GD Lesson 13: Bondage, Passover, and Exodus

(This is actually by David Bokovoy, whose recalcitrant account won’t let him access the blog.)

With lesson 13, Sunday school students in LDS Gospel Doctrine classes move beyond the inspiring book of Genesis and begin exploration of Exodus, the second book in the Bible.

Known in Hebrew as Shemot, an abbreviation from the book’s opening words ve’elleh shemot, “now these are the names,” Exodus continues the story of Genesis by recounting the narrative of Israel in Egypt, together with the family’s dramatic escape from the bonds of Egyptian slavery.    Another ancient Hebrew name for this, the second book in the Bible was sefer yetsi’at mitsyayim, “The Book of Departure from Egypt,” a title that reflects the work’s central theme.  Jews in Alexandria, Egypt living before the time of Christ rendered this traditional Hebrew name in Greek into Exodus Aigyptou, which was later shortened into the form Exodus that appears in the Septuagint, the early Greek translation of the Hebrew scriptures.    Eventually, this title was adopted for use in the Old Latin version of the Bible from the pre-fourth century AD, and as such, passed into the Vulgate and from there, into various European languages, including English. The name Exodus itself means “Departure.”   The basic plot to this departure appears in the previous book of Genesis by means of an important typolology or prefiguration, where Sarai, as matriarch, appears as a religious/literary symbol foreshadowing God’s chosen people:

The princes also of Pharaoh saw her, and commended her before Pharaoh: and the woman was taken into Pharaoh’s house.

And he entreated Abram well for her sake: and he had sheep, and oxen, and he asses, and menservants, and maidservants, and she asses, and camels.

And the Lord plagued Pharaoh and his house with great plagues because of Sarai Abram’s wife.

And Pharaoh called Abram, and said, What is this that thou hast done unto me? why didst thou not tell me that she was thy wife?

Why saidst thou, She is my sister? so I might have taken her to me to wife: now therefore behold thy wife, take her, and go thy way.

And Pharaoh commanded his men concerning him: and they sent him away, and his wife, and all that he had (Gen. 12: 15-20).

In light of the Old Testament’s general trend connecting Israel with the patriarchal fathers, this prefiguration of the exodus story, which presents Sarai as Israel is well worth noting.  The account provides an important literary and religious tie between the opening books of the Bible.   Symbolizing Israel as a whole, Sarai, the matriarch, was taken as a slave to Pharaoh, yet released when God afflicted Pharaoh and his house with “plagues.”  Like the Israelite nation, Sarai was eventually sent forth from Pharaoh’s house with the parting gifts of Egyptian wealth, including flocks and herds (compare Ex. 12:32).  Significantly, all of these events occur as a result of the fact that like Israel and his sons, Abraham and Sarai were forced to leave the Promised Land due to a severe famine.    The story of Israel’s exodus from Egypt serves as one of unifying images throughout the standard works.  The account certainly functions as the single richest source of allusion throughout the Old Testament (see for example Isaiah 40:3-4; Psalm 144, etc.).  In both the New Testament and the Book of Mormon, the story of Israelite redemption appears spiritually fulfilled in the atonement of Jesus Christ (see Hebrews 2:1-4; etc.).  This typology works especially well with a Latter-day Saint view of the Plan of Salvation, including the doctrine of a pre-mortal human existence with the Father, were Israel begins her journey in the Promised Land, goes down to Egypt (a symbol of the world), is delivered by a prophet, experiencing both a type of baptism by means of the Red Sea crossing, and a sacred temple encounter at Sinai, only to be led back by Joshua (the Old Testament version of the name Jesus) to where Israel initially began her journey, i.e. the Land of Promise.

According to the prophet Joseph Smith’s inspired revision of Genesis, Israel’s bondage and departure from Egypt as recounted in Exodus was made know to Joseph and his brothers through prophecy (see JST Gen. 50:24).  The JST declares that God revealed to Joseph of Egypt that the Lord would raise up a seer named Moses to deliver his people from Egyptian bondage:

For a seer will I raise up to deliver my people out of the land of Egypt; and he shall be called Moses. And by this name he shall know that he is of thy house; for he shall be nursed by the king’s daughter, and shall be called her son (JST Genesis 50:29)

Notwithstanding the connection made in Exodus 2:10 between the name “Moses” and the Hebrew root m-sh-h meaning “to draw,” scholars believe that Moses derives from an Egyptian root.  As biblical scholar Nahum Sarna explains:

The Hebrew name [Moses] is of Egyptian origin. Its basic verbal stem msy means ‘to be born,’ and the noun ms means ‘a child, son.’ It is a frequent element in Egyptian personal names, usually but not always with the addition of a divine element, as illustrated by Ahmose, Ptahmose, Ramose, and Thotmose.  Nahum Sarna, The JPS Torah Commentary: Exodus (Philadelphia: The Jewish Publication Society, 1991): 10.

However, unlike these examples, Moses’s name stands apart in lacking the theophoric or divine reference to an Egyptian god such as Ptah, Ra, Thut, etc. “It is from the old perfective of the verb ms that the name, according to the accepted theory, is derived, the form being found first of all in theophorous names like Ptah-mose,  ‘Ptah is born’; such names refer to the birthdays of the gods mentioned.” A J.C. Griffiths, “The Egyptian Derivation of the Name Moses,” Journal of Near Eastern Studies 12 (1953): 225.

According to this understanding, the name “Moses” means “[x] is born.”  Moses therefore, as Joseph of Egypt declared in the JST, quite literally came to know though his name that he was born of the House of Israel, which worshipped a God separate from Egyptian tradition.

As one scholar explains: “Moses’s name, thus transliterated from Egyptian, may very well be, perhaps the most important and best-preserved memory of the Egyptian backdrop of the oppression” John I. Durham, Exodus: Word Biblical Commentary (Waco: Word Books, 1987): 17.

As is the case with so many other books of the Old Testament, proper names like Moses serve an important religious and literary role throughout the book of Exodus.  Notably, the name of the Pharaoh, however, the mighty ruler over Egypt who oppressed Israel is lost historically, due in part to an omission in the Exodus account.  In direct contrast to the absence of Pharaoh’s name, Exodus does not miss an opportunity to include the names of the lowly midwifes Shiphrah and Puah, two women who demonstrate their fidelity to God by risking their lives, forsaking the Egyptian king’s mandate to destroy all the male offspring born to Israelite women (Ex. 1:15-16).  In light of the significance of names throughout Exodus, this literary contrast in the opening chapter of the book provides meaningful insights worth exploring.

Certainly, however, the most significant name given in Exodus is the great “I Am” in 3:14.  When Moses received his prophetic commission to go forth and serve as Israel’s deliverer, Moses presented God with the question,

When I come unto the children of Israel, and shall say unto them, The God of your fathers hath sent me unto you; and they shall say to me, What is his name? What shall I say unto them?” (3:13).

In response to Moses’s inquiry, God informed his newly commissioned prophet that his name is “I am that I am” (v. 14).  This response presents a play upon the divine name/title Jehovah that appears translated as “Lord” in all capital letters throughout the King James version of the Bible.    The name Jehovah is a finite verb form reflecting the 3rd person, masculine singular inflected form of “to be.”  Hence, “He is” in English, or perhaps more appropriately, “He [causes] to be,” a reflection of the a/e vocalization pattern in the name Jehovah/Yahweh which in Hebrew denotes the Hiphil or causative verbal structure.    In the New Testament, Jesus makes an important connection between himself and this sacred Old Testament title via the Greek expression ego emi, literally, “I/I am.”  As explained in the LDS edition of the King James Bible, when Jesus responded to his opponents in John 8:58 with the words, “Before Abraham was, I am,” from a grammatical perspective, the term “I Am” in Greek (ego emi) directly reflects “the Septuagint usage in Exodus 3:14, which identifies Jehovah” (footnote 58b, pg. 1342).    No doubt, Latter-day Saint students can glean considerable insights from this week’s study of the opening chapters of Exodus.  As witnessed in the missing name of Pharaoh, the Hebrew midwifes Shiphrah and Puah, Moses himself, and even God, names provide an important focus throughout the book of Exodus.  This observation is no doubt significant for a work that specifically begins with the opening phrase, “Now these are the names of the children of Israel,” and which has been known for centuries by its Hebrew title, Shemot, or “names.” Indeed, the story of redemption in Exodus that as a motif appears throughout each of the standard works, can provide a spiritual type for God’s Plan of Salvation, wherein “there is no other name given whereby salvation cometh” other than Christ, the true deliverer of Israel (Mosiah 5:8).


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