Out of Egypt: Exodus Theology
Considering the fact that the Old Testament makes up 66% of the Bible, it is interesting that few Christians spend a significant amount of time in contact with it. This is likely to due to one or more of the following misconceptions about the Old Testament:
- It is primarily historical data.
- It is difficult to understand.
- It is not relevant to Christians because Christians are New Testament people.
The reality, however, is much different:
- The OT is not just history, it consists of a variety of genres.
- 2/3 of the Christian Bible is found in the OT.
- You can’t fully understand the New Testament without a foundational understanding of the Old Testament.
- It was the only Bible the early church had.
- It can be more challenging to apply, but it is definitely relevant to Christians today, so long as we apply its teaching through the lens of the New Testament.
When I first began studying Scripture I avoided the Old Testament, but over the years I have developed a deep love and appreciation of it. I also have a deep love of theology. There are so many types of theology to study that I never get tired of the topic. There is systematic theology, dogmatic theology, biblical theology, historical theology, patristic theology, Christology, soteriology, pneumatology, eschatology, and the list of “ologies” goes on and on.
But in very basic terms, what theology essentially means, is the pursuit of knowledge of God. It is a worldview, a way of understanding and interpreting the human experience of life as we know it. And it occurs to me that if we accept the fact that there is a God who is the creator and sustainer of the universe, if we acknowledge there is a God who has revealed Himself to us through creation and through His Word, if we believe there is a God who interacts with human beings in a purposeful way; then everything in life points back to Him and therefore, ultimately everything is theological.
Consequently, I would like to spend some time reflecting on theology, but not abstract theology that seeks to answer those lofty questions that have been pondered from ivory towers by theologians down through the ages like, “Did Adam and Eve have belly buttons?” (I think they call that navelology). No, today going to consider something much more practical, in fact, something intensely practical. We are going to look at the theology of Exodus.
As we approach the book of Exodus, it is important to bear in mind that much of it is written in a style called narrative prose, which basically means that it tells a story, but it isn’t just any old narrative; it is theological narrative, which means that it is a story with a specific purpose and that purpose is not simply to convey historical data, but to reveal something to us about God.
But before we can understand what Exodus has to tell us, we really need to understand some of the back-story from Genesis, a story that revolves around the covenant God made with Abraham. In this covenant, God promised Abraham that he would have descendants more numerous than the stars of the sky, but also explained that those descendants would be sojourners in a strange land and they would be afflicted with slavery for 400 years before God would redeem them from their captors (Ge 15:1-16).
As we come to Exodus, the 400 years have passed and the time has arrived for God to deliver the Israelites out of slavery in Egypt as He had promised. He sets this delivery in motion by calling Moses to lead the Israelites through this process.
The text we will be focusing on this morning is Exodus 3:7-10, which is part of a larger segment generally known as “The Call of Moses” so I am going to read that segment to make sure we stay true to the context of the passage. (Read 3:1-10).
As I mentioned briefly last week, many theologians see Exodus as the center point of the Biblical narrative. Since the entire Pentateuch, first five books of the O.T., was written during the 40 year period of wandering in the dessert, many Bible scholars see the story beginning with Exodus while Genesis is kind of a look backward, like a prologue that explains how we arrived at the present moment, and it is this moment, this moment of Exodus that defines Israel as a people. At any rate, there are some very important things to pick up from this text.
I. First of all God sees. “I have surely seen the affliction of my people.”
God refers to the Hebrews as “my people” – These are not just any people, they are God’s people and they belong to Him in a special way, a fact which will become more clear as the narrative of Exodus unfolds. Although all of the people of the earth belong to God, He has taken the Israelites unto Himself in a unique way.
The Hebrew text is emphatic (רָאֹ֥ה רָאִ֛יתִי) [lit. “seeing I have seen”; emphatic use of the infinitive absolute]. God notices the way the Egyptians are treating the Israelites; it doesn’t escape His attention. He is keenly aware of the suffering and misery of His people.
At this time in history, Egypt was the undisputed super power of the Ancient Near East. The exodus event took place during the New Kingdom period of Egyptian history, which was a period of expanding empire. They had a fearsome military machine that included horses and chariots. They had a good grasp of astronomy evidenced by the fact that they created a calendar so advanced it would not be surpassed until the time of the Roman Empire. They had an outstanding grasp of mathematics and architecture and were prolific builders. The Egyptians also used medical techniques that were relatively advanced for their time, even going so far as to perform surgery.
So, God sees this wealthy, powerful kingdom using its might to oppress His people, and I’m going to go out on a limb here and say that He doesn’t like what He sees. Now here’s an interesting question: Why do you suppose that Egypt was so advanced compared to the other cultures of their day? Why do you suppose they had all that they had? Quite simply, they had what they had because God had blessed them with it.
God gave it to them and they abused it. They used it to form an empire of evil. An empire based on slavery, conscripted labor, and a social system based on oppression. It’s what theologians call an anti-kingdom: a kingdom that is the exact opposite of the kingdom of God. And this anti-kingdom oppressed the people of Israel to the point that they turned to God in utter despair and cried out to Him. Which brings us to the second point…
II. God hears. “[I] have heard their cry because of their taskmasters.” When the people cry out, God hears their cry as they are suffering under oppression. The Hebrew word for oppression is לַחַץ, which means to crush, oppress or even to torment.
Under the heavy hand of slavery and affliction by the Egyptians, the Israelites cry out to God for deliverance, and He hears them. Yahweh is not a god who is distant and aloof like the pagan gods of the ancient Near East or the Muslim concept of Allah; He is a God who is approachable; a God who sees the activities of human beings and hears their cries. He was there all along, patiently waiting for the appropriate time to come and waiting for them to turn to Him, to cry out and ask for help. And when they finally do…
III. God knows. “I know their sufferings.” (יָדַ֖עְתִּי) from יָדַע – which connotes not just an intellectual knowledge, but an experiential knowledge. In other words, God hasn’t just been watching this take place from a distance, as a passive observer; He has been an active participant in the suffering of His people: God has been suffering with them experientially.
Moreover, He is concerned about their suffering. What are the three attributes theologians use to describe God? Interestingly, we don’t find those words in the Bible; they actually come from Greek thought. It is interesting to note that when people attempt to describe God they focus on characteristics, but when God describes Himself, He focuses on His character.
Exodus 34:5-7. God describes Himself as compassionate, gracious, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness, forgiving. There is a Hebrew word in this passage that has no direct English equivalent: it’sחֶסֶד . The NIV translates חֶסֶד as love and faithfulness while the NASB renders it as loving-kindness.
It communicates the idea that God is in this thing with His people for the long haul. He won’t abandon them. His faithfulness to them is absolute. Unlike the mythological pagan gods of the ANE, God is not indifferent to His people; He is compassionate, and compassion is a deep awareness of the suffering of another, coupled with the desire to relieve that suffering. God is compassionate and He is moved by their cry, which brings us to our fourth and final point…
IV. God delivers. “I know their sufferings , and I have come to deliver them out of the hand of the Egyptians.” Because He is a compassionate and loving God who is intimately aware of the suffering of His people, He is moved to act; He comes to deliver them from their oppressor. The name Exodus comes from Latin and means “exit”; and that is exactly what is about to happen. God hears the cry of His people, He engineers an exit for them, and He comes to deliver them from the hand of their oppressors.
I remember one time when my youngest daughter Maddie was little (maybe 2 years old), a guy that I worked with spent the night at our house and he crashed on the couch. As was her custom in those days, Madison woke up in the middle of the night and toddled down the stairs to get in bed with Sue and I. On her way to our bedroom she passed the couch and assumed that the dark figure sleeping on it was me. You see where this is going don’t you? She crawled up on the couch next to my friend Brian and then realized that it wasn’t me. When it dawned on her that she didn’t know this man whom she had snuggled up to, she panicked and screamed at the top of her lungs.
Now, I can’t really explain it, but when your child screams out this cry of distress, it connects with a father in an indescribable way. From a sound sleep, I was out of bed, down the hallway, and had Maddie scooped up in my arms in a matter of about 3 seconds. Nothing on earth could have prevented me from rescuing my little girl from whatever was causing her to cry out like that. Can I suggest to you that this is exactly the reaction that God has when His children cry out to Him?
Now here is the really funny part of the story, when I got there, Maddie was screaming and inconsolable, but so was Brian. Her screaming woke him from a sound sleep which scared him to death, and he started screaming. It’s 2:00 a.m. and here is this grown man standing in the middle of my living room, screaming bloody murder because my 2 year old scared him. Come to think of it, I don’t know which one was more scared.
Application: Now that we have looked at this story in its original setting and context, how do we go applying Exodus theology to our lives in 2011, Lexington, KY?
First of all this story serves as a theological framework for the way God deals with each one of us today. We are all born into the oppression of sin. We all suffer in bondage and slavery in a spiritual Egypt, which takes different forms for each person. Whatever form it takes in our individual lives, God sees it, He understands our affliction, and He is keenly aware of it.
If we cry out to Him it means that we are acknowledging our need for Him. It means that we are completely powerless to deliver ourselves from the oppression of sin, and completely dependent upon Him to rescue us; it’s an act of humility. It’s also an act of repentance: and act of turning away from the sin that has been oppressing us, and turning toward God by accepting the forgiveness He has made available to us through his son, Jesus Christ. And when we cry out to Him in despair, He hears us, and He is concerned. He is compassionate and He comes to deliver us from the suffering and oppression of sin.
In effect, what God has done through Jesus is essentially a reiteration of Exodus – an Exodus 2.0 if you will. He has engineered a new exodus event in order to free an oppressed people from what they are enslaved by and He does so with mighty deeds of power. There is no suffering human beings can experience that was not experienced by Jesus. And contrary to a popular notion in some parts of the church today, Jesus did not come just to redeem souls; He came to redeem humanity. To show us a new way of being human and to call us into that new humanity; a humanity not marked by slavery and oppression, but by freedom and love. He is calling us out of the anti-kingdom and into the kingdom of God.
So here is my question for you this morning: What is your Egypt? What is oppressing you? What do you need to be delivered from? You may think that it’s a secret, but rest assured, God sees it and He stands ready and willing to deliver you from whatever is oppressing you.
He wants to deliver you from alcohol, drug, pornography, or sexual addiction. He wants to deliver you from…
… the cycle of abuse you seem trapped in.
… the pain of that broken relationship.
… the guilt and shame of the bad decisions that you’ve made.
… compulsive spending.
… the tendency to gossip.
… your self loathing.
He wants to deliver you from death and suffering. Through Jesus Christ, God offers you an exit; God offers you an exodus.
Make no mistake about it: God is the God of the oppressed. See, this is what the New Testament calls the gospel, the good news that God has a rescue plan, and He delivered that plan by the crucifixion, death and resurrection of His Son, Jesus Christ, so that those who believe in Him would not perish but have life everlasting. Now that’s what I call practical theology.
God stands ready and able to rescue you, to lead you out of your spiritual Egypt. The only question that remains is “Will you cry out to Him?”