Story of the Chosen People - Helene Guerber

The Ten Plagues

At this time, the Egyptian king, or Pharaoh, was a man who had never seen Joseph, and cared but little for his kinsmen. He was a very stern ruler, and was afraid that the people of Israel would either join his enemies, or leave his land, where they were doing him good service. So he made them his slaves, and had them watched by Egyptian overseers.

The Pharaohs were all great builders, and this one employed the Israelites in making bricks for the erection of two great treasure cities. While they were thus forced to work hard, the Israelites were very unkindly treated; but they had many children, and were steadily increasing in numbers. Pharaoh, seeing this, now gave orders that all their male children should be killed as soon as born.

The nurses who received these orders were God-fearing women, and did not obey them. Then Pharaoh sent his officers to throw all the boy babies into the Nile River.

There was, in those days, a descendant of Levi, who married and had two children, Miriam and Aaron. Shortly after Pharaoh had given orders that all the boy babies should perish, a third child was born to this Levite. As this baby was a son, the anxious mother hid him for three months, lest the officers should find and kill him.

At the end of that time the mother felt that she could not keep the babe hidden much longer. So she placed him in a little ark, or cradle, among the reeds by the side of the river, and bade Miriam stand close by to watch over her baby brother.

Soon after, Pharaoh’s daughter, the haughty Egyptian princess, came down to the river to bathe. Her glances were caught by the strange object in the bulrushes; and when it was brought to her, and she saw the smiling baby, she said that she would adopt it.

Miriam then stepped forward and offered to find a nurse for the child. Her offer was accepted, and thus the boy Moses grew up in the king’s palace under the care of his own mother, who had saved her child to become one of the greatest men the world has ever known.

We know nothing about the early youth and manhood of Moses, but his mother must surely have taught him to honor God. She also told him the story of his adoption, and of the Chosen Race of Israel, to which he belonged.

Moses received an Egyptian education in Pharaoh’s palace, where he became "mighty in words and in deeds." He was about forty years of age, when he once saw an Egyptian overseer beating one of the poor Israelites, whose lot had daily grown harder to bear.

In a fit of anger, Moses fell upon the cruel Egyptian, and killed him. No one saw the murder, but the deed was soon found out, and Moses fled into the desert, near the Red Sea. Here he took refuge among the Midianites, who were descendants of Abraham and his last wife, Keturah. While there, Moses saw that some rude shepherds would not allow Jethro’s daughters to come near the well to water their sheep. He helped the maidens, and then went home with them and became their father’s shepherd. Soon after this Moses married one of these girls, and became the father of two sons.

Moses remained here in the desert forty years, and that time the Egyptian king died and was followed by another Pharaoh fully as cruel as he. This new ruler oppressed the people of Israel so greatly that they began to pray to be set free; and God, remembering his promises to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, prepared to help them.

One day, when Moses was alone with his sheep, he saw a bush near him all wrapped in flames. Strange to relate, however, the dry branches were not burned up; so Moses drew near in wonder to examine the bush.

Suddenly he heard a voice, telling him to take off his shoes, because the ground whereon he stood was holy. Then God spoke to him, gave him a message for Pharaoh, and bade him go and lead the chosen people out of the land of Egypt, and into the desert.

This was a very hard task, and Moses, who had grown old and prudent, was afraid to undertake it. As he did not dare to refuse openly, he began making excuses; but God now cut these excuses short and bade Moses throw down his rod. As soon as he had done so, God changed the stick into a serpent. Then he restored it to its usual form, and made Moses a leper. God soon cured him of this loathsome disease, however, and promised to perform many miracles to help him.

Moses was encouraged by this promise, and by the permission to have his brother Aaron act as his spokesman, for he himself was slow of speech; so he now undertook to carry out the Lord’s commands. Armed only with rods, he and Aaron presented themselves before Pharaoh. There they told the king that the Lord had ordered them to lead the Israelites into the desert, to celebrate a feast.

The King of Egypt, who did not worship God, haughtily asked, "Who is the Lord, that I should obey his voice?" And he said that he would not let the people go.

To force him to obey God’s command, Moses raised his wand, and called down, one after another, ten terrible plagues upon the Egyptians. Thus the waters were changed into blood; frogs overran all the land; lice, flies, and sickness tormented man and beast, and all the people suffered tortures from boils.

Then came terrible plagues of hail, locusts, and darkness so intense that people still use the expression "as dark as Egypt." The king, frightened by each new plague, always promised to let the people go as soon as it was removed; but, when all danger was over, he as often broke his promise, and kept the Israelites at work.

Finally, God sent an angel to kill all the firstborn of the Egyptians, and in the darkness of the night this messenger passed from door to door, doing as the Lord had commanded. By Moses' order, all the Israelites had smeared their doorposts with the blood of a lamb; so wherever the angel saw this sign he passed over the house without doing any harm to the people in it.

Pharaoh lost his firstborn too, on this occasion, and now he no longer dared resist, but gave Moses permission to lead the Israelites into the desert.

[Illustration] from The Story of the Chosen People by Helene Guerber