Exodus 1-4

Introduction: Exodus begins with the Israelites growing from a family to a people, albeit a people enslaved in Egypt.  God then leads the people out of slavery and onward towards the promised land.  God gives the law at Sinai, followed by a detailed description of the sanctuary and rules for rituals (such as animal sacrifices) that should be observed.  Modern scholarship has shown that Exodus is a composite of multiple sources, woven together by a redactor.  Hence, there are many internal inconsistencies in Exodus, such as the name of Moses’ father-in-law (which is different in 2:18, 3:1, and 4:18), and whether the Israelites lived separately from Egyptians or side-by-side with them (compare 3:22 with 9:26).

Exodus 1-4: Jacob and seventy family members come to Egypt.  The Israelites multiply greatly, and a new Egyptian king forces them into slave labor.  The king orders Hebrew midwives to kill all newborn sons, but they find a pretext to disobey.  A Levite woman gives birth to Moses, and fearing for his life, put him into the Nile inside a basket.  The Pharaoh’s daughter finds him and raises him.  As an adult, Moses kills an Egyptian who is beating a Hebrew and flees the country to Midian, where he marries the daughter of a Midian priest.  Moses, tending the flock of his father-in-law, comes upon a burning bush.  God speaks to Moses and charges him with bringing the Israelites out of Egypt and into Canaan.  God reveals his name as YHVH, which could mean “I will be what I will be” (or “my nature will be evident in my actions”).

God’s plan is to for Moses and the elders to go to Pharaoh and ask for permission to go into the wilderness to sacrifice for 3 days.  The Pharaoh will refuse, God will smite Egypt with plagues, and the Pharaoh will change his mind.  Moses raises many objections: what if nobody believes I saw God?  I am not good with words; I have a speech impediment.  God gives him a rod that turns into a snake, as evidence of his divine interaction; he allows Aaron to be Moses’ spokesman.  Moses and Aaron manage to convince the elders to follow their plan.


  • Moses is an Egyptian name meaning “gave birth”; the Bible’s own etymology in 2:10 is invented.  For example, Rameses and Thut-mose mean “Ra/Thut gave birth [to this person]”.
  • Moses’ father-in-law is said to be Reuel in 2:18, and Jether in 4:18.
  • Exodus 4:24-26 is a strange incident known as Zipporah at the inn.  God encounters “him” and seeks to kill him.  Zipporah, his wife, took a knife, cut off her son’s foreskin, and touched “his” legs with it, thus saving “him”.  It is unclear who God attacks (Moses or the son?) or why, since the pronouns are ambiguous and there are no contextual clues before or after this passage.  The passage is probably extracted from a longer and clearer source.
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