History Break: From Jacob to Moses

Our last point on the timeline was with Jacob at the moment he was renamed Israel (after wrestling with the angel of the Lord). From that time to Moses, a great deal happened for the descendants of Israel; Israel (Jacob) had twelve sons.

One of those sons, Joseph, was sold into slavery by some of his brothers. As a slave, Joseph was taken to Egypt where, true to a revelation from God, he became a powerful leader and saved his entire family (including his brothers) from a famine in their land. His brothers and their families all moved to Egypt where they had sons and daughters and became a populous nation known as the Israelites.

God’s promise to Abraham that he would have numerous descendants was fulfilled through all the sons of Israel and God worked in the lives of their descendants: Moses descended from Levi, the first king of Israel (Saul) came from Benjamin, and the promised Messiah came from the line of Judah. 

Before he died, Israel prophesied about his twelve sons, and the two sons of Joseph. An excerpt from the prophesy to Judah reads, “The scepter shall not depart from Judah, Nor the ruler’s staff from between his feet, Until Shiloh comes, And to him shall be the obedience of the peoples.”

In most translations, the word “Shiloh” is translated as a proper name for the Messiah. A literal translation for the verse would actually be “The scepter will not depart from Judah, nor the ruler’s staff from between his feel, until he comes whose right it is [Shiloh] and to him shall be the obedience of all the peoples.” The word Shiloh does not translate smoothly, but the basic meaning is that Judah would always provide a leader for the people until a particular One would come who has a right to the throne. Early Rabbis recognized this as being a reference to the Messiah. We will see as we continue through the lineage charts that Jesus came from the line of Judah.

Not long after Joseph’s generation, the Egyptians in power forgot about Joseph. The Egyptian rulers feared the growing number of Israelites (who came to be known as Hebrews) and forced them into slavery. (This was prophesied to Abraham in Genesis 15:13.) In an attempt to control the people, the king of Egypt commanded that the Hebrew midwives kill the male children as they were born to the Hebrew women, but the midwives feared God and didn’t do this. The Pharaoh then commanded that all boys should be thrown into the Nile River.

A man and a woman, both descendants of Levi, had a male child (Exodus 2:1). The mother hid him as long as she could and when she could hide him no longer she put him into a basket and placed him in the Nile. The Pharaoh’s daughter found him, felt sorry for him, and took him in. She named him Moses, meaning “drawing out” or “rescued.”

Moses grew up in the Pharaoh’s court and saw that his people were oppressed. One day he saw an Egyptian beating a Hebrew man, and Moses killed the Egyptian. When he realized that his act was not a secret, he fled to Midian. In Midian, he married a priest’s daughter, Zipporah. The region of Midian may have been named after one of the sons of Abraham (Genesis 25:1-2) and it is possible that this Zipporah’s father, Jethro, was a follower of the God of Abraham.

Time passed. The Egyptian king died. The Israelites groaned under their oppression. God heard them and was concerned for them. He then took action on His promise to Abraham.

Moses is tending the flocks of his father-in-law when we hear of God’s next question.


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