Exodus 1:1-22

Exodus 1:1-22

SERIES: Exodus:  Moses, God’s Man for the Hour

The Gathering Storm

SPEAKER: Michael P. Andrus

Introduction:  Kitty Kelley has raised our consciousness level regarding the private lives of famous people of our day, and she has focused attention upon a curious fact—the more you learn about them, the less you like them, even given the fact that half of what is written may be false or exaggerated.  And that’s not just true of Ronald and Nancy Reagan.  Consider Lyndon Johnson, John F. Kennedy, Robert Kennedy, Martin Luther King, and Dwight Eisenhower.  The list could go on and on of those who have had a major impact on American history in the last half century and were literally worshipped in the public arena, but when their private lives became public, many of us were deeply disappointed, not that our heroes had feet of clay, for we all knew that.  We were shocked at the extent of the moral flaws and perhaps even more at the hypocrisy that so often went along with it.  These people pretended to be moral spokesmen, but often the truth was not discovered until long after they had been idolized.

That doesn’t happen with Bible characters, you know.  What you see is what you get.  The Bible is incredibly honest about the character of its heroes, right up front.  They aren’t allowed to hide behind a smoke screen devised by public relations experts.  Their failures and shortcomings are laid out in bald fashion for all to see.  But maybe that’s what makes them so attractive.  We can identify with people who are ordinary sinners because that’s what we are.  And we can thrill to see what God can do with an ordinary sinner who aspires to an extraordinary walk with God.  Moses was just such a man.  Though sometimes lacking in confidence, and occasionally given to fits of temper (resulting in murder on one occasion), Moses had an incredible faith in God and was mightily used by Him. 

Perhaps it would be well to read Moses’ epitaph before even beginning his life.  It’s found at the end of Deuteronomy:  

“And Moses the servant of the Lord died there in Moab, as the Lord had said.  He buried him in Moab, in the valley opposite Beth Peor, but to this day no one knows where his grave is.  Moses was a hundred and twenty years old when he died, yet his eyes were not weak nor his strength gone. The Israelites grieved for Moses in the Plains of Moab thirty days, until the time of weeping and mourning was over….  

Since then, no prophet has risen in Israel like Moses, whom the Lord knew face to face, who did all those miraculous signs and wonders the Lord sent him to do in Egypt–to Pharaoh and to all his officials and to his whole land.  For no one has ever shown the mighty power or performed the awesome deeds that Moses did in the sight of all Israel.”

The book of Hebrews offers a slightly different version of Moses’ epitaph, but it is equally revealing of the character of this man:  “By faith Moses, when he had grown up, refused to be known as the son of Pharaoh’s daughter.  He chose to be mistreated along with the people of God rather than to enjoy the pleasures of sin for a short time.  He regarded disgrace for the sake of Christ as of greater value than the treasures of Egypt, because he was looking ahead to his reward.”  (Hebrews 11:24-26)

Now while our goal is to study the life of this great prophet, Moses, our text today does not even mention his name.  The reason is that the first chapter of Exodus is laying the background we need.  If God is going to raise up a great Deliverer, we need to know who he is supposed to deliver and from what.  This first chapter serves as an important bridge between the book of Genesis and the life of Moses.

Allow me to just offer a brief overview of the book of Genesis.  It consists of four great events and four great patriarchs.  The first 11 chapters of Genesis revolve around the Creation, Fall, Flood, and Babel.  The rest of it tells the story of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and Joseph. The first datable history in the book of Genesis is the life of Abraham, who lived in the 21st century B.C., Isaac in the 20th century, Jacob in the 19th, and Joseph in the 18th. (Moses came along in the 15th century, some 300 years after the death of Joseph).  

The lives of these four patriarchs tell the story of how God called a man, Abram, out of Ur of the Chaldees and made Him some unconditional promises concerning a nation that God was going to raise up and a land that God was going to give them.  In four generations that family grew to about seventy males, thanks in large part to Jacob having twelve sons, and they found themselves in tenuous possession of a small part of the land God had promised them.  Hardly an auspicious beginning for a nation that God said would number like the sands on the seashore!  However, in the fourth generation, long after the deaths of Abraham and Isaac, and when Jacob was a very old man, this tiny group of people found themselves involved in a descent into Egypt.

The descent into Egypt (1-5)

The ostensible reason for Jacob and his family going to Egypt was to escape an extended, severe famine that racked the entire Middle East.  The only reason Egypt had food is because a certain prisoner in Egypt was discovered to have the gift of discerning dreams.  When the King of Egypt had a dream that no one else could interpret, that prisoner revealed that the dream concerned seven years of plenty to be followed by seven years of famine.  So grateful was the Pharaoh that he appointed the prisoner Prime Minister of Egypt and put him in charge of storing up sufficient grain during the seven years of plenty so that sufficient food would be available during the years of famine.

The prisoner, of course, was Joseph, who had been sold to a passing caravan by ten of his eleven brothers, the sons of Jacob, several decades earlier.  The Bedouins had taken him to Egypt, where he was sold into slavery and eventually thrown into prison on trumped-up charges.  After languishing for years in a foreign dungeon he was able to secure his release when God gave him the ability to interpret the Pharaoh’s dreams.  Not only was he put in charge of the whole country of Egypt at the age of 30; he was also given an Egyptian wife, who bore him two sons.  Talk about a rags-to-riches story!  But one can be sure that Joseph never forgot about his family back in Canaan and probably often wondered if his father Jacob was still alive.

Seven years later, true to Joseph’s prediction, the famine hit—not only in Egypt but throughout the Middle East, including Canaan—and Jacob sent ten of his sons down to Egypt to buy grain.  We don’t have time to tell the whole story, which is one of the most moving in all of Scripture, but eventually the brothers of Joseph came to realize that the Prime Minister with whom they were dealing was the very brother they had sold into slavery perhaps 25 years earlier!  Fear at first gripped their hearts, but eventually they became convinced that Joseph meant them no harm.  In fact, one of the great truths of Scripture was spoken by Joseph to his brothers:  “You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives.” (Genesis 50:20)  Pharaoh gave to Jacob’s family the land of Goshen in the Nile Delta, and there they settled for the next several centuries.  

Why did God bring about the descent into Egypt when Canaan was the land He had promised to His chosen people?  I think there are at least four reasons:  

To discipline them.  The fourth generation after Abraham had abandoned the altar which characterized Abraham’s life, they had abused the sign of circumcision (Gen. 34), they had lost their sense of calling to worship the Lord, and they had begun to intermarry with the Canaanites.  All these things brought chastening from God in the form of famine and exile from the good land of Canaan.  But God’s discipline always has salutary, as well as disciplinary, goals, one of which was…

To preserve them.  If God simply wanted to punish them, He could have allowed them to starve in Canaan, but instead he sent them to Egypt, the breadbasket of the world, where they were given the best part of the land of Egypt and even put them in charge of the royal livestock (Gen. 47:5-6).  God made sure they not only survived but prospered. 

To isolate them.  The Canaanites were syncretists and sought to intermarry with the Hebrews, with the result that Jacob’s family in Canaan was fast losing its identity, being absorbed both religiously and nationally.  But the Egyptians were separatists who rarely intermarried with foreigners.  Furthermore, shepherds were anathema to them.  Through the isolation Jacob’s family experienced in Egypt unity was promoted, spiritual identity was preserved, and a nation was developed.  

To educate them.  Due largely to Joseph and his influence, this plain pastoral people came into contact with the leading civilization in the world.  They learned organization and administration and law, to say nothing of skills in reading and writing, all of which became critical for their future.  The great literature of the Old Testament, to say nothing of the moral and legal contribution of the Ten Commandments and the Mosaic Law, had its genesis in the educational and cultural benefits of the Egyptian sojourn.

But eventually Joseph died, which introduced a whole new era for the Hebrews.

The death of Joseph (6-7)

I suspect there were some grave misgivings for Joseph’s brothers when he died.  After all, he was their sponsor, their protector, and their intermediary with the Pharaoh of Egypt.  But they soon learned that Pharaoh’s respect for Joseph was so great that he was willing to allow them to continue to live as before.  When the brothers were all gone and that whole generation had died, still, verse 7 indicates, “the Israelites were fruitful and multiplied greatly and became exceedingly numerous, so that the land was filled with them.”  It is difficult to know for sure how much time passed between Joseph’s death in verse 6 and the new king in verse 8, but it was at least 75 and possibly as many as 250 years.  It was a time of unparalleled blessing.  There was peace, prosperity, and incredible productivity, especially in regard to offspring.  I suspect that for the new generation the difficult days of famine that had brought them to Egypt were but a distant collective memory, much like the Great Depression is to most people under 70 today.  We know what we read but it’s not something we can relate to or even think about.  We don’t even consider that it could ever happen to us.

But into this cloudless sky comes the first evidence of a gathering storm, for verse 8 reads, “Then a new king, who did not know about Joseph, came to power in Egypt.”  

          The rise of a new pharaoh (8-22)

There is a lot of controversy about the specific dating of the events of the early part of Exodus.  I think a good case can be made out for identifying this particular Pharaoh, as well as the Pharaoh of the Exodus, but I’m not sure anything significant will be gained by displaying the evidence and laying out all the arguments.  Instead, let’s just leave him unnamed, as our text does, and give our attention to his actions and his motives.  What we find is that he institutes…

The first oppression (8-14).  Here is his reasoning:  “Look, the Israelites have become much too numerous for us.  Come, we must deal shrewdly with them or they will become even more numerous and, if war breaks out, will join our enemies, fight against us and leave the country.”  I want you to note something very important here, for I believe we have in these two verses the origin of anti-Semitism, a phenomenon the Jewish people have struggled against for over 3500 years.  Prejudice against some racial groups is generated by the perception that those groups are inferior.  Their culture, native ability, education, lifestyle, morality, even skin color are considered inferior, and so they are oppressed.  But none of these excuses have ever applied to the Jewish people. Their culture, native ability, education, lifestyle, and morality have always been considered superior, and the reason they have been persecuted is because they have been so successful.  The enemies of the Jews have feared them because it is so evident that God has uniquely blessed them, and eventually that fear has turned to hate.  That is still the case today.

This first oppression consisted of physical slavery and forced labor.  The Jews were required to build two cities for Pharaoh, and if you study the suppositions of historians regarding the vast number of slaves used in building the pyramids, and the tens of thousands who died during their construction, one can get an idea of the awful conditions under which the Israelites must have worked.  It was a life of bitter, unrelieved drudgery.  But, according to verse 12, “the more they were oppressed, the more they multiplied and spread; so the Egyptians came to dread the Israelites and worked them ruthlessly.  They made their lives bitter with hard labor in brick and mortar and with all kinds of work in the fields; in all their hard labor the Egyptians used them ruthlessly.”  

The second oppression (15-22).  Whether or not the king of verse 15 is the same as the Pharaoh of verse 8 cannot be determined with absolute certainty, but most biblical scholars believe a considerable number of years passed between the first and second oppressions.  This second oppression came in two waves.  

The first wave was in the form of an edict from Pharaoh to the Hebrew midwives, Shiphrah and Puah.  We don’t know if they were the only two midwives or perhaps the only two who disobeyed the edict, but what we do know is that they were ordered to practice genocide.  Not only would population control be achieved by putting to death the male babies, but also the very fabric of the Israelites’ economy and government would be negatively affected, since it was a strongly patriarchal society.  But verse 17 says, “The midwives, however, feared God and did not do what the king of Egypt had told them to do; they let the boys live.”  And when asked to give an account they gave an excuse instead—they blamed it on short labor during child-birth.  

This is one of the first accounts in Scripture of a very important principle, namely that our obligation to be obedient to governmental authorities is superseded by our obligation to the moral law of God.  There are times when the two authorities are in conflict, and God blesses those who choose to obey Him rather than man.  It is not difficult at all to find an application here to the great evil of abortion in our society.  If God blessed the midwives for sparing the Hebrew children, can He possibly approve the snuffing out of millions of lives by the hands of those educated and trained to preserve health?  Could there not be found here a justification for the breaking of the law to save the children?  Could Operation Rescue be a modern-day counterpart to the Hebrew midwives?

The second wave of genocide came as a result of the failure of the edict to the midwives: “Every boy that is born you must throw into the Nile, but let every girl live.”  One can only imagine the trauma experienced in every Jewish household as the time of birth approached, knowing that every male child was to be drowned.  The gathering storm has become a raging tornado, and it is into this setting that a baby boy named Moses is to be born.  But today we have time to ponder three principles—principles that find their genesis here in the first chapter but which will be reiterated throughout the book of Exodus.

          Principles to ponder

Internal apathy doesn’t escape God’s notice:  He is holy and jealous.  Israel had an auspicious beginning as a people of God, for Abraham, the father of the nation, was a man of faith par excellence who walked with God.  However, as time passed and the distance grew between the original promises of God and the lives of Isaac and Jacob and their children, memories tended to dim and spiritual apathy developed.  That apathy did not escape God’s notice.  Because He is a holy and jealous God—themes of His character which will constantly surface throughout the book of Exodus—He had to apply the pressure so as to return them to their spiritual roots.  

But it happened again in the land of Goshen.  Their gratefulness to God for delivering them from famine and providing a fertile homeland in Egypt diminished as they prospered, and once again God’s holiness and jealousy demanded that He discipline them to bring them back to their spiritual senses.  This time the pressure was more severe.  Instead of famine, it was slavery and then death.  You can be sure that God will never use more severe chastisement than is necessary to bring his people back, but He will use what is necessary, because His character as a holy and jealous God demands it.  

Could it be that some of the difficulty you are facing today is disciplinary in nature?  Has internal apathy developed in your life to the point that there are only distant memories of a close day-by-day walk with God?  It hasn’t escaped His notice, friend, and He will, if you are one of His children, begin to apply the pressure.  Believe me, it’s better to come back willingly.  

External opposition doesn’t eliminate God’s control:  He is sovereign and omnipotent.  The famine represented external opposition to the family of Jacob.  So did the oppression of the Pharaoh who knew not Joseph.  But nothing is clearer from the early chapters of Exodus than the fact that both the famine and the Pharaoh were mere tools in the hands of a sovereign and omnipotent God to accomplish His good purposes.  I encourage you, and I encourage myself, to see opposition as not beyond God’s control but rather completely within His control and serving His purposes.  That’s not easy.  I faced several different kinds of opposition this week, and frankly I didn’t handle it very well until I was working on this very point in my sermon yesterday morning.  After considerable wrestling I was able to unburden myself and submit the issues to God’s sovereign control.  

Tough times don’t erase God’s promises:  He remembers and He forgives.  God made some amazing promises to Abraham regarding his progeny and the land He was going to give them.  Yet here in Exodus 1, at least six hundred years after those promises were made, we find the nation living in exile and suffering under slavery and genocide.  Has God forgotten His promises?  No!  Look at Exodus 2:24: “God heard their groaning and he remembered his covenant with Abraham, with Isaac and with Jacob.  So God looked on the Israelites and was concerned about them.”  God remembered them; He was just waiting for them to remember Him.  When they did, He was quick to forgive them and to follow that forgiveness with great grace and blessing.  The same is true today.  

I don’t know if the storm clouds are gathering in your life today, but I do know they cannot be there without a purpose.  Deliverance is close when we turn in faith and seek Him with all our heart. 

Communion:  The last two words we mentioned in the message this morning—remember and forgive—are perhaps the two key words for the ordinance that Christ left His church, called Communion or the Lord’s Table.  This ordinance, which interestingly is patterned after the Passover meal in the book of Exodus, calls upon God’s people to remember, and at the same time it proclaims His forgiveness.  Listen to the words of the Lord Jesus:  “This is my body, which is for you; do this in remembrance of me.  This cup is the new covenant in my blood (superior to that Old Covenant God made to Abraham and to Moses); do this, whenever you drink it, in remembrance of me.”  And Paul adds, “For whenever you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.”  (1 Cor. 11)

Our job is to remember.  What we are to remember is the fact that He has granted us forgiveness of our sins through His death on the Cross.

DATE:  May 5, 1991