I. Preparing Israel’s Deliverer (Exodus 1:1–4:31)


I. Preparing Israel’s Deliverer (1:1–4:31)

1:1-7 Jacob (also called Israel), his sons, and all of their families had come to dwell in Egypt to escape the famine that had spread as far away as Canaan. This fruitful clan of seventy Israelites multiplied . . . so that the land was filled with them (1:5-7). By the time of the exodus, the people of Israel consisted of “six hundred thousand able-bodied men . . . besides their families” (12:37). God was fulfilling his kingdom promise to Abraham to give him numerous descendants (see Gen 13:16). The people of Israel were becoming the nation God had promised.

1:8-10 After Joseph and all of his brothers died, a new king ascended to the throne in Egypt. This pharaoh did not know about Joseph and had no appreciation for his achievements on behalf of Egypt (1:8). As he saw the Israelite people multiplying all around him, he became alarmed, fearing that they might align with Egypt’s enemies in a time of war (1:9-10).

1:11 Pharaoh decided to exploit the Israelites for their economic potential. He assigned taskmasters over them and oppressed them with forced labor. Importantly, years before this, God had told Abraham that one day his offspring would be enslaved by another nation for four hundred years (see Gen 15:13-14). It had finally come to pass: the people of Israel were now slaves. But God had also promised that he would judge the nation that mistreated them and that Abraham’s descendants would plunder their oppressors. How that would happen would soon unfold.

1:12-14 As it turned out, the more [Egypt] oppressed [the Israelites], the more they multiplied (1:12). In spite of Pharaoh’s ill-treatment, their numbers only continued to rise. This tells us that in the midst of their suffering, God was blessing them. Yet the Egyptians came to dread them, and Pharaoh treated them ruthlessly (1:12-14).

1:15-17 Pharaoh decided to use an even more wicked method of population control. He told the Hebrew midwives to kill any son that the Hebrew women delivered (1:15-16). But the midwives refused to obey the king of Egypt. Why? They feared God (1:17). Though Pharaoh had the power to execute them, these defenseless women knew God held ultimate power, and they acted on that knowledge.

1:18-21 When the king demanded an explanation for their disobedience to his command, the midwives lied, saying that they routinely arrived at the births too late (1:18-19). They decided to lie to this wicked king—who didn’t deserve the truth—in order to prevent the murder of innocent children made in God’s image. For their actions, God was good to the midwives and gave them families (1:20-21). And the Israelites multiplied even more (1:20). The principle here is that when God’s people are faced with only two sinful options (in this case, lying and murder), we are to choose that which brings God the greater glory.

1:22 Being foiled in his second attempt to control the Israelites’ numbers was the last straw for Pharaoh. He commanded all his people to throw every son born to the Hebrews into the Nile. With this decree, the stage was set for the rise of Moses. God had blessed his people, which led to a problem, which led to more blessing, which led to worse problems, which led to preparation for God’s ultimate deliverance. This is a reminder that many times God will allow blessings in our lives that will actually lead to some suffering, which will in turn lead to even greater blessings for his kingdom purposes. We, however, must patiently wait for him to work things out.

2:1-4 A woman from the family of Levi had a son. She saw that he was beautiful and hid him for three months, trusting God over the power of Pharaoh’s edict (2:1-2; see Heb 11:23). When she could hide him no longer, the woman placed her son in a basket in the Nile River. She hoped that, in the providence of God, this body of water in which the babies were being drowned would serve as a means of deliverance for her child (2:3). And the baby boy’s sister Miriam watched to see what God would do (2:4).

2:5-9 When Pharaoh’s daughter arrived to bathe in the river, she found the basket with the Hebrew baby inside and felt sorry for him (2:5-6). (God had intervened on behalf of his people.) The boy’s sister then offered to find a Hebrew mother to nurse the boy, and Pharaoh’s daughter agreed (2:7-8). One moment the baby was under the threat of death, the next moment his mother was being paid by Pharaoh’s daughter to raise him (2:9). This is the sovereignty of God at work.

God, I find, demonstrates amazing providential care when people operate according to his kingdom agenda. In the remarkable provision of the Lord, all of these women—the midwives, the mother, the sister, and even Pharaoh’s daughter—were used by God to cover and care for a child whom God would use to bring about his kingdom purposes.

2:10 When the boy grew older, the mother brought him to Pharaoh’s daughter, and he became her son. Then she named him Moses. An Israelite child who was supposed to have been executed under royal orders was now being raised in the royal household—“educated in all the wisdom of the Egyptians” (Acts 7:22). In divine irony, the future prophet of God who would bring plagues upon Egypt and lead slaves to freedom was being nurtured right under the enemy oppressor’s nose.

2:11-15 After Moses had grown up, he observed the oppression of his own people (2:11). At some point along the way, notwithstanding his advantages, Moses decided to identify with the Hebrews and help them. One day, when he noticed an Egyptian beating a Hebrew, Moses killed the Egyptian and hid his body (2:11-12). But the next day, when he tried to break up a fight between two Hebrews, one asked, Who made you a . . . judge over us? (2:13-14). They rejected Moses’s attempts at peacemaking and deliverance. “He assumed his people would understand that God would give them deliverance through him, but they did not” (Acts 7:25). Moses had miscalculated.

Then the Hebrew asked Moses if he planned to kill him like he killed the Egyptian (2:14). And Moses became afraid when he realized that his actions had become known. When Pharaoh finally caught wind of things, he tried to kill Moses (2:14-15), and that did it. Moses had to run for his life, fleeing to Midian (2:15), which was in modern Saudi Arabia on the east side of the Gulf of Aqaba.

Moses’s life story could now be summed up in two words: murder and rejection. He went from a privileged upbringing to going on the lam. One moment he had Pharaoh for a step-granddad; the next moment he was being hunted like a fox. Moses was well-intentioned in trying to help his native people, but impulsive. This is a reminder that we shouldn’t attempt to do the right things in the wrong way. Moses needed not just secular training and not just the stories about his ancestors that he’d likely heard. The man needed God’s perspective on his situation. Eventually, in God’s timing, he would get it.

2:16-22 In Midian, Moses came to the defense of the daughters of the priest there (2:16-17), who is called by several names in Scripture: Reuel (2:18), Jethro (3:1), and Hobab (Judg 4:11). As a result of Moses’s kindness, this father invited him to dinner and eventually gave him his daughter Zipporah as a wife (2:18-21). She bore Moses a son whom he named Gershom, and Moses became a shepherd in Midian (2:22). Talk about downsizing! Moses had gone from living as Pharaoh’s protégé to working as a desert herdsman. But in reality God was supernaturally working behind the scenes to prepare the deliverer of his people. Sometimes, to accomplish his purposes through you, God has to take you low before he will take you high.

What’s true in basketball is also true in life. Unfortunately, life has its missed shots. The crucial question is: will you rebound so that you can shoot again? The key to spiritual victory is spiritual resiliency.

2:23 After many years, the king of Egypt died. But things didn’t improve for the Israelites. Their labor was so difficult that they groaned to God. They were desperate. Note the connection here: their bitter bondage forced them to cry out. Sometimes this is just the kind of thing it takes to get us to call on God. Some Christians ask why God is allowing them to go through such difficult circumstances. The answer might be this: because it forces you to turn your focus upward and to take God seriously.

2:24-25 God heard . . . and God remembered his covenant with Abraham, with Isaac, and with Jacob (2:24). The God of heaven and earth listened to his people’s cries. He paid attention. Why? The answer hinges on one word: covenant. The Lord had made an agreement with Abraham to make his descendants a mighty nation and to give them a mighty land (see Gen 12:3). This agreement is what God promised to fulfill. Now the cry of the Israelites connected with God’s word of promise. And even while they were crying out, God was preparing a deliverer.

3:1 By this time, Moses was an eighty-year-old man (see Acts 7:23, 30), working for his father-in-law. He likely had come to accept this as his lot in life. But things changed dramatically when he came to Horeb, the mountain of God, which is another name for Mount Sinai (see Exod 3:12; 19:20; Deut 1:19)—the place where God would soon enter into a covenant with the nation of Israel.

3:2-3 After forty years of dealing with the consequences of his actions, Moses was about to have a fresh encounter with God. Then the angel of the Lord appeared to him in a flame of fire . . . . [A] bush was on fire but was not consumed (3:2). Clearly, that’s not normal. But that shouldn’t be surprising, for the Lord says, “My thoughts are not your thoughts, and your ways are not my ways” (Isa 55:8). Moses’s ordinary day was about to be invaded by God’s extraordinary plan. Moses saw the bush and decided to investigate (3:3). God often reveals his special presence in the contradictions of life.

3:4-5 When Moses responded to what God was doing, God spoke (3:4). Once Moses was listening, God began with a command: Remove the sandals from your feet, for the place where you are standing is holy (3:5). Moses was standing on about a quarter of an inch of sandal sole. But in the presence of a holy God, that’s too much. He needed to humble himself. He also needed to be reminded of where he came from. Man was made “out of the dust from the ground” (Gen 2:7). By removing his sandals, then, Moses meekly identified with his humble beginnings.

3:6-10 When he realized who was speaking to him, Moses hid his face because he was afraid to look at God (3:6). In other words, he took God seriously. At that point, the Lord told Moses that he had seen the misery of [his] people in Egypt. He was not unaware of their sufferings but had heard their cries (3:7, 9). Therefore, he said, I have come down to rescue them (3:8). But God doesn’t merely determine the ends, he also determines the means. He was ready to rescue his people, and he now explained to Moses how he would: I am sending you to Pharaoh so that you may lead my people, the Israelites, out (3:10).

Moses may have thought that his life was nearly over as he passed time with the sheep as an octogenarian. But the Lord was still preparing him. He gave Moses forty years of uptown training in Egypt, followed by forty years of downtown training in the wilderness. That’s what was necessary to get this shepherd ready to lead the sheep of Israel out of Egypt and into the promised land. Of course, Moses’s sojourn in the wilderness was the consequence of his murder of an Egyptian too (2:11-15). But God can bring a miracle out of a mess.

3:11-12 By the time God singled out Moses to lead his people out of Egypt, gone was the bold and brash man who murdered an Egyptian and expected his fellow Hebrews to look up to him. Instead of jumping at the chance to deliver Israel, he asked God, Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh and that I should bring the Israelites out of Egypt? (3:11). Moses had been humbled. And notice how the Lord responded: I will certainly be with you (3:12). God did not tell Moses, “Cheer up and believe in yourself.” Instead he promised him his divine presence. Moses’s greatest need (and ours too) was not self-confidence; he needed God-confidence.

Here, too, God revealed his purpose in setting his people free: When you bring the people out of Egypt, you will all worship [me] at this mountain (3:12). In other words, God wasn’t freeing the Israelites so they could sit around and be lazy. He was freeing them so that they could do what they had been created for: he wanted them to worship him as the one true God. Whenever God delivers you from something, he also delivers you to something—himself.

3:13 But how was Moses going to convince Israel of this? If he showed up and said he was supposed to be their deliverer, they would want to know who signed off on his job description. On whose authority was Moses operating? What is his name?

3:14-15 To this God responded: I AM WHO I AM. . . . Say to the Israelites: I AM has sent me to you. . . . The Lord, the God of your fathers . . . has sent me to you (3:14-15). “I AM” is the English translation of the first-person singular Hebrew verb meaning “to be.” It could also be rendered, “I WILL BE WHAT I WILL BE” or “I CAUSE TO BE WHAT I CAUSE TO BE.” By describing himself this way, God was affirming his self-existence and self-sufficiency. He depends on nothing and no one. He is the Creator and Sustainer of all.

The name “Lord” is related etymologically to this Hebrew verb. Instead of the first-person singular form (“I AM”), “Lord” represents the third-person singular form (thus, “HE IS”). In Hebrew, it is represented by four consonants without any vowels: YHWH. We don’t know for certain how this was pronounced because the Jews feared pronouncing the sacred name, but it may have been said this way: “Yahweh.”

Later Hebrew scribes added vowels guiding readers to say the Hebrew word adonai (that is, “Lord”) whenever they saw the word YHWH, which led early translators to write it “Jehovah.” When the ancient Greek translation of the Old Testament (that is, the Septuagint) translated the divine name YHWH, it rendered it with the Greek word kurios, “Lord.” This influenced the New Testament authors to do the same and influenced subsequent generations of Christians (as well as Bible translators) to render the divine name in the Old Testament as “Lord.”

Many people claim to believe in a generic “God.” But Moses was to tell the Israelites that he had been sent by the one true God—“the Lord,” the God of their fathers. He alone is “the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob,” and he is the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. He is the personal, all-powerful God who is responsible for all that exists, and he sovereignly directs all things to accomplish his kingdom purposes. Though the world is ever-changing, HE IS. If Moses needed assurance about following and obeying the One who was sending him, he got exactly what he needed.

3:16-18 Moses was to tell the Israelites that their God, the Lord, was intimately aware of their plight in Egypt and had come to deliver them to a land flowing with milk and honey (3:16-17). God promised that they would listen to his words. Then Moses was to stand before the king of Egypt and tell him to let the people go into the wilderness to worship the Lord (3:18).

3:19-22 But God made it clear that Pharaoh would not consent to this (3:19). So God would respond with miraculous displays of divine power to compel the king to release Israel (3:20). The Lord would also see to it that the Israelites didn’t leave Egypt empty-handed (3:21). In fact, after all the suffering linked to the coming plagues, the Egyptians would gladly give Israel riches just to get rid of them. As a result, the Israelites would plunder the Egyptians (3:22). In a sense, they would receive the back wages they deserved.

Thus, Moses and the Israelites were to act in faith, trusting that the self-sufficient God who had revealed himself to them would be everything they could ever need. He is all we need too.

4:1-9 Moses was still nervous. He asked, What if they won’t believe me? (4:1). Therefore, the Lord literally filled his hands with reason for confidence. When he told Moses to throw his shepherd’s staff on the ground, it miraculously became a snake (4:2-3). When he picked it up, it turned into a staff again (4:4). The Lord assured his servant that, with the aid of such miracles, the people of Israel would believe that the God of Abraham . . . Isaac, and . . . Jacob had appeared to him (4:5). If the Israelites failed to believe this sign, God would use additional supernatural signs to convince them (4:6-9).

4:10 This still wasn’t good enough for Moses. He said, Please, Lord, I have never been eloquent . . . because my mouth and my tongue are sluggish. Whether Moses had a speech impediment, was a poor public speaker, or simply didn’t want to go, he argued, “Lord, you need someone else to be your mouthpiece!”

4:11 God’s response to Moses is for all those who come up with excuses for why they are unable to obey the Lord’s will: Who placed a mouth on humans? Who makes a person mute or deaf, seeing or blind? Is it not I, the Lord? When God commanded Moses to speak to Pharaoh on his behalf, God was not unaware of Moses’s weaknesses. Similarly, when he calls you to kingdom service, he knows about your fears and your shortcomings.

This, in fact, is a reminder that God didn’t choose you to serve him because he desperately needed your qualities on his team. He chose you so that you could reflect his glory to the world. Paul told the Corinthians, “Consider your calling: Not many were wise from a human perspective, not many powerful. . . . Instead, God has chosen what is foolish in the world to shame the wise, and God has chosen what is weak in the world to shame the strong . . . so that no one may boast in his presence” (1 Cor 1:26-29).

4:12 Moses’s lack of eloquence was inconsequential to the Lord. He didn’t care about Moses’s resume. God had the man he wanted. Go! I will help you speak and I will teach you what to say, he said. Ultimately, the exodus of God’s people from Egypt wouldn’t depend on Moses but on God. If God promises to inject his heavenly presence into your earthly reality, that’s all you need.

4:13-17 All of the excuses Moses offered for why he shouldn’t be the deliverer led to this final outburst: Please, Lord, send someone else (4:13). That’s when the Lord’s anger burned (4:14). The truth was out: Moses simply didn’t want to go. But God wasn’t taking “No” for an answer. He said that Moses’s brother Aaron would do the actual talking. God would speak to Moses, Moses would speak to Aaron, and Aaron would convey the message to Pharaoh (4:14-16). It was time for Moses to take courage, trust God, and start walking. Though he initially fought it, he was destined to be God’s kingdom man.

4:18-20 The Lord informed Moses that those who had wanted to kill him were dead (4:19). The previous Pharaoh had been succeeded by his son. So Moses gathered his wife and sons and began the journey to Egypt (4:20).

4:21 The Lord instructed Moses to perform the miracles he had given him power to accomplish, yet God would harden Pharaoh’s heart so that he wouldn’t let the people go. Note, however, that God didn’t harden Pharaoh’s heart until Pharaoh first hardened himself. When Pharaoh repeatedly refused to listen (7:22; 8:15, 32) God told him, in a sense, “Have it your way.” He only hardened his heart further (9:12) in order to use Pharaoh’s rebellion for his greater glory and to achieve his kingdom purpose.

4:22-23 Moses was to tell Pharaoh that the Lord said, Israel is my firstborn son (4:22). In other words, the ethnic group that the king was abusing wasn’t just some random group; Creator God saw them as his son, making himself their Father. Moreover, Israel was his firstborn son. The firstborn held a position of honor and privilege in the ancient Near East. Pharaoh had enslaved those to whom God demanded that he show respect. If the king of Egypt refused to honor God’s firstborn son, he would pay a high price for his rebellion: his own firstborn son (4:23).

4:24-26 Suddenly, out of the blue, this happened: The Lord confronted [Moses] and intended to put him to death (4:24). Why was God ready to execute the one whom he had chosen to deliver his people? Moses’s wife’s actions (4:25), which at first glance seem rather bizarre, provide the answer.

As a descendent of Abraham (see Gen 17:1-27), Moses was to circumcise his son. He, however, had failed to lead his family and demonstrate his commitment to God’s covenant. Moses was to serve as God’s representative to lead God’s firstborn son—that is, the Israelites—to worship him, but he hadn’t even fulfilled his basic obligation toward his own firstborn. Fathers, the Lord calls us to lead our families in following Christ (see Eph 6:4). Wives are to help, but God has laid the responsibility at our feet.

Since Moses had been negligent in his covenant commitment, Zipporah circumcised their son and deflected God’s judgment (4:25-26)—thus, saving her husband’s life. This suggests that many a life is saved as godly mothers obey the Lord when their husbands fail to do so. Though wives are called to submit to their husbands, this submission is limited. A women’s highest commitment is to God, not her husband. Wives, should these two commitments conflict, you are to serve the Lord.

4:27-31 Moses had a happy reunion with his brother Aaron and told him all that the Lord had commanded him to do (4:27-28). They gathered the elders of the Israelites, explained everything, and performed the signs (4:29-30). Then, the people believed (4:31), just as God had promised (3:18). Once the descendants of Israel knew God’s mercy on their misery, they worshiped (4:31). News of God’s deliverance should always lead his people to praise.