The Lord’s concern for His chosen people can be seen in the call of Moses. So great was Moses that forever after the Lord and His people have used him as a standard, or model, of a prophet. Even Jesus Christ was called a prophet like unto Moses (see Acts 3:22; 7:37; Deuteronomy 18:15, 18–19; 1 Nephi 22:20–21; 3 Nephi 20:23–24). Indeed, Moses was a similitude or living symbol of Jesus Christ (see Moses 1:6).
Moses was a man who, like us, possessed both weaknesses and strengths. The key to Moses’ character is his meekness, the capacity to be molded by the Lord and His Spirit. “Now the man Moses was very meek, above all the men which were upon the face of the earth” (Numbers 12:3).
In this chapter you will learn of Moses’ foreordination, his youthful preparation, the patient tempering of his character in the desert, his call from God, and his assumption of prophetic leadership. Perhaps it will encourage you to analyze your life so that, like Moses, you can identify your weaknesses, purge yourself of them, and take up the assignment the Lord has for you in this life. Like Nephi, you may be led to say “let us be strong like unto Moses” (1 Nephi 4:2). Elder Mark E. Petersen testified:
“The true Moses was one of the mightiest men of God in all time. …
“He walked and talked with God, received of divine glory while yet in mortality, was called a son of God, and was in the similitude of the Only Begotten.
“He saw the mysteries of the heavens and much of creation, and received laws from God beyond any other ancient man of whom we have record.” (Moses, p. 49.)
“The fulfillment of God’s promises to Abraham required that Israel should become numerous. To accomplish this, the little family, numbering only 70 persons (Genesis 46:26–27), needed sufficient time and a peaceful place in which to grow. Egypt was that place. …
“… Palestine was a battleground for warring nations that moved back and forth in their conquests between the Nile and the Euphrates. Israel would have found no peace there. They required stable conditions for their eventual growth and development. …
“Their bondage certainly was not all on the negative side. It too served a good purpose. The cruelty of the taskmasters, the hatred that existed between the Hebrews and the Egyptians, and the length of their trying servitude fused Jacob’s children into a united people. …
“The hatred they felt toward the Egyptians prevented intermarriage between the Hebrews and their neighbors. To reap the benefits of the Abrahamic promises, Israel had to remain a pure race, and the Lord used this means to achieve it. …
“Yes, Egypt had her role in the Lord’s mighty drama, and she played it well.
“At the end of 430 years, the Lord now decreed that the time had arrived for Israel to occupy her own land and there become that ‘peculiar people’ who would await the coming of their Messiah.” (Petersen, Moses, pp. 27–30.)
Many scholars speculate that Joseph came to power in Egypt while the nation was under the domination of the Hyksos people. The ancient historian Manetho called the Hyksos the shepherd-kings and told how their conquest and dominion were bitterly hated by the Egyptians. The Hyksos were Semitic peoples from the lands north and east of Egypt. Since Jacob and his family were also Semitic, it is easy to understand how Joseph would be viewed with favor by the Hyksos and also how, when the Hyksos were finally overthrown and driven out of Egypt, the Israelites would suddenly fall from favor with the native Egyptians.
Many people have wondered how Joseph could be vice-regent for so many years without having his name in any of the records or monuments of Egypt. If the theory of Hyksos domination is correct, then Joseph’s name would have been purged from records and monuments along with those of the other Hyksos rulers. Nevertheless, one scholar claimed that he found the Egyptian name Yufni, which would be the equivalent in Egyptian of the Hebrew Yosef (see Donovan Courville, “My Search for Joseph,” Signs of the Times, Oct. 1977, pp. 5–8). While the evidence is not conclusive, at least it can be said that there may be extra-biblical evidence of Joseph’s existence.
The oppressive measures of the pharaoh were not able to thwart the purposes of God in creating a great nation. Through the courageous faith of the midwives and their refusal to carry out the pharaoh’s orders to execute the male children, Israel continued to prosper. The life of Moses, who was a similitude of the Savior (see Moses 1:6), was threatened by the ruler of the land, just as the life of Christ was threatened by Herod, who decreed the death of the children of Bethlehem.
Both the ancient Jewish historian Josephus and Jonathan ben Uzziel, another ancient Jewish writer, recorded that the pharaoh had a dream wherein he was shown that a man soon to be born would deliver Israel from bondage, and this dream motivated the royal decree to drown the male children (see Josephus, Antiquities of the Jews, bk. 2, chap. 9, par. 2; Clarke, Bible Commentary, 1:294).
Both the Joseph Smith Translation of the Bible (see Genesis 50) and the Book of Mormon (see 2 Nephi 3) show that as early as the time of Joseph, son of Jacob, the future mission of the deliverer had been prophesied. So detailed had been the prophecy by Joseph that even the name of Moses was known, as well as incidents of his ministry (see Reading 8-27 for the Joseph Smith Translation additions to Genesis 50).
In the New Testament Stephen made a lengthy speech about the dealings of the Lord with the house of Israel. Concerning Moses’ youth, Stephen related, “And Moses was learned in all the wisdom of the Egyptians, and was mighty in words and in deeds” (Acts 7:22).
Josephus said that Moses was a very handsome and educated prince and a mighty warrior in the cause of the Egyptians (see Antiquities, bk. 2, chap. 9, par. 7; chap. 10, pars. 1–2).
As a prince, Moses may have had access to the royal libraries of the Egyptians as well as the scriptural record of the Israelites as taught by his mother. Quite possibly he read the prophecies of Joseph and was led by the Spirit to understand his divine appointment to deliver his brethren the Israelites. Stephen’s address implied that Moses understood his responsibility: “And when he was full forty years old, it came into his heart to visit his brethren the children of Israel. … For he supposed his brethren would have understood how that God by his hand would deliver them: but they understood not.” (Acts 7:23, 25.)
Paul, in Hebrews, added further to the concept, “By faith Moses, when he was come to years, refused to be called the son of Pharaoh’s daughter; … esteeming the reproach of Christ greater riches than the treasures of Egypt” (Hebrews 11:24, 26). Moses’ mother, Jochebed, likely taught him the principles and righteous traditions of the Hebrews as she nursed and cared for him (see Exodus 2:7–9).
“‘Smote’ and ‘slew’ in King James English are both translated from Hebrew nakhah, meaning ‘to beat down’; it is the word used in describing the action taken by soldiers in combat against each other. It would be correct to say that Moses slew a man who was slaying another, or took a life in saving a life. His looking ‘this way and that’ before doing so, simply indicates that he was aware that the Egyptians would not condone his defense of a slave.” (Rasmussen, Introduction to the Old Testament, 1:74.)
“However, the historian Eusebius says that the slaying was the result of a court intrigue in which certain men plotted to assassinate Moses. In the encounter it is said that Moses successfully warded off the attacker and killed him. (Eusebius IX:27.)
“In the Midrash Rabbah, the traditional Jewish commentary on the Old Testament, it is asserted that Moses, with his bare fists, killed an Egyptian taskmaster who was in the act of seducing a Hebrew woman. This is confirmed in the Koran.
“Certainly there must have been good reason for Moses’ act, and most assuredly the Lord would not have called a murderer to the high office of prophet and liberator for his people Israel.” (Petersen, Moses, p. 42.)
The more common name for Reuel is Jethro (see Exodus 3:1; Numbers 10:29). Jethro was a descendant of Midian, who was a son of Abraham and Keturah (see Genesis 25:1–6). Through this line Moses received the priesthood (see D&C 84:6–13).
Acts 7:30 indicates that the “process of time” described here was another forty years.
Horeb is the same as Mount Sinai, where Moses received the law from the Lord. Elijah also later sought refuge at Horeb (see 1 Kings 19:8).
“A manifestation was given to Moses by a messenger of light, causing a bush to appear to burn; it was really not afire and was not consumed. The word ‘angel’ could better have been rendered ‘messenger’ which is the basic meaning of the Hebrew word malakh. A flame in a bush, a mighty wind, a small voice, a great thundering, or other phenomena may herald a message from God, as a malakh of God. After Moses’ attention was drawn to the bush, the voice of the Lord Himself spoke to Moses; Moses responded in awe and reverence.” (Rasmussen, Introduction to the Old Testament, 1:74.)
The Joseph Smith Translation of Exodus 3:2 reads, “And again the presence of the Lord appeared unto him” (emphasis added).
When the Lord appeared to Moses in the burning bush He used the name I am to identify Himself as the God of Israel, the same God who had appeared to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Although this is the first time this name appears in the Bible, it is obvious that if the name had not been known to the Israelites, its value for identifying the Lord would have been useless. Correct identification was crucial to Moses in authenticating his call to the Israelites. This name does not appear frequently in the Bible; however, Jesus (the Jehovah of the Old Testament) used it on other occasions to identify Himself to Abraham (see Abraham 1:16), to the Jews (see John 8:58), and to modern Israel (see D&C 29:1).
Etymologically, the title I am is directly related to the most frequently used name of deity in the Old Testament—YHWH. How often the name YHWH appears in the Bible may not always be evident in the King James Version, since the translators substituted the title Lord or God almost every place it appeared in the Hebrew. This practice shows deference to the reverential feelings of the Jews who never pronounced the name, substituting instead their word for Lord—Adonai. (Read Genesis 18:1–3 where this distinction between Lord and Lord makes a significant difference in the interpretation. Also see Reading A-2 for a full discussion of this subject.)
I am is the first person singular form of the verb to be. Therefore, YHWH (which can also be the third person singular) would mean “He is” or “He exists.” The first or third person of the same verb was used by the Lord in the Hebrew text of the Old Testament, depending upon whether He wanted to emphasize His own or our own perspective.
There is some evidence that Moses may have had a mild speech impediment (see Reading 9-22), although some scholars think Moses may only have been suggesting that his facility in both the Hebrew and Egyptian languages was poor after having lived forty years with the Midianites. Whatever the outward cause, the Lord answered Moses with reasoning so simple and yet so profound that it was difficult to refute. Moses’ feelings of inadequacy were so strong, however, that he still insisted he needed help. The Lord became angry at this continued lack of confidence and gave Aaron to Moses as a spokesman. Anyone with normal feelings of his own unworthiness can sympathize with Moses, but all must learn to trust in the power of the Lord. Moroni taught that the Lord specifically gives individuals weaknesses so that they will be humble. But if they have enough faith in God, His grace is sufficient to “make weak things become strong” for them (Ether 12:27). Enoch had a similar response to his own feelings of inadequacy, and yet great things eventually came out of that weakness when he turned to God (see Moses 6:31–32, 47; 7:13).
The great vision Moses received, as recorded in Moses 1, took place after Moses’ original call on Mount Horeb and before his arrival in Egypt. Moses 1:17 refers to the burning bush experience in retrospect. Moses 1:24–25 speaks of the delivery of Israel from bondage as a future event.
The Joseph Smith Translation of Exodus 4:21 says, “I will prosper thee; but Pharaoh will harden his heart, and he will not let the people go.” This truth must be remembered in all subsequent references to the pharaoh’s heart being hardened.
The King James Version lacks detail in this account. The Joseph Smith Translation indicates that the Lord was angry with Moses for failing to circumcise his son. It appears that Zipporah had not wanted to circumcise Gershom but relented when the Lord expressed His anger to Moses.
“And it came to pass, that the Lord appeared unto him as he was in the way, by the inn. The Lord was angry with Moses, and his hand was about to fall upon him, to kill him; for he had not circumcised his son.
“Then Zipporah took a sharp stone and circumcised her son, and cast the stone at his feet, and said, Surely thou art a bloody husband unto me.
“And the Lord spared Moses and let him go, because Zipporah, his wife, circumcised the child. And she said, Thou art a bloody husband. And Moses was ashamed, and hid his face from the Lord, and said, I have sinned before the Lord.
“And the Lord said unto Aaron, go into the wilderness to meet Moses, and he went and met him, in the mount of God; in the mount where God appeared unto him; and Aaron kissed him.” (JST, Exodus 4:24–27.)
What can be said of the people who had to be converted by signs (see Matthew 12:38–39; D&C 63:7–12)? Although their initial reaction when they saw the signs was very positive, at the first indication of challenge and adversity their commitment began to waver (see Exodus 5:20–23).
God gave the pharaoh a chance to let Israel go, of his own free will, to worship God. Through his refusal the pharaoh could blame no one but himself for the consequences.
The eternal gospel covenant that the Lord God established with Adam and all the patriarchs, including Noah, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, was, at the time of Moses, established with the whole house of Israel.
The King James Version of Exodus 6:3 suggests that the name Jehovah was unknown to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. This suggestion, however, obviously cannot be the case (see Genesis 4:26 in which the name Lord [Jehovah] first appears). Also, the Lord (Jehovah) appeared several times to Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and others. Obviously there is something wrong with the King James translation of Exodus 6:3. The problem can be resolved if one knows that the verse can be read as a question in the Hebrew, as well as the English, merely by raising the inflection of the voice toward the end of the sentence. (When one translates a text, not spoken aloud, he may not catch the inflection and may therefore miss the original intention of the writer.) The Prophet Joseph Smith rendered this passage as follows: “And I appeared unto Abraham, unto Isaac, and unto Jacob. I am the Lord God Almighty; the Lord Jehovah. And was not my name known unto them?” (JST, Exodus 6:3.) The answer is yes!
The King James Version states that Moses had “uncircumcised lips” (Exodus 6:30). The Joseph Smith Translation clarifies this statement by saying that Moses had “stammering lips” and was “slow of speech” (JST, Exodus 6:29). Exodus 4:10 in the New English Bible reports that Moses was “slow and hesitant in speech.” This characteristic may explain Moses’ original hesitation to be God’s spokesman (see Exodus 4:10; see also Reading 9-14).
The Prophet Joseph Smith corrected this verse to read that Moses was to be a prophet to the pharaoh rather than a god.
“All down through the ages and in almost all countries, men have exercised great occult and mystical powers, even to the healing of the sick and the performing of miracles. Soothsayers, magicians, and astrologers were found in the courts of ancient kings. They had certain powers by which they divined and solved the monarch’s problems, dreams, etc. One of the most striking examples of this is recorded in Exodus, where Pharaoh called ‘the wise men and the sorcerers’ who duplicated some of the miracles the Lord had commanded Moses and Aaron to perform. When Aaron threw down his rod, it became a serpent. The Egyptian magicians threw down their rods, and they also became serpents. …
“… The Savior declared that Satan had the power to bind bodies of men and women and sorely afflict them [see Matthew 7:22–23; Luke 13:16]. If Satan has power to bind the bodies, he surely must have power to loose them. It should be remembered that Satan has great knowledge and thereby can exercise authority and to some extent control the elements, when some greater power does not intervene.” (Smith, Answers to Gospel Questions, 1:176, 178.)
There have been numerous attempts through the ages to explain the plagues described in these chapters of Exodus. Some have tried to show that the various plagues were the result of some natural phenomenon such as passing meteorites or the explosion of a volcanic island in the Mediterranean Sea. While there is some degree of logical progression in the plagues (the river’s pollution could have driven the frogs out of the marshes to die, and this situation would then have bred lice, flies, and disease), it is not possible at present to explain how the Lord brought about these miraculous events. The fact that the plagues were selective (that is, sent upon the Egyptians but not the Israelites) adds to their miraculous nature. God often works through natural means to bring about His purposes, but that fact does not lessen the miraculous nature of His work. In the plagues and eventual deliverance of Israel from the bondage of Egypt is a record of remarkable and miraculous intervention by God in behalf of His children. How He actually intervened is not nearly so significant as that He did intervene.
(9-26) The two main characters in these chapters are Moses and the pharaoh. We have learned that the Lord knew both of these men before they were born. Both were introduced to the test of mortality at this time with the Lord knowing that they would perform their respective functions.
Moses was meek and allowed himself to be led by the hand of God. Consequently, great and mighty miracles were performed by him to deliver God’s chosen people, Israel, from bondage.
The pharaoh, on the other hand, was self-centered, power hungry, cruel, and hard-hearted. He was largely unimpressed with the power of the Lord. He preferred to follow the counterfeit power of Satan, which allowed him the false belief that he was a god on earth.
Assume you were going to give a talk in sacrament meeting entitled “Using Exodus 1–10 as a Source of Wisdom for Personal Growth.” What things from the lives of Moses and the pharaoh would you list that we could either emulate or avoid in becoming more Christlike in our characters? Be specific, giving scripture references in each case.