By Simon ManchesterSunday 27 Apr 2014Christian Growth with Simon ManchesterFaithReading Time: 0 minutes
St Thomas’ Anglican Church
Slavery and a Baby – Exodus 1-2
We are beginning a new journey this morning through the Book of Exodus. It’s going to take us 12 Sunday mornings. The Book of Exodus,is one of the most crucial books which in a way lays the ground work for a whole lot of the other books of the Scriptures and it’s one of the most formative of the books in the Old Testament.
If you were to begin reading the Book of Exodus,you discover that it starts Chapter 1 in slavery – if you get to Chapter 40,you are worshipping. It moves from slavery to worship and it all takes place because there is a rescue at chapter 12-14 and so in some ways the Book of Exodus is the Gospel,the proto-gospel. And like the gospel it turns all human values upside down.
So if you have come to church this morning and your mind is absolutely in the frame work of the world,you will find this is pretty unusual. When you take up the biblical glasses,you’ll begin to see the world as it really should be seen. The Pharaoh is powerless,the baby is useful – God turns all the values upside down.
I don’t know if you know the story of the large company which hires 5 new men and unwittingly finds (well they discover eventually) they have hired 5 cannibals. All is well but after a few months there is a cleaner missing and the boss of the company calls everybody together and says ‘one of the cleaners is missing – has anybody seen the cleaner?’
And of course nobody says anything or owns up to it. But when the boss is gone,the chief of the cannibals gets the others together and says ‘listen,if you are hungry eat a manager,eat a consultant,eat someone from H.R.,eat a project co-ordinator,eat somebody nobody will notice – don’t eat a cleaner!!
Well Exodus is a shock to the values of the community,of the world and it’s a corrective to our thinking.
Now if you want to get a handle on the book – I say again look at where it starts – which is 70 people in slavery and look at where it finishes – hundreds of thousands of God’s people on the road to the Promised Land. If you divide the book into 3 parts,it pretty neatly falls into a third in Egypt,a third at Mt Sinai and a third at the Tent,which is the place of worship. So Egypt – Sinai – Tent – EST – this is the break up of the Book of Exodus but undoubtedly it is a portrayal of God.
The Book of Exodus is going to tell us what God is like – sovereign,holy,personal,loving,faithful,effective,promise keeping – and he’s the one who is able to frustrate Pharaoh very easily and he’s the one who is able (as we’ve seen again and again) to organise a baby like Moses. He’s the one who can do very great things – even through suffering. And he’s the one who keeps his promises and will deliver his people.
So we are going to look at chapters 1 & 2 this morning and these are going to set the scene – there’s nothing gob-smacking in these chapters you might say but the 1st chapter tells how God basically multiplies his people,turns a few into a nation. The 2nd chapter talks about how god prepares a servant. And this little sketch of people and servant is,you might say,the original drawing for the masterpiece which will be the Lord Jesus,the ultimate servant leader,gathering his people.
So let’s think about these two chapters,first of all God Making a People – Chapter 1.
We read “these are the names of the sons of Israel” (that’s the 12 sons of Israel who went down to Egypt). If you remember how the end of Genesis comes about – you’ve got Joseph the Prime Minister in Egypt and he invites his 11 brothers to come and join him with their wives and their children because Egypt is the place where there is food. And now as we turn to the Book of Exodus,and it’s interesting the Book of Exodus begins with the word “And these are the names of the sons of Israel”
And Exodus begins with these 12 brothers – their families numbering about 70-75 and we are going to be told this because God is about to do a remarkable piece of multiplication.
Verse 7 – “the people were fruitful and multiplied” – where have we heard that language before? Genesis you remember – be fruitful and multiply – the people were fruitful and multiplied and verse 7 “they became exceedingly numerous”.
Verse 9 – this started to threaten the Egyptians – “they are much too numerous”.
Verse 10 – “we must do something or they will be even more numerous”.
Verse 12 – “the more they were oppressed,the more they multiplied”.
Verse 20 – “God was kind and the people increased and became more numerous”.
So something unusual is happening – something supernatural is happening. Here in Egypt (this is not the Garden of Eden) this is in Egypt,God is still making sure his word happens and of course the great promise that He made to Abraham was “I will build a nation and the nation will bless the world”. And here is God doing what he said he would do. And because God has said he will do it – he’ll do it and because he has said he will do it,no one is able to stop him from doing it,not of course even the might of Pharaoh or Egypt. It is the foolishness,isn’t it of occasionally powerful opponents to shake their little fist in the face of God.
I saw recently a book I think called “Adams vs God” – it’s quite an old book now but as if a writer like Phillip Adams could take on God. Phillip Adams who can’t even be seen from an aeroplane is shaking his fist at the God of the universe – it’s absurd and Pilate,you remember,who said we are going to make sure this Jesus never gets out of the tomb – so put a rock in front of the tomb,put a pebble in front of the tomb – it’s absurd.
What this history tells us of course is that God is great and God is at work and it shouldn’t surprise you that the Egyptian archives,the Egyptian history books don’t record this sort of material. Some of the Commentators get quite confused by this and are surprised that there is not more in the Egyptian history books but the other Commentators point out that it’s perfectly fitting for Egyptian historians to write about things that are glowing and successful and redound to their own glory. So you won’t find a lot of Exodus material in the Egyptian records but you’ll find that the Exodus material absolutely fits with the historical period.
It’s a humiliation of Egypt. It’s an exultation of God and a putting down of the proud and it’s set out like a joke because the Pharaoh who is extremely powerful has a number of strategies to make sure that the Israelites don’t multiply and you would think it would not too difficult for him to have some control over the population boom of his people.
But we discover as we read the chapter that the Israelites are just appearing everywhere! And Pharaoh can’t even get his team to co-operate. He can’t get the oppression to work – he can’t get the midwives to work and he can’t even get the Nile River to work.
So his fear is in chapter 1 verse 10. “Come,we must deal shrewdly with these Israelites or they will be come even more numerous and if war breaks out,will join our enemies,fight again us and leave the country”.
So he has 3 strategies. The first strategy which is in verses 10,11 & 12 is to oppress the Israelites,to beat them down. I presume this is partly to discourage them,may be it’s to exhaust them so they are not strong for baby-making but it’s also undoubtedly to give them a loss of incentive for living. Why produce children if we are going to bring them into a world which is so dreadful and yet the policy has no impact at all – the Israelites think differently,live differently and the population increases.
Strategy 2 is to kill the boys by means of getting the midwives to specifically kill the boys as they are born. The midwives famously refuse to obey the Pharaoh and the Israelites continue to multiply. The two women who are named in verse 15,interesting isn’t it the Pharaoh is not named but the midwives are named,are probably co-ordinators of the midwifery business unless they ran everywhere and delivered every minute but it’s probably that they are co-ordinators. They famously feared God not the Pharaoh and they tell what well may be a lie (verse 19) when they say ‘well the women,the Hebrew women,are not like the Egyptian women,they are vigorous and give birth before the midwives arrive’.
Now I don’t know whether this is true but it’s quite possibly just a distortion of the truth and these midwives are not being exalted for telling lies,they are being honoured because they feared God not the Pharaoh and because they wanted to preserve life and not kill life and it’s probable that this piece of distortion which exercises Christians and Commentators all the time,is just an unsophisticated attempt to basically get out of doing something which is dishonourable and deadly.
Somebody like a Daniel might have stood up to Pharaoh and said “No I wont – kill me if you want” but these unsophisticated midwives seem to have come up with something which is as close to a lie as a lie.
Well strategy 3 is a call (verse 22) to the whole of Egypt that if a boy is born (and we presume this means a Hebrew baby) the boy is to be thrown into the Nile. It’s not working at the birth so let’s work at the infancy and throw the babies into the Nile. And because the Nile is worshipped as one of the gods of Egypt,it’s thought by some that what the Pharaoh is doing is he is basically handing the responsibility over to this god called “The Nile” but God rules the Nile.
And although we don’t get much story about babies being thrown into the water,this strategy fails because there is a baby placed in the Nile,yes,placed in the Nile but who will be the great rescuer.
So God you see is working producing the nation he promised to produce and producing the servant the nation needs as a leader.
Did I talk to you a few weeks ago about Robin Hood’s arrow finding its way down the beach? – Yes I did – and here is God’s promise finding its way like a missile perfectly directed and reaching its target.
Now I want to just collect our thoughts on this chapter 1 because we must notice that God’s plan is happening not by passing suffering but by going through it and using it.
So there isn’t a ‘pain-free’ short cut but the building up of the nation. Turning 70 to 700,000 people is done with a very long trudge – a long road of slavery is the way that God works this remarkable nation building. I imagine that especially in the last years before the whole corner turned,things were absolutely torture for the Israelites – unbelievably difficult.
But if you think that God was sleeping,careless,ruthless,distant,forgetful,impossible – the Bible tells us that he never sleeps – his steadfast love endures forever and you can see his work in the whole of Exodus chapter 1 because every pregnancy for those hundreds of years is semi-miraculous,under remarkably difficult conditions the Israelites are producing and producing in a way which can only be put down to God. He is keeping his promise. Every fertilized egg is God at work in his promise keeping.
And there is another sign in verse 17 of God at work and that is the only two people who are specifically named in Exodus chapter 1 are God-fearers. That is miraculous because every pressure was on to fear the Pharaoh and forget about God and here are these two women,probably typical of the women and the men of the Israelites,who have this supernatural fear of God and not of Pharaoh. They are stayed wise.
So in the very midst of this very long difficult road,what has God done? He has continued to create a God fearing people,quantitatively and qualitatively. He has worked remarkably in the very midst of a long difficult road. If you ask why it was such a long difficult time,I presume part of the answer is that he is preparing a people who will be ready for a rescue. They will feel their helplessness,they will need him desperately,they will be absolutely humble and they’ll get to the point where when eventually the door opens and he takes them out – they’ll turn back and they’ll say ‘only God could have done that,that was a miracle,that was supernatural,we were absolutely locked in there,we could not have got out but God has done it’.
We discover in the New Testament that God works again and again with weakness for his glory. So Paul says in 1 Corinthians 1 that the message which we preach is pretty weak,at least the average pagan thinks it’s weak,but it redounds to the glory of God because it is the power of salvation. The preacher is weak after a while you work out that every preacher is weak but God works through the weak preacher. The church is weak,it’s not made up of the people who will turn the heads of the world but it’s the people that God uses to bring glory to himself. The weak message – the weak messenger – the weak church – all redounds to the glory of God.
Well that’s the first chapter – God making a people. The second chapter is God making a Servant.
This was a time of course where things looked absolutely hopeless and there must have been many many people saying ‘is God really there at all?’
And all the time,God is at work planning a person like Moses who would be beautifully prepared for the task. And you can see as Moses is prepared,there is a little preview of Jesus because it begins with a birth,a baby and then of course there is this ruler out to kill all the male babies and when you get to the New Testament,it starts with a baby and there is a ruler in Herod out to kill all the male babies and so this pencil sketch in the Old Testament becomes the Masterpiece in the New Testament. The sovereignty of God is seen in both of these situations.
Jim Packer says in one of his books – “God is the Master chess player and because he’s the Master chess player he doesn’t wait to see what the opposition does,so he then knows what to do,he knows and decides what the opposition will do and then does what he wants to do”. He’s the absolute Master chess player.
So when you read these verses,especially chapter 2,you see the humour,the hilarity,the irony of God working to frustrate all the opposition of Egypt. Yes,it’s true Moses is going to be put in the Nile. That should be eventually a fatal move. If the little boat survives and the crocodiles don’t get him it will be a miracle! But that’s what is going to happen. There is going to be a miraculous rescue.
Incidentally the basket,the word ‘basket’ is the same word for the ‘ark’ as in Noah’s Ark. It’s only used twice in the bible – Noah’s Ark and Moses basket – a rescue through water.
Pharaoh is going to have his orders obeyed,that is boys are to be put in the river but Pharaoh’s daughter is going to get the baby out of the river. There’s the irony! The mother is going to lose her son,yes she’s going to say bye bye to her son. You can’t image how difficult that would be pushing a baby off into the river but she’s going to get the boy back and she’s going to be paid to raise him. The Israelites are meant to be slaves,Moses is going to be drawn into the place and raised as a son. God overturns again and again and again effortlessly.
When the atheist Voltaire announced towards the end of his life that he expected to see the end of Christianity,it was not long before he died and his house was bought by The Bible Society!! When the devil organised the crucifixion of Jesus and got the Romans,the Jews and Judas all co-operating and rubbed his hands together and thought what a great execution this will be and God used it for the execution of the devil.
It’s an absolute,effortless,remarkable overturning of the tables by God. And here it is again in Exodus 2. This chapter incidentally covers two-thirds of Moses life. He lives to be 120,eighty of the years are here in chapter 2 and we work out that 40 of them took place in Egypt getting an education,40 took place in the desert learning to be a shepherd and working his way around the wilderness and then 40 took place in leadership.
Those of you who are coming close to 80 years remember that God may be just starting to use you.
So look with me at chapter 2 verse 11 – Moses is now an adult and he goes out one day to where his own people were and he watched them at their hard labour – that must have stirred him. He saw an Egyptian beating a Hebrew,one of his own people.
Now why does Moses think of himself as a Hebrew? He’s just spent 40 years in the palace. He’s been treated like an Egyptian. He’s had an Egyptian education. He’s had all the benefits of the Egyptians. Why does he think of himself as a Hebrew? Almost certainly it’s because his mother raised him and taught him about the God of Israel and the God of the promises to Abraham and the God who would be faithful and keep them.
And so the ground work for Moses is that he regards himself as a Hebrew – whatever the circumstances and whatever the world in which he is living. Here he is as he marches out,sees one of his own people being harshly treated,every fibre of his being is in support of the Hebrew people.
Now he kills the Egyptian who is beating the Hebrew. This raises a very interesting detail for us – it’s important this little detail.
First of all it tells us that Moses is sinful. He’s a carnal,aggressive,’take it into my own hands’ type of guy. We therefore know that he is going to need a rescue of his own. He’s not the perfect man. He’s going to have to be rescued along with the rest of the Israelites.
We also discover that he has absolutely no clues about how to rescue his people. If his people know or need to be rescued,he does not know how to do it. For him it’s a power thing. For God it’s a word thing. It won’t be until Moses is given a word which has come from God and is going to be kept by God that a rescue will take place. And in the end it is by the word that God does his rescue. Therefore we see that Moses is in the quicksand along with all the Israelites. He cannot get them out. And he’s got no message but within a few chapters,we’ll discover that God,who is able to rescue his people,gives Moses a message.
And of course as we head down the rest of the Bible we discover that there is one person in the Bible who is not in the quick-sand – only one person. It’s not a clergyman – it’s not a layman – it’s Jesus – he’s the only person who is not in the quicksand and he’s the only person who can get people out. And the reason that he can get people out of the quicksand is because he is righteous. And because he is righteous he’s able to pay the unrighteous. And he’s willing to pay for the unrighteous. And that’s why a person is able to become a Christian – it’s because of Jesus.
Well Moses taking things into his own hands shows that he’s not the saviour of the Israelites. He has to run (verse 15) for his life to get out of the place because Pharaoh is going to kill him. He ends up in a place called Midian and nobody knows where Median is. Verse 22 tells us it was a foreign place and he eventually gets married,and he marries obviously a non-Hebrew and he has a son but he is a Hebrew.
And there he is in the desert for 40 years for his 40’s,50’s,60’s & 70’s he lives in the desert and he has got not a clue that he’s ever going to get out of the desert. For all he knows he’s going to live and die now in the desert.
But God,you see,who knows exactly what he is doing,has saved him from the river for a purpose. He is going to make sure that Moses has not been saved for nothing but is going to be saved for something.
The way that God works is possibly slow – decade after decade after decade- but he knows exactly what he is doing and his timing is perfect. Psalm 18 says this God,his way is perfect.
So he’s working very slowly and perfectly on a people over hundreds of years and he’s working very slowly and perfectly on a servant over decades and that’s why these last verses in chapter 2 are so important as we finish this morning.
Look at chapter verse 23 “during that long period,the king of Egypt died. The Israelites groaned in their slavery and cried out,and their cry for help because of their slavery went up to God. God heard their groaning and he remembered his covenant with Abraham,with Isaac and with Jacob. So God looked on the Israelites and was concerned about them”.
Now it looks as though you read those verses as if God suddenly woke up. He remembered his covenants like a person sitting in church remembers that they’ve left an egg boiling on the stove!! – Not at all. This remembering is a different kind of remembrance. This is the remembering which is a steady remembering. It’s not a sudden remembering.
This is like the father who is driving his family on holidays on a long drive and the children cry and complain and whinge in the backseat but he remembers from the start of the trip to the end of the trip why he is on the trip and where he is going and where the turnoff is and when the turnoff is and even though they have cried steadily down the trip,there comes a moment where one of their cries co-ordinates with the turn-off. That’s what God is doing here.
God who steadily remembers his covenant suddenly turns to something which is very very active in causing Moses to get a call.
So we read in this verse that he heard their groaning,he remembered his covenant,he looked on them and he was concerned. He was involved from the start to the finish.
I remember when I was a 7 year old boy and a log fell on my head and I needed to go to the hospital to have 12 stitches and my father came and he saw the damage and he was concerned and he put me in the car and he was concerned and he took me to the hospital and he was concerned and he stood by the surgery table and he was concerned – he was involved the whole way. He was doing something.
But the trip to the hospital was a time of pain for him and a time of pain for me and nothing was apparently happening. And here is God perfectly working knowing exactly what he is moving towards.
Now these closing verses are very significant because we notice that it is an outward cry which God listens to but it is an inward commitment that he actually responds because of.
He is moved by the suffering of his people,yes of course,but he is activated by the promises of the covenant.
Now I want us this morning to remember and be thankful that God is a God of covenant. That is he is a God who makes a two-way contract with his people. And of course he actually sustains the contract because we are not capable of it.
But he had promised to Abraham that he would do things,that he would create a family,that the family would bless the world and here he is doing what he said he would do. He promised that he would take the family to Canaan and he is going to keep that promise as well and he promised eventually that he would take all his people to glory and he will do that as well.
But the reason that you and I can be safe and joyful is not just because we struggle and suffer and sin and he looks on compassion,he does,but the reason we are safe and joyful is that inside him is a commitment to his promises and a concern for us and his purposes and his glory.
And he is prepared to keep his promises even when they cost him. And of course we know that his covenant promises cost him everything. “He who did not spare his own son but gave him up for us all” says Paul “will he not along with him give us all things”.
So our circumstances rouse his compassion,have we not heard this morning,of someone praying a heartfelt prayer and having God look in great compassion and power but the great thing about God is that inwardly,in his own mind and heart,despite our unworthiness and even the poverty of our cries,he’s committed to his covenant.
So I hope you’ll learn with me from Exodus chapters 1 & 2 – God is at work slowly,perfectly,steadily,wonderfully,effectively and magnificently and we are therefore called upon to be patient and to trust him and to be mature and obey him and we are to hang on and honour him because what we see here in the chapters of Exodus 1 & 2 is a sketch,a pencil sketch of a very great plan which we have been caught up to because of the giving of his son and our trust in him.
Let’s bow our heads and pray –
Our Heavenly Father,we lift up thanks to you this morning that you are a covenant keeping God. We thank you for remarkable and undeserved promises which you have made,which you pay for and which you keep. We thank you for the reminder this morning that even though the process to us might seem slow that you are able and willing to do exactly what is needed.
We pray that in the journey you would give to us a maturity and a patience and a trust and an obedience to honour you and to appropriately glorify you and we pray that as we seek to be your people in this world,you would use us to point many people to you that they might be caught up in the covenant of fellowship and rescue and eternal life.
We ask it in Jesus’ Name – Amen.