Exodus Simplified For Kids
Continued from the Book of Genesis. Note that we continue to use “Yahweh” for deity in this text to situate the story in its cultural context alongside stories that use other names for deity (Allah, Krishna, etc.) in our wisdom library.
Joseph and his brothers all passed away, and his descendants — known as the Israelites or Hebrews — grew in number as the years went by.
The Israelites in Egypt
The pharaoh of Egypt saw how quickly the Israelites grew in number and worried they would become so powerful they’d join enemy forces during a war, so he forced them to do hard work. He kept working them harder and harder, and yet they kept growing in number.
Eventually the pharaoh grew so worried that he ordered two Hebrew midwives to kill every baby boy born to the Israelites. But the midwives refused. So the pharaoh sent a public decree that every baby boy who was born to Israelite parents should be drowned in the Nile river.
Moses in the Bulrushes
A man and a woman from the Levite tribe of Israel had a baby boy. The mother kept the boy hidden for three months — as long as she felt she safely could. Then she made a basket out of reeds and sent him down the Nile river.
It just so happened that one of the pharaoh’s daughters saw the basket floating in the river and sent her servant to fetch it. When the pharaoh’s daughter opened the basket and saw a crying baby inside, she felt bad for it. She named him Moses, which means “pull out” in Hebrew, because she pulled him out of the river, and she eventually raised him in Egypt.
Moses Escapes from Egypt
Moses grew up.
One day, he saw an Egyptian beating up a Hebrew man, and he felt so angry about it that he killed the Egyptian and buried the body in the sand.
The next day, Moses saw two Hebrew men fighting and tried to break things up. But the man who started the fight asked Moses if he was going to kill him just like he had killed the Egyptian. When Moses heard this, he was terrified. It meant that people had seen what he’d done. As soon as he learned that the pharaoh knew what had happened, he fled far from Egypt to the land of Midian.
Moses Meets Jethro and Marries Zipporah
In Midian, one day Moses was sitting by a well when the daughters of a priest named Jethro came to get water for their sheep and goats. A group of shepherds tried to chase Jethro’s daughters away, but Moses stood up to the shepherds, and they ran away. Then Moses gave water to the daughters’ flock.
When Jethro’s daughters returned, they told their dad what Moses had done. So Jethro invited Moses to eat with their family and then to live with them.
Time passed, and Jethro let Moses marry one of his daughters named Zipporah. Together they had a son named Gershom.
Meanwhile, back in Egypt, the old pharaoh died. But the new pharaoh continued to oppress the Israelites. They cried out to Yahweh for help, and Yahweh felt sorry for them.
Yahweh Speaks to Moses
One day, Moses was watching Jethro’s sheep in the desert when he saw a bush that looked like it was on fire but wasn’t burning up. Yahweh spoke to Moses from the bush, telling him to take off his sandals on this holy ground. Then Yahweh said that he was the god worshiped by Moses’s ancestors Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. He said that he’d seen the Israelites being oppressed by Egyptians and that Moses would free them and lead them to a land rich with milk and honey — a promised land.
Moses told Yahweh that he didn’t feel capable of freeing the Israelites. He asked Yahweh for his name, and Yahweh said his name was Yahweh — which in Hebrew means “I am.” [Note that some scholars believe “Yahweh” may here mean “I am the one who is” or “I will be what I will be.”]
Yahweh then gave Moses power, telling him to throw his walking stick to the ground.
As soon as Moses did, it turned into a snake. Then Yahweh told Moses to pick it up by the tail, and when Moses did, it turned back into a staff. Then Yahweh told Moses to put his hand in his shirt. When Moses did and pulled it back out, it was white as snow — like someone who had leprosy. Then he put it back in and it was normal again. Finally, Yahweh told Moses that if he needed more proof of his power to convince the Egyptians, he could take water from the Nile River and pour it on the ground, and it would turn to blood.
After seeing all of this, Moses told Yahweh that he wasn’t a good speaker and didn’t want to go back to Egypt to free the Israelites. He wanted Yahweh to find someone else.
This made Yahweh angry. He told Moses to rely on his brother Aaron, who was a good speaker, and get back to Egypt.
So Moses started his journey back with his brother Aaron.
Moses and Aaron Confront the Pharaoh
Moses and Aaron went to the pharaoh and demanded that he let the Israelites go.
But the pharaoh only responded by adding to the workload of the Israelites, making their lives even more painful. Because of this, the Israelites complained to Moses and Aaron, saying that they hoped Yahweh would punish them for asking pharaoh to let them go.
So Moses complained to Yahweh that the lives of the Israelites were more difficult now and that Yahweh hadn’t done anything to help them. Yahweh promised he would help, but when Moses told the Israelites this, they didn’t believe it.
Yahweh then told Moses that it was time for him and Aaron to turn their walking sticks into snakes in front of the pharaoh. So Moses returned and did just that. He and Aaron threw down their walking sticks, which turned into snakes. The pharaoh’s magicians also threw down sticks, which also turned into snakes.
The snakes of Moses and Aaron swallowed up the snakes of the magicians, but pharaoh still wouldn’t let the Israelites go.
So Yahweh told Moses and Aaron to unleash a series of plagues on Egypt. First, Aaron struck the Nile river with his walking stick, and the water turned into blood, killing all the fish.
Then Aaron held his walking stick over the rivers and canals and ponds, and frogs jumped out of the waters and flooded the land — frogs in the palace and in the bedrooms. The pharaoh told Moses that he would let the Israelites go if Moses would send the frogs away. So Moses did it, but the pharaoh didn’t keep his promise.
Then Aaron struck the ground with his walking stick and the air was thick with swarms of gnats, followed by an infestations of flies. Finally, the pharaoh said that the Israelites could go. But as soon as the flies were gone, he changed his mind.
More plagues followed, including a terrible disease that killed the horses, donkeys, camels, cows, and goats in Egypt, followed by another disease that inflicted painful sores on the bodies of the Egyptians. Then hail fell from the sky, destroying the Egyptian’s crops, which were in turn eaten by swarms of grasshoppers. Finally, darkness covered the land for three days. But the pharaoh still wouldn’t let the Israelites go.
So Yahweh told Moses about a final plague — a plague that would result in the death of the first-born sons of the Egyptians.
Moses warned the pharaoh. Then he told the Israelites to kill a young male lamb or goat and put its blood on their door frame and to then eat the meat of the animal along with bitter herbs and unleavened bread. He said that Yahweh would see the blood on their doorway and pass over their homes, sparing their first-born sons. This was the first Passover celebration.
At midnight, Yahweh killed the first-born son of every Egyptian.
The Israelites Leave and Cross the Red Sea
Finally, the pharaoh said that the Israelites should leave Egypt, and they did.
They followed Yahweh, who took the form of a thick cloud by day and a flaming fire by night, to the Red Sea.
At the Red Sea, they saw the pharaoh’s soldiers coming in the distance and started to worry that they had left Egypt only to now die in the wilderness. But Yahweh told Moses that if he held out his walking stick and if the Israelites stepped into the sea, there would be dry ground beneath their feet. So Moses held out his staff, and the Israelites walked into the sea. Dry ground appeared beneath their feet, along with a wall of water on each side. After they got to the other side, the waters crashed down, killing all of the pharaoh’s men.
The Israelites were finally free, and they celebrated with singing.
In the Wilderness
As they traveled through the wilderness, the people of Israel searched for food and water. They found a place with bitter water, and Yahweh told Moses to throw a piece of wood into it to make the water fresh. Then Yahweh sent a thin, wafer-like substance they called “manna.” The manna fell to the ground like rain, and they gathered a set amount each day. On the sixth day of the week, they gathered twice the daily amount so they could rest on the seventh day, which they called the Sabbath. Later, when the Israelites were thirsty again, Yahweh told Moses to strike a rock with his walking stick to send fresh water springing from it.
Then a group of people named the Amalekites attacked the Israelites. Moses told a leader named Joshua to take the Israelites into battle while Moses held his walking stick over his head. As the battle went on, Moses’s arms got tired so Aaron and a man named Hur held up his arms so he could keep the walking stick in the air. Eventually, the Israelites won the battle.
Moses met his father-in-law Jethro in the wilderness and worked with him to establish judges to rule over the people.
Mount Sinai and the Ten Commandments
The Israelites camped at the foot of a mountain named Sinai. Yahweh told Moses that anyone who touched the mountain except for him would die. Then a cloud covered the mountain, the earth shook, and a sound like a trumpet blared over the land.
Moses ascended the mountain and met with Yahweh. He gave him ten commandments to give to the Israelites:
- Don’t worship any god except me.
- Don’t make make or worship idols.
- Don’t misuse my name.
- Keep the Sabbath Day holy by resting instead of working.
- Respect your parents.
- Don’t murder.
- Be faithful in marriage.
- Don’t steal.
- Don’t lie.
- Don’t desire to own what other people own.
Then Yahweh told Moses to sacrifice animals to him and to pass along a list of instructions to the Israelites on topics such as slavery, violent crimes, property laws, festivals, and more. He told the Israelites to not mistreat foreigners, as they were foreigners themselves in Egypt.