We have completed going through the book of Genesis asking the question of every story, Where’s Jesus? And today we begin the same process in the book of Exodus. I must admit that the opening stories of Exodus do not intimidate me nearly as much as the latter half of the book does. And yet I am excited to see what God unfolds through the various stories and civil, moral and religious laws that are given at the beginning and the end of Exodus. But I am getting ahead of myself.
Today we begin with the story of the descendants of Abraham as they find themselves in Egypt after the death of Joseph. These people are living under the blessings of God as given to Abraham in Genesis 12:1-3. They have become a great nation, in fact, the word records,
the Israelites were fruitful and multiplied greatly and became exceedingly numerous, so that the land was filled with them. (Exodus 1:7)
But the problem with being blessed is that it also creates enemies. In the case of Israel, the new Pharaoh feared the people of God and chose to oppress them with forced labor. Yet, this didn’t negate the blessings of God and the people continued to grow.
the more they were oppressed, the more they multiplied and spread…(Exodus 1:12a)
This resulted in greater hostilities and the extermination of all the male children born to the promised people. Such is the story of Christ’s body, the church. All who are united to Christ are aliens and strangers in this world (1Peter 2:11). In fact Paul tells us,
our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ, (Philippians 3:20).
We are not residents of this world any more than the descendants of Abraham were residents of Egypt, but nevertheless we find ourselves living here, just as they found themselves living there. As a result, the body of Christ is often persecuted and oppressed just like the descendants of Abraham were subjected to hardship. The world hates us. Satan hates us. And all that are opposed to God hate us and want to see Christ’s body suffering and made impotent. This happens physically and spiritually as governments and authorities seek to constrain the body of Christ and its influence upon the nations. But it also happens spiritually as sin seeks to grab control of the believer and leave him or her bereft of power and subjected to a harsh master. Israel’s story in Egypt is our story as Christ’s body visibly present in the world.
So what is a Christian to do? Well, the story of the two midwives gives us some insight. Exodus tells us there were 2 Hebrew midwives who were commanded to obey the government, yet,
the midwives feared God and did not do what the king of Egypt had told them to do… (Exodus 1:17a)
When persecution and hardship are doled out upon the people of God, then we must live under the pain of difficulty but we must not cease to obey our Lord in the midst. It would have been easy for the midwives to advance themselves in Pharoah’s eyes, but such a tactic would have been disastrous and even more enslaving than hard labor they were already subjected. They would have been cut off from the promised people.
We see just such a reality present among the early church as the rulers of the Jews command Peter and John not to speak in the name of Christ. The apostles’ response, however, is very illuminating,
Judge for yourselves whether it is right in God’s sight to obey you rather than God. For we cannot help speaking about what we have seen and heard. (Acts 4:19-20)
The apostles responded like the midwives, fearing God rather than men. They saw themselves as the oppressed people of God, and the Jewish rulers as the oppressive Pharoah. Such a reversal.
For not all who are descended from Israel are Israel. (Romans 9:6b)
And this earned them enemies, just as it earned Israel enemies in Egypt. So where is Jesus? He is present in his people, foreshadowing their reality in this alien world where hostility, enemies and hardship abound, but the people of God will thrive nevertheless and cry out for deliverance. And as we shall see, our deliverance is sure for Christ has come once and he
will come back in the same way you have seen him go into heaven. (Acts 1:11b)