There is an ancient Chinese proverb from Laozi, the founder of Taoism which says, “A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.” That idea seems poignant as we begin to dig deep into the story of the Exodus.
There are few stories in all of Scripture that prove the works of God better than the Exodus. In this story we see God’s patience and providence come to the forefront. For those who might not know, providence is when God acts deliberately behind-the-scenes (for a deeper study follow this link). It is defined by events that seem mundane and ordinary at the moment but are truly life-changing with hindsight. Obviously, the journey of God’s people to Egypt is full of those moments. From Abraham to Joseph, God’s involvement in the life of His children is clear.
For those of us reading the story today, it is impossible to imagine a world where Moses and the events surrounding the Exodus are merely a coincidence. However, far too many people let ideas like luck and chance into their vocabulary when discussing the extraordinary. God is in control and He dictates the necessary steps to illustrate His Will in this world. He didn’t need Moses, but He wanted him. He didn’t need Egypt, but their leaders and biases proved to be the perfect foil in this epic battle of good versus evil. He didn’t have to wait hundreds of years to deliver His people out of unimaginable hardship, but He did so their journey would commence at just the right time.
It’s not unusual for humans to question the ways of God. Sometimes they don’t make sense to us. We would act differently, we would change things, but in the end, would we ever be able to make more sense than He does? Would we have all the answers? Would we know the outcome and be patient enough to wait for it? Would we intervene, when sitting-it-out made more sense? I have no doubt we would do things differently, after all, He is God and we are not.
At the end of the day, I hope we don’t question why He does what He does? You see, it’s always for the benefit of His Will. He always acts at the right time, in the right way, to deliver the right outcome. Right to us may not be right for Him. We have to live with that. May I encourage you to remember the words of Isaiah 55:8-9:
My thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways My ways. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are My ways higher than your ways, and My thoughts than your thoughts.
The first chapter of Exodus serves as a historical introduction to the events surrounding the great journey of God’s people. This chapter introduces many of the characters that shape this story from its humble beginnings. Do not overlook the fact that these characters who seem quite ordinary are first-hand witnesses to some of the most extraordinary events in all of Scripture.
God has a funny way of preparing His people for the moments that define them. We think of learning, growing, and preparations as static events that must typically follow a pre-determined path. However, God doesn’t think that way. He has never asked anyone if they’re ready, He merely gave them an opportunity to respond. Look at the fishermen by the seashore, the tax collector at his desk, or the shepherd in his field. God gave those characters all the time they needed and then dropped them into His story. Today, I beg you to have confidence when God puts someone into extraordinary circumstances, for He has confidence in them.
In Exodus 1:1-7, we’re reminded of all those who migrated with Jacob to live in the land of Egypt. Because of this list, Jewish Rabbis call Exodus, “The Book of Names” or “These are the Names.” Notice the number who originally settled in Egypt, 70. That number isn’t large but represents the first generation of Israelite inhabitants in the land of Egypt. It reminds me of the Parable of the Mustard Seed. Mark 4:30-32 says:
Then Jesus said, “To what shall we liken the kingdom of God? Or with what parable shall we picture it? It is like a mustard seed which, when it is sown on the ground, is smaller than all the seeds on earth; but when it is sown, it grows up and becomes greater than all herbs, and shoots out large branches, so that the birds of the air may nest under its shade.
While they are small, their impact on the future will be immeasurable. Exodus 1:6-7 says:
All that generation died but the children of Israel grew exceedingly mighty and the land was filled with them.
1:7 actually repeats the same verbs about “being fruitful, multiplying” as Genesis 1:22-23. The idea is clear, this vast growth was a blessing directly from God.¹ This growth also seems to be a direct fulfillment of God’s promise to Jacob in Genesis 35:11:
I am God Almighty. Be fruitful and multiply; a nation and a company of nations shall proceed from you, and kings shall come from your body.
Following their exponential growth, a new leader “arose over Egypt” according to 1:8. It makes sense to believe this may be the rule of the Hyskos (1780-1570 BC), foreigners most famous for introducing chariots to Egypt.² They weren’t overly powerful and only controlled parts of Egypt. That may explain why their leader was so worried about the allegiance of these refugees. He even used that fear in 1:10 to assume the Israelites would “join our enemies and fight against us.”
In reaction to this perceived threat, the Egyptians made life for the Israelites as difficult as possible. 1:12 says they “afflicted” them and 1:14 says, “the Egyptians made the lives of the Israelites bitter with hard bondage.” In spite of their efforts, God’s blessings continued to be upon the Israelites and “the more they afflicted them, the more they multiplied and grew” (1:12). There is a sense of irony in those verses that connects to the NT. Remember when Jesus said, “If anyone desires to be first, he shall be last of all and servant of all” in Mark 9:35? This story clearly shows you can be well down the totem pole of worldly importance while still being the focus of God’s blessings. Later, in the Law of Moses, God commands the people of Israel to treat foreigners better than they were treated in Egypt. More than likely, that command has given as a reminder to those who had escaped and their previous treatment. Deuteronomy 10:15-19 says:
The Lord delighted only in your fathers, to love them; and He chose their descendants after them, you above all peoples, as it is this day. Therefore circumcise the foreskin of your heart, and be stiff-necked no longer. For the Lord your God is God of gods and Lord of lords, the great God, mighty and awesome, who shows no partiality nor takes a bribe. He administers justice for the fatherless and the widow, and loves the stranger, giving him food and clothing. Therefore love the stranger, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt.
In a desperate move, the Pharaoh commanded the Hebrew midwives to kill any boy born according to 1:16. If this plan had succeeded, Pharaoh would have wiped out the Hebrew people. The future generation of men would be dead and the girls would eventually be married to Egyptian slaves and absorbed into the Egyptian race.³ However, two women named Shiphrah and Puah outsmarted the Pharaoh by deceiving him in 1:19. Why did they lie? 1:17 says, “they feared God” and it says in verse 20-21:
Therefore God dealt well with the midwives and because they feared Him, He provided households for them.
Notice it isn’t their lie which is commended, it’s their fear of God.4 Rahab of Jericho is praised for something very similar in Hebrews 11:31. Notice her words from Joshua 2:9-11:
I know that the Lord has given you the land, that the terror of you has fallen on us, and that all the inhabitants of the land are fainthearted because of you. For we have heard how the Lord dried up the water of the Red Sea for you when you came out of Egypt, and what you did to the two kings of the Amorites who were on the other side of the Jordan, Sihon and Og, whom you utterly destroyed. And as soon as we heard these things, our hearts melted; neither did there remain any more courage in anyone because of you, the Lord your God, He is God in heaven above and on earth beneath.
Having been outsmarted by the Hebrews, the Pharaoh issued a decree in 1:22 to all his people. When a Hebrew boy is born, he is to be “cast into the river.” This vain attempt to thwart God’s Will sounds similar to Herod’s killing of the boys in Matthew 2. Both times, parents who feared God more than man disobeyed and brought forth a redeemer. They seem to understand the true message of Matthew 10:28:
And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. But rather fear Him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell.
This first chapter gives us an immediate introduction to the world of Moses. Beginning in chapter 2, he becomes the center of a national conflict. God used the Egyptians, the Hebrews, the royal palace, and the desert of Midian to shape and mold His champion. He also used the world and its harshness to fashion the moment it would all come together. The growth of His people, the impulsiveness of the Pharaoh, and the faith of those midwives made the scene of the river possible. In the end, isn’t it easy to see God in the details?
¹ R. Alan Cole. Exodus, Tyndale Old Testament Commentaries, (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1973), 60.
² Cole, Exodus, 60.
³ Warren W. Wiersbe. Be Delivered, (Colorado Springs, CO: David B. Cook, 1998), 19.
4 Cole, Exodus, 62.
All Scripture is taken from the New King James Version. Copyright (c) 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by Permission. All rights reserved.