Last Thoughts on Genesis
I was tempted to preach one final sermon on Genesis this evening to try to sum up what we’ve learned. However, throughout the series of sermons on Genesis, I often summarised and reviewed what we were learning, so that to go over the same material again might have been repetitious.
However, there’s one thing you might like to do yourself before you go to sleep this evening; and that’s to compare and contrast the first two chapters of Genesis with the last two chapters of Revelation. The first two chapters tell us about the creation of the heavens and the earth. The last two chapters of Revelation tell us about the new creation and the new heavens and the new earth. The first two chapters tells us about a garden-temple with a river and a Tree of Life. The last two chapters tell us about a garden-city with a river and a Tree of Life. So, if you compare and contrast those chapters, you’ll discover that the Lord has revealed in the beginning of the Bible and in the beginning of salvation history what the end of the Bible is and what the end of salvation history will be. And, of course, the path from the beginning of salvation history to the end of salvation history runs through the life and death and resurrection and ascension of the Lord Jesus Christ.
Introduction to Exodus
There’s something to do tonight before you go to bed. But what we need to think about right now is our new series of sermons on the book of Exodus. And, of course, many of the same themes and subjects which we came across in the book of Genesis will recur in the book of Exodus, because the book of Exodus continues the same story which began in Genesis.
What was Genesis about? It was about many things, but chiefly it was about God’s promises to Abraham and to Isaac and to Jacob concerning a people and a place. There was his promise concerning a people: he was going to make their descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky and as the sand on the seashore, too many to count. And there was his promise concerning a place: he was going to give their descendants a place to live in, a land of their very own, a land like Eden, flowing with milk and honey. And if Genesis is part 1 of the story of how God will keep his promises about a people and a place, then Exodus is part 2 of the same story, because in Exodus we read how God delivers his people from captivity and he leads his people to the place which he promised to give them.
And, in fact, the continuity between the book of Genesis and the book of Exodus is signalled by the very first verse of Exodus, because the very first verse of Exodus begins like this in the Hebrew:
And these are the names of the sons of Israel….
It begins with the word ‘and’. The word ‘and’ is a conjunction; it’s used to join words and phrases which belong together. And so, Moses, by beginning the book of Exodus with the word ‘and’, is saying to us that Genesis and Exodus belong together. They’re joined to each other. Exodus is the continuation of the book of Genesis.
And in the chapters which follow — which are about the descendants of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob — we’ll read about the crisis God’s people faced in Egypt, because the Pharaoh was making their life miserable and desperately hard. And we’ll read how the Lord saw their misery and he heard their cries, and he sent them Moses to lead them out of their captivity. And the Lord brought them through the Red Sea and into the wilderness. And in the wilderness, he led them to Mount Sinai where he established his covenant with them and where he gave them his Ten Commandments and his other laws. And then there’s the disaster of the Golden Calf incident, when the people began to bow down and worship an idol.
And though the Lord was angry with them, he was also merciful to them and he renewed his covenant with them. And the book ends with the setting up of the Tabernacle, this portable temple, where God dwelt with his people. You see, God intended to travel with his people and to remain in their midst as he led them towards the Promised Land. So, if you like there’s a third ‘p’ for us to think about. Firstly, there’s God’s people. Secondly, there’s the place he promised to give them. And then, thirdly, there’s God’s presence with his people. And, of course, as we’ve seen before the promise of a people is fulfilled ultimately in the church; and the promise of a place is fulfilled ultimately in the new heavens and the new earth — as is the promise of God’s presence, because in the new heavens and the new earth we’ll be with the Lord for ever and for ever.
As we turn now to chapter 1, we can divide the chapter into three parts. Firstly, there’s verses 1 to 7 which tell us how the Lord was fulfilling his promise concerning a people. Secondly, there’s verses 8 to 14 which tell us how the promise was put in danger by the Pharaoh. And thirdly, there’s verses 15 to 22 which tell us how, for a second time, the promise was put into danger by the Pharaoh.
Verses 1 to 7
Verses 1 to 7 first of all. And, as I’ve said, in Hebrew the first verse says:
And these are the sons of Israel who went to Egypt with Jacob, each with his family.
And then Moses lists the names of Jacob’s sons who came down to Egypt from Canaan in order to escape from the famine. And you’ll see at the end of verse 5, that Moses reminds us that Joseph was already in Egypt. And, of course, we know from the book of Genesis how Joseph had become the Prime Minister of Egypt and had made arrangements during the years of plenty to ensure there was enough food in Egypt for the seven years of famine which he knew were coming. And when his brothers came to Egypt to buy food, Joseph revealed to them his true identity and he invited them to come and stay with him in Egypt. And so, Jacob and his sons and all their families moved from Canaan to Egypt. There were 70 of them in total.
When we were studying Genesis 46, where we also read that the number who travelled to Egypt was 70, I made the point that, in one sense, 70 is a big number. Imagine having 70 children and grandchildren! And imagine having to buy Christmas presents and birthday presents for them all! It’s a big number. But in another sense, it’s a small number. Compared to the thousands and thousands of Egyptians, 70 is a pretty small number. Imagine being part of a group of only 70 people, living as strangers in a foreign country. You’d feel pretty small and weak and insignificant.
However, look what we read in verses 6 and 7. Joseph died; his brothers died; all that generation died, but, but the Israelites were fruitful and multiplied greatly and became exceedingly numerous, so that the land was filled with them. The 70 multiplied and became exceedingly numerous.
Now, cast your mind back to God’s promise to Abraham. Remember how God called Abraham and made a promise to him? God said:
I will make you into a great nation.
I will make your descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky.
I will make you descendants as numerous as the sand on the seashore.
I will give you so many descendants you won’t be able to count them.
And in due course, Abraham and Sarah gave birth to Isaac. And in due course, Isaac gave birth to Jacob and Esau. And in due course, Jacob had 12 sons. And in due course, Jacob and those twelves sons became 70. And in due course, the 70 were fruitful and multiplied greatly and became exceedingly numerous so that the land — and Moses probably means the land of Goshen in Egypt — was filled with them. In fact, Exodus 12 tells us that when they left Egypt the 70 had become six hundred thousand men plus women and children.
What’s the point Moses is making here? He’s telling us that the Lord was keeping his promise to Abraham and to Isaac and to Jacob. He was making their descendants as numerous as the stars in sky, and as the sand on the seashore. He was making them into a great nation. He was keeping his promise concerning a people.
But, of course, there was a problem: they were not in the right place. They filled the land of Goshen in Egypt; but Goshen was not the Promised Land; and Egypt was not the Promised Land. The Promised Land was Canaan. And so, Exodus tells the story of how the Lord brought his people out of Egypt in order to lead them to the Promised Land. But right now, at the beginning of Exodus, Moses underlines for us how the Lord was faithful to his promise concerning a people, because the people of Israel had been fruitful and had multiplied greatly and had become exceedingly numerous. Verses 1 to 7 are about how the Lord was fulfilling his promise concerning a people.
Verses 8 to 14
Let’s move on to verses 8 to 14 which tell us how the promise was put in danger by the Pharaoh.
Look at verse 8 where Moses tells us that a new king came to power. And this new king did not know about Joseph. When we read that, we tend to assume this new king had a short memory or he perhaps didn’t listen in history class and so didn’t learn anything about Egypt’s history. Imagine, for instance, if Prince William never read a history book so that the name ‘Winston Churchill’ meant nothing to him. We tend to think that’s what happened here. However, one of the commentators has looked into the history of Egypt and thinks that Moses is alluding to a time in Egypt’s history when one king rose up and toppled another king. So, there was a change in who was in charge. And, of course, when that happens, whoever was in favour when the old king was alive will find themselves out of favour with the new king; and any arrangement that might have been made under the old king will be set aside by the new king. So, the old king looked favourably on the Israelites because of what Joseph had done for the nation; and the old king had made arrangements to allow the Israelites to live safely in the land of Goshen. But now there was a new king and he took a completely different view of the Israelites.
And look at verse 9: the new king only saw them as a problem. He said about them:
They’ve become too numerous for us. There’s too many of them.
And look now at verse 10. He said:
If we don’t act now, they’ll become even more numerous. And then, if a war should break out — you know, if our enemies should invade the land — the Israelites might join our enemies against us.
And he adds at the end that they’ll fight against us and leave the country. One of the commentators argues that the word translated ‘leave’ is used elsewhere in the Bible to refer to flood waters which run over the land. And so, he thinks the king is worried, not so much that they’ll leave the land, but that they’ll take over the land. So, the Israelites have become a problem. And he sees them as a threat.
And so, in verses 11 to 14 we see what he decided to do. He put slave masters over them to oppress them with forced labour. When they first came to Egypt, they were shepherds; and we can imagine them, out in the fields, looking after their livestock, enjoying the open air, the pastoral life. But now, they’re put to work by their slave masters and they’re forced to build cities for the Egyptians. And we read in verse 13 that the Egyptians worked them ruthlessly and made their lives bitter with hard labour. In all their hard labour, the Egyptians used them ruthlessly. Moses uses different words to convey to us that the Egyptians made their lives a misery.
And perhaps the idea was that if they were overworked, then they might become weak and sick. And if they’re overworked, they wouldn’t have the time or energy to start a family or to look after whatever children they already had. By overworking them, the Pharaoh was hoping to weaken them so they wouldn’t rise up against the Egyptians; and he was hoping to stop them from multiplying any more.
But look at verse 12 where Moses tells us that the more they were oppressed, the more they multiplied and spread. Pharaoh’s plan was not working. In fact, his plan backfired, because it seems that oppressing them only made them stronger.
And so, in verses 8 to 14, we read how God’s promise concerning a people was put in danger by the Pharaoh. But the Pharaoh was unable to thwart the Lord from keeping his promise and from carrying out his plan.
Verses 15 to 22
And so, we come to verses 15 to 22 and the Pharaoh’s second plan. In fact, it’s his second and third plan. His second plan was to tell the Hebrew midwives to kill every male child who was born to the Israelites. Let’s control this population growth by killing their boys. The names of the midwives are given in verse 15. It’s possible that there were more midwives than these two; and it’s possible that these two were the head midwives and they were to pass on the Pharaoh’s instructions to the rest of the midwives. But in verse 17 we read that they feared God and so did not do what the Pharaoh had said. In other words, they feared God more than the feared the Pharaoh; and they refused to do this wicked thing. And when the Pharaoh discovered that they they were letting the boys live, they explained that the Hebrew women were strong and vigorous and gave birth before they had a chance to arrive.
The commentators discuss whether it was right for the midwives to lie to the Pharaoh. Surely a lie is a lie and all lying is wrong? And if that’s the case, why was the Lord kind to them and why did he reward them by giving them families of their own? So, what’s the answer? What are we to make of this? Well, perhaps the answer is to say that lying is wrong, but the Lord did not reward them for lying, but for refusing to do what the Pharaoh wanted. You see, we need to remember that even our best deeds are spoiled by sin, because we are sinners. And yet wonderfully, the Lord is willing to pardon our sins and to accept and reward our best efforts to serve him for the sake of Jesus Christ our Saviour whose blood covers over all our sins.
But look now at the end of verse 20. Moses tells us that the people increased and became even more numerous. Once again, the Pharaoh’s plan has backfired. He wanted to reduce the number of Israelites, but in fact the number of Israelites only increased.
And so, in verse 22, we have his third plan. And his third plan was to order the Egyptians to throw every baby boy born to the Israelites into the Nile, where, of course, they would drown. By ordering the midwives to kill the baby boys, he was acting secretly. But now he was bringing his wicked plan out into the open.
The chapter begins with the news that the Lord was keeping his promise concerning a people. And then we read how the promise was put in danger when the Pharaoh put slave masters over the Israelites and oppressed them with forced labour. That plan backfired. And so, we read how the promise was put in danger a second time and a third time when the Pharaoh ordered the baby boys to be killed. And in the chapters that follow, we’ll see how all his plans backfired, because the Lord heard the cries of his people and sent them Moses to rescue the people from the Pharaoh. And not only did he rescue the people from Pharaoh, but the Lord led his people to the Promised Land, in order to fulfil his promise to them concerning a place. Nothing was going to prevent the Lord from keeping his promise.
Before we finish today, let me make two final points.
And the first point is simply to point us in the direction we’ll be going in the weeks to follow. You see, through the history of Moses and the people of Israel and their salvation out of the hands of Pharaoh, God was revealing the history of Jesus Christ and his people and our salvation.
The Israelites were enslaved under the power of the Pharaoh, who was making their life miserable and hard and unbearable. And the Lord saw their misery and he heard their cries, and sent them Moses. And Moses’s ministry was accompanied by signs and wonders, ten great plagues which demonstrated the power of God and which made clear that God was with him. And in due course, on the night the Passover Lamb was slain, and on the night the Lord passed through the land in judgment, the power of the Pharaoh was broken and God’s people were set free from their captivity.
And through the history of Moses and the people of Israel and their salvation God was revealing the history of Jesus Christ and his people and our salvation, because just as the Israelites were enslaved under the power of Pharaoh, so we are — by nature — enslaved by sin and Satan and death. But Almighty God saw our misery, and though we deserved to be condemned for our sin and rebellion, nevertheless he was merciful towards us.
And so, in the fullness of time, he sent us one greater than Moses; he sent us his Son. And the Lord Jesus Christ came into the world, and his ministry was accompanied by signs and wonders, all the great miracles he performed which demonstrate the power of God and which made it clear that God was with him. And, then, just as the Israelites killed the Passover Lamb and smeared the blood on their homes so that the Lord passed over them, so Jesus Christ, the true Passover Lamb, was killed on the cross; and now, all who are — by faith — covered with his blood escape the judgment of God. And whoever believes in him is set free from bondage to sin and Satan and death.
And just as the Israelites passed through the Red Sea, so God’s people pass through the waters of baptism which signify that our old way of life — our life without God, our life of sin and disobedience — is over, dead and buried; and we’ve been raised with Christ to begin a new life with God, a life of grateful obedience.
And just as the Israelites spent 40 years in the wilderness, between the time they escaped from Egypt and the time they entered the Promised Land, so believers today live in the in-between time: between the time we first believed in Christ and the time when we’ll come at last to our heavenly home. We live in the in-between time, as pilgrims on our way to heaven. And just as the Israelites had to go through all kinds of trials and troubles and temptations, so believers in the in-between time have to endure all kinds of trials and troubles and temptations as we make our way to heaven.
But just as the Lord brought his people through the River Jordan and into the land of Canaan, so the Lord will surely bring his people through every danger, toil and snare so that, at last, we’ll come into his presence in the new heavens and the new earth where we will enjoy perfect peace and rest for ever and for ever.
Through the history of Moses and the people of Israel and their salvation from the hands of Pharaoh, God was revealing the history of Jesus Christ and his people and our salvation from sin and Satan and death. And so, as we read these chapters, we must look upwards to Christ our Saviour, who has set us free from our sin and misery by his life and death and resurrection and ascension and who is even now leading us on to our heavenly home. We must look to him, and trust in him, and we must give thanks to him continually for all he has done for us in order to bring his people into the place he has prepared for us.
But then the final thing I want to say today is to relate the events of this chapter to what we read in Genesis 3. You see, if we isolate this chapter from the rest of the Bible, and from salvation history, then it will seem to be just another example of genocide when one group of people tries to wipe out another group of people. And that kind of thing has happened countless times through the history of the world. But when we connect this chapter to the rest of the Bible, and to Genesis 3 in particular, we’ll understand that Pharaoh’s hated for the Israelites is another example of what the Lord was talking about in Genesis 3 when he said that he would put enmity between the serpent on one hand and Eve on the other; and between the serpent’s offspring on one hand and her offspring on the other. And, of course, the serpent in Genesis 3 is really the Devil in disguise.
By those words, the Lord was foretelling how there would be this ongoing enmity, this ongoing hatred and struggle and warfare between these two lines of people. On the one hand, there are all those who are, in a sense, descended from the serpent, the Devil who set himself up against God. This is the line of unbelievers, in rebellion against God. And on the other hand, there are all those who are, in a sense, descended from Eve. And this is the line of believers. The line of unbelievers belongs to the Devil and it belongs to the old creation of sin and shame. But the line of believers belongs to Jesus Christ and is part of his new creation.
And these two lines and their opposition to one another appear throughout the Bible. We see it in the enmity Cain had for his brother, Abel: Cain, the wicked one, hated his brother, the righteous one. We see it in the enmity Ishmael, the son of the slave woman, had for Isaac, the child of the promise. We see it in the enmity Esau had for Jacob, whom God had chosen to inherit the promises. And we see it here in this chapter in the enmity the Pharaoh had for the Israelites. And all through the rest of the Bible, we see the same enmity, which came to a head when the Lord Jesus was born and King Herod tried to kill him when he was only an infant. And then, after the Lord’s baptism, the Devil attacked him with temptations in the wilderness. And then the Pharisees and the Sadducees plotted together how to have him killed; and Pilate agreed to do what they asked. And so it seemed that the Devil had finally triumphed, and that the seed of the serpent had overcome the seed of the woman. But no. The Devil’s plan backfired, because the death and the resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ brought about the everlasting salvation of all his people.
But though the Devil has already been defeated, the enmity between his seed and the woman’s seed is ongoing. And as those who believe in the Lord Jesus, and who belong to him, we need to resist the Devil whenever he tempts us and whenever he tries to lead us astray. We need to fight against him and resist him always just as the two midwives did in Exodus 1. And we therefore need to remember what Paul wrote in Ephesians 6. We need to put on the full armour of God. And we need to stand firm in the strength of the Lord against all the Devil’s wicked schemes. And, of course, we need to keep praying for the preaching of God’s word, because it’s through the preaching of God’s word that those who are enslaved by sin and Satan and death are set free and brought into the kingdom of God’s one and only Son. And it’s through the preaching of God’s word that those who belong to Christ are strengthened for the fight. So, we must stand firm and we must pray for the preaching of God’s word.
And as we stand firm, and as we pray for the preaching of God’s word, we hope for what we have not yet seen, which is the complete victory of the Lord Jesus Christ and the complete destruction of the Devil which will take place when Jesus Christ returns. And on that day, we’ll be invited into the place which the Lord has prepared for all his people. And nothing will prevent the Lord from keeping his promise.