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9. Moses and the Exodus (Exodus 1-15)

Exodus 1-15


In his book, The Jesus I Never Knew, Philip Yancey writes:

Richard Nixon got carried away with excitement in 1969 when Apollo astronauts first landed on the moon. “It’s the greatest day since Creation!” crowed the president, until Billy Graham solemnly reminded him of Christmas and Easter. By any measure of history, Graham was right.109

From our vantage point as New Testament Christians, we would surely agree with Billy Graham. The coming of our Lord is truly the greatest event since Creation. But from the perspective of the Old Testament believer, there is one great event after Creation that overshadows all others – the exodus of the nation Israel from Egypt. This is a great turning point in the “unfolding drama of redemption.”

This Sunday is the last day of 2000. Tomorrow we mark the beginning of a new year. The exodus also marked a new beginning:

1 The Lord said to Moses and Aaron in the land of Egypt, 2 “This month is to be the beginning of months for you; it is to be for you the first month of the year (Exodus 12:1-2).

The exodus is the subject of our study in this lesson, and it is vitally important to our understanding of the Bible. The theme of the exodus occurs repeatedly in the Old Testament, as well as in the New. Let us give careful consideration to this great turning point in the history of Israel.

Genesis as the Introduction to the Book of Exodus

More than 400 years separate the life of Joseph from the birth of the nation Israel at the exodus. Moses passes over these events with very little comment. This silence may be due to the fact that Moses wishes to stress the continuity between the events recorded in the Book of Genesis with those of the Book of Exodus.

The exodus of Israel from Egypt is the convergence of several important elements. Let us briefly consider these elements. The first element is that of the promises and prophecies of Genesis. After man’s fall in the Garden of Eden, God promised Eve that her “seed” would “crush the head of the serpent” (Genesis 3:15). That seed was to come through Seth (Genesis 5), Noah (Genesis 6-9), and then Abraham and his offspring (Genesis 12-50). God’s covenant with Abraham was first articulated in Genesis 12:1-3, and then later reiterated and further clarified (Genesis 13:14-17; 15, 17, etc.). God indicated to Abram that it would be several hundred years before his offspring would possess the land of Canaan:

12 When the sun went down, Abram fell sound asleep. Then great terror overwhelmed him. 13 Then the Lord said to Abram, “Know for certain that your descendants will be strangers in a foreign country. They will be enslaved and oppressed for four hundred years. 14 But I will execute judgment on the nation that they will serve. Afterward they will come out with many possessions. 15 But as for you, you will go to your ancestors in peace and be buried at a good old age. 16 In the fourth generation your descendants will return here, for the sin of the Amorites has not yet reached its limit” (Genesis 15:12-16).

Events in Genesis give evidence that this promise will most certainly be fulfilled. Abraham’s sojourn in Egypt is the first such evidence. In Genesis 12, a famine prompts Abram to go down to Egypt with Sarai and his nephew Lot. This does not appear to be an act of faith, but rather the manifestation of Abram’s doubt and fear. The deception of Abram and Sarai concerning their true relationship is further indication of their lack of faith. Nevertheless, God preserves Sarai’s purity and protects the lives of Abram and his family while in Egypt. More than this, God greatly prospers Abram in Egypt, so that he leaves Egypt with great wealth (Genesis 13:2). Joseph will later go down to Egypt, betrayed by his brothers and sold into slavery. In spite of this, God exalts Joseph and greatly prospers him in the land of his sufferings (Genesis 41:52). The experiences of Abram and Joseph in Egypt prepare the reader for the marvelous things that are yet to happen in Egypt. The day of the fulfillment of the prophecy of Genesis 15:12-16 draws near as the Book of Exodus begins.

The second element is that of persecution of the Israelites in Egypt. During the remainder of Joseph’s lifetime (approximately 70 years), Jacob’s family prospered greatly, thanks to Joseph. They purchased property in the land of Goshen and became very fruitful (Genesis 47:27). Eventually, Joseph died, as did the Pharaoh he served, and then things began to change. I do not believe that these years the Israelites spent in Egypt were particularly prosperous, spiritually speaking. It would seem that they became attached to the land of Egypt, to its foods, to its king (they depended upon him), and even to its false religion (see Joshua 24:14-15; Amos 5:25-26). The changes of administration in Egypt eventually brought about a very significant change of status.

Pharaoh and the Egyptians began to feel threatened by the presence and the prosperity of the Israelites. The Israelites were numerous and they were strong, more so than the Egyptians. The Egyptians feared that if a war broke out with one of their neighbors the Israelites would side with their enemies, bringing about their downfall (Exodus 1:9-10). On the other hand, since the Israelites had become the work force of the land, the Egyptians did not want to see them leave.

As I read of the Egyptians’ fears, I could not help but think of this Proverb:

What the wicked fears will come on him;
What the righteous desire will be granted (Proverbs 10:24).

What the Egyptians feared did come upon them, no matter how hard they tried to prevent it. The presence of the Israelites in Egypt brought about the complete defeat of the Egyptians at the hand of God. In addition to this, the Israelites escaped. The Egyptians set into motion a sequence of futile attempts to suppress the Israelites, ignorant of the warning of the Abrahamic Covenant:

“I will bless those who bless you,
but the one who treats you lightly I must curse” (Genesis 12:3a).

Initially, the Egyptians sought to deal so harshly with the Israelites that they would have no spirit left to resist their oppressors:

11 So they installed captains of work forces over them to oppress them with hard labor. As a result they built Pithom and Rameses as store cities for Pharaoh. 12 But the more the Egyptians oppressed them, the more they multiplied and spread. As a result the Egyptians loathed the Israelites, 13 and they made the Israelites serve rigorously. 14 So they made their lives bitter by hard service in mortar and bricks and by all kinds of service in the fields. Every kind of service the Israelites were required to give was rigorous (Exodus 1:11-14).

This approach failed miserably. The harder the Egyptians worked the Israelites, the stronger they became. This intensified the Egyptians’ animosity toward the Israelites and prompted them to deal even more harshly with God’s people.

The Israelites actually thrived in the midst of their adversity, prompting the Egyptians to devise another scheme:

15 The king of Egypt said to the Hebrew midwives, one of whom was named Shiphrah, and the other Puah, 16 “When you assist the Hebrew women in childbirth, observe at the delivery: if it is a boy, kill him, but if it is a girl, then she may live.” 17 But the midwives feared God, and they did not do what the king of Egypt had told them; they let the boys live. 18 Then the king of Egypt summoned the midwives and said to them, “Why have you done this, and let the boys live?” 19 And the midwives replied to Pharaoh, “Because the Hebrew women are not like the Egyptian women—for the Hebrew women are vigorous; they give birth before the midwives come to them!” 20 So God treated the midwives well, and the people multiplied and became exceedingly strong. 21 And because the midwives feared God, he made households for them (Exodus 1:15-21).

You might say that when the Egyptians failed to work the Israelites to death, they changed their approach, ordering the Hebrew midwives to carry out “partial birth abortions.” While in the process of assisting the Hebrew women give birth, the midwives were to kill the male infants. Eventually, this would leave only female Israelites, who would be taken as wives or concubines by the Egyptians. Had this scheme succeeded, the nation Israel would have been exterminated, and the promised seed would be no more. The plan did not succeed, however, because the midwives feared God more than Pharaoh, and thus they refused to kill the boy babies. As a result, God prospered these women and gave them families of their own. One could only wish that health care professionals had the same concern for the unborn today. The slaughter of the innocent today must mean that judgment is near.

The Egyptians were not willing to allow their plans to be thwarted and so they devised yet another devious plan of genocide:

Then Pharaoh commanded all his people, “All sons that are born you must throw into the river, but all daughters you may let live” (Exodus 1:22).

This was a far more aggressive plan because it was out and out genocide. This did not depend upon the compliance of the Israelites, but on the actions of the Egyptians. Every Egyptian was told to drown any and every boy baby born to the Israelites. It must certainly have appeared that this plan was destined to succeed. Who could possibly prevent it?

The third element is that of the preservation and preparation of Moses as Israel’s deliverer. God overturned the Egyptians’ final scheme in a most unusual way – through the birth and divine deliverance of a particular Hebrew baby boy (Exodus 2:1-10). A man and a woman from the tribe of Levi had a baby boy. They defied Pharaoh’s decree, hiding their son for three months. But when it became impossible to hide him any longer, they “cast him into the Nile River.” In technical compliance with the edict of Pharaoh, they put their child into an ark woven of reeds, and then placed him in the Nile. His sister stationed herself nearby to see what would happen. She was not there to save the child, for there was nothing she could do to save him.110

What a wonderful privilege God gave Miriam, Moses’ older sister. As she looked on from a distance, she saw the daughter of Pharaoh come to the edge of the Nile to wash herself. The daughter of Pharaoh spotted the basket floating in the reeds, and sent one of her attendants to fetch it. When she opened the basket, she saw this Hebrew baby, and his cries melted her heart. She had compassion on this baby, even though she knew that it was a Hebrew boy. She defied the order of her own father, taking the baby out of the water and adopting it as her own. Not without significance, she named the baby “Moses,” which means something like “to draw out.” In her own words, she tells us the meaning of his name: “Because I drew him from the water” (Exodus 2:10).

Most often, we look at this wonderful story as the deliverance of one Hebrew baby, but it is far more than that – it is the deliverance of every Hebrew boy. Had Moses not been taken “out of the water” by Pharaoh’s daughter, there would have been no nation for him to deliver more than 75 years later.111 Pharaoh had given a decree, and his own daughter defied it. She adopted this Hebrew baby, and she was not about to let her father or anyone else harm him. How many Hebrew babies do you think were thrown into the Nile after this? Every time his mother (or anyone else) called his name, “Moses,” it was a reminder that Pharaoh’s edict had been nullified.

As he grew up, he became a very powerful man in Egypt.112 Moses apparently never forgot his roots. One day he came upon an Egyptian who was abusing one of the Hebrew slaves. Moses killed the Egyptian and hid his body in the sand (2:12). Moses thought the Hebrews would understand that he was their deliverer, but he was wrong. The next day Moses encountered a Hebrew slave abusing another Hebrew. When he attempted to correct the offending Israelite, he was arrogantly rebuked:

13 When he went out the next day, there were two Hebrew men fighting. So he said to the one who was in the wrong, “Why are you striking your fellow Hebrew?” 14 And the man replied, “Who made you a ruler and a judge over us? Are you planning to kill me just as you killed that Egyptian?” Then Moses was afraid, thinking, “Surely what I did has become known.” 15 When Pharaoh heard about this event, he sought to kill Moses. So Moses fled from Pharaoh and settled in the land of Midian; he settled by a certain well (Exodus 2:13-15).113

Knowing that Pharaoh had been informed of his crime, Moses fled to Midian. It was there that he, like his ancestors before him,114 found his wife at a well (Exodus 2:14-22). For nearly 40 years115 he tended flocks in this wilderness before God called him to deliver the Israelites from their bondage in Egypt. God had taken notice of the mistreatment of His people, and He had remembered (as though He could forget) His covenant with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.

God communicated with Moses from the midst of a burning bush. This burning bush was such an incredible sight that Moses had come closer to investigate. God called Moses from the bush, revealing that He was going to liberate His people, and that Moses was the man He was going to use to confront Pharaoh:

7 Then the Lord said, “I have surely seen the affliction of my people who are in Egypt. I have heard their cry because of their taskmasters, for I know their sorrows. 8 I have come down to deliver them from the hand of the Egyptians and to bring them up from that land to a land that is both good and large, to a land flowing with milk and honey, to the territory of the Canaanites, Hittites, Amorites, Perizzites, Hivites, and Jebusites. 9 And now, indeed, the cry of the Israelites has come to me, and I have also seen how severely the Egyptians oppress them. 10 So now, go, and I will send you to Pharaoh to bring my people, the Israelites, out of Egypt” (Exodus 3:8-10).

Moses was not so easily convinced. He was overly confident 40 years earlier, when he attempted to deliver his fellow-Israelites, but his complete failure had drained him of all self-confidence. It would do us well to briefly review Moses’ objections and God’s response.

Objection One: “Who am I?”

11 But Moses said to God, “Who am I, that I should go to Pharaoh, or that I should bring the Israelites out of Egypt?” 12 And God said, “Surely I will be with you; and this will be the sign to you that I have sent you: When you bring the people out of Egypt, you will serve God on this mountain” (Exodus 3:11-12).

It was not a bad question. What man would dare to stand before Pharaoh, ruler of one of the most powerful nations on the face of the earth, and demand that he release the Israelites? Many years before, Moses was the (adopted) son of Pharaoh. He was a man of great power. On his own initiative, he sought to deliver his kinsmen. And he failed, miserably. Moses was now a felon and a fugitive from justice. How could he possibly return to Egypt to face Pharaoh?

God’s answer might be paraphrased this way:

“It really doesn’t matter who you are, Moses. What matters is that I have sent you, and I will be with you as you go and stand before Pharaoh. Your success in this mission does not depend upon your greatness or power, but on mine. I am like this bush, which burns, but does not burn up. Like this bush appears to be, I am eternal. Therefore, when I say I will be with you, you can be assured that I will, for I am eternal. Your reward for obeying Me will be to serve Me on this mountain.”

It wasn’t the identity of the messenger that mattered; it was the identity of Him who sent the messenger.
God – the Creator of heaven and earth – was the One who was sending Moses to carry out this task. If God was with Moses, then Moses would surely carry out his mission.

Objection Two: “Who are you?”

13 But Moses said to God, “If I go to the Israelites and say to them, ‘The God of your fathers has sent me to you,’ and they say to me, ‘What is his name?’—what should I say to them?” 14 So God said to Moses, “I AM that I AM.” And he said, “You must say this to the Israelites, ‘I AM has sent me to you.’” 15 God also said to Moses, “You must say this to the Israelites, ‘The Lord, the God of your fathers, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, has sent me to you. This is my name forever, and this is my memorial from generation to generation’” (Exodus 3:13-15).

We know that Moses exercised faith when he made the decision to identify with God’s people, rather than with Egypt, and more specifically with Pharaoh and his daughter (Hebrews 11:24-25). But the question Moses raises in Exodus 3:13 should also inform us that his knowledge of God was limited at this point. Whatever Moses knew about God, the Israelites knew even less (Joshua 24:14-15). By what name, Moses inquired, should he identify God? How would the Israelites know Him? I love the contrast between Moses’ earlier words, “Who am I?”, and God’s response to Moses here, “I AM that I AM” (3:14). If Moses’ words revealed his utter lack of confidence, God’s words were intended to inspire confidence, in Him. He is the ever-present, ever-existing One. He is the One who is constantly present, with Moses and with His people, Israel. He is not just the God of the present and of the future; He is the God of the past, the God who made a covenant with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob (3:15).

Objection three: “What if they don’t believe me?”

1 Moses answered again, “And if they do not believe me or pay attention to me, but say, ‘The Lord has not appeared to you’?” 2 And the Lord said to him, “What is that in your hand?” He replied, “A rod.” 3 And the Lord said, “Throw it to the ground.” So he threw it to the ground, and it became a snake, and Moses fled from it. 4 But the Lord said to Moses, “Put out your hand and grab it by the tail”—so he put out his hand and caught it, and it became a rod in his hand— 5 “that they may believe that the Lord, the God of their fathers, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, has appeared to you.” 6 And the Lord also said to him, “Put your hand into your robe.” So he put his hand into his robe; and when he brought it out—it was leprous as snow! 7 And he said, “Put your hand back into your robe.” So he put his hand back into his robe; and when he brought it out from his robe—it was restored like the rest of his skin. 8 “And if they do not believe you or pay attention to the former sign, then they may believe the latter sign. 9 And if they do not believe even these two signs or listen to you, then take some water from the Nile and pour it out on the dry ground. The water that you take out of the Nile will become blood on the dry ground” (Exodus 4:1-9).

Moses is beginning to tread on thin ice at this point. He asks what he will do if the people don’t believe him, but this is after God has already said,

18 “And the elders will listen to you; and then you and the elders of Israel must go to the king of Egypt, and say to him, ‘The Lord, the God of the Hebrews, has met with us. And now, let us go three days’ journey into the wilderness, so that we may offer sacrifice to the Lord our God.’ 19 But I know that the king of Egypt will not let you go, unless compelled to do so by overwhelming force. 20 So I will extend my hand and strike Egypt with all my wonders that I will do among them; and after that he will let you go. 21 “And I will give this people favor with the Egyptians, so that when you depart you will not go out empty-handed. 22 Every woman will ask her neighbor and the one who happens to be staying in her house for gold items, silver items, and clothing. And you will put these articles on your sons and on your daughters—thus you will plunder the Egyptians!” (Exodus 3:18-22, emphasis mine).

Moses doubts God’s promises, but God graciously responds by giving Moses several signs, which will prove that he speaks with God’s authority and power. The signs are: (1) the staff that becomes a snake; (2) the hand that becomes leprous; and, (3) the water that becomes blood. These signs will cause the Israelites to take Moses seriously.

It is easy for us to sit back and be critical of Moses and his lack of faith, isn’t it? But let me remind you that while Moses’ experience at the burning bush must have made a great impression on him, it would hardly have been compelling proof to the Israelites, or to Pharaoh. I can’t remember who it was who first commented on this, but it is surely true. Can you imagine being Moses and standing before Pharaoh, insisting that he release the Israelites? Pharaoh responds, “Why should I believe you and do what you say?” Moses then replies, “Well, you see, I was talking to this bush… .” No wonder Moses was worried about the Israelites believing him. His story was almost too incredible to believe.

Objection Four: “I’m not eloquent; please send someone else.”

10 Then Moses said to the Lord, “O my Lord, I am not an eloquent man, neither in the past nor since you have spoken to your servant; but I am slow of mouth and slow of tongue.”11 And the Lord said to him, “Who gave a mouth to man, or who makes a person mute or deaf or seeing or blind? Is it not I, the Lord? 12 So now, go, and I will be with your mouth, and will teach you what you must say” (Exodus 4:10-12).

Moses’ words here seem a bit too humble when compared to Stephen’s words in Acts 7:

“So Moses was trained in all the wisdom of the Egyptians and was powerful in his words and deeds” (Acts 7:22).

It should be remembered, however, that Stephen says this of Moses concerning his abilities while he was at the height of his power and popularity in Egypt. After 40 years out in the desert, not speaking Egyptian, one can understand how Moses might question his rhetorical skills. Nevertheless, his reticence does not seem to be founded upon humility as much as on fear, and because of this, God is angered (4:14). God appoints Aaron as Moses’ mouthpiece and sends him on his way to Egypt. God later informs Moses that all those who once sought him in Egypt are dead, so that it is safe for him to return (4:19).

God vs. the “gods” of Egypt

Exodus 5:1—15:21

The exodus is much more than a face-to-face confrontation with Pharaoh; it is a confrontation between the “gods” of Egypt and the one true God, the God of Israel:

1 And afterward Moses and Aaron went to Pharaoh and said, “Thus says the Lord, the God of Israel, ‘Release my people so that they may hold a pilgrim feast to me in the desert.’” 2 But Pharaoh said, Who is the Lord that I should obey him by releasing Israel? I do not know the Lord, and I will not release Israel (Exodus 5:1-2, emphasis mine).

“And I will pass through the land of Egypt in the same night, and I will kill all the firstborn in the land of Egypt, both of humans and of animals, and on all the gods of Egypt I will execute judgment. I am the Lord (Exodus 12:12, emphasis mine).

Egypt had many “gods,” and Pharaoh was angered by Moses’ claim that his God demanded the release of the Israelites. To Pharaoh, the God of the Hebrews was in the minor leagues, and he felt no obligation to surrender to His demands. The plagues are not only proof of the sovereignty of the God of Israel, but of the powerlessness of the “gods” of Egypt.

It is not just the Egyptians who need to be convinced that God of Israel is God alone, or that the “gods” of Egypt are really no-gods; the Israelites needed to learn this also, because many of the Israelites had worshipped Egyptian gods in Egypt. Notice Joshua’s words to the Israelites, just before his death, along with those of the prophet Amos:

“Now obey the Lord and worship him with integrity and loyalty. Put aside the gods your ancestors worshiped beyond the river and in Egypt and worship the Lord” (Joshua 24:24).

25 “Did you present Me with sacrifices and grain offerings in the wilderness for forty years, O house of Israel? 26 You also carried along Sikkuth your king and Kiyyun, your images, the star of your gods which you made for yourselves” (Amos 5:25-26, NASB).

Prelude to the Plagues

Chapters 5 and 6 of Exodus are really a prelude to the plagues. Before God does some great and mighty work in the Bible, He often prefaces it with events that underscore the difficulty (perhaps better, the impossibility) of what He is about to do. God promises a son to Abram and Sarai, but He waits 25 years to provide this son, so that by the time He does enable Sarah to conceive, it is a “Class A” miracle. Joseph’s situation looks absolutely hopeless as he finds himself in an Egyptian prison, but God provides a miraculous deliverance, so that Joseph does not merely find himself a man who is released from prison, but one who has become the second most powerful man in Egypt. God will purposely lead the Israelites so that they are trapped between the Red Sea, mountains, and the pursuing Egyptians.

In chapter 4, Moses returned to Egypt and met with the elders of Israel. He performed the signs God had given him, and they all believed (4:31). No doubt elated by his early success with the Israelites, Moses confronts Pharaoh for the first time. He does not demand that Pharaoh permanently release the Israelites; he only requests a three-day vacation, so that the Israelites can go into the wilderness to worship their God (5:1). He does not threaten Pharaoh and Egypt, promising that God will bring plagues upon them if the request is denied. He indicates that if the Israelites do not obey God by worshipping Him, God may bring a plague on them (5:3). Pharaoh bristles, stating that he does not even know this “God” whom they want to worship, accusing the Israelites of merely being lazy. He not only refuses to release the Israelites, he greatly increases their workload (5:6-11). The Egyptians beat the foremen, and they came to Moses to protest that Moses had not made things better for them; they were worse off than ever! When Moses went to the Lord, he wasn’t happy, either:

22 Moses returned to the Lord, and said, “Lord, why have you brought trouble to this people? Why did you ever send me? 23 From the time I went to speak to Pharaoh in your name, he has caused trouble for this people, and you have certainly not rescued your people!” (Exodus 5:22-23).

God was not ruffled by the indignation of Moses. He once again outlines the process that He will use to manifest His power over Pharaoh and Egypt (6:1-2). He reminds Moses of the covenant He had made with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob (6:3-4). He reminds Moses of His compassion toward His people and His awareness of their affliction (6:5). He reassures Moses that He will deliver the Israelites from their affliction and bring them into the Promised Land, just as He promised (6:6-8). But when Moses told this to the Israelites, they would not listen to him. When God told Moses to return to Pharaoh, Moses protested. If the Israelites would not believe him, why would Pharaoh take him seriously? Moses once again reminded God that he was not a forceful speaker (6:9-12). God responded by repeating Moses’ orders: Let Moses and Aaron go back to confront Pharaoh once again (6:13).

After a somewhat parenthetical genealogy of the line of Levi (focusing particularly on Moses and Aaron – 6:14-27), Moses takes up the matter of his difficulty with speech (6:28-30). God repeats Moses’ orders, with the assurance that Aaron will be the spokesman for Moses (7:1-2). He repeats the process by which Pharaoh and all Egypt will be subdued:

3 “But I will harden Pharaoh’s heart. And although I will multiply my signs and my wonders in the land of Egypt, 4 Pharaoh will not listen to you. And I will lay my hand on Egypt and bring out my regiments, my people the Israelites, from the land of Egypt with great acts of judgment. 5 Then the Egyptians will know that I am the Lord, when I extend my hand over Egypt and bring out the Israelites from among them” (Exodus 7:3-5).

God instructs Moses and Aaron to return to Pharaoh. Moses is told that Pharaoh will request a miracle, and when he does, Moses is to instruct Aaron to throw down his staff, which will become a snake (7:8-9). Moses and Aaron go to Pharaoh. No demands are reported, but Pharaoh does ask for a miracle, as proof of God’s power and Moses’ authority as His spokesman. Moses instructs Aaron to throw down his staff, which becomes a snake. Pharaoh summons his magicians, and they appear to reproduce the miracle, except for the fact that Aaron’s snake swallows up all their staffs. The heart of Pharaoh is hardened, and he refuses to take heed to the word of the Lord (7:13).

The “prelude to the plagues” plays a very important role in the story of the exodus. It sets the stage for the drama that is about to take place when God brings the series of ten plagues upon Pharaoh and Egypt. Even before the first plague, the heart of Pharaoh is already hardened. He is determined not to obey the God of the Israelites. He has no intention of letting the Israelites go. He has a false sense of confidence because his servants have been able to imitate the miracle of the serpents. The Israelites have changed their tune as well. Initially, the elders and the people believed the words Moses spoke (through Aaron), probably due to the signs he performed (Exodus 4:29-31). But when Pharaoh punished the Israelites with harder labor, their leaders complained to Moses, and Moses himself complained to God as well (5:6-22). The people ceased to listen to Moses:

Moses told this to the Israelites, but they did not listen to him because of their discouragement and harsh labor (Exodus 6:9, emphasis mine; cf. also v. 12).

The Israelites were no longer supportive of Moses by the time the plagues commenced. Moses was pretty much on his own so far as taking a stand against Pharaoh was concerned. He did not have widespread support from those he was sent to liberate. In my opinion, many of the Israelites may have wished that Moses would just go away and leave them alone. Up to this point, his “ministry” had only caused them further pain. Moses kept facing off with Pharaoh because God commanded him to do so, not because the people urged him to go. And when the people are set free, they are virtually forced out of Egypt by Pharaoh. They had no choice but to leave. Pharaoh and the Egyptians were so stricken by the loss of the firstborn that they don’t ever want to see an Israelite again. All of this is to say that the exodus was the result of God’s faithfulness, rather than the result of Israel’s faith and obedience. Salvation is truly of the Lord, and not of man.

Before the plagues have even begun, the reader has a very strong sense of the difficulty of the task ahead. Pharaoh is adamantly opposed to letting the Israelites go, and it will take a miracle for Pharaoh’s will to be broken. Indeed, it will take a sequence of miracles before Pharaoh will finally let God’s people go. The victory will not be due to the confident leadership of Moses or of Aaron, nor will it be due to the faith of the Israelites. It will not be due to the kindness of Pharaoh, nor even out of the fear of divine judgment. The victory over Pharaoh and the gods of Egypt will be that of God alone.

The Plagues

There is a distinct pattern to the plagues that God brings upon the Egyptians. First we see that God employs the forces of nature against the Egyptians. God, the Creator of the heavens and the earth (Genesis 1 and 2), will once again demonstrate His power over nature by employing it as His judgment rod against Egypt. Second, the plagues are the instrument of God to mock the gods of Egypt. It is very likely that each plague is designed to mock one or more of the Egyptian “gods,” showing that God is in control over the aspects of nature that the Egyptians thought one of their gods controlled.116 Third, there is a gradual increase in the level of difficulty of the plagues as God’s battle with the gods of Egypt intensifies. The magicians of Egypt initially imitate the miracles of the first plagues, but eventually these same magicians must acknowledge their inability to duplicate the work of God, let alone to reverse it. As the plagues become more severe, Pharaoh begins to bargain with Moses, but once the plague is removed, Pharaoh once again refuses to let the Israelites go.

The first three plagues produce discomfort; the next three plagues produce destruction. The Nile is turned to blood, which is an irritation and inconvenience for the Egyptians. The Egyptian magicians simulate the miracle, and Pharaoh is not impressed with the sign that God has given through Moses and Aaron. The second plague occurs one week after the first. Frogs appear throughout the kingdom. Pharaoh’s magicians imitate this miracle as well, but Pharaoh is forced to bargain with Moses. He promises to release Israel if Moses will call off the plague, but once the frogs are gone, Pharaoh retracts his promise. The third plague comes with no warning. Gnats are sent upon the land of Egypt, and this time the magicians are unable to simulate the miracle. They confess, “this is the finger of God” (8:19). Nevertheless, because Pharaoh’s heart has been hardened, he refuses to release the Israelites as he promised.

The second series of three plagues is more than just irritating; it is personally painful and destructive. Each of the successive plagues strikes closer and closer to home, especially for Pharaoh. They also become more specific and discriminative. The fourth plague is promised at a specific time (see 8:23; 9:5). From the fourth plague on, God distinguishes between the Egyptians and the Israelites (see 8:22; 9:4). The Egyptians suffer, but the Israelites are exempted from the judgment. Death comes to the livestock of the Israelites, a foretaste of what is yet to come on the Egyptians. Pharaoh begins to bargain with Moses, seeking to reduce his losses, but whenever the plague is removed, he revokes his promise. The third of each series of plagues reveals Pharaoh as one whose heart is hardened and unwilling to admit defeat.

The third series of plagues produces selective destruction and a growing sense of dread on the part of the Egyptians (but not Pharaoh). The destruction is selective because the Israelites are exempted. God tells the Egyptians that He could have destroyed all of them by now, if He had chosen to do so. He also warns that this series of plagues will prove to be utterly devastating. He will now commence unleashing all His plagues on them, impacting them in a very personal way (9:14). The first plague of the series (the seventh plague in the series) is a great storm which will produce lightning and hail. God reveals the time the storm will come, and for the first time, appeals to the people of Egypt to spare themselves from this judgment by bringing men and cattle in from the fields. Those who believed brought their servants and cattle inside, sparing them; those who did not believe and respond as Moses instructed suffered the consequences. This is the first instance of some Egyptians acting on the word of Moses with some measure of faith (at least they believe that judgment was coming, and they did what Moses said to avoid it). In the seventh plague, the hail destroyed the crops except for the wheat and spelt, which were later crops. The eighth plague destroyed all remaining vegetation. Pharaoh twice confesses his sin, but then revokes his promise once the plagues are stopped. The ninth plague was that of a terrifying darkness, which lasted for three days. It was a terrifying kind of darkness, and yet Pharaoh’s heart is hardened. After failing to persuade Moses to leave the cattle behind, Pharaoh sends Moses and Aaron away and tells them not to come back.

The tenth and final plague is introduced in chapter 11, although it seems clear that Moses announced this plague to Pharaoh just before he departed from the presence of Pharaoh for the last time (which was recorded in the final verses of chapter 10). God begins by telling Moses that this is the final plague, and that after this judgment falls upon Pharaoh and all Egypt, Pharaoh will release the Israelites (11:1). God then gives specific instruction as to how the Israelites are to ask their Egyptian neighbors for gifts of silver and gold (11:2). The firstborn of every Egyptian was to be slain, from the firstborn of Pharaoh to the firstborn of the Egyptian slave girl, and even including the cattle. Pharaoh’s servants would then come to Moses and request that he and the Israelites leave Egypt.

In Exodus 12 and 13, we are told about the judgment of God upon Egypt, and how the firstborn son of every Egyptian was slain. We are told that Pharaoh finally released the Israelites and how the Egyptians voluntarily gave the Israelites their items of silver and gold (12:29-36). We are told how the Israelites had no time to make leavened bread, so that they ate unleavened bread instead (12:34). Moses tells us that God led the Israelites out of Egypt by an unusual route, which took them “around by the way of the wilderness to the Red Sea” (13:18).

But interspersed within chapters 12 and 13 are God’s very precise instructions regarding the celebration of the first Passover meal, which was the means by which He would spare the firstborn sons of the Israelites. In addition to this, God gave instructions regarding the perpetual observance of the Passover as a memorial. The exodus of Israel from Egypt was to be marked by becoming the first month of the year from that point on (12:1-2). The Passover Celebration was to be an annual reminder of the great deliverance that God accomplished for His people at the exodus.

The Passover celebration was to be followed up with the “Feast of unleavened bread” (12:14-20). All leaven was to be removed from their houses, and no leavened bread was to be eaten for seven days after Passover. Since God spared the firstborn sons of the Israelites, they belonged to God, and thus the Israelites were to redeem their firstborn sons and cattle (13:1-16).

The Great Escape

Angered by Moses’ refusal to negotiate regarding the release of Israel (the Israelites could go, but the flocks and herds must remain in Egypt), the heart of Pharaoh was further hardened, resulting in his command that Moses was never again to come into his presence (10:24-29). At midnight, the Lord struck all the firstborn males in Egypt dead, from the firstborn of Pharaoh to the firstborn of the lowest servant girl in society. No household in Egypt was untouched by death (12:30). Pharaoh summoned Moses and Aaron and informed them that all Israel could leave Egypt, with no conditions – all the Israelites and all their cattle. He added one more request, “But bless me also” (12:32b). What an interesting footnote. Now, at last, Pharaoh finally admits defeat at the hand of the God of Israel, and he asks Moses to bless him. Pharaoh sees that Moses, the shepherd, is greater than he, and thus it is Moses who can bless Pharaoh, and not Pharaoh who can pronounce a blessing on Moses. It would seem to me that Pharaoh is seeking a blessing from Moses, a kind of backhanded commitment that he would bring no further plagues upon Egypt.

The Israelites were to have eaten the Passover meal “in haste,” and “dressed to travel” (12:11), so it did not take that long for the Israelites to begin to make their way out of Egypt. Before they left, they asked their neighbors for gifts of silver and gold, gifts their neighbors gladly gave, if only the Israelites would leave and never return. The Israelites left Egypt after 430 years117 in that land. Moses makes certain to inform his readers that they left “to the very day” (“on the same day,” NET Bible) – the very day that God had purposed and promised that they would leave (see Genesis 15:13-16; Exodus 3:20-22; 6:1-8; 7:1-5; 11:1-2). God’s plans are always on time.

God led the Israelites in a manner that appeared somewhat less than direct. He did not lead them by the most direct route, because they would have faced the Philistines, and they were not yet ready for war. Had they faced war early on, they might have sought to desert and return to Egypt (13:17-18). It wasn’t long before Pharaoh had second thoughts about letting the Israelites go, and he set out in hot pursuit (14:1-9). God led the Israelites in a way that made them appear to be lost, in a way that actually encouraged Pharaoh to pursue them. When Pharaoh and his army caught up with the Israelites, the Israelites were terrified. From a purely human point of view, they had good reason to be scared. They were trapped between the Red Sea, the mountains, and the Egyptian soldiers.

The Israelites cried out to God. From the words they spoke to Moses, it would seem this was not a crying out in prayer so much as it was an outcry of protest:

10 When Pharaoh got closer, the Israelites looked up and saw that the Egyptians were marching after them. They were terrified. Then the Israelites cried out to the Lord. 11 And they said to Moses, “Was it because there were no graves in Egypt you took us away to die in the desert? What in the world have you done to us by bringing us out of Egypt? 12 Was this not what we told you in Egypt, ‘Leave us alone that we may serve the Egyptians?’ For it would have been better for us to serve the Egyptians than to die in the desert!” (Exodus 14:10-12).

Just hours from slavery, the Israelites are already eager to return. Moses was doing a little “crying out” as well (14:15), but God instructed him to lift up his rod, extending it toward the Red Sea, so that the Israelites could pass through on dry ground. God informed Moses that He would harden the heart of Pharaoh so that the army would pursue the Israelites into the sea and thus be destroyed (14:15-18).

We all think we know the story of the Israelites’ passing through the Red Sea, thanks to our text, and to Cecil B. DeMille whose film, “The Exodus,” has created for us a mental picture of this event. The Red Sea parted, not heaped up on one side, as a strong wind might normally do, and as some have suggested it happened. The seawaters heaped up on both sides, staying in place something like Jello. And the path through the sea was dry ground (until the chariots of the Egyptians arrived). Once the Israelites were safely on the other side, the waters returned to their place, drowning all the Egyptian soldiers, and thus ending the danger for the Israelites.

While the bodies of the Egyptian soldiers washed up on shore, the Israelites sang this song to the Lord:

1 Then Moses and the Israelites sang this song to the Lord:
“I will sing to the Lord for he has triumphed gloriously,
the horse and its rider he has thrown into the sea.
2 The Lord is my strength and my song,
and he has become my salvation.
This is my God and I will praise him,
my father’s God, and I will exalt him.
3 The Lord is a man of war,
the Lord is his name.
4 The chariots of Pharaoh and his army he has thrown into the sea,
and his chosen officers were drowned in the Sea of Reeds.
5 The depths have covered over them,
they went down to the bottom like a stone.
6 Your right hand, O Lord, was majestic in power,
your right hand, O Lord, shattered the enemy.
7 And in the greatness of your majesty you have overthrown
those who rise up against you.
You sent forth your wrath;
it consumed them like stubble.
8 And by the blast of your nostrils the waters were piled up,
the waters stood upright like a heap,
and the deep waters were congealed in the heart of the sea.
9 The enemy said, “I will chase, I will overtake,
I will divide the spoil;
my desire will be satisfied on them.
I will draw my sword, my hand will destroy them.”
10 But you blew with your breath, and the sea covered them.
They sank like lead in the mighty waters.
11 Who is like you, O Lord, among the gods?
Who is like you?—majestic in holiness,
fearful in praises, working wonders?
12 You stretched out your right hand,
the earth swallowed them.
13 By your loyal love you will lead the people
whom you have redeemed;
you will guide them by your strength to your holy habitation.
14 The people will hear and be afraid;
anguish will take hold of the inhabitants of Philistia.
15 Then the chiefs of Edom will be terrified,
the leaders of Moab will be seized with trembling,
and the inhabitants of Canaan will melt away.
16 Fear and dread will fall on them;
by the greatness of your arm they will be as still as stone
until your people pass over, O Lord,
until the people pass over, which you have bought.
17 You will bring them in
and plant them in the mountain of your inheritance,
in the place, O Lord, you made for your residence,
the sanctuary, O Lord, your hands have established.
18 The Lord will reign for ever and ever!
19 For the horses of Pharaoh went
with his chariots and his footmen into the seas,
and the Lord brought again the waters of the sea on them,
but the Israelites went on dry land in the midst of the sea.”

20 Then Miriam the prophetess, the sister of Aaron, took a hand-drum in her hand, and all the women went out after her with hand-drums and with dances. 21 And Miriam sang antiphonally to them, “Sing to the Lord, for he has triumphed gloriously; the horse and its rider he has thrown into the sea” (Exodus 15:1-21).

Rightly, the Israelites saw the exodus as the work of God. Just as the plagues displayed the sovereignty of God to the Egyptians, they also were compelling proof to the Israelites that the God of Israel is God alone. To my knowledge this “Song of the Sea” is the first poetry found in the Old Testament. In very dramatic terms, it describes the victory of God over the “gods” of Egypt and over Pharaoh and his army. The terms that are used here do not describe a nation wading across a shallow body of water, as some would wish us to believe. The waters are piled high and Israel’s enemies sink into the depths of the sea. Not only did the crossing of the Red Sea demonstrate the majesty and power of God, it also gave the Israelites assurance that they would indeed possess the land God had promised. The exodus and the victory of God over Egypt were but the firstfruits of many other great victories over the enemies of God. What God had promised Abram over 400 years before, He had now begun to fulfill.


The exodus of Israel from Egypt is a landmark event in the history of Israel and in the “unfolding drama of redemption.” It was important to the Israelites who were enslaved to the Egyptians, because it meant they would no longer suffer the cruelty and oppression of their Egyptian slavery. It was also important because it was the event that enabled the Israelites to return to the land of Canaan, which they were soon to possess. The exodus was, in many ways, the birth of the nation Israel. This is why God sometimes spoke of Himself as Israel’s “Creator” (Isaiah 27:11; 43:1, 7; etc.).

The exodus marks a number of other important changes. It is at the exodus that God begins to work with the nation Israel corporately. Up till this time, the focus has been on the work of God in the life of a particular person (first Abraham, then Isaac, then Jacob, and finally Joseph); now God deals with Israel corporately (as well as through individuals like Moses). In the past, God was providentially involved in the affairs of His covenant people, but His hand was not so readily apparent. God providentially provided the right wife for Jacob, when his inclinations were not godly at all. He used his flight to Paddan Aram, where his mother’s relatives were to be found, as the occasion for Jacob to obtain a wife. And God providentially provided Leah as Jacob’s wife, when Jacob was only interested in Rachel. The account of Joseph in Genesis is the story of God’s providential care, not only of Joseph, but also of Jacob’s family. Israel’s bondage in Egypt providentially preserved them as a distinct people, because otherwise they would have been assimilated into the Canaanite culture had they remained in Canaan (see Genesis 38). But now we see God intervening directly into human history, to rescue His people, Israel. The contest between the God of Israel and the “gods” of Egypt could not be more public.

The plagues God brought upon the Egyptians served several purposes:

They were a punishment on Pharaoh and upon the Egyptian for abusing God’s chosen people. God blessed Pharaoh and the Egyptians on account of Joseph, but God punished Pharaoh and the Egyptians for enslaving and abusing the Israelites. This was the fulfillment of the Abrahamic Covenant.

The plagues were a demonstration of the existence and the power of the God of Israel, that they might believe He is God alone.

The plagues were a manifestation of God’s nature and His glory (Exodus 14:18). God glorified Himself by Pharaoh’s rebellion and resistance (see Romans 9:17).

The plagues were also a warning to the Israelites, a demonstration of the consequences they would face for disobeying God’s commands (see Deuteronomy 28:60).

The exodus is the fulfillment of God’s covenant promises, in a very precise way. In addition to paving the way for the fulfillment of the Abrahamic Covenant (Genesis 12:1-3, etc.), the exodus is the fulfillment of God’s promise to Abraham in Genesis 15:

12 When the sun went down, Abram fell sound asleep. Then great terror overwhelmed him. 13 Then the Lord said to Abram, “Know for certain that your descendants will be strangers in a foreign country. They will be enslaved and oppressed for four hundred years. 14 But I will execute judgment on the nation that they will serve. Afterward they will come out with many possessions. 15 But as for you, you will go to your ancestors in peace and be buried at a good old age. 16 In the fourth generation your descendants will return here, for the sin of the Amorites has not yet reached its limit.”17 When the sun had gone down and it was dark, a smoking firepot with a flaming torch passed between the animal parts. 18 That day the Lord made a covenant with Abram: “To your descendants I give this land, from the river of Egypt to the great river, the Euphrates River— 19 the land of the Kenites, Kenizzites, Kadmonites, 20 Hittites, Perizzites, Rephaites, 21 Amorites, Canaanites, Girgashites, and Jebusites” (Genesis 15:12-21).

Moses tells us that the departure of Israel from Egypt took place on “the very day” God had promised (see Exodus 12:41, NASB). In addition, the exodus was the precise fulfillment of several more recent prophecies (Exodus 3:18-22; 4:21-23; 6:1-8; 7:1-5; 11:1-2). The Israelites should see from this that God is a God who keeps His promises.

As mentioned earlier, the exodus was the second great act of creation in the Pentateuch. It was the time when God “created” the nation Israel. God’s power as the Creator of the heavens and the earth (Genesis 1:1) can be seen by each of the plagues He brought upon the Egyptians and their “gods.” We can also see His power as the Creator in the crossing of the Red Sea. God made a path in the midst of the sea, causing the waters to stand on both sides. He then sent these waters thundering down upon the Egyptian soldiers, destroying Pharaoh’s military might.

The exodus will become the basis for Israel’s identity and practices as a nation. It is because God delivered the nation Israel from their bondage that they become God’s slaves (Leviticus 25:55). The Law of Moses is the treaty, the constitution of the nation Israel, which God gives His redeemed people. Israel’s religious calendar began with the exodus. You might say that the exodus was the beginning of time for Israel. The Passover became an annual celebration, the religious high point of the year. The feast of unleavened bread was also established on the basis of the exodus experience.

The exodus proved the folly of idolatry. The Israelites had already embraced some of the idolatry of the Canaanites (see Genesis 31:19; 35:1-3; Joshua 24:14-15; Amos 5:25-26). At the exodus, God pronounced judgment on the “gods” of Egypt:

“And I will pass through the land of Egypt in the same night, and I will kill all the firstborn in the land of Egypt, both of humans and of animals, and on all the gods of Egypt I will execute judgment. I am the Lord” (Exodus 12:12).

What folly it would be to worship the very gods that God had judged in Egypt.

The exodus was a deliverance brought about by God’s grace, and not as the result of Israel’s good works or law-keeping. God does not give the Law of Moses to the Israelites until after He has saved them at the exodus. They were not rescued because they faithfully kept the law. Indeed, they were idolatrous and wayward in Egypt. They did not faithfully follow Moses, who spoke for God. Although they initially believed Moses, their trust in him (and in the God of Israel) quickly eroded (compare Exodus 4:30-31 with 5:20-21; 6:9; 14:10-12; Psalm 106:7-8). In part, the Israelites left Egypt because Pharaoh drove them out (Exodus 6:1; 11:1). In short, the exodus was God’s work, and God’s work alone.

God’s great act of delivering His people at the exodus was a dramatic demonstration of His power and the assurance that God would accomplish all that He had promised. This is what the Israelites sang as they stood on the other side of the Red Sea (Exodus 15:1-21). It is also a theme that is taken up throughout the rest of the Old Testament. The vocabulary of the exodus is frequently employed as an assurance of God’s future work:

1 Now, this is what the Lord says,
the one who created you, O Jacob,
and formed you, O Israel:
“Don’t be afraid, for I will protect you.
I call you by name, you are mine.
2 When you pass through the waters, I am with you;
when you pass through the streams, they will not overwhelm you.
When you walk through the fire, you will not be burned;
the flames will not harm you.
3 For I am the Lord your God,
the sovereign king of Israel, your deliverer (Isaiah 43:1-3a, emphasis mine).
14 This is what the Lord says,
your protector, the sovereign king of Israel:
“For your sake I send to Babylon
and make them all fugitives,
turning the Babylonians’ joyful shouts into mourning songs.
15 I am the Lord, your sovereign ruler,
the one who created Israel, your king.”
16 This is what the Lord says,
the one who made a road through the sea,
a pathway through the surging waters,
17 the one who led chariots and horses to destruction,
together with a mighty army.
They fell down, never to rise again;
they were extinguished, put out like a burning wick:
18 “Don’t remember these earlier events;
don’t recall these former events.
19 “Look, I am about to do something new.
Now it begins to happen! Do you not recognize it?
Yes, I will make a road in the desert
and paths in the wilderness.
20 The wild animals of the desert honor me,
the jackals and ostriches,
because I put water in the desert
and streams in the wilderness,
to quench the thirst of my chosen people,
21 the people whom I formed for myself,
so they might praise me” (Isaiah 43:14-21, emphasis mine).

The work of our Lord Jesus Christ is also described in “exodus terminology”:

13 After they had gone, an angel of the Lord appeared in a dream to Joseph saying, “Get up, take the child and his mother and flee to Egypt, and stay there until I tell you, for Herod is going to look for the child to kill him.” 14 Then he got up, took the child and his mother at night, and went to Egypt. 15 He stayed there until Herod died. In this way what was spoken by the Lord through the prophet was fulfilled: I called my Son out of Egypt (Matthew 2:13-15).

28 Now about eight days after these sayings, Jesus took with him Peter, John, and James, and went up the mountain to pray. 29 As he was praying, the appearance of his face was transformed, and his clothes became dazzling white. 30 Then two men, Moses and Elijah, began talking with him. 31 They appeared in glorious splendor and spoke about his departure118 that he was about to carry out at Jerusalem (Luke 9:28-31, emphasis mine).

The “departure” of which our Lord, Moses, and Elijah spoke was literally our Lord’s “exodus.” It is the second and greater exodus, the greatest saving act of all time. As Israel came up out of Egypt at their exodus, so the Messiah, the Son of God, came out of Egypt (Matthew 2:15). As God saved Israel at the exodus, so He accomplished a far greater act of salvation by our Lord’s death, resurrection, and ascension – His “exodus.” In Him, it is our exodus as well. Thus, Christian baptism is likened to passing through the Red Sea:

1 For I do not want you to be unaware, brothers and sisters, that our fathers were all under the cloud and all passed through the sea, 2 and all were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea, 3 and all ate the same spiritual food, 4 and all drank the same spiritual drink. For they were all drinking from the spiritual rock that followed them, and the rock was Christ (1 Corinthians 10:1-4).

The work of our Lord is likened to that of the Passover lamb:

13 “Look, my servant will succeed!
He will be elevated, lifted high, and greatly exalted.
14 Just as many were horrified by the sight of you—
he was so disfigured he no longer looked like a man;
15 his form was so marred he no longer looked human—
so now he will startle many nations.
Kings will be shocked by his exaltation,
for they will witness something unannounced to them,
and they will understand something they had not heard about.

53:1 Who would have believed what we just heard?
When was the LORD’s power revealed through him?
He sprouted up like a twig before God,
like a root out of parched soil;
he had no stately form or majesty that might catch our attention,
no special appearance that we should want to follow him.
3 He was despised and rejected by people,
one who experienced pain and was acquainted with illness;
people hid their faces from him;
he was despised, and we considered him insignificant.
4 But he lifted up our illnesses
he carried our pain;
even though we thought he was being punished,
attacked by God, and afflicted for something he had done.
5 He was wounded because of our rebellious deeds,
crushed because of our sins;
he endured punishment that made us well;
because of his wounds we have been healed.
6 All of us had wandered off like sheep;
each of us had strayed off on his own path,
but the LORD caused the sin of all of us to attack him.
7 He was treated harshly and afflicted,
but he did not even open his mouth.
Like a lamb led to the slaughtering block,
like a sheep silent before her shearers,
he did not even open his mouth.
8 He was led away after an unjust trial—
but who even cared?
Indeed, he was cut off from the land of the living;
because of the rebellion of his own people he was wounded.
9 They intended to bury him with criminals,
but he ended up in a rich man’s tomb,
because he had committed no violent deeds,
nor had he spoken deceitfully.
10 Though the LORD desired to crush him and make him ill,
once restitution is made,
he will see descendants and enjoy long life,
and the LORD’s purpose will be accomplished through him.
11 Having suffered, he will reflect on his work,
he will be satisfied when he understands what he has done.
“My servant will acquit many, for he carried their sins.
12 So I will assign him a portion with the mighty,
he will divide the spoils of victory with the powerful,
because he willingly submitted to death
and was numbered with the rebels,
when he lifted up the sin of many
and intervened on behalf of the rebels (Isaiah 52:13—53:12, emphasis mine).

29 On the next day John saw Jesus coming toward him and said, Look, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!” 30 This is the one about whom I said, ‘After me comes a man who is greater than I am, because he existed before me.’ 31 I did not recognize him, but I came baptizing with water so that he could be revealed to Israel (John 1:29-31, emphasis mine).”

6 Your boasting is not good. Don’t you know that a little yeast affects the whole batch of dough? 7 Clean out the old yeast so that you may be a new batch of dough, since you are, in fact, without yeast. For Christ, our Passover lamb, has been sacrificed. 8 So then, let us celebrate the festival, not with the old yeast, the yeast of vice and evil, but with the bread without yeast, the bread of sincerity and truth (1 Corinthians 5:6-8, emphasis mine).

The greatest deliverance of all time was not the exodus of the Israelites out of Egypt, but the deliverance of men and women from the bondage of sin:

14 Therefore, since the children share in flesh and blood, he likewise shared in their humanity, so that through death he could destroy the one who holds the power of death (that is, the devil), 15 and set free those who were held in slavery all their lives by their fear of death (Hebrews 2:14-15).

Our Lord is the One greater than Moses, of whom Moses spoke:

15 The Lord your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among you—from your fellow Israelites; you must listen to him 16 in line with everything you asked of the Lord your God at Horeb in the day of the convocation: “Do not let us hear the voice of the Lord our God any more or see this great fire any more lest we die.” 17 The Lord then said to me, “What they have asked is good. 18 I will raise up a prophet like you for them from among their fellow Israelites. I will put my words in his mouth and he will speak to them whatever I want. 19 I myself with hold responsible anyone who then pays no attention to the words that prophet will speak in my name.

The Lord Jesus Christ is that “prophet” to whom we must listen:

1 After God spoke long ago in various portions and in various ways to our ancestors through the prophets, 2 in these last days he has spoken to us in a son, whom he appointed heir of all things, and through whom he created the world. 3 The Son is the radiance of his glory and the representation of his essence, and he sustains all things by his powerful word, and so when he had accomplished cleansing for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high. 4 Thus he became so far better than the angels as he has inherited a name superior to theirs (Hebrews 1:1-4).

1 Therefore we must pay closer attention to what we have heard, so that we do not drift away. 2 For if the message spoken through angels proved to be so firm that every violation or disobedience received its just penalty, 3 how will we escape if we neglect such a great salvation? It was first communicated through the Lord and was confirmed to us by those who heard him, 4 while God confirmed their witness with signs and wonders and various miracles and gifts of the Holy Spirit distributed according to his will (Hebrews 2:1-4).

He is the One who came to bear the penalty for our sins. He is the “Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world” (John 1:29). He is the Passover Lamb, who delivers us from death. To receive Him is to know true freedom (John 8:32). Have you recognized your bondage to sin and death? Have you trusted in Jesus Christ as God’s only provision for the forgiveness of your sins and the hope of eternal life? If not, I urge you to do so this very moment.

When I read the account of the exodus, I am reminded of the fact that God is in no hurry. Though He promised to deliver His people Israel from bondage, God waited over 400 years to do so. Mortal men look for God to fulfill His promises in their lifetime, but the way of faith often requires us to live our entire lives without seeing that which God has promised:

13 These all died in faith without receiving the things promised, but they saw them in the distance and welcomed them and acknowledged that they were strangers and foreigners on the earth. 14 For those who speak in such a way make it clear that they are seeking a homeland. 15 In fact, if they had been thinking of the land that they had left, they would have had opportunity to return. 16 But as it is, they aspire to a better land, that is, a heavenly one. Therefore, God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared a city for them… . 39 And these all were commended for their faith, yet they did not receive what was promised. 40 For God had provided something better for us, so that they would be made perfect together with us (Hebrews 11:13-16, 39-40).

God is in no great hurry to carry out His plans and purposes. He is eternal. He has all the time in the world; indeed, He is above and beyond time. But what He promises will come to pass. Faith is living out our lives, based upon the promises of God. We are to believe His Word, and to live by His Word, looking for that day when He will accomplish all that He has promised.

If the exodus teaches us anything about God, it is that He is sovereign. He is in control. He is bigger than Pharaoh and the great nation of Egypt. He is able to fulfill His promises, to the very letter. He is the One who can harden and soften hearts. He is the One who is able to use man’s opposition to bring glory to Himself and to achieve His purposes. Pharaoh asked, “Who is the Lord that I should obey Him…?” The exodus of Israel from Egypt answers that question. Another Gentile king perhaps put it best:

34 But at the end of the appointed time I, Nebuchadnezzar, looked up toward heaven, and my sanity returned to me.

I blessed the Most High,

and I praised and glorified the one who lives forever.
For his rule is an everlasting rule,
and his kingdom extends from one generation to the next.
35 All the inhabitants of the earth are regarded as nothing.
He does as he wishes with the army of heaven
and with those who inhabit the earth.
No one slaps his hand and says to him, `What have you done?’

36 At that time my sanity returned to me. I was restored to the honor of my kingdom, and my splendor returned to me. My ministers and my magistrates were seeking me out, and I was reinstated over my kingdom. Tremendous greatness was restored to me, greater than before. 37 Now I, Nebuchadnezzar, praise and exalt and glorify the King of heaven, for all his deeds are right and his ways are just. He is able to bring low those who live in pride” (Daniel 4:34-37).









Response / Outcome



Have a feast for 3 days in the wilderness.


Lest God strike us with sword or plague.

That’s just a vacation.

No more straw, foremen punished.

Foremen protested to Moses.

Moses protested to God.

God reassures Moses of release, based on His covenant with Abraham.

Further instructions given.



Request apparently repeated.


Pharaoh requests a miracle.

Magicians imitate miracle.

Aaron’s staff becomes serpent.

Aaron’s staff devours theirs.

Pharaoh’s heart was hardened.

He did not listen to Moses and Aaron.

Level of Pain: Irritation

Nile to blood


In the morning

Release My People

Nile turned to blood

Magicians imitate.

Pharaoh did not take it to heart.

Egyptians dug around Nile for water to drink.

Pharaoh did not take this to heart.



One week later

“Go to Pharaoh”

“Release My People.”

If not, frogs.

None recorded, but Pharaoh surely refused – magicians imitate miracle.

Frogs sent

Pharaoh bargains — Requests frogs to be removed, but when removed Pharaoh hardens his heart.



No request: “Extend your hand… .”

No threat made

Gnats sent

Magicians could not reproduce this miracle: “This is the finger of God.”

Pharaoh’s heart is hardened – did not listen to his magicians.

Level of Pain: Discriminative Pain and Destruction



“Get up early …and say: ‘“Release My people.”

Time: tomorrow.

Swarms of flies to be sent on Egyptians.

God distinguishes between Egyptians and Israelites.

Flies sent

Pharaoh: “Sacrifice, but stay in this land.”

“O.K. but don’t go far.”

“I will release, but don’t go far.”

Moses prays; flies removed; Pharaoh hardens his heart and refuses to release Israel.

Livestock Killed


“Go to Pharaoh and tell him: ‘Release My people.’”

Plague sent on Egyptian livestock & animals, but not Israelite animals.

At appointed time.

Egyptian livestock dies.

Pharaoh investigates, but his heart hardened, so that he does not release Israelites.




No request.

“Throw soot into air.”

No warning.

Aaron casts soot, boils come on Egyptians.

Magicians cannot stand before Moses because of their boils.

Lord hardens Pharaoh’s heart; he does not listen nor release the Israelites.

Level of Pain: Discriminative Devastation and Dread

Storm (Hail)


“Get up early in the morning and say,

‘Release My people.’”

“I could have destroyed you all by now.”

“This time tomorrow”

I will send all My plagues on you, your servants, your people.

Hail to come the next day – people warned to bring people, livestock under cover.

Those who feared brought in man and beast from the hail as Moses commanded.

Those who disbelieved left servants and livestock outside.

Hail destroyed everything, but land of Goshen was not affected.

Flax and barley destroyed; wheat and spelt not destroyed.

Pharaoh confesses his sin, requests Moses to pray and to stop the hail.

Promises to release Israelites.

Moses indicated that he knew better than to believe Pharaoh.

Pharaoh hardens his heart; won’t release Israelites.



“Go to Pharaoh.”

“I have hardened his heart.”

“Release My people.”

Locusts will destroy remaining crops.

Pharaoh’s servants strongly urge him to release the Israelites, lest Egypt be completely destroyed.

Pharaoh summons Moses and Aaron – “Men only may go” – drives out Moses and Aaron.

Locusts released, and destroy everything that is left, that hail didn’t destroy, like wheat and spelt.

Pharaoh confesses his sin, asks Moses to stop the locusts.

Locusts removed.

Lord hardened Pharaoh’s heart; he refused to release Israelites.




“Extend your hand”


Darkness came across the land of Egypt for 3 days.

Israelites had light.

Pharaoh: “Go, but leave your cattle.”

Moses: “Not without our cattle.”

Pharaoh: “Get out, and don’t come back.”

Moses: “We won’t.”



Death of Firstborn



No threat made.

Israelites instructed to ask Egyptians for gifts.

They give generously,

God distinguishes between Israel and Egypt.

Feasts established

Instructions given for spoiling the Egyptians.



108 This is the edited manuscript of a message delivered by Robert L. Deffinbaugh, teacher and elder at Community Bible Chapel, on December 31, 2000.

109 Philip Yancey, The Jesus I Never Knew (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan Publishing House, 1995), p. 16.

110 We dare not overlook Stephen’s words on this subject, which indicate that the child was “abandoned” by his parents (Acts 7:21, NET Bible). The NASB includes the marginal reading, which indicates that they “put him out to die.”

111 See Acts 7:23, 30.

112 See Acts 7:22.

113 See Acts 7:23-29.

114 Genesis, chapters 24 and 29.

115 Acts 7:30.

116 Kitchen writes, “In Ex. xii. 12 God speaks of executing judgments against all the gods of Egypt. In some measure He had already done so in the plagues, as Egypt’s gods were much bound up with the forces of nature. Ha`pi, the Nile-god of inundation, had brought not prosperity but ruin; the frogs, symbol of Heqit, a goddess of fruitfulness, had brought only disease and wasting; the hail, rain, and storm were the heralds of awesome events (as in the Pyramid Tests); and the light of the sun-god Re` was blotted out, to mention but of few of the deities affected.” K. A. Kitchen, “Plagues of Egypt,” The New Bible Dictionary, J. D. Douglas, ed., (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1962), p. 1003.

117 “The time of Israel’s sojourn in Egypt is calculated ‘to the very day,’ that is, 430 years. Genesis 15:13 gave the time in the round number four hundred years. First Kings 6:1 calculates the time from the Exodus to the building of the temple to be 480 years. This figure gives the broad chronological boundaries for the historical books.” John H. Sailhamer, The Pentateuch as Narrative (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan Publishing House, 1992), p. 265.

118 The footnote in the NET Bible reads: “Grk “his exodus,” which refers to Jesus’ death in Jerusalem and journey back to glory. Here is the first lesson that the disciples must learn. The wondrous rule comes only after suffering.

Related Topics: Bibliology (The Written Word)

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