If you were here last week, you know that we are taking a couple weeks where I will preach one sermon on one book of the Bible. My hope is that I get to be the pastor of this church for a very long time and that over the course of many years we will do this for most, if not all, of the books of the Bible because it is important for Christians to know that the Christian message is one story from Genesis to Revelation and we should know the role each book plays in that story.
You could make the argument that Genesis is more of a prologue and that Exodus is the first actual chapter of the book. Exodus is a story about God calling and delivering his people. In our day, I don’t think the idea of a god is lost. Most of the people I interact with believe in some form of God or some form of higher being, but he, she, or it doesn’t have much power or desire to really be involved in this world. This ‘god’ may hear, but not intervene or maybe doesn’t even hear at all. This is not the Christian God who we see in the book of Exodus.
The God of the Bible tells us that he hears and he acts. I once had an unbelieving family member who saw that I went to Reformed Theological Seminary ask what that word ‘Reformed’ meant. I went to my professor, Dr. Futato, and asked him how he would answer that question for someone who is not a Christian. He said, ‘being Reformed means that we believe in a God who cares about and is actively involved in every aspect of our lives.’ I love that definition.
I’ve shared this story before, but one time I was fishing with an Italian friend who was not a Christian and an American friend who was. After a lot of fishing, but no fish, the Italian friend said, “I guess God isn’t here today.” My American friend then said, “No, God is always here and always listening and if he wanted you to catch a fish, you would right now!” And at that moment his pole went down and later that day professed faith in Jesus. That is the God we see in Exodus only on a much larger scale.
Exodus shows us a lot about God. God is the main character of the book. God is the one initiating and guiding all the events in one of the most dramatic books in the Bible. I want to walk through the book of Genesis and see God doing four things. God draws his people, God delivers his people, God distinguishes his people, and God dwells with his people. That’s how we are going to walk through it. And, like last week, even though my outline is my own, I do draw at points directly from a sermon Mark Dever preached on this book back in 2002.
- God draws his people
First, we see God draw Moses in the first two chapters of the book. The first chapter of the book covers many centuries and the second chapter covers about 80 years. The rest of the book, chapters 3-40 cover a little more than one year. Remember from last week, when time slows down, we need to pay attention.
Remember where the story left off in Genesis 50. Joseph rose to become the second most powerful man in Egypt saving them from the famine and Joseph’s brothers. The sons of Israel took refuge in Egypt. Then Joseph died. As we turn the page, we see that centuries have passed, the Israelites have multiplied greatly. They are living out the creation mandate ‘be fruitful and multiply,’ but Pharoah sees this good mandate as a threat. Mark Dever says, “Nationalism and xenophobia often lead to ugly things, as populations feel threatened or even overwhelmed by a surging minority.”
So, Egypt decided to use this large population of people as free labor. We see that we aren’t just looking at light persecution, but the most severe kind possible as the kings actually order the deaths of the young Israelite boys to keep the population in check. It is in this context that Moses is born in chapter 2. The Hebrew midwives had been ordered to kill all newborn males, but they would not obey the command. Moses’ mother kept him hidden for three months, but after that she couldn't hide him anymore. So, she made a basket and contrary to urban myth, she didn’t float him down the Nile River. That would have been such a terrible idea. That sounds about as safe as strapping him to a hungry lion that was walking toward Pharoah’s home.
The text says that she put Moses by the bank of the river and they watched and waited for Pharaoh's daughter to come down and bathe and find the baby which is exactly what happened. We don’t know much about the next 80 years of Moses’ life. The animated movie, Prince of Egypt, tries to imaginatively fill in some gaps, but the Bible does not give us much information about how Moses grew up and what his relationship was to the household of Pharaoh. What we do know is that Moses became a murderer. He sees an Egyptian beating on a Hebrew slave and he kills the Egyptian.
As a result, Moses flees Egypt and he ends up in the land of some other descendents of Abraham: the Midianites. There Moses gets married and settles down for what I assume he imagined would be a nice quiet life away from all the mess in Egypt. That is, until God calls him. This brings us to chapters 3 and 4.
This is the famous story of the burning bush. Moses comes across a bush that is on fire, but not consumed by the fire. There, God reveals his name to Moses: I am. Moses was not on some search to find himself or God. God sovereignly intervenes and calls Moses to himself. God tells Moses that he hears the cries of his people in Egypt and he is sending Moses to talk to Pharaoh to let them go. That is God drawing his people, now we see him delivering his people.
- God delivers his people
Moses responds to God’s call on his life and chapters 5-18 we read about God accomplishing his plan for the Israelites through Moses. This is a part of the story most of us know well. Moses goes back to Egypt with this message from God to Pharaoh and performs wonders and signs that directly attack the claims of the Egyptian pantheon of gods showing the God of the Bible is real and they are not. Each plague attacks a specific Egyptian god claim. And in chapter 4, verse 31 one we see that the Israelite people ‘believed.’ They get behind Moses. And you might think this is a no-brainer to get behind the person calling for your release, but doing so will get them all killed if Moses can’t deliver on what he’s saying. They get behind Moses because they believe in God and that he is ultimately the one at work here.
Things get worse, though, before they get better. Chapter five is the dramatic ‘let my people go’ and the Pharaoh doubles the workload of the Hebrews with less materials to get that work done. So, this old man dramatically challenges Pharaoh over and over in chapters 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, and 12. As Pharaoh doubles down on his determination to oppose Moses, the last and final plague comes. The first born of all in Egypt will die unless that household puts the blood of a lamb over their door. Then, the curse would pass over that house. This is where the Jewish passover feast comes from. This is from Exodus 12:29 and 30: 29 oAt midnight the pLORD struck down all the firstborn in the land of Egypt, qfrom the first born of Pharaoh who sat on his throne to the firstborn of the captive who was in the dungeon, and all the firstborn of the livestock. 30 And Pharaoh rose up in the night, he and all his servants and all the Egyptians. And there was ra great cry in Egypt, for there was not a house where someone was not dead. - Ex. 12:29, 30.
Before we get to the actual Exodus, the actual deliverance, I want to pause and look at Pharaoh. God is no less sovereign in Pharaoh's life than he is in Moses’ life. One pastor says that Pharaoh and Moses are opposites in this story. Moses has nothing, but gains everything. Pharaoh has everything, but loses it all and God is sovereign over both.
God put Pharaoh in power just as God put Moses in power. Look at chapter 9 verse 15 and 16: . 15 For by now I could have put out my hand and struck you and yourpeople with pestilence, and you would have been cut off from the earth. 16 bBut for thispurpose I have raised you up, to show you my power, so cthat my name may be proclaimed in all the earth. - Ex. 9:15, 16
Not only is God sovereign over Pharaoh as king, he’s sovereign over his heart. God hardens Pharaoh’s heart. This is the hardest part of the story for most people, but it is so crucial to the whole outcome. Look at Exodus 4:21 21 And the LORD said to Moses, “When you go back to Egypt, see that you do before Pharaoh all the amiracles that I have put in your power. But bI will harden his heart, so that he will not let the people go - Ex. 4:21
This isn’t the only place this is discussed. Five different places the text says that the Lord hardened Pharaoh’s heart. Four other verses just say that his heart became hard. Two verses say that Pharaoh hardened his own heart. These are hard verses, but if we are going to claim to have a sovereign God then this is something we have to wrestle with them. Does that make God unjust? I’ll let the Apostle Paul answer that question: 14 What shall we say then? wIs there injustice on God’s part? By no means! 15 For he says to Moses, x“I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion.” 16 So then it depends not on human will or exertion,2 but onGod, who has mercy. 17 For the Scripture says to Pharaoh, y“For this very purpose I have raised you up, that I might show my power in you, and that my name might be proclaimed in all the earth.” 18 So then he has mercy on whomever he wills, and he hardens whomever he wills. - Romans 9:14-18
These hard hearts take us to chapter 12 where the actual Exodus happens. Pharoah relents and about 600,000 men plus more women and children leave the city of Ramses going toward the Red Sea. In chapters 13 and 14 we have the climactic ending as Pharaoh changes his mind and pursues the Israelites to the edge of the sea. Let’s pick up there in chapter 14. 21 Then Moses kstretched out his hand over the sea, and the LORD drove the sea back bypa strong east wind all night and qmade the sea dry land, and the waters were rdivided.22 And sthe people of Israel went into the midst of the sea on dry ground, the waters beingta wall to them on their right hand and on their left. 23 The Egyptians pursued and went inafter them into the midst of the sea, all Pharaoh’s horses, his chariots, and his horsemen.24 And in the morning watch the LORD in the pillar of fire and of cloud looked down on theEgyptian forces and threw the Egyptian forces into a panic, 25 clogging2 their chariotwheels so that they drove heavily. And the Egyptians said, “Let us flee from before Israel,for the uLORD fights for them against the Egyptians.” 26 Then the LORD said to Moses, v“Stretch out your hand over the sea, that the watermay come back upon the Egyptians, upon their chariots, and upon their horsemen.” 27 wSoMoses stretched out his hand over the sea, and the sea xreturned to its normal coursewhen the morning appeared. And as the Egyptians fled into it, the LORD ythrew3 theEgyptians into the midst of the sea. 28 The zwaters returned and covered the chariots andthe horsemen; of all the host of Pharaoh that had followed them into the sea, anot one ofthem remained. 29 But the bpeople of Israel walked on dry ground through the sea, thewaters being a wall to them on their right hand and on their left. - Ex. 14:21-29
Does this sound like a God who can’t hear his people? A God who doesn’t care about his people? A God who is powerless to help his people? No. This is the sovereign God of the Bible. Then, throughout the rest of chapters 15, 16, 17, and 18 we follow the Israelites led by Moses on a three month trek to Mount Sinai. On this journey, God provides water, manna, and quail for his people and victory when attacked by the Amalekites. This is God delivering his people.
- God distinguishes his people
God does not treat all people the same. God chooses a people and not others. God chose Israel and not Egypt. He extends mercy to some and it is his to extend. No one can say he is in any way unfair for not extending mercy to people who do not deserve it. And let me be clear, no one deserves it. Otherwise, it wouldn’t be mercy.
God is making distinctions between his people and those who are not all over this book. The plague of the flies falls on the Egyptians, not the Israelites. The hail falls everywhere, but the land the Israelites lived on. God even makes a distinction between the animals that belonged to the Egyptians and those that belonged to the Israelites. I mean could God be more clear than in chapter 11? 7 But not a dog shall growlzagainst any of the people of Israel, either man or beast, that you may know that the LORDa makes a distinction between Egypt and Israel. - Ex. 11:7 God is saying in the loudest possible way, “These are my people!”
Then, as the book continues past the actual Exodus, we see that God is not only distinguishing his people from the Egyptians, he’s distinguishing them from all other peoples on the earth. He does this in three ways. First, he gives them the law. This happens at Mount Sinai in chapters 19-31. Listen to what God says there u‘You yourselves have seen what I did to the Egyptians, and howvI bore you on eagles’ wings and brought you to myself. 5 Now therefore, if you will indeedobey my voice and keep my covenant, you shall be wmy treasured possession among allpeoples, for xall the earth is mine; 6 and you shall be to me a ykingdom of priests and zaholy nation.’ These are the words that you shall speak to the people of Israel.” - Ex 19:4-6
The Ten Commandments come in chapter 20 and we have other statutes and ordinances in chapters 20, 21, 22, and 23. So, how does the law make God’s people distinct? They are to live differently. They are to reflect the character of God. They do not worship idols, they treat their servants well, they ensure that justice is done, responsibility is taken, property respected, compassion is shown, and love reigns. They are even commanded to help people who hate them. If you see the donkey of one who hates you lying down under its burden, you shallrefrain from leaving him with it; you shall rescue it with him. - Ex. 23:5 God wants this people to live and look like him.
Chapter 24 describes the formal sealing or confirming of the covenant. Moses goes up Mount Sinai and stays there for forty day and nights during which he receives the instructions recorded in chapters 25-31. These instructions describe God’s plans for the tabernacle, it’s offerings, the ark, the table, the lampstand, the courtyard, and various other aspects to worship. This is all a part of God distinguishing his people. In chapter 31, 12 And the LORD said to Moses, 13 “You are to speak to the people of Israel and say, ‘Aboveall you shall keep my Sabbaths, for this is a sign between me and you throughout your generations, that you may know that I, the LORD, who make you holy. - Ex. 31:12,13 To be holy means to be set apart for God’s purposes. This is why God gives his people the law.
But having the law is just the beginning. Then the people need to obey the law. In chapter 32 as Moses is receiving all these instructions, what are the people doing back at the bottom of the mountain? The same people who grumbled about food on the way to Sinai are now putting all their gold together to make a golden calf to worship. Aaron who is supposed to be a high priest boldly announces “These are your gods, O Israel, who brought you up out of the land of Egypt!” - Ex. 32:4
Right after God’s dramatic deliverance of his people out of slavery and right as he is meeting with Moses to make them a distinct people, they betray him in the greatest possible way. It sounds crazy...until we realize that we do the same thing. We grumble against God when we don’t feel like we are getting what we want at that moment and all that grumbling leads our hearts to worship something more manageable, more controllable. Something made in our image.
God takes this idea of his people being set apart, being distinct, very seriously. So he tells Moses that he will destroy all the people and start from scratch with Moses. Could you imagine how this would have felt to Moses? Imagine laboring over your family for years and then they do something wrong and God says, “I’m done with them. Let’s start over with you.” Moses begs God for mercy, but it’s important to see on what basis Moses asks for this mercy. For the glory of God’s name. What will the Egyptians say about you? They will say your intentions for your people were evil all along. Then Moses pleads based on God’s promises to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Moses isn’t instructing God here. I think Moses is beginning to really understand God’s plan for his people and God relents.
Moses ran down the mountain and when he saw them worshipping this golden calf, he threw the tablets with God’s instructions down and they broke in pieces. About 3,000 people are executed and Moses goes back up to plead with the Lord. Moses offers to have his own name blotted out of the Book of Life in exchange for the forgiveness of Israel. God then says, “Whoever has sinned against me, I will blot out of my book. 34 mBut now go, lead the people to the place about which I have spoken to you; nbehold, my angel shall go before you.Nevertheless, in the day when I visit, I will visit their sin upon them.” 35 Then the LORD sent a plague on the people, because they made the calf, the one thatAaron made. - Ex 32:33-35
In chapter 34, the covenant is renewed and in chapters 35-40 the tabernacle is built according to the instructions in chapters 25-31. It seems like the Israelites got the message from God after the calf incident because it looks like they follow the tabernacle instructions to a tee! Now, we get to see the last blessing of God’s pursuit of Israel. God dwells with his people.
- God dwells with his people
This is really the most important part of being the people of God. We get God! We get his presence! Moses clearly sees this: 15 And he said to him, l“If your presence will not go with me,do not bring us up from here. 16 For how shall it be known that I have found favor in your sight, I and your people? mIs it not in your going with us, nso that we are distinct, I and your people, from every other people on the face of the earth?” - Ex. 33:15, 16
But, the question still remains, how exactly does a holy God dwell with a sinful people? When holiness and sin come together, that doesn’t end well for sin. This is what the tabernacle is there for. The tabernacle is at the center of the camp and in the center of the tabernacle is the meeting place between God and man. There are very strict criteria for what someone has to do to approach the center of the camp and the center of the tabernacle so that God’s holiness does not obliterate sinful men. This is why certain sins require putting people outside of the camp for some period of time.
Do you remember last week how I said that Genesis is the first part of a larger story about Jesus? Well, Exodus is the second part. After Jesus’ resurrection, he’s walking with two of the disciples explaining why he had to die and then we read this: 27 And nbeginning with oMoses and pall the Prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself. - Luke 24:27
God’s salvific purposes seen all through this book are a pre-taste of the salvation offered to all of us in Christ. Christ is the true mediator who CAN trade his life for ours. Christ is the better high priest who leads God’s people to true worship rather than idol worship. Christ is the one true covenant keeper. Christ is the one who chose the bread of God’s word over physical bread to satisfy hunger. Our baptism in Christ is the better Red Sea. Jesus is our passover lamb. Jesus comes as the one descendant of Abraham who would bless all the nations and deliver God’s people over from bondage once and for all.
Exodus is really a microcosm for how God deals with all his people. We are called out of our sin, we are spared God’s wrath by the true Passover Lamb, Jesus, we walk through the waters of baptism, and we are given a new ethical system that distinguishes us. God now dwells with us not through a tabernacle, but through his Holy Spirit and we wander in this life awaiting the fullness of his presence in the better promised land. Jesus is our Better Moses interceding for us. And the reason he can intercede is because he was the only one who perfectly kept the law of Moses. Moses asked to trade his life for ours, but he couldn’t because he too was a sinner. He was a murderer. But, Jesus could...and did...on the cross.
The story of Exodus is our story. Their salvation story is our salvation story. Go back and read the story as your story. Or, if you aren’t a Christian, go back and read it as the story that could be yours if you give your life to Jesus. The Bible is a story about Jesus and if we have eyes to see it. It’s not a story about Moses the great public servant, but a story about God’s glory being seen on earth through the call, deliverance, and blessing of a sinful people. A pattern that God knew would not just be true of Israel, but all of his people in Jesus Christ.