• To see the maps and other links that I have included with this article, go to:
The Growth and Affliction of the Hebrews in Egypt
The story of Moses and the plagues of Egypt is familiar to most people and one of the most dramatic sections of the Bible. The events of Exodus represent the most miraculous and comprehensive events ever displayed by God’s power on the face of the earth.
Exodus opens with the children of Israel in Egypt during a period of exponential increase in their numbers and in cruel bondage after Joseph’s death under a Pharaoh who did not know Joseph, Ex. 1:8. As the first generation of the children of Israel after Joseph’s death increased, so did the fear of the Egyptians when they witnessed this exceedingly rapid and mighty growth in the numbers of the Hebrews. A new Pharaoh came into power, and the significance of Joseph in the history of the Egyptian nation was lost. The Egyptians began to look at the Israelites as potential enemies and as potential slaves at the same time. So the Egyptians enslaved them in bitter bondage. Nevertheless, the Hebrews increased all the more.
The Egyptians so dreaded the Hebrews that the Pharaoh ordered the Egyptian midwives to kill the Hebrew male babies who were born. The midwives refused to do this and were blessed by the Lord with families of their own. Meanwhile, the Hebrews kept increasing.
Then the Pharaoh commanded that ALL the Egyptians kill the Hebrew babies and throw them into the Nile. Under this state of affairs, Moses, a Levite, was born and hidden by his mother in a basket in the bullrushes of the Nile River. It is a touching story of the Providence of God to place another son from the family of Jacob into a leadership position in Egypt when Moses was adopted as the brother to the man who would one day be Pharaoh.
This story is usually presented on the surface as a Sunday School lesson that shows how God raised up a leader to lead His people out of the ruthless bondage of Egypt. Sermons implore us to be courageous and full of faith in God like Moses and be obedient to God who will help us in our frailties and weaknesses. There is also reference to God’s promise to Abraham as the motive for the Exodus. What is nearly always missing, however, is how this story relates to the history of redemption and how God was bringing His Redeemer to crush the serpent’s head. There is almost never a reference to what was actually going on behind the scenes where the real story was taking place.
This lesson will present those behind-the-scenes events and catalysts that brought about this part of Israel’s history.
Satan’s Attempt to Kill the Seed
While Joseph was in charge under the Pharaoh, Israel was protected. She was kept separate from the Egyptians and their influence, and she was amply nourished and cared for by Egypt’s vast store. God had turned the hearts of the Egyptian leaders to the Israelites and Satan was powerless against them.
But when the new Pharaoh rose to power, opportunity presented itself again. Satan quickly seized the moment given him and began the oppression and weakening of the promised Seed’s family. When Israel increased in number instead, Satan moved against them with more murderous intent through Pharaoh’s scheme to abort the Hebrew males through the midwives (1:15,16). However, the Lord had directed God-fearing midwives (1:20,21) to attend to the birth-giving Hebrew women and checked the devil’s move. Satan scattered his net wider and ordered ALL of the Egyptian people to get involved, not just midwives, and to throw any newly born Hebrew males into the Nile River. Satan knew that somewhere in Goshen was his Enemy, and a holocaust of national scale directed specifically toward Hebrew boys would find Him.
Apparently an active search for newborn males had been on for some time (2:1-3) when Moses’ mother hid him from Egyptian eyes in the bullrushes of the Nile River. But the Lord – AGAIN – protected the Redeemer’s deliverer by sheltering him in Pharaoh’s
house through the Pharaoh’s daughter right under Satan’s nose with Moses’ own
mother as his nurturer and guide in God’s promises before releasing him to Pharaoh’s daughter as her son (2:8-10). What irony! Through the Pharaoh – as happened with Joseph – Satan protected the protector of the Seed he was trying to kill. All this was Providential education and experience that would be needed when Moses’ time came. In the meantime, the Seed was safe and would be carried out of Egypt’s grasp in a few short years.
God Remembers His Covenant With Abraham
Moses’ self-identity came to the forefront when he murdered an Egyptian for cruelly beating a Hebrew slave (2:11). When Moses was found out, he fled to Midian (see maps below), somewhere between 1,000 and 1,500 miles distant where he hid as a wanted man. There he married Zipporah and had a son (2:21,22). He was there a long time. Even the Pharaoh who wanted to kill him died while he was in Midian. But the bondage in Egypt continued on.
At last, the breaking point finally came. God heard Israel’s cry and spoke to Moses on Mt. Horeb through a burning bush. In that bush, God revealed His holiness and the true nature of Himself to Moses with the revelation of His greatest name and its import. God identified Himself as the covenant-keeping God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.
What God was about to do was because of a promise He had made nearly 400 years previously (3:7-10). He wasn’t doing anything new through Moses. He was acting on a previous commitment or covenant that took precedence over everything else, the promise to Abraham.
God informed Moses that he had been selected as the one through whom He would make good on His covenant promises in Genesis 15. Moses immediately started a series of objections and excuses in Exodus 4 why he was inappropriate for the job. God demonstrated to Moses through Aaron and the rod that Moses carried that he was fully adequate for the work he was called to do. When Moses asked God who he should tell the Israelites sent him, that is when God revealed Himself by His preeminent name, YHWH (3:13-15).
Now the name YHWH had never been revealed before to any human (6:2,3). That means that the SIGNIFICANCE of YHWH had never been previously revealed. Abraham and others were not ignorant of the name YHWH. The knew that name. There are several references to it in Genesis. For example, in Genesis 12:1,2, the name YHWH is used when God says, “Now YHWH said to Abram, “Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you. And I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing.” The name is used again in Genesis 21:1, 2. “YHWH visited Sarah as he had said, and YHWH did to Sarah as he had promised. And Sarah conceived and bore Abraham a son in his old age at the time of which God had spoken to him.” So the name was familiar.
The Patriarchs – Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob – just didn’t know what it meant. But they did know what other names of God with which they were familiar did mean. God had gone by different names to the leading figures of Genesis. For example, in Genesis 1:1, He was “Elohim”. Elohim signifies the plurality of God’s nature and His power in creation. In Genesis 17:1,2, He was “El Shaddai” (God Almighty). This also signifies God’s power with the “El” before His name as in “ELohim”. So they knew the significance of those names of God as the Powerful One and had seen demonstrations of His power.
But YHWH was God’s greatest name of all. They did not know or understand God fully as YHWH. However, it was THE name to be remembered from generation to generation. We know the name means “I AM”, or “I AM THAT I AM.” It has been translated “He Who Is”, “I Exist”, “I Will Be What I Will Be.” The name implies all sorts of things, like pre-existence, for example. Or, My nature as I am will become evident from my actions as to Who I am . In other words, I am what I am. To put it another way, God revealed in YHWH what He essentially is and what He inevitably will be because that is who He is. The context of all of this – who God is and why He is dong what He is doing at this particular time – is found in Exodus 2:23 – 3:17. Exodus 2:24, 25 is the heart of it, “And God heard their groaning, and God remembered his covenant with Abraham, with Isaac, and with Jacob. God saw the people of Israel—and God knew.” Following those words, in Exodus 3:6-9 God met with Moses in the burning bush on Mt. Horeb and identified Himself as the God of Abraham and that He had come to rescue His people and take them to the land promised in Genesis 15:19. When Moses asked God the name Moses should give to the people when they asked Who sent him to them, Moses was to say to them that “the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob ” sent him.” So this whole context of the revelation of the name YHWH in Exodus 3 was bathed in God’s remembering His covenant promise to Abraham.
The covenant promise to Abraham is shown to be the major focus even further in Exodus 6:2-8. This passage recalls Genesis 12-15 and God’s promise to give Abraham Canaan. Then in Exodus 6:7 God reiterated the highest and greatest benefit of His promise to Abraham, namely The Immanuel Principle that He began to enunciate in Genesis 15:1. In Genesis 15:1, God says that He will be Abraham’s great reward, meaning that the everlasting inheritance promised to Abraham through his Seed (Christ) will be the Lord Himself, not the everlasting new heavens and new earth. God repeated it a second time in Genesis 17:7, 8, “I will establish my covenant as an everlasting covenant between me and you and your descendants after your for the generations to come, to be your God and the God of your descendants after you. The whole land of Canaan, where you are now an alien, I will give as an everlasting possession to you and your descendants after you: and I will be their God.” So God will restore in the new heavens and new earth the intimate fellowship of the Garden of Eden where God and Adam communed with each other and where God was everything to Adam and Adam was everything to God. But here in Exodus 6:7, it is stated like this: “I will take you as my own people, and I will be your God.” This phrase is The Immanuel Principle and will be stated over and over from now to the end of Scripture as God remembers His promise to Christ, Adam and Eve, Noah, and Abraham. Everything will culminate in and be realized in The Immanuel Principle, just like it was in Eden. The Lord will remember His promise, because He is YHWH, and bring His people into the former state of Eden through Abraham’s Seed, who is Christ.
Although the patriarch’s and Israel’s experience of God up to this point was largely as El Shaddai (‘God Almighty’), beginning with the Exodus and deliverance from Egypt, God was about to reveal Himself fully and personally in the experience of His covenant people Israel in that aspect of His character signified by YHWH, i.e., as the God who is ever faithful and present with his people to help them, redeem them, and to keep His covenant promises with them. In other words, God was just going to be what He is, has always been, and will forever be – the God Who keeps His Promise. Although God was known as YHWH in the days of the Patriarchs, the true significance of YHWH would be comprehended only by the Israelites who were to experience the exodus and by their descendants who would call Him and know Him as YHWH forevermore.
Everything God had done from Genesis 2 up to this point had pointed to one fact over and over – God is a God Who makes promises and keeps them. Whatever else He is, He is a God of Covenant primarily, and He is ever faithful. God’s promises and his faithfulness to them had been pouring forth since Genesis 2. He had always acted in accord with His promises and would continue to do so because HE IS WHAT HE IS. So we could say that from Genesis 2 to this point, God had all along been YHWH since there had been constant references to His promises to Abraham and to His promise to the woman in Genesis 3. He had been YHWH. But no one had fully comprehended the name He went by that would identify Him as the ONE WHO IS AND DOES WHAT HE IS AND DOES, namely remember His covenant promises.
This name – YHWH – has been called the Tetragrammaton. A tetragrammaton is a word with four letters. The name for God in the Hebrew text is just four letters long. It is read from right to left in Hebrew and looks like this – יהוה. The English equivalent of those
letters are (the next four lettres are read left to right, but they are taken from the Hebrew word which is read from right to left) – YHWH. Since there are no vowels in Hebrew, no one knows just how YHWH was pronounced. But vowels have been added to make it pronounceable. So the Tetragrammaton is now spelled and pronounced: YAHWEH.
Because of the Exodus 3 passage and the warning about vainly using the name of YHWH (Ex 20:7), YHWH became so holy that the Jews feared even writing it or saying it. This was not the case, however, for the Biblical characters. There is evidence that they used God’s sacred name in their speech often. It was the VAIN useof God’s name that was prohibited in Exodus 20:7, not the use. But as the Jews copied the ancient manuscripts and passed along the sacred texts of God’s written revelation, whenever they came to the name YHWH in the text, they would pick up a new pen and write a SUBSTITUTE name for YHWH. The name they wrote in its place was ADONAI. They did not want to be guilty of taking God’s name in vain. So they just didn’t use it. They used another name which meant the same thing to them.
Below is how the sacred name of God has evolved into modern English from Hebrew in Exodus 3:
YHWH – the Tetragrammaton in English from the four Hebrew letters
YAHWEH – vowels inserted to make YHWH pronounceable
Adonai – the name Jews wrote or spoke to replace YHWH because YHWH was regarded to be ultra holy. Adonai is translated “Lord” or “the Lord” (note the capital “L” and the lower-case letters “ord”) in some English translations. “Lord” represents a translation of Adonai, not YHWH. But other translations use “LORD” (all caps). They are translating the Hebrew name YHWH, not Adonai. The NIV translates YHWH “LORD’. Whenever you see “LORD” (all caps), that is where YHWH appears in the Hebrew text.
Jehovah – if the 4 Hebrew letters YHWH are translated into Latin, they become IHVH. When the vowels attributed to Adonai were superimposed on IHWH, IHWH then became “Jehovah” instead of YAWEH. The American Standard Version of 1901 represented God’s name this way, but it was never intended by the Jews to be read as Yehowah (or Jehovah). So this should be avoided although it has
become accepted as the modern way to pronounce or indicate YHWH.
“the Lord” – the name most English translations use for YHWH translated from the Greek word for Adonai.
“the LORD” – the name English translations use for YHWH translated from the Greek word for YHWH
Here is an excellent article on YHWH and how to translate it by Dr. Kenneth:
To summarize, the name of God is revealed here because God never forgot His promise to Christ, Eve, Noah, or Abraham to make everything right again with a new world, to reestablish The Immanuel Principle, to end the rule of sin, and to crush Satan’s head.
God’s Absolute Sovereign Control Over Egypt and Pharaoh
Most people have some idea of the miraculous plagues that descended upon Egypt like great rocks. But what most people do not realize is how the Lord was working in that demonstration of His power. This section of Scripture is one of the three periods of time in Bible history when the greatest concentration of supernatural miracles took place. The other two were during the days of Elijah in about 900-1000 BC and during the days of Jesus and shortly after in the Book of Acts.
God called Moses to be Israel’s deliverer with a demonstration of God’s power that Moses had at his disposal (4:1-17) and sent him back into Egypt where he met with the people of Israel and the Pharaoh who immediately becomes resistant to releasing the Israelites. God then sends 10 plagues of “Biblical proportion” upon the Egyptian nation. Those 10 plagues, a few comments about each, and the Pharaoh’s reaction to them are listed below. These plagues are found in Exodus 7-12.
1. The plague of blood, Ex 7:14-24. Moses turned the Nile, it tributaries, canals, and reservoirs into blood, even in the buckets and stone jars. “Blood was everywhere in Egypt.” (Exodus 7:21) The fish died and the smell was horrendous. Water had to be dug up from under ground. The Egyptian magicians duplicated this miracle. The plague lasted 7 days.
7:22- Pharaoh’s heart became hard.
2. The plague of frogs, Ex 81-15. When Pharaoh did not respond to Moses, God sent frogs upon the land out of the Nile and all natural waters into the Egyptian houses, their beds, their ovens, and kneading troughs. Even into Pharaoh’s palace and on all his officials. The Egyptian magicians duplicated this miracle. The Lord ended the plague with the frogs dying, being piled in heaps, and the land reeking with them. (8:13,14)
8:15 Pharaoh hardened his heart.
3. The plague of gnats (lice), Ex 8:16-19. All the dust of Egypt became gnats that swarmed on men and animals. The Egyptian magicians COULD NOT duplicate this miracle.
8:19 Pharaoh’s heart was hard and he would not listen.
4. The plague of flies, Ex 8:20-32. A disgusting, dense swarm of flies poured into Pharaoh’s, his officials, and into the Egyptian houses. All homes were full of flies, even the ground. “…the land was ruined by the flies.” (Exodus 8:24). But God made a distinction between the Egyptians and His people so that there were no swarms of flies in Goshen. It is believed that plagues 4 – 9 did not affect Israel at all while the first 3 touched “all the land of Egypt.”
8:32 Pharaoh hardened his heart.
5. The plague on livestock, Ex 9:1-7. All of the Egyptian livestock – horses, donkeys, camels, cattle, sheep, and goats – died. The Lord made a distinction between the Egyptian livestock and that of Israel. No animal belonging to Israel died.
9:7 Yet his (Pharaoh) heart was unyielding (hardened)
6. The plague of boils, Ex 9:8-12. Moses tossed handfuls of soot from a furnace into the air in front of Pharaoh, and it became fine dust over all of Egypt. It caused festering boils to break out on the Egyptians, their officials, and their animals.
9:12 But the Lord hardened Pharaoh’s heart.
7. The plague of hail, Ex 9:13-35. The Lord sent the worst hailstorm that has ever fallen on Egypt from the day it was founded until then. Some think it was hail mixed with fire. Every living thing that was not brought under shelter – livestock and men – died. The hail stripped every tree and destroyed everything growing in the fields. The only place where it did not hail was in the land of Goshen where Israel was.
9:34 Pharaoh and his officials hardened their hearts.
9:35 So Pharaoh’s heart was hard
10:1 Then the Lord said to Moses, “Go to Pharaoh, for I have hardened his heart
and the hearts of his officials…
8. The plague of locusts, Ex 10:1-20. The Lord brought through an East wind a horde of locusts that covered the earth till it was black. They devoured what little was left in Egypt after the hail – every tree, the fruit on the trees, everything growing in the field. Nothing on plant or tree remained. And the locusts filled every house. It was an event never seen in the history of Egypt before and would never be seen again.
10:20 But the Lord hardened Pharaoh’s heart.
9. The plague of darkness, Ex 10:21-29. Moses stretched out his hand, and total darkness covered Egypt for three days. It was described as “darkness that can be felt…No one could see anyone else or leave his place for three days.” (10:21,23) But all of Israel had light in the places where they lived.
10:27 the Lord hardened Pharaoh’s heart
10. The plague on the firstborn, Ex 11:1-12:30. Every firstborn son of Egypt, from the highest official to the lowest slave to the firstborn of even the cattle, was struck down. “…there was not a house in Egypt without someone dead.” (11:4-5, 12:29- 30) The wailing would be worse than it had ever been or would be ever again. But in Israel there would be no sound because the Lord told Moses to tell Israel to paint the blood of a flawless, male lamb or goat on the tops and sides of their doorposts. When the Lord passed though Egypt to kill all the firstborn, He would pass over the homes of the Israelites and spare their firstborn. The animal sacrificed for this purpose was called the Passover Lamb.
11:10 the Lord hardened Pharaoh’s heart
Were these plagues historical? Are there any ancient Egyptian historical records that indicate such portentous events and destruction visited ancient Egypt? It seems that there are some. Two internet articles that may be investigated are found at:
There are several things to note here in this section of Scripture.
First, God was in complete control of everything. He sovereignly ruled over every aspect of Israel’s deliverance from Egypt with His absolute power over every aspect of the creation from humans to animals to natural phenomena. He even controlled the secret parts of human nature thought to be free from God’s control, namely the motives, thoughts, emotions, and will of human beings. For example, look at the way the Lord manipulated and worked in Pharaoh’s heart, mind, and will. There are fifteen references to the hardening of Pharaoh’ s heart. Seven of those references say that the LORD HARDENED PHARAOH’S HEART. Three references say the Pharaoh hardened his own heart, and five references say the Pharaoh’s heart became hard or was hard (or unyielding) with no indication that he or the Lord caused this. Twoof those seven references saying the Lord hardened Pharaoh’s heart are in Exodus 4:21 and 7:3. The reference in 4:21 was BEFORE Moses ever returned to Egypt and BEFORE Pharaoh or anyone else knew of a coming deliverance. The reference in 7:3 was BEFORE the first plague was even announced to Pharaoh! Both of those references are mentioned before there is any allusion to the fact that Pharaoh had ANYTHING to do with the hardening of his heart. The last five references to Pharaoh’s hardened heart say that the Lord hardened Pharaoh’s heart. So the Lord worked in the Pharaoh’s heart, mind, will, and emotions to resist the Lord’s commands “so that he would NOT let the people of Israel go” (4:21) and hence bring judgment on himself and the nation of Egypt.
Secondly, why in the world would God do something like that? It all seems so contradictory to what He commanded Moses to go into Egypt to do. There are several indicators of God’s purposes in this section of Scripture. One motive is in 6:6-8. God intended to redeem His people with MIGHTY ACTS so that ISRAEL would know that it was YHWH (the covenant God) who delivered them. (See also 10:1,2) Only a display of His power would confirm that. A second motive is found in 7:3-5. God hardened Pharaoh’s heart so that the EGYPTIANS would know that the Lord God stretched out His hand against them to deliver His people. Only the kind of power they were about to witness would confirm that. The Egyptian magicians were permitted to replicate the first two miracles in some way. But with all the rest that could not duplicate, it indicated to them that God Almighty was responsible for their humiliation and ruin. A third motive is found in 9:13-17. God told Pharaoh to let his people go, or He was going to send the full force of His plagues against him. God tells him that, if He had wanted to, He could have wiped Pharaoh and Egypt off the face of the earth (Exodus 9:15). But He wasn’t going to do that. Instead, God raised up Pharaoh for the purpose of showing him that there is none like God in all the earth (Exodus 9:14, 11:9). God also elevated Pharaoh so that God might show him His almighty power and that God’s own name might be proclaimed in all the earth (Exodus 9:16). In this case, it looks as if God wanted to demonstrate to all the world in all the coming generations that HE was the ALMIGHTY GOD who does what He wants when He wants with whomever He wants. Exodus 9:16 is quoted in Romans 9:17-22 to prove that God has the right to do what He wants to do with whomever He wants to do it – including hardening a Pharaoh’s heart – and there is neither injustice with God nor does anyone or anything have the right to question or raise an objection because God is the Creator and the Potter, and all creatures are merely clay and nothing more in His hands. He has the right to do with His creatures whatever He wants. If He wants to make one into an object of wrath prepared for eternal destruction, that right is His. The context of this passage in Romans 9 about what God did with Pharaoh is that God is the One Who choses who the children of the promise will be, as He did with Esau and Jacob and as He did by choosing between the natural seed of Abraham and the chosen seed of Abraham who are reckoned through Issac and his Seed who is Christ.
Thirdly, besides the above, these pages establish that God was sovereign to the absolute. YHWH controlled the Hebrew midwives who birthed the Hebrew children and directed the Pharaoh’s daughter to the Nile to save and raise the baby Moses. He moved Moses’ own mother into place to nurture and raise Moses. He eventually turned the hearts of the Egyptians toward Israel and Moses and prompted the Egyptians to give up nearly everything they had (Exodus 11:1-3; 12:35,36 ,“they plundered the Egyptians.”) to supply Israel on their way out of Egypt to worship YHWH in the Sinai Desert. He made distinctions between Egypt and Israel when he lowered his plagues in judgment. God delivered Israel as they literally ran out of Egypt on the last day of the promised “430 years, to the very day.” (Exodus 12:40,41) There is evidence of God’s hand manipulating every move on the chessboard where Satan played his hand. He was YHWH, the God of covenant promise who would keep His eternal covenant with Christ His Son, the Serpent, Eve, Noah, and Abraham.