By Simon ManchesterSunday 13 May 2018Christian Growth with Simon ManchesterFaithReading Time: 18 minutes
We’re beginning a new journey through the book of Exodus. The book of Exodus, one of the most crucial books, which in a way, lays the groundwork 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’d discover that it starts chapter 1 in slavery. It moves from slavery to worship, and it all takes place because there is a rescue at chapter 12, 13, and 14. In some ways, the book of Exodus is the Gospel, the proto-Gospel. And like the Gospel, it turns all human values upside down.
When you take up the biblical glasses, you’ll begin to see the world as it really should be seen. So, the Pharaoh is powerless. The baby is useful. God turns all the values upside down.
Exodus is a shock to the values of the community, of the world, and it’s a corrective to our thinking. If you want to get a handle on the book, 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 three parts, it pretty neatly falls into a third in Egypt, a third at Mount Sinai, and a third at the tent, which is the place of worship.
So Egypt, Sinai, Tent, EST, this is the breakup 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. He’s the one who’s able to frustrate Pharaoh very easily, and He’s the one who’s able, as we’ve seen, again and again, to organise a baby like Moses.
He’s the one who can do great things even through suffering, and He’s the one who keeps his promises and will deliver His people. So we’re going to look at chapters 1 and 2 this morning, and these are going to set the scene. There’s nothing gobsmacking in these chapters, but the first chapter tells how God multiplies His people, turns a few into a nation.
The second chapter talks about how God prepares a servant. And this little sketch of people and servants is, 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’s 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.
Remember the end of Genesis? You’ve got Joseph, the Prime Minister in Egypt, and he invites his 11 brothers to join him with their wives and their children because Egypt is a place where there’s food. And now, as we turn to the book of Exodus, and it’s interesting, the book of Exodus begins with the word, “And,” “And these are the names of the sons of Israel.”
So Exodus begins with these 12 brothers, families numbering about 70-75, and we’re 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, remember? “Be fruitful and multiply.” “The people were fruitful and multiplied.” And verse 7, “They became exceedingly numerous.”
- Verse 9, they 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, “But 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 Egypt. God is still making sure that 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. Because God has said He’ll do it, He’ll do it. Because He said He’d do it and He’ll do it, no one can stop Him from doing it, not, of course, even the mighty Pharaoh of Egypt.
It is the foolishness, isn’t it, of occasionally powerful opponents to shake their little fist in the face of God. I saw a book recently, I think, called “Adams Vs. God.” It’s quite an old a 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’re gonna make sure that 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, 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 they’re surprised that there’s not more in the Egyptian history books. But the other commentators pointed out that that’s perfectly fitting for Egyptian historians to write about things that are glowing and successful, and were done to their own glory. So you won’t find a lot of Exodus material in the Egyptian records, but you will find that the Exodus material fits with the historical period.
It’s a humiliation of Egypt. It’s an exaltation of God and a putting down of the proud. It set out like a joke because the Pharaoh, who’s extremely powerful, has a number of strategies to make sure that the Israelites don’t multiply. And you would think it would be 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 just appear everywhere, and Pharaoh can’t even get his team to cooperate. 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 1:10. “We must deal shrewdly with these Israelites, or they will become even more numerous and if war breaks out, will join our enemies, fight against us, and leave the country.”
He has three strategies. The first strategy, which is in verse 10, 11, and 12, is to oppress the Israelites, to beat them down. I presume this is partly to discourage them. Maybe it’s to exhaust them, so they’re not healthy for baby making, but it’s also undoubtedly, to give them a loss of incentive for living. Why produce children if we’re 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 two is to kill the boys using the midwives to kill the boys as they’re born specifically. And 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, they’re probably coordinators of the midwifery business unless they ran everywhere and delivered every minute, but it’s probably that they’re coordinators. And they famously fear God, not the Pharaoh.
They tell what may well be a lie in verse 19 when they say, “Well, the women, the Hebrew women are not like the Egyptian women. They’re vigorous and give birth before the midwives arrive.”
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’re being honoured because they feared God, not the Pharaoh and because they wanted to preserve life and not kill life. It’s probable that this piece of distortion, which exercises Christians and commentators all the time, is just an unsophisticated attempt to get out of doing something which is dishonourable and deadly. Somebody like Daniel might have stood up to Pharaoh and said, “No, I won’t. 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 three is a call. Verse 22 to the whole of Egypt that if a boy is born, and we presume this means a Hebrew boy, that 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 was worshipped as one of the gods of Egypt, it’s thought by some that what the Pharaoh is doing is he’s 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.
I want to collect our thoughts on this chapter because we must notice that God’s plan is happening, not bypassing suffering, but by going through it and using it. So there isn’t a pain-free shortcut for 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 especially in the last years before the whole corner turned, things were absolute torture for the Israelites, unbelievably painful.
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. 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, producing, and producing in a way which can only be put down to God. He’s keeping His promise.
Every fertilised egg is God at work in His promise keeping. And there’s another sign in verse 17 of God at work, and that is, that 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 a pharaoh. They’ve stayed wise.
So in the very midst of this 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 the long, difficult road. If you ask why it was such a long, difficult time, I presume part of the answer is that He’s preparing a people who will be ready for a rescue. They will feel their helplessness. They will need Him desperately. They will be 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 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, 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 that 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 where things looked hopeless, and there must have been many, many people saying, “Is God there at all?” And all the time God is at work planning a person like a Moses who will be beautifully prepared for the task. You can see as Moses is prepared, there’s a little preview of Jesus because it begins with a birth, a baby, and then, of course, there is this rule out to kill all the male babies. 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 pencilled sketch in the Old Testament becomes the masterpiece in the New. The sovereignty of God is seen in both of these situations.
Jim Parker 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 this, 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’ll be a miracle. But that’s what’s going to happen. There’s going to be a miraculous rescue.
Incidentally, the basket, the word basket is the same word for ark, as in Noah’s Ark. It’s only used twice in the Bible, Noah’s Ark and Moses’s basket. A rescue through the 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. She’s going to say “Bye bye” to her son. Can’t imagine 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 palace and raised as a son. God overturns again, and again, and again effortlessly.
When the atheist Voltaire announced toward 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 cooperating and rubbed his hands together and thought, “What a great execution this will be.” 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’s life. He lives to be 120, 80 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 work your way around the wilderness, and then 40 took place in leadership.
Those of you who are coming close to 80, remember that God may be just starting to use you. So, look with me at chapter 2:11. Moses is now an adult, and he goes out one day to where his people were and watched them at their hard labour. That must have stirred him. He saw an Egyptian beating a Hebrew, one of his 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.
The groundwork for Moses is that he regards himself as a Hebrew, whatever the circumstances and whatever the world in which he’s living. Here he is as he marches out, sees one of his people being harshly treated. Every fibre of his being is in support of the Hebrew people. Now, he kills the Egyptian who’s beating the Hebrew. And 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 other 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.
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 quicksand, only one person. It’s not a clergyman. It’s not a layman; it’s Jesus. He’s the only person who’s not in the quicksand; he’s the only person who can get people out. And the reason that he can get people out of the quicksand is that he is righteous. And because he’s righteous, he’s able to pay for the unrighteous. And he’s willing to pay for the unrighteous. And that’s why a person who is able to become a Christian, it’s because of Jesus.
Moses, taking things into his own hands shows that he’s not the saviour of the Israelites. And he has to run for his life to get out of the place because Pharaoh is going to kill him. And he ends up in a place called Midian, and nobody knows where Midian is. Verse 22 tells us it was a foreign place, and he eventually gets married. 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 40s, 50s, 60s, and 70s, 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 in the desert. But God, you see, who knows exactly what He’s doing, and has saved him from the river for a purpose, He’s going to make sure that Moses has not been saved for nothing, but he’s going to be saved for something. And the way that God works, He’s possibly slow, decade, after decade, after decade, but He knows exactly what He’s 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. That’s why these last verses in chapter 2 are so important as we finish this morning. Look at chapter 2:23. 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.
It looks, as 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 remembering. This is the remembering, which is a steady remembering. It’s not a sudden remembering. This is like the father who’s driving his family on holidays on a long drive, and the children cry and complain and whine in the back seat, but he remembers from the start of the trip to the end of the trip why he’s on the trip, and where he’s going, and where the turn off is, and when the turn off is, and even though they have cried steadily down the trip, there comes a moment where one of their cries coordinates with the turnoff. 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.
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 start to 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. 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, and 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 happening.
Here is God perfectly working, knowing exactly what He’s moving towards. Well, now these verses, 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 responds because of. He’s 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’s a God who makes a two-way contract with His people. And, of course, He actually sustains the contract because we’re 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 will do. He promised that He would take the family to Canaan, and He’s 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, suffer, and sin and He looks in compassion. He does. But the reason that 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. 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 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 at having God look in great compassion and power? But the great thing about God is that inwardly, in His mind and heart, despite our unworthiness, and even the poverty of our cries, He’s committed to His covenant.
I hope you will learn with me from Exodus chapter 1 and 2. God is at work slowly, perfectly, steadily, wonderfully, effectively, magnificently, and we, therefore, are called to bond, to be patient, and to trust Him, and to be mature, and obey Him. And we’re to hang on and honour Him because what we see here in the chapters of Exodus 1 and 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 our thanks to you that you’re a covenant keeping God. We thank you for remarkable and undeserved promises, which you have made, which you pay for, 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. And 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.