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    Aug 03, 2014

    Class 4: Exodus 1-19

    Series: Old Testament Overview

    Category: Core Seminars, Grace and Mercy, Nature of God, Sovereignty of God, The Glory of God


    William Shakespeare famously wrote, “All the world’s a stage, and all the men and women merely players.”  It’s an intriguing way to think about our lives.  But it’s most compelling when we consider who the director of this grand play is: God.  The Bible presents this world as a divinely-crafted stage for playing out the great story of human history.  And it’s purpose?  To showcase God’s excellence and glory. 


    So before we get into our material for today, let's talk about that.  The Exodus is a great story--but for many reasons it’s more important than that.  Why?  Why is it critical to understand the Exodus if we’re going to understand the rest of the Bible?


                That’s what we’ll see today in Exodus.  In the last two weeks, we observed the beginning of God’s great drama in the book of Genesis.  Genesis unfolded the story for a few generations after Abraham, but for the most part God’s plan of redemption was unknown beyond this small band of Hebrews.  Now, in Exodus, God will turn the floodlights on and his salvation purposes will be seen on the world stage as he defeats the most powerful nation on earth and delivers his people, all for his own glory.  And not only does the scope of the drama expand, but in Exodus God also introduces themes and patterns that will shape the way he works throughout the rest of history. 


                So, for our study today, we’ll approach the first half of Exodus in two ways.  First, because this is a historical narrative, we’ll do a quick overview of the story to see the main points and find out how Exodus fits into redemptive history.  Then, we’ll step back and explore five main themes that emerge from this foundational account.  We’ll discuss what each theme means in the context of Exodus, and how it lays a foundation for the rest of Scripture.


    [This outline does not need to be gone over.  The class only needs to be told that it is printed in their handouts as a guide for their own study.]



    1. Setting: Israel in Egypt (1:1-1:22)
      1. The sons of Jacob become the people of Israel (1:1-7)
      2. New pharaoh oppresses Israel in slavery (1:8-2:25)
    2. Call of Moses (2:1-4:31)
      1. Burning bush: call of Moses (3:1-4:17)
      2. Moses returns from Midian to Egypt (4:18-31)
    3. Moses and Aaron: initial request (5:1-7:7)
      1. Initial request (5:1-21)
      2. God promises to deliver Israel from Egypt (5:22-6:9)
      3. Moses and Aaron: synopses and genealogy (6:10-30)
      4. Moses encouraged (7:1-7)
    4. Plagues and Exodus (7:8-15:21)
      1. Moses and Aaron before Pharaoh: initial sign (7:8-13)
      2. Trio of plagues: blood, frogs, gnats (7:14-8:19)
      3. Trio of plagues: flies, livestock killed, boils (8:20-9:12)
      4. Trio of plagues: hail, locusts, darkness (9:13-10:29)
      5. Tenth Plague/final sign: the Passover (11:1-12:39)
      6. The Exodus and instructions for remembrance (12:40-13:16)
      7. Israel delivered and Egypt judged at the Red Sea (13:17-15:21)
    5. Journey to Sinai (15:22-19:25)
      1. Water problem: Marah (15:22-27)
      2. Food problem: manna (16:1-36)
      3. Water problem: Massah and Meribah (17:1-7)
      4. Passage problem: Israel defeats Amalek (17:8-16)
      5. Judgment problem: Jethro advises Moses (18:1-27)
      6. Holiness problem: the Lord descends upon Sinai (19:1-25)





                Ready to dive in?  Our overview begins where we left off last week.  Remember the crucial verse that guided our study of Genesis, Gen. 3:15?  God declared that the seed of the woman, a promised Son, will crush the head of Satan, and Satan will strike his heel.  Who is this seed?  We learned in Genesis that he would come from the line of Abraham.


    Now, God had made a promise to Abraham that his descendants would become a great nation that would possess the land of Canaan and be a blessing to the rest of the world.  But that’s not the case at the start of Exodus.  They aren’t a great nation, and they don’t possess any land.  Instead they are living as foreigners in Egypt, where they settled with their brother Joseph during a great famine.


    But one aspect of God’s promise to Abraham is being fulfilled – the promise that his descendents would be as numerous as the stars in the sky.  Look at 1:7:  “the people of Israel were fruitful and increased greatly; they multiplied and grew exceedingly strong, so that the land was filled with them.”  But approximately 300 years later, around 1500 BC[2], Israel’s multiplication has become Egypt’s aggravation.  In response to these great numbers, Egypt oppresses and enslaves Israel.  So, does God remember his promises?  What will happen to the children of Abraham – what will happen to the promised seed of the woman?  This is the stage for the drama of Exodus. 


    And the great hope in Exodus, chapter 2 verse 24, is that God hears Israel’s cry for help.  Look at 2:24: A man named Moses is born in chapter 2, and in chapter 3 God appears to Moses in a burning bush.  God reveals his plan in 3:8, to rescue his people.


    After that, the showdown begins.  This is not a battle between Egypt and Israel – it is a battle between Egypt’s Pharaoh and Israel’s God—the great “I AM.”  Starting in 7:14, God sends a series of horrific plagues upon the land.  But after the first few plagues, God begins to distinguish in his judgment between Egypt and Israel to make it plain who is his enemy and who is his people.  The Egyptians receive boils on their skin, hail destroys their land, locusts devour their crops, utter darkness suffocates their homes.  But none of these plagues affect God’s people.  Amazingly, Pharaoh refuses to yield and release Israel.


    Not, that is, until one final act of judgment: the tenth plague.  The Lord warns Moses that he will go throughout Egypt and kill every firstborn son at midnight.  But even as he plans to pour wrath out on his enemies, the Lord in his mercy provides a way to spare his people.  Each family is to slaughter a year-old lamb and put its blood on their doorframe.  We see this in Ex. 12:13:  “The blood shall be a sign for you, on the houses where you are. And when I see the blood, I will pass over you, and no plague will befall you to destroy you.”  That’s why this decisive act of judgment and grace is called the “Passover” – God passes over those homes that are marked by the blood of the substitute, the lamb that was slain. 


    Well.  After this ultimate blow, Pharaoh finally surrenders, and Israel marches out of Egypt in a great “Exodus” – the word comes from the Greek for “departure.”  But the Lord is not done with Egypt yet.  Look at 14:4: “I will harden Pharaoh's heart, and he will pursue them, and I will get glory over Pharaoh and all his host, and the Egyptians shall know that I am the Lord.”  So in a pillar of fire by night and cloud by day, God leads them to the shore of the Red Sea—a dead end, a trap.  Red hot in pursuit, the Egyptian army closes in.  The Lord divides the waters, Israel walks through on dry land, and then the Lord drowns their enemies in a torrent of judgment.  An amazing account.


    Now... the people have been redeemed by the Lord; will they continue to trust the Lord?   Their journey is not over – in fact, their trek to the promised land has just begun.  In chapter 15 Moses praises God for his deliverance... but then the people complain that there’s no water or food.  Yet, even though this grumbling, disobedient people are not worthy of God’s favor, God leads them through the desert to make a covenant with them.  Look at 19:4-5:  “You yourselves have seen what I did to the Egyptians, and how I bore you on eagles' wings and brought you to myself.  Now therefore, if you will indeed obey my voice and keep my covenant, you shall be my treasured possession among all peoples, for all the earth is mine.”  God descends upon Mt. Sinai in all his majestic holiness, and as we’ll see next week, he marks Israel off as his own by giving them his law. 


    It’s an amazing chapter in redemptive history – oppression, judgment, and miraculous deliverance.  The promises made to Abraham are one step closer to their fulfillment in the seed of the woman that is to come.  But this is not just a gripping story.  In fact, you may have noticed during our overview that throughout the narrative, God speaks – he speaks to Moses and Aaron, and through them he speaks to Pharaoh and to the people of Israel.  Through his words, the Lord reveals the meaning of the great events he’s accomplished on this grand stage.  And it’s for that reason that Exodus is a foundational book for understanding the rest of the Bible.  That’s what we’ll discuss next, as we look at five key theological themes that emerge in this first half of Exodus. 




    I.  God’s Unique Identity


    The first theme is God’s Unique Identity. 


    Let’s look at 3:13-14.  “Then Moses said to God, ‘If I come to the people of Israel and say to them, “The God of your fathers has sent me to you,” and they ask me, “What is his name?” what shall I say to them?’ God said to Moses, ‘I am who I am.’  And he said, ‘Say this to the people of Israel, “I am has sent me to you.”’”  He is saying that He exists and that His existence is absolute; He did not derive His existence from anyone or anything else.  He is self-existent, self-sufficient.  He simply and absolutely is.  As the I AM, God reveals himself as the free and sovereign ruler – and that is why he will prevail against Egypt on this grand stage. 


    You’ll notice that from this point on in Exodus, Moses refers to God most often not by the word “God” but by “The Lord” – in all caps in our English Bibles.  The Hebrew for this title is “Yahweh,” which most literally means “I AM.”  Against Egypt’s countless deities, God insists that he is supreme, he is unique.  The verse that sums up the conflict between God and Pharaoh is 5:2:  “But Pharaoh said, “Who is the Lord [that is, Yahweh], that I should obey his voice and let Israel go?  Who is the Lord?!  The whole book of Exodus is an answer to that question. 


    Let’s walk through just a few of the attributes of the “I AM” that Exodus reveals to us. 

    • First, the Lord is a covenant-keeping God.  Exodus 6:5 says God acted in Exodus because he remembered his covenant with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.
    • Second, the Lord is utterly supreme.  Moses tells Pharaoh in 8:10: “Be it as you say, so that you may know that there is no one like the Lord our God.”  No one like Yahweh.
    • Third, the Lord is the great warrior.  That’s what Yahweh’s defeat of the Egyptian army is all about, as Moses sings about in 15:2-3.
    • And finally, the Lord is the caring provider.  When Israel is hungry, Yahweh feeds them.  Why?  Chapter 16, verse 12: “Then you shall know that I am the Lord your God.”


                Is this God our hope?  In our own times of trouble and persecution, we can meditate on the attributes of the I AM that are revealed in Exodus.  Perhaps you know someone in the church who is enduring a season of suffering.  Maybe you can use these descriptions of God’s character to inform your prayers for him or her.


    II. The Pattern of Redemption


                Moving to our second theme -- not only do we see something of God’s unique identity in Exodus, but we see something of the way he works – specifically, the pattern of redemption that prefigures later salvation history.  There are three aspects of this pattern that we see in Exodus:


    1) First, the problem: the people are oppressed in slavery.  The exodus is the salvation of God’s people out of something:  in this case, out of tyrannical captivity. 


    2) Second, the solution:  the Lord’s single-handedly acts to save the people, sparing them from his judgment through a blood sacrifice.  The concept of redemption, of course, refers to purchasing freedom for a slave.  The death of the Passover lamb is the ransom price for the firstborn sons of Israel.


                3) And third, the result:  the Lord leads his people to the promised land where they can worship him and be in fellowship with him.  When Moses tells Pharaoh that God wants his people free, he says the reaons is that the Lord’s people can go to worship God.  So, Israel is rescued out of slaverywith the intent of taking them into a land where they can worship as God’s people in God’s place under God’s rule.  And this last point is critical.  If we only think of the Exodus as a release from physical slavery, we will misunderstand all the references to it that come later in the Bible.  Instead, we need to see the ultimate goal as worship and relationship.


    These three aspects of God’s redemption – the problem of slavery, the solution of salvation by sacrifice, and the result of restored worship – will be major reoccurring themes in the rest of the Bible. 


    For example, listen to how Psalm 130:7 reflects this exodus pattern:  “O Israel, hope in the Lord!
        For with the Lord there is steadfast love, and with him is plentiful redemption.  And he will redeem Israel
        from all his iniquities.”  The problem?  Not a foreign captor, but the people’s own sins.  The solution?  God himself will redeem.  The result?  Israel puts its hope in the Lord. 


    Or for another example, in a twist, the OT prophetic books describe Israel’s later exile into Babylon as a reversal of the exodus.  The people fall out of fellowship with God and lose the land, becoming aliens again in foreign lands where they are again mistreated.[3]  Then the return from exile is portrayed as a new and greater exodus, returning to the land by God’s mighty right arm, to again have fellowship with Him.[4] 


    Ultimately, we see the greatest expression of what the exodus foreshadowed in the ministry of Christ.  In Luke 9:31 Jesus literally calls His death and resurrection an “exodus.”   Titus 2:14 says that Jesus Christ “gave himself for us to redeem us [the solution] from all lawlessness [the problem] and to purify for himself a people for his own possession [the result].” 


                Isn’t it amazing: the very real and historic event of the Exodus was in part God getting us ready for Christ.  So that we could be saved from our sin!  When you remember your own slavery to sin, let it drive you to worship and thank the God that has so powerfully rescued us. 


    III.  God’s Gracious Provision of a Substitutionary Sacrifice


                The third theme of Exodus that proves foundational for the rest of scripture is God’s Gracious Provision of a Substitutionary Sacrifice. 


                Let’s turn to 12:12-13: God says, “For I will pass through the land of Egypt that night, and I will strike all the firstborn in the land of Egypt, both man and beast; and on all the gods of Egypt I will execute judgments: I am the Lord.  The blood shall be a sign for you, on the houses where you are. And when I see the blood, I will pass over you, and no plague will befall you to destroy you, when I strike the land of Egypt.”  Did you notice how Yahweh intends to strike down every firstborn?  In most of the earlier plagues, Israel was spared while Egypt suffered.  But in this final plague, the Lord is crystal clear: every firstborn son will die.  Unless…a lamb is provided in his place.  As you’ll remember from our discussion of Genesis, Israel isn’t God’s people because they’re perfect.  Just like the Egyptians, they deserve punishment for their sins.  Yahweh could kill the firstborn sons of Israel too, and no one could question his goodness and justice.  Yet he provides a substitute!  It’s not that punishment is given to Egypt but not to Israel—rather, Israel’s punishment falls on a substitute.


                And if you read through chapter 12 this week, you’ll see that before the Passover even happens, God gives instructions for how they are to remember the Passover... every year! The Lord wants the celebration of the Passover to define his redeemed people throughout their future.  God even commands them to start a new calendar, with a Passover feast in the first month.  Why does he do this?


                Well, because the symbolism of Passover wasn’t just a reminder of the past.  It was the shape of what was to come.  So when John the Baptist saw Jesus, he cried out: “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” (John 1:29)  And then Paul tells the Corinthians, “Christ, our Passover Lamb, has been sacrificed” (1 Cor. 5:7).  Just as the Passover lamb’s bones were not broken, as God instructs in Ex. 12:46, so John 19:36 points out that Jesus’ bones were not broken on the cross.  And it is at a Passover celebration when Jesus establishes the Lord’s Supper and tells his disciples that “this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.”  (Matt. 26:28). 


                Whenever the New Testament remembers the Exodus, it focuses in on the Passover.  Why?  Because the main point wasn’t political liberation.  It was substitutionary sacrifice.  The primary application of the Passover is to believe in Christ, because those who turn to Jesus are washed[5] and justified[6] by his blood.




    IV.  God’s Special People


                This discussion of how God used the Passover to deliver Israel leads us to our fourth major theme in Exodus: God’s Special People


                Remember: God’s purpose for the Exodus isn’t just rescue.  It’s to establish this people as a nation that belongs to him and that represents him in the world.  The most striking verse that shows this special identity is 4:22-23, where God tells Pharaoh, “Israel is my firstborn son, and I say to you, ‘Let my son go that he may serve me.’ If you refuse to let him go, behold, I will kill your firstborn son.’” Israel, of all the descendants of Abraham, is called “God’s son.”  Israel is first in God’s affections.  As God’s covenant people, they receive special blessing, but they also have a special mission: to display Yahweh’s glory to the rest of the nations. 


                So, how does Israel do at representing God as God’s “son?”  Pretty poorly.  Just in the book of Exodus, here’s what we get:


    1.         At the end of the Exodus, the “son of God” – Israel – miraculously passes through the waters of the Red Sea in chapter 14.

    2.         Then, in 16:2, they begin to march through the desert wilderness.

    3.         But in 16:8, they grumble against the Lord because they have no food to eat.

    4.         In 17:2, they put the Lord to the test when they quarrel with Moses about not having water to drink.

    5.         Then, in Exodus 32 (which we’ll think more about next week), while Moses receives the very 10 commandments that forbade idolatry, the people worship a golden calf and call it their god!


                And this behavior only gets worse as the Old Testament goes along.  But their failure as God’s son only highlights Jesus as God’s son.  Matthew is careful to point this out in Matthew 3-4.  (1) In his baptism, Jesus passes through waters and is called “God’s beloved son;” (2) Then, he goes into the desert to be tempted; (3) His first temptation is about not having food to eat; (4) His second temptation is to “test” God; and (5) his final temptation is to worship someone other than God.  But put in the same circumstances as Israel, God’s true son obeys perfectly.  He is the fulfillment of all that Israel was supposed to be.  He is the true Israel[7].


    V.  God’s Glorious Motive


                Finally, we should conclude by considering what ties all these themes together – fifth, God’s Glorious Motive. 


                Most secular retellings of the Exodus miss this point entirely.  They focus on the tragedy of slavery or the heroism of Moses.  But when you read the text, you can’t get around the most common refrain in Exodus, a refrain that shows God’s motive in all that he does.  Look at 6:7:  “I will take you to be my people, and I will be your God, and you shall know that I am the Lord your God, who has brought you out from under the burdens of the Egyptians.”  “and you shall know that I am the Lord” – this phrase occurs at least 14 times in the first half of the book.  God’s purpose is to show off who he is, to exalt his glory! 


    God’s glory is the purpose of the plagues – as Moses says in 9:29, “The thunder will cease, and there will be no more hail, so that you may know that the earth is the Lord's.”


                God’s glory is the purpose of the judgment of Egypt at the Red Sea – as God says in 14:4, “And I will harden Pharaoh's heart, and he will pursue them, and I will get glory over Pharaoh and all his host, and the Egyptians shall know that I am the Lord.”


                And, perhaps most amazingly, God’s glory is the reason why God himself sovereignly hardens Pharaoh’s heart so that Pharaoh would resist the Lord and come under his judgment.  Did you notice that in the verse I just read?  “And I will harden Pharaoh’s heart, and he will pursue them.”[8]  Really?  God is the one who orchestrates Pharaoh’s refusal... of God?  Precisely.  And God does it specifically so that he can receive maximum glory.  This does not mean that Pharaoh is not responsible for his decisions; he is personally guilty and deserving of judgment.  Paul clarifies that point in Romans 9.  No, Pharaoh stands as a humbling example that God does all that he does – even hardening sinners’ hearts – for his own glory.[9] 


                I hope you can see that God’s self-glorification is the ultimate summary for what we’ve studied in this first half of Exodus.  After all, why had this sovereign God chosen to leave his people in Egypt anyway?  Because Egypt was a great power.  Because Egypt provided the perfect stage on which God could display his glory.  Now, God has gone on a public campaign for his own glory, raising himself up on this great stage, and he has prevailed.  He has revealed his unique identity.  He has established a mighty pattern of redemption.  He has provided a substitutionary sacrifice.  He has called out his special people.  All for his own glory. 


    There is great application that we can draw from this:  you were created to bring glory to God.  And if you are trusting in Christ, remember that you were redeemed from the slavery to sin so that you might be a glorious display of who God is.  What if the dominating banner over your life was to give glory to God?  How might your attitude towards others change?  How might your relationships change?  How might your money management change?  How might your time management change? 


    It’s no surprise that just like the other themes we’ve seen today, God’s self-glorification becomes a central theme in the New Testament.  As it says in Rev. 1:5-6:  “To him who loves us [God’s unique identity!] and has freed us from our sins [God’s mighty redemption!] by his blood [God’s substitutionary sacrifice!], and has made us a kingdom, priests[10] to his God and Father [God’s special people!], to him be glory and dominion [God’s glorious motive!] for ever and ever! Amen.”







    This emphasis on spiritual liberation becomes vital when we consider the ways in which we’re called to apply Exodus to our lives as Christians.  Many who study Exodus conclude that the bestway for us to apply the book is to lend our efforts to fight slavery and oppression on earth – whether it is human trafficking, systemic injustice, racism, or genocide.  Now, all of those are good things for Christians to oppose – we believe all people are created in the image of God, and we are those who are called to love our neighbor as ourselves.  But to treat those things as the primary application of Exodus is to miss the point entirely.  According to the New Testament, the main thing Exodus teaches us is that the most desperate need of all people is the spiritual liberation that comes through repentance and faith in Jesus, our Passover lamb!  That’s why God set up the Passover celebration so that his people’s primary memory, instituted in their calendar, would be his passing over them in judgment rather than his delivering them from slavery.  That’s why New Testament references to the book of Exodus focus on the Passover, not on the Exodus per se.  The primary application of the Passover is to believe in Christ, because those who turn to Jesus are washed[11] and justified[12] by his blood.  This is not to say that Christians should be indifferent to earthly suffering.  As John Piper has recently said, “we Christians care about all suffering – especially eternal suffering.”[13]


    [1] Adapted from the ESV Study Bible.

    [2] These dates are rounded for simplicity’s sake, and based on 1 Kings 6:1 as a reference, knowing that the Temple construction began in 966 BC.  The dates also assume that the 400 years mentioned in Genesis 15:13 began when Joseph was enslaved. 

    [3] See Jer. 21:5-7, where God again fights “with an outstretched hand and a mighty arm,” this time against Israel.

    [4] Jer. 23:7-8: “‘So then, the days are coming,’ declares the LORD, ‘when people will no longer say, “As surely as the LORD lives, who brought the Israelites up out of Egypt,” but they will say, “As surely as the LORD lives, who brought the descendents of Israel up out of the land of the north and out of all the countries where he had banished them.” Then they will live in their own land.’”

    [5] Rev. 7:14

    [6] Rom. 5:9

    [7] Matthew actually makes this connection even more explicit in his description of Jesus’ flight to Egypt in chapter 2.  (2:15)

    [8] See 7:3-4 for a more explicit example

    [9] See also Ex. 9:14-16.

    [10] An allusion to Ex. 19:6.

    [11] Rev. 7:14

    [12] Rom. 5:9