The Exodus from Egypt is a beautiful parable, with parallels to the Bhagavad-Gita. In the story of Moses, his mother lays her baby in a basket on the River Nile because she is afraid of Pharaoh. In the manner of allegories of the ancient Mediterranean, Egypt stands for chaos and the Pharaoh is similar to the blind King Dhritarashtra of the Gita, representing lower human qualities such as arrogance, selfishness, and desire. Moses here is the higher mental qualities, and his mother — as generally with females in religious symbolism — is the passive energy, in this case intuition. She puts her baby in a basket in the holy stream rising from spiritual sources, thus protecting the young incarnation against blind desires and the lower senses.
The Pharaoh's daughter is the restless energy of mind described by the Hindus as rajas. She decides to educate the child in Pharaoh's palace with arts and other lovely terrestrial things. There Moses comes under the effects of illusion, spending many years at court. The people of Israel — the higher human qualities — work as slaves in Egypt, for higher qualities are slaves of the lower when ignorance and passion rule.
Yahweh, the Logos or higher self, plays a role similar to that of Krishna in the Gita. He calls Moses and gives him instructions for bringing the people of Israel out of Egypt to the promised land. Here the higher self calls on men to give up the life of the lower senses and unify themselves with their higher self.
At this point, as the dormant person responds to the signal for the higher self to wake up, troubles come into his life. Lower qualities will not change overnight because thoughts, as well as atoms and molecules, have their fixed patterns and cannot change rapidly. The Bible indicates this by Pharaoh rejecting the demands of Moses. Even the Jewish slaves have no interest in leaving Egypt; why should they, when they are happy with their life and do not realize that they are slaves to lower qualities?
The more Moses demands that Pharaoh let the people of Israel go, the more Pharaoh resists, because he must give up the life he is accustomed to. Problems increase, disease and foes oppress the Egyptian people, till at last Pharaoh says, "I will let the people of Israel go," meaning "I will give up the life of the lower senses." But as we very often see, after a while, when disease and disasters disappear, people return to their old lifestyle. So did Pharaoh. In our inner life also, difficulties will come until we make a firm decision to give up our old way of life as Pharaoh finally did to free the people of Israel and let them go to the promised land.
But the battle is not over. Pharaoh regrets that his slaves are gone, as the lower part of us sometimes does when it remembers the old days, and Pharaoh decides to bring them back. This is impossible, since a firm decision was taken and the people of Israel were already escaping through the Red Sea. That is to say, the inner door closed to the lower qualities which were then destroyed, symbolized by the waters of the Red Sea swallowing up Pharaoh and his army. Neither was there any return possible for the people of Israel; for in occultism it is not possible to stop or return — evolution only goes forward.
Then the searching starts: which is the right way to the promised land, and what is the right way of life? The people of Israel search for forty years in the desert, trying out several ways. Sometimes they lose hope because they do not know the way, and some of them wish they had never left Egypt. They even follow another leader for a period when Moses is not visible because he is unified with Yahweh, the Logos. This corresponds to the time when individuals must follow the spiritual path on their own. There are no road signs to the promised land; each must find the way himself.
Because their inner guide (Moses) has left them and is merged with the Logos, at this time the golden calf is made and rules the Israelites. Moses returns and sees his people fallen into superstition, which happens when people do not trust their own inner god and instead follow deceptive signs from the astral world. Moses destroys this false god — the higher mind brings the people of Israel back on the right track.
After passing through this crisis in his spiritual life, the aspirant advances, but even when his higher qualities are joined with the inmost self, there may still be danger. In the Bible story the people of Israel reach a barren land and are thirsty. They have no faith in Moses — the higher qualities living in the spiritual consciousness — and accuse him of leading them to their deaths. Moses does not reply, but leaves them and appeals to Yahweh (his inner god), who commands him to bring forth water from a rock with a rod. Learned as he now is in occult powers, Moses hits the rock and demands water, and the water comes forth. But Moses afterwards hears the voice of Yahweh, and realizes he has failed in important ways. First, he himself did not have enough faith in Yahweh to urge the Israelites to trust in his goodness and knowledge in leading them to that desolate place. And second, Moses did not reveal that Yahweh was responsible for bringing the water from the rock; rather, it seemed like a demonstration of his own occult powers.
Therefore, although he is allowed to go to the top of the mountain and have a view of the promised land, he may not enter it. Through his pride and lack of trust in his inner god, he fails at the last in his present incarnation. Others may enter, but he must wait for another opportunity. Thus we see that the journey of the spiritual pilgrim is dangerous and difficult, and that he can easily make mistakes even when the promised land is just before him.
(From Sunrise magazine, April/May 1999. Copyright © 1999 by Theosophical University Press)