The opening verses of Exodus connect the book directly to Genesis, which ended with the death of Joseph around 1805 bc. The first half of the book focuses on Israel’s departure from Egypt: the historical setting (1:1-2:25); Moses’s leadership (3:1-6:30); miraculous signs and judgment (7:1-15:21); and Israel’s journey (15:22-18:27). The second half covers the events at Mount Sinai: the Ten Words and the laws (19:1-23:19); instructions for entering the land (23:20-33); the confirmation of the covenant (24:1-18); instructions for, and later the execution of, building the tabernacle (25:1-31:18; 35:1-40:38); and the breach of the covenant, Moses’ intercession, and the renewal of the covenant (32:1-34:35).
Of course, Jesus transcends Moses. Jesus is without sin, and Jesus is fully God. Thus, it should not surprise us when we see Moses fail for all the mediators in the Old Testament failed at some level. But Jesus did not.
As the Story continues, we find that when Moses “had grown up,” he witnessed the brutal assault on one of his people, the Hebrews. Luke told us that this was when Moses was 40 years old (Acts 7:23). Seeing this, “he struck the Egyptian dead” (Exod 2:12). While some may say that Moses had the right to kill him as a son of Pharaoh, his own conscience reveals to us that he knew it was wrong for before he acted, he looked around, and after he acted, he “hid [the Egyptian] in the sand.” This act reveals that Moses still had a lot to learn before he would be ready to lead the Israelites out of Egypt.
It was not only wrong for Moses to kill the man, but it was wrong for him to attempt to begin leading the people out of Egypt without God’s instruction. In Acts 7:25 Stephen tells us that Moses assumed that “his brothers would understand that God would give them deliverance through him, but they did not understand.” This attempt led to the rejection of his leadership (Exod 2:13-14). Moses should have waited for God’s instructions.
On a more positive note, Moses’ act revealed that he desired to be associated with the people of God rather than the Egyptians. Hebrews 11:23-26 says this:
Ryken notes that the same word used to describe the exodus event is used here to tell of Moses’ going “out to his own people” (v. 11).15 Essentially, “before Israel could go out of Egypt, Moses needed to go out of Egypt, emotionally if not yet physically” (Ryken, Exodus, 60).
Moses became an outlaw on the run! As he fled, he ended up in Midian (v. 15). The Midianites’ name came from the fourth son of Abraham by his second wife, Keturah (Gen 25:2). Some of the teachings of Abraham possibly continued with the Midianites. Josephus tells us that the Midianites lived around the Gulf of Aqabah, which is at the north end of the Red Sea, about 120 miles south-southwest of the Dead Sea in the wilderness.
While Moses was at a well in Midian, the daughters of the priest of Midian came to get water. During their visit, some shepherds came and “drove them away” (v. 17). Moses acted to combat this injustice. But this time he did not kill anyone. Instead, he acted only to drive them away—a contrast to the previous episode in Egypt. We begin to see Moses act as a righteous deliverer. He not only rescued them but also “watered their flock” (v. 17). Moses began displaying servant leadership. This act of service got him rewarded with not only bread but also with marriage! So Moses married Zipporah and had a son, Gershom.
The book of Acts explains that Moses spent 40 years in Midian. Someone said, “Moses was 40 years in Egypt learning something; 40 years in the desert learning to be nothing; and 40 years in the wilderness proving God to be everything” (in James Boyce, Ordinary Men, 59). Think about that. He spent two years of preparation for every one year of ministry. By living in the wilderness, he learned to rely on God. By having a family, he learned to lead, guide, and discipline those he loved. By working with the Midianites, most likely as a shepherd, he developed skills to help him lead the Israelites out of their enslavement.1
Of course, I do not want to imply that God selected Moses because he was so gifted and talented (see the next two chapters!). Moses depended on God’s power and grace for victory. But these experiences in the wilderness did have a shaping effect on his life. Remember, God wastes nothing. He often prepares us for the next chapter of life with the present chapter’s experiences.
Verse 23 begins with an important fact: “the king of Egypt died.” This meant Moses could return to Egypt as a prophet and not as a fugitive (see 4:19). Despite the change in government, the slavery remained severe. We read, “their cry for help ascended to God.” Picture the intense grief, distress, and agony here in these cries (cf. Ps 130:1-2; Lam 2:18; Rom 8:26). The verbs in this section show us God’s motive for acting on their behalf.
First, consider God’s knowledge of the oppressed. When the people cried out, He heard their cry. Not only did He hear it, He also saw or looked at their oppression, and He took notice, meaning He knew or was concerned (vv. 24-25). God heard. God saw. God knew. God’s ability to see and to hear appears throughout Scripture. Think of Psalm 34:15: “The eyes of the Lord are on the righteous, and His ears are open to their cry for help.” God’s exhaustive knowledge or omniscience also appears often in Scripture. When the Scripture says that God “knew,” it means that He knew all about them. God was intimately aware of their agony. And because God knows, He acts.
Second, “He remembered His covenant with Abraham” (v. 24). God’s covenantal memory gets underlined here. God remembers His unbreakable promise of salvation. To “remember” something means to bring it to the front burner and act on it. The term “covenant” appears for the first time in Exodus here. It appears 25 times in Genesis. The best definition of “covenant” may be in The Jesus Story Book Bible: “a never stopping, never giving up, unbreaking, always and forever love” (Sally Lloyd-Jones, Story Book, 36).
As mentioned above, Exodus and Genesis go together. In Genesis, God declared His intention to bless Israel and to fulfill His covenant to Abraham. Later in Exodus, Moses will appeal to God’s covenant as he intercedes for Israel (chs. 32-34). At the right time, God remembered His covenant to make a people from all nations and sent Jesus. If you belong to God through Jesus Christ, you belong to His eternal covenant, “his never stopping, never giving up, unbreaking, always and forever love.” These motives, as Wright suggests, perpetually motivate God throughout the Bible. God’s purpose of redemption and mission given to Abraham continues in Exodus. This same God continues on the same mission of reclaiming worshipers today.
I believe Wright points us in the right direction for applying Exodus when he says, “Exodus-shaped redemption demands exodus-shaped mission. And that means that our commitment to mission must demonstrate the same broad totality of concern for human need that God demonstrated in what he did for Israel.... [O]ur mission must be derived from God’s mission” (Mission, 275-76; emphasis in original). We mentioned under the first point that God would deliver His people from (1) social-politicaleconomic slavery and (2) spiritual slavery. I contend that we too must share these same concerns. We must respond to urgent physical and spiritual needs around the world.
As we think about applying the mission in Exodus, allow me to draw on some of the insights of Wright again. One should avoid having spiritualized application only in Exodus, meaning evangelism with no social action—that is, so emphasizing the spiritual freedom in Exodus that we neglect real physical needs. We cannot allow ourselves to miss the socialpolitical-economic dimension in Exodus. Do not forget, these were real people being enslaved by a real ruler, and they could not worship when they were lugging mud all day, seven days a week.
Today, millions of young girls are enslaved and are raped multiple times a day for profit to satisfy the cravings of wicked people. This reality is sickening and maddening, and it demands a response from God’s people.
While proclamation remains the most important task of the church, this does not mean that kingdom citizens should neglect practical acts of mercy and justice. Plus, in some cases people cannot hear our message until they are liberated from physical injustice. Let me ask you, can girls who are being sexually abused multiple times a day hear the good news? Tragically, they cannot. Should we not fight to free them (and other victims of injustice) so that they may hear our message?
I believe the impulse that drives people to go to unreached peoples to share the gospel is the same impulse that calls them to care for victims of injustice: love. Justice is love going public. If we really love people, we will tell them the gospel while we care for their physical needs. Further, often the darkest places of injustice are the same places that have little gospel witness. If we lovingly go to the dark places, we will have opportunity to bring freedom—both physical and spiritual freedom.
18Five issues help us remember to keep an emphasis on justice and mercy ministry here in Exodus.
First, Israel needed freedom not because of “their sin” but because of “Egypt’s sin.” To be clear, Israel was sinful—dreadfully sinful. But the exodus and the later exile of Israel have differences. God sent Israel into exile in Babylon because of their sin. “But there is no hint whatsoever that Israel’s suffering in Egypt was God’s judgment on sin” (Wright, Mission, 278). In Exodus an outside force oppressed them. Therefore, being delivered out of slavery to our sin is not exactly the same thing as Israel getting delivered from their slavery. We should make this application, but it is not the only application for us to make. The exodus shows God’s victory over outside powers of injustice, violence, and death. We cannot miss this.
Second, the New Testament does not replace the physical aspects of the exodus with the spiritual aspects of it. It extends the physical aspects and the spiritual aspects. The Greatest Command and the Great Commission encompasses both emphases—word and deed ministry.
Third, God has not changed. We should not make the mistake of thinking that God was concerned about real injustice then, but not now. Think of how many laws were given related to justice and how many Psalms speak of it. Remember that in His teaching, Jesus railed on the Pharisees who had their religious sacrifices but denied the “more important matters” of mercy and justice (Matt 23:23; cf. Matt 25:35-36; Jas 1:27). Further, the love and justice of God were on full display at the cross (Rom 3:21-26). The justice of God will also be magnified in the end of all things (Rev 20:11-15). God is just, and His people are to imitate Him.
Fourth, it is wrong to think that what God did for Israel is not what God wants or will do for other people. To think, “Yeah, God freed Israel from oppression, but that was Israel,” is to miss God’s purpose for choosing Israel in the first place: to be a blessing to the nations. And He chose them and acted on behalf of them so that people might know what He is like. While God did not free everyone in the Near East, this does not mean that He did not know about them or that He was not concerned about oppression elsewhere. God always opposes violent oppressors. For us, Israel stands as a model as to how God works in the world.
Further, the Old Testament shows that God acts for those who cry out under oppression. Psalm 33 goes from the “exodus” character of God to the universal claim of His love (v. 5) and on to the fact that all of human life is under His gaze (vv. 13-15). Psalm 145 says something similar: “His compassion rests on all He has made” (v. 9). Amazingly, in19 Isaiah 19 even Egypt itself is scheduled for a redemptive blessing: “When they cry out to the Lord because of their oppressors, He will send them a savior and leader, and he will rescue them.... Egypt will know the Lord on that day.... He will hear their prayers and heal them” (Isa 19:20-22). So Israel stands distinct, but God’s liberation of Israel is not limited to them. Instead, Israel serves as an example of God’s mercy and justice for all to see.
A final reason we should not miss the call to social action is that the midwives are honored for their act. They serve as examples for us to follow in protecting the weak and vulnerable. We need an army of people like these ladies to care for orphans, widows, the unborn, and victims of injustice.
The second mistake to avoid in applying Exodus is the view that is limited to the social-political-economic situation only, meaning social action with no evangelism—that is, being so focused on these social dimensions that the spiritual dimension gets lost. Some forms of liberation theology take this view. They are solely devoted to the issue of freeing those in oppression.2 This socialized approach is the opposite problem of the spiritualized approach. The socialized approach ignores the spiritual purpose of Exodus and disregards the New Testament connection of the exodus to the cross and the saving work of Jesus.
Remember, God wanted to free Israel that they might worship Him! As a royal priesthood, they were formed, like Adam (the garden priest), to worship God. A spiritual freedom was at the heart of their physical release. Israel’s deepest problem involved “Egypt inside of them”—a persistent tendency to return to their previous wretched condition. After Israel went free, they fell into sin in their hearts—idolatry—and got sent into exile. So, we should want to free people from physical oppression, but ultimately we should work to free them spiritually.
Therefore, we need an integrative model of mission. That is, a balanced, fully biblical, missional model. The integrative model takes into account the same broad totality of concern that God has for people. Let us do evangelism to see people saved from bondage to sin and death.20 Let us also care for the oppressed by fighting for justice for the physically enslaved and showing mercy to those in need.
To summarize, you could say that Christians should care about alleviating both types of human suffering: temporal suffering and eternal suffering—and especially eternal suffering!
Welcome to Exodus. May God help us to understand our redemption better, and may He help us to understand our mission better.