5 things I have learnt from the book of Exodus

As a part of my Bibe reading throughout 2020, I am highlighting 5 things from the books of the Bible that have stood out to me and taught me.

Here are 5 things I have learnt from the Book of Exodus.

God’s Dominion Over All of Life

The Egyptians in the time of Exodus lived in a henotheistic culture. They believed in multiple gods, that had their own specific reign over a portion of human life (e.g. Ra was the god of the sun, Bes was the god of mothers and children etc.) and each nation had their own gods for these domnions of life.

However, God’s testimony through Moses and Aaron in midst of the pagues of Egypt is that the truth is quite different entirely. God was teaching Moses, and through him the rest of the Hebrew people, of monotheism – that there is only one, true, and living God. Not only did the God of Israel exercise His Divine power in the land of Egypt, but He also exercised Divine power over all the asepcts of Egyptian life. From showing His control and sovereignty over the source of the lifeblood of the Egyptian nation, the river Nile, to His control over the Egyptian weather, animals, and ever the very life of its citizens, God shows His sovereign power through the plagues of Egypt as a form of judgement upon the Egyptians.

The Israelites were to learn that YAHWEH, the LORD, was God no matter where He would lead them, and no matter the aspect of life.

God’s Relationship with Hard Hearts

One of the most prominent motifs in the story of Exodus is the hardening of Pharoah’s heart. Pharoah’s heart, as we see from Exodus 5:23 is already hard, as he already commits evil acts against the Hebrews. This makes sense from a Biblical worldview, as we are told repeatedly throughout the Bible, that man is fallen in sin and no – one has anything other than a sinful nature and a hard heart (Psalm 14, 53; Romans 3:23 etc).

However, we also know that God explicitly tells Moses that He will harden Pharoah’s heart (Exodus 7:3) as an act of judgement. In essence, God removed His hand of grace from Pharoah, allowing him to do what his sinful nature and his hard heart wanted him to do. In short, what we see in Pharoah is a microcosm of Romans 1, where sinners “do not honour Him has God or give thanks to Him” (v. 21) and their “foolish hearts were darkened” (v. 21). In doing so they “exchanged the glory of the immortal God for a lie” (v. 23). Therefore, as a judgement, God “gave them up in the lust of their hearts” (v. 24) or, in other words, “since they did not see fit to acknowledge God, God gave them up to a debased mind to do what ought not to be done” (v. 28). We see this pattern in Pharoah, who refused to listen to God’s word through Aaron and Moses and, as a result, his heart heart was hardened and he therefore was given up to even more rebellion against God.

Whilst God is free to “[harden] whomever He wills” (Romans 9:18), He did not awaken desires in Pharoah that he did not already possess, but rather God gave Pharoah up to the lusts of his heart in order to display His power.

The Imagery of Passover

At the very end of God’s judgement on Egypt, God issues His decree of the final plague: the death of the firstborns in Egypt. In truth, of course, Israel was no less and deserving of this judgement than Egypt was. Yet God, as an act of mercy, instructs each house in Israel to sacrifice an unblemish lamb (Exodus 12:5 – 6) and use the blood of that lamb to cover the doorposts and the lintel of the entrance to their house. They were to eat the meat of the sacrificed lamb, along with unleavened bread and bitter herbs (Exodus 12:8). At that night, the last night before they left Egypt for the wilderness, the angel of death, sent by God, passes through Egypt, sparing the firstborns in the houses with the blood on the door frame. God instructs Israel to observe this same feast every year, a whole week long celebration, as a reminder of God releasing Israel from slavery in Egypt.

The Passover provides startling imagery of Christ that does not fail to stun me every time I read it. The male lamb that was spotless and without blemish was to be killed, which is precisely the language used of Christ in John’s Gospel (John 1:29). Its blood was to stay death’s hand and even the blood was displayed in the shape of the cross: some on each side of the door, some on at the top of the door frame that would have likely dripped to the floor. The cross – shaped covering of the blood of the lamb to keep Israel’s firstborn from death and lead them out of slavery mirroring the Lamb of God, slain on the cross, who, by His blood, saves His people from death and slavery to sin.

A more stark and obvious foreshadowing the sacrifice of Christ on the cross is hardly imaginable. No wonder does Paul say “For Christ, our Passover lamb, has been sacrificed.” (1 Corinthians 5:7b)

The Stubbornness of Israel

Israel did not have an easy time in Egypt. They were treated harshly, even by the standard of slaves. The racial hatred for the Hebrew people from the Egyptians is quite evident in the early chapters of Exodus. Yet as an act of great mercy, God rescues Israel from the hand of their oppressors. He demonstrates His complete sovereign power of the supposedly greatest nation on Earth, and frees His people. Over this time, God has done some truly awe-inspiring miracles: I am sure no one who saw the Nile instantly turned into blood would forget it in a hurry. Even aside from the plagues, God saves His people from the persuing Egyptian chariots by parting a great sea in order for Israel to cross safely and escape into the desert.

Perhaps it is easy, therefore, to imagine that at least that specific generation of the nation of Israel would never forget the work of God; that they would be eternally thankful and trusting of the Lord who brought them out of slavery and who manisfested His power in such incredible works.

Yet, the book of Exodus proves that human nature will always find a way to forget God’s providence. It only took a mere month and a half for Israel to complain. Evidently, God’s rescuing Israel from cruel slavery was not enough, and they grumbled about how it was better in Egypt with the bread and meat they could eat until they were full (Exodus 16:3), which the Lord graciously provides in the form of manna during the day, and quail in the evening.

Yet again, the very next chapter “the people quarreled with Moses” (Exodus 17:2) about the Lord’s provision for them, so the Lord brings forth water from the rock at Horeb (Exodus 17:6). In this sequence of passages, the Israelites doubt God’s ability to provide for their basic necessities – food and water. In this regard, Israel merely provides a pattern that all humanity follow: we see God provide for us, sometimes in wonderful and unexpected ways that we vow will never be forgotten, and yet it is not long until we once more lack trust in His provision.

The Need for Intercession

If there is ever a moment in the Bible where I want to shout “what are you doing?!” to those people in historical narrative, it is when the Israelites build a statue of a golden calf in Exodus 32. A small detail I have often missed is Aaron’s proclamation: “These are your gods, O Israel, who brought you out of Egypt” (Exodus 32:8). Aaron is not seeking to worship some other deity, but he is attempting to worship the God of Israel in a woefully insufficient manner. The golden calf is one of the most obvious violations of the 2nd Commandment there have been – a commandment written on the very tablets Moses breaks as he is horror-struck by the sight of the golden calf.

Such a repugnant violation of God’s tesitmony to his people, the Lord threatens to consume them in His anger (Exodus 32:10). Yet, in the midst of God’s (deserved) wrath against Israel, Moses intercedes for his people. He pleads for God’s mercy and for Him to remember His covenant with Abraham (Genesis 12) which Moses quotes directly back to God (Exodus 32:13).

God relents (Exodus 32:14). It is not that Moses had twisted God’s arm into doing something that He would not otherwise had done. It does not fit that God would ‘forget’ His covenant to Abraham that Moses, a mere man, had to jog God’s memory into ‘remembering’ it. What Moses was doing by interceding for the nation of Israel, is to recognise that Israel needs mercy. Moses is saying to God that he knows that God is a God of mercy because of His covenant to Abraham. Therefore, Moses pleads for God to exercise that mercy, and God does. He was always going to because He is a God who is faithful to His promises.

Yet God’s intention here is to show the Israelites the need for intercession. They are rightly worthy of God’s wrath and continually need an advocate in the face of God’s righteous and holy anger. In this way, Moses’ prayer of intercession is a foretaste of the work of the Lord Jesus Christ. He is our priest forever, interceding at the right hand of the Father (Hebrews 7:23 – 25, c.f. Psalm 110:4) as the perfect reflection of the intercession of Moses.

Moses’ intercession was not sufficient to turn away God’s wrath on His people forever, but Jesus’ intercession is.

Of course, there is much more to the book of Exodus than just these 5 points, but they are the ones that stood out to me as I read through Exodus in 2020. Enjoy reading it for yourself!