Part one of an overview of the story of Moses and the Exodus (ch. 1-7) with some commentary.
Israel (Jacob) brought himself and his family (67 people in all) to Egypt from Canaan during a famine to be reunited with Joseph who was made vizier in Egypt (Genesis ch.46). This happened 215 years before the Exodus event and Joseph died 144 years before the Exodus event. Joseph was sold into slavery at age 17, by his brothers (Judah, Simeon, Levi, Reuben, Issachar, Naphtali, Dan, Asher, Gad, and Zebulun) and ended up in Egypt. He was first enslaved, then falsely accused and imprisoned. However at age 30, he interpreted the Pharaoh’s dream which warned of a coming famine that would last seven years, but first, it would be proceeded by seven years of plenty. He proposed they collect 20% in taxes and store it up in preparation for the famine. The Pharaoh made him Vizier of Egypt and appointed him to manage the situation, and his wisdom saved the nation during the famine. His family reunited with him 2 years into the famine when they came to Egypt to buy food. His father Israel (Jacob) thought he was dead because his brothers lied about selling him. Joseph was 39 years old and Jacob was 130 years old when they were reunited. His mother Rachel died in childbirth around 2 decades before then and had one last son, his younger brother, Benjamin. The Pharaoh allowed them to stay in Goshen as a favor to Joseph despite the fact that many Egyptians hated foreigners. The Egyptians didn’t like the Hebrews and refused to eat with them (Gen 43:32, Gen 46:33-34), however, they had favor because of Joseph’s work in saving the nation. Jacob dies 17 years later at age 147, and Joseph eventually dies 71 years later at age 110.
Since then a new Pharaoh from a time after Joseph’s death enslaved the Israelites. The Egyptians already didn’t like them but now there is no reason for them to hold back their nationalist attitudes towards them. The name Hebrew means “foreigner” so it could have been a derogatory term for them given by the Egyptians.
About Moses (from Exodus ch. 6)
Moses was a descendant of Levi and was born 64 years after Joseph died. His grandfather Kohath was one of the 67 who came to Egypt from Canaan with Israel. Amram, Kohath’s son, married one of Levi’s daughters Jochebed (his aunt). They had Miriam, Aaron, and Moses. Moses is the youngest and was born 3 years after Aaron.
Exodus Chapter 1:
Moses was nearly killed around the time of his birth because of the decree by the Pharaoh of that time to kill all newborn Hebrew (Israelite) boys under two years old. At first, Pharaoh ordered the midwives to kill them, but they refused so then Pharaoh said the Hebrews must drown their baby boys in the Nile River.
Exodus Chapter 2:
Moses was born to Jochebed and Amram and after 3 months of trying to hide baby Moses, Jochebed put him in a basket in the Nile river and Moses was found by the pharaoh’s own daughter as she bathed in the river. Pharaoh’s daughter was intrigued, she felt pity for Moses and decided to raise him herself. Miriam (his older sister), was following Moses’ basket as he drifted down the river, suggested to Pharaoh’s daughters that Jochebed (her mother) nurse the baby in his early years. The pharaoh’s daughter agreed, and even paid Jochebed to help raise Moses (her own son). Miriam would nurse Moses until he was older, and then Pharaoh’s daughter adopted him and raised him in Pharaoh’s house, with her father’s permission. He was named “Moses” by Pharaoh’s daughter because she “lifted him out of water”.
Years later when Moses was an adult (around 40 years old according to Acts 7:23), he went to visit the Hebrew people in Goshen. He saw an Egyptian abusing his Israelite slave, so Moses looked for witnesses and when he saw none he killed the Egyptian to rescue to slave from the beating. Moses then buried the Egyptian’s body in the sand. The next day, Moses broke up a fight between two Hebrews, but they scoffed at him and asked if he was going to kill them as well. Moses was afraid because word had gotten out that he killed an Egyptian. Moses was now a fugitive and had fled Egypt to Midian. There he encountered seven women, who were daughters of the high priest, being harassed by some shepherds at a well. Moses rescued them and drew water for them. They told their father Reuel (also known as Jethro) about Moses and he invited Moses to stay with him. Moses eventually married Zipporah one of Reuel’s daughters, and she gave him a son he named Gershom. Gershom means “foreigner” because he was a foreigner in the land of Midian. Years later, when Moses was 80 years, old the Pharaoh that put a bounty on him had died. At that time, the Israelites were still groaning in slavery and God enacted his plan to rescue the Israelites from Egypt and fulfill the promise he made to Abraham 430 years ago, to bring his descendants into the land of Canaan, the promised land.
Comment: I suspect the Hebrew slaves reported Moses for murdering the Egyptian out of jealousy. It seems reasonable that they may have already disliked Moses because he wasn’t a slave like the rest of them. In other words he was an “traitor” for living in Pharaoh’s house, eating Pharaoh’s food, and drinking Pharaoh’s wine, all without breaking a sweat as a slave. As far as they know Moses could have been advocating on behalf of his people to keep things form being worse.
Exodus Chapter 3:
Moses is tending to Jethro/Reuel’s flock and goes deep into the wilderness to Mt. Sinai. There he sees a burning bush that doesn’t burn up and as he gets close the voice of God calls out to him from it. God tells him to take off his sandals because it is holy ground, then the voice tells him that he is the God of his forefathers Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. He says he has heard the cries of the Israelites in Egypt and plans to rescue them and lead them to the promised land in Canaan. He says that Moses will lead them out of Egypt. Moses doesn’t feel qualified to speak to the Pharaoh. God reassures him that he will be with Moses and Moses will successfully lead the people of Israel to Mt. Sinai to worship him there. Moses wasn’t sure if the Israelites would believe him and needed to know what God’s name was. God told him his name was YHWH and to tell them “I AM THAT I AM” sent him. God tells Moses to tell the Israelites that he will bring them into the promised land that he promised to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob long ago. He told Moses to ask the Pharaoh to give the Israelites a break to go into the wilderness for a three-day journey to and worship their God at his mountain. God then says that Pharaoh will not let them go because he is stubborn and arrogant. In response, God says he will show the Egyptians his power with miraculous signs, and eventually, the Pharaoh will let them go. In addition, the Israelites will leave with wealth through reparations because God will give them favor with the Egyptians.
Exodus Chapter 4:
Moses objects to this idea because he thinks the Israelites won’t believe his story of his encounter with God. God points out the staff in his hand and tells him to throw it on the ground and when he does this, it turns into a snake. Then tells him to pick it up and when it does, it turns back into a staff. God then has him put his hand in his cloak and take it out, and when he does this his hand comes out white with leprosy. Then he puts it back and takes it out again, and his hand is back to normal. God says if they are not convinced by the first sign, they will be convinced by the second sign. God says if the Israelites are still not convinced, then Moses is to take water from the Nile River and pour it on the ground and God will turn it into the blood. Moses was still concerned because he wasn’t an eloquent speaker. God reassured him that with God by his side nothing would be impossible since he made the mouth and has the power of people’s ability to speak. Moses still lacked confidence and asked God to send someone else because he didn’t feel worthy. So God gets angry and concedes to allow him to bring Aaron with him so that Aaron can speak for him. Then God promises to be with them both and says that Moses’ staff will be used to do the miraculous signs.
God let Moses know it was safe for him to return because the Pharaoh and those that wanted him dead were gone. God tells him that this new Pharaoh’s heart will be hardened even to the miraculous signs, and he will not let the people go. In response, God says he will kill the firstborn of all of Egypt since Pharaoh refuses to let God’s firstborn (the nation of Israel) go. Moses went back home, got Jethro’s permission to leave for Egypt, and took his wife and sons with him. At a rest stop on the way to Egypt, Moses was about to die (presumably from an illness inflicted on him). This suddenlt fatal attack on Moses is implied to be triggered by the fact that it was time to circumcise his son Eliezer but his wife was against it so he didn’t. His near-death caused her to act and circumcise Eliezer anyway, and Moses was spared. Zipporah appears to be disgusted by the very act of circumcision and called Moses “a bridegroom of blood”. Afterward, God sent Aaron into the wilderness to meet with Moses as he approached Egypt. Moses told Aaron everything God asked him to do and the signs God would show for him. Together they went to Egypt and showed the signs to the elders of Israel and they believed Moses and praised God for their coming deliverance.
Comment: Exodus 4:24-26 involves a circumcision that happened under pressure from the threat of God’s judgment. It seems God was willing to kill Moses right after calling him to lead the Israelites out of Egypt. Why would he do that, even after he told Moses that it has to be him when Moses asked him to send someone else? This incident seems to imply there was a failure to properly circumcision in Moses’s family and circumcision was a part of the requirements for the Abrahamic covenant, and since Moses was leading the Israelites it was important that he at least kept that rule.
Various scholars have different theories on this. Some say this was about Gershom’s circumcision. Others say it was about Moses and have deduced that the Israelites had not been properly circumcised while in Egypt, this is based on the Israelites getting circumcised in Joshua 5:2. Gershom, the oldest son of Moses, was born around the time he first came to Midian (Ex 2:21-22). Moses came to Midian when he was 40 years old (Acts 7:23-32) and went back to Egypt at 80 years old so, Gershom would have been about 40 at the oldest. Some say Moses wasn’t properly circumcised since he was raised in Pharaoh’s house and likewise the other Israelites weren’t either so this is why in Joshua 5:2 Joshua had all men in Israel “re-circumcised” themselves. I actually believe another theory, that it was Eliezer that was being circumcised since he would have been the youngest since it seems he was born around the time Moses left for Egypt based on Exodus 18:1-6.
Circumcision was supposed to happen on the eighth day (Gen 17:9-14), and Gershom is a grown man by this time which means he can make his own decision to get circumcised so why would Moses be threatened when God could have targeted Gershom? Furthermore, why would God wait until that specific moment on the way to Egypt to tell Moses to circumcise him? If Eliezer was the new baby at this time then this makes sense since he was born around the time of the burning bush conversation, and they could have stopped at this rest stop eight days after Eliezer was born. As for it being Moses, I don’t know if he was improperly circumcised or not but that has nothing to do with Joshua 5:2 since Moses’ generation (except Joshua and Caleb) didn’t go to the promise because of their sin in Numbers 14:26-35, and Moses and Aaron are banned because of their own sin (Num 20:2-13, Deut 32:48-52). This was about circumcising the next generation who weren’t circumcised when they were born in the wilderness. Joshua 5:4-7 says that their fathers were circumcised but they were dead since they lost out on the promise because of their failure to trust God in Numbers 14, so their sons had to replace them and that replacement begins with their circumcision.
Moses was with his parents for three months before he was adopted by Pharaoh’s daughter (Ex2:2), so they had time to circumcise him on the eighth day. It’s possible that they didn’t circumcise him to hide his Jewishness so that Pharaoh’s servants wouldn’t kill him, but Pharaoh’s daughter recognized him as a Hebrew when she saw him in the basket, so this can’t be the case either. There is nothing in the text that I see, that suggests he wasn’t circumcised or there was anything prohibiting him from being circumcised.
In Exodus 18:1-6, it says Zipporah and her two sons Gershom and Eliezer are brought to Moses at Mount Sinai by Jethro Moses’ father-in-law. Eliezer is not mentioned in Exodus at all until chapter 18. So either he was born before Moses’ trip back to Egypt or afterward while Zipporah was at home. This chapter reveals to us that Zipporah did not stay with Moses after the circumcision in Exodus 4 and she went back home to her father’s house.
In the Gershom scenario, Eliezer is born when Zipporah is at home with Gershom and her father, all while Moses is in Egypt with Aaron challenging the Pharaoh. In this case, it is Gershom that needs to be circumcised. If it is Eliezer being circumcised scenario, Moses left around the time Eliezer was born and Eliezer was supposed to be circumcised on the way to Egypt, eight days after his birth. However, may have Zipporah objected to it since she says, “Now you are a bridegroom of blood to me.” which can be interpreted as her disgust of circumcision. There is another interpretation that instead of disgust she was simply recognizing that her husband was a worshipper of the God Most High (YHWH). Following the first interpretation, since Gershom is already circumcised, she probably figured that it was enough and didn’t want it to happen again and convinced Moses, not to do it. God had to deal with this because he was breaking the covenant oath from Gen 17 to circumcise all the males from Abraham’s line.
I don’t believe God intended on killing Moses outright since he wanted to use him to rescue Israel and would not let Moses pass up the job (Ex 4:10-17), God even got angry with him for his insistence on sending someone else and allowed him to take Aaron back to speak for him. Why would God kill him after making it clear that it had to be him? Perhaps God temporarily made him to sick enough to scare Zipporah into giving in and circumcising Eliezer. God can’t have Moses breaking the Abrahamic law and then representing the God of that same covenant to the nation in which the promise is made, so it was necessary for covenant reasons and prevents him from leading the people as a hypocrite with an uncircumcised son. At the same time, God could not have indented to kill Moses if he planned on sending him to lead the people out of Israel.
How do we know if this is Gershom or Eliezer? We learn from Exodus 18:2 sent his wife back home, possibly for her own safety, or maybe she was traumatized by the events of Exodus 4:24-26. They then are reunited with Moses when they accompany Jethro to see Moses after the Israelites came out of Egypt in Exodus 18. The rest of the story proceeds to explain the names of the sons of Moses. The names of the boys were related to the circumstances of Moses’ life when they were born. Gershom’s name means “a foreigner there”, because when he was born Moses said, “I have been a foreigner in a foreign land.” Moses was born in Egypt so he is a foreigner in Midian. He names his 2nd son Eliezer, which means “God is my helper”, and at his birth, Moses said, “The God of my ancestors was my helper; he rescued me from the sword of Pharaoh.” Gershom was born around the time Moses married Zipporah closer to when he first came to Midian as a “foreigner there”. However, Eliezer was born closer to when he left Midian to go back to Egypt after finding out God “delivered him” from Pharaoh. Moses was living in Midian as a fugitive and couldn’t freely go back to see his family in Egypt, but now that the previous Pharaoh is dead, he is free to return, back to his homeland. His son’s births marked the beginning and end of his time as a fugitive.
One could interpret Eliezer as being born when Zipporah was with her father-in-law Moses saw him for the first time in Exodus 18 and named him at that moment. This would imply that the rescue from “the sword of Pharaoh” is referring to the Exodus Pharaoh, not his predecessor the fugitive Pharaoh. However, Exodus 4:19 reveals that God told Moses that those who wanted him dead are dead before he went back to Egypt. This would imply that Eliezer’s name was inspired by the rescue from the sword of those who wanted him dead in Egypt when he fled as a fugitive. The new Pharaoh (of the Exodus event) didn’t recognize or know of Moses when he demands that he let the Israelites go in Exodus 5. The only people that could want him dead are the ones that had something against him, and since the Exodus Pharaoh had never met him before because he was living in Midian it could not be about him. This is only a few verses before the circumcision and when putting those various facts together along with the other variables like Gershom’s age and the name etymology of both sons, I believe Eliezer was born and named right before Moses left for Egypt. This means his naming was in reference to the Pharaoh in charge when Moses became a fugitive. One reason this scripture is complicated is that Exodus 4 does not reveal the existence of Eliezer, but when reading the clues it seems to me that this circumcision was about Eliezer, not Gershom, or Moses, and God’s intent was to get him circumcised not kill Moses since Moses had a calling he could not escape.
Exodus Chapter 5:
Moses and Aaron confronted the Pharaoh and asked him to let the Israelites go on a three-day retreat to worship their God on a mountain. The Pharaoh refused their request just as God said he would, and he just thinks they are lazy. The Pharaoh responds by making things harder for the Israelites. He removes the straw they need to make bricks at their work locations, which forces them to have to take extra time to go and gather supplies. This causes delays in production and they are punished for it, even though it was Pharaoh’s fault for creating impossible work conditions. The Israelite foremen pleaded with Pharaoh, but he says it will cure them of their laziness and prevent them from wasting time making up stories about worshiping their God in the wilderness. The foremen went to Moses to complain, and Moses cried out to God about this harsh response from the Pharaoh.
Exodus Chapter 6:
God promises Moses that he will respond to Pharaoh accordingly. God then reminds him of his name and reaffirms his covenant with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, to Moses. Moses tried to comfort the people with God’s word but they refused to listen because of Pharaoh’s harshness. God sent Moses back to Pharaoh to try again, and Moses objects because it didn’t work before, and only made things worse. God reassures him and tells him and Aaron to go back and talk to Pharaoh again.
The rest of this chapter is an overview of who Moses is in terms of lineage and how he relates to Jacob/Israel. It mentions the lineages of the first three sons of Israel, Reuben, Simeon, and Levi. The major focus is put on Levi who died at age 137 (23 years after Joseph), 41 years before Moses was born. It lists Levi’s descendants down to the third generation after him. Levi had three sons Gershon, Kohath, and Merari. Moses comes from Amram the son of Kohath, and Jochebed a daughter of Levi (sister of Kohath), making her Amram’s aunt. Kohath lived until age 133, and Amram lived until age 137. Moses has two sons Gershom and Eliezer from his wife Zipporah. Moses’ brother Aaron marries Elisheba, daughter of Amminadab and sister of Nahshon from the tribe of Judah. She comes from Judah through the lines of Perez, Hezron, Ram, and Amminadab (according to 1 Chronicles 2:1-10). Aaron has four sons, Nadab, Abihu, Eleazar, and Ithamar. Aaron was 83 years old and Moses was 80.
Exodus Chapter 7:
God has Moses go to Pharaoh again and tells him to let Aaron do the talking as if Aaron is “a prophet” and Moses is “a god”. They are to demand that Pharaoh let the Israelites go, however his hard heart will refuse and God will do miraculous signs to show the people that he is the superior God. (The point of these signs is that they are so big that they are remembered for multiple generations and are heard about by people outside of Egypt like the Canaanites.) God tells them to use the staff and he will make it a serpent just like before when Moses was at the bush and before the Israelite’s elders. They went to Pharaoh again and he asked for them to prove the power of their God. So Aaron threw the staff down and it became a serpent just as God said. Then Pharaoh called in two sorcerers and they did the same with their staffs, but Aaron’s snake devoured their snakes. Pharaoh was still not impressed and his heart was hardened.
God gives them further instructions and the next morning they go to the Nile river to meet with Pharaoh and ask him to let the Israelites leave. Like before, Aaron did the talking and Moses told him what to say. Then Aaron raised his staff and struck the Nile river and the water turned into blood. Various water bodies in Egypt like reservoirs, canals, ponds, as well as pots and bowls that had water from the Nile were affected. The sorcerers were able to replicate this miracle and Pharaoh’s heart remained hard. The fish in the river died and that caused the river to stink so the Egyptians had to dig wells to find clean water, this lasted seven days.