We’ve seen how the book of Exodus is a continuation of the book of Genesis. In the book of Genesis, God promised to make Abraham’s descendants into a great nation, so that they would be like the stars in the sky, and like the sand on the seashore, too many to count. And at the beginning of the book of Exodus we read that Abraham’s descendants — all the Israelites — were fruitful and had multiplied greatly and they became exceedingly numerous so that the land of Egypt was filled with them. God had kept his promise, the promise he made to Abraham.
But God not only promised to give Abraham a people, he also promised to give him and his descendants a place. He promised to give them the land of Canaan, a land flowing with milk and honey, a land like the Garden of Eden, which would have everything they needed. He promised to give them their very own land. Well, in the beginning of the book of Exodus, the people are in the wrong place. They’re in Egypt, not in Canaan. And they’re slaves; in fact, we’ve seen how the Pharaoh and all the Egyptians were oppressing the Israelites and they were making their lives miserable with hard labour so that the people of Israel began to groan in their misery and to cry out because of it.
And, of course, God heard their groaning; and he remembered his promise to Abraham; and he began to put into action his plan to deliver his people from their captivity and to lead them from the wrong place in Egypt to the right place in the Promised Land of Canaan so that God’s people could live in the place he had prepared for them. And when God’s people are in the right place, they would enjoy God’s presence with them.
And, of course, lest we forget, I should remind you of what we’ve noted various times before about how God’s promise of a people and God’s promise of a place are fulfilled in two ways. They’re fulfilled in an earthly, ordinary and provisional way in the people of Israel and in the land of Canaan. But they’re also fulfilled in a spiritual, greater and eternal way in the church of Jesus Christ and in the new heavens and the new earth. Do you remember? Everyone who believes in the Lord Jesus Christ and who is a member of Christ’s church is one of Abraham’s spiritual descendants. And God has promised to make us like the stars in the sky and like the sand on the seashore, too many to count. And so, every day God is adding to his people and he’s enlarging his church and he’s causing it to multiply greatly. And then one day, when the time is right, the Lord Jesus Christ will return, and he will gather together all of his believing people from every generation, and he will bring us into the new heavens and the new earth, into the Promised Land of Eternal Life, where all of God’s people will enjoy the presence of God for ever and for ever.
And it’s important that we remember this, so that, as we read the book of Exodus together, and as we study it together, we’ll understand that through the history of Israel and through the history of God’s dealings with them to deliver them from their enemies and to bring them to the land of Canaan, through all of these things, God was revealing to the world what he promised to do for all his people in order to bring us at last to our eternal home. Through the events of the Exodus God was revealing what he would do for believers to bring us into the new heavens and the new earth.
And so, what did God do to deliver his people from their captivity in Egypt? Well, he sent them Moses to lead them out of their captivity. And in chapter 3 we saw how God appeared to Moses when he was minding his father-in-law’s flocks. And God explained to Moses that he had seen the misery of his people and he had heard them crying out because of their slave drivers and he was concerned about their suffering. So, ‘I have come down’, he said:
I have come down from heaven to rescue them and to bring them to the Promised Land.
And, he said:
I am sending you, Moses, to the Pharaoh to bring my people out of Egypt.
And do you remember how Moses hesitated?
Who am I? Who am I that I should go to the Pharoah and bring the Israelites out of Egypt?
And so, the Lord promised that he would be with Moses to help him. And then he revealed to Moses his name. In fact, he revealed to Moses two names. Do you remember? The first one — ‘I AM WHO I AM’ — speaks to us of God’s independence: our God doesn’t rely on anyone for anything; he doesn’t depend on anyone for his existence; and he doesn’t need us for anything. That was the first name he revealed.
But the second name — ‘the God of your fathers, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, the God of Jacob’ — that speaks to us of his commitment to his people. Though he didn’t need them, he bound himself to them with a promise. And so, we thought about how God doesn’t need us; he doesn’t need us for anything; and there’s nothing we can give to him or do for him that he needs from us. But how wonderful, because though he does’t need us, and there’s nothing he needs from us, nevertheless, from before the world was made, he bound himself to us with a promise and he promised to be our God and to deliver us from our sin and misery by his Son and to bring us at last into his presence. He didn’t have to do this for us; he doesn’t need us in any way; but he has committed himself to us; and he’s committed himself to saving us. And so, we ought always to give thanks to him for his grace to sinners like us; and we ought to demonstrate our gratitude by living our lives for him.
So, those are some of the things we’ve been learning. Today we come to the end of chapter 3 and we’ll make a start on chapter 4. And in verses 16 to 22 of chapter 3 the Lord promises to break the power of Pharaoh and to bring his people out of their captivity. Then, in verses 1 to 9 of chapter 4, the Lord gives Moses signs to convince the people that God has indeed sent Moses to them. And in verses 10 to 18 of chapter 4, God promises to help Moses. And we’ll look at those three sections now.
Verses 16 to 21
Having revealed his names to Moses, the Lord commanded Moses to go and to assemble the elders of Israel and to say to them that the Lord, the God of their fathers, has appeared to him and has explained to him that he has been watching over them; and he’s seen what has happened to them in Egypt; and he has now promised to bring them up out of their misery and to bring them to the Promised Land of Canaan, a land flowing with milk and honey.
What a message to tell them. We all like to bring good news; and this is good news indeed. In Egypt their lives were miserable; the labour was hard; the slave drivers were cruel; they were forced to work hard in the fields and on the building sites, day after day, without any relief. And now, here’s good news: God has seen their suffering; and he’s going to rescue them from it; and he’s going to bring them into this wonderful land, this land flowing with milk and honey, which is filled with good things for them to eat and to enjoy.
And once again, the Lord re-assures Moses: he tells him in verse 18 that the elders of Israel will listen to him. And together they’ll go to the Pharaoh. And the Lord tells Moses what they must say to the Pharaoh: they’re to explain that their God has met with them and they now want to take a three-day journey into the desert to offer sacrifices to him.
Now Christians are often puzzled by this. It seems deceptive, doesn’t it? It seems like a lie. The plan wasn’t really to go into the desert for three days and then return; the plan was to go into the desert and never return. So, was God asking Moses to lie to the Pharaoh? Was he asking Moses to deceive the Pharaoh? What are we to make of this?
The commentators explain that this was the way people negotiated in those days. People weren’t direct and straightforward in those days, but tended to make small suggestions even when they were asking for big things. We do something similar ourselves: when the receptionist says to us that the doctor will be with us in a moment, we know that we’re being told to sit down and to wait and to keep waiting until the doctor is ready to see us; and who can tell when that will be? Well, that’s the way people negotiated and communicated with one another in Old Testament times. And the expression ‘a three-day journey’ was widely understand to mean a very long journey which took a long time. So, when Moses went and asked Pharaoh about taking a three-day journey, Pharaoh would understand that what Moses was really saying is that they wanted to leave Egypt for good.
In verse 19 the Lord tells Moses that the Pharaoh will not let them go unless a mighty hand compels him. After all, why would he be willing to let all these slaves leave? Who would do the work that the Israelites have been doing for so long? But, verse 20: the Lord promised that he would stretch out his hand and strike the Egyptians with all kinds of wonders; and after that — after the Lord has stretched out his hand to strike the Egyptians — the Pharaoh will let them go. Of course, the Lord is referring to the plagues which he was going to unleash on the Egyptians in order to break the power of Pharaoh.
By referring to the Pharaoh’s resistance, we’re once again reminded of the words of the Lord back in Genesis 3 and how there would be this ongoing enmity and this ongoing struggle between the seed of the woman and the seed of the serpent. Do you remember? 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 and all his people. 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. And these two lines and their opposition to one another appear throughout the Bible. We saw it in the enmity Cain had for his brother, Abel: Cain, the wicked one, hated his brother, the righteous one. We saw it in the enmity Ishmael, the son of the slave woman, had for Isaac, the child of the promise. We saw it in the enmity Esau had for Jacob; Jacob was the chosen one and his brother hated him. And we see it here in this chapter and in the Pharaoh’s unwillingness to set the Israelites free and in his desire to keep them in slavery and to treat them cruelly.
But here we also have the Lord’s promise that he would break the power of the Pharaoh and set his people free.
And not only that, but when they leave, they will not leave empty-handed. Look at verses 21 and 22: The Lord will so work in the hearts of the Egyptians that they will look with favour on the Israelites and give them whatever they ask for when they leave. So, they’ll leave with silver and gold and with clothing. The Lord promised:
You will plunder the Egyptians.
And that, of course, is to fulfil the promise God made to Abraham in Genesis 15 when he foretold that the Israelites would be slaves for 400 years; but God would rescue them; and they will come out of the land of their slavery with great possessions. The Lord was going to do for them all that he had promised Abraham all those years before.
Through the history of Israel and through all of God’s dealings with them to deliver them from their enemies and to bring them to the land of Canaan, God was revealing to us what he has promised to do for all his people in order to bring us at last to our eternal home. In the days of Moses, God saw the misery of his people and he was concerned about them. And so, he sent them Moses to confront the Pharaoh. And when the Pharaoh said no, and when he stood in their way, and when he refused to let them go, God stretched out his mighty hand and he broke the power of Pharaoh in order to set his people people free.
And through all of this God was revealing what he would do for us by his Son. God saw us in our sin and misery and he was concerned about us; he was filled with compassion for us. And in his mercy he sent his one and only Son to deliver us from our sin and misery. And the Lord Jesus came to destroy the works of the Devil and to set his people free from his tyranny. And though it seemed that the Devil had beaten him whenever the Lord was taken away and crucified, nevertheless three days later the Lord was raised from the dead. And so he broke the power of death over us and he broke the power of Satan over us. And all who belong to the Lord Jesus Christ and are united with him by faith are delivered from our sin and misery and from the tyranny of the Devil and we’re brought into the Lord’s kingdom of grace where he will keep us safe for ever and for ever. And one day, when the time is right, he’ll bring us at last to our eternal home.
Just as God rescued his people from their slavery by the hand of Moses, so he promises to rescue us from sin and Satan and from death by the hand of his Son, Jesus Christ. And just as the Israelites left Egypt with great possessions, so the Lord is good to us and to all who believe in him; and he pours out upon us one spiritual blessing after another, because not only does he give us justification, so that our sins are pardoned and we’re accepted by God; and not only does he give us adoption, so that we’re brought into his family and regarded as his children; and not only does he give us sanctification, so that we become more and more holy; but he also gives us the assurance of his love, and peace of conscience, and joy in the Holy Spirit, and growth in grace, and perseverance so that he enables us to keep believing throughout our life. He pours out on us one spiritual blessing after another. We didn’t deserve these things; he was under no obligation to give us these things; but the Lord is good to us so that not only does he deliver us from our sin and misery, and not only does he promise to bring us at last to our eternal home, but he provides us with all we need in this life to sustain us in the faith. And so, we ought to give thanks to him for his grace and mercy towards us in Christ Jesus. And we ought to look to him for all the spiritual blessings we need each day.
Verses 1 to 9
But let’s move on now to chapter 4. And in verses 1 to 9 the Lord gives signs to Moses. Now, although the Lord assured Moses that the elders would listen to him, Moses still asks in verse 1:
What if they do not believe me or listen to me? What if they say: ‘The Lord did not appear to you’?
And this is understandable, isn’t it? Moses hasn’t lived in Egypt for some time. And the last time he tried to help the Israelites, it didn’t work out well for him and he had to flee. So, why should they listen to him?
But the Lord was prepared for this and gave him three signs to show them in order to prove that God had sent him and was with him.
First, God told Moses to throw his staff on the ground. When he did so, the staff became a snake. Then the Lord told Moses to pick it up. When he did so, the snake turned back into a staff.
Second, God told Moses to put his hand inside his cloak. When he did so, his hand became leprous. Then the Lord told Moses to put his hand back inside his cloak. When he did so, his hand was restored.
Third, God told Moses that there was a third sign he could use. If they still don’t believe after the first or second sign, then take some water from the Nile and pour it on the ground. When you do so, the water will become blood on the ground.
These three signs might have had a special significance in Egypt. Snakes, especially the cobra, were important to the Egyptians and were even worshipped. And in the ancient world, people believed the gods sent leprosy to punish their enemies. And since the Egyptians relied on the Nile to make their land fertile, they treated it like a god. And so, these three signs showed how the Lord, the God of the Israelites, was superior to all the gods of the Egyptians. But it seems that the main point of these three signs was to prove that Moses had indeed been sent by God. You see, since Moses was able to do what no other person can do, then that proves that God was with him.
Verses 10 to 18
But then, in verses 10 to 18, Moses objects again. He complains in verse 10 that he’s never been eloquent and he’s slow of speech and tongue. When we read that, we assume Moses is saying that he had some kind of speech impediment. However, throughout the rest of the book of Exodus and into Leviticus and Numbers and Deuteronomy Moses does a lot of speaking and he doesn’t appear to have any trouble with his speech. And so, it’s possible this was just a way of showing humility. You know, Moses was saying again:
Who am I? I’m sure there’s someone better suited for this role. I couldn’t possibly do what you’re asking.
And so, in response, the Lord reminds Moses that he is the one who created us and so, he’s the one who is able to help us; he can give us all the skills and abilities we need in order to do the work he has called us to.
But Moses is still not ready for this task. And so, in verse 13 he asks the Lord to send someone else. And really he’s saying:
I don’t want to do it. There must be someone else you can ask.
And look at the Lord’s reaction this time. We’re told in verse 14 that the Lord’s anger burned against Moses. Now, this is the anger of a father against a disobedient son, and not the anger of a judge towards an enemy. And so, although the Lord is angry with Moses, he suggests nevertheless that Aaron, his brother, can help him.
And so, in verse 17 the Lord instructs Moses to take his staff which he’ll need in order to perform the miraculous signs; and in verse 18, Moses went to his father-in-law, Jethro, to say that he’s leaving to return to Egypt.
What are we to make of these two sections? There are three things. First of all, just as God gave Moses signs to prove to the people that he had been sent from God, so the Lord Jesus was able to perform signs and wonders to prove that he had been sent from God. Do you remember the story in Matthew’s gospel when John the Baptiser was in prison. And it seemed that he had become unsure about the Lord Jesus. Was he really the Promised Saviour? Was he really the one God had promised to send? And so, John sent some of his disciples to ask the Lord Jesus. And the Lord sent them back with this message:
Go back and report to John what you hear and see: The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cured, the dead are raised, and the good news is preached to the poor.
In other words, he was saying:
Look at the things I have done. Look at the signs and wonders I’m able to perform. They prove that God has sent me and that I am indeed the Promised Saviour.
But, of course, the greatest sign God has given us is the Lord’s resurrection from the dead. Rejected by men who did not believe in him, and killed on the cross as a blasphemer, nevertheless when he was raised from the dead, God was making clear that this man was indeed the Anointed One, the Promised Saviour of the world, who now lives and reigns in heaven and who will give everlasting salvation to all who call on him. There’s the best sign to prove that the Lord Jesus had come from God. So, just as Moses was given signs to prove that God had sent him, so the Lord Jesus was able to perform signs and wonders to show that he was indeed the Promised Saviour. And if anyone ever asks us for a sign from God so that they will know these things are true, point them to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ, for there is no greater sign than that.
But then secondly, we see in this passage one of the great differences between Moses and the Lord Jesus. Moses was clearly reluctant. Back in verse 11 of chapter 3 he objected and said:
Who am I?
And in verse 1 of chapter 4 he objected again and said:
Suppose I go and they don’t listen to me?
And then he said:
I am slow of speech.
And then he said:
Send someone else.
Moses was reluctant to go, but the Son of God came willingly; and without reservation and without hesitation he was obedient to his Father in heaven and he submitted himself to his Father’s will, even to the point of death on the cross. In the Garden of Gethsemane, when the thought of what he was about to suffer overwhelmed him, and his sweat became like drops of blood, and when he prayed for the cup of God’s wrath to pass from him, still he bowed his head and prayed:
Not my will, but your will be done.
Mose was reluctant; he hesitated. But the Son of God, our Saviour, did not hesitate at all; and out of obedience to his Father, and out of love for us, he gave himself to death on the cross. And so, we ought to love him and give thanks to God for him. And we ought to demonstrate our gratitude to him, and our love for him, by living our lives for him and for his glory, seeking to do his will and seeking to please our Saviour who gave up everything for us.
And then thirdly, God sent Moses to lead his people out of their captivity. In order to become free, they had to believe him and follow him. And in order for sinners like us to be set free from sin and Satan and death, we need to believe in the Lord Jesus Christ and follow him, because he’s the one who sets us free from Satan’s tyranny; and he’s the one will bring us at last into the new heavens and the new earth and to the place which God has prepared for all of his people.