The Bible is filled with turning points in the history of God’s plan of redemption. One of those turning points is the call of Abram (Abraham) from Ur. According to Joshua 24:1–2, Abraham was an idolater in Ur when God graciously called him. God’s call took the form of a covenant:
Now the Lord said to Abram, “Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you. And I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and him who dishonours you I will curse, and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.”
As you read this covenant that God made to Abraham, you notice at least four important elements.
First, there is the promise of protection. The Lord called Abraham to leave his familiar surroundings for an undisclosed location. While there would be those who would “bless” him, there would also be those who would “dishonour” him. However, God promised that he would “curse” those who would dishonour Abraham. He would protect the one with whom he made covenant.
Second, there is the promise of a place. Abraham was to leave his “country” and “kindred” for “the land I will show you.” He had no idea what land that was, but it was a land that God would give to him.
Third, there is the promise of a people. God would make of Abraham “a great nation” that would be a “blessing” to “all the families of the earth.”
Fourth, there is (implied) the promise of God’s presence. As Abraham left his home and family he would not do so alone. God would “show” him where to go. God would stay with him, making of him a great nation, blessing those who blessed him and cursing those who dishonoured him.
In our Family Bible Hour ministry, we were recently given the task of overviewing the book of Exodus in a single setting. As I sat down to prepare for that discussion, I came to realise that Exodus, as I have said, is really the story of God keeping his covenant with Abraham. In the major threefold division of Exodus, we see God keeping his promise of protection, a place, a people and his presence.
Exodus opens with God’s people suffering great affliction at the hand of a wicked pharaoh. That should come as no surprise, for God told Abraham that it would happen that way (Genesis 15:12–16) that this would be the case.
But God would not ignore the cries of his persecuted people, and so Exodus opens with the introduction of Moses, God’s chosen deliverer. However, things would not prove as simple as perhaps we would like. The fulfilment of God’s promise would face at least three major obstacles.
First, Moses would be raised in a pagan home. In order to save his life, it was necessary for his mother to place him in an ark of reeds and send him sailing down the Nile River, where he was found by none other than the pharaoh’s daughter. Would a child raised in the home of a pagan king resist being used by God to deliver a slave people?
As it turns out, no: Hebrews 11:23–28 informs us that Moses chose to suffer affliction with the Israelites rather than to enjoy the fleeting pleasures of sin as an Egyptian prince. Acts 7:17–36 sheds further light on the situation when it informs us that Moses actually knew that he was God’s chosen deliverer. He killed an Egyptian who was beating an Israelite because he believed that this action would prove his solidarity with the Israelites. It would show them that he was God’s chosen deliverer. Things didn’t quite go according to plan. His actions were witnessed by fellow Israelites, who threatened to reveal those actions to Pharaoh. Moses was forced to flee for his life.
The second obstacle to the fulfilment of God’s promise was Moses himself. Someone has said that Moses spent the first forty years of his life believing that he was somebody, the second forty years finding out that he was nobody, and the last forty years learning that God can use anybody. That is an appropriate summary of the man’s life.
Having been forced to flee Egypt at age forty, Moses spent the next forty years as a shepherd in the wilderness of Midian. It was quite a step down from the Egyptian palace to a shepherd in a seminomadic tribe! Clearly, it was a humbling time for Moses, for the man who once killed an Egyptian in the hopes that he would be recognised as God’s chosen deliverer later (at the burning bush) sought every excuse he could to avoid being God’s servant.
The third obstacle was Pharaoh himself. The pharaoh who had sought Moses’ life for killing the Egyptian had died by the time Moses returned to Egypt, and so he had to face a new king. This pharaoh would resist the Lord’s command to let his people go. The Lord had overcome Moses’ resistance by grace; he would overcome Pharaoh’s resistance by judgement.
Through a series of ten plagues, Yahweh would challenge the gods of Egypt and prove his superiority in every respect. Eventually, Pharaoh would be forced to let God’s people go free. Yet God’s people would be protected from God’s judgement through all of this. And as God had promised Abraham, his protected people would be delivered from the oppressing nation in order to head to a promised place of their own.
In addition to protection and a place, God promised Abraham a people. The promise was that he would become “a great nation” (Genesis 12:2). While this certainly included a “great” number of people, the emphasis seems to be on a different sort of greatness. Abraham and his progeny would be great “so that you will be a blessing.” According to Galatians 3:8, this “blessing” should be defined as gospel blessings.
The people that God promised to Abraham was a peculiar people. It was a people blessed by the gospel in order to be a blessing with the gospel. And we see that in Exodus.
Having delivered his people from bondage, and having brought them safely through the Red Sea, God proceeded to give Israel a law. The law was not given in order to deliver but because God had delivered.
God gave his law to Israel to show that they were his people and he was their God. The summary of the law is given in Exodus 20 in the form of the Ten Commandments. Chapters 21–23 then detail how these principles were to be lived out by God’s peculiar people, and chapter 24 shows God’s people affirming their intention to enter into covenant with God.
“The Jews were entrusted with the oracles of God” (Romans 3:2). Israel was a special people to God, in accordance with his covenant promises to Abraham. Exodus highlights this truth.
But in many ways, Exodus finds its climax with the tabernacle. The latter chapters of Exodus are frequently laborious to readers. If the details of this section bore us it is because we do not understand their purpose. Chapters 1–18 highlight God’s protection and promise of a place; chapters 19–24 highlight his promise of a people; and chapters 25–40 highlight, wonderfully, the promise of his presence with those people.
It was necessary that God’s presence remain with his people if they would be a blessing to all nations, and it would remain with them by means of the tabernacle. While God’s people nearly threw away this privilege in the incident with the golden calf (chapter 32), God ultimately, faithful to his promise to Abraham, forgave and restored them. And through the wilderness journey, over the next forty years, he blessed his people with his presence as he protectively led them to the place he had promised.