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Exodus Overview

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Have you ever watched a film, or read a book, and enjoyed it so much, that you’ve read it again? If it’s a good book, then often it will seem to be different the second time. For example, if you reread Lord of the Rings, knowing who will be crowned King in book three, it changes how you view the story in the rest of the book. On the other hand, reread a whodunit, knowing who the murderer is, and a whole lot of stuff that didn’t have much significance first time around, suddenly becomes really important.

So when we read the Old Testament, it’s important that we read it, knowing what the ending is. We are not in a synagogue, and we are not Jews. We know what happens at the end, and therefore a whole lot of stuff that perhaps didn’t have much significance for the Jews, should suddenly becomes really important.

So with that in mind, let’s recap the book of Genesis. Genesis starts with God speaking the world into being, and setting man as the pinnacle of His creation. There is no sin in the world, there is no death, and just one rule - that neither Adam nor Eve will eat from the tree of the knowledge of good or evil. But they did of course, because as Genesis 3:5 tells us, they wanted to be like God.

As the story progresses, through the promises God makes to Noah, and to the story of the tower of Babel. We’ll pause here briefly at the end of chapter 11, because here it looks as though that things have come to a sticky end. We read of the tower of Babel, where men, seeking to make a name for themselves had opposed God and been banished. Then we get that long list starting in verse 10 of all those names, which we tend to skip over and ignore. If we do, we miss the point!

The list of names seems boring, because nothing happens! Well, that precisely is the point - nothing happens. Following the banishment from Babel, it seems as though God has left the scene, and that is the end of the story. Eleven short chapters, and God’s dealings with men is at an end. Too much rebellion - Babel, it seems, was the last straw.

Of course, that’s not what happened, but I’m sure that’s now it seemed for Terah, Abraham’s father. Abraham was born at least 290 years Noah fathered Shem. That was eight generations previously. When you read Genesis 11, you were probably bored after a few verses - think if ploughing through those verses took you nearly 300 years.

And yet, we know that wasn’t the end of the story, because God has called Abraham, who would be his chosen man. It’s almost as if chapter twelve begins a whole new story - a story that reaches, virtually without a break, right up to the end of the book of Joshua.

Those building the tower wanted to make a name for themselves, and we have no idea today of any of their names. They thought it would stop them being scattered all over the earth, but actually the opposite was true. But in chapter twelve, God takes the initiative, and all of God’s promises focus on this one man. So as early as chapter 12 of the book of Genesis, we hear God reminding us that the plan of salvation is not something you approach through any way you choose, but on the one and in the way of God choosing. And as we have one eye to the New Testament, we don’t have to make much of a leap to come the full and definitive expression of this truth, where we see Jesus Christ as the way, the truth, and the life, the man of God’s choice, and the only way to the Living God.

So let’s do what the writer of Genesis does, let’s concentrate on the man of God’s choice. I can’t spend much time here - this is supposed to be an overview of Exodus, after all - but we start with Abraham to whom is given the promise. By chapter 24 the next man of God’s choosing is seen to be Abraham’s son, Isaac, and it’s been clear that he is a son born out of grace (do you remember Sarah’s barrenness?), and kept through grace (do you remember the sacrifice and the ram caught in the thicket?). The promise is then passed on to Issac’s son - Jacob. He’s not the man you think would be the one of God’s choosing. First of all, he’s not the first - by the customs of the day it should have been Esau the first born who received the blessing. But second of all, he seems to make all the wrong choices. He deceives his brother, he schemes against his uncle, but at the very least he shows us that God does not always choose nice people. Moreover, he shows us that God’s plan and purpose cannot be deflected - not even by sin and wickedness.

His successor is Joseph. Do you remember him? He was driven down into Egypt by his wicked brothers, but as the writer tells us, just seven verses from the end of the whole book, whilst they intended it for evil, God intended it for good.

So Genesis gives us a history of beginnings, but most importantly, it sets us on a road that does not end at chapter 50. Indeed, do you know what the first word of the book of Exodus is in the Hebrew?

It’s the word ‘and’. That’s why I’ve spent this time recapping the book of Genesis. Exodus is a continuation of the story of Genesis.

But where does the name ‘Exodus’ come from? It wasn’t what the Hebrews called the book - they called it simply ‘Shinoot - The Names’, taken from the very first phrase. Rather the word Exodus comes from the Greek name for the book, which is ‘ex hodus’. Ex means ‘out of’ and ‘hodus’ means way. So Exodus means simply ‘the way out’.

And that’s what Exodus is. It’s a book, that tells you the way out - specifically, they way out of Egypt. But we need to remember what the Israelites were doing in Egypt in the first place. Abram was the first to go into Egypt, back in chapter 12 of Genesis. Why? Because he was disobedient to God’s promise? Not at all, but even early on in the Bible we are starting to see that even suffering can have a part to play in God’s redemptive purposes. Joseph too ended up in Egypt in chapter 37 - this time it was the sin of his brothers, and maybe his own pride which took him away from God’s promised land. Yet whilst Joseph knew God’s presence and God’s blessing in Egypt, his family was suffering famine in the promised land. Again, early on in the Bible God is reminding us that simply being in the right place, being born into the right country, is no guarantee of blessing. God cares about what you believe in, and not where you were born.

But the seventy members of Jacob’s family that went down into Egypt were hardly as numerous as the stars in the sky and the sand on the seashore, were they?

As I’ve said, Genesis clearly was not the end of the story, because as we get into the opening chapter of Exodus, we read in verse 7 that ‘the Israelites were fruitful and multiplied greatly and became exceedingly numerous, so that the land was filled with them.” Or look at verse 9: “the Israelites have become too numerous for us”, or verse 12: “But the more they were oppressed, the more they multiplied and spread”, or even verse 20: “the people increased and became even more numerous.” Already it seems, Exodus is going to show us that Abraham’s descendants are going to get a lot closer to the promises that God gave him all those years before. And all this despite the slavery, the poverty, and the impossible demands of the Egyptians. Here was God blessings his people in the midst of the difficulty!

Yet just as there were many generations, and several hundred years between Noah and Abram, so there were 400 years between Abraham, and the next man of God’s choosing, Moses. Sometimes we can become impatient for God to fulfill his promises. But we mustn’t look at Exodus 1 and ask ‘why did it take God 400 years to bring his people out’. Rather we should be saying, ‘why did it take 400 years until the people cried out to God!’.

In chapter 1 we had four repetitions of the way in which God was blessing the Israelites through their increase in number. But look at the end of chapter two. There, finally, long after the birth of Moses, we have the Israelites. Verse 23: they ‘groaned’, they ‘cried out’, they gave a ‘cry’ of help, and they ‘moaned’. They’re four different verbs in the Hebrew. But look at God’s immediate response. He heard, he remembered, he looked, and he was concerned. Some of the words may be different in your translation, but they are powerful words. The word for groaning is used in Ezekiel 30:24 of someone who has broken both of their arms. It’s a painful, heartfelt cry. But look too at the word for concerned. It is actually the word ‘knew’, as in Adam ‘knew’ his wife Eve. You cannot get a more intimate word, and it explains God’s care for his people.

But God doesn’t just hear and look, and even know his people, he also remembers. What does he remember? Well, he remembers the book of Genesis, and specifically the covenant he made with the men of his choosing.

All this sets the scene for the next man of God’s choosing. Again, the story illustrates the hand of God, doesn’t it? At his birth, Moses very survival was in jeopardy. Almost immediately his will was at risk of being imbibed with Egyptian paganism, but God intervenes so he can be brought up by his Hebrew mother. Hebrews 11 tells us that there was a danger his heart would be won by the pleasures of sin. Exodus 2 tells us of the peril that nearly befell him when Pharaoh tried to have him killed.

But are you reading this story with one foot in the New Testament? Can you remember another baby of God’s choosing born into a situation when the ruler is practicing infanticide? Can you think of another man who had to overcome great temptation to succeed in God’s plans? Do you see the way God works?

But it is to Moses that God reveals himself at the burning bush, and through a whole series of confrontations with Pharaoh, God reveals himself to the Egyptian people, too. Moses knew of God’s grace - because of the hardness of his heart, Pharaoh knew only of his judgment.

So you get the ten plagues. Each one designed to strike at the heart of Egyptian culture. When the Nile was turned into blood, for example, it was not simply a minor inconvenience. The Nile was worshipped by the Egyptians, it brought trade and commerce to the nation. Without it they could not grow their crops or even survive - to them the Nile was the source of life itself. God’s power of the Nile, and the other plagues showed them just how wrong that assessment was.

In each of the plagues, those miracles, those signs and wonders were proofs of the presence of God with the man of his choice. That’s what happens at times of significance in redemption history. And are you reading with one foot in the New Testament? Can you think of another vital moment in redemptive history when signs and wonders gave proofs of God’s presence with the man of his choice. Do you remember Nicodemus’ words in John 3:2, “no-one could perform the miraculous signs you are doing if God were not with him.”

You see this battle between Moses and Pharaoh was not simply the 2000 BC version of Pop Idol were two wannabees battled it out to show which one had the most power and charisma. Listen to Paul quoting Exodus in Romans 9:17, ‘I raised you up for this very purpose, that I might display my power in you and that my name might be proclaimed in all the earth.” As we look at this momentous event, we see that those Israelites were following the man that God had chosen, into the land the God had promised, as the power of God was displayed, that the name of God could be proclaimed.

And you know about the tenth plague, don’t you?  You know about the first-born that died. And you know about the substitute that was killed in the place of many. You know about the blood that was shed. You know about the lamb that was slain. And you know about God’s people who were saved.

I wish there was time to stop and look more, but I’m afraid it will have to be brief pause as we contemplate the grace and the mercy of the God whom we worship.

Sadly, our brief pause won’t give us time to consider the miracles of crossing of the red sea in chapters 12-14, but let’s stop for a moment in chapter 15. Here we have Moses’ song of praise following the deliverance of God’s people. You could write whole books on the song, but look at the great climax towards the end of the song. Verse 17:

You will bring [your people] in and plant them
on the mountain of your inheritance —
the place, O Lord, you made for your dwelling,
the sanctuary, O Lord, your hands established.
The Lord will reign for ever and ever.

Even today, the Jews remember that great deliverance, as God brought his people out. Even today, every practicing Jew feels that they were personally part of that great Exodus from Egypt. But Christians, with one foot in the New Testament remember another Passover Supper, 2000 years later. We remember an upper room. We remember a cross.

And with our foot in the New Testament, we remember another Exodus. Luke 9:31 takes us to the mount of transfiguration. We see Moses once more, with Jesus and Elijah. And Elijah and Moses were talking to Jesus about what? The NIV says ‘departure’, but can you guess what the Greek says? That’s right,  his ‘ex hodus’. The man of God’s choice, through death, would lead his people again through the waters into promise.

And let’s go on a little more in our Bibles, to Revelation 15. Because there we see that Moses’ magnificent hymn of praise was merely a dress rehearsal for something even more splendid that is to come. Because there in Revelation, John tells us that at the end of time, after the end of the last plagues, God’s people will sing another song, the Song of Moses, which has become the song of the Lamb, who provided the ultimate Passover, and became the definitive exodus.

But we’re still at the first exodus, and you know your Bibles well enough to know that the next stop is at Sinai. But you know too that Sinai is not the ultimate destination. But where is God bringing his people oo, if it’s not Sinai? Thankfully God tells us. Look at chapter 19, where the people arrive at Sinai. Look at verse 4: “You yourselves have seen what I did to Egypt, and how I carried you on eagles? wings and brought you to myself.”

The ultimate destination is not Sinai, it’s not the Promised Land. It’s not even heaven. No, our ultimate destination, the purpose in our exodus, is to be brought to God himself. It’s the unsurpassable joy of the experience of the presence and grandeur and the glory of God.

But back to Sinai. Exodus 20 is perhaps one of the most well known chapters in the whole of the Bible. Whilst many of us might struggle with the order in one or two places, I guess most of us would be able to remember the ten commandments - and many of your non-Christian friends would know quite a few as well. But most of your non-Christian friends will have a pretty negative view of those commandments. Whenever evangelicalism is parodied, it’s shown as a religion of rules and regulations. Don’t do that. Do wear this. Don’t go there.

But how does God view those commandments? In 19:4 and 20:1 he reminds them that he has brought them out of bondage, and into freedom. The world turns that on its head, don’t they? They would have us believe that before Sinai everyone was free, and now these rules have robbed us of our freedoms. But in chapters 1-19 it’s as if God is saying, “I have taken the initiative to redeem you from a hopeless state. You could not get out of Egypt yourself. I have shown you my grace. I have delivered you. I have set you free. Now in chapter 20 I’ll show you how to live out that freedom in the way that I am showing you.

The 10 commandments are the blueprint for freedom. Even some Christians seem to think that Exodus 20, and the whole book of Leviticus were given as a list of rules that had to be followed if you were to please God.

Now there is some truth in that, but there’s a lot missing, and there’s a lot wrong, too. Fifty chapters of Genesis, and the 19 chapters of Exodus that have preceded this one have been full of pure, unaided grace. Do you really think that at this point, God has changed his tack? God didn’t wake up that morning and say, “I’ve worked hard to save you, and now it’s payback time. I’m going to make sure that you walk a tightrope of legalism from now on.” No, he says, I’ve set you free. Now, let me show you how to enjoy that freedom.

Quite why commandments like “Do not murder”, and “Do not steal” can be seen as legalism is beyond me. Those laws are inherently good, aren’t they? Remember, the giving of the law is a covenant, a promise. Chapter 24 makes that absolutely plain. It’s perhaps best to view it like a wedding. At a wedding, there are vows and promises. No-one sees it as legalistic when the minister asks the bride and bridegroom to promise that there’ll be no-one else in the relationship. And neither is it legalistic when God says ‘You shall have no other God’s before me’. It’s not legalistic when the minister asks the marriage partners to love and to cherish one another. And it’s not legalistic when God asks us not to misuse his name, and to keep the Sabbath holy.

You know that when you keep you marriage vows in the spirit they were said, your marriage will be a fruitful and a happy one. Those vows are a blueprint for enjoying your spouse in the fullest possible way. And the vows God calls us to make on Mount Sinai are just the same - it’s His blueprint for freedom to help us enjoy Him and all His glorious grace.

And after a marriage, what happens, what is the end result? A marriage means many things, but certainly for Shâron and I there were two key things that changed. Firstly, we were now stuck with one another! There was firm commitment that couldn’t be broken. But we could also live together, when previously we could not.

And so it was after Sinai. God was showing his commitment to his people, but he did more than that, he actually moved in with them. Without loosing his transcendence, without loosing his high, holy, otherness, God was coming to dwell with his people.

Where was God’s presence known before Sinai? Do you remember the pillar of cloud, and of fire? But what about after Sinai? Well, the cloud and the fire are still there, but this time they’re not ahead of the Israelites, but they’re in the camp, because it’s at Sinai where the tabernacle is built, and the Lord comes down to live in the same way that the Israelites do.

And because you have one foot in the New Testament, you remember another covenant. And you remember another time when God comes to live with his people, in the same way that they live. You remember, as John puts it, the one who tabernacles amongst us. And you remember that this time God does not come so that access to him is restricted to a few priests. This time he does not dwell behind a heavy curtain, but he tears the curtain in two and brings free access into the presence of the Father for ever and ever!

But let’s go back to Sinai again. Do you remember Charlton Heston coming down the mountain with what looked like a gravestone under each arm? That’s the common view, isn’t it. But in that period, stone tablets were generally about the size of a large bookmark. So that’s why Moses needed two of them!

Actually, it’s not. Again, the practice in those days was for two copies of a covenant to be made. One would be put in the temple. That would be the god’s copy. The other would be put in the palace. That copy would be the king’s. But both stone tablets were put where? They were put in the tabernacle, in the ark. Because the tabernacle was not just the home of Israel’s God, but at this time, it was also the home of Israel’s king. The one who had the power to redeem, also has the right to rule. That’s why it’s nonsense to claim that you can have God has your Saviour, and not as your Lord. It wasn’t possible in Exodus, and it’s not possible now.

So Exodus then is all about God’s people coming out of Egypt. But at the end of Exodus, they’re not in the Promised Land. They’re not even there at the end of Deuteronomy, where we’re staggered to find that Moses, this great man of God, doesn’t even arrive there at all.

But you know, that doesn’t matter. Because Exodus is not about God bringing the people to the promised Land, it’s about bringing them to himself. That’s why God’s presence is at the centre of the story, and why it should be at the centre of our lives.

In Genesis, Adam and Eve lived in the Garden - and God lived there with them. In Exodus through to Samuel, the Israelites were living in tents, so God too lived in a tent. In Kings through to Malachi, God’s people began living in houses of stone, so God moved, as it where to a temple built of stone. Then, if that was not enough, as the New Testament opens, we find that God no longer dwells in a garden, nor in a tabernacle, not even in a temple, but he comes in the flesh, fully identified with his people. Now, of course, God is still with us, this time by His Spirit.

And as Christians, we look forward to the day when God will not be with us any more, but we will be with him. No longer will he humble himself to come to us, but he we lift us up to be with him. We look forward to the day when we will discover what those who have gone before us are just starting to enjoy, when we will be with him in Glory. And as we read the book of Revelation, we find that heaven is a place that has a garden - with the tree of life, and with a river, just like Eden. We find it has a city that is a perfect cube, just like the Holy of Holies in the tabernacle, and in the temple. And most importantly of all we find that God is there. There in the flesh, there in Spirit, and “The Spirit and the bride say, ‘Come!’ And let him who hears say, ‘Come!’. Whoever is thirsty, let him come; and whoever wishes, let him take the free gift of the water of life.”

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