We’re beginning to study the book of Exodus together this morning. It is a very significant book, both in terms of the OT and also the NT. Not only is it the book in which we discover many famous stories but many key biblical themes emerge in the course of it – the redemption of God’s people, the forming of the nation, the nature of God, the worship of God, the place of the law and so on.
Any decent Bible dictionary will give you a whole list of such themes. It’s a long book, complex in some ways, with much that needs to be pondered carefully. We begin today by taking the first 7 verses.
1. Back to the future
The opening of the book of Exodus forms a very deliberate link to what has gone in Genesis. In Hebrew, the book opens with the word ’and’, showing that it’s a continuing narrative that we have here, another chapter in the story rather than a completely new one. And that point is made even more strongly in the opening words which are a direct copy of Gen. 46:8.
A book that has a great story to tell, and is always moving forwards, starts with a backward look. It reminds us how Israel got to be in Egypt but, more than that, it raises issues of identity and purpose.
One of the great advances in technology in our day has been the ability to remain connected wherever you are. The opening of this great book teaches us that we live connected lives, that the story of God’s plan with this world is single, not multiple.
They were not – and neither are we – the first generation of God’s people. They were not – and nor are we – a discrete generation, unrelated to the past and disconnected in the present. There is a much larger picture to see and to live within. Exodus is one part of a larger story and so are our lives.
We must, therefore, learn to both think and pray in terms of that larger reality. It would be all too easy to simply see our Christian experience as something that makes us happy, helps us to get through life and guarantees us a home in heaven come the end.
But the opening of this book, and the Bible as a whole, condemn that kind of approach to life as a Christian. Our thinking, living and praying must not be parochial. We need to see the larger picture – by which I don’t just mean what God is doing now in other places but rather the whole sweep of Bible history as it unfolds God’s purposes.
Does that figure in how you approach life as a Christian? Is that how you see your life and the life of the church? Does it show in your praying?
This is the point Jesus makes when he tells us to make God’s kingdom our first concern and not to worry unduly about life’s necessities, to let him give us what we need as we need it.
So, remember your connection to the larger picture and begin to understand your life and the life of the church in that light.
2. Connected to the God of creation
That Exodus continues the story begun in Genesis is quite clear and these opening verses make that point in no uncertain terms. But the connection with Genesis is more explicitly a connection with the God of Genesis who is the great creator. And that point is made here too, again with great clarity.
Look at vv.6,7 – Joseph and all his brothers died (a bit like the reports back in Gen. 5) but that wasn’t the end of the Israelites in Egypt – far from it. In an almost miraculous way, they increased and “became exceedingly numerous”.
The terms for population growth compete for space in verse 7, there’s just so many of them. And what is especially notable is that those terms directly relate back to what we read in Genesis – check out 1:28; 9:1 and 1:21; 8:17 (for ‘swarm’).
What is this meant to convey to us?
i) Blessed by the creator – This note about the amazing growth of the people of Israel in Egypt is clearly meant to say that the Lord was with them and was blessing them.
His blessing was not limited to the former generation who we learn had died, nor was it limited by their location in the pagan land of Egypt. Egypt had its fertility gods but true fertility is seen to come from the LORD alone.
The people of Israel belong to the Lord who made both heaven and earth. That is a key point in the whole Bible storyline that, sadly, we often neglect and fail to do justice to. If you check out the main statements of faith of evangelical churches, there is very little about creation. That’s a great shame because everything flows from that starting point. We can talk in great detail about what the Lord has done to save but who is the Lord that saves? The great Creator God!
The whole thing starts with creation and ends with new creation; the God who saves is the God who made everything in the first place. And he was clearly present in power and blessing with his people in Egypt.
Their story is the story of the Creator God promising to bless them and to make them increase in number – that certainly is coming true in these verses. But the promises also included land which is yet to be fulfilled and so the stage is set in these verses for the exodus from Egypt and the journey to the promised land.
ii) Purpose – But this connection with God’s purposes in creation that these words deliberately echo also says something else to us. It makes the point that “what God is doing with Israel’s descendants has meaning for the whole family of humankind.” That is a vital note to grasp.
I heard someone speak not so long ago on a part of the Joseph story where Joseph was managing the food crisis in Egypt. The speaker made the point that Joseph was placed there for the sake of Israel, which is exactly what Joseph himself said (Gen. 45:5-8). But the speaker went on to say that God didn’t care about Egypt, he was only interested in Israel, that the Lord’s great concern in this world is with his elect people.
Now, I’m a great fan of the biblical doctrine of election – I don’t think it’s anything to be shy about – but I do question those statements.
Election has at its heart being chosen in order to engage in mission (do a study of the biblical material and you’ll see what I mean). Did God care for Egypt? Yes, most certainly – check out what God says through Isaiah at 19:16ff – it’s a remarkable statement of intent and of genuine care and concern.
And this passage before us makes the point that God’s purposes for all creation are going to be fulfilled through his people Israel (which ultimately is what happens in and through Jesus). Why was Abraham chosen? To be a blessing for the whole world. And here are Abraham’s descendents in Egypt, swarming over the land in creational blessing.
At this time, there is going to be a great struggle and the need for a great deliverance from Egypt but, ultimately, that redemption is going to result in Egypt, too, sharing in the Lord’s mercy.
The Lord who we will see redeeming his people from Egypt in this great and profound book is the Creator of heaven and earth. One writer expressed this point very helpfully: “Because God is a God of life and blessing [as seen in creation] God will do redemptive work should those gifts ever be endangered or diminished.” And so, “Israel is God’s starting-point for realising the divine intentions for all.”
We need to see that as our purpose, too. We’re in the world for the sake of the world, a light for the nations, a city set on a hill – not to thumb our noses at the nations but to invite them to come under the shade of the Lord’s shelter. That’s why you’re in your family, in your workplace, in your neighbourhood.
This grasp of our identity and purpose as the Lord’s people must shape and sharpen our thinking and praying.
May the Lord bless us and make us a blessing to others.