Moses, the Plagues, and Passover

Workshop Leaders’ Bible Study

This workshop leader’s Bible study is a historical, theological, and contextual introduction to the “Moses, the Plagues, and Passover” rotation of Kirk of Kildaire’s Faith Quest workshop rotation program.  It is intended to provide workshop leaders with:

·       A historical context for understanding the Bible story.

·       A Biblical context for reading and teaching the story.

·       The theological basis for the concepts to be taught to the children.

In Kirk of Kildaire’s Faith Quest program, workshop leaders attend a one-hour Bible study two weeks prior to the start of a new rotation.  This Bible study helps workshop leaders understand how the concepts to be taught to the children are derived from the Bible story and how the lessons in the rotation fit together to reinforce the concepts.  It also provides an opportunity for the workshop leaders to grow in their own faith and understanding of the Bible.

It will be helpful to have a chalkboard, whiteboard, or flip chart for writing down questions or observations during the Bible study.

Note:  This is not a comprehensive study of the text, but only a few notes to help provide context and background for workshop leaders.


Exodus 6-12, with emphasis on Exodus 12:21-42

Memory verse for this rotation:

Romans 8:39b (CEV):

"Nothing in all creation can separate us from God's love for us in Christ Jesus our Lord!"


1.     God helps people who suffer.

2.     God remembers and keeps God's promises.

3.     God commands us to remember God's salvation in worship.

4.     God saved God's people with a mighty hand.  

5.     We remember what God has done in the past and we celebrate what God is doing today.

Prayer Concerns & Prayer

·       If workshop leaders do not know each other, give them an opportunity to introduce each other and say which workshop they will be leading.

·       Begin the Bible study by praying for God’s guidance as teachers begin a new rotation.

Reading the text

Ask a workshop leader to read the text aloud.  For this rotation, you might want to read only the Passover section and review the plagues sections.

Ask the workshop leaders what questions came to mind as they heard the story or read it before the Bible study.  Write down any questions that arise and will need to be answered during the Bible study.

Historical, Theological, and Biblical Contexts

Historical Context of Exodus

No one knows exactly when the historical events of the Exodus took place, but some date it to around 1290 bce, when Rameses II ruled.[1]  What might be more significant is the dating of the compiling and editing of these stories into their final form, which probably happened at the time of the Babylonian exile, around 587 bce, as Birch, Brueggemann, et al. state in A Theological Introduction to the Old Testament.[2]  It was edited into its final form at a time when the Jewish people most needed a story of hope in God’s faithfulness to God’s people.  In our time it has still been used as a story of hope to people who have needed the reassurance of God’s presence, as in the struggle against slavery.[3]

Biblical Context

The starting point for understanding what is happening in the Exodus story of bondage; confrontation with Pharaoh, and liberation (Chapters 1-15), is Genesis.  In Exodus, God fulfills or remembers several promises made in Genesis:

Promise made:

Promise fulfilled or remembered:

Genesis 1:26-28

Exodus 1:1-7

Genesis 12:1-3

Exodus 2:23-25

God is the God of creation and covenant and it is God’s fidelity to God’s creation and covenant that motivate God to rescue the Israelites.  It involves three main characters: Pharaoh, Moses, and Yahweh.


Who is Pharaoh?

In the context of the creation story, this is a story of good versus evil in cosmic proportions.  It is the story of a God whose creative and covenantal purpose—that (1) humankind be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and that (2) through the nation of Israel the whole world be blessed—is challenged by an oppressive political state: Egypt under the rule of Pharaoh.  This oppressive state institutes a policy of near genocide (killing newborn Hebrew boys).  God confronts and challenges this opposition to God’s creative and covenantal purpose through human agency: first of all the Hebrew midwives and then Moses.

Who is Moses?

1.     An Israelite (Exodus 2:1-4)

2.     Raised in Pharaoh’s palace (Exodus 2:5-10)

3.     Who is sensitive to the injustice of the Hebrews’ situation, but responds to it violently (Exodus 2:11-15)

4.     Curious enough to “turn aside and look at this great sight” (Exodus 3:3).  See the midrash in Does God Have a Big Toe?[4]

Who is Yahweh?

Yahweh is usually translated Lord, in small caps.  In Hebrew it is spelled hvhy and pronounced Adonai, which is a Hebrew word meaning “my lord.”  No one is sure exactly what Yahweh means, but it is derived from the verb “to be.”  It is variously translated, “I am who I am,” “I am who I will be,” or “I will cause to be what I will cause to be.”  The gist of this is that the very name of God is connected with the act of creation: “And God said, ‘Let there be light’; and there was light” (Genesis 1:3).

Jews consider the name Jahweh too sacred to pronounce and in Hebrew texts it is written without vowels.  Walter Brueggemann, however, suggests that substituting Lord for Yahweh is an unsatisfactory solution for two reasons: (1) it implies masculinity where none is implied in the Hebrew text and (2) it obscures the impact of he holy name where it is used.  Because God sometimes is referred to as “Adonai” using Adonai in place of Yahweh obscures the use of Yahweh.

Water Brueggemann say that Yahweh is “the God who intervenes powerfully on behalf of the poor and the marginal in the face of oppressive power.”[5]  “Yahweh is a God who forcefully, decisively, and willingly enters into solidarity with a group of helpless people.”[6]

The Story

The Passover story has two immediate contexts that help to understand its significance: The plagues/hardening of Pharaoh’s heart and the instructions for celebrating passover (worshipping) as a remembrance.  There are also two more distant contexts that help us understand it: connections with the beginning of Exodus that indicate a reversal taking place and our understanding of Christ as the Passover lamb

The Plagues



Who hardens Pharaoh’s heart?
































The difficult question here is why does God harden Pharaoh’s heart?  Is Pharaoh not just a puppet for God’s purposes?  Walter Brueggeman and Terrence Fretheim claim that God does not in fact initiate the hardening of Pharaoh’s heart, but only gives Pharaoh over to his own heart hardening.  During the sixth plague, God steps in to intensify Pharaoh’s heart hardening.  This leads to the conclusion that what the Egyptians are experiencing is the result of Pharaoh’s own opposition to the creative and covenantal purposes of God and it has cosmic implications.  Pharaoh’s opposition to the purposes of God affects even the natural world.  Pharaoh is anti-creation and anti-covenant.

The Passover celebration

Chapter 12 begins and ends with instructions for how the Israelites are to celebrate the passover feast.  Before they have even been released from Egypt, God’s promise is being fulfilled: “This shall be the sign for you that it is I who sent you: when you have brought the people out of Egypt, you shall worship God on this mountain” (Exodus 3:12).

At this point time slows down, partly to enhance the suspense of the narrative, but also to emphasize the activity that will mark the community that God is forming out of the refugees from Egypt: that they will worship God and remember forever their redemption from slavery.  The Passover ritual is repeated from year to year and from generation to generation not simply to remember the past, but to make the mighty acts of God saving for the present generation.

Lamb of God

As important as it is to read the Plagues and Passover story in their own historical and literary context, so is it important for us as Christians to read them through the lens of Christ.  Christ is our Passover lamb:

John 1:29               Here is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!

1 Peter 1:19             You were ransomed from the futile ways inherited from your ancestors, not with perishable things like silver or gold, but with the precious blood of Christ.

Luke 22:1-13           In the Gospel of Luke, the gospel writer emphasizes that the trial and crucifixion of Jesus took place at Passover.

1 Cor. 5:7               For our Passover lamb, Christ, has been sacrificed.

Workshop Summaries

Ask each workshop leader to summarize his or her workshop.  As they do so, point out the concepts that each lesson reinforces.  Ask workshop leaders if they have any questions about the logistics or practical application of their lesson.

General Overview of the Story

·       Background – Holywood

·       Sequence – Apostles Playhouse; Antioch Arcade

God helps people who suffer.

·       Antioch Arcade

·       Apostles Playhouse

·       Creation Station

·       Praising Puppets

God remembers and keeps God's promises.

·       Apostles Playhouse

·       Creation Station

·       Holywood

·       Praising Puppets

God commands us to remember God's salvation in worship.

·       Apostles Playhouse

·       Creation Station

·       Good News

God saved God's people with a mighty hand.

·       Apostles Playhouse

·       Creation Station

·       Holywood

We remember what God has done in the past and we celebrate what God is doing today.

·       Antioch Arcade

·       Good News

Review Questions

Return to the questions that were gathered at the start of the hour.  Have they been answered?  Are there any further questions about the Bible story or about the lessons?

Closing Prayer

Close the Bible study with a prayer.

[1] “Exodus” in Harper’s Bible Dictionary, Paul J. Achtemeier, ed. (New York: HarperCollins, 1985), p. 289.

[2] Bruce C. Birch, Walter Brueggemann, Terrence Fretheim, and David L. Petersen, A Theological Introduction to the Old Testament (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1999), pp. 103-104.

[3] Francis J. Grimke, “A Resemblance and a Contrast . . .” in The Heart of Black Preaching by Cleophus J. LaRue (Louisville, KY: Westminster/John Knox Press, 2000), pp. 147-160.  Biographical sketch of Cleophus LaRue is from American Sermons, Michael Warner, comp. (New York: Literary Classics, 1999), pp. 914-915.

[4] Marc Gellman, Does God Have a Big Toe? (New York: Harper and Row, 1989), pp. 65-71.

[5] Walter Brueggemann, A Social Reading of the Old Testament (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1994), p. 55.

[6] Ibid., p. 56.