Covenant to the Patriarchs

11 Moses, Prepared to Lead

by Hubert F. Sturges, , December 2013

Come now therefore, and I will send thee unto Pharaoh, that thou mayest bring forth my people the children of Israel out of Egypt. Exodus 3:10.

For His chosen people in the slavery of Egypt, God planned ahead. In His foreknowledge, His plans for them were perfect. In the eternity before the creation, He made a perfect plan of salvation that human beings might be saved should they sin. Yet plans are dependent upon human response, while the purpose of God is sure and will always be fulfilled. God chose Abraham and, through a series of events, led him into an understanding of God’s covenant.

When Israel was in Egypt, enslaved and oppressed, God chose and trained Moses to lead them out of Egypt to the Promised Land. Moses’ life was dramatic from the time of his birth. Egyptian law required that all male infants be cast into the Nile and drowned. Meeting the letter of the law, Jochebed, Moses’ mother, made a basket of reeds, waterproofed it with pitch, and put baby Moses into it, and set the basket afloat on the river Nile. Pharaoh’s daughter, coming to bathe, found the baby and arranged to adopt him, offering his natural mother pay to nurse and care for him.

When Moses was twelve years old, Pharaoh’s daughter took him to the palace and gave him an education appropriate for his class. Egyptian officials expected that Moses, a potential Pharaoh, would join the priestly caste. This he did not do. Rather, he chose to support the cause of the enslaved and oppressed Hebrews. One day, in mistaken pursuit of this cause, he killed an Egyptian taskmaster who was beating a Hebrew slave. When word of Moses’ act became known, he fled for his life to the land of Midian (Exod. 2:15).

There, Moses met a family of girls herding sheep. When Midianite boys drove the girls away from the watering trough, Moses single-handedly sent the boys running in all directions, and the girls got home early that day and told their father what had happened. Now, any father with seven daughters is always on the lookout for a good husband. So, Jethro sent the girls back to invite their Egyptian defender home for supper.

Four-Hundred-Thirty-Year Sojourn

God had told Abram in a vision that his descendants would live in a foreign land for 400 years from the time of the vision. They would be afflicted and enslaved, but, “in the fourth generation,” they would be delivered and return to Canaan, laden with gifts from the people of that foreign nation (Gen. 15:13-16).

Egypt controlled and administered Canaan during this time and considered Canaan a part of its territory. Throughout Abraham and Isaac’s and most of Jacob’s lifetime, Abraham and his descendants lived in Canaan. Jacob and his family went to live in Egypt proper about 1660 BC. Their sojourn of four hundred and thirty years began when Terah, Abraham’s father, left Ur for Haran (Gal. 3:17; Gen. 11:31).

Now the sojourning of the children of Israel, who dwelt in Egypt, was four hundred and thirty years. And it came to pass at the end of the four hundred and thirty years, even the selfsame day it came to pass, that all the hosts of the Lord went out from the land of Egypt. (Exod. 12:40-41).

Afflicted in Egypt

Jacob and his household moved to Egypt about 1660 BC (Gen. 37-50), marking the beginning of the second half of the prophesied 430 years (Exod. 12:40, 41). At the time, the Hyksos kings ruled Egypt (1730-1580 BC) and were friendly to the Hebrews. The Hebrews prospered in the land until the Hyksos were driven out in 1525 BC. Thutmose I was the first of a dynasty of Pharaohs who “knew not Joseph” (Exod. 1:8). The Egyptians enslaved Israel for eighty years until the “fourth generation” (Gen. 15:16), which ended with the exodus in 1445 BC.1

The following table shows the chronology of the exodus. Dates are all in years BC (“Before Christ”) and are approximate. Each king is counted as reigning from his accession year to the accession year of the next king.

Kings of Egypt 2 Dates BC Biblical Events
Hyksos Kings reign in Egypt 1730 - 1580 BC  
  1660 Jacob moves to Egypt
Sekenenre begins revolt (inconclusive)    
Kamose drives Hyksos to eastern delta
Ahmose expels Hyksos from Egypt    
Thutmose 1 reigns 1525 "asiatic" slaves in Egypt
  1525 Moses born
  1513 Moses to palace at age 12
Thutmose II has a short reign 1508  
Hatshepsut, daughter of Thurmose 1 1504 Moses adoptive mother
Thutmose III, co-regent with Hatshepsut 1485 Moses flees to Sinai
Thutmose III, also had asiatic slaves 1482 Pharaoh when Moses fled
Amenhotep II, Pharaoh of the Exodus 1450  
  1445 Moses returns to Egypt
The crown prince disappears   The Exodus began
Thutmose IV, a younger son reigns 1425
Amenhotep III 1412 Israel occupies Canaan
  1405 Israel occupies Canaan
Amenhotep IV 1387 - 1366  

Years of Preparation

Moses was born in about 1525 BC. His own mother cared for him the first twelve years of his life. His adoptive mother, the princess, took him into the royal palace about 1513 BC (Exod. 2:1-10). He never forgot his early training or the faith instilled in him by his faithful mother.

By faith Moses, when he was come to years, refused to be called the son of Pharaoh’s daughter; choosing rather to suffer affliction with the people of God, than to enjoy the pleasures of sin for a season. (Heb. 11:24, 25)

In the palace, he received the best of the world’s education and became mighty in word and deed. He would have been twenty-one years old when his foster mother became queen of Egypt. While he did remember what his mother taught him, his later education also influenced his thinking. It was natural for Moses to think of using force to solve problems, though it was not God’s way.

Moses also had a tendency to take into his own hands the work that God had promised to do. He showed his impulsive nature when he killed the Egyptian. This was about 1485 BC, when he was forty years old (Exod. 2:11-15). God did not intend to deliver His people by warfare but through the manifestation of His own mighty power that His people might look to Him alone. Moses fled into the desert to spend forty long years herding sheep. He learned to be humble, and he unlearned much of what he had learned in the schools of Egypt.

During this time, he lived with Jethro, a descendant of Abraham through Keturah (Gen. 25:2). Quite likely Jethro knew the stories and legends of the creation and the flood. How fascinating it would be to hear the long conversations around the campfire between Moses and Jethro! Moses, trained in the highest science of his day, listened humbly as Jethro described God’s interactions with the human family.

Hesitant to Lead

After forty years (about 1445 BC), God came to Moses in a burning bush that did not burn up (Exod. 3:2). God called Moses to return to Egypt to deliver His people-a difficult task. He was to go into the presence of Pharaoh, the most powerful king on earth and ask-no, demand-that Israel be allowed to leave.

Moses hesitated. God made extravagant promises of what He would do through Moses. Still Moses all but refused to go. Finally, “the anger of the Lord was kindled against Moses,” and God promised to send Aaron to go with him (Exod. 4:14). During his forty years herding sheep, Moses had learned humility, but he also became weak in faith.

When God calls someone to service, He gives the person the needed abilities to succeed (Exod. 3:10; 4:1-5). It was the Lord God who would give Moses and Aaron the words to say (Exod. 4:10-12). It was the Lord God who also brought the plagues on Egypt so that Pharaoh would let the people go.

The Covenant in Egypt

Speaking from the burning bush, God identified Himself to Moses in relation to the covenant given to Abraham and repeated to Isaac and Jacob (Exod. 3:6, 8). He staked His character (“name”) and reputation (“memorial”) on fulfilling this covenant with Israel. “The Lord God of your fathers, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, hath sent me unto you: this is my name for ever, and this is my memorial unto all generations” (Exod. 3:15).

Aaron came to see Moses, and together they returned to Egypt and repeated God’s words to the elders of Israel. The elders knew from prophecy that the time for their deliverance was soon to arrive, but they also knew that the people had rejected Moses’ leadership forty years earlier. Cooler heads prevailed as they realized that they would never be delivered if they rejected the means for their deliverance! Now Moses had reappeared as out of nowhere, and the people responded in faith and gratitude.

The people believed: and when they heard that the Lord had visited the children of Israel, and that he had looked upon their affliction, then they bowed their heads and worshipped” (Exod. 4:31).

Moses and Aaron entered Pharaoh’s court with the message from the Lord, “Let my people go.” Pharaoh immediately replied in determined rebellion against God: “Who is the Lord, that I should obey his voice to let Israel go? I know not the Lord, neither will I let Israel go” (Exod. 5:2). Because of this response, Egypt has come to symbolize atheism, hatred of God, and open rebellion against Him.

In staunch obstinacy, Pharaoh commanded that straw not be provided as before, yet the people were to make the same number of bricks. The people became discouraged. They had expected an easy deliverance. They had not yet learned faith, but God is merciful, and He renewed the covenant of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. He promised,  I will take you to me for a people, and I will be to you a God” (Exod. 6:7). To Moses, God said:

I am Jehovah: and I appeared unto Abraham, unto Isaac, and unto Jacob, as God Almighty; “I have heard the groaning of the children of Israel, whom the Egyptians keep in bondage; and I have remembered my covenant.” I am Jehovah, and I will bring you out from under the burdens of the Egyptians, and I will rid you out of their bondage, and I will redeem you with an outstretched arm, and with great judgments: and I will take you to me for a people, and I will be to you a God; “ And I will bring you in unto the land which I sware to give to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob; and I will give it you for a heritage: I am Jehovah. (Exod. 6:2, 3, 5-8, ASV)

Moses presented these words to the people, but their discouragement was much harder to dislodge than their previous elation. “They hearkened not unto Moses for anguish of spirit, and for cruel bondage” (Exod. 2:9).

The elders initially showed faith and trust in God, while the people were weak, stressed and discouraged as they returned to work.

Tested Leadership

Before recounting the story of the exodus, as we shall do in the next chapter of this book, let us run ahead and consider Moses’ character as revealed in the wilderness with the people.

During the march through the desert, the people constantly complained. The ignorance and infidelity of the people severely tested Moses’ patience. In most cases, he immediately pled with God, often interceding for the people. Yet, when he saw the rebellious, heathen festival at Sinai, his patience broke, and he threw down the tables of stone, written with the finger of God. This was the Ten Commandments, the covenant of what God would do for the people through grace.3

The table may have broken and the people may have gone back on their pledge, but the everlasting covenant can never be broken. God required Moses to make his own tables of stone for a replacement. God once again wrote the words of the covenant. “My covenant will I not break, nor alter the thing that is gone out of my lips” (Ps. 89:34).”Brethren, I speak after the manner of men; though it be but a man’s covenant, yet if it be confirmed, no man disannulleth, or addeth thereto” (Gal. 3:15). For the second time, God revealed Moses’ defect to him, in the hope that he would learn in time. In loving concern, God tests His children over and over until they gain the victory over the fault in their character or they choose to hold onto sin and lose their soul.

Moses’ impatience showed itself again near the end of their forty years’ wandering in the desert. The people were again without water. Again, they chided with Moses for bringing them into the desert from the gardens of Egypt, forgetting their sore bondage. Moses and Aaron fell on their faces before the Lord. When God spoke, He told them to gather the people and speak to the rock (Num. 20:7-11).

Moses was under considerable stress. God had given him instructions, but his anger proved his undoing. Instead of speaking to the rock as God had commanded, Moses called the people rebels and, in anger, struck the rock with his rod. He had again taken into his own hands the work that God purposed to do. The rock, which produced water for the people, represented Christ (1 Cor. 10:4). For their sins, Christ would be “smitten.” Yet, Moses was to strike it but once, as Jesus was offered but once as sacrifice forever (Isa. 53:4; Heb. 9:28). Thereafter, a sinner could come into His presence by prayer and find forgiveness. To strike the rock a second time destroyed the symbolism.

This was an impetuous sin, and it was grievous because Moses was a leader. As a lesson to the people, God denied Moses and Aaron entrance into the land of Canaan. Humanly speaking, one cannot Moses, Prepared to Lead 65 blame Moses and Aaron for what they did. However, there is no excuse for sin-not even fatigue, frustration, or stress. Moses and Aaron openly disobeyed God’s command. It was a public sin, and the reprimand must be public. Moses and Aaron would not be allowed to enter the land of Canaan. Aaron was first to see these consequences as he “went up into Mount Hor, in the sight of all the congregation” (Num. 20:27) and there died. His son Eleazar took his place. Later, Moses went up into Mount Nebo and laid down his life (Deut. 34:1-6).

The people must see that, even if Moses and Aaron confessed their sin and repented and God forgave them, they must bear the consequences of their sin. God had uniquely prepared Moses to deliver Israel and lead them to the Promised Land. This was possible because Moses chose to do the will of God.4 Nonetheless, while Moses was one of the greatest men to ever live, he was still human. Now he must die on the edge of the Promised Land as a result of the loss of his temper. However, God would not allow His beloved servant to remain in the grave, but took him up to be in His presence (Jude 9; Matt. 17:3).5


1. “The date is based on a statement synchronizing the 480th year from the Exodus with the 4th year of Solomon, in which the foundation of the Temple was laid in the month of Zif (1 Kings 6:1). This year was, according to the chronology accepted for this commentary, 967/66 b.c., that is, the Jewish regnal year beginning in the fall of 967 and ending in the fall of 966 “| Thus the laying of the foundation in the month of Zif (approximately our May) would have occurred in the spring of 966 b.c. Then Zif in the 1st year, in which the Israelites left Egypt, was 479 years earlier than 966, which is 1445 b.c. This can be computed easily by the equation: If Zif in the 480th yr. = 966 b.c., then, going back 479 yrs. (479) Zif in the 1st yr. = 1445 b.c.” (Francis D. Nichol, The Seventh-day Adventist Bible Commentary [Washington, DC: Review and Herald Publishing Association, 1978; 2002], vol. 1, p. 191).

2. The Seventh-day Adventist Bible Commentary, vol. 1, pp. 492, 502, 493, 189.

3. This was the Ten Commandments, the covenant encompassing what God would do for the people through grace. On Sinai, God offered the people the Abrahamic covenant. In this covenant, He promised to make of the people a “peculiar treasure “| a kingdom of priests, and an holy nation.” The details of the Old Covenant of Sinai are found in Exodus 19-31. The ten-commandment law was “the testimony” and was kept inside the ark. The harmony of the universe depends on this law. It is a reflection of the character of God. When Adam sinned, he broke the law of God. If there had been no law, there would have been no sin (Rom. 4:15; 1 John 3:4). The wages of sin is death (Gen. 2:16-17; Rom. 6:23), but, in the council of the Godhead, Jesus agreed to pay the price for the broken law of God so that human beings might again have the opportunity to choose to serve God and have eternal life. As part of the covenant of God, the Ten Commandments provide the pattern for human’s being an “holy nation” once again.

4. While it is true that Moses made a choice, it was only by the grace of God that he could hold onto that choice and live for God. “By faith Moses, when he was come to years, refused to be called the son of Pharaoh’s daughter; choosing rather to suffer affliction with the people of God, than to enjoy the pleasures of sin for a season; esteeming the reproach of Christ greater riches than the treasures in Egypt: for he had respect unto the recompense of the reward” (Heb. 11:24-26). -| without faith it is impossible to please him: for he that cometh to God must believe that he is, and that he is a rewarder of them that diligently seek him” (Heb. 11:6). God’s people depend on the new covenant, the covenant by which God 66 More Than a Promise puts enmity against evil in the hearts of the woman and her seed (Gen. 3:15). From these texts, we see that Moses had a faith relationship with God. His God-fearing mother taught him from early childhood to depend on God. Moses made mistakes, but he never lost his faith.

5. Jude 9 says that Michael contended for Moses’ body; Matthew 17:3 and Luke 9:30 say that Moses was alive, talking with Jesus.