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Exocus 1-2: God Hears, Remembers, Sees, and Knows Print E-mail
Sunday, 05 July 2009

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When you read Exodus 1:1-7 and 2:23-25 together, as we just did, you cannot help but wonder: what happened?  1:7 describes the people of Israel as fruitful and exceedingly strong.  Yet, just a couple chapters later, we read that they groaned because of their slavery and cried out for help.  As we consider these two chapters this morning, I want us to try and better understand this great contrast.  We need to see what led them from great blessing to severe misery.

Yet, before we dive into these chapters to examine this great contrast, we must first begin by putting the book in context.  The book begins in Hebrew with the word ‘and.’  Thus, it is not separate from what comes before, namely God’s dealing with His people in the book of Genesis.  In the book of Genesis we read of God calling out Abraham and promising him that he would be a father to numerous descendents and that those descendents would one day occupy the land of Canaan.  Abraham eventually has Isaac and Isaac eventually has Jacob.  Jacob fathers twelve sons, who will become the twelve tribes of Israel (recorded in 1:1-6).  Yet, through some providential events (see Genesis 50:19-20), God brought Jacob and his sons to Egypt, where Joseph was second in command behind only the Pharaoh.  This is where the book of Genesis ends and Exodus begins.  Israel, the descendants of Abraham, are in Egypt and the land was filled with them. 

The book of Exodus is the story of what happens next to God’s people.  Look at Genesis 15:13-14.  In a very real sense, the book of Exodus is the fulfillment of these verses.  We are told in the New Testament that it was written by Moses who appears in chapter 2.  Many details are kept from us (names of the Pharaohs, exact locations and dates, etc.), but we have no reason to doubt the historicity of the book.  God is continuing the story of His people, and as Stephen points out in Acts 7, we still have much to learn from it.

Let’s begin by examining the contrast we find between the beginning of chapter 1 and the end of chapter 2.  We will first consider the reasons behind the contrast.

Reasons for the contrast:

You do not have to look far to find out what went terribly wrong after 1:1-7.  In fact, verse 8 makes the problem clear.  Look at it with me.  Again we are not given details such as who this king is or exactly how much time had elapsed since Joseph’s death, even though we do know that Israel was enslaved for approximately four hundred years as noted above.  Yet, what we do know is that this king did not know Joseph.  He was seemingly not aware of what Joseph had done for Egypt.  Therefore, he had no regard for the people of Israel.

In fact, this new king actually feared Israel.  Look at verses 9-10.  They were simply getting too large and they needed to be dealt with.  Thus, he attempted to take care of the problem.  Look at verses 11-14.  The king made them slaves and did all he could to stop them from multiplying.  Yet, he found out that he could not keep them from growing by simply making them slaves.  Thus, he went further and decided to have their sons killed.  Look at verses 15-16.  When that didn’t work either (for reasons we will consider below), he simply commanded his people: Every son that is born to the Hebrews you shall cast into the Nile, but you shall let every daughter live (1:22).  He was determined to stop the growth of the people of Israel.  Of course, little did he know (or care) that Israel was doing exactly what God had told them to do (see Genesis 1:28).  Thus, even though it appeared to him (and everyone else) that he was fighting against the Israelites, he had actually set himself against God Almighty, an action that his people would soon regret (see particularly Exodus 12:29-30).   The great contrast between the beginning of Exodus and the end of chapter 2 stems from the rising up of a king who did not know Joseph.

Glimpses of hope:

Yet, even amidst the recounting of this determined Pharaoh to rid the land of the Israelites, we still see some glimpses of hope.  What are they?

First, we see the midwives and their fear of the Lord.  What was it that foiled the king’s plans to kill the sons?  Look at verses 17-19.  The Hebrew midwives had more fear for the Lord than they had for the king.  So, they disobeyed his orders to kill the sons of the Israelites.  The controversy that surrounds their action is the fact that they lied, or at least misled, the Pharaoh in order to protect the babies.  So then, is lying to protect people acceptable to God?  Look at verses 20-21.  Obviously we do not want to make a principle out of this particular narrative, but this is not the only place where lying, or at least shrewdness, is rewarded (Rahab in Joshua is another example).  Thus, it seems at least, that lying for the sake of protection is allowable in certain cases.  Granted, more could be said (and has been said), but we want to let the Scriptures stand.  However you come down on the lying issue, the action of the midwives is a glimpse of hope in these dark circumstances.

Second, we see the introduction of Moses and his providential protection.  In 2:1-10, we are told of the birth of Moses.  According to the king’s command, all Israelite males were to be thrown into the Nile.  Moses’ mother obeyed the command in one sense by placing Moses in the Nile.  Yet, she put him in a basket for protection.  Of course, this was no guarantee of his survival.  But what happened next could be nothing short of a miracle of God’s providence.  Would anyone find the baby Moses?  Yes, and not just anyone, but the Pharaoh’s daughter.  She took pity on the baby and rescued him from the river.  Not only that, but Moses’ sister, who had been watching him on the river, was wise enough to secure a way for their mother to still have the baby. 

Add all of this together and it is hard to argue against God’s providential involvement in it all.  One of my commentator’s notes: “Pharaoh wishes to counter God’s plan by casting infants into the Nile.  God saves Moses by casting him onto the Nile and bringing him to Pharaoh’s front door.  Truly the power of God is at work in this boy’s life.”   The story then picks up in verse 11 when Moses is older (around 40 according to Stephen in Acts 7).  Moses observes the mistreatment of his people and kills an Egyptian who is beating a Hebrew.  He thinks that he has gotten away with it, but finds out quickly that others are aware of what he did and seemingly disapprove of his actions.  The Pharaoh finds out and seeks to kill Moses, but he flees to Midian.  It will be forty years before he returns to Egypt.  When he does he will come back with a wife (Zipporah) and family.  Yet, notice what happens in verse 23a before Moses returns.  The king who sought his life dies.  Again we see the providential protection of Moses.

So then, a king who did not know Joseph came to power and enslaved the Israelites.  When that did not keep them from multiplying, he tried to kill their sons.  Moses is born and is raised in the house of the Pharaoh, but is forced to flee because he kills an Egyptian.  Finally a new king comes to power, but Israel still groaned because of their slavery and cried out for help (v. 23).  We have seen some glimpses of hope, but where has God been in all of this?  Will He respond?

God’s response:

The slavery and suffering of Israel has been terrible.  But God has not forsaken them.  We have seen His hand in the story of the midwives and the birth of Moses.  He has been there all along.  And His response has just begun.  Look at 2:23b-25.  Their prayers are not in vain.  Their suffering has not gone unnoticed.  God has not left them to face their enemies alone.  No, He hears their cry.  Not only that, but He remembers his covenant with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.  He told Abraham that He would be with His descendents and bless those that blessed them and curse those that cursed them.  He told him that He would one day give them the land of Canaan.  This was His covenant, His promise, to Abraham, and He does not go back on His promises.  Even though it may have seemed like He was absent, the text tells us that He saw the people of Israel.  He was aware of their suffering.  They were not hid from Him.  God saw and God knew.  He knew their situation and He knew them as His people.  The word carries with it the idea of love and intimacy.  God knew His people and He was prepared to act.  The time had come.  He will begin with the calling of Moses, which we will consider next week.

We know what it is like to go through dark days.  Granted, we are not slaves suffering in a foreign land, but we know what it is like to face difficulties wondering: ‘Where is God?  Why has He left me to face this alone?’  Yet, no matter what may appear to be true, we must learn from passages like this that God is with us.  He hears our cry.  He remembers His covenant with us (see below).  He sees our suffering.  And He knows our situation.  One commentator writes: “Experiences without explanations—that is what the first chapter of Exodus is all about.  Our only comfort is that God comes to us in the day of darkness and lovingly reassures us that, ‘It is all right, it is all planned and it will all be well.’”  

We could close this morning by drawing some practical applications from our examination of the contrast in these first two chapters of Exodus.  We could talk about the futility of trying to defeat the Lord or His people (a point we will surely see later in the book).  We could talk about the importance of remaining faithful in tough times like the midwives.  These applications are important, but I want us to focus on applying the truth of God’s response.  As Christians living after the resurrection of Christ, I want us to see these chapters (and all of the Old Testament) in light of the gospel.  In particular, I want us to note God’s faithfulness to His covenant people. 

God made a covenant with Israel’s forefathers and He was going to keep it.  He has made a covenant with us through the blood of His Son.  Christ came and died for our sins so that we might enter into a new covenant with God by repenting of our sins and trusting in Christ’s work.  God is just as committed to the new covenant as He was to His covenant with Israel.  Thus, no matter what we face or how hard life gets or how strong our enemies appear, we can know that God hears our cries, remembers His covenant, sees our needs, and knows His people.  He may call us to wait, but we will wait in hope because we wait on Him who is faithful!  Amen.

Last Updated ( Tuesday, 14 July 2009 )

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