The book of Exodus contains one of history’s great stories. It’s a story so exceptional, so miraculous, so improbable that it almost seems impossible. For many people, these events are too much. They require too much faith and too much trust in God. As they read this story, the burning bush, plagues, and crossing the Red Sea is all they see. They don’t see God’s patience, Israel’s vulnerability, or even Pharaoh’s stubbornness. They don’t see the lessons, just the events.
For whatever reason it may be, many people have tried to undermine this story’s credibility or flat out attacked God due to the unfortunate harshness of its reality. Today, we ask the question, do you believe? Do you believe in the uniqueness of the One who put these events in motion? Do you believe in His hindsight, wisdom, and plan as these events unfold? Do you believe this story with all its redemption and judgment actually happened? It is a story beyond us, but not beyond God. Remember these words.
With God all things are possible.
Within the details of this great story, we find moments of heroism, tragedy, and even levity. It is the story of kings, slaves, soldiers, and shepherds. It is a story of redemption for both Moses and the people of Israel. It is the Old Testament story that most clearly resembles the Gospel. It is God’s story and we are better for knowing it. It is fundamentally about God’s role in our lives. He is not some casual observer sitting on a gilded throne. He is invested in the lives of His children. He is invested in the execution of His Will. The words of Psalm 66:5-7 seem to reflect an appropriate response to the events surrounding the Exodus.
Come and see the works of God;
He is awesome in His doing toward the sons of men.
He turned the sea into dry land;
They went through the river on foot.
There we will rejoice in Him.
He rules by His power forever;
His eyes observe the nations;
Do not let the rebellious exalt themselves.
More than likely, most people naturally associate the Exodus with the wilderness scenes. That’s very fitting when you realize how much they needed God during those days. It was God who led them, feed them, and protected them during that great journey. They were wholeheartedly in need and God was more-than-willing to provide. We all go through moments when God is the only one capable of providing rescue. Consider the valuable wisdom below:
The desert shatters the soul’s arrogance and leaves body and soul crying out in thirst and hunger. In the desert, we trust God or die.¹
At it’s simplest, Exodus is about trust. Will Moses trust God enough to be the leader of his people? Will Israel trust God after centuries of slavery? Will we follow their example and love God only when it makes sense? A Dutch Christian who worked alongside her family to save Jews from the Nazi Gestapo during World War II spoke of trust this way.
Never be afraid to trust an unknown future to a known God.²
As we begin this study, we must step back before the events of the Exodus to see how the Israelites arrived in this situation. We must see the providence of God unfold so that the birth of Moses and the circumstances surrounding his adoption into the royal family make sense. We have to see the people God put in place before we can possibly understand the moves they make. We must see the how or we’ll never truly comprehend the why.
Genesis 37:25-27 says:
Joseph’s brothers lifted their eyes and there was a company of Ishmaelites, coming from Gilead with their camels, bearing spices, balm, and myrrh, on their way to carry them down to Egypt. Judah then spoke to his brothers and said, “What profit is there is we kill Joseph and conceal his blood? Come and let us sell him to the Ishmaelites.” And his brothers listened.
With those few short words, Judah set the stage for his children’s greatest struggle. At that moment, there was no possible way for him to see the grand implications of his suggestion. He saw those Ishmaelites as the answer to a problem. He did not see them as the beginning of an even greater predicament that his children would bear unwittingly. Much like Judah, we see everyday events only through our short-term glasses. We can’t see them as God does. We can’t see ten steps ahead or even four hundred years later. All we see is what’s in front of us at the moment.
Years before Judah’s suggestion, Abraham faced a similar situation. In his home of Haran, God spoke to him. He told him in Genesis 12:1-3:
Get out of your country, from your family and from your father’s house, to a land that I will show you. I will make you a great nation; I will bless you and make your name great, and you shall be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and I will curse him who curses you, and in you, all the families of the earth shall be blessed.
As Abraham left with Sarah, Lot, and all he had, did he truly know where God was leading him? Of course not. He knew to trust in the One who called him. We must ask, If Abraham had known the journey ahead with all its ups and downs, would he still have gone? We don’t really know, but I believe we can safely assume those bumps in the road would’ve caused some natural hesitation on his part. Thankfully for Abraham (and each us), God doesn’t reveal the depth of the journey ahead, He only reveals the destination.
Consider the following details that set the stage for our study of Exodus.
1 Abraham and Sarah have a son named Isaac. That son eventually grew to become the husband of Rebekah and the father of Jacob and Esau (see Genesis 21-28).
2 Jacob (the younger son) received, or better yet, stole the blessing of inheritance from his father instead of the rightful heir, Esau. He was subsequently sent away from his brother by Jacob and married both Leah and Rachel. Eventually, he returned home and reunited with his brother after many years apart (see Genesis 29-33).
3 Jacob’s wives give birth to twelve sons. Rachel (the only one whom he truly loved) gave birth to Joseph and Benjamin before dying due to complications in childbirth (see Genesis 35:17-19).
4 Joseph grew up in a house where his father showed abject favoritism towards the sons of Rachel. Genesis 37:3-4 says, “Jacob loved Joseph more than all his children because he was the son of his old age. He also made him a tunic of many colors. But when his brothers saw that their father loved him more than all his brothers, they hated Joseph and could not speak peaceably to him.” Later on, after the presumed death of Joseph, he clung to Benjamin (see Genesis 42:28).
5 Jacob’s oldest sons sold Joseph into slavery instead of killing him in Genesis 37. That decision lead to Joseph eventually serving in the house of Potiphar (see Genesis 39); the Pharaoh’s prison (see Genesis 40); and even Pharaoh himself as the chief administrator of the kingdom (see Genesis 41).
6 As the world faced a cataclysmic famine, the sons of Jacob traveled to Egypt for grain. Little did they know, their brother was the one who would save them (see Genesis 42-45).
7 When the family was reunited, Jacob and his children settled in Goshen at the behest of Pharaoh himself (see Genesis 47). We’re told that “Joseph situated his father and his brothers, and gave them a possession of the land in Egypt, in the best of the land, in the land of Rameses, as Pharaoh had commanded” (Genesis 47:11).
8 After Jacob died, Joseph’s brothers asked for pity and forgiveness. By that time, Joseph clearly understood why everything had occurred as it did. He told them in Genesis 50:20, “you meant evil against me; but God meant it for good, in order to bring about as it is this day, to save many people alive.”
9 Joseph made his family promise to carry his bones back to the “land of which God swore to Abraham, Isaac, and to Jacob when He visits you and brings you out of this land” in Genesis 50:24-25.
Following those events, Israel languished in Egypt for several hundred years. Generations of Hebrews lived and died wondering if they would ever return to the land Joseph spoke about, the land promised to Abraham all those years ago. They held out hope until it was almost lost.
The Exodus is the fulfillment of that hope and it’s the embodiment of God’s faithfulness. At Sinai, when we see the consummation of God’s promise to Abraham (see Exodus 3:15-17), we also see the creation of a new promise to Abraham’s descendants. There is hope to be found at the start of a new journey alongside Yahweh and His people. It’s a shame it only took them a few years to forget all God had done in Egypt, the wilderness, and at Sinai. Thankfully, under the leadership of a new leader and a renewed devotion to God, we see Abraham’s children finally inherit the land of Canaan. I’m always fond of this brief verse near the end of their conquest. It is genuinely a moment based on hope and realized due to perseverance. Joshua 24:32 says:
The bones of Joseph, which the children of Israel had brought up out of Egypt, they buried at Shechem, in the plot of ground which Jacob had bought from the sons of Hamor the father of Shechem, for one hundred pieces of silver, and which had become an inheritance to the children of Joseph.
Before we begin, I also want you to consider the theology (the study of God and God’s relation to the world) of Exodus. It teaches so much about God that is far to easy to overlook. Exodus illuminates the following ideas about our Creator:
1 He controls history. If we know it or not, God is the unseen controller of all history and all circumstances. I’ve heard someone describe Him as the prime mover of all things. In Revelation1:8, Jesus says “I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End, who is and who was and who is to come, the Almighty.” He has always been a part of our lives, the creator of every life. This story perfectly illustrates how involved God is in the lives of His people. Israel was not like other nations, left to speculate about the existence of their gods. God was active in their history and their present and more-than-willing to reveal Himself in word and deed.
2 His name is Yahweh or I AM (see Exodus 3:14). To the Hebrew, “name” is short for “character.” To know God’s name is to know Him as He is. In an age of gods, kings, magic, and mysticism, their GOD was real.
3 He is holy. Remember the scene at the burning bush. God said to Moses in Exodus 3:5, “do not draw near this place. Take your sandals off your feet, for the place where you stand is holy ground.” When we find ourselves in the presence of God, we find ourselves on holy ground. Outside of the Gospels (as we watch Immanuel, “God with us,” walk this earth), is there any clearer vision of that idea in all of Scripture than the Exodus?
4 He remembers. In Exodus, the events surrounding Israel’s departure is clearly the fulfillment of God’s promise to an ancient patriarch. Genesis 15:13-14 says, “Then God said to Abram: ‘Know certainly that your descendants will be strangers in a land that is not theirs and will serve them, and they will afflict them four hundred years. And also the nation whom they serve I will judge; afterward, they shall come out with great possessions.'” When God remembers, He acts.
5 He judges. To many critics of God and this story, His swift judgment against Egypt during the plagues and Israel at Mt. Sinai seems to contradict the New Testament description of His loving mercy and patience. Those who struggle with this text often do so because they empathize with the wrong characters. While it’s easy to empathize with the Egyptians who didn’t know better or the Israelites who grew impatient, has God not been clear about sin? Has He ever changed His mind about it? Has He always possessed a clear, unmoveable attitude of righteous judgment against those who sin willfully? Could it also be true that the actions of God which bring salvation to the oppressed also often bring punishment to the oppressors? ³
As you can see, there is so much more to the story of the Exodus than meets-the-eye. While Hollywood has done a great job accentuating the fantastic and miraculous, it’s the small overlooked details that teach us so much. God is patient, keeps His promises, is faithful, is not oblivious to the needs of His children. Those ideas and what they mean to the Church today are worth knowing and teaching. Those ideas are the heartbeat of this story. The Exodus is God’s story, not Moses’, Israel’s, Egypt’s, or even ours. Remember that, and the Exodus will come alive as it never has before.
¹ Dan B. Allender, The Healing Path (Colorado Springs, CO: Waterbrook Press, 1999), 21.
² Corrie ben Toon, Clippings from My Notebook.
³ R. Alan Cole, Exodus, Tyndale OT Commentaries (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1973). All five points in this section come from a part of the introduction to his commentary (pages 22-43). His ideas set the initial discussion and several thoughts do come from his text, however, they are immersed in original thought and text.
All Scripture is taken from the New King James Version. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
Originally published on January 25, 2018. Written by Neal Mathis.