Exodus 1:1-7 - Behold, Your God!
January 5, 2014 Speaker: Series: Exodus
Topic: Sunday Worship Passage: Exodus 1:1–1:7
[Text: Exodus 1:1-7] “Behold, Your God!”
The Exodus. It’s the story of Israel’s release from slavery. For some it’s a source for cinematic works, like The Ten Commandments or the upcoming movie called (wait for it) Exodus. For others it’s the basis for a theology that sees political and civil freedom as the ultimate goal for oppressed people. For others the exodus (which means “the going out”) is simply the moment the nation of Israel was born; it was a powerful moment, but simply a moment in history past.
But for the people who experienced it (and for Christians today who have inherited the exodus as part of our own story) the exodus remains much more than a good story, much more than an example of political freedom, much more than just the birth of a nation. It was the moment when God revealed Himself as Redeemer and set the pattern of redemption He would follow centuries later when Jesus led his own exodus.
[Pray – Father, although the heavens declare your glory, we would not know you apart from your actions in history communicated to us through your Word. And so we come to you, Faithful God, and pray that you would illuminate our hearts and minds by your powerful Holy Spirit; help us to see you clearly so that we would rejoice in the hope that the great God above all gods is our God. In the name of Jesus, our Redeemer, we pray. Amen.]
[Read Exodus 1:1-7]
When the book of Exodus opens, it picks up where Genesis left off. It describes what happened to the people of Israel, the descendents of Jacob, once they got down to Egypt. It’s a simple enough start. Their family had come down to be with Joseph, who “was already in Egypt.” And in Egypt the people of Israel thrived – for a while.
But as the continuation of Genesis, Exodus assumes the readers know a couple of things. The first is pretty obvious; Exodus assumes you know the story of Genesis. Now, we went through Genesis a while back, so I’ll assume you’re up to speed on the Story. Just kidding. That was a long time ago for both of us, so we’ll catch up in just a minute.
But the second thing Exodus assumes is that the reader knows where the story is going. It assumes the audience (or at least the first audience) knows what happened next because they experienced it first-hand.
Have you ever thought about the fact that the people who first read Exodus were the people who’d lived it? If you were one of them, you might have heard it first with fresh scars from Egyptian whips on your back. You and your family had endured generations of ruthless oppression. You grew up delivering the straw to the mud pits you later worked as an adult, making bricks for the Pharaohs. But then your own eyes had seen the plagues come on Egypt one by one and your own feet had walked along the bottom of the Red Sea with the waters heaped up on either side. The Exodus? You lived it. So, why did you need to hear it?
You needed to hear it because there is a difference between experience and revelation, between an interpretation of something and the true meaning God gives to it. The Israelites of the Exodus had lived it, but God gave His word through Moses to tell them what it meant.
But even more importantly, God gave His word to tell them who He is. Through this word He reveals Himself as YHWH, the personal name of a very present God. And in Exodus (and beyond) He reveals Himself to be the God who redeems His people because He wants to be close to them.
So, when the people of the exodus read the books of Genesis and Exodus they were reading their own story, but reading it through the eyes of the God who had rescued them, reading it to see His character and why He did what He did. The book of Exodus isn’t just a history, then. For the people of God then and today, it is an introduction; it is YHWH’s way of saying, “My people, behold your God!”
The reason why we’re going to work our way through this ancient book is because you and I have the same need to know this God who created and rescued a people for Himself. We have questions in this wilderness of life about who He is and, more pressingly, if we can trust him. In our age? In our weakness? With our children? With our bodies and souls?
But seeing His character and how He worked in the story of ancient Israel will help us understand and believe that He is a God to be trusted. He never changes. He came to them in their distress. He freed them from hands that were too strong for them. He gave them His presence in the wilderness and kept them for Himself. And as He was with them in the exodus, so He is now with us in Christ.
So, today we’re going to look at two over-arching concepts in Exodus that will help ground us as we enter into this book in the coming weeks. (1) The exodus introduced the people of God to their God. We’ll see His character on display, learning with Israel to trust Him. And (2), the exodus introduced the people of God to the pattern of redemption. In the exodus of Israel we’ll see the pattern God would follow later in the Story when He sent Jesus to accomplish the full redemption humanity needed.
So, first, the exodus introduced the people of God to their God. And His name is YHWH.
Having seen what they’d seen, the Israelites of the exodus must certainly have had some questions about this God who had come to rescue them. For four hundred years, the gods of Egypt, lifeless though they seemed – just stone carvings on the monuments of Egypt – those gods seemed to have the power, ruling through the iron fists of the Pharaohs. But in the plagues the God of Israel had rained down on Egypt, the Israelites saw the frailty of Egypt’s gods and the power of their God. So, who was the God who controls heaven and earth and set His affection on Israel?
That was a question that couldn’t be answered until God spoke and gave His word through Moses. And in this word He reveals Himself and gives His name; YHWH.
In Genesis, Israel is introduced to God as Creator. In Egypt they saw His power over creation and life itself in the exodus events, they were prepared to see Him more clearly through His word. They could believe their God spoke the world into existence because they’d seen His power over light, water, creatures and life itself.
But in Exodus 6:2-3, just after a crisis point when it seems like things were getting worse instead of better for Israel, God tells Moses, “I am YHWH. I appeared to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob as God Almighty, but by my name YHWH I did not make myself known to them.” Now, our English Bibles translate that name as “the LORD” and there’s a tradition behind that connected to reverence for the name of God (as well as a little bit of superstition). But in the name YWHW, God is revealing more of himself to His people.
He’s revealing His faithful character in that name. The God who created is YHWH who redeemed His people from slavery.
The name YWHW itself seems to be a derivative of the verb “to be.” If you’ve heard God called “I AM,” that’s essentially what it means. Now, contrary to what some of us have been taught, that isn’t merely a statement of His eternal existence. He isn’t just saying, “I exist.” Of course, He does. But in the context of exodus He’s saying much more than that. He’s talking about redeeming Israel because of the promises He’d made to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob back in Genesis. His name is an expression of His faithfulness to His promises, His plan to redeem the whole world through the family of Abraham. In other words, His name means something more like, “I will be with you as I was with them,” or “I will be to you what I was to them.”
So what is YHWH like? First, He’s the covenant making and covenant keeping God. In Genesis 15, which we read earlier, we hear God establishing a covenant relationship with Abraham to confirm the promises He’d already made back in Genesis 12, promises to bless Abraham so that he would become a blessing to all the families of the earth. In that covenant, God had already spoken of Israel’s time in slavery; their suffering wasn’t a surprise, nor was it an obstacle to God’s promises. Rather, their slavery held a place in the larger Story of Redemption.
But if their time in Egypt made them doubt the goodness of God – even if they couldn’t answer the question of why God would allow such suffering to happen – they were confronted with a powerful reality, a reality that could cause fear to flee and trust to grow. Yes, in the plan of God He’d allow His people to be taken into slavery. But when the Israelites heard His promises and his covenant relationship with them, they were hearing it outside of Egypt and on the far side of the Red Sea. In His Word, YHWH had revealed Himself as the covenant making and covenant keeping God. But before that He’d already revealed Himself as Redeemer. And as their Redeemer, Israel knew they could trust Him. It all makes sense if we can hold on to the order of things. When Moses wrote down the first five books of the Scriptures, redemption had already happened. That is, the events of the exodus preceded the books called Genesis, Exodus, etc. Put another way, YHWH had already accomplished their rescue, then He told them what He’d done and what He was still doing.
So, they could trust Him because they’d seen Him in action. They knew that unlike the gods of Egypt (who were simply stone and paint – never moving, never acting), YHWH was the living, true God who acts. His existence wasn’t theoretical because He has broken into this world as the Redeemer, breaking into the suffering of His people to rescue them in a display of power and sovereignty and goodness.
That is the same YHWH who came in the flesh in the person of Jesus, breaking into this world of suffering and sin once again as Redeemer to rescue his people in a display of power and sovereignty and goodness. So now, if you want to understand the character of YHWH and know if you can trust Him no matter what, then you need only look at Jesus. In Him, YHWH has revealed Himself most fully. To ancient Israel He gave His word. But to you He has given His Son.
And in the Son we see the covenant making/covenant keeping character of YHWH on full display. Because when he came to save (which is what his name means Jesus’ Hebrew name is Yeshua, or “YHWH saves”) – when Jesus came to save, he wasn’t rescuing his people from slavery to Pharaoh. He came to rescue us from slavery to sin.
That was the rescue the first exodus was pointing toward but couldn’t accomplish. Ever since man’s rebellion against God in the Garden of Eden (Genesis 3), the Scripture presents humanity as enslaved to sin and death. But when Christ the Redeemer came, Jesus came to deal with sin once for all time, which he did through his death on the cross.
We sit in a position so similar to those ancient Israelites. They sat on the far side of the Red Sea, hearing about YHWH who could be trusted, YHWH who had already redeemed them. You sit on this side of the cross of Christ when the long-promised, fuller redemption has already come. And like those Israelites long ago, what you are supposed to do is embrace it, believe it, and trust in the God who brought you out of bondage and into a relationship with Him. You’re supposed to hear that through God’s Word and sing the songs of redemption already accomplished, resting in your faithful God and worshipping the God who introduced Himself to you – as Jesus.
That’s why we’re studying Exodus: to get to know our God; to learn to trust His faithful character and recognize it in Jesus. But secondly, we’re studying Exodus to see the pattern of redemption God established – the same pattern He would follow when He sent Jesus.
Patterns are helpful. With patterns we can make clothes and solve puzzles. And if we see the pattern, then when the next piece comes we can recognize it and say, “Yeah, that fits.” We can accept it.
We can see the pattern of redemption being set throughout Exodus (really throughout the entire Pentateuch – the first five books of the Bible). We’ll look at two aspects of the pattern just for a start and pick up more as we go along. (1) Redemption is always a “going out.” But it is also – always – a “going in.” (2) Redemption always involves blood.
First, redemption is always a going out and always a going in. Technically, we would say that it is always God breaking in, leading out and then leading in. But we’ll keep it simple. Redemption is a going out and a going in.
You see it in the geography. Israel goes out of Egypt and (ultimately) into the Promised Land. You see it in terms of understanding. Israel goes out of ignorance and into the light when God reveals Himself as Redeemer and Creator. You see it in terms of service. Israel goes out from slavery to Pharaoh and into the service of the Living God. He says in Exodus that Israel will be to Him His “treasured possession…a kingdom of priests and a holy nation” (19:5-6).
That same pattern of “going out” and “going in” is followed in the greater redemption accomplished by Jesus, through His death and resurrection. You see it in our “geography.” By faith in Jesus we are brought out of the kingdom of the World and into the kingdom of God. You see it in terms of understanding. By the work of the Spirit, we are no longer ignorant of sin (which is a gracious gift) and we are no longer ignorant of God because He makes Himself known to us as Redeemer and Creator. And you can see it in terms of service, too. Apart from Christ we only serve sin and death and (ultimately) the devil – they are our masters. But through faith in Jesus we are brought out from such futile service and into the service of the Living God (Hebrews 9:14). The New Testament understands Christians to have become the treasured possession and kingdom of priests that Israel was supposed to have been (see 1 Peter 2:9-10) In Christ, the believer has gone out from alienation from God and into His very presence by the work of the Holy Spirit within us.
For us, the exodus accomplished by Jesus begins with freedom from the guilt and power of sin. The Gospel begins with forgiveness and the release from bondage to sin and death. But the Gospel does not end there. It keeps going out of death and into life – full life, abundant life – in Christ.
Sometimes we forget that part of the Gospel; we don’t go past forgiveness and we wonder why life seems lacking. In the exodus we see God urging – and more importantly guiding – His people, much like Aslan in C.S. Lewis’ Chronicles of Narnia when Aslan says to the children, “…further up and further in! You are not yet as happy as I mean you to be.” Though the fullness of that joy must wait until we reach the true Promised Land – the new heavens and new earth that will come when Christ returns – the going out/going in pattern of redemption means that we may now enter in to the new life Christ has won for us when he rose again from the dead.
So, how might you have held back? Where in your life is God wooing you, drawing you saying, “Further up and further in!”? You can trust Him and follow recklessly, freely into this new territory because He has given you Jesus to take you out of sin and into life. It will be frightening. It will be overwhelming. But it will be good because our God is good.
The second aspect of the pattern of redemption we’ll see in Exodus is that redemption always involves death.
There is a tremendous amount of death in Exodus. The threat of it looms heavily over the opening as Israel’s very existence is threatened. In the Story of Redemption we know that the promises of God rested on the survival of Abraham’s family so, time and time again we see God protecting the life of Israel, whom God claims as His very own son (Exodus 4:22-23). But when redemption did come to Israel, it came through death. The ten plagues culminated in the death of the firstborn of Egypt – from the firstborn son of Pharaoh to the firstborn of the cattle. And except for the provision of God, the same angel who took the life of the firstborn of Egypt would have taken the firstborn of Israel, too. But God provided a way for His people to be saved; it was through the death of a lamb. With the blood of the lamb on their doorway, death would pass over their house. The lamb would die instead of God’s people and through the death of the sacrifice, God redeemed His people and brought them into life with Him.
YHWH always rescues His people but it comes at a price. Without blood there is no covering for us. Without a death, there is no redemption.
Do you see the pattern? YHWH worked our redemption in the same way. Jesus is “the Lamb of God.” Even in glory he stands as the bloodied, sacrificed Lamb who yet lives (Revelation 5:6). And by faith in him his blood covers us, redeeming us out of death and into life. But in the shocking reality of the cross, God gave His only Son, not Egypt’s, to rescue us. The Son of God died so that we don’t have to. All Israel had to do was trust God and cover their house in the blood of the lamb. And we will be saved in the same way. We trust Him and put ourselves beneath the blood of Christ and we live!
Some of you have some urgent questions about who God really is, about whether or not you can trust him. You may not be a wandering Israelite in the wilderness beyond the Red Sea, but the same questions about God come up in the wilderness of today as fears about old age or sickness loom over us. Will God be the same Redeemer for me when I lie on my deathbed? When I think about my sin, fear rises in me. Is He bigger than my fear? When we walk in the wilderness of doubt, when we walk in the wilderness of parenting, of broken relationships, of trying to live faithfully in a lost world, can we trust Him to take care of us?
The promise that is ours in Christ – the promise with roots going back beyond Israel's exodus – the promise of God in Christ is, yes, you can trust Him. He is YHWH and He remains the same. As he was with them, so he will be to you, only more fully so. He is your Creator. And He is your Redeemer!
You, Christian, may always come back to the faithfulness of God in Christ. Though our fathers and we ourselves wandered from Him into sin and death; though we groaned under the heavy hand of our hateful master, YHWH came to us in Jesus, revealing Himself once again as Redeemer. He heard our affliction and with a mighty hand and outstretched arm he brought us out of death and into life through his own death and resurrection.
[Transition to the Lord’s Supper]
That’s why we always come back to this meal Jesus himself gave to us. In this meal he confirms what He promises in His Word, that by faith alone he covers us with his blood. In this meal we see and taste and smell and touch the Good News that the God of the Bible isn’t a distant, unknowable deity. He is YHWH who acts and then makes Himself known in His Son, who died on a cross and leads us out of sin and into life. In him we are no longer defined by our former slavery. We are defined in him as the people of God, redeemed and secure.
[Benediction, from Numbers 6]
“The LORD bless you and keep you;
the LORD make his face to shine upon you and be gracious to you;
the LORD lift up his countenance upon you and give you peace.”
 Michael D. Williams, Far As the Curse Is Found, 39.