Key Verses: Exodus 29:45-46
Themes to Track: Reactions of the Israelites, God’s character
God is a God of an extravagant grace. It is a grace that reaches out to the farthest ends of the earth to set one soul free. It is a grace that says, “You don’t deserve me or anything I have to offer you, but I chose you, and I want to be with you.” God is a God who breaks the shackles of sin around our feet and frees us from the plagues of hurt, despair, and loneliness. And this God of grace and freedom is the very same God of grace and freedom that we read about in Exodus. It fascinates me that in the morning I am praying to the same God who Moses talked to in the burning bush.
The book of Exodus was written by Moses after he wrote the book of Genesis. Although we don’t know for sure, it’s likely that the original readers of Exodus were both 1st and 2nd generation Israelites (out of Egypt) wandering around in the desert on their way to the Promised Land of Canaan. The book of Exodus serves to further answer their many questions for and about God, as well as reminding them of how they are to be living as His set-apart people.
The book of Genesis leaves off with Israel (formerly named Jacob, son of Isaac) and his 12 sons living in Egypt after Joseph’s rise to power in an amazing story of forgiveness and God’s faithfulness. Chapter one of Exodus begins by telling us that as time went by, the Israelites grew very numerous and grew strong as a people. Eventually, a new king arose over Egypt who was not familiar with Joseph, but instead saw the Israelites as a threat. He went as far as to make them slaves, making their lives “bitter with hard service in mortar and brick and in every kind of field labor. They were ruthless in all the tasks that they imposed on them” (1:14). The new king takes his oppression a step further and declares that Hebrew midwives must kill any males born to Hebrew women by throwing them in the Nile River.
Note to the king of Egypt: this is God you’re going against. Creator. Almighty. Sovereign. He shouldn’t have even tried…
From this comes the familiar story of baby Moses in chapter two. After his birth, his mother (an Israelite) says, “Nope, no way I’m killing this beautiful boy!” She hides him for three months, but when she sees that it’s not going to work, she resorts to putting him in a basket and setting him in the river.
The story and its ending are so familiar, because we grow up hearing it in Sunday School, but if you read with God’s covenant to Abraham in mind, it becomes a tremendously significant picture of both God’s faithfulness and his sovereignty. The people he had chosen were under the threat of being wiped off the face of the earth, but in His sovereignty, God saves the life of this one little baby with the ultimate purpose of raising him up as a leader who will be used to save God’s people out of their oppression. That is the powerful and faithful God I know!
It’s not until Moses is 80 years old that he gets his calling from God. After 400 years of slavery, God is going to deliver the Israelites, and Moses is the man He has chosen for the task. After Moses hesitantly consents to the call in chapter four, the rest of the book can be summed up in three major points:
1. God delivers His people
2. God sets apart His people
3. God dwells with His people
God’s deliverance of the Israelites from slavery in Egypt, foreshadows His ultimate plan of redeeming mankind through the death of His son on the cross, symbolized by the blood of the Passover lambs (see chapter 13). God commands the Israelites to celebrate the Passover each year in remembrance of His faithfulness to them.
In a huge display of His power, God allows the Israelites a safe flee from Egypt, and so begins their journey to the land of Canaan—the land that God had first promised Abraham in Genesis 12.
At this point, the original readers are saying, “Whoa. That’s a powerful God—much more powerful than any other god we have heard of. And He cared enough to get us out of Egypt? Is He still that powerful? Does He still care about us?”
Moses wants to answer these questions for the people, which is why he continues to show that God not only delivered them, He set them apart as His very own. Despite their imperfection, God chose them to be set apart from all other people as representatives of His holiness. And in order to do that, God needed to give them a law to live by, which Moses records in chapters 20 through 23.
It is very important to understand the reasons for this law. God did not give them this law so they could score “holiness points” with God. There was no such thing as “Ten Commandment brownie points”. Think about the fact that the Israelites had been in Egypt for 400 years, surrounded by many evil Egyptian religions and practices. As God is seeking to establish Himself as Israel’s only God, the God, He needs for them to understand who He is in character and nature. There is an absolute standard from which they need to recognize sin. And in recognizing their sin, the Israelites need to recognize their need for a holy God to deal with that sin and make things right in the relationship. (More on this in Leviticus!)
God took the Israelites out of Egypt, but now he needs to take Egypt out of the Israelites in order for them to be different among all other peoples. God promises them in 23:23-33 that if they choose to obey the law, he will bless them as a people and drive out their enemies in the land of Canaan.
At first, the Israelites eagerly agree to obey the law (see 24:1-8). But soon after, they carelessly decide to start worshiping a golden calf while Moses is up on Mt. Sinai receiving instructions from God about the tabernacle (chapters 25-31). In chapters 32 through 34, God mercifully restores His promise with Israel (read 34:10,11).
Moses’ note to the Israelites wandering in the desert: “Hey! You belong to the God of the universe! He pursued you! He chose you! And He had mercy on you. Now start living lives in response to that!”
The remainder of the book (chapters 35-40) works up to the climax in 40:34. God not only wanted to set Israel apart to represent Himself on earth. He set them apart because He wanted to be with them. As their God and Creator, He wanted His presence to dwell with them and guide them through their journey.
God gave Moses very specific instructions in chapters 25-31 to make a tabernacle where His glory would come and dwell among the people. The detail in these chapters tends to be boring for most people. However, I challenge you to read those chapters while thinking about what the tabernacle represented—the glory of God. The intricate details are a reflection of a God of perfect holiness Whose glory cannot be matched.
The Israelites unite together and build the tabernacle just as God commanded, and Moses ends the book with the climax of God’s glory filling the tabernacle.
Why does this matter to the original readers? God is with them in the wilderness and He wants to be their Guide. He is along for the journey to the Promised Land. He wanted to be with them then, and He wants to be with them now.
And that same God, Whose character and nature has not budged a millimeter, is the God Who wants to be with you and me. He is a personal God Who has not only chosen us to be entirely His, but to enter into a relationship in which He is walking alongside of us in every step we take. He wants to be with us.
As you read the book of Exodus, take the time to reflect on the following questions:
- How have I experienced the deliverance of God in my life? (Think more specifically than “He has delivered me from sin and hell.” What specific sins has God delivered you from in the past? Has He set you free from bitterness or anger? Has He freed you from an addiction?)
- In relation to the Passover, do I take the time to remember past acts of God’s faithfulness? Do I tell others what He has done for me? Is there an act of God’s faithfulness in my life that has gone unrecognized?
- Am I living a life that shows I am set-apart for Christ? Do my actions, words, thoughts, and attitudes reflect those of someone who is living in the world but not of the world? How am I living differently than the world? Are there things in my life I need to change in order to be living as entirely His?
- Do I believe that God wants to be with me? If God is continually with me, how should that effect my emotions and thoughts? (Think worry, fear, anger, confusion, despair, loneliness, etc.) What are some reasons why I may feel right now that God is not with me?