The first three chapters of Exodus are absolutely packed with stuff, just as the first three chapters of Genesis are. In these chapters, Joseph and all his immediate family have died, a new Pharaoh begins oppressing the Israelites, Moses is born, grown, kills a man, flees the country, gets married, and meets God in a burning bush. That’s possibly close to 50 years of story packed into a mere three chapters. Let’s dive in.
A few things to note from these chapters:
- Pharaoh, though the “boss” of the land, fears his underlings (the Israelites) – so decides the best way to keep them in line is to destroy their spirits (see Lesson 1 below).
- The Hebrew midwives lie to Pharaoh in order to save the lives of newborn Hebrew boys.
- Moses’ own mother technically “lies” (by withholding the truth) to Pharaoh’s daughter in order to nurse her own boy as an infant.
- Pharaoh’s daughter goes against her father’s wishes by keeping and raising the baby Hebrew boy (surely she knew her daddy wanted to kill ’em all).
- Moses, dressed as an Egyptian, meandering around as Pharaoh’s “son” (adopted), kills his own (an Egyptian) to save his own (a Hebrew). Talk about a case of unknown identity.
- The Hebrews distrust the murderous (Egyptian) Moses because, well, he’s an Egyptian. They don’t consider him one of their own.
- Pharaoh tries to kill his own “son” after hearing of Moses’ misdeeds.
- In the desert, he still looks like an Egyptian, and that’s how people refer to him (chapter 2:19).
- God “remembers” his covenant promises – as if he somehow forgot them?
- God appears to Moses in a miraculous way, speaks to Moses in a miraculous way, and still Moses has the gaul to question God’s capacity for performing miracles.
So, what can we learn from these chapters?
Do not crush your subordinates
The best way to “keep someone in line” is not to crush their spirits, as Pharaoh did. The Israelites were part of his land, and weren’t that likely to turn against him in case of an enemy attack. After all, it was their home too. But how many of us do as Pharaoh did when we are put in positions of authority like him? How many parents attempt to keep their children in line by crushing them? How many bosses attempt to keep employees in line by oppressing them? Let us each strive to not be like Pharaoh, and encourage those God puts under us, to listen to their needs and suggestions, and not simply squash differences of opinion or opposition.
When can we resist authority?
Does God reward liars? He sure seems to have done so here – by granting the Hebrew midwives their own families and by blessing Moses’ mother with nursing her own son. However, it seems rather that this is a case where obedience to God, rather than human authority, is the issue. Acts 5:29 speaks on this, and although the Bible is clear that we are to submit to earthly authority because God has ultimately established all of them, the one major exception to this rule is shown here in Exodus. When submission to earthly authority prevents us from obeying God’s authority, then we must reject the earthly authority and obey God’s. But this is the rare exception to the rule given in Romans 13.
Be careful how you present yourself
Be careful of the way you dress because you will be treated as such (as Moses discovered). Also, be careful of the company you keep. Moses learned the hard way that living among and dressing like the Egyptians earned him no brownie points with the Israelites – even when he tried to help them.
Does God forget his promises?
Does God forget his promises? Did he forget about the Israelites so that only through their crying out to him he remembered what he’d promised Abraham? Actually, no, he didn’t forget. Here’s another, less well known promise that God also made to Abraham: “Then the LORD said to him, ‘Know for certain that your descendants will be strangers in a country not their own, and they will be enslaved and mistreated four hundred years. 14 But I will punish the nation they serve as slaves, and afterward they will come out with great possessions.'” (Gen 15:13,14). So, God had in fact already known about this and promised it to Abraham.
Also, the word here in the Hebrew can also be translated to “mindful of.” So, God in essence became mindful of his people and his promise again in light of their suffering – and determined to do something about it. It’s not so much that God forgot, and then remembered again. It’s more that God determined to do something about it at this time – that is why the word there is “remembered.”
Additionally, let’s not forget what God says about his own forgetfulness in Isaiah: “Can a woman forget her nursing child, that she should have no compassion on the son of her womb? Even these may forget, yet I will not forget you. Behold, I have engraved you on the palms of my hands” (Isaiah 49:14-16a). And additionally, God’s promises are all made true through Jesus, “For no matter how many promises God has made, they are “Yes” in Christ” (2 Cor 1:20). Read more at this blog post.
God never forgets, and nothing is outside of God’s plan or authority. But whenever God “remembers” throughout the Bible, it’s a sure sign that he is about to take action.
What’s our reaction to miracles?
Here, Moses saw a miraculous burning bush that didn’t burn up. He approached it and heard a miraculous voice from within. The voice said it was the God of his forefathers, so Moses covered his face to hide out of reverence and fear of God’s glory and power. The voice miraculously instructed him to go out and perform some miracles (saving the Hebrews), with some miraculous assistance from the miraculous voice. And yet, even after all the miracles, he still questioned and hesitated.
Are we the same? If God speaks to us, how do we respond? Or, how can we be sure that God is speaking to us? (Hint: A close walk with Him is a good way to discern His voice from other voices.) Additionally, if we witness a miracle, how do we respond? Do we doubt the spiritual and rely on more scientific answers?
And if another person claims to have heard directly from God or seen a miracle, how do we respond? It is natural to be skeptical at first, as Moses was (plus it’s a great way to avoid getting involved with a cult). But, we can usually determine the authenticity of someone else’s claim by witnessing the change in their lives after it. Do they become more like Jesus, and give all the glory to God? Or do they become more self-involved and maintain secret sins? The answer to those questions can help us determine who has really heard from God, and who hasn’t (cults).