A sermon on Exodus 1:8-22 given by the Rev. Justin Clemente at New Creation Church (Anglican), Hagerstown, MD on July 19, 2020, the seventh Sunday after Pentecost. This is the first sermon in an ongoing series on the book of Exodus.
Part I: Epic Exodus
It doesn’t get any bigger than Exodus. To employ an overused term, Exodus is epic. It is the heart of the Old Testament, and it is the foundation upon which the New Testament is laid. You can hardly go a chapter in the New Testament without running into Exodus in some way. If you do not understand the exodus, you do not understand Jesus the Messiah. Amid contemporary calls for Christians to “unhitch” their faith from the Old Testament, I say, to quote our bishop, Christians must “rehitch” our faith to this book and this story.
When we do, we find that the enduring themes of this story, God’s story, speak volumes to us right where we’re at, right in the midst of our day and our culture. The same God who delivered in Exodus is the one who delivers us in our lives.
So, before we dive into the first chapter of Exodus, let’s take a moment to understand the themes of Exodus and our goals in this study.
- Worship & service
Worship is the call “to engage with God on the terms he proposes and in the way he alone makes possible.” (David Peterson, Engaging with God) The worship of God, established in Exodus, will show us this and consistently point us to something (more specifically, someone) beyond itself – Jesus Christ.
Intimately linked to this is the idea of service. God’s people are liberated from slavery to the world to serve the true and living God (E.g. building for Pharaoh vs building for God). We’ll come back to this theme often.
- Dwelling with God (or fellowship with God)
The fellowship with God that was ruptured and lost in Eden is beginning to be reknit and remade in Exodus. The question, how can sinful people dwell with a utterly holy God? begins to be answered in Exodus in detail.
- Creation & Re-Creation
In Creation, God made the world good, in the Fall, the world was broken by man, and in Redemption, God reclaims the world for himself. So we’ll see, for instance, that the Tabernacle is adorned with almond trees reminiscent of Eden, because God is reclaiming what was lost.
- The Mission of God
God chooses a particular people, making them his own. But by choosing them, he intends that they should be a blessing to all people. The personal, missionary God makes a missionary people.
Related to the themes I’ve mentioned, our goals for this study include learning:
- How Exodus leads us to the person and work of Jesus Christ.
- How Exodus impacts the way the Church sees itself today (Israel is a paradigm for the Church today – when we see Israel, we should see ourselves).
- How we rightly apply the teaching and themes of Exodus to our lives today.
- How history and archaeology confirm the truth of Exodus (and this is a perfect time to plug our upcoming conference with Ted Wright from Epic Archaeology!)
Part II: “Now There Arose a New King” (Chapter 1)
Israel in Egypt (vs. 7-14)
As the story of the exodus begins, we’re recalled to the fact that this is “part two” in the Bible’s opening act. In fact, though it’s often missing in the English, the first word in Exodus is the Hebrew word “And.” (Exodus for You by Tim Chester, pg. 11) That “and” links it with the story of Genesis. Through Abraham, you’ll remember, God prophetically called a covenant people into existence. He made promises to them. Exodus is God making good on those promises. As 2:24 puts it, “God remembered his covenant with Abraham, with Isaac, and with Jacob.” Let’s just recall the details of that covenant – it was a promise of a treasured people and a holy land.
Here, at the start of Exodus, 400 years later, we now have a people, but those people do not have a land. And, in fact, the people of God are now enslaved to a world power far more powerful than them, intent on destroying them. So verse 8 opens, “Now there arose a new king who did not know Joseph.”
Now, let’s stop here and think about this for a moment. At the start of the Bible, we have the pronouncement of God, after the Fall, that there would be enmity between the seed of the serpent and the messianic seed of the woman. And so, Pharaoh and the taskmasters persecute Israel and attempt to oppress them as an expression of, yes, the serpent’s seed. From the beginning, God told Adam and Eve to be fruitful and multiply – Israel is now doing just that. Three times in chapter 1, Israel is described as multiplying and growing exceedingly, despite Pharaoh’s wicked attempts to destroy the Jewish people and, with it, the seed of promise.
In verse 10, the king of Egypt says, “Come, let us deal shrewdly with them, lest they multiply…” Just two verses later, we read “But the more they were oppressed, the more they multiplied!” The question that is being raised is Who is really in control here? Again and again, the answer is the Lord. And he hasn’t even stepped on the scene yet in this book.
As J.A. Motyer summarizes it, Israel’s 400 years in Egypt up to the exodus are meant assure us of the goodness and faithfulness of our God. As he says, “It is all right, it is all planned and it will all be well.” (The Message of Exodus, pg. 33)
Transitioning to our time, I just read that there are new findings out from Barna that during the time of COVID, one in three practicing Christians in the U.S. has stopped attending church. Period. On the one hand, that is lamentable. But on the other, we must ask ourselves the same question we asked of Exodus – who do we believe is in control? The answer to that question will control each of our hearts.
Are you worried about the future of the Church of Jesus? In these times of outright hostility to God and deep unbelief, do you wonder if it will survive, let alone thrive? I tell you she has endured worse and will endure until the end. The same Lord who not only preserved, but grew Israel in Egypt is the same Lord who said, “I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.”
Rehearsing the Lord’s faithfulness then gives us confidence in the now.
In Exodus 1, we see who is in control and whose purposes will come to pass.
Two Saints, Two Examples (vs. 15-22)
Taking this further in verse 15-22, we’re given an example of those among God’s people who trusted God in just this way – the Hebrew midwives. Because of their example of faith, God so honored them that we should even know two of their names – Shiphrah and Puah. You would have wanted to have known these two. Sharp as a tack they must have been. Listen to their reply to Pharaoh in verse 18:
16“When you serve as midwife to the Hebrew women and see them on the birthstool, if it is a son, you shall kill him, but if it is a daughter, she shall live.” 17 But the midwives feared God and did not do as the king of Egypt commanded them, but let the male children live.”
The might of Pharaoh was overthrown by women like these two who understood that there is but one king on the throne. They bowed the knee to living God alone and lived in fear, reverence and awe of him. Who do you live in fear of?
Are we more in awe and fear of the coronavirus than God Almighty? Are we more in fear and dread of politicians than the Lord? How about public opinion? Are we more in fear and dread of the future of our nation than we are in fear of the living God and his promises? Have we forgotten that we are citizens of heaven first and Americans second? Who are living in fear of? Fear of God will positively move us to trust and obey him. Overriding fear of anything will paralyze us and drain us of the salt and light we’re called to be in the world. William Gurnall was right when he said, “We fear men so much because we fear God so little.”
But these midwives weren’t like that. And because of that, God gave them a share in the line of promise: verse 21 tells us that “because the midwives feared God, he gave them families.”
How many times have you been tempted to think that your witness to Jesus Christ is unimportant or will make no difference? J.A. Motyer writes, “There is a wealth of irony running through these opening chapters. Here … for all his ‘greatness’ Pharaoh is left unnamed, while the midwives (whom he regarded as mere tools of his policy) are remembered individually. This is Exodus’ perception of who is important and who is not.” (The Message of Exodus, pg. 29)
So according to the king’s command, children were supposed to die, and yet here they live. Well, in closing, think on this:
In Jesus, we are the spiritual children of God that these midwives believed in and, by faith, received. In Jesus, Jew and gentile alike are the children of Abraham, who were bound in death and yet received life through Jesus Christ. So will it be until Christ comes again.
I end with this from Tim Chester: “Under Soviet communism, under Mao in China, and today in the Middle East, Satan has tried to destroy the church and prevent the preaching of the gospel. But each time God has demonstrated his sovereign power. Adapting Exodus 1:7, Christians have been “fruitful and multiplied greatly and become exceedingly numerous, so that the [earth is] filled with them.” (Exodus for You, pg. 16)
And so we give all glory and honor to God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.