The Passover Narrative
Though they thrived, the Israelites remained a separate people. They maintained their identity largely by speaking their own language, wearing distinctive clothing, using Semitic names for their children, and not intermarrying.
Once Joseph died, however, the Israelites fell out of favor with the pharaoh. Their growing numbers threatened the power structure in Egypt. Things no longer boded well for the Israelites.
Slaves in Egypt
In an effort to keep the Israelite population in check, the Egyptians enslaved the Hebrews, assigning them harsh work under cruel conditions. Things became even more precarious when Pharaoh was informed by astrologers that an Israelite male child born at that time would grow up to overthrow him. As a result, Pharaoh decreed that every Israelite male newborn be drowned in the Nile River.
Not willing to accept the decree as a fait accompli, Amram and Yochebed placed their baby boy in a basket and floated him down the Nile. The boy's sister, Miriam, followed the basket at a safe distance. She saw Pharaoh's daughter, Bityah, find the basket and lift it from the river. Bityah called the baby boy Moses because he was drawn from the Nile.
Moses and the Exodus
Moses grew up as a prince in Pharaoh's palace. One day, he saw an Egyptian overseer striking a Hebrew slave. When the overseer would not stop the beating, Moses killed him. Fearing for his life, Moses fled to Midian, where he married Tziporah, the daughter of Jethro, a Midianite priest.
Moses became a shepherd and was content with his life until one day, when he was tending to his flock he came upon a burning bush that was not consumed by the flames. It was then that God spoke to Moses, instructing His reluctant emissary to go into Egypt and tell Pharaoh to let the Israelites leave.
Along with his brother Aaron, Moses conveyed God's demand to Pharaoh, but Pharaoh was angered and only made things worse for the Hebrews. To demonstrate the power of God, ten plagues were visited upon the Egyptians:
Slaying of the firstborn
Before subjecting the Egyptians to the final plague, the slaying of the firstborn males, God directed Moses to instruct each Israelite family to slaughter an unblemished lamb before sundown. They were to smear the blood of the lamb on doorposts and thresholds and then prepare the lamb for their dinner.
During this meal, the original seder, the Israelites ate the roasted lamb, unleavened bread (because there was not sufficient time for the dough to rise), and maror (bitter herbs). While they recounted the many miracles God had performed for them, God passed through Egypt, slaying every firstborn male. Because the Israelites' houses marked with the smeared blood of the sacrificial lamb were passed over, the holiday that celebrates the Jews' eventual liberation from Egypt is known as Passover.
The following day, Pharaoh ordered the Israelites to immediately leave Egypt. Under the leadership of Moses, somewhere between two and three million Israelites departed from Egypt. Indeed, the Israelites were a prolific people!
Many scholars believe that Ramses II (1300–1234 or 1347–1280
Pharaoh soon regretted his decision. He sent his army to pursue the Israelites, catching up with them at the Sea of Reeds (also known as the Red Sea). With the sea directly ahead of them and Pharaoh's mighty army at their backs, the Israelites were trapped, but God parted the water and allowed the Israelites to pass through. When the Egyptian army pursued, the water fell back and they all drowned. Gathered together, Israelites sang songs of praises to their God (Exodus 15:1–20).
The Israelites encountered more challenges before they reached Mount Sinai, where God gave Moses the 613 mitzvot (including the ten known in the Christian world as the Ten Commandments). The Hebrews wandered in the desert for 40 years, until they entered the Promised Land as a free people.