The book of Genesis ends with Jacob’s family living in Egypt, which, under the leadership of Joseph, provided refuge from the famine in Canaan. After Joseph’s death, the rulers of Egypt forgot about who Joseph was and began to fear the growing numbers of the Israelites (Ex. 1:8-10), so they enslaved the Israelites to keep them under control. The slavery of Israel should not have been a surprise, for this was exactly what Yahweh had foretold (Gen. 15:13-14). But Yahweh also promised that He would deliver them from their bondage. The reason Yahweh allowed this slavery is not specifically mentioned in Genesis or Exodus.

From the greater context of the Bible one can deduce at least two answers to why Yahweh allowed the enslavement of Israel. First, being slaves themselves would allow them to have sympathy and compassion toward others who were enslaved, poor, and mistreated, since they would later become a nation ruling over the other nations and representing Yahweh. Second, their slavery would allow for Yahweh to demonstrate His power and love through His action of deliverance and, later, the cross that became His greatest work in history.

The Pharaohs of Egypt

Pharaohs in the book of Exodus are mentioned by name. This is intentional in Exodus, for the Pharaohs and Egypt are portrayed as the symbols of Satan and the world, who have enslaved the people of Yahweh (Ex. 13:3). Yahweh is not so much interested in telling Egyptian history as He is in making a theological point about how He can redeem His people from slavery to Satan, no matter what form it takes.

Yet the Bible does tell us the date of the exodus in 1 Kgs. 6:1. One can see that the times for both the exodus and the beginning of the Temple have been specifically stated here. Scholars have identified the fourth year of Solomon’s reign as 966 BC (give or take a year). Using this 966 date, one finds that the exodus took place in 1446 BC, according to 1 Kgs. 1:6. Based on this information, the exodus would have occurred in the third year of the reign of the pharaoh Amenhotep II, the 7th pharaoh of the 18th dynasty (see the Exodus Chronology chart). There is also other biblical passages and archeological evidence that supports this view (see the Pharaohs of the Exodus article).

The Deliverer

In Exodus 2 the story of Moses becomes the answer to the question that the reader asked at the end of the previous chapter; “What is Yahweh going to do?” Yet the story of Moses as an infant, about to be killed, and as an Egyptian man, with no real Hebrew identity or devotion to Yahweh, does not seem like Israel’s deliverer. Yet this is exactly who Yahweh picked, not a man of great strength and will but a nobody who could be turned into a great man by Yahweh’s means. Not only would Moses become Israel’s deliverer, but he would become a typology for Jesus Christ Himself (Deut. 18:15-19; 34:10-11).

Born to a Hebrew family and raised by the Pharaoh’s daughter, Moses spent the first forty years of his life living in the Pharaoh’s palace, educated by Egypt’s wisest men, and serving in one of the ancient Near East’s greatest military. At the same time he looked like a Hebrew and was influenced by Hebrew thinking in the early part of his life. Moses was a man of two worlds yet belonged to neither one. For whatever reason, Moses began to feel more connected to his fellow Hebrews and tried to be their deliverer through his own means, but they refused to accept him (Ex. 2:11-15).

After killing an Egyptian guard and being rejected by his own people, Moses fled into the wilderness, where he spent the next forty years of his life living as a shepherd and a nobody in a strange land. Moses was eighty years old when Yahweh came to him through the burning flame in the bush and called him to deliver Israel through Yahweh’s power not his own (Ex. 3:1-6). (The focus in the passage is not the bush but the flame—the visible presence of Yahweh that He would use of Himself throughout the rest of the Bible. The Jews called this the Shakaniah glory of Yahweh.) However, Moses resisted Yahweh’s calling by questioning both his own ability and Yahweh’s (Ex. 3:11-4:17). Over and over Yahweh assured Him that He would be with Moses and that this was all that mattered. It is in this assurance that God revealed Himself as Yahweh to Moses. Though the name Yahweh does mean “I AM” in that He exists, its meaning goes way beyond this. No one in the story was questioning the existence of Yahweh, rather they were questioning His power and will. After four hundred years of slavery, the question was “Does Yahweh care and is He capable of saving the Hebrews?” It is in this context that Yahweh gave His true name: that He is the only true God that exists and that He is the ever-present helper who is always with you. It is upon this name that the exodus, the formation of Israel as a nation, the prophecies, the cross, and second coming are all built. Humanity has separated itself from Yahweh, but He has come to restore us to Himself. By the time Moses had gone through the plagues he was a different man with a much more intimate understanding of who Yahweh is and what He could and would do for His people. And so Moses became Israel’s deliverer and led them out of Egypt, through the Red Sea, and to Mount Sinai where the nation of Israel would also meet Yahweh and receive the Mosaic Covenant.