The most central historical event in the history of the Israelite people is one of the first Biblical events we can date with confidence. God expressed His eternal desire to deliver His people by delivering them from slavery at the hand of the Egyptians in roughly 1500 B.C.
The story begins with Joseph, the young Hebrew man that was made leader of Egypt. He saved the nation and his own family by preparing for an impending famine. As a result, his family moved to Egypt and were cared for well by Pharaoh.
However, a time came when the Egyptians forgot about Joseph and instead felt threatened by the size of his family. As a result, they bound these Hebrews as slaves for 400 years. Near the end of this period, they were increasingly threatened by the Hebrew population and tried various means of "population control."
Moses arose out of these situations, and after a thoroughly fascinating upbringing, was called by God to lead his people out of slavery. Moses went back to Egypt to challenge Pharaoh, whom he would have previously considered a close relative. God's hand worked magnificently to deliver his people, and he leads them out of the land and their slavery.
Normally, I don't think Christians grasp the centrality of this event to the history of the Jews. However, before the life and death of Christ, the Exodus was the most central event in the history of God's people. No other time exemplified God's deliverance, mercy and commitment to His covenant than this one time.
The great part of this story is that God didn't just set the people free to their own devices. Instead, he lead them to a land of promise where he would establish them as His own nation. In addition, he gave them His Law, which was to guide them for all time and cause them to seek after him.
Next time, we'll see how Israel, once established in the land, reacted to the leaders that God had established.