Unbelief and loss of hope are far worse than slavery. After Moses’ wonderful first meeting with the Jewish leaders and their first hopeful approach to Pharaoh, the bottom seemed to fall out for God’s people. Their outward circumstances went from bad to worse, but their unbelief was a worse plague. Moses fell into self-doubt about his calling and lost confidence in God’s word. He did not take seriously that God’s deliverance would require a hard war against the gods of Egypt. Israel’s deliverance from slavery would be harder than their experience of slavery. God’s people would have to “hope against hope” in the promise of God. Where do we find such hope? How can it be nurtured when we are weak and God’s enemies so strong? When God’s promise seems to conflict with what we see with our eyes, our only recourse is to go back to his word. Our lives must be built upon this solid rock, or we shall soon fall into doubt and despair. God treated Moses and his people so gently. Instead of condemning their unbelief, he renewed his covenant with them. He carried them in their weakness. As for us, he will always bring us back to the point that we must trust his promises. Our strength, resolve, and methods will not avail us against our strong enemy. God must be our strength and guide. This is the reason the Lord did not start smashing Egypt immediately. First, he had to prepare his people for deliverance. They needed to hear a sermon from his lips. Moses needed to hear it most of all.
I Am the Lord Your God (vv. 1-3)
1 Then the LORD said unto Moses, Now shalt thou see what I will do to Pharaoh: for with a strong hand shall he let them go, and with a strong hand shall he drive them out of his land. 2 And God spake unto Moses, and said unto him, I am the LORD: 3 And I appeared unto Abraham, unto Isaac, and unto Jacob, by the name of God Almighty, but by my name JEHOVAH was I not known to them.
What I Will Do (v. 1)
The first lesson of faith is “see what I will do.” The Lord has given us many commands, but faith always falls back upon the power of God. The Lord called Moses to look higher than Pharaoh’s stubbornness and Egypt’s power and to stand in awe of his strong arm. The Lord is about to arm wrestle with Pharaoh, and Pharaoh will lose. He will drive out Israel with a strong hand. What? God will twist and defeat Pharaoh’s arm so that this wicked prince will become the arm of God to deliver his people. And thus when we consider God’s commands to us individually, such as to fight against temptation and pursue holiness, and his commands to his church to make disciples of the nations and to maintain his truth in purity and peace, we must trust his power. “Not by might, nor by power, but by my Spirit, says the Lord” (Zech. 4:6). This is a constant directive and encouragement to us. We are weak and must not trust our power or anticipation of the way men will respond to us. We are not to look at our own weakness, for this will fill us with fear and paralyze us so that we do not trust and obey the Lord as we should. Old and New Testaments, this is his word to us: “All power is given to me in heaven and in earth.” God rules over the nations, and Christ as our exalted Mediator rules over all things for the sake of the church. Faint hearts will find their courage only by looking with awe and faith upon the majesty and power of God.
I AM THE LORD (v. 2)
Yes, some will say, God is powerful, but will he be powerful for us? We are so weak, and God’s enemies are so strong. God says to us, “I AM THE LORD.” Yahweh is his covenant name. It expresses his eternity, self-sufficiency, and unbreakable pledge to fulfill his promises to us. When we doubt, we must remember God’s covenant. He will not fail to keep his promises (1 Kings 8:56). There is no other remedy for weak faith and no more powerful motivation to obedience. God has sworn, and he cannot lie. What we cannot do, he is more than able to do. For Moses, this means that he was to stop looking at himself. He must not allow himself to be cowered by Pharaoh’s insolence or thrown off track by Israel’s unbelief and hopelessness. The Lord must be his fear and his dread. With respect to our life in this world, God’s directives to his church, and his promises to us, we must venture all upon his promise. He cannot deny himself (Heb. 6:18). And now that Yahweh in his Son is God with us and has pledged never to leave or forsake us, abiding in him and living by faith in him is our sure strength and confidence. He sealed all God’s promises with his precious blood. He has opened the fountain of living waters and filled us with his Spirit. We can do all things because he holds us up and is our faithful Shepherd and powerful Lord.
You Will Know My Name (v. 3)
The patriarchs knew the name Yahweh (Gen. 15:7; 25:21-22; 28:13). Bible critics used this verse to justify their theory of multiple sources for Scripture. These sources of unknown authorship were later compiled editors into one document, but the editor(s) could not remove all evidences of multiple sources. The purpose of this theory was to undermine the unity and inspiration and therefore the authority and sufficiency of Scripture. It was not, however, new letters and names that the Lord revealed to Moses and the Israelites in Egypt. He would reveal the fuller reality of this name as the faithful and covenant keeping God. They had known him largely as El Shaddai, the powerful God who provides and is sufficient for every need and trial. They would now learn more than they had heretofore that he would keep his promises to them. Nothing will stop him. He is self-sufficient, eternal, and unchangeable. His purposes will stand. Pharaoh and his pantheon of gods will fall before him and accomplish his will. Moses and Israel will know him more fully by his deliverance of them and the way in which he delivers them.
This indeed, is the fundamental purpose of all God’s dealings with us, from Eden to the Cross to the Crown, on earth and in heaven. “You will know that I am the Lord.” This is his frequent word through the prophets. Deliverances, judgments, and preeminently his saving work in Jesus Christ will reveal that he is the Lord, the covenant keeping God who works all things after the counsel of his own will. No one, nothing can thwart his purposes. He has graciously drawn near to us and made many precious promises to us. All the malice of Satan and weakness of our flesh and opposition of the world can do nothing to stop him from fulfilling his word. He is faithful. In all his dealings with us, let us hold that this is one of his main purposes: that we may know his name. who is he toward us, what he has pledged to do for us. He is the Lord of the covenant. He revealed this name supremely when he sent his Son to bring in everlasting righteousness and to shed the blood of the everlasting covenant. He is the Lord. His purposes of grace and love are eternal and secure.
The Precious I Am’s of God’s Covenant (vv. 4-8)
4 And I have also established my covenant with them, to give them the land of Canaan, the land of their pilgrimage, wherein they were strangers. 5 And I have also heard the groaning of the children of Israel, whom the Egyptians keep in bondage; and I have remembered my covenant. 6 Wherefore say unto the children of Israel, I am the LORD, and I will bring you out from under the burdens of the Egyptians, and I will rid you out of their bondage, and I will redeem you with a stretched out arm, and with great judgments: 7 And I will take you to me for a people, and I will be to you a God: and ye shall know that I am the LORD your God, which bringeth you out from under the burdens of the Egyptians. 8 And I will bring you in unto the land, concerning the which I did swear to give it to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob; and I will give it you for an heritage: I am the LORD.
I have established my covenant (v. 4).
These are some of the most astounding lines in Exodus. “I” is so prominent – who God is, what he will do for his people, his word and promises – that it is surely an Old Testament anticipation of John’s great I AM declarations. This parallel should not surprise us, for Jesus Christ, being God’s eternal Son, is Yahweh-Jesus. The practical purpose of these powerful affirmations and promises is to answer the doubts of Moses and the Israelites with a gracious revelation of his love and faithfulness. Over four centuries have passed since he first entered into covenant with them through the father, Abraham, but the covenant is as fresh upon the Lord’s mind as if he had made it three seconds earlier. “I have established my covenant with them,” your fathers. I have not forgotten it. I came to them when they were strangers in Canaan, and you are now strangers in Egypt. Trust me. I always keep my word. We have a true and fruitful and satisfying knowledge of God because he has condescended to reveal himself to us and enter into a covenant of grace with us. This is our assurance of his faithfulness, the basis upon which we may plead his promises, and the source of all our joy and strength. God has bound himself to us. Our troubles, sorrows, and pain may be great, but he is faithful. He is working out his purposes. We must trust him.
I hear the groanings of my people (v. 5).
We should not think that God’s covenant with us is merely a written contract. There are certainly written provisions, not that he needs them for he forgets nothing, but we certainly need them. That some men hate the Scriptures is no mark against God’s word but an indication that men do not like God to spell things out clearly. They want wiggle room to sin and neglect God. His covenant is also personal, a relationship, if you will. Because God has bound himself to us in covenant, he knows the troubles of our soul. He heard the groaning of his people in Egypt and saw their affliction (Acts 7:34). It is a great comfort to know that the Lord hears us when we cry to him (Ps. 31:7). That he enters deeply with us in our sufferings – “Saul, “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me” – is our peace in trouble. If the Lord God hears us, then all must be well eventually. And why would he care about us and hear our cries? He remembers his holy covenant. God’s hearing and helping and sympathy is not a wispy sentiment but a pledge he has made to us. It is part of what it means for him to be our God and to take us for his people. He is never indifferent to our sufferings (Isa. 63:9). One might say, “Well, he is the one doing the afflicting,” or, “he might have made it so that we did not have to go through the trouble.” This is unbelief talking. Because God has made promises to us and taken us for his own, he will always do what is best for us. His best often means affliction and chastening. We shall never learn many of his most precious truths unless they are seared upon our hearts through hardship. And he also promises to be with us in them and to support us during them. It is like a loving father who disciplines his child. He chastens because he loves, quickly embraces us, encourages us with his promises to bear the discipline patiently, and then wipes away our tears.
I am your Redeemer (v. 6).
The I AM’s and I WILL’S continue with dignity and hope. Moses needed to hear them, for God’s word is a high tower from which we may look out confidently upon the world of trouble. Pharaoh’s heart was hard, but I AM THE LORD. I will bring you of the burdens of Egypt. Did I not promise the land of Canaan to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob? Do you think that I who have orchestrated these events, the captivity of my people to refine them and the elevation of Egypt to humble them, will be thwarted in my purposes? I am the Lord. Moses had to believe this to move forward, and so must we. Without faith, it is impossible to please God (Heb. 11:5), and faith’s first step is to recognize and worship God for who he is. He is our Redeemer. Ga’al can be a hero, a kinsman-avenger, an avenger, or one who delivers another by paying a ransom. Perhaps all are included here. God was the powerful deliverer of his people, delivered his son, avenged his wrongs, and requited the blood and suffering of his people with the blood of Egypt’s firstborn. His redeeming of Israel from Egypt is constantly used as a type of the Redeemer, Jesus Christ, who ransomed us from wrath and judgment by his own blood, by his power demonstrated in unparalleled lowliness and obedience unto death, and did so as our Elder Brother and Champion over Satan. He is the only Redeemer of God’s elect. Look to him and be saved.
I am your God; you are my people (vv. 7-8).
Our blessings in Christ cannot be numbered, and as God’s covenant here has ultimate reference to the Seed of Abraham, we must look for its full blessings in his person and work. “I will take you to me for a people” – God says in effect, “You are mine; I am yours.” This promise is found in several places and shines in full glory in the new covenant (Heb. 8:10). Even in these early days, this was one of the most precious promises of God’s covenant. It is hard even now to rise up to a proper estimation of its magnificence. All that God is, he is for us – righteousness, peace, and joy in the Holy Ghost – true and faithful, holy and just, merciful and gracious. He is our God by the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, according to his covenant promises and the blood of the covenant spilled to cleanse our transgressions. And we are his – bought and paid for with the precious blood of Jesus Christ. We are not our own (1 Cor. 6:20). Israel never truly learned what this meant. Yes, it included the land of Canaan, for God promised, and he never goes back upon his word. It included deliverance from Egypt. Yet, how many times do later prophets call the people back to their Egyptian deliverance? They never really took in what it meant. I am the Lord; you are my people. I will take care of you no matter what happens, no matter how your present experience seems to conflict with my promises. Do not trust your eyes, lose heart because of pain and suffering, or doubt me. I have taken you to myself. You are the apple of my eye.
God’s Promise the Foundation of Faith and Obedience (vv. 9-13, 28-30)
9 And Moses spake so unto the children of Israel: but they hearkened not unto Moses for anguish of spirit, and for cruel bondage. 10 And the LORD spake unto Moses, saying, 11 Go in, speak unto Pharaoh king of Egypt, that he let the children of Israel go out of his land. 12 And Moses spake before the LORD, saying, Behold, the children of Israel have not hearkened unto me; how then shall Pharaoh hear me, who am of uncircumcised lips? 13 And the LORD spake unto Moses and unto Aaron, and gave them a charge unto the children of Israel, and unto Pharaoh king of Egypt, to bring the children of Israel out of the land of Egypt. 28 And it came to pass on the day when the LORD spake unto Moses in the land of Egypt, 29 That the LORD spake unto Moses, saying, I am the LORD: speak thou unto Pharaoh king of Egypt all that I say unto thee. 30 And Moses said before the LORD, Behold, I am of uncircumcised lips, and how shall Pharaoh hearken unto me?
Do Not Close Your Ears (v. 9)
This is such a dazzling promise that we can scarcely take it in. We now have it much more fully than the Israelites, for the Spirit is poured out upon the church and seals each believer so that we have an inner testimony to our adoption into God’s family. We cannot begin to enumerate all that it means, now and later, for God to give himself to us as our God and to take us as his people. Sometimes, the Spirit simply says things like, “Every spiritual blessing in the heavenly,” or, “Whereby are given to us exceeding precious promises,” or “Having these promises, dearly beloved” (Eph. 1:3; 2 Pet. 1:4; 2 Cor. 7:1). It is too much to take in who God is, what he is to us, and what he promises to do for us. If we would think more upon his wonderful grace to us, our burdens would be much lighter. We would willingly take our Savior’s yoke upon us, if only to know more of his unsearchable riches, and even if knowing him brought untold suffering and hardship. But the Jews refused to listen. They were crushed, literally, “short of breath,” due to their cruel bondage. God would have to carry them out. They were not delivered from Egypt because they believed God’s promises but because he kept his promises. Let us always remember that this is true of us. It is not our constancy, but Christ’s; not our faith, but his faithfulness. This will crush the seed of pride and keep us looking unto our Redeemer for strength.
Trust and Obey (vv. 10-13)
Not idly does God give us his great and precious promises. He expects us to feed upon his word and then to obey him in its strength. The Lord wastes no time in reissuing his command: go speak to Pharaoh and tell him to let my people go. No half-measures this time, no three days’ journey – tell him that I say to him to let my people go. Moses’ heart remained unsettled. It was overwhelming to him. The children of Israel had not listened to him. It is very discouraging to God’s messengers when those who are supposedly God’s friends have hard hearts. Many preachers have worn out their souls asking God to give his people faith in his word. Moses does not seem to be making an excuse but recording his true despondency at that moment. Yes, your promises are wonderful, but if your own people do not believe me, how will Pharaoh? “Uncircumcised lips” here means untrained, not eloquent, rough. Moses fell to disparaging himself and pleading his weakness. His faith was weak. He did not allow his weakness to be consumed and overcome by God’s promises. Twice he repeats God’s command to him and his faltering response (vv. 13,30). Reflecting back, he was honest about his weakness. He had not responded to God’s promises as he should have. Even so, God’s power and faithfulness were magnified by Moses’ weakness. God did not deliver his people by the hand of a strong man of unwavering faith, but by a man whom he practically had to carry the whole way!
This is the way we must receive and use God’s promises. God gives us his word so that we will be encouraged to trust and obey. All the sermons and Bible reading in the world will not help but condemn unless we become doers of his word (James 1:22). We have truly profited from God’s word when it has encouraged us to trust and obey. Then, we can move forward in every season and overcome every obstacle, weak in ourselves but strong because of God’s truth. Since God has given us his completed Scriptures and the Spirit of truth to teach and sanctify, let us not be idle hearers of God’s promises, for this will turn out to our condemnation. Rather, let us as newborn babes, desire the pure milk of God’s word, take it in to our hearts by faith, and obey it. Since we are weak, God’s word must first lead us to seek his face and to ask for strength to obey him. We must do this day and night. Then, trusting his promise, we must be resolved to obey him, knowing full well that we shall encounter many obstacles and trials. These usually throw us off course because we forget that God is our Redeemer and will test our faith in order to perfect it. Instead of allowing difficulties to make us despair, let us learn to think of them as his invitations to pray. Our wise God and Savior brings afflictions and chastening and trouble in order to reveal his strength in our weakness, to teach us that the only safe way forward is upon bended knee, and then to live by the strength his word gives.
God Knows His People by Name (vv. 14-27)
14 These be the heads of their fathers' houses: The sons of Reuben the firstborn of Israel; Hanoch, and Pallu, Hezron, and Carmi: these be the families of Reuben. 15 And the sons of Simeon; Jemuel, and Jamin, and Ohad, and Jachin, and Zohar, and Shaul the son of a Canaanitish woman: these are the families of Simeon. 16 And these are the names of the sons of Levi according to their generations; Gershon, and Kohath, and Merari: and the years of the life of Levi were an hundred thirty and seven years. 17 The sons of Gershon; Libni, and Shimi, according to their families. 18 And the sons of Kohath; Amram, and Izhar, and Hebron, and Uzziel: and the years of the life of Kohath were an hundred thirty and three years. 19 And the sons of Merari; Mahali and Mushi: these are the families of Levi according to their generations. 20 And Amram took him Jochebed his father's sister to wife; and she bare him Aaron and Moses: and the years of the life of Amram were an hundred and thirty and seven years. 21 And the sons of Izhar; Korah, and Nepheg, and Zichri. 22 And the sons of Uzziel; Mishael, and Elzaphan, and Zithri. 23 And Aaron took him Elisheba, daughter of Amminadab, sister of Naashon, to wife; and she bare him Nadab, and Abihu, Eleazar, and Ithamar. 24 And the sons of Korah; Assir, and Elkanah, and Abiasaph: these are the families of the Korhites. 25 And Eleazar Aaron's son took him one of the daughters of Putiel to wife; and she bare him Phinehas: these are the heads of the fathers of the Levites according to their families. 26 These are that Aaron and Moses, to whom the LORD said, Bring out the children of Israel from the land of Egypt according to their armies. 27 These are they which spake to Pharaoh king of Egypt, to bring out the children of Israel from Egypt: these are that Moses and Aaron.
Why did the Lord have his servant Moses introduce a genealogy at this point? To encourage him. Among the many interesting features of this particular genealogy, notice, first, that it mentions only three of Jacob’s sons: Reuben, Simeon, and Levi. Jacob had cursed these three, but here we see that God’s grace is working to overcome their reproach. Deliverance from Egypt gives all of God’s children a fresh start! Then, their lines are traced back to Jacob, which was a reminder of God’s covenant and his faithfulness to the old patriarch who came to Egypt with seventy souls; had he not grown into a multitude. Great is thy faithfulness! Then, the genealogy brings us down to the time of Phinehas, priest at the time of the judges. Most important, it honors Aaron as having a legitimate priesthood and Moses as having come from a priestly tribe. This validated the leadership of Moses and Aaron, which was challenged by Korah (v. 21). It also demonstrates that the blood line was not “pure” (v. 15). Above all, God was saying to his people that you are not forgotten in Egypt. Slaves lose something of their identity and their human worth, but God knew his slave-people by name. He was at work elevating those sons of Jacob that had been cursed, and from them he brought forth the priestly tribe, and their deliverer, Moses.
Genealogies are important. History without genealogy is myth. The Bible’s genealogies are trustworthy, being inspired of God and the revelation of the Spirit of Christ. This one is especially encouraging. God does not forget us. The world hates us, and it can be tempting to sell one’s soul for a little earthly recognition. Remember Satan’s “notoriety” temptation – Matt. 4:6. Scripture teaches us that “it does not yet appear what we shall be” (1 John 3:2). In the same vein, our lives lie hidden with Christ in God (Col. 3:3). And when we consider the condition of believers in the world, we usually do not look like the favorites of heaven – nor do we act like it! Believers suffer with terrible diseases, are left to struggle alone and in great pain, or forgotten completely. But God does not forget us. He knows us by name. We are engraved upon our Savior’s hands and carried upon his heart into the heavenly throne room. Since he knows us by name, let us rejoice in his name, be his faithful ambassadors, and endeavor to uphold his name in honor, by our consecration to him and following him closely in all that we do.