Exodus 2:1-25 - A Difficult and Necessary Lesson that Can Only Be Learned in Midian

January 26, 2014 Speaker: Series: Exodus

Topic: Sunday Worship Passage: Exodus 2:1–2:25

[Text: Exodus 2:1-25] “A Difficult and Necessary Lesson that Can Only Be Learned in Midian”

[Pray – O Lord God, You led your people through the wilderness and brought them to the Promised Land. So guide us now through the preaching of your Word, that, following our Savior, we may walk through the wilderness of this present age toward the glory of the age to come; through Jesus Christ, our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.]

[Read Exodus 2:1-22, actually starting in 1:22 for context]

Have you ever had the experience where everything is coming together, everything looks just right for things to go your way, but then it all falls apart? Conditions are perfect, but then the storm hits? On paper you have a championship team, but they can’t win a single game?

That’s kinda what we see in the first twenty-two verses of Exodus 2. It’s tremendous hope and potential (apparently) coming to nothing.

Think about Israel’s situation: enslaved, ruthlessly oppressed, living under the hatred of Pharaoh who wants their sons dead in the Nile. But here in the opening of chapter two they hear the story of Moses’ birth. This is the man God used to lead them out of Egypt and now they were hearing the story of his birth. And as far as origin stories go, this is a good one. Everything seemed to be coming together so that Israel could be saved. The story is of the LORD preparing the deliverer for his task of leading Israel out of Egypt.

Think about the first ten verses. Moses was born to a priestly family (Mom and Dad were both Levites), so his pedigree was perfect to serve as a priest between Israel and the LORD. When born, he was a “fine child;” literally, he was tov (Hebrew for “good”), echoing back to when God created all things and called it “good.” Moses the child represents a new beginning in the world for Israel! Then there’s the miraculous protection God provided for him against the order of Pharaoh. When Moses’ mother couldn’t hide him anymore, she made a mini-ark for her son, creating (by faith) an opportunity for him to be saved. Through the waters of death, Moses was carried to life by the ark just like Noah through the flood. And like Joseph back in Genesis, Moses who was given up as lost is returned to his family. Pharaoh’s daughter – the daughter of the man who wants the boys of Israel dead – his daughter pays Moses’ own mother a salary to nurse her own beloved child.

For the Israelites of the exodus, first hearing this full story on the far side of the Red Sea, having themselves passed through deadly waters into life just like Moses in that basket – for them there may have been a sense of anticipation when they came to the end of v. 10. “Now we’re getting to the good part. Now we’re going to hear how Moses led us out.” Those first ten verses were obviously the story of Moses’ divine preparation to be the deliverer. It culminates in the name given to him by Pharaoh’s daughter, no less – “Moses,” means “draw out” in Hebrew, means “son” in Egyptian. His name foreshadows what God would do for His people. Through this child, God would draw out Israel His son from Egypt and into life with Him.

But then it all goes wrong from there. And in 12 short verses, Moses goes from being the potential deliverer to a shepherd and exile in Midian. Aww, but he was so prepared! He was perfectly positioned to be the deliverer! From the passage in Acts (which we read earlier – Acts 7:17-29) we learned he’d been “instructed in all the wisdom of the Egyptians, and he was mighty in his words and deeds.” Who better to negotiate freedom for his people? But instead he was a shepherd. A shepherd! In Genesis 46:34 we learn that shepherds were abominable to the Egyptians. And schooled in the house of Pharaoh, Moses must have known that. But there he was – an exile from his own people and an outcast in the eyes of the Egyptians.

From a human perspective, Exodus 2 is a story of failure – Israel fails to recognize Moses as the deliverer and Moses himself fails as that deliverer. And at the end of the chapter, Israel is still enslaved. Even though one Pharaoh died (v. 23), another one simply took his place and continued oppressing Israel. And where is Moses, the once-promising deliverer? He’s a shepherd and an exile in Midian, caught in the middle of nowhere, separated from his people and a foreigner in a foreign land. God’s people remain slaves and the deliverer is a picture of weakness. It all looks so dark. And in that darkness God seems so distant, so veiled; His people can’t see him. All they can do is groan because of their slavery and cry out for help because they are truly helpless.

Conspicuous in the writing of Exodus 1-2 is the (seeming) absence of God. It’s almost as if He isn’t there, just popping up in chapter one to bless the midwives who feared Him and took care of Israel. The text mirrors how that first generation of exodus Israelites may have felt after their centuries of slavery; “There may be a God in heaven, but He isn’t thinking about us. If there is a God in heaven, He can’t be very concerned about me.”

And isn’t that what our hearts wonder sometimes? “Could there be a God in heaven who sees me in my grief? Could there be a God in heaven who hears my groanings? My plans have come to nothing. My sinful heart feels bound up in slavery as I do the things I hate and shun the things I’m supposed to do. My sins have gone over my head and I feel like I’m lost and in the dark. Could there be a God in heaven who could love me – weak and struggling and sinful me?”


Yes, there is such a God for slaves – slaves in Egypt and slaves to sin. Yes, there is such a God for weak, failures like Moses and me. And that God has acted in strength and faithfulness. To Israel He came as YHWH to free those in slavery and lead them to Himself, using a weak and humbled Moses to display His power. And to us He came as Jesus to free us from slavery to sin and lead us to Himself, once again working through humble weakness to display His power.

In Exodus 2 we’re going to look at two things that will help us understand who our God is and how He works in this Story of Redemption – a Story that continues through today. First, we see that He is always faithful to take care of His people. And second, when God acts to take care of His people, He will show His tremendous power through weakness.

So, first, we see that He is always faithful to take care of His people. Look in vv. 23-25. As soon as the night was at its darkest, as soon as the once-promising deliverer is seen to be weak – God comes bursting into the Story, revealing once again to Israel that their God is faithful!

[Read vv. 23-25]

When everything around them made them wonder if God was there at all, when the deliverer himself was just a picture of weakness in a far off land, God was still faithful to the promises He’d made to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. He was still faithful to His covenant to make them His own.

The text heaps up these responses of God to His people. When their cry for rescue came up to Him, “God heard…remembered… saw…and knew.” For Israel, it was the answer to their questions. Yes, there is a God in heaven. Yes, He is thinking about His people. Yes, He is concerned about their suffering. And although no “satisfying” answer is given to them about why God would allow them to suffer as slaves, what they had experienced in the exodus event was what happens whenever God “remembers” His covenant. It’s not just a mental exercise for Him, like us trying to remember where we put our keys. “Remembering” always carries with it a movement toward action. God “remembering” His covenant relationship with the family of Abraham was God beginning to act to release them just as He’d promised hundreds of years before (Genesis 15:13-14).

It’s a comforting thing to know that God always acts in line with His covenant promises. And in God’s covenant of redemption – His promise to save His people from sin and death and lead them back into life with Him – in that covenant we have the promises He’s made to us in Jesus; promises that have already come true in him.

The promise of freedom from the guilt and power of sin by faith in Jesus. The promise of a restored relationship with God – in Christ God has become our Father and we have become His children! In Christ we have the promise of restored dignity that was lost in the Fall, the promise of restored purpose as we, united to Jesus by faith, can finally glorify God and enjoy Him forever as humanity was created in the beginning.

So, what is it that has you afraid that God isn’t faithful? Is your sin really stronger than God? Is your guilt of more weight than the blood of Jesus poured out on the cross for our forgiveness? Is our faithlessness an obstacle to a faithful God? He is the God who is in the business of keeping promises and freeing slaves. This word assures you that He was faithful then. And in Christ we see that God remains faithful to all His promises.

You can still cry out to such a God with the hope that He hears you. So in your distress and fear, call on Him, trusting that He hears you and will act because of Jesus, your faithful Savior. In your marriage that’s troubled, in your besetting sins, in struggles as parents and workers, and in your grief cry out to Him. He still hears. He has already acted in Jesus. And He will continue to act right up through the day when He fulfills His promise to make all things new.

The second thing to see in this passage it that when God acts to take care of His people, He shows His tremendous power but it will be seen through weakness. Let me tell you what I mean.

Moses was raised in the house of Pharaoh and Acts 7:22 says he was “mighty in his words and deeds.” But in Exodus 2:11, when Moses had grown up, we see Moses beginning to take up the role of deliverer “suppos(ing) that his brothers would understand that God was giving them salvation by his hand…(Acts 7:25).” He had the physical strength to strike down the Egyptian. Then he had the “moral” strength to discern justice between two Israelites who were fighting, challenging them to live well together as brothers.

In a way, Moses is functioning out of some desires that are good and right. Though raised in the house of Pharaoh, Moses was choosing sides. He belonged with Israel and was going to fight for them. He empathizes with His people, desiring and acting for their freedom.

But he was doing it in his own strength, setting himself in the role that only God could empower and equip him to perform. The truth is – he started before he was ready. Trusting in his strength, he started too soon.

The words of the fighting Israelite in v. 14 are telling. Now, I’m not defending the unnamed Israelite’s behavior or response to Moses. But the one in the wrong asks a valid question, I think. He said, “Who made you a prince and a judge over us?” The fact is Moses hadn’t been made a prince or a judge…yet. God would indeed set Moses in those roles later in the Story and Israel would need to listen to him as God spoke through him. But Moses wasn’t yet commissioned by God. In his own strength he was trying to fulfill a role that only God could put him in.

So, fearing for his life and rejected by his own people, Moses ran to the land of Midian, becoming a lonely stranger sitting by a well in the middle of nowhere. He’d tested his strength and found out that he wasn’t very strong at all.

So, for the next forty years Moses lived in Midian, raising a family as a sojourner. It says he was “content” (v.21) to live there. So, the deliverer became a shepherd; the child rescued from the Nile became a quiet man living a quiet life far from the people he was born to save.

That’s the picture of what human strength looks like. That’s the picture of what human strength is able to accomplish. It does nothing, really. It only leaves us in exile.

So, in the coming chapters it should be shocking to see God choose this same, weak man to accomplish the (second) greatest rescue the world has ever seen. But through the humbled weakness of Moses, the power of God is seen to be all the more glorious.

Slowly, slowly it seems Moses began to learn the difficult and necessary lesson that those who aren’t strong enough have a Creator who made the heavens and the earth with just His word. Moses began to learn that weak people have a strong God.

When Israel came out of Egypt and stood on the shore of the Red Sea – deep water in front of them, the chariots of Egypt bearing down behind them, and panic in their hearts – listen to what Moses told his brothers and sisters; “Fear not, stand firm, and see the salvation of the LORD, which he will work for you today. For the Egyptians whom you see today, you shall never see again. The LORD will fight for you, and you have only to be silent.” (Exodus 14:13-14)

That’s the God of the Bible – always faithful and always strong, even using weakness and humble servants to do His will as He worked through them. That’s how God always saves.

So, it shouldn’t surprise us to see that when God came in the flesh to once and for all rescue His people – not just from slavery to Egypt but slavery to sin – He came in the person of Jesus. So many in his day expected the promised Deliverer to come in power, driving out Rome in a display of divine strength. But that isn’t what Jesus did. Jesus led the people of God out of slavery and into the family of God in a shocking display of God’s power to save. But the power of God was shown through his weakness.

You see it clearly stated in 2 Corinthians 13:4; “For he was crucified in weakness, but lives by the power of God.”

In the bloodied and beaten and crucified body of Jesus on the cross, we once again see the picture of weakness. But that “weakness” was the means through which we were purchased by God and brought into forgiveness and life – brought out of slavery and into freedom in Christ! Instead of using power and coercion to force our freedom or force us to submit to him, God sent Jesus to die in our place as our substitute.

But Jesus did not remain in weakness. He was raised to life by the power of God. And that same power is at work in you now! Even though you may feel weak and needy, by faith in Jesus the resurrection power of God is at work in you. God is taking care of you in your weakness through the strength that is now in the risen Christ!

Seeing his strength is what allows me to confess my weakness and trust him instead. But trusting in him and his strength, I can take up whatever task He gives me, trusting that it is He who will provide and use me to do His will.

That’s what Paul was talking about when he prayed for God to remove weakness from him. The Lord responded, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” So, Paul said, “Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.” (2 Corinthians 12:9-10)

I have been working on this passage all week long. And do you want to know when I realized my weakness? Do you want to know when I realized that I was working in my own strength? Do you want to know when I was working in my own strength and relying on my own words to convince you that only God is strong? Last night. Last night I was convicted of my weakness but convinced of the Lord’s strength. So here’s it is:

In your struggles and grief, in your groaning and sufferings and in your weakness and failure, you have a God who loves you because of Jesus. Jesus, who died in weakness and now lives by the power of God is faithful to deal with us as he did with Moses, convicting us of our inability to save ourselves and convicting us of his intention to save and sanctify us!

Our part is to cry out to him and to trust him – trust in his faithfulness more than in our own; trust in his strength and put zero confidence in our own. That’s not to say that we don’t act. We’re called to action as husbands and wives, as parents and workers, as ministers of reconciliation and disciple-makers. But when we come to the place of recognizing our weakness – even our outright failure – in these callings, then we can come back to Christ with confidence, once again confessing our need for forgiveness and once again trusting that he gives it freely and will lead us by his power into the work he has for us to do.

From God’s graciousness toward Israel and toward Moses, we can take hope that if He was faithful and strong to save them, then how much more will God be faithful and strong to save us in Christ?

[Pray – Father, here we are. Weak and failing, fearful and grieving. We have nothing to offer you. But in Christ you would and you have given us everything, covering over our weakness and sin with the blood of our strong and faithful Savior. As we see you working through him in his weakness on the cross, we take hope that you might even use us to do your will. And as we see your power displayed in Jesus’ resurrection, we take hope that your power is at work in us, too. By faith we are united to Christ so that his death is our death and his life is our life. For this Gospel we thank you, O God, and pray that from this place we would walk into our lives content with weakness so that your power may be seen and praised. In Jesus we pray. Amen.]


[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.”

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