Nearly 300 years after Joseph’s death, the rulers of Egypt turned against the Israelites. So God chose a man called Moses to lead the Israelites out of Egypt, known as the Exodus, and into the Promised Land of Canaan. The Israelites were given a set of laws to follow, which included the Ten Commandments. After 40 years in the wilderness, they reached Canaan. According to the Bible, it was a land flowing with milk and honey, and was later renamed Israel. It was here that the people would build the Temple and live by the Torah. They would have their own kings, priests, and prophets. Above all, God promised them peace and prosperity. In return, they made a promise to God to keep all the laws and to show justice and mercy to the inhabitants of Canaan.
The Egyptian pharaoh at the time of Moses is thought to have been Rameses II (c. 1279–1213 BCE). Royal records from his court show that he used slave labor to build his cities.
LIFE IN EGYPT
The Israelites were treated harshly by their Egyptian masters. Along with people from other lands, they were used by the pharaohs as slaves, helping to build their cities and temples.
THE TEN PLAGUES
As instructed by God, Moses left his home in Sinai and went to Egypt. He asked Pharaoh to set the Israelites free. But Pharaoh refused, so God sent a series of terrible plagues. When the tenth plague struck, every first-born Egyptian boy died, including Pharaoh’s son, and so he relented. The Israelites were saved because the angel of death passed over their homes. Led by Moses, the Israelites left Egypt in search of Canaan.
CROSSING THE SEA
It was not long before Pharaoh changed his mind and sent his army after the Israelites, who had set up camp by a sea. It is likely that this was the Sea of Reeds the original Hebrew translation was the Red Sea, but this was south of the Exodus route. For the terrified Israelites, this was their first test of obedience. They turned to Moses, accusing him of bringing them to harm. But God parted the waters so they could cross safely, and when Pharaoh’s army followed, the waters flowed back, drowning the army. The people rejoiced, and once again placed their faith in God to lead them to the Promised Land.
“I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery. You shall have no other gods before me.”
ONE OF THE TEN COMMANDMENTS
Upon reaching Mount Sinai, Moses received from God the Torah (all the laws, including the Ten Commandments). These laws were written on stone tablets and later housed in a special chest, called the Ark of the Covenant. When Moses passed on these laws, the Israelites accepted the covenant of the Lord.
THE PROMISED LAND
When the Israelites approached Canaan, they discovered that the inhabitants could not be defeated easily, and so they rebelled. God condemned the Israelites to wander in the wilderness for 40 years because of their lack of faith. When Canaan was conquered by the next generation of Israelites, the land was divided among the 12 tribes of Israel, who were descendants of Jacob. Pictured above is the Jordan Valley, part of ancient Canaan.
Canaan was settled by people who worshipped many gods. Baal was one of the most popular Canaanite gods. Such pagan worship was seen as a potential threat to the religion of the Israelites.