21 Encouraging Lessons from the Book of Exodus
Moses as a baby in a basket, floating down the river. Plagues of locusts and dead firstborn sons. A wild flight from Egypt, and a chase through the Red (or Reed) Sea. God handing down the Ten Commandments from heaven.
All of this and much more comprise the book of Exodus, which is at once a supernatural adventure story as well as the second of five books of law that comprise the Old Testament of the Bible.
Exodus was thought to have been written by Moses, God’s prophet who led the people out of slavery in Egypt and toward the Promised Land. Taking place sometime between 1446 and 1406 BC, Exodus was written for the Israelites and intended to teach them their history, the great miracles God performed on their behalf, the rampant disobedience of the people, and the covenant established between God and His people, Israel, at the foot of Mount Sinai.
It comes immediately after Genesis in the Bible and continues the story of God’s vast love for His people, ultimately rescuing them from their bondage in Egypt and bringing them to their new home, Jerusalem.
It’s a huge, action-packed book that underscores God’s fierce and redeeming love for an often ungrateful and unworthy people, and it is filled with a number of encouraging lessons that are relevant to all of us today.
Here, then, are 21 encouraging lessons from the book of Exodus.
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Facts about the Book of Exodus
Exodus starts just after Joseph’s traitorous-but-forgiven brothers have joined him in Egypt because of a great famine that had overtaken the land. Joseph was one of 12 sons of Jacob, who was the son of Isaac and grandson of Abraham. He had been sold into slavery by jealous brothers and thought by their father to be killed by lions. But God had his hand on Joseph, and he rose from slave to second-in-command, directly under Pharaoh. He ended up welcoming his family to Egypt, thus ensuring the survival of the 12 tribes of Israel.
When Exodus begins, it is many years after this. Joseph and his brothers have long since died, and God’s people are living in Egypt as slaves.
The book details the rise of Moses as God’s commissioned prophet-deliverer, the Israelites’ departure from Egypt, their survival and challenges in the desert, God’s communication of laws and commandments to the people through Moses, and the establishment of a covenant, even amid the rebellion and disobedience of the people. But throughout all this, we find much wisdom — and good news.
1. Everyday Acts of Courage Are Important
At the time Exodus begins, the Israelite population has grown so large that Pharaoh ordered the midwives to kill all male Hebrew babies at birth. But the Bible tells us the midwives “feared God and did not do what the king of Egypt had told them to do; they let the boys live,” telling Pharaoh the Israelite women are “vigorous” and give birth before they even arrive (Exodus 1:17, 19). God is pleased with the midwives’ courageous act of mercy and rewards them, increasing the population generally and blessing the midwives with families of their own.
2. Sacrifices Can Net Huge Gains
When Pharaoh then orders all boy babies to be drowned in the Nile River, Moses’s mother also displays courage — and sacrifice. Instead of following the rules, she hid her infant for three months, then placed him in a basket in the reeds of the Nile (Exodus 2:3). There, the baby was found by Pharaoh's daughter. We can imagine Moses’ mother wanted to keep her son for herself, but she sacrificed her own wants to give him a chance at life. Her act played a part in the redemption and rescue of her people out of slavery.
3. God Shows His Mercy through the Kindness of Others
God’s love is on display through the mercy shown by our fellow humans, and we see this in the tender heart of Pharaoh’s daughter, who found the baby and immediately understood he was one of the condemned Hebrews. Filled with compassion, the princess decided to adopt him instead of leaving him to die (Exodus 2:10). Her choice — of love and care — saved a life, and a people.
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4. God Can Use Broken People Who Have Done Bad Things
We’re never too far gone for God to use us. When Moses grew up, he became angry at the cruel way the Egyptians treated the Hebrew people. He killed an Egyptian soldier, then fled into hiding (Exodus 2:12, 15). Scorned and on the run, he sought refuge in the desert for 40 years. Yet God used Moses in spite of his sin. When the time came for God to rescue his people, he chose Moses as his servant to lead the people out of Egypt.
5. God Hears Us in Our Tough Times
Imagine how forgotten and unworthy the Israelites must have felt, doing backbreaking labor under cruel oppressors day after day. But they weren’t forgotten. We don’t know why they needed to endure this suffering for so long, but their suffering was not forever.
After a time, the Bible tells us, “The Israelites groaned in their slavery and cried out, and their cry for help because of their slavery went up to God. God heard their groaning” (Exodus 2:23-24).
We can be encouraged that when we cry to God, God does indeed hear us.
6. God Keeps His Promises
God also keeps His promises. For not only did He hear the Israelites’ cry for help, but Exodus tells us, “He remembered his covenant with Abraham, with Isaac and with Jacob” (Exodus 2:24). He remembered His promise, grew concerned about His people, and sent help.
7. God Can Use Us in Spite of Our Weaknesses
God is, of course, God Almighty, the Great I Am, the Creator of the Universe who can truly do all things. Yet we often seem surprised when God chooses to use people who are broken or weak. We see this in Moses, who was certainly surprised when God appeared to him in the form of a burning bush and called him into service to bring the Hebrew people out of Egypt.
Moses asked God, “Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh and bring the Israelites out of Egypt?” (Exodus 3:11). Moses challenged God’s selection of him, coming up with countless excuses as to why he wasn’t a good choice for leadership. But God shrugged all those excuses off — after all, God can do anything, even with and through a seemingly defective human being.
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8. God’s Mighty Acts Show He Is the One True God and Lord of All Creation
And when it came time to display His power, God showed up in a big way. Moses began the difficult task of convincing Pharaoh to let the Hebrew people leave, but God hardened Pharaoh's heart intentionally, for He wanted to show the Egyptians and the Israelites what a mighty God He is. He sent plague after plague, of blood, frogs, gnats, flies, livestock, boils, hail, locusts, and darkness, and finally the worst of them all — the plague on the firstborn. All firstborn males throughout Egypt died except the Israelites’, who were spared. At this, Pharaoh finally had enough and capitulated, letting God’s people leave Egypt (Exodus 12:31-32). This all showed God’s glory and grandeur.
9. Sometimes a Wait or a Detour Means a Better Way to Display God’s Plan and Power
It probably would have been easier for the Israelites if God had brought them out of Egypt and directly across the desert to the Promised Land, but instead, God took them on a winding, overly long, and seemingly complicated route that ultimately lasted 40 years. Not only did the detour teach the Israelites valuable lessons, but it also provided many, many opportunities for God to display His power and glory.
At times we grow frustrated with how long things take in life. We want something and beg God to grant it, but He says “wait.” Yet when it finally comes to fruition, we see why the wait was important, for we grew and evolved through the process.
Trusting God’s plan is important. He knows what He is doing.
10. God Is More Powerful Than a Massive Sea
In case we didn’t know the power and awesomeness of God before, we get another example in Exodus 14. After the Israelites fled Egypt, the ever-fickle Pharaoh changed his mind once again and sent his army after them. So God worked another great miracle, parting the Red (or Reed) Sea to allow the Israelites to pass through. The Egyptian army followed them, but once the Israelites were safely across, God released the floodwaters, completely destroying the Egyptian army (Exodus 14:28). In case we forgot, or the previous examples weren’t powerful enough, take note: We serve a mighty, mighty God, a God infinitely more powerful than a massive sea.
11. God Takes Care of Our Needs
For such a big and mighty God, it might be surprising to some that He also cares about the little everyday needs, the basics such as food and water. The people grew hungry, so God sent manna (bread) each morning and quail each evening for the people to eat (Exodus 16). Later, when there was no water, he brought water from a rock for the people (Exodus 17:6-7). And still later, when conquering people approached them, God protected them (Exodus 17:13). It is encouraging to see God care for us in big things and small.
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12. God Provides Rules and a Structure So We Can Succeed as His People
God wants us to succeed as His people, and He loves us. So He takes the time to tell us exactly how we can live right by Him.
One key lesson in Exodus is that He provided the Ten Commandments, plus a host of other laws, consequences, and instructions for living, so His people could have an organized and clear structure and plan (Exodus 20-24). He spelled out exactly what they should and shouldn’t do to please or displease Him, both for His glory and for the people’s contentment.
13. Rest, Care, and Amicable Relationships Are Good for Us
Within those commandments and laws, we see God is also telling us what is good for us. He knows we were designed to live in a right and strong relationship with Him, but He also knows we need certain things to be our best.
Taking the time to rest from our labor and celebrate God is good for our bodies, minds, and souls, so we have laws about keeping the Sabbath, both in the Ten Commandments (Exodus 20) and in the other laws He provided about the Sabbath (Exodus 23:10-12). Taking care of our parents and elders is also good for us, both for providing wisdom, love, and care, but also for a well-rounded society. As God noted in the Ten Commandments, we are to honor our mother and father so that “you may live long in the land the Lord your God is giving you” (Exodus 20:12). And looking closely at the rest of the commandments and laws, we see God’s plan for an amicable and just society that doesn’t harm one another, whether by stealing, killing, coveting, or some other manner.
14. All People Have Worth
Another thing we learn from the book of Exodus is that all people have worth, regardless of their social status. That is, their identity in God and their soul are the important things — not whether they are slave or free, servant or king, wealthy or poor, healthy or sick, man or woman. God heard the Israelites crying out for help during their oppression as Egyptian slaves, and He came to their rescue, indicating that to God, slaves have worth, too (Exodus 2:24-25).
Later, when God gave Moses the commandments and laws on Mount Sinai, He also made provisions for servants, enabling them to gain freedom, have a family, and more (Exodus 21:2-11).
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15. God Cares about Justice and Mercy
In the same vein, we can see through the book of Exodus that God wants His people to get along, care for each other, and treat others with kindness and respect. Throughout Exodus 21, 22, and 23, God sets forth a number of rules for how people should get along and not simply do whatever they wish to others without consequence.
For example: people should not attack their parents, deliberately scheme to kill another human, kidnap someone, etc., or they will be put to death (Exodus 21:14-16). If a man seduces a virgin, he must marry her (Exodus 22:16). People should not oppress foreigners, for they were foreigners once, too (Exodus 22:21 and 23:9). They shouldn’t accept bribes (Exodus 23:8). All of these laws are to uphold a spirit of goodness, justice, mercy, and righteousness in the land, and it is encouraging, for we serve a good and righteous God who wants His world and His people to be good and righteous as well.
16. God Wants Us to Have Fun and Celebrate
But it’s not all serious — God also clearly enjoys celebration. In Exodus 23, God also specifies three annual festivals the people are to have in His honor, with sacrifices and probably music, dancing, and a spirit of joy and happiness throughout the community (Exodus 23:14-19). We see this in other places throughout Scripture too, how God clearly enjoys commemorating special events, miracles, or covenants. He spends a long time in Exodus 12 telling Moses exactly how the people should handle marking the Passover and Feast of Unleavened Bread.
Festivals are good ways to come together as a community in corporate worship and remember how important something is, often fostering a sense of tradition and history that emphasizes the specialness of the occasion. With an elaborate festival, people wouldn’t likely forget the importance of the Passover, and having fun and celebrating these made people look forward to the events on a spiritual, physical, and emotional level.
17. God Protects Us by Sending Helpers
We know God is always with us ,and as Christians, we know that Jesus sent His advocate, the Holy Spirit, to live in our hearts and guide us until His return. In the Old Testament, God also sent helpers to guide the people. Sometimes these were prophet-leaders, such as Abraham or Moses, who led the people in His ways. Other times, God sent an angel to prepare the way. For instance, in Exodus 23, God told Moses He was sending an angel to lead them to the place He prepared for them (Exodus 23:20-23).
Other times, God sent guides and help in different ways, such as in Exodus 40, when He sent a cloud to indicate when the Israelites should stop or go. As the Bible explains, “In all the travels of the Israelites, whenever the cloud lifted from above the tabernacle, they would set out; but if the cloud did not lift, they did not set out — until the day it lifted. So the cloud of the Lord was over the tabernacle by day, and fire was in the cloud by night, in the sight of all the Israelites during all their travels” (Exodus 40:36-38). In this way, they could be certain they were following God’s guidance well.
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18. Symbols Also Remind Us of God’s Everlasting Presence
God knows His people’s inclination to want tangible symbols of faith — for instance, wooden idols or even the golden calf. So when He made the covenant with Moses, God also gave Moses detailed plans for the Tabernacle and the Ark of the Covenant, which would be a tangible and visible reminder that God was with them.
God specified certain directives that must be carried out perfectly, for they served to remind the people that God is, was, and always will be. While He hadn’t yet sent His son Jesus to serve as Emmanuel — meaning “God with us” — in a sense, the tabernacle, the ark, and even the oil lamps lit painstakingly night after night and cared for (Exodus 27:20-21) were a powerful reminder to the Israelites of God’s presence.
19. God Seeks a Relationship with Us
God shared a special relationship with Moses, speaking to Moses directly, “face to face, as one speaks to a friend” (Exodus 33:11). The encounter transformed Moses, for his face became radiant after his time with the Lord. Back then, Moses was the go-between, standing between God and the people.
But we know that God desires a personal and intimate relationship with each one of us just as He had with Moses. That is why He sent His son, Jesus, to pay our sin-debt and pave the way to Him. Merely following rules couldn’t help us achieve this — only through Jesus can we come close to our Lord in this way.
From Exodus, in the example of Moses and God, we can see the beauty of a relationship with God, our Father, and be encouraged.
20. God Is Merciful
One of the more difficult aspects of Exodus is reflecting on the actions of the people. Not only did God rescue them from slavery, but God also provided all their needs. But over and over, the people rebelled and complained, showing lack of faith and respect toward God. In fact, while Moses was dialoging with God and receiving those laws and commandments, the people lost faith because Moses took too long. They began worshipping a golden calf (Exodus 32).
God grew angry and threatened to abandon the people. But Moses begged God to forgive them — and perhaps surprisingly, God did, providing two new stone tablets (Exodus 34).
Even when they did wrong, God didn’t destroy the people entirely. He punished them, often destroying large numbers or entire families, but He always left a remnant from each tribe to carry on, both fulfilling His promise to Abraham and indicating His great mercy.
21. We All Can Contribute
In the New Testament, Paul took time to reflect on the various spiritual gifts each of us have, from knowledge to healing (1 Corinthians 12:7-11). He further compared the church to the body of Christ, noting Jesus was the head and the people with their varying gifts were the different body parts, whether a mouth or an arm or a leg (v. 12-30).
Exodus shows this, too, indicating how all people can contribute to God’s community on earth. In His directions for the Tabernacle in Exodus 35-36 and beyond, He incorporated various skills and artistry, from sewing and weaving, to keeping oil lamps lighted, to sacrificial aromas, to metalwork or woodwork.
This shows all people can contribute in some way to God’s kingdom — on earth as well as in heaven.
There are so many valuable lessons we can glean from Exodus; these are just a few. Let’s pray together:
Holy Lord, thank You for the encouragement and example of faith and mercy You provide for us through the Book of Exodus. Help us strive to grow close to You in Christ and heed Your commands and laws, knowing that even when we fall short, You love us still. Help us keep trying and keep turning to You now and forever. In Your holy name we pray, Amen.
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Jessica Brodie is an award-winning Christian novelist, journalist, editor, blogger, and writing coach and the recipient of the 2018 American Christian Fiction Writers Genesis Award for her novel, The Memory Garden. She is also the editor of the South Carolina United Methodist Advocate, the oldest newspaper in Methodism. Her newest release is an Advent daily devotional for those seeking true closeness with God, which you can find at https://www.jessicabrodie.