I. Preparing Israel’s Deliverer (Exodus 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.

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.

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