What are your regular resolutions?
Along with physical, dietary, or work-based resolutions, many Christians commit to a Bible-reading plan (and if you are looking for one, Wisdom International has a great one-year plan you can download from our website). But, let’s be honest with ourselves, that Bible-reading plan gets much more difficult once we get into Exodus.
Genesis is a highly enjoyable read, from the compelling narrative of creation to God’s relationship with Abraham, to the "cliff-hanger" events of Joseph in Egypt.
By contrast, most readers consider Exodus a stuffy Old Testament book, with a grim, dark beginning and few redeemable characters. Even more perplexing, many Christians don’t know how to apply Exodus to present day living.
One of the reasons Exodus deserves a closer look—besides the fact that it’s inspired Scripture—is because Exodus is Exhibit A of the faithfulness of God to His chosen people. It serves as a reminder that God keeps His promises to the nation Israel—and to us!
As you read through the Old Testament, the happy ending of Genesis quickly turns dark with an ominous statement in the opening chapter of Exodus: “There arose a new king over Egypt, who did not know Joseph” (Exodus 1:8). Leadership changed hands in Egypt, and the new ruler knew nothing of the good favor earned by Joseph and his family.
We also learn in this opening chapter that the new Pharaoh feared the descendants of Israel, knowing that they were a vast multitude of people with immense power; he believed they were a threat to his reign and to his country. To combat this threat, Pharaoh enacts a three-step plan against the Israelites.
He first discourages them by appointing cruel taskmasters to subjugate the Israelites into slave labor. Forcing them to make bricks to aid Egypt's expansion program was intended not only to provide cheap labor but also to keep the Israelites from their families. Still, the text informs us that the Israelites continue to multiply.
Next, Pharaoh attempts to deceive the Israelites by ordering the Hebrew midwives to kill all the Israelite babies born male. The text infers that these killings were to be performed secretly—the midwife was to tell the Israelite women that their male sons were stillborn. But this plan failed as well since the midwives refused to obey Pharaoh’s order.
Finally, Pharaoh sets out to openly destroy the Israelites by ordering his people to throw all male children into the Nile River. The implication is that the Nile god, and his servants—the crocodiles— would appreciate the loyalty of the Egyptian community and bring them even greater blessings. By enacting this genocide, Pharaoh hoped to finally rid himself of the threat of the Israelite people.
At this point, you may be thinking, I thought Stephen wanted me to love the book of Exodus; how bad can it be for those who follow God?
The answer to that question has tremendous relevance to every Christian today. Let me make two observations from this passage:
Affliction, though seemingly unfair, is often necessary.
God’s covenant with Abraham did not promise a cozy life as immigrants in Egypt, farming and shepherding and basking in the status they had obtained through Joseph. Frankly, without this persecution, the Israelite nation would have never left Egypt for the Promised Land. For the most part, the Israelites had come to believe Egypt was their home.
But God had a different home in mind for his people: the land of Canaan He had promised them through the Abrahamic covenant. God had it all planned from the beginning.
He promised Abraham several hundred years earlier: “Your offspring will be sojourners in a land that is not theirs and will be servants there, and they will be afflicted for four hundred years. But I will bring judgment on the nation that they serve, and afterward they shall come out with great possessions” (Genesis 15:13-14).
If I was caked in mud, making bricks for an Egyptian building program, my back aching from the lash of the taskmaster’s whip, I probably wouldn’t be thinking about a promise given to my ancestor centuries earlier.
When we experience trials today, we often fail to remember the promises of God; our perspective can be clouded by the cares of the moment. Sometimes our vision doesn’t extend beyond the next meal, or the next doctor’s report.
God is never surprised by present circumstances because He sees with the perspective of eternity. He knows the entire story of human history, from beginning to end—all at once! He has already woven every evil act and every faithful prayer into His sovereign will, having heard your prayer in eternity past. Even our most painful struggles have been known by the Lord for centuries. Even more encouraging is the fact that it’s all part of His master plan.
God, though seemingly absent, is always active.
God tells Moses two chapters later, “I have surely seen the affliction of my people who are in Egypt. … I know their sufferings” (Exodus 3:7).
God knows. God is orchestrating the pain of suffering to eventually set them free.
Likewise, the circumstances of your life don’t slip under God’s radar. The details of your life are never absent from God’s plan.
I love the way one little boy described this truth, as he walked around the grocery store with his father. His father kept putting items in the basket the boy was carrying, and the basket became heavy. A rather concerned shopper said to the boy, “That basket is getting a little heavy, isn’t it?” To which the boy replied, “Don’t worry, my daddy knows how much I can carry.”
So does your heavenly Father.