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William Shepard

The Sufferings of the Children of Israel

After the death of Joseph and his brethren, the Israelites, or children of Israel, as their descendants were now called, continued to live in Egypt. Pharaoh died, and his descendants ruled after him, and then the kingdom passed into another family of Pharaohs. Meanwhile the Egyptians, forgetful of the benefits which they had received from Joseph, began to look with envy upon the prosperity and happiness of the children of Israel. So they became very cruel in their treatment of them. They obliged them to do hard work, to cut a great number of channels for the river, to build walls round their cities, and also to build the pyramids.

Four hundred years they spent under these afflictions. At last a still greater cruelty was practiced against them. For it happened that one of the Egyptian wise men, who was able to foretell what would happen in the future, told Pharaoh the king that about this time there would be born a child to the Israelites who, if he were suffered to live, would bring the Egyptian dominion low and would raise the Israelites, that he would excel all men in virtue, and would obtain a glory that should be remembered through all ages. Then the king commanded that every male child born to the Israelites should be cast into the river, and that if any parents should disobey him and let their little boys live, they and their families should be destroyed. This law caused great mourning and weeping among the children of Israel, for they knew that if it were carried out their race would soon be at an end. There was a man among the Israelites named Amram, who was a leader among them. He too was greatly troubled because of this law, and he went out and prayed to God. And God answered his prayer. He stood by him in his sleep and exhorted him not to despair. He reminded him of what He had done for the Israelites in the past, and He told him He would continue His favors in the future.

"Know, therefore," said the Lord, "that I shall provide for you all in common what is for your good, and particularly for thyself what shall make thee famous; for that child, out of dread of whose nativity the Egyptians have doomed the Israelite children to destruction, shall be a child of thine, and shall be concealed from those who watch to destroy him; and he shall deliver the Hebrew nation from the distress they are under from the Egyptians. His memory shall be famous while the world lasts; and this not only among the Hebrews, but among other nations also."

When the vision had informed him of these things, Amram awoke and told it to Jochebed, who was his wife. And shortly after God gave a male child to this couple, whose birth was kept a secret from the Egyptians. They nourished the child at home secretly for three months, but after that time Amram, fearing it might be discovered and slain, determined to intrust the care of the infant to God. So he and his wife made a cradle of bulrushes, or long weeds that grew by the river, and daubed it over with pitch so as to keep out the water. Putting the infant into the cradle, they set it afloat upon the river, and left its preservation to God. But Miriam, the child's sister, watched by the river bank to see what became of the cradle.

King Pharaoh had a daughter named Thermuthis, who had come down that day to bathe in the river. Seeing a cradle borne along by the current, she sent out some of her maidens that could swim to get it and bring it to her. When they returned with the cradle and she saw the little child, she felt a great love for it on account of its beauty. Miriam now came to where the princess was standing, and asked if she might not go and call one of the Hebrew women to nurse the child. The princess told her she might do so. Therefore she went, and returned with her mother, who was known to nobody there. And the princess intrusted the nursing of the child to its own mother.


Moses in the Bulrushes

When the boy was a few years old she sent for him, as she had determined to bring him up as her own son. And she named him Moses, which means, in the Egyptian language, drawn out of the water. He grew up tall and beautiful, and showed great quickness at his studies. The princess, finding that he was likely to prove a remarkable man, took him one day to her father, and said to him,—

"I have brought up a child who is of a divine form and of a generous mind; and as I have received him from the bounty of the river, in a wonderful manner, I thought proper to adopt him for my son and the heir of my kingdom."

And when she had said this, she put the infant into her father's hands. He took him, and kissed him, and playfully put his crown upon the child's head; but Moses threw it down to the ground and trod upon it with his feet. And when the sacred scribe saw this (he was the same person who had foretold that a child would be born to the Hebrews who would bring the dominion of Egypt low) he made a violent attempt to kill him, and cried out,—

"This, O king! this child is he of whom God foretold, that if we kill him we shall be in no danger; he himself shows it by his treading upon thy crown. Take him, therefore, out of the way, and deliver the Egyptians from the fear they are in about him; and deprive the Hebrews of the hope they have of being encouraged by him."

But Thermuthis prevented him, and snatched the child away. The king would not listen to the scribe and allowed Moses to live. He was, therefore, educated with great care. So the Hebrews depended upon him, and were of good hopes that great things would be done by him; but the Egyptians were suspicious of him. Yet because, if Moses had been slain, there was no one else that would be likely to rule wisely over Egypt, they were afraid to kill him.