Ex. 1-2 Theme: A Way Out.
Sermon by Pastor David Williams. Strathalbyn Church of Christ. 2 May 2021.
Do you feel in a bind – like there is no way out? Do you feel there is no way out of your own challenges in life?
Today we start on a new series – looking at the first chapters of Exodus. Exodus is all about a way out. It literally means “way out of”. For the Hebrews, it was the story of God’s way out of Egypt, out of slavery. It was a way that brought them into a relationship with God and led them towards his promised land. As we look at God’s word to the ancient Hebrews, we can hear God speaking to us today, to give us a way out too.
As we open God’s word, let’s pray:
God, as you made a way out of slavery for those Hebrews, you offer us a way out too – a way out of all that draws us down. Open our ears to hear your promises to us today and give us hope. Amen.
Book of Exodus – relevance?
The story of the Exodus even today is at the heart of the Jewish understanding of their history and identity. Their annual Passover starts here; and the Ten Commandments also. Their identity was forged in the wilderness. Moses was the forerunner of the Saviour and Messiah as they looked with hope to their Promised Land.
It is very important for Christians to understand their story as it is also our story. God’s rescue, his relationship with his people, his revelation of himself, and reaching a promised land – these all help us understand who God is and what he has done for us.
To understand Exodus, we need to start in Genesis. In Genesis 12, God promised Abraham that he would create from Abraham’s offspring a great nation, blessing them in a special relationship with himself, giving them land, and making them a blessing to the nations.
“I will make you into a great nation,
and I will bless you;
I will make your name great,
and you will be a blessing.
I will bless those who bless you,
and whoever curses you I will curse;
and all peoples on earth
will be blessed through you” Gen 12:1-3.
At the end of Genesis, Abraham’s offspring had arrived in Egypt. When they arrived, Abraham’s great grandson Joseph was prime minister of Egypt. Egypt was saved from famine through Joseph’s godly wisdom. Yet 400 years later, Joseph was forgotten; Joseph’s people, the Hebrews, were now slaves. Exodus is a book of how God saved his people out of Egypt.
Chapter 1. Pharaoh vs God
God promised to make Abraham’s descendants a great nation. Exodus opens with this increase – there are now 70 Hebrews in Egypt (Ex 1:5). Yet Pharaoh does not recognise Yahweh, or his debt to Joseph (Ex 1:8). And Pharaoh is bent on reducing the Hebrews. He used 3 strategies:
· Working them to death
· Killing males at birth, and
· Drowning male infants
So, the stage is set for a great battle: who will win? God or Pharaoh? Will the Hebrews flourish or be exterminated?
Israel was both useful and a threat to Egypt. They were useful slaves but might side with Egypt’s enemies, and then escape. It seems they were more useful in keeping them to build his cities than ejecting them (Ex 1:11). But Pharaoh needed to keep them in check – “otherwise they would multiply”, (Ex 1:10). This was in direct opposition to God’s plan to multiply them.
Slavery was grim – so grim that it should have reduced the population. Literally, working them to death. Life for an Egyptian servant was rough enough – moving huge stones by manual labour. There was no regard to health or safety. But for a despised slave, it was horrendous. Living in cramped quarters on meagre rations, working long hours, fearing the lash for any slips or slackness. Twice, chapter 1 says they were worked ruthlessly and with harsh labour (Ex 1:13-14). In verse 14, the slave masters “made their lives bitter”. It should have reduced the population, but it didn’t. God thwarted Pharaoh’s first strategy. “But the more they were oppressed, the more they multiplied and spread”, v12.
We face grim slavery too – it is called the slavery of sin. Sin that rejects God’s way and takes another course. Dylan sang, “You’re gonna have to serve somebody. Well, it may be the devil or it may be the Lord; But you’re gonna have to serve somebody”. If we don’t serve the Lord, we serve another master. And that master demands everything. That master will be ruthless and demand harsh labour. That master will make our lives bitter. That master will kill us. Who are you serving today?
Strategies 2 & 3. When slavery failed, Pharaoh changed tack. First, he ordered the midwives to kill all boys at birth. But the midwives tricked him (Ex 1:16-19). Finally, he ordered all Hebrew boys to be cast into the water (Ex 1:22). Later there is a grim reckoning in this story – as Pharaoh attempted to kill all boys at birth, so the first born of Egypt would be killed, and as Pharaoh ordered all Hebrew boys to be drowned, so his army was drowned in the Red Sea.
Even the drowning didn’t work – for one critical person was saved. We come to him in Chapter 2. God’s plans to rescue will prevail – over powerful rulers, over sin and death itself. God is powerful to save.
Romans 8:28 says “We know that for those who love God all things work together for good”. A Hebrew slave had good reason to be depressed. They had spent 430 years in Egypt (Ex 12:40). They were slaves. They were being worked to death. Their male heirs were being targeted in ruthless genocide. God seemed absent. Yet God was at work behind the scenes. So, God protected the Hebrews, he blessed those who trusted in him – the midwives (Ex 1:20-21); he directed the princess’s decisions, he heard his people’s cry and laid his plan to deliver them. In every way he thwarted Pharaoh and fulfilled his promises to Abraham; his promises to bless them, to make them a great nation.
Those who are great in the world’s eyes are nothing in God’s eyes. Pharaoh saw the multitude of Hebrews as disposable fodder to build his cities and create a name for himself. We don’t know this Pharaoh, but the names of many Pharaoh’s live on today after thousands of years, thanks to their huge monuments built on the lives of their slaves. But Pharaoh’s name is not even mentioned in Exodus, Unlike Pharaoh, these insignificant midwives are named, and blessed with children of their own for their faithfulness (Ex 1:15, 20-21). God knows his own. Christ calls his sheep by name.
Do you get depressed by world events – climate change, the warmongering of China and Russia, the rise of militant Islam, the devastation of COVID, the rise of populism.
You may feel very insignificant in the face of monumental trends; even helpless. You may feel very insignificant in the world’s eyes, but you are treasured by God. The angels rejoice over one sinner who repents. Your name is written in God’s book of life. He will greet you with the words, “Well done, good and faithful servant”. And as for the great and mighty? Empires rise and fall but the word of God prevails. God’s purpose will never fail.
Rescue through a redeemer.
God is almighty, but he uses humans to do his work. He raises up rescuers and redeemers. And he uses ordinary women and men by answering their prayers.
Moses was both rescued and a rescuer – rescued out of water, rescuer of people. The stories of chapter 2 give a glimpse of the great act of rescue that God will do through Moses.
In the NT, what is the big event? It is the cross and resurrection. What about the OT? The exodus is The Big Event in the OT. It is the big story the Jews still teach their children at their biggest festival- the Passover. Chapter 2 is the drum roll – preparing us for the big event. It introduces Moses – the one God will use to pull off the rescue. There are five stories of rescue or an attempted rescue here – each setting us up for the big event.
1. A baby at risk of drowning – rescued by Pharaoh’s daughter.
2. A Hebrew slave being beaten – rescued by Moses
3. An attempt to rescue two Hebrews fighting. Moses’ interference was rejected: “Who made you a prince and judge over us?” He was rejected just as the Hebrews would often question or reject Moses later.
4. Women rescued from shepherds by Moses
5. Moses fleeing from Pharaoh’s wrath was rescued by a priest of Midian. He was given a home.
Coming back to the first story, of baby Moses, this looks back to a previous rescue by God. As a male child, Moses should have been drowned in water as Pharaoh commanded. Yet he is rescued out of the water by none other than Pharaoh’s daughter! This act recalls an earlier rescue through water. I’ll give you a clue as to what that was. The word used for basket here is used in only one other place in the Hebrew bible – it is the word meaning “ark”, and there are other connections too: both arks were waterproofed with bitumen. Yes, both Noah and Moses were spared by God from dying in water; both were carried in an ark while others were destroyed. And through both Noah and Moses, God created a new people. So, Moses, the one who will rescue God’s people, was himself rescued.
Chapter 2 gives other details in these rescues hinting at God’s rescue to come.
1. Moses the baby cried out and came to the attention of Pharaoh’s daughter. So Israel’s cry came to the attention of God
2. Moses was found in the reeds in the water. And God’s people would escape through the Red Sea – literally meaning, the “Sea of Reeds”.
3. Pharaoh’s daughter paid the Hebrew mother to look after Moses. Later the Egyptians gave gifts to the Hebrews as they left Egypt.
4. Moses flees from Pharaoh out of Egypt. This again is a preview as the Hebrews will soon flee out of Egypt. Later in the Bible, there is one who will flee from another king who wanted to kill him and be saved out of Egypt so he can save his people: none other than Jesus!
A great rescuer!
God rescued Moses and Israel from terrible slavery in Egypt. Jesus has done even better. Like Moses, he will strike down his enemies and deliver his people from slavery. But for Jesus, the enemy was Satan. He delivered from the slavery of sin and death.
God will fulfil his plan. He isn’t thwarted by men, no matter how powerful they appear. His redeemer, his rescuer has come, and he will come again. The job of Jesus is to rescue. That’s in his job description. That is not our job. Our job is to pray, and to pray believing – knowing that God answers prayer.
So, Chapter 2 ends with this: “the people of Israel groaned because of their slavery and cried out for help. Their cry for rescue from slavery came up to God. And God heard their groaning, and God remembered his covenant.” When God remembers – it is not that God had forgotten and suddenly remembers. No, it is that God begins to act on his promises.
Perhaps you like me get discouraged. Your children attended Sunday school, perhaps were baptised, and yet don’t go to church, don’t even believe. You have prayed for years. Is God listening? The Hebrews were praying for release for decades. Even when it seems hopeless, take heart. God listens, God acts, God saves. So, cry to God for help – God will hear your groaning. He will remember his covenant, his promises. He will rescue from the slavery of sin and death.
Pray: Thank you Lord for your plan, your promises. Thank you that you sent us a rescuer – a rescuer who saves us from the slavery of sin and death and brings us to life. Amen.
Exodus Study, St Helen’s Bishopsgate