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Table of Contents
1 Preparing a New Leader
2 A Reluctant Leader
3 Let My People Go!
4 With a Mighty Hand
5 Crossing the Sea
6 Trusting Daily
7 Covenant Codified
8 Highlights of the Law
9 Sacrifices and Festivals
10 The Tabernacle
11 Covenant Broken and Renewed
12 Burdens of Leadership
13 Too Much of a Good Thing?
14 Revolt in the Desert
15 The End In Sight
16 The Donkey and the Seer
17 Blessings and Curses
Appendix – Thoughts on the Exodus
About the Author
List of Illustrations
Layout of the Tabernacle
Probable Route of the Exodus
What is a nation? According to the dictionary it is a people who speak the same language, have a common history, a common government and a defined territory. This definition is only partially correct. At least in ancient times, a nation did not necessarily have a defined territory. Some nations were nomadic and their territory, if any could be called their own, was ill-defined.
While a common history and the same language may bind people together, it is not enough to make a nation. Similarly, living under the same government is not necessarily what forms a nation. There have been many empires in history which contained distinct people groups who considered themselves nations within the empire.
What makes a nation is more than a common history and a common government. The people in a nation may be homogeneous or come from many different ethnic and cultural backgrounds. What binds them together is not their government, per se, but a common outlook, a shared ethic and world-view.
Perhaps even more important, a nation will have a sense of otherness. The people of a nation will consider that there is something about them which is unique. There is something which sets them apart from all other peoples or nations. Sometimes this sense of being different may cause a nation to feel superior to others or, it may make them feel inferior in some ways. Either way, they always consider themselves somehow distinct.
There is little doubt that the Israelite people became a nation, and thus developed their sense of otherness and uniqueness, during the time of their Exodus from Egypt and their wanderings before they conquered Canaan. (See Numbers 23:9.)
Before the Exodus the Israelites were already unique in that they were the heirs of the promises God had made to Abraham and the other patriarchs. Yet, they still shared many of the characteristics and, to an extent, even the same ancestry as other tribes and peoples around them. After the Exodus, no one could say that the Israelites were not a unique and different people.
What was it that made them unique and gave them their sense of otherness? Here is a very incomplete list:
1) God called and chose the Israelites over all other people (Deuteronomy 10:15).
2) God made a distinction between the Israelites and the Egyptians (Exodus 8:22-23, 9:4, 11:7).
3) God gave them a different calendar (Exodus 12:1-2).
4) God gave them different festivals (Exodus 12:14-20).
5) They were given a different pathology (Exodus 15:26).
7) God entered into a unique covenant with them (Exodus 19:3-6).
8) God gave them a different diet (Leviticus 11:1-47).
9) God told the Israelites not to copy the customs of other nations (Leviticus 20:23, Deuteronomy 18:9).
From the above list it is obvious that God fully intended the Israelites to be unique and different than everyone else. It was necessary for the Israelites to be separate from the other nations if they were to fulfill the role God had in mind for them in salvation history. God designated them as a nation of priests (Exodus 19:6). In other words, the Israelites were to be a channel of blessing and redemption to those around them. Specifically, it was through the Israelites that God would one day bring the Savior into the world. They could hardly fulfill that role if they did not remain a distinct, different and unique people.
There were times when the Israelites’ sense of otherness and separateness was jeopardized. For example, hundreds of years after the Exodus, the Israelites demanded a king. Their request displeased both God and the prophet Samuel. It is unlikely that the concept of monarchy was the problem, for provisions for a king were part of the Mosaic Law right from the beginning (Deuteronomy 17:14-20). The problem seems to have been the motive for asking for a king: “Then we will be like all the other nations…” (1 Samuel 8:20 NIV)
Centuries later when the Israelites had largely succeeded in losing their unique identity by becoming like the other nations, God had to purge them through conquest and exile. However, regardless of the compromises of the nation at large, there was always a faithful remnant of people who never forgot their unique status as God’s chosen. It was through them that the Messiah eventually came.
The concepts of otherness and separation are still important. The followers of Christ are unique and different than those around them. Jesus told His disciples, “If you belonged to the world, it would love you as its own. As it is, you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world. That is why the world hates you.” (John 15:19 NIV) Both the writer of Hebrews and the Apostle Peter echo the same idea. Those who are in covenant relationship with God are so different that they are aliens and strangers to those around them. (For example, see Hebrews 11:13 and 1 Peter 2:11.) They are citizens of a different country and are only temporary residents in this world (Philippians 3:20, Hebrews 11:14-16, 2 Peter 3:13).
Because Jesus’ followers do not belong to this world, not only their actions, but their very thought patterns should be distinct from those who do not follow Him. The Apostle Paul wrote, “Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God – this is your spiritual act of worship. Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is – his good, pleasing and perfect will.” (Romans 12:1-2 NIV)
The otherness of Christians can not only be defined by what they are not, that is they are not of this world, but also by what they are in contrast to the world. Peter writes, “But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light. Once you were not a people, but now you are the people of God; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.” (1 Peter 2:9-10 NIV)
Interestingly enough, God used almost identical terms to “royal priesthood” and “holy nation” for the Israelites when they entered into covenant with Him (Exodus 19:5-6). This is one reason why the Exodus and period of wandering are still relevant to us today. Though the events took place over 3,000 years ago, we can still learn a great deal from them.
I have based lessons in this volume on the books of Exodus, Numbers, Leviticus and Deuteronomy.
Preparing a New Leader
Introduction: The book of Exodus marks a major milestone in salvation history. 400 years have passed since the events recorded at the end of Genesis. The 70 people who had migrated to Egypt from Palestine have turned into a group of several hundred thousand. In Genesis, God dealt with individuals who were the heads of families. That is why we call it the Patriarchal Age. But in Exodus, a change takes place. Instead of making covenants with individuals, God makes one with a nation.
What was the purpose of the covenants? During the Patriarchal Age, it was primarily to give hope. God promised that some day there would be a Savior. The message of hope is still present in the covenant God made with the nation of Israel, but there was another purpose for it as well. It was to demonstrate that no matter how hard we humans try on our own, we can never live up to the perfection God demands. He is holy and perfect, and if we are to live in His presence we, too, must be perfect. But we aren’t able to meet the standard. One reason God made the covenant with the nation of Israel and gave them the Law of Moses was to teach us all our need for Christ. Paul writes, “Before this faith came, we were held prisoners by the law, locked up until faith should be revealed. So the law was put in charge to lead us to Christ that we might be justified by faith. Now that faith has come, we are no longer under the supervision of the law.” (Galatians 3:23-25 NIV)
Before God could teach the lesson, though, He had to prepare both the nation and the man who would introduce the nation to the covenant.
I. Joseph Forgotten (Exodus 1:1-14)
We humans tend to have short memories. We forget our history. Genesis 47:25 recounts that the Egyptians recognized that Joseph had saved them from starvation and were grateful to him. But when we get to Exodus, many years have passed. Exodus 1:8 records that a king came to power who did not know about Joseph. The Egyptians had forgotten their history and, along with it, their gratitude for what Joseph had done for the nation.
At the time Joseph and his family lived, Egypt was ruled by what are known as the Hyksos kings. They were from a tribe which was not originally from Egypt. They had migrated there and overthrown the previous dynasty. Though these newcomers had integrated them-selves into Egyptian culture, the natives resented them. Eventually, after a few hundred years, they rebelled and drove the Hyksos out. The new king was of Egyptian descent. One reason for the hatred he displayed toward the Israelites may have been that, in his opinion, the Israelites were associated with the rulers he had thrown out.
II. Population Control (Exodus 1:15-22)
How do you deal with a hated and feared people? Throughout history, mankind has come up with the same two depressing scenarios: First, oppress them. And, when that doesn’t work, try to kill them off.
It seems we never learn. If you want population to decrease, don’t oppress people. That’s counterproductive. More kids are born to those who can’t afford the means to prevent pregnancy. Instead make people prosperous. The richer people are, the fewer kids they tend to have.
There is a broader principle here. We all have people in our lives who give us trouble. Our natural tendency is respond in ways to hurt them. But the Bible teaches that we should do the opposite. “Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everybody. If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. Do not take revenge, my friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” says the Lord. On the contrary: “If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink. In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.” Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.” (Romans 12:17-21 NIV)
The second phase of population control is to try to kill off the undesired population. In this case, the midwives were told to abort all male babies. The midwives disobeyed. As a result, God was kind to them (Exodus 1:20).
Application: This should tell us something about what God thinks of those who kill babies. In many cultures, abortion has become an accepted practice. But never forget that every time an abortion is performed, a life is killed. The taking of life is not something which God views lightly.
III. Literal Obedience (Exodus 2:1-10)
Since the Egyptians couldn’t trust the midwives to decrease the population through abortion, the next brilliant scheme was to tell parents they had to throw their baby boys into the Nile river. This was more than just a rather bizarre way to kill off boys. The Egyptians believed that the Nile was divine. They worshiped it. In reality, to throw the boys into the river was to sacrifice them to the river god. In other words, the Egyptians were not only trying to get rid of a portion of the population they didn’t want, they were also trying to destroy the worship of the One True God.
In the face of what seemed impossible odds, one couple came up with a creative solution. Literal obedience. They obeyed the order to throw their baby into the river, but there was nothing that said he couldn’t be in a boat! There’s a real lesson here. When someone orders us to do something which is contrary to God’s will, rather than outright defiance, we will often be better off to find a creative way to keep the letter of the law without disobeying God. Yes, there is a time when we have to disobey laws and take the consequences. But we should find other solutions if we can.
When we determine to honor God, He will honor our commitment to Him. In this case, not only was Moses’ life spared, his mother got paid for taking care of him. This paved the way for one of the most remarkable educations in history.
IV. Leadership Training (Exodus 2:11-22)
First, Moses was thoroughly trained as a Hebrew. He never forgot who his people were. Though he was raised as the son of Pharaoh’s daughter, he identified himself as a Hebrew. Exodus 2:11 says that he went out to see his own people. This wasn’t just a cultural thing. Somewhere along the line, Moses developed a deep and lasting faith in God. Hebrews 11:24-26 says, “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.” (NIV)
Secondly, Moses received a thorough Egyptian education. At this period of history, Egyptian education was the best in the world. As a royal prince, possibly even being groomed for the throne, Moses would have gotten the best of the best. Acts 7:22 says, “Moses was educated in all the wisdom of the Egyptians and was powerful in speech and action.” (NIV)
In spite of his unique education, Moses still needed to learn a few things:
1) You have to rely on God’s strength, not your own. He tried to take things into his own hands, and really made a mess of it. He ended up murdering a man. We all tend to do things in our own strength. We need to learn the lesson, “…‘Not by might nor by power, but by my Spirit,’ says the LORD Almighty.” (Zechariah 4:6 NIV)
2) The timing has to be right. Moses wanted to rescue his people, but the people weren’t yet ready for him to rescue them. It’s hard to wait, but that is often what God asks us to do. “Be still before the LORD and wait patiently for him; do not fret when men succeed in their ways, when they carry out their wicked schemes. Refrain from anger and turn from wrath; do not fret – it leads only to evil.” (Psalm 37:7-8 NIV)
3) Moses had to learn the lesson of humility. As a result of his rejection, Moses began to regard himself as a failure. Later, when God asked him to rescue the Israelites from slavery, Moses didn’t think he was capable of doing it. He had to learn that people who have failed by relying on their own strength, are victorious when they rely on God. He needed to learn that God can use even murderers.
Moses’ education in Egypt lasted 40 years. The second half of his education lasted another 40 years. No doubt it must have seemed like wasted time to him. He gave up his dream. But God was preparing him all those years for the biggest task of his life.
Lesson: Don’t give up, even when it seems like nothing is happening and all your dreams are shattered. God isn’t done with you yet!
V. God Hears (Exodus 2:23-25)
In the meantime, things had been going from bad to worse in Egypt. Finally, the people were ready to be freed from their slavery.
There are some important lessons here:
1) You have to want to be saved. At the time Moses had tried to save them, 40 years prior, they didn’t want to be saved. They rejected Moses’ leadership. This is one reason God allows hardship in our lives. It is to bring us to the place where we recognize the hopelessness of our situation and are ready to trust God for deliverance.
2) Just because you don’t get an immediate answer, doesn’t mean that God isn’t listening. We get impatient when our prayers aren’t answered in the next 5 minutes. But God often has been working on the answer to our problems for a long time, without us even being aware of it or what form the answer will take. God had been preparing the answer to the Israelites’ cries for the last 80 years. Isaiah 65:24 says, “Before they call I will answer; while they are still speaking I will hear.” (NIV)