, Etham and Phihahiroth; but these stages of their road are now little more than names of places which cannot be identified, because of the scantiness of biblical and archæological data concerning them.

Great uncertainty prevails also among scholars as to the exact place where the Hebrews crossed the western arm of the Red Sea, for it is still a debated question whether the northern limit of this western arm is now practically the same as in the time of Moses. Various writers maintain that at the time of the exodus, this arm—now called the Gulf of Suez, from the town built near its northern extremity—extended some thirty or forty miles farther north, and they admit for the actual place of crossing some point of this former extension of the Red Sea. Others, on the contrary, and apparently with greater probability, think that in the time of Moses the northern limit of the Gulf of Suez did not vary much, if at all, from what it is in the present day, and they maintain that the crossing took place at some point of the present head of the Gulf, either a little above or a little below the town of Suez. (For an able discussion of this question, see BARTLETT, From Egypt to Palestine, chap. vii; VIGOUROUX, vol. ii.)

Whilst the Israelites moved slowly towards the nearest desert, and next towards the Red Sea, Pharao and his subjects recovering from their first terror, regretted that these numerous slaves should have been allowed to depart, and with a view to compel them to return, started hurriedly after them. Great indeed was the distress of the Hebrews when they noticed the Egyptian hosts approaching, and in point of fact the position of the chosen people was extremely perilous; eastward was the sea, and whilst the mountains barred their escape to the south and west, the well-trained and numerous army of Pharao approached Israel from the north. Thus hemmed in on all sides, the Israelites naturally expected their prompt and utter destruction; but it was not so with their leader, who, trustful in God’s protection, foretold both the timely help of Jehovah and the complete overthrow of the Egyptians.

The sacred narrative makes known to us how perfectly this prediction of Moses was fulfilled. It tells us how, on the one hand, about nightfall and at the stretching forth of Moses’ hand over the sea, there arose a violent wind which, by dividing the waters, secured a safe passage to the children of Israel and how, on the other hand, at break of day and at the same stretching of Moses’ hand after the Hebrews had passed over, the waters returned to their former place and drowned the Egyptian army.

This wonderful. passage of the Red Sea by the Hebrews was ever considered by them not only as a great event in their national history, but also as one of the most stupendous miracles wrought by the Almighty in behalf of His chosen people In point of fact, no unprejudiced reader of the book of the Exodus can help noticing that whilst the inspired writer clearly admits the actual play of natural forces—such as that of a violent northeastern wind—in the production of this event, he speaks of several particulars which point no less clearly to his conviction that the safe passage of Israel was no mere result of these natural forces, but was brought about by a timely intervention of Jehovah, who superadded to their energy all the power necessary to secure the deliverance. He had so distinctively foretold by the mouth of Moses. (See VIGOUROUX, vol. ii, livre iv, chap. viii.)

But whilst the Jewish writers refer repeatedly to this miraculous deliverance of their ancestors (Ps. 76:7–12; 113; Wisdom 10:18, 19; etc.), the Egyptian monuments, as might naturally be expected, keep the strictest silence about the ignominious overthrow of Pharao’s army on this occasion. It must be said, however, that Josephus, in his “Treatise against Apion,” has quoted the accounts of this event as recorded by the three Egyptian writers, Manetho, Chæremon and Lysimachus, but as these accounts present numerous contradictions, they deserve but little credence. Perhaps more value is to be set upon the local traditions which have retained the remembrance of this great catastrophe. The Arabs of the Sinaitic peninsula still call fountains or wells by the names of Moses and Pharao, and look upon the whole coast with a superstitious awe. Nor should we reject at once these traditions of the modern Arabs, for Diodorus Siculus states that even in his time these tribes ascribed them to their very remote ancestors; yet, it will ever remain true that these local traditions may have originated in the Biblical account of the passage of the Red Sea, and that consequently they cannot be brought forth as an independent confirmation of this memorable event (cfr. EWALD, History of Israel, vol. ii, p. 76, sq.).

Immediately after their miraculous deliverance, the children of Israel sang unto Jehovah that joyous canticle of praise and thanksgiving which Moses, their great leader, composed for the occasion and which we find recorded in the book of Exodus (15:1–21).

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