So you stub your toe and you step on a cat. There are great lines in that song, wasn’t it? I don’t know about you, but it doesn’t take much for me in my life to begin to ask the question, “Where is God? What’s God doing? Does God even care? Does he even know what’s going on right now? What’s he up to?” Now, you might be thinking or asking those questions right now, but at some point, you probably will. And at some point, you’ll probably face challenges bigger than stubbing your toe. You see, at some point, we’re all going to ask the question, “Where is God? What is God up to?” And I wonder, what’s going to be your answer? What’s going to be your answer? ‘Cause we’re all going to need one. If being a Christian at work gets you in trouble or if following Jesus during high school gets really difficult, if your kid maybe decides to stop following Jesus altogether, you’re going to need an answer, aren’t you? If you lose someone in your family, if illness strikes or if you start to battle anxiety or depression, you’re going to need an answer. You’re going to need an answer. Where is God? What is he up to? Is he even listening? Does he even care?
Throughout the book of Exodus, this term, we’re going to see a lot about our God. We’re going to see how good he is, as we see all the familiar stories that so many of us were grown up on. As we see bread fall from heaven, as we see water come out of a rock, as we see 10 commandments come down from the mountain – twice – we’re going to see our God at work. We’re going to see that he saves us so that we might enter into and work and live for his glory. That’s what we’re going to see this term, and here in Exodus 1 and 2, we’re going to be reminded again about our God today, and we’re going to be reminded about the wonderful truth that our God is at work all the time. Can you say “God is working?” Can you say it again? That’s right. That’s what we’re going to see today. Despite appearances, God is at work. And, I think, as we followed along, Moses gives us four sort of episodes, four installments to remind us of that, doesn’t he? And so, this morning, we’re going to go through each episode, and at the end, we’re going to bring it all together, and we’re going to hopefully realize that it’s all been worth it as we see this great picture of our God.
Here’s episode one.
a. The setting: A small clan (v1-5)
In verses 1-5, Moses sets the scene. He sets the scene by reminding us of ‘who’ and ‘how’ the people of Israel ended up in Egypt in the first place. He writes:
1 These are the names of the sons of Israel who went to Egypt with Jacob, each with his family: 2 Reuben, Simeon, Levi and Judah; 3 Issachar, Zebulun and Benjamin; 4 Dan and Naphtali; Gad and Asher. 5 The descendants of Jacob numbered seventy in all; Joseph was already in Egypt.
Moses starts off by listing Jacob (also known as Israel) and his eleven sons who came to Egypt. Back in Genesis 45, this band of brothers (and their dad) left the land of Canaan because of a great famine. But they also left Canaan to meet up with their twelfth brother, Joseph… who Moses says was “already in Egypt” because they’d previously sold him as slave. Now, despite this clan’s rocky history, Moses focuses on the fact that the descendants of Jacob numbered seventy in all.
God’s sinful people have left their homeland for Egypt and their relatively small, there’s just seventy of them.
b. Rising Action: Growth! (v6-7)
Yet in verses 6-7, Moses says that things have changed. He writes:
6 Now Joseph and all his brothers and all that generation died, 7 but the Israelites were exceedingly fruitful; they multiplied greatly, increased in numbers and became so numerous that the land was filled with them.
Whilst Joseph, his brothers, and all that generation died, the people of Israel have had a dramatic growth spurt!
Now, Ava my daughter, is about 8 months now. She’s gone from little baby to… growth spurt!
That’s kinda the same for Israel here. I mean, just notice how Moses moves his readers from twelve sons (v1), to seventy persons (v5), and then to a full land (v7).1 And notice the words which echo Genesis 1: “fruitful”, “multiply”, “increased”, and “filled the land”. These numbers and words are here, subtly reminding us, that God is at work by giving life to his people.2
b. Rising Tension: A new king (v8-11)
But, then, in verses 8-11, tension begins to rise.
Whilst God has been at work to bring life to his people, a new king in Egypt emerges… who (as we’ll quickly discover) is pro-death. In verse 8, we hear that:
8 … a new king, to whom Joseph meant nothing, came to power in Egypt. 9 “Look,” he said to his people, “the Israelites have become far too numerous for us. 10 Come, we must deal shrewdly with them or they will become even more numerous and, if war breaks out, will join our enemies, fight against us and leave the country.” 11 So they put slave masters over them to oppress them with forced labor, and they built Pithom and Rameses as store cities for Pharaoh.
A new king emerges, who apparently does not know Joseph.
Now, you might not remember, but Joseph (in Genesis 41:41) became the de facto king of Egypt. Joseph ruled under Pharaoh, but functionally he ruled over the entire land. And under Joseph’s rule, God gave life to Egypt by saving them from famine.
Yet here, in Exodus 1, this new king knows nothing of Joseph, nor Joseph’s life giving God. And so, Pharaoh sees Israel’s growth as a threat. He sees their potential exodus as a threat, fearing that they might leave and join their enemies. And so, Pharaoh oppresses the Israelites by forcing them to build store cities-these big, long, rectangular, room like structures used to store oils and grains.3 This pro-death king persecutes the sons of Israel by working on his vast building projects…
c. Resolution: It doesn’t work! (V12a)
But… as Pharaoh implements his brutal regime… Moses tells us that it backfires. From verse 12, Moses writes:
12 But the more they were oppressed, the more they multiplied and spread…
For some reason, Pharaoh’s regime of death isn’t working. The more he cracks the whip, the more his plans crumble. The more he tries to shrink Israel, the more they grow… Once again, Moses is subtly reminding us that God is at work…
d. The close: increased brutality (v12b-14)
But sadly, as Pharaoh’s schemes are outwitted, we’re told that this only brings more outrage… In verses 12-14, we hear:
12 But the more they were oppressed, the more they multiplied and spread, so the Egyptians came to dread the Israelites 13 and worked them ruthlessly. 14 They made their lives bitter with harsh labor in brick and mortar and with all kinds of work in the fields; in all their harsh labor the Egyptians worked them ruthlessly.
There is only more outrage. Now, not only Pharaoh, but the entire nation of Egypt has come to “dread” (literally to find “disgust in”) the Israelites.4 This people group becomes a ‘loathed’ people… there is an “us-them” mentality… and their lives are made bitter as the Egyptians work them ruthlessly with all kinds of work.
This first episode ends on an ominous note.
And here’s episode two.
a. The Setting: The Delivery Room (v15-16)
In this next episode, Moses moves the narrative from the building of impressive store-cities to a delivery room. And in verses 15-16, Pharaoh continues his pro-death regime… Moses writes:
15 [Then… ] The king of Egypt said to the Hebrew midwives, whose names were Shiphrah and Puah, 16 “When you are helping the Hebrew women during childbirth on the delivery stool, if you see that the baby is a boy, kill him; but if it is a girl, let her live.”
I mean, this request from Pharaoh is hard to comprehend, isn’t it? To say the least, it’s horrific. After his plans to suppress the Israelites fail in Episode 1, Pharaoh now secretly implements one of the most inhumane policies known to man: infanticide. Almost ashamed of his policy, Pharaoh hides his plans from the public, and privately attempts to coerce these two Hebrew midwives: “Shiphrah and Puah”.
In the lead up to having Ava, we’d go to all sorts of appointments. And I’d often read the ‘baby names’ books. Fascinating stuff!
Now, the names, “Shiphrah and Puah”, are actually significant too. The Hebrew roots are connected to the words “Beautiful”5 and “Brilliant”6. So, it’s no coincidence then, that Moses names these two midwives… because what they do next is just that… beautiful and brilliant.
b. Rising Action: Midwives’ actions (v17-21)
In a beautiful display of faith and courage, we hear in verses 17-21 that these two women fear God and disobey Pharaoh. Moses writes:
17 The midwives, however, feared God and did not do what the king of Egypt had told them to do; they let the boys live. 18 Then the king of Egypt summoned the midwives and asked them, “Why have you done this? Why have you let the boys live?” 19 The midwives answered Pharaoh, “Hebrew women are not like Egyptian women; they are vigorous and give birth before the midwives arrive.”
Ironically, the real threat isn’t the Hebrew boys, it’s the girls! It’s these midwives! They fear God and outwit Pharaoh. Through their own cunning, they subvert the regime of death. You see, these women are pro-beauty, pro-life, pro-God. Whilst Pharaoh can get all of Egypt to submit to his rule, he can’t seem to control these women… because they fear the king of heaven.7
c. Resolution: God’s actions (v17-21)
And… in the midst of their bold and courageous actions, Moses finally mentions God (for the first time). From verse 20, Moses writes:
20 So God was kind to the midwives and the people increased and became even more numerous. 21 And because the midwives feared God, he gave them families of their own.
So far in the story, God has been like the “off-stage director”.8 He has seemed invisible… But here, Moses reminds us (with this short reference) that God is subtly at work bringing life to his people.
In response to the midwives’ fear, the sons of Israel “become more numerous” and are given “families” (which in Hebrew means “a house” “a dynasty” “descendants” “a family lineage”).9 The point is that despite Pharaoh’s regime to reverse life, God continues to be at work in and for his people.
e. The close: Pharaoh’s law (v22)
But then, just like the first, this second episode ends on an ominous note. Sadly, yet again, we’re told that God’s work only brings more outrage!
This second episode closes with the pro-death king going public… and legalising his pro-death regime across the country… In verse 22, we hear:
22 Then Pharaoh gave this order to all his people: “Every Hebrew boy that is born you must throw into the Nile, but let every girl live.”
That’s episode two.
Now, here’s episode three.
a. The setting: A mother and his son (v1-2)
Here in verses 1-2, Moses sets the scene by focusing on another Israelite woman (who we find out is Moses’ own mother). Moses writes:
Exodus 2:1 Now a man of the tribe of Levi married a Levite woman, 2 and she became pregnant and gave birth to a son. When she saw that he was a fine child, she hid him for three months.
In light of the efforts of the two midwives, a Levite woman is able to have a son who appeared to be “a fine child”.
Now, the Hebrew word for “fine” here is actually the word “good”.10 It’s possibly a hint back to Genesis 2. This ‘son’ is meant to be a ‘new Adam’ figure’. He has been created by God, He is ‘good’, and hopefully he will live for God and rule over the land (just like the first Adam was meant to do). Moses notes that this son is supposedly ‘good’. And it’s reason enough for his mother to hid him for three months.
b. Rising Tension: The boy under threat (v3-4)
But, after trying to hide the boy for three months, the lively-hood of this son becomes under threat. The tension begins to rise. In verse 3, we hear:
3 But when she could hide him no longer, she got a papyrus basket for him and coated it with tar and pitch. Then she placed the child in it and put it among the reeds along the bank of the Nile. 4 His sister stood at a distance to see what would happen to him.
Once again, it’s the Hebrew women who rebel against Pharaoh. And, in similar fashion to the midwives, they somehow both obey and rebel at the same time. The boy’s mother and sister follow Pharaoh’s edict by throwing him into the Nile… but they put him into a papyrus basket (also known as an “ark”11)… and they float him amongst the reeds of the river-bank. And so, just as the sons of Israel are under threat of extinction, so is this particular son.12 And it raises the question: what will happen to this important baby?13
c. Highpoint of tension: What will the princess do? (v5-7)
Well, in verses 5-7, the tension reaches its high point.
Lo and behold, Moses tells us that Pharaoh’s very own daughter happens to be at the Nile. He writes:
5 Then Pharaoh’s daughter went down to the Nile to bathe, and her attendants were walking along the riverbank. She saw the basket among the reeds and sent her female slave to get it. 6 [The slave] opened it and saw the baby. He was crying, and she felt sorry for him. “This is one of the Hebrew babies,” she said. 7 Then his sister asked Pharaoh’s daughter, “Shall I go and get one of the Hebrew women to nurse the baby for you?
Suddenly our anxiety is heightened: a woman from Pharaoh’s own household discovers the child… I mean, this is the last person you’d want to see: the daughter of the pro-death king!
But, ironically, in verse 7 we hear that the child’s very own sister is there… And she has compassion… And she asks Pharaoh’s daughter whether she should get one of the Hebrew women to nurse the child…
And at this moment, the question arises: what will the Egyptian princess do? What will she do!? I mean, the expected response is that she’ll say “no!”. The expected is that she’ll obey her father’s own laws and regime. The expected response is that she’ll terminate the child…
d. Resolution: Unexpected actions (v8-10)
But, in verses 8-10, we hear that Pharaoh’s daughter does the unexpected. Moses writes:
8 “Yes, go,” she answered. So the girl went and got the baby’s mother. 9 Pharaoh’s daughter said to her, “Take this baby and nurse him for me, and I will pay you.” So the woman took the baby and nursed him.
In a wild turn of events, Pharaoh’s daughter agrees to save this baby. But more than that, she is persuaded by the child’s sister to get his biological mother to nurse him. I mean this is ironic, the means to destroying the child (the Nile) is the means to saving him; Egyptian royalty listens to an Israelite slave; The child leaves the mother, only to return to her, but now with the perks of maternity leave. Moses writes these things to remind us that God continues to subtly be at work…
e. The close: An Egyptian or an Israelite (v10)
But… just like the first two episodes, this episode also ends on a bit of an ominous note. This third episode closes with the ‘good’ son being adopted into Pharaoh’s family and named ‘Moses’. In verse 10, we hear:
10 When the child grew older, she took him to Pharaoh’s daughter and he became her son. She named him Moses, saying, “I drew him out of the water.”
It’s an interesting ending, because it raise all sorts of questions about the future… Is this the chosen one? Will he save Israel? Will he serve under Pharaoh’s regime of death? Or will he bring life to Israel?
That’s episode three.
And here’s the final episode: episode four.
a. The setting: ideal saviour! (v11-12)
After detailing the great lengths which were taken to save this child… there’s a lot of hope and expectation on the line. If God’s gone to these sorts of extraordinary lengths… then hopefully Moses (who was described as ‘good’) will actually be ‘good’ and do ‘good’.
And in verses 11-12, things kinda seem to be looking up for Moses and Israel: he kinda looks like the ideal saviour. Take a look:
11 One day, after Moses had grown up, he went out to where his own people were and watched them at their hard labor. He saw an Egyptian beating a Hebrew, one of his own people. 12 Looking this way and that and seeing no one, he killed the Egyptian and hid him in the sand.
At this point, Moses kinda looks like the ideal saviour. He sees oppression (an Egyptian striking an Israelite) and he strikes (an Egyptian until he is dead). Now, I say “kinda” because the Hebrew is a bit unclear here… I’m not sure if Moses actions are entirely justified, judging by his cover up in verse 12. But despite that, Moses actions still reflect God’s saving actions… 14 In just a few chapters, God himself will see the oppression of his people and then God will strike the Egyptians with a death blow of plagues.15
At this point, Moses kinda looks like the ideal saviour. Things appear to be looking up for Moses and Israel!
b. The rising tension: not so ideal? (v13-15)
But then things are looking down… the very next day… Moses looks like the un-ideal saviour… In verses 13-14, we hear:
13 The next day he went out and saw two Hebrews fighting. He asked the one in the wrong, “Why are you hitting your fellow Hebrew?” 14 The man said, “Who made you ruler and judge over us? Are you thinking of killing me as you killed the Egyptian?” Then Moses was afraid and thought, “What I did must have become known.”
Just like the first time, Moses attempts to play the role of saviour, of liberator, of redeemer. But this time, things don’t work out. In a strange turn of events, Moses is rejected by his own people. They don’t want him as their leader or ruler! So Moses is filled with fear!
And then, as news gets back to Pharaoh, Moses runs 300 miles away from Pharaoh, to the land of Midian. Moses writes:
15 When Pharaoh heard of this, he tried to kill Moses, but Moses fled from Pharaoh and went to live in Midian, where he sat down by a well.
The one who lived in the palaces of Egypt is now slumped up against a well. The ‘good’ son is now the lowly son, the humbled son. And as he sits on the dirt, besides this well, it makes us wonder: What is going on? Where is God? What’s God doing!? Well, God’s at work.
You see, in the Old Testament, “wells” are really significant. In particular, “wells” are places of blessing. In Genesis 29, Jacob fled from Esau to a well and met his wife Rachel. This turned out to be a place of blessing! So, just like Jacob, Moses (after fleeing Pharaoh) finds life and blessing at this well.
c. The rising action: Ideal again (v16-21)
In verse 16, we hear that:
16 Now a priest of Midian had seven daughters, and they came to draw water and fill the troughs to water their father’s flock. 17 Some shepherds came along and drove them away, but Moses got up and came to their rescue and watered their flock. 18 When the girls returned to Reuel their father, he asked them, “Why have you returned so early today?” 19 They answered, “An Egyptian rescued us from the shepherds. He even drew water for us and watered the flock.” 20 “And where is he?” Reuel asked his daughters. “Why did you leave him? Invite him to have something to eat.” 21 Moses agreed to stay with the man, who gave his daughter Zipporah to Moses in marriage…
Whilst Moses was brought low, God has been working to give life and blessing to Moses. In fact, Moses actually appears to be the saviour Israel really need! Just as Moses was drawn out of water, now Moses draws water for this daughters, and soon (as we know) Moses will draw Israel out of Egypt through water…
Moses is the kinda ideal/kinda not ideal saviour.
But then, things hit another low.
d. The resolution (v22)
In verses 22, Moses himself describes his own condition… and it sounds very low… we hear:
22 Zipporah gave birth to a son, and Moses named him Gershom, saying, “I have become a foreigner in a foreign land.”
Whilst Moses has been good, and not so good… he is now a stranger living in a strange land. It were as if he had no ‘god’, no ‘home’, no ‘people’. It appears that he has no allegiance to either ‘Israel’ or ‘Egypt’. He is a nomad. He is an alien. He is an exile. Can you see? Moses has been brought low, very low-and it raises the question… Is this the end for Moses? Should Israel find another saviour? Should God look somewhere else? What is God doing!?
d. The close: During that time… (v23-25)
Well, in this final episode, we see that it ends on a different note to all the others. Episode four ends on a note of distress, but also hope…
In verses 23-25, we hear:
23 During that long period, the king of Egypt died. The Israelites groaned in their slavery and cried out, and their cry for help because of their slavery went up to God. 24 God heard their groaning and he remembered his covenant with Abraham, with Isaac and with Jacob. 25 So God looked on the Israelites and was concerned about them.
In these few verses, we’re reminded of what’s been happening all along: God has been at work… He’s been working over many years… to bring history to the moment where “the king of Egypt died”. And whilst these moments have brought great suffering for God’s people, their suffering “does not go unnoticed”.16 God sees. God hears. And God will make himself known.
That’s episode four.
Moses has put these chapters together to remind us, that ultimately, it’s God who is at work. Yes, we see people working… We see profound moments of action where the unlikely work, the weak work, and the small work, and the fearful work, and even the unbelieving work…
But even though people are working, ultimately God is at work in and for them. Throughout each episode we learn that despite appearances, God is at work in and for the good of his people and his own glory.17
A whole generation dies, God is still working. An evil king emerges, God is still working. A regime of oppression is implemented, God is still working. An inhumane policy, a baby drifting through the reeds, an Egyptian princess going for a bath, a down and out saviour sitting at well, or lost, and away from home… God is still working…
Or even just consider… our own saviour…
The man from Nazareth is taken into hiding by his parents, God is still working… A Pharaoh-like King, King Herod, seeks to destroy him, God is still working… They escape to Egypt, God is still working… The man from Nazareth is rejected by his own people, God is still working… He is despised, mocked, plotted against, judged as ‘guilty’, whipped and flogged, and even strung up on a cross… and even dead in a tomb… God is still working…
Whether it’s out on the construction sites of Egypt, in the delivery room of an Egyptian hospital, on the side of a river bank, or in the wilderness of Midian… or at the cross of Christ, God is working! … ever-so slowly, ever-so patiently, ever-so quietly… in and for the life and good of his people.
Even today, brothers and sisters, despite appearances, God is working for his glory and your good… As the New Testament declares:
28 ¶ And we know that in all things God [is working] for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. (Romans 8:28)
Brothers and sisters, you need this to be your answer… When things aren’t working for you, when your situation appears irredeemable, when you discover a circumstance which is appalling, when it feels like death and oppression surround you, when you groan like the Israelites, because life appears hopeless, mundane, and everyday… You need this to cry out to God in prayer, and believe, and remind yourself, that our God-Father, Son, and Spirit-is working… because he is.
Exodus, Chapter 1.
Exodus, Chapter 2.
4 Kohlenberger and
Mounce, Hebrew, Paragraph 15586.
5 Kohlenberger and
Mounce, Hebrew, Paragraph 18399.
6 Strong, Hebrew
Strong’s Dictionary, Paragraph 6349.
Exodus, Chapter 1.
Exodus, Chapter 1.
9 HALOT, 125.
10 Kohlenberger and
Mounce, Hebrew, Paragraph 6504.
11 Kohlenberger and
Mounce, Hebrew, Paragraph 6504.
Exodus, Chapter 1.
Exodus, Chapter 1.
Exodus, Chapter 1.
Exodus, Chapter 1.
Exodus, Chapter 1
17 Enns, Exodus,