Chronologically, we are jumping ahead only 4 generations. At the opening of Exodus, we are probably about 350 years removed from Israel and the ending of Genesis. In the greatest sense, this is not that long, but it was enough time that Egypt has forgotten about Joseph and turn in their opinion of the Hebrews. In this time, one of God’s promises has been fulfilled – in spades. The Israelites “were fruitful and multiplied greatly and became exceedingly numerous” (NIV). With a short memory and an awareness of the number of the Israelites, Pharaoh grows fearful; and, fear of others, fear of change, fear for loss of power or standing, has long motivated peoples to villainize and mistreat others. In Egypt, this unfounded fear spread to the point that there seems no outcry, only agreement, with the actions taken to enslave and oppress these peaceful neighbors. I think, along with fear came the realization of convenience. The ambitious building projects of Egypt required an immense workforce, and slave labor was the easiest way to meet this demand. Israel was ripe for the taking.
In this climate comes Moses. Born in secrecy, hid for months, and then floated down the Nile with hopes of some fortunate rescue. In God’s providence, the baby is rescued by the daughter of Pharaoh, and raised amongst the palace of Egypt. Somehowhe knows he is not Egyptian, but Israelite. At around 40 years old, Moses identifies with his blood relatives, and strikes an Egypt to rescue an Israelite. Having killed an Egyptian, he flees into Midian, the land in Arabia, just east of the Red Sea. What is it with women at wells? Moses meeting Jethro and Zipporah represents the third time a man finds a wife at a well.
The saga of Israel the nation begins in this wilderness setting of Midian, when Moses encounters the burning bush on Mt. Horeb. Here he God himself calls out to his chosen leader. Here God introduces himself, for the first time it seems, by his personal name Yahweh. The word, the name itself is a mystery. Jewish, biblical and linguistic scholars cannot fully explain this name or its meaning. It seems derived from the Hebrew word for “to be”, “I am who I am”. The name indicates the eternality of God. At the same time it display the sovereignty of his diving will. And again, it likewise affirms his real presence with and faithfulness to his chosen people.