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Friday, October 29, 2010

Old Testament Tales - Young Moses

Young Moses
1. Why were the Israelites in Egypt?
2. How long were the Israelites in Egypt?
3. Where did the Israelites live in Egypt?
4. How many Israelite midwives served the whole community?
5. Why wasn’t Aaron killed as a baby?
6. Why wasn’t Moses killed as a baby?
7. What was the name of Moses’ real mother?
8. What was the name of Moses’ foster-mother?
9. Why might Moses have written some of the books of the Old Testament?
10. Why did Moses run away?

At the end of Genesis, God’s people are living in the hill-country of Goshen near the Nile delta, near the area where Rameses will later be built. They’re pretty isolated from other Egyptians, since they’re shepherds and shepherds are despised. They stayed there for 400 years (Ex 12:40) and probably consolidated their memories of the Genesis stories while telling them round the camp-fire. Other tribes may have added and expanded traditional stories in the retelling, but the Israelites believed their stories to be God’s word and would have been careful not to add anything extra. (Which may be why the Bible seems so boring compared to the fanciful myths of other peoples…)

Towards the end of the 400 years, it seems God told the Israelites to move and they refused (Ezekiel 20:6-8). How easily we do that. Then the Egyptians began to build Rameses and enslaved the nearest tribespeople as unwilling volunteers. In an effort to keep the local slave population down, they told the Israelite midwives Shiprah and Puah to kill all baby boys, but they refused. Then they told the Egyptian soldiers to kill any babies they found while rounding up slaves. Aaron was probably born before this latter edict and was three years old at Moses birth. Moses’ sister Miriam helped hide him in a basket when he was small, and encouraged the Egyptian princess Bithiah (1 Chron 4:17-18) to adopt him, while Moses’ own mother Jochebed was hired as his nurse. Quite probably Jochebed and Moses would have lived in the palace while Miriam and Aarons stayed in Goshen with Amram (Moses’ father Ex 6:20).

The Israelite shepherds are unlikely to have developed writing, but Moses, growing up in the Egyptian palace, would have been exposed to Egyptian writing and teaching (and Egyptian gods). His mother probably taught him the stories of his own people, and it’s not unlikely that Moses would have been the first Israelite to write the stories down. Other Israelites probably learned to write during the time of slavery, and while travelling with Moses, so their writings may have been compiled with Moses’ into the first five books of the Bible.

It’s not hard to imagine Moses, brought up in relative luxury, viewing himself as the great saving hope of his people. In keeping with this, he tries to “help” an Israelite slave by killing an Egyptian. Probably a bad move. Then he runs away.

There was a road across the Sinai peninsula from Egypt to Midian, and since Moses ends up marrying a priest of Midian, this is probably the road he took. It would have been about a 7-day journey. 3 days further, on the road leading down to the Gulf of Aqaba, he would have reached Marah (Ex 2:15, 15:22, Num33:8), where he met Jethro (Reuel) and married his daughter Zipporah. They had two sons together, but it seems Moses didn’t have either of them circumcised (Ex 4:25). When he fell ill on his return journey, Zipporah blamed Moses’ god and performed the circumcision herself, so perhaps it had always been a bone of contention between them, or perhaps it was God’s way of convincing Moses that the return really was His will and not something commanded by a foreign god.

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