Leader Resource 1: Exodus Background Information
The book of Exodus describes how the Israelites escaped from slavery in Egypt. It begins with the birth of Moses and the amazing story of how this Hebrew child became part of the inner circle of the Pharaoh. Exodus tells of how the Hebrews were mistreated as slaves and how Moses negotiated the release of his people from Egypt, a familiar story for all who are familiar with the Jewish Passover Seder. Exodus then tells of the Hebrews wandering in the dessert for forty years until they came to the land of Canaan, the land promised to them by YHWH (Yahweh), their God. It is during the wandering of the Hebrews in the wilderness that the covenant between YHWH and the whole Hebrew people is established in the climatic events at Mt. Sinai, where Moses receives the Ten Commandments from YHWH and delivers them to the people.
Scholars generally agree that the stories in Exodus were collected and written down by the historians who were part of King David's and King Solomon's court, as a way of documenting the story of the origins of their people.
The time of King David and his son King Solomon was about 1000 BCE. The historians were writing about events that had happened about 500 years earlier, or 1500 BCE. Because the story is told so long after the events purportedly occurred, it cannot be read as journalism or objective history, but rather as a weaving together of stories and legends that told how YHWH rescued the Hebrews from historical obscurity. There is virtually no confirmation of the stories from Exodus included in Egyptian written records, including such events as the parting of the Red Sea and the death of every first-born son in Egypt in a single night.
This workshop focuses on the story of how the Hebrews fed themselves during the Exodus, when they wandered in the desert for forty years. The text reports that God delivered manna from heaven, which they made into bread for their daily use. We can imagine that the story was repeated and grew as generations retold the story of the wilderness journey, and how God delivered the food necessary for the Hebrew to survive in a barren place.
What about this story makes it repeatable? Why did it continue to be told for centuries, until it was finally written down? Three important themes hint at some of the wisdom we might draw from this story:
- God gave them bread to eat when they were hungry
- God only gave each family enough for a one day at a time
- On the day before the Sabbath, God gave them enough for two days.
Evidence suggests that the original story made no mention of the Sabbath. Later storytellers added the narrative about the collection of two days' supply of food in order to bring the story in line with Sabbath observances and practices of their own time.