This morning we launch into a new series of sermons though the Old Testaments books of Exodus and Numbers. Along the way, we will examine some of the related passages in Leviticus and Deuteronomy. We will be talking about the period of history that details the exodus, or departure, of Israel from Egypt and their subsequent journey to the edge of the Promised Land. This is one of the most epic adventures of all time. Along the way we will study many incredible stories such as the miraculous and iconic crossing of the Red Sea. The exodus account is most cherished by the Jews because it distinguishes them among the nations of the world. It is one of the most widely known and heralded stories in the entire Bible.
We are going to call this collection of messages “The Wandering Church”. This title seeks to underscore the waywardness and repeated disobedience of the children of God during this period of time. Over the next several months we will discover a people who despite being delivered and developed by God for a great purpose, obstinately chose to be disobedient and then detoured in another direction. They wandered aimlessly in the desert for 40 years, having never accomplished what God had originally intended. Unfortunately, this can also be said of many churches today. They are content to slowly die - one member at a time - as they stroll directionless in their ministries year after year, never achieving the glorious purposes of God.
Before we embark on this amazing journey together, it is necessary to first familiarize ourselves with the history that led up to it. The exodus is the story of God’s deliverance of the children of Israel from the oppressive rule of Pharaoh. But how did the children of Israel come to be in Egypt in the first place, and why were the Egyptians so heartlessly cruel to them? How had their living conditions deteriorated and become so desperate? This is the topic of our message today - understanding the Egyptian Captivity.
I. ISRAEL MULTIPLIES IN EGYPT - Exodus 1:1-7
The history of the Jews as a unique people begins with the patriarch Abraham. Originally named Abram, this faithful man was called out of his homeland in Ur and told to move to a land that God would show him. The place where Abraham eventually settled was called Canaan, and there God promised to make him the father of a great nation. Abraham bore two sons - Ishmael and Isaac. While God loved them both, His promise would be fulfilled through Isaac. The chosen son Isaac also had two sons - Esau and Jacob. This time God chose Jacob, and renamed him Israel. Jacob had 12 sons, and each of them had numerous descendants. Collectively this group of people are known as the children of Israel.
One of Jacob’s sons was named Joseph. His story, which is told in the last several chapters of Genesis, is quite remarkable. Through a providential series of events, Joseph was sold into slavery, carried away to Egypt, and eventually rose in power to become second only to Pharaoh in leadership over the nation. When a severe famine struck the area, Joseph's preparation ensured that Egypt would have the necessary food to survive. Hearing this, Jacob and his other 11 sons left Canaan and relocated to a region in Egypt called Goshen where they could wait out the famine. Welcomed by their estranged brother Joseph, Jacob and his family stayed in Egypt indefinitely choosing not to return to Canaan even after the famine ended.
In the opening verses of the book of Exodus, we read that there were originally 70 members of Jacob’s family who moved to Egypt. All 12 of his sons, along with their families and servants, moved there. As time went by all of that generation passed away, but the sons of Israel were fruitful and continued to multiply. As they did, their presence as foreign immigrants became increasingly noticeable to the native Egyptians. Many were beginning to become leery of and uncomfortable with these aliens who were living among them.
II. ISRAEL MISTREATED IN EGYPT - Exodus 1:8-14
While Joseph had been widely respected by Pharaoh and the Egyptians at large during his lifetime, as the years passed the memory of his leadership and noble character faded. A new Pharaoh took the throne who did not hold Jospeh in high regard like his predecessors had for so long. He doubted the sincerity of Joseph’s relatives, the children of Israel, who had settled in the land. Fear led this Pharaoh to question the allegiance of these foreigners, and suspect that they might rebel or ally with Egypt's enemies.
In order to address this growing concern, the Pharaoh began to oppress the children of Israel. He appointed taskmasters over them and forced them into hard labor. The descendants of Jacob were enslaved to the Egyptians, and were used to build storage cities and to do all sorts of public works. However, despite the Pharaoh's efforts to squelch the perceived threat, Israel continued to multiply and grow in number. Frustrated, the Pharaoh increased the amount and difficulty of the labor, forcing the descendents of Jacob to make bricks and mortar, to work in the fields, and to do all sorts of rigorous tasks. Life for Israel had become painful and bitter.
This same type of skepticism exists today. One of the hottest political issues in America is how to deal with the foreigners who are living in this country. There is a great deal of anxiety about the possible danger that some of these people might pose to our society. Much of this is fueled by hateful speech and broad generalities about certain people groups. Whether this fear is justified or not, it certainly is present and functions to shape our public policy. While we may not agree with the Egyptian’s treatment of Israel, our present circumstances make it easy to understand why they were concerned about having a large presence of foreigners living among them.
III. ISRAEL MURDERED IN EGYPT - Exodus 1:15-22
Pharaoh soon realized that his attempts to eliminate the foreign threat were not being successful. As such he determined to step-up his actions against the children of Israel. He instructed the Hebrew midwives to kill any and all boys that were born from among the sons of Jacob. These women were like nurses who assisted in the delivery of new babies, and would have been able to immediately murder or abort any sons that were born. This decree went out to all of the midwives who aided Hebrew women when they gave birth. By eliminating all of the sons, Pharaoh hoped to prevent the population of Israel from increasing further and to force the remaining women to assimilate into the culture through marriage to Egyptian men.
Fortunately, the midwives feared God and did not do as the Pharaoh had commanded. When he realized their insubordination, Pharaoh asked them why they were not killing the boys as they had been instructed. The midwives responded that the Hebrew women were vigorous and giving birth without their assistance or before they could arrive to help. Furious that his plan had been foiled yet again, Pharaoh elevated his tactics once more. This time he commanded that every son who was born to Israel be cast in the Nile River, where obviously it would down. Pharaoh was doggedly determined to eliminate the foreign threat.
This is the first recorded instance in Scripture in which a nation sought to completely destroy the Jewish people - but it would not be the last. Though they had not yet become an official nation, had Pharaoh's measures worked Israel would have never survived. Attempts to eradicate the Jews have continued throughout history, but all to no avail. God’s promise to preserve Israel has withstood every human effort to eliminate them. Pharaoh thought that he could simply erase God’s people from the pages of history, but he was - like so many others who have thought the same thing - dead wrong.
The first chapter of Exodus covers a period of just over 300 years spanning from the death of Joseph to the birth of Moses. This one chapter represents more time than the rest of Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy combined. Over the course of these 3 centuries, the quality of life for the children of Israel slowly deteriorated from one of peace and prosperity to one of turmoil and hardship. This decline did not occur overnight, but gradually over several generations. Things got progressively worse for God’s people as the days went by. Surely we can see how this parallels the increasing hostility toward Christians today.
One of the recurring themes found in the Bible is that of strangers and pilgrims. God’s people are often described as those who are living in a foreign land. In many cases they are not welcomed. Our residence may be here on this earth, but our citizenship is in heaven. We are simply sojourners here, aspiring to contribute and make a positive difference, yet ultimately destined for our heavenly home. And though the world might hate us and try to oppress and persecute us, still by God’s divine protection we persist and multiply even in the face of much adversity. As His redeemed children, we have hope and confidence in the fact that God has prepared for us an even greater country - a glorious Promised Land - where we will spend eternity with Him.
Next week we will introduce one of the greatest characters in the entire Word of God - a man named Moses. As the atrocities against the Hebrews continue to increase, a baby is born into a chaotic world who will grow up to become the leader and deliverer of His people. You do not want to miss this exciting, upcoming message. But as we conclude today, might I ask if you are still living as a slave to sin? Are you still living under the cruel dominion of Satan and his demonic forces? Don’t you know that he wants to destroy you? Wouldn’t you like to be set free from his clutches though the powerful name of Jesus Christ?