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1. Hurry Up and Wait! (Exodus 1:1-2:10)

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January 21, 2018

If you’ve ever been through boot camp, you’re familiar with the phrase, “Hurry up and wait!” They roust you out of bed at 5 a.m. and expect you to get ready and be in formation by 5:05. Then you stand there for 20-30 minutes before the drill instructor shows up and tells you what to do next. “Hurry up and wait!”

If you’ve been a Christian for any length of time, you know what it means to wait on God. God’s ways are not our ways and His timing is often not our timing. But what if you waited on God your entire life without hearing from Him? And your kids and their kids and their kids keep waiting, but still no word from God. Centuries have gone by and things are getting worse, not better. You and your people are enslaved by a cruel dictator who is making life miserable. Then, to make matters worse, he orders that all of your male babies be slaughtered.

That’s the situation when the Book of Exodus opens. Under God’s direction, Jacob and his descendants had moved to Egypt to escape from a famine. Jacob’s son, Joseph, was second in charge in Egypt under Pharaoh. He promised to look after his extended family. But after that generation died, we read (Exod. 1:8), “Now a new king arose over Egypt, who did not know Joseph.” Fearing that the growing Israelite population could join with Egypt’s enemies in a time of war, the new Pharaoh forcefully enslaved them. Life became hard and bitter. That was the setting for the birth of Moses, who eighty years later would lead Israel out of slavery and toward the Promised Land.

Why should we study the life of Moses? Because arguably, he is the greatest man in the Old Testament. Abraham and David were both great men in God’s plan. But Moses was even greater. He led Israel out of slavery in Egypt, gave them the Law, and built the tabernacle according to the plan he received from God on the mountain. He wrote the first five books of the Bible, the Pentateuch. Throughout the Old Testament, the exodus is remembered as the main example of God’s salvation of His people. As the leader of the exodus, Moses prefigures the Savior who leads all who trust in and follow Him out of slavery to sin and into the fullness of God’s promise of eternal life. So we can learn much from the life of Moses.

His story begins in the Book of Exodus. Philip Ryken (Exodus [Crossway], p. 27) sums up the theme of Exodus as, “Saved for God’s glory.” The book falls into three main sections: Deliverance, showing God’s power (1-18); the Law, showing God’s holiness and the holiness He expects of His people (19-24); the Tabernacle, revealing God’s presence in worship (25-40). The entire book shows how God kept His covenant with Abraham by making a great nation of his descendants through Isaac and Jacob. It also shows how God took Israel from bondage to an evil tyrant to servitude to a loving God. At first, they are forced to construct buildings for Pharaoh; by the end, they gladly give to build a dwelling place for God (Tremper Longman III, How to Read Exodus [IVP], p. 48).

In the opening section that gives the history and current conditions surrounding the birth of Moses, the message is:

Because in His time God faithfully keeps His covenant promises, wait expectantly on Him.

This story is so familiar to most of us that we’re in danger of missing the human drama. You have to imagine the daily hardship of starting your work day at sunrise and working under the blazing sun until your whole body aches by sundown. Your task is to make bricks, build cities, and farm fields, not for your own betterment or to provide a better future for your children. Rather, it was all for the benefit of your oppressors. If you didn’t meet your quota, the cruel taskmasters had whips to prod you to work harder and faster. Every night you return to your family exhausted and without hope.

Then, to make matters worse, Pharaoh orders death for all of your newborn sons! You try to hide your son who, thanks to some faithful Hebrew midwives, escaped death at birth. But you realize that his every cry could bring the soldiers to plunge their swords into his little heart right in front of you.

So finally, after three agonizing months of hiding him, your wife concocts a plan (I’m assuming this, but it seems likely). She builds a little wicker basket, covers it with tar, and places your precious son in the river near where she knows that Pharaoh’s daughter bathes. Technically, you’re obeying Pharaoh’s order to cast your son into the Nile. But your hope and prayer is that Pharaoh’s daughter might spare his life. You plant his older sister nearby to see what will happen and you and your wife pray through tears like you’ve never prayed before.

Suddenly your daughter bursts through the door. The plan is working! Pharaoh’s daughter didn’t obey her father’s orders to throw the baby to the crocodiles. Instead, she was moved with compassion. Your daughter suggested a Hebrew nurse for the boy and Pharaoh’s daughter had agreed to the plan! So your wife gets to nurse your son for Pharaoh’s daughter and even get paid for doing it! Hallelujah!

But, the drama isn’t over. After the child is weaned, you and your wife have to give him to Pharaoh’s daughter as her son. Your precious little boy is taken from your arms to be raised by a pagan princess in the decadent palace environment. He will learn the Egyptian language and customs. Will he grow up to know, love, and follow the only true God or will he adopt the gods of the Egyptians? Will you ever be able to visit him and see how he is growing up? Will he remember and love you as his parents, or will his allegiance and love shift to this pagan princess? And, where is the God of Abraham in all of this? Can you trust that He will keep His covenant promises to Abraham and his descendants? But even if you trust Him, there is still the empty ache in your hearts because your son is no longer in your home.

So as we consider some lessons from this story, don’t lose sight of the emotions that Moses’ parents, Amram and Jochebed (Exod. 6:20), faced every day for years as their hearts ached for their son. They were people of faith (Heb. 11:23), but we have to remember that they didn’t know the end of the story when they placed their precious baby boy in that basket and then later had to entrust him to Pharaoh’s daughter. As they continued to live under Pharaoh’s oppression and cry out to God for deliverance, we don’t know whether they ever saw their son again in this life.

Maybe your emotions are all over the chart as you wait on God and cry out to Him through your tears. The lesson from the birth and early years of Moses is: Because in His time God faithfully keeps His covenant promises, wait expectantly on Him. Let’s break that down into three parts:

1. God faithfully keeps His covenant promises.

In Genesis 12:2, God promised to make Abraham, who had no children, into a great nation. When Abraham later despaired because he and his wife Sarah were getting up in years, God confirmed His covenant promise that Abraham’s descendants would be like the stars of heaven (Gen. 15:4-5). God reaffirmed it again and again (Gen. 17:4-5; 22:17). But while Abraham and Sarah finally had the son of the promise after they were physically beyond the age of having children, they didn’t live to see their descendants multiply into a great nation.

The Book of Exodus begins by mentioning that the sons of Israel who came to Egypt numbered seventy persons. But then we read (Exod. 1:7), “But the sons of Israel were fruitful and increased greatly, and multiplied, and became exceedingly mighty, so that the land was filled with them.” Pharaoh feared that the Israelites would multiply even more (Exod. 1:10), so he afflicted them, “But” (Exod. 1:12), “the more they afflicted them, the more they multiplied and the more they spread out, so that they were in dread of the sons of Israel.” Even after Pharaoh’s command to kill the Hebrew boys at birth we read (Exod. 1:20), “the people multiplied, and became very mighty” (NASB margin, “numerous”).

Why is there this emphasis on the Israelites multiplying? Moses is telling us that in spite of the efforts of the most powerful monarch on earth to thwart God’s covenant promise to Abraham, God is keeping His word! Even Pharaoh can’t stop Abraham’s descendants from becoming as numerous as the stars of the sky or the sand on the seashore! And through Moses and his successor Joshua, God will eventually bring them into the land that He had promised to Abraham. Just before he dies Joshua affirms to the Israelites (Josh. 23:14), “Now behold, today I am going the way of all the earth, and you know in all your hearts and in all your souls that not one word of all the good words which the Lord your God spoke concerning you has failed; all have been fulfilled for you, not one of them has failed.” So in Exodus 1, the repeated emphasis on the Israelites multiplying shows us that God is keeping His covenant promise to Abraham and his descendants.

Even so, no matter what our trials, even if we lived in a country where the dictator was persecuting believers as Pharaoh was oppressing the Israelites and killing their sons, we must trust that God’s promises will not fail. Even if we die as martyrs, we can trust that King Jesus will return in triumph. Then we will sing (Rev. 11:15): “The kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of His Christ; and He will reign forever and ever.” Hallelujah! But …

2. God faithfully keeps His covenant promises in His time and way, not our time and way.

A. God’s timing is not our timing.

After God promised Abraham a son at age 75, he and Sarah didn’t have Isaac until Abraham was 100. When Abraham died, the only real estate in Canaan that he owned was the burial cave that he had bought from the locals. Now it had been 400 years since God had promised Abraham that his descendants would inherit the land of Canaan (Gen. 15:13). It would be 80 more years until Moses led them out of Egypt, and another 40 years before they entered Canaan. After that, they still had to displace the Canaanites, which took another generation or two.

We want God to hurry up and answer our prayers, but His timing is often, “Hurry up and wait!” Once the New England preacher Phillips Brooks was obviously agitated. His friend asked, “What’s the trouble?” Brooks replied, “The trouble is that I’m in a hurry, but God isn’t.” With the Lord, a thousand years are as a day (Ps. 90:4), but with us a thousand years is, well, a thousand years! We’re like the grass and our flesh is like the flower of the grass (Isa. 40:8): “The grass withers, the flower fades, but the word of our God stands forever.”

B. God’s ways are not our ways.

As God declares (Isa. 55:8-9):

“For My thoughts are not your thoughts,
Nor are your ways My ways,” declares the Lord.
“For as the heavens are higher than the earth,
So are My ways higher than your ways
And My thoughts than your thoughts.”

Alfred Edersheim (Old Testament History [Eerdmans], p. 35) points out that God used the very measure by which Pharaoh tried to exterminate Israel as the means which eventually led to their deliverance. If Pharaoh hadn’t commanded that the Hebrew boys be thrown into the Nile, his daughter wouldn’t have rescued Moses and he wouldn’t have been trained in all of the wisdom of Egypt (Acts 7:22), which prepared him for his calling. And without Pharaoh’s harsh treatment of the Israelites, they would have been comfortable to stay in Egypt indefinitely. Why go through the hardship of displacing the Canaanites when life was sweet in Egypt?

I’d have picked a competent, young leader. God chose a man whose life was almost extinguished at birth, who failed at 40 and spent 40 years on the sidelines before undertaking his mission at 80, when most men are well into retirement! I’d have picked a leader who would grow to adulthood in a godly home where he would be trained to know the Lord. I’d have spared Moses’ parents the heart-wrenching agony of giving their young son to be raised by a pagan woman. I’d have given Pharaoh a heart attack and put in a new leader who was sympathetic and kind to my chosen people. But God’s ways are not my ways.

If I wanted to make a man into a great nation, I’d give him and his wife a dozen kids and give all those kids and their descendants large families. God picked a barren couple and then waited until they were both past normal childbearing years to give them a son. Then He gave Abraham’s son Isaac a wife who couldn’t conceive for a long time and then finally only had twin sons. God rejected the older, more likeable son, and picked the younger one, a deceiver named Jacob.

When God planned to raise Joseph to second in Egypt under Pharaoh, He put him in prison for the better part of his twenties. When God planned to deliver Israel from Pharaoh’s bondage, He hardened, not softened, Pharaoh’s heart. You can trace the theme throughout the Bible: God’s ways are not our ways. So when He does something in your life that you think is upside down, even when evil seems to be winning, you can trust that He is at work, faithful to His ways. What should you do at such difficult times?

3. Wait expectantly on Him.

You may wonder, “Why does God make us wait? Why doesn’t He answer my prayers quickly? Why the delay?”

A. Wait because God’s delays in keeping His covenant promises stem from His patience and mercy.

In Genesis 15:13-16 there is what I call a “window shade” text. The shade goes up for a brief moment, you look inside and see something amazing, and the shade goes back down:

God said to Abram, “Know for certain that your descendants will be strangers in a land that is not theirs, where they will be enslaved and oppressed four hundred years. But I will also judge the nation whom they will serve, and afterward they will come out with many possessions. As for you, you shall go to your fathers in peace; you will be buried at a good old age. Then in the fourth generation they will return here, for the iniquity of the Amorite is not yet complete.”

Probably the “400 years” refers not to the total length of time Israel was enslaved in Egypt, but to the approximate time from God’s covenant with Abraham until the oppression would cease (Jason DeRouchie, How to Understand and Apply the Old Testament [P & R Publishing], p. 314). The fourth generation refers to those who lived in Egypt (Exod. 6:16-20): Levi was the first generation; Kohath, second; Amram, third; Moses and Aaron, fourth. But the eye-popping, “window shade” insight is the Lord’s explanation for why He would allow Israel to be enslaved for those centuries: “for the iniquity of the Amorite is not yet complete”!

God has abundant patience and mercy toward sinners, but it does not last forever. At some point which He alone knows and determines, the sins of a people is full and then judgment falls. In the case of the Amorites (Canaanites), Israel under Joshua was God’s means of judgment. Centuries later, after much patience and mercy, God brought judgment on the northern kingdom through the Assyrians and on the southern kingdom through the Babylonians. Centuries after that, God used Titus the Roman general to destroy Jerusalem, which had crucified her Messiah.

Writing to a suffering church that was being taunted by mockers who say, “Where is the promise of His coming?” Peter replied (2 Pet. 3:9): “The Lord is not slow about His promise, as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing for any to perish but for all to come to repentance.” God does not instantly destroy the wicked because of His patience and mercy.

B. Wait on God even though it often involves increasing trials while you wait.

While God was allowing the Amorites to fill up their sins before judging them, meanwhile, back in Egypt, God allowed an evil dictator to arise who had no regard for His chosen people. Pharaoh made life hard and bitter for the Israelites (Exod. 1:13-14). And then as if things weren’t already hard enough, God allowed this cruel tyrant to slaughter off the Hebrew baby boys. While some were spared through the heroic efforts of the midwives and Moses was spared by God’s providence, we can assume that many Hebrew families lost their newborn sons.

So keep in mind that while you wait on God to fulfill His covenant promises, He doesn’t put a shield around you to protect you from all trials. Often the trials increase while you wait. But …

C. Wait because God is silently working behind the scenes as His people go through trials.

God is not mentioned in Exodus until 1:17, 20, 21, with regard to the Hebrew midwives. He is not mentioned again until 2:23-25, which was years later in Moses’ life. But all the while He was silently, providentially working to bring about His purpose for His people as He had promised Abraham. Moses’ parents trusted God by protecting their son (Heb. 11:23). God protected Moses in the “ark” (the Hebrew word for “basket” in Exod. 2:3, 5 is used elsewhere only of Noah’s ark) and then caused Pharaoh’s daughter to be there at the right time and to have compassion on this Hebrew baby. He allowed Moses’ mother to nurse the child and even get paid for doing so! But He didn’t directly announce His work; it was all behind the scenes.

The same thing is true in the Book of Esther. God is never mentioned in that book, but His “fingerprints” are all over it! He was working providentially to protect His chosen people. And it’s usually that way in your life. You may not be aware of His direct involvement in your difficult circumstances. But you can trust that He is working all things together for your good (Rom. 8:28).

D. Wait because God uses these increasing trials to prepare us to appreciate His deliverance when it comes.

As I said earlier, if Israel had been content in Egypt, they wouldn’t have been open to going to Canaan, in fulfillment of God’s promise to Abraham. If life is sweet, we don’t see our need for the Savior or cry out to Him for salvation. But, their difficult times did not negate God’s covenant promises. The trials that we go through should make our longing for heaven all the greater.

Conclusion

Just as Israel waited for centuries for a “savior” to deliver them from slavery in Egypt, so centuries later the faithful in Israel had been waiting for centuries for God’s promised Savior while they languished under Roman domination. Then an angel of the Lord appeared to the elderly husband of an elderly barren woman and promised to give them a son who would go before the Savior to prepare His way (Luke 1:5-17). When that son, John the Baptist, was born, his father praised the Lord for remembering His holy covenant, which He swore to Abraham (Luke 1:72-73).

Like Moses, that Savior, Jesus, was born under an evil dictator who sought to kill Him. He was delivered from death when Mary and Joseph escaped to Egypt. Like God’s son, Israel, God called His Son Jesus out of Egypt (Matt. 2:15; Hos. 11:1). Like the Israelites, who passed through the Red Sea, so Jesus underwent baptism. Israel spent 40 years in the wilderness; Jesus spent 40 days in the wilderness being tempted by Satan. Like Moses, through whom God provided manna, so Jesus multiplied the loaves and fishes. But, even greater than manna, which Israel ate in the wilderness and died, Jesus proclaimed (John 6:51), “I am the living bread that came down out of heaven; if anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever; and the bread also which I will give for the life of the world is My flesh.”

Jesus’ death provides eternal salvation from God’s judgment for all who trust in Him. Have you done that? If so, wait on Him! He is faithful. He is coming to fulfill all His covenant promises!

Application Questions

  1. How can we know whether to keep praying when God hasn’t answered? Should we pray indefinitely for it?
  2. Some claim that if God doesn’t answer your prayers instantly, it’s because you lack faith. Why is this cruel and unbiblical?
  3. Some argue that God is not sovereign over evil people or events. How would you refute this (hint: Acts 2:23; 4:27-28)?
  4. What if God’s judgment falls on America? (It could, you know!) Would you be ready to trust Him even then?

Copyright, Steven J. Cole, 2018, All Rights Reserved.

Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture Quotations are from the New American Standard Bible, Updated Edition © The Lockman Foundation

Related Topics: Character of God, Faith

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