Friday, April 26, 2013

Exodus Chapter 1 ~ Fearing God & Longing for Salvation in the Face of Oppression & Infanticide

Exodus Chapter 1

The sons of Israel who went to Egypt with Jacob were:
(1) Reuben (2) Simeon (3) Levi (4) Judah (5) Issachar (6) Zebulun (7) Benjamin (8) Dan (9) Naphtali (10) Gad (11) Asher
Jacob's descendants numbered 70 persons (v. 5). Joseph, his brothers, and all that generation died, but the people of Israel were fruitful and increased greatly; they multiplied and grew exceedingly strong, so that the land was filled with them (v. 5-7).

Egyptian Oppression of Israel
A new king arose in Egypt who didn't know Joseph. He told his people that Israel was too numerous and too strong, so they should deal shrewdly with them, in case they multiply and war breaks out and they join Egypt's enemies and escape (v. 8-10). The Egyptians set taskmasters over Israel to afflict them with heavy burdens. The Egyptians made them build store cities, Pithom and Raamses (v. 11). The more they were oppressed, the more thy multiplied, so the Egyptians were more in dread of them. The Egyptians ruthlessly made Israel work as slaves, made their lives bitter with hard service in mortar and brick, and field work.

Order to Kill Their Baby Boys
The king of Egypt told the Hebrew midwives, Shiphrah ("brightness") and Puah ("splendid"), to kill the sons that were born, but, "the midwives feared God and did not do as the king of Egypt commanded them, but let the male children live." (v. 16-17) The king of Egypt called the midwives and said, "Why have you done this, and let the male children live?" (v. 18)

The midwives said, "Because the Hebrew women are not like the Egyptian women, for they are vigorous and give birth before the midwife comes to them." (v. 19) So God dealt well with the midwives and the people multiplied and grew strong (v. 20). Because the midwives feared God he gave them families (v. 21). So Pharaoh commanded all his people to kill every son born to the Hebrews by casting them into the Nile river, but let every daughter live." (v. 22)

Reflections on Exodus 1
The first couple verses show that this is the continuation of the narrative in Genesis. Where Genesis left off, Exodus begins. Exodus means "going out". 

First, in this chapter we see that a fear rose up in Egypt because the Hebrews were prospering. So they oppressed the Hebrews with forced labor and made their lives bitter. In Genesis 15 even as it became dark as the Lord told Abraham that his posterity would be oppressed in Egypt for 400 years, here we see the literal descent of the Hebrews into darkness. Their lives were bitter. Is there any hope in the midst of this trial? Notice too, that this is coming up to the end of 400 years. Year after year, generation after generation of this people descended into the darkness of this bondage and slavery. These were real people undergoing real hardship for centuries. Would Yahweh hear? Would the promised deliverance ever come? Will God send His promised Messiah? All of these questions are present as the baton of the history of redemption is passed from Genesis to Exodus.

Second, can you imagine being ordered by the leader of your nation to head up the slaughter of the children of your own ethnicity? I pray that with the modern national interest in healthcare that this will not be something we face. Pharaoh told the Hebrew healthcare professionals of their day (the midwives) to kill the children. One of the measures of how evil a society is, is displayed in how it treats its children. Indeed, this was a dark providence in the life of Israel. The modern moment is different in some of its nuances, but the prevalence of abortion in our lifetime has to be comparable to the evil and depravity of the Egypt of Exodus. I pray that God would pour out His mercy and bring our holocaust to an end.

Third, did God bless a lie told by Shiphrah and Puah here? First, The description that they, "didn't do as they were told," doesn't necessarily mean they were pursuing an act of civil disobedience and then turning around and lying. It may be that they didn't kill the boys, because in God's providence they were spared the opportunity: "[T]he Hebrew women are not like the Egyptian women, for they are vigorous and give birth before the midwife comes to them." Perhaps they didn't do as they were told because they didn't have the opportunity to do as they were told. There's no reason to assume they are lying. It may be that they feared the Lord, and didn't want to do this, and they didn't murder the baby boys, because in God's providence they weren't given the opportunity. I lean to this view.

Second, if they were lying there's no reason to conclude that the lie is the reason that the Hebrews are being blessed. Alan Cole is helpful on this point, "Even if they lied, it is not for their deceit that they are commended, but for their refusal to take infant lives, God's gift." (Cole, 62) Perhaps this is another display of the complexity of how the Lord works in His providence in and among a fallen and sinful world. God was kind to the midwives, because they obeyed Him and not Pharaoh. If they lied, there is no reason to assume that the lie is the reason that Yahweh was kind to them.

Third, when the text says, "He gave them families," (v. 21) it seems to be referring to, "the people," (v. 20) or the Hebrews in general, not only the midwives. John Calvin is helpful on verse 21, "It is not at all my opinion that this should be expounded as referring to the women, and I am surprised that many interpreters have been grossly mistaken on so clear a point. All are agreed that the pronoun is masculine, and therefore, according to ordinary usage, should refer to males." (Calvin, Vol. 2, 36) It appears the masculine pronoun refers to the people in general, not just the midwives. Because of God's providence in the lives of these two women God's people prospered. You may be one person, but God is all-powerful, and He may do amazing things through you for the sake of His glory.

Fourth, what is the "fear of God" we see in verses 17 and 21? This is a concept that was introduced in Genesis (20:11; 22:12; 31:42, 53; 42:18). What does it mean? Well, from what we've seen so far (and from what we see in the rest of Scripture) "the fear of God" indicates trust, faith, obedience, belief, respect, reverence, awe, concern, worship, service, and love of Yahweh. The "fear of God" is a Hebrew idiom basically saying "the worship of God". We see in the wisdom and prophets that the fear of God is the beginning of wisdom (Job 28:28; Psalm 111:10; Proverbs 1:7; 9:10; 15:33; Isaiah 11:2; 33:6; Micah 6:9). In this text we see the Hebrew fear of God contrasted by another fear, namely the Egyptian fear of man (the Hebrews). They were afraid of them because they were multiplying and growing stronger as a people. The Egyptians were afraid of an enslaved and weak people. The Hebrews were afraid of the omnipotent, omnipresent, omniscient, and omnibenevolent God who exercises His meticulous sovereignty over the cosmos. Notice that fear drives both of their behavior. Our identity is shaped by what we fear. Often, what we fear is what we worship, and it controls us. What do you fear? In this text the Egyptians are understanding their identity in relationship to the Hebrews, and the Hebrews are seeking to understand their identity in relationship to Yahweh. The only true understanding of self comes in light of the knowledge and worship of God (the "fear of God").

The Egyptians may have forgotten their history (v. 8), but the Hebrews haven't forgotten theirs. They still trust God. After 400 years of bondage, they are still trusting in God. It may seem He is distant in their suffering. It may seem that He does not know. It may seem that He does not hear and has abandoned them, but they know that God is trustworthy. Here in the hearts and lives of two women, we see that God's people keep trusting Him even as their circumstances appear to lie about His care. In this chapter we are on the cusp of seeing clear evidence that their fear of God is not irrational (we have evidence from their past too, but a particularly strong demonstration of it is coming in Exodus). Indeed Yahweh is near. He knows. He hears and has not abandoned them.

Jesus Christ
In Exodus 1 we stand with Israel, as those who can't quite see the fullness of the beauty of the redemption that is to come. The only thing we see is the glimmer of hope that rests in the Hebrew fear of God. God reveals more and more knowledge about what His ultimate salvation will look like, but the entire Old Testament stands in a similar position. On the other side of the cross we have a wholly different and yet similar experience.

Wholly Different - We have seen the Messiah that the Hebrews trusted would come from God, Jesus Christ. The second person of the triune Godhead came and lived the perfect life we all should have lived. He died a substitutionary death in the place of His people. He bore the eternal wrath of God in His body on the cross, satisfying God's eternal wrath. Jesus was raised from the dead justifying those who turn from their sin and believe in this good news. Full salvation has come and is offered to us in Jesus Christ. We have seen God's salvation, not just from a governmental force in the world, but from our sin, and from the eternal wrath of God. 

Similar - The world is still fallen. Christ ascended to the right hand of the Father and makes intercession for His people even now. He has given us the gift of His Holy Spirit, and now, we await His glorious revealing. Salvation has been accomplished and applied in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, but it has not yet been fully consummated. Jesus will come back one day. So for now we wait and long for our Savior. We share of the good news of the Jesus Christ while we wait.

This is instructive for us as believers in Christ. Even as we wait for Jesus Christ to return to take us to be with Him were He is, we know some of what the Hebrews were facing. Many Christians in this age are being persecuted for their faith - death, mocking, pushed to the fringe of society, etc. (if you disagree think of Christians not only in the West, and you will realize your disagreement is unwarranted). It will not always be this way. God not only heard the Hebrews at this time. He hears our cry for final redemption too. This has been the cry of the church throughout the ages, "Come, Lord Jesus." (Revelation 22:20) We walk in the fear of God now, even as we wait for the horizon of eternal blessedness to be revealed when the final trump will resound and the Lord will descend.

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