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The Jews and the Mosaic Law

By Isaac Leeser (1843).

Chapter 10

The Exodus.

It was in the beginning of the month of Abib, that Moses and Aaron received the first commandment promulgated to those who went out of Egypt. It is well known, that the Egyptians, although they are so highly celebrated for their learning and skill in various arts, were silly enough to worship beasts, and amongst the rest the bull (Apis) and the ram; for it is, I suppose, known to most classical scholars, that Jupiter Ammon was represented with a ram's head. — As has been already related in the preceding chapter, the time of Israel's redemption was fast approaching, and Moses and his brother were then commanded to tell the whole nation of Israelites, that each family should provide themselves with a lamb, which should be in their possession as early as the tenth day of the month, but not be killed till the afternoon of the fourteenth. The Egyptians never ate meat, for beasts were their gods; but now the Israelites, who had been their slaves for many years, selected the idols of their masters as sacrifices to the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, thus showing the Egyptians, that the descendants of the patriarchs were no longer afraid of them; whereas before this time the Israelites were not permitted to kill animals in the presence of the Egyptians, (see Exodus, chapter viii. v.22). — The Hebrews were also commanded, to sprinkle the blood of the paschal lamb upon the door-posts; "to what purpose? Did not God know where the Hebrews lived, without this mark?" Certainly, but the commandment was given to test the faith of God's people. Those who, fearful of offending their taskmasters, omitted to obey the will of God, were not deserving to be spared, when these suffered; but those who, firmly relying upon the promise of their God, obeyed His word with alacrity, were indeed worthy of being spared. Thus was the blood a true mark of discrimination to the Israelites themselves, between him, who confided in God, and him, whose faith was weak and wavering. — They were also commanded to be dressed as if prepared for a journey, while eating the Passover-lamb; with their clothes well fixed, their sandals on their feet, and their sticks in their hands, and to eat the meat hastily; thus was it indicated to them, that immediately after the eating of the offering, they should be ready to leave the land of their oppressors. They were further commanded that they themselves, and their remotest descendants, should eat unleavened bread for seven days, from the fifteenth till the twenty-first of the month in the evening. — The Passover was also to be eaten with bitter herbs, in commemoration of the bitterness of the sufferings of the Israelites in Egypt.

The above commandments were strictly observed; and when the night after the fourteenth day had set in, the Israelites were celebrating the first Passover. The blood of the sacrifice graced the doorposts of the habitations of the Hebrews, when just at midnight the avenging God went forth over the land of Egypt, and slew every first-born of man and beast in Pharaoh's dominion. "We are all dying," resounded through the land, and when the tyrant's first-born dropped dead at his father's feet, even he relented; he called Moses and Aaron, begged them to leave his land, and craved their blessing. The Egyptians, who before could not bear the idea of letting their servants go, now drove them fairly off, would not give them time to bake their bread, and gave them gold, silver, and clothing, any thing to be rid of such dangerous inmates. And was Moses, who was seemingly the author of all this misery, hated by them? No, he stood high in the estimation and affection of Pharaoh's ministers, and the people of Egypt; for all acknowledged that he was the servant and messenger of the true God, and that by his will and permission alone Moses was enabled to do these great things. — The people of Israel, therefore, who had been slaves for many years, were in this manner freed from their oppressors, and they went out openly and unmolested, to meet their new destinies under a leader beloved by his own fellow-believers, and respected even by his enemies. — They were destined for the conquest of Palestine; but the Eternal did not wish to lead them through the country of the Philistines to the immediate acquisition of their inheritance; He preferred to let them pass through the wilderness of Arabia, to teach them more fully, that they were altogether dependent upon his support. — He sent a pillar of clouds to go before them by day, to point out the road they were to travel, and by night, He illuminated their path with a pillar of fire, so that they were enabled to travel by day and night.

When the terror of Pharaoh and his people had a little subsided after their late calamity, they repented their having dismissed the Israelites, and all went out in pursuit of them, to bring them back to servitude. — The Egyptians overtook the Israelites, as they lay encamped along the shores of the Red Sea. They, who had been redeemed but a few days ago, saw column after column of their revengeful pursuers arrive; and how should they be able to withstand this well armed host of horsemen and charioteers? Behind them were their enemies, and before them they saw the agitated waves of the Arabian Gulf; there was therefore no possibility of retreating, no advancing; the danger was pressing, and six hundred thousand freemen saw no alternative between death and slavery. The very idea was maddening, to think that their wives should be swept off by the flood — or that the necks of their tender children should bend under the heavy yoke of slavery, under the pressure of which they themselves had groaned. — In their anguish, they called upon their God to assist them, and He heard their prayer. — It is true, that some began to grow faint-hearted, and accused Moses as the author of their present distress; but let those, who may be disposed to think our ancestors so very blameable for their want of confidence, only reflect how they themselves would have acted under equally trying circumstances. — But Moses stood unappalled in this emergency — he, the man of God, knew no fear, and he inspired his affrighted brethren with a share of the confidence he himself felt. Secure of a happy issue, he ordered the Israelites to stand quiet, and in the spirit of prophecy he assured them, that they should never again see the Egyptians in the manner they beheld them that day. — All the nation became silent. — all clamor was hushed, whilst Moses prayed to God, Who had through him so often before manifested His power. — And soon was his prayer answered from Heaven; he was ordered to stretch his staff, with which he had performed the other miracles, over the sea, and behold! Its waters were divided, and were congealed, and stood up like two walls, to the right and to the left. The tribes of Yeshurun boldly advanced into the dry chasm of the ocean, and passed through unharmed. Their pursuers, being baffled in their intentions, and disappointed of their prey, hurried onward after the retiring Israelites; but soon they discovered, when it was too late, their inability to accomplish their purpose; against their will they were dragged forward, and they arrived in their turn in the middle of the sea. Moses was again commanded to stretch his hand over the sea, and all the Egyptians were at once overwhelmed in one confused and sudden destruction; for the sea ebbed down again to "the gate of tears," and buried under its mighty waves the whole host of Pharaoh, and not even one was left to carry home to his countrymen an account of the terrible catastrophe. — The destruction was complete; and when the Israelites saw the corpses of their enemies thrown upon the seashore, they all acknowledged the great power of their mighty Deliverer, and as our legislator expresses in a few words: "And the people feared the Eternal, and they believed in the Eternal and his servant Mosheh." When Moses and all Israel saw the great deliverance, and when they felt that they were now and for ever free from Egyptian thralldom, they composed that elegant hymn, which must ever remain an example of chaste and elevated poetry. In which after rehearsing the great deliverance, by which they had been saved from slavery and from death, they speak in terms of confidence of the fulfillment of the yet remaining unaccomplished promises of God, and conclude with the following beautiful sentences:

"Thou wilt bring them, and Thou wilt plant them in the mountain of Thy inheritance, in the place, O Eternal, Thou hast prepared for Thy residence; the sanctuary, O Lord, which Thy hands have founded! — The Eternal will reign for ever and ever!" May this be His will, and may all flesh speedily be brought to acknowledge Him alone, and to the observance of his precepts. Amen.

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