God Knows Who You Are—Wherever you Are
The life and legacy of Moses
Dr. Jim Denison
The Book of Exodus stands in stark rejection of such spirituality. In Exodus, it’s all about God. He is the sovereign ruler of the world, not Pharaoh. His people are the chosen race, not the Egyptians. He is to be worshiped, not the pantheon of Egyptian deities.
Here’s the surprising paradox Exodus makes clear: the more we exalt God, the more we position ourselves to receive his help. The more we honor him, the more we are able to gain his blessing. To live for God is to experience his provident protection. If our religion serves God, we gain. If it serves us, we lose.
The book’s name comes from the Greek translation of the Old Testament, and is a fitting description of the narrative’s central event. The exodus from Egypt was the defining moment of Jewish history, and indeed, created the Jewish nation. Without the exodus, the Bible would end in Egyptian slavery. What the atonement is to Christians, the exodus is to Jews.
It is an astounding story: after 200 years of life in Egypt and another 230 years of enslavement there, the Jewish people are led out of their land of bondage. They defeat the mightiest army the world has ever known. They benefit from the greatest miracles the world has ever seen. Through the exodus the world learns that God is indeed on the throne of the universe.
The two themes of Exodus, and indeed of all that will follow in Scripture, are set in the book’s first two chapters. One: God’s people can expect oppression and suffering. Two: God will act according to his sovereign purpose to preserve his purpose and people.
As we open Exodus, we must open ourselves to its message. Where are you in Egypt today? What chains have bound your class members to lives of frustration and discouragement? Where do you need liberation from sin and freedom to experience the abundant life of Jesus?
Let’s learn that it’s about God. And that those who live for God receive all that God gives his obedient children.
Expect oppression (Exodus 1)
Exodus opens with the children of Israel in Egypt (Exodus 1:1-5). God had used this foreign nation to preserve his people during a time of severe famine, as Joseph led them to live under his protection and provision (Genesis 45-47).
So the Jewish people “went to Egypt with Jacob” (v. 1), listed here in order of seniority; the sons of Rachel and Leah are named before the sons of their handmaids Bilhah (Dan and Naphtali) and Zilpah (Gad and Asher).
Now “Joseph and all his brothers and all that generation died” (v. 6), and 200 years have passed. But God’s plan to prosper his people continued, as the nation “multiplied greatly and became exceedingly numerous” (v. 7a).
The people grew to 600,000 men (Exodus 12:37) with their families, thus a total population of around two million. And so “the land was filled with them” (v. 7)—not the entire nation, as no evidence exists that the Jews lived outside the land of Goshen, but their particular region of Egypt.
Now a new king has come to the throne (v. 8). On this event, the narrative of Exodus and all of Scripture turns. Historians date Exodus in two primary ways. 1 Kings 6:1 describes the exodus as occurring 480 years before “the fourth year of Solomon’s reign over Israel”; since that year was 966 B.C., the traditional approach places the exodus at 1446 B.C. By this approach, Thutmose III was pharaoh of the oppression, and Amunhotep II the pharaoh of the exodus.
However, the presence of the city Rameses in Exodus 1:11 has caused others to date the exodus with the 19th dynasty, making Seti I and Rameses II the pharaohs of the oppression and exodus, respectively. By this scheme, the exodus is dated at 1290 B.C.
The traditional approach is more credible in my view, given its biblical foundation (cf. 1 Kings 6:1); the city called “Rameses” by Exodus could have been given that name by a later editor who used the title as existed was in his day.
Whatever the new king’s identity, his role in Exodus was crucial. The phrase “a new king” is not found elsewhere in the Bible. Its syntax seems to imply that he did not ascend to the throne in the normal order of succession or inheritance.
The phrase “came to power in Egypt” can also be translated, “arose to power over Egypt.” And so many scholars believe that this pharaoh conquered the land and its throne.
The fact that he “did not know about Joseph” does not mean merely that he had no personal knowledge of Joseph (note that 200 years have passed since Joseph’s life and work), but that he separated himself from earlier Egyptian traditions.
His title was “pharaoh,” meaning “great house.” The description refers to an office rather than a proper name. As the new occupant of that office, his fear for his throne and kingdom was clear and understandable (vs. 9-10).
Why were the Hebrews such a threat to him? “Hebrew” is derived from “Eber,” the descendant of Shem (Genesis 10:21, 24), first used for Abram (Abraham, Genesis 14:13).
Josephus explains the pharaoh’s action against these people thus: an Egyptian scribe predicted that “there would be a child born to the Israelites who, if he were reared, would bring the Egyptian dominion low, and would raise the Israelites; that he would excel all men in virtue, and obtain a glory that would be remembered through all ages” (Antiquities 2.9.2).
During this period of her history, Egypt found herself in constant warfare with nations from western Asia. It may be that the Hebrews resembled these enemies in language, customs, and appearance. If they were to ally themselves with the invaders, the Egyptians would be destroyed. Given that they now numbered some two million, this was a very real threat.