There are few sections of the Old Testament that capture our imagination quite like the story of the Exodus from Egypt. From the interwoven story of Moses, a murderer in all respects (2:12), to the incredible plagues of Egypt, to the parting of the Red Sea, there is nothing quite like it, and it is likely the Old Testament’s most well known story.
The Israelites’ time in slavery must have been terrible for them. Slavery is horrible for anyone, but the Israelites had been promised so much by God, they were going to be a great nation, and God was going to give them a land of their own. How would this promise have looked to them while they were slaves in Egypt? Might they have felt as though God had abandoned them? Maybe thinking that God had broken his promise to them, or he had never intended to keep it?
I can’t imagine how hard it would have been to keep up hope, trusting in the Lord through the 100/215/400/430 years of slavery in Egypt (depending on how you calculate).
But then the question is, why? Why did God allow his people to be enslaved? The Lord had made a covenant with them, to make them into a great nation, and here they are in slavery. I don’t think anyone can say that is a mark of a great nation: being enslaved. So why would God put them there? Why would God allow them to go through that?
I believe the answer comes up often later when God is giving the Law to Israel: “remember when you were slaves in Egypt.” In reading through the Books of the Law it is abundantly clear that God desires for his people to be just in their dealings with others, particularly with widows, orphans, strangers, and…. slaves.
17“You shall not pervert the justice due to the sojourner or to the fatherless, or take a widow’s garment in pledge, 18but you shall remember that you were a slave in Egypt and the Lord your God redeemed you from there; therefore I command you to do this. – Deuteronomy 24:17-18
This rationale appears many times throughout the Old Testament: “remember when you were slaves…” (cf. Deut. 5:15, 15:15, et al.) It would seem, perhaps God allowed Israel to be enslaved in order to instill a sense of social justice in their cultural memory.
It also gives God a good sense of authority: Israel owes him one. A big one.
But I think this is often the case with the things God allows us to go through in our lives. I truly believe that God allows us to experience hard times, struggles and heartache to grow us (‘the testing of your faith develops…’ – James 1:3), and so we can use what we have gone through to help others in similar situations. So maybe the next time you or I experience hard times, instead of asking God to take us out of them, we can enter those times them fully, seeking Him and how He wants us to grow to be more like Christ, and how we can use that experience to be a blessing to others (“in your offspring shall all the nations of the earth be blessed” – Genesis 22:18).
Another thing I love about the Exodus story (and much of what God does for His people) is that God never wants them to forget what He has done for them.
“This day shall be for you a memorial day, and you shall keep it as a feast to the Lord; throughout your generations, as a statute forever, you shall keep it as a feast.” – Exodus 12:14
Over and over again God commands the people to keep the passover throughout all generations, so that they will remember what the Lord has done for them. The theme of remembrance is found throughout Scripture, as God reminds his people to remember who they are as His holy nation, and where they have come from, seeing God’s hand throughout their history.
The Lord knows we’re forgetful people. I’ve talked about this before, but I really believe it is of the utmost importance for us to remember continually who we are, where we have come from, and where we are going. Even as children of God it is easy to forget, and we’ve seen what happens when God’s people forget (cf. Judges).
Something I’ve always found interesting, and rather hard to digest, is that God hardens Pharaoh’s heart (Ex. 11:10). It has always seemed right to me that the work of God would be softening people’s hearts, but this seems to go in the opposite direction. Are there people who are simply ‘vessels fit for destruction’ (Rom. 9:22), whom God uses to reveal His glory, though at their own downfall? Because that seems to be the case with Pharaoh. That thought is a little hard for me to take.
Can we just take a moment and imagine? Imagine yourself standing at the edge of the Red Sea and seeing the waters part. I know we’ve all heard the story, seen the movie, but humor me. Put yourself in that scene. Close your eyes and imagine walking with a wall of water on your right and a wall of water on your left. Astounding.
I realize this is a good chunk of Scripture and I didn’t nearly touch on all the great things in these chapters, but I will conclude with a few brief observations
- The Israelites complain. A lot (Ex. 15:24; 16:2-3; 17:2; etc.). Seems as though the don’t trust God to take care of them. Did they see the plagues and the Red Sea?
- I am not sure if this is common knowledge among Christians (possibly taking my upbringing and education for granted…), but when you see ‘the Lord‘ in small caps in the Bible, that is the common English rendering of the Tetragrammaton or Divine Name, YHWH (יהוה, transliterated as ‘Yahweh’). This personal name for God is related to Exodus 3:14 – ‘I am who I am’ or ‘I am what I am’ or ‘I will be what I will be’ – as it is connected to the Hebrew verb meaning “to be.” This name was considered by the Hebrews (and by many Jews today) too holy to be spoken, and so was substituted with “Adonai” (אדני), meaning ‘my lord.’ Did you know that? I’m interested in how many lay Christians know that.
- Oddity: God has Moses tell Pharaoh to bring all the livestock in from the fields, lest they be pummeled by the hail in the seventh plague (9:19). This is strange, because God already killed all the Egyptians’ livestock in the fifth plague…. (9:6)
- Jethro gives a vital pointer to anyone in ministry: you can’t go it alone. (Ex. 18)