Trusting the God who remembers and acts on his promises (Exodus 1-4)
God promises, remembers and acts… you can trust him.
What is God doing?
All of us have difficulties when things don’t work out – difficulties that are internal and personal and local.
The marriage partner that we hoped for – just hasn’t appeared.
The marriage that we started – has crumbled.
The job path that we wanted – just hasn’t happened.
And it’s often that we don’t publicly announce our doubt in God, but inside perhaps there’s a quiet subtle loss of confidence. We hear that voice whispering into our ears:
‘He doesn’t love me.
He’s forgotten me.
I can’t trust him.’
It’s those kind of issues that we will deal with now.
Exodus is ‘the book at the heart of the Old Testament’. It is essential study for every Christian. If the gospel is the message of Jesus – his death on the cross and resurrection – where God makes a promise, remembers a promise and acts and is the centre of Christian faith; then the centre of Old Testament faith – is God saving a people – making a promise, remembering a promise and acting.
Exodus is at the centre of the whole Old Testament action and it is a lynchpin of Biblical understanding. We will see in the following chapter the supreme Old Testament example of God’s saving character and acts. There’s a very real sense that if we want to understand the central message of the New Testament, then you can’t understand it without having Exodus locked in place.
It is really, really important for the growth of our lives in Jesus, to read and think about this part of the Bible.
Let’s get the context… and we are beginning on page one of the Bible – come back to Genesis.
At the beginning of time God made promises to humanity. God created the world. When God created men and women, (Genesis 1:28:):
‘ God blessed them, and God said to them, “Be fruitful, multiply, fill the earth, and subdue it. Rule the fish of the sea, the birds of the sky, and every creature that crawls on the earth.”’
Our job as humans is to be fruitful, to increase, to multiply, to fill, to rule. That is what God our creator expects us to do and requires of us. Here is an implicit promise from God that he will be behind us in that; supporting us – helping us to do the task that he has asked us to do.
In the next bit of context, God makes a promise to his chosen man Abraham, who was childless, a landless nomad, old and insignificant.
12 ‘The Lord said to Abram: Go out from your land, your relatives, and your father’s house to the land that I will show you. 2 I will make you into a great nation. I will bless you, I will make your name great,and and you will be a blessing. 3 I will bless those who bless you, I will curse those who treat you with contempt, and all the peoples on earth will be blessed through you.’
God promises a childless man a son. God promises a landless man a place.
God promises an old man a future. God promises an unknown man fame.
God promises Abraham blessing.
God promises this man stability, continuity and identity. These are things each of us finds deeply important – offspring, a land, an identity, a future and blessing. These are things only God can give.
We are studying Exodus and there’s a lot that happens between Abraham and Exodus. Abraham married Sarah. Together they had a child – Isaac.
Isaac married Rebecca. Isaac had a child, Jacob (who changed his name to Israel) and a son called Essau. Essau went on to be the father of the Edomites.
Jacob had four wives (two wives and two concubines). Jacob had twelve sons – one of whom was Joseph – who wore a very coloured coat.
The family of Jacob or Israel went to Egypt. They spend hundreds of years in Egypt, and when we begin Exodus, the nation of Israel was now slaves in Egypt.
And our prima facie question that they would be asking is, “ What’s happened? This shouldn’t have happened. It’s not how we saw the script for life panning out. Why are we in slavery if we are supposed to be the special people, special nation, children of Abraham?”
The background to these questions is the blessing promised in Genesis 15:13, Genesis 47, Exodus 1:1-7, Exodus 12:37 and Deuteronomy 32:9-12
But really they shouldn’t have been surprised because, back in Genesis 15:13 God spoke these words to Abraham.
‘Then the Lord said to Abram, “Know this for certain: Your offspring will be foreigners in a land that does not belong to them; they will be enslaved and oppressed 400 years.”’
So has God fallen asleep at the wheel on Abraham, (Jacob’s family0 and the people of Israel? No! The Israelites, the children of Abraham, start out as gypsies – nomads. One of the things about nomads is that they breed like crazy to try to give themselves some security. So your child will look after you when you are old – that’s the culture (very different to our western individualistic culture). Their mindset is to breed like crazy.
And when Joseph’s family comes to Egypt, where do they live? Do they live in the worst part of the Egyptian farming lands? No! They settle in Goshen – in the finest farming country in Egypt. (Genesis 47)
God hasn’t put his people in a desert. God has put his people in a fertile land where they can continue to breed like crazy. And the Israelites do. Turn to Exodus 1:7
‘Then Joseph and all his brothers and all that generation died. 7 But the Israelites were fruitful, increased rapidly, multiplied, and became extremely numerous so that the land was filled with them.’
As you read Exodus 1:7, you are supposed to be reminded of Genesis 1:28.
Be fruitful, fill the land.
The Israelites did. There were seventy when Jacob’s family joined Joseph in Egypt. How many by the time of Moses? Look at Exodus 12:37.
‘The Israelites traveled from Rameses to Succoth, about 600,000 soldiers on foot, besides their families.’
God’s people had grown in number from one family, to seventy, to well over a million. Now, why did God allow his people to be put in slavery? It is hard to know… but a little clue is in Deuteronomy 32:9-12.
Imagine that the Israelites never went into slavery. Here are the Israelites in Egypt’s Club Med. They’ve got the richest farming land in the place – Goshen. They’ve got rights as citizens in Egypt (they’re not slaves), and a man comes along, claiming he’s a messenger from God, saying: ‘Come on guys, lets go home!’ What kind of response do you think he will get?
‘Get out of here – life here is good! Get out of here. You can go home.
We are staying here. Here on the banks of the Nile at Club Cairo.’
Now, you say, well that’s all very well and interesting Israelite social theory, Dominic, but what evidence have you got for it? Only Deuteronomy 32:9 -11.
‘For the Lord’s portion is his people, Jacob his allotted inheritance. In a desert land he found him, in a barren and howling waste. He shielded him and cared for him; he guarded him as the apple of his eye, like an eagle that stirs up its nest and hovers over its young, that spreads its wings to catch them and carries them on its pinions. (NIV)
What’s this Eagle bit – stirring up his nest? It’s a metaphor that would have been clear back then, but that needs a bit of explanation now. Eagles make nests out of sticks, then they line the inside of the next with fluffy comfortable stuff. Then they have eggs and baby eagles.
There comes a time when the adult eagle thinks the baby eagle should get out of the nest and go for a fly, and so mum comes along and stirs the comfortable fluffy stuff away – deliberately making the nest uncomfortable.
The baby eagles say it’s not to good here in the prickly sticks, and leave the nest to have a go at flying in the big wide world.
That’s what’s going to happen to Israel. God has provided a lovely nest for Israel to grew up in (Goshen), and increase to more than a million people.
Then God makes it uncomfortable, as he promised, and he blows away the fluff – like an Eagle stirring it’s nest. God allows Pharaoh to make life very uncomfortable for his people – so they will want to leave the nest. Now lets see what Pharaoh does in Exodus 1:8:
Pharaoh’s powerful plans (Exodus1: 8-22)
Pharaoh (under God) has three strategies for making life uncomfortable for the Israelites.
The first in verses 11 to 14 is to make them slaves – to put them under cruel slave masters.
‘So the Egyptians assigned taskmasters over the Israelites to oppress them with forced labor. They built Pithom and Rameses as supply cities for Pharaoh. But the more they oppressed them, the more they multiplied and spread so that the Egyptians came to dread the Israelites.’
The nest was uncomfortable – but they keep on being blessed by God and breeding.
Plan B. Genocide (Exodus 1:15-17)
But then what happens next is awful. Pharaoh orders genocide.
‘Then the king of Egypt said to the Hebrew midwives, one of whom was named Shiphrah and the other Puah, 16 “When you help the Hebrew women give birth, observe them as they deliver. If the child is a son, kill him, but if it’s a daughter, she may live.”’
I remember reading this with our kids when they were little. I sat down after dinner to give them their regular Bible reading. I was reading from the adult Bible. I don’t think I had noticed how the children’s Bible stories of Exodus gloss over this. But when we were reading it in the adult Bible – with a group of little kids – little three-year-old (at the time) Solomon didn’t miss it. The little three-year-old boy sitting on my knee, unpacking the implications of the passage; that Pharaoh killed the baby boys.
He quickly grasped that if our family were in Egypt… Hannah our daughter would live, but he, Solomon would die, and baby Abraham would be killed as well.
It was genocide. It was wiping out a race. The women would be married off as slave wives to the Egyptians within a generation. It was a systematic wiping out of all the men. Awful. Equally awful – is that still it is the case that in parts of China and India, little baby girls are left to die because they are not boys!
The birth rate is 120 boys for every 100 girls. Be horrified at what happened under Pharaoh and be horrified what has happened in China and India and other Asian countries. But also weep that around 80,000 babies are aborted before birth each year in Australia.
If you were involved in the tragic decision to terminate the life of your child – then I know you would feel guilt. And you should feel guilt, because it would be wrong.
But don’t drown in that guilt before God on your own. Know that there is forgiveness from God in Jesus. This can be forgiven. You need to confess your sin to him, and to ask for forgiveness – and to receive forgiveness. You will want someone to help you. It will be hard and difficult and painful.
And it will mean long conversations – and lots of tears, but much better to deal with it than go on struggling alone in guilt.
Our God is in the forgiveness business. Our God – can call wrong ‘wrong’, and forgive it. So let’s talk about it.
God’s heart is with the midwives who act to save the children’s lives.
‘Then the king of Egypt said to the Hebrew midwives, one of whom was named Shiphrah and the other Puah, 16 “When you help the Hebrew women give birth, observe them as they deliver. If the child is a son, kill him, but if it’s a daughter, she may live.” 17 The Hebrew midwives, however, feared God and did not do as the king of Egypt had told them; they let the boys live.’
We should reflect on how God praises the midwives. They are praised for going God’s way – not Pharaoh’s way. We should encourage those medical people who take stands against abortion. We may not agree with the manor and the methods of the anti-abortion protestors. But we need to see that there is a base motivation that God approves of.
Plan C. Death by exposure (Exodus 1:18-22)
Pharaoh’s third plan is to kill the babies by exposure.
‘Pharaoh then commanded all his people: “You must throw every son born to the Hebrews into the Nile, but let every daughter live.”’
It’s cruel, barbaric – awful!
The God who acts (Exodus 3-4)
Now in this passage God is stirring up the nest – working to make the nest uncomfortable, and raising up a saviour – someone who would deliver his people.
God prepares Moses (Exodus 2)
Moses is prepared by God. First Moses is born. (Exodus 2.)
‘Now a man from the family of Levi married a Levite woman. 2 The woman became pregnant and gave birth to a son; when she saw that he was beautiful, she hid him for three months.’
But there is a pattern developing – which we will see repeated in the Bible.
As God raises up his saviour, the male child is threatened by the king, and the child is rescued.
‘But when she could no longer hide him, she got a papyrus basket for him and coated it with asphalt and pitch. She placed the child in it and set it among the reeds by the bank of the Nile.
Then his sister stood at a distance in order to see what would happen to him.
Pharaoh’s daughter went down to bathe at the Nile while her servant girls walked along the riverbank. Seeing the basket among the reeds, she sent her slave girl to get it. 6 When she opened it, she saw the child—a little boy, crying. She felt sorry for him and said, “This is one of the Hebrew boys.”
Then his sister said to Pharaoh’s daughter, “Should I go and call a woman from the Hebrews to nurse the boy for you?”’
It’s lovely. It’s God’s sense of humour really, that Moses’ mum would be paid by the Egyptians for looking after him.
But it is extraordinary that all the promises of God hang on which way the tide goes on that river that day. Now God is not there up in heaven wringing his hands and saying:
‘I hope Mrs. Moses doesn’t put him in the creek this morning – because the tide is going in at the moment.’
No! God is in control.
Moses is rejected (Exodus 2:11-15)
When Moses turns forty, he decides to visit his fellow Israelites, but comes to his own and is rejected.
‘Years later, after Moses had grown up, he went out to his own people and observed their forced labor. He saw an Egyptian beating a Hebrew, one of his people. Looking all around and seeing no one, he struck the Egyptian dead and hid him in the sand. The next day he went out and saw two Hebrews fighting. He asked the one in the wrong, “Why are you attacking your neighbor?”
“Who made you a leader and judge over us?” the man replied. “Are you planning to kill me as you killed the Egyptian?”
Then Moses became afraid and thought: What I did is certainly known.’
Moses came to those who were his own, but his own did not receive him (That sounds familiar!)
And Moses fled.
Exodus. 2 ‘ When Pharaoh heard about this, he tried to kill Moses. But Moses fled from Pharaoh and went to live in the land of Midian, and sat down by a well.
In Midian ( Exodus 2:16-22)
Moses grows older. He turns eighty. The man who could have been a prince in Egypt is working as a goat farmer in Midian, near Mount Horeb (or Mount Sinai as it came later to be known).
God remembers his promise and commissions Moses (Exodus 3-4)
God remembers his promise and commissions Moses to do something about the problem of his people in slavery. We will see that when Moses acts under God’s instructions, things will come out very differently from when Moses took his own initiative.
God and Moses have a conversation at the burning bush. Listen to what God says:
‘The Israelites’ cry for help has come to me, and I have also seen the way the Egyptians are oppressing them. Therefore, go. I am sending you to Pharaoh so that you may lead my people, the Israelites, out of Egypt.’
Now, Moses says:
‘You little beauty God. I’ve been hanging out to get those Egyptians for 40 years. But hey, God now you have got with the program, you and me we can really kick some freckle !’
No! That’s not what Moses says. Moses gives God four excuses and a refusal.
Four excuses and a refusal.
First excuse: ‘Who am I?’
‘But Moses asked God, “Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh and that I should bring the Israelites out of Egypt?”’
Now this is not an existential question. This is an expression of disbelief. God says, ‘Trust me’.
12 He answered, “I will certainly be with you…
God’s answer to Moses’ excuse basically is –
‘Well you have a point – you are not much! But I am here.’
God promises his presence.
Moses’ second excuse is: ‘Who are you ?’
‘ Then Moses asked God, “If I go to the Israelites and say to them: The God of your fathers has sent me to you, and they ask me, ‘What is His name?’ what should I tell them?”’
And God’s answer:
God replied to Moses, “I AM WHO I AM. This is what you are to say to the Israelites: I AM has sent me to you.”’
Now, that is the name of God. I AM WHO I AM.
If I was out at a doctor function with my wife I might say, ‘I am Cathie’s husband.’ Or, if I was at the school thing with my daughter Hannah, I might say, ‘I am Hannah’s dad.’
But God will be understood – as who he is – I AM. The existing one.
God’s name means ‘I EXIST’ over against all the other Gods who don’t.
Moses’ third excuse is to say that they won’t believe him:
(Exodus 4:1) ‘Then Moses answered, “What if they won’t believe me and will not obey me but say, ‘The Lord did not appear to you’?”’
God provides Moses with three ‘wonders’ to perform to prove that he is acting on the authority of the sovereign lord of all. God teaches Moses three signs and wonders.
Now, we tend to think that they are suspensions or reversals of the standing orders, but the Israelites thought of God acting as a wonder – as a marvelous use of the natural order – by the God who created and rules over the natural order.
(cf John 10:41; Matthew 12:39; Isaiah 7:11)
Now, it is interesting that John the Baptist was never given power to perform these kinds of things. Christ refused to perform these kinds of signs, but many of the Old Testament figures were granted these as validating evidence.
Moses’ fourth excuse was: ‘I can’t speak.’
(Exodus. 4:10) Moses said to the Lord, “O Lord, I have never been eloquent, neither in the past nor since you have spoken to your servant. I am slow of speech and tongue.”’
God says – I am God I can fix that!
(Exodus. 4:11) ‘ The Lord said to him, “Who gave man his mouth? Who makes him deaf or mute? Who gives him sight or makes him blind? Is it not I, the Lord? (Exodus. 4:12) Now go; I will help you speak and will teach you what to say.”’
Moses, when all his excuses have run out says, in sentence 13
Exodus. 4:13 ‘Moses said, “Please, Lord, send someone else.”’
Now, Moses did not want to go. God gets angry.
(Exodus. 4:14) ‘ Then the Lord’s anger burned against Moses, and He said, “Isn’t Aaron the Levite your brother? I know that he can speak well. And also, he is on his way now to meet you. He will rejoice when he sees you. You will speak with him and tell him what to say. I will help both you and him to speak and will teach you both what to do.”’
Moses didn’t want to go. Moses was too old. Moses was too tired. Moses was too scared.
Why didn’t God use him when he was 40? Why didn’t God use him when he was young, and strong, a great speaker and a great leader?
‘Strong in speech and action’.
When in his heart he had it to go and beat up that Egyptian.
I think it’s because that’s not the key ingredient – flashy giftedness. The key ingredient that God wants from us is trust. Moses is learning here to trust God.
Moses was a weak old man who learned to trust God; to trust the promises of God; to have faith.
There are two points of application for us:-
One: if you are super gifted, but haven’t got trust in God straight – God doesn’t want to use you yet – go get that sorted and trust him.
Two: if you trust him, but don’t feel gifted, don’t worry about that – there’s something for you to do.
The context of a promise (Exodus 4:18-26)
Moses finally does what God tells him, and goes back to Egypt.
Israel, God’s first born (Exodus 4:21-24; Genesis 17:1-10)
There are two reminders of God’s covenant promise. We are reminded of Israel’s identity in terms of God. We are reminded that this whole thing is because God has a son, called Israel – a precious son.
‘Then you will say to Pharaoh: “This is what Yahweh says: Israel is my firstborn son. I told you: Let my son go so that he may worship me, but you refused to let him go. Now I will kill your firstborn son!”’
What is about to happen to Egypt will happen because God has chosen to love his firstborn son.
‘The bridegroom of blood’ (Exodus 4: 24-26 cf. Genesis 17)
The second reminder of covenant promise happens in a shocking situation:
‘ On the trip, at an overnight campsite, it happened that the Lord confronted him and sought to put him to death.’
Moses has done something significantly wrong! Moses is acting as if he is a child of God, but Moses has failed to act rightly – holistically. Moses failed to trust, and the sharp edge of trust is obedience.
See, male children of God had to be circumcised – the skin on the foreskin of the penis removed. There was something that Moses hadn’t done – that he was expected to do as an expression of trust – which no one would know about and it mattered to God.
Look back to Genesis 17. This is back where God was laying down the covenant, the agreement between God and his people, to Abraham.
God announced that he will give the land to the descendant of Abraham, but God expected something in response.
‘This is my covenant, which you are to keep, between me and you and your offspring after you: Every one of your males must be circumcised.’
God is very generous in his covenant making – but God expects obedience.
I just raise the question- are you saved by God, trusting in his promise? Is there something secret, that no one knows, that you are not doing?
Perhaps given it has just gone tax time and you have been minimizing tax illegally. Perhaps you have been doing it in the past, and today – this month – is the time to confess to years of cheating on tax. It matters to God.
Jesus’ promise (Genesis 12; Remember Luke 1:5; 9:31)
These promises of God, and God keeping his promises were very impressive.
But really the events then were just the dress rehearsal for Jesus, and the promise of Genesis 12:
That a son would come.
That land that would be given to them.
The future that they would have.
The fame that would come.
The blessing that would come.
That promise was only partially fulfilled – by the Israelites’ entry into the Promised Land.
They are fulfilled in Abraham’s descendent, Moses. But much, much more they are fulfilled in Abraham’s greater descendent Jesus.
When does God remember to fulfill his promise? Well at the start of Luke’s Gospel, in Luke 1:5, we are reminded that the Jews are still under the rule of a foreign king.
‘In the days of King Herod of Judea …’
There is a blinding reminder that the people of Judea are under king Herod – a foreign king. They need rescuing, just like the people of Israel at the time of Moses.
And then you read in Luke 9:30, as Jesus stands with Moses and Elijah.
‘They appeared in glory and were speaking of His EXODUS (the Greek word), which He was about to accomplish in Jerusalem.’
The exodus of Jesus:
• When Jesus went out
• When Jesus rescued the people of God
• When Jesus rescued the people – from slavery (not to Pharaoh) but to Satan/the devil.
The promise of God was remembered and acted on in Jesus.
What is God doing? (John 8:56-58)
I think we as a people are in continuing conflict between the way we read experience and trusting the promise of God. We are tempted to think that the world is becoming more pagan- that Pharaoh has the upper hand. That it’s getting more difficult for the people of God – as we are told to bake our own bricks. We feel like the promise of God is a long way away.
It sometimes looks like the promise of God is feeble – in the face of powerful humans. It looks like the promise of God hangs on which way the tides will go- that it is just all worked out by fluke.
But God is working to bring about the on the promise that he has made to us in Jesus. And the God who is working – is I AM.
So let me ask you …will you trust God?
Imagine you are an Israelite, and Moses turns up and you ask him:
“Who sent you Moses ?”
Moses answers you:
“I AM sent me. The God of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob sent me. The God who exists sent me. The God who is true sent me. The God who controls history, who makes history sent me.”
Would you have believed him? You’ve just seen the ten plagues – would you trust the God of Moses? Would you trust I AM? You’ve just seen the Red Sea open – would you trust I AM? Would you be worried about the future?
Don’t be too quick to answer, because the Israelites saw all that, and still most of them didn’t trust Moses, the messenger from I AM.
And they should have! They didn’t have an excuse… they should have trusted I AM’s messenger!
What would you have done?
Come with me to the New Testament… to John 8.
Jesus is having a big blue with the Jews. They want to stone him to kill him!
56 Your father Abraham was overjoyed that he would see my day; he saw it and rejoiced.”
The Jews replied, “You aren’t 50 years old yet, and you’ve seen Abraham?”
Jesus said to them, “I assure you: Before Abraham was, I am.”
See what Jesus is claiming there? He’s claiming to be God. Jesus is saying
“I AM himself is here”
Jesus is saying:
‘I AM the God who exists.
I AM the God who makes history.
I AM the God who made promises to ABRAHAM.
I AM WHO I AM.
I AM God!’
Did the Jews understand what he was saying? You bet your life they did !
(Verse 59) ‘At that, they picked up stones to throw at him. But Jesus was hidden and went out of the temple complex.’
See, to rescue the Israelites – I AM sent his messenger, but, to rescue the world – I AM comes himself.
See to rescue the Israelites from slavery to Egypt – I AM sent his messenger, but, to rescue the world from slavery to sin – I AM comes himself.
A minute ago we saw that the Israelites should have trusted Moses – I AM’s messenger. Now we’ve got to say that we should be trusting Jesus… trusting I AM himself!
TRUST is obeying what I AM says and trying not to worry.
TRUST is hard on a personal level. In my church I find it hard to trust that the people rostered on for crèche/morning tea/music – will actually turn up reliably and make it happen.
Trusting God is hard. We’ve got to make decisions that go totally in the face of what our society is saying, and we’ve got to stick up for things that seem completely unacceptable to our non-Christian friends.
We’ve got to trust I AM! We’ve got to trust Jesus – and it’s hard.
Trust is hard for us.
It’s hard when you haven’t got a boyfriend and you want one. There are non-Christian men around, but God says trust me – you are only to marry a Christian.
Trust is hard the day after the Mardi Gras – when everyone bags you for taking a biblical position on sex, saying it should be within heterosexual married relationships.
Trust is hard when everyone bags you for taking a biblical position on the same sex marriage.
Trust is hard when your non-Christian friends are all getting drunk and you don’t have any Christian friends around to encourage you!
It’s hard to trust that I AM’s way is best.
But I AM – who made a promise to Abraham – told Abraham to circumcise, and if we are to trust the promise of God – we will obey him in everything.