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The books of Exodus, Leviticus and Numbers continue the story of how God formed the nation of Israel to play a special role in his plans for the whole world. When the Israelites were enslaved in Egypt, God came to them and worked powerfully through Moses to deliver them. At Mount Sinai, God revealed his laws to Moses, including the Ten Commandments, and confirmed his covenant with the young nation. Israel built a “tabernacle,” or “tent of meeting,” so that God could live among them. The people then traveled through the wilderness to the land of Canaan.
The boundaries between the books of Exodus, Leviticus and Numbers are not sharply drawn. The key structure throughout the books relates to the various places the Israelites stopped on their journey. Each location is noted, and the events at each one are described. The key location is Mount Sinai; the second half of Exodus, all of Leviticus, and the beginning of Numbers describe what took place there. Leviticus specifically contains the laws and regulations the Lord gave to Israel. Numbers reports how the people were organized into a fighting force and moved toward the Promised Land.
Numbers reaches back across Leviticus and Exodus and repeats the phrase that structures Genesis: This is the account of the family of Aaron and Moses (Num. 3:1). Appropriately, we hear this phrase for the twelfth time as the twelve tribes are being organized into a nation. Near the end of Numbers the prophet Balaam says to Israel, May those who bless you be blessed and those who curse you be cursed. This recalls God’s promise to Abraham in Genesis, I will bless those who bless you, and whoever curses you I will curse. These references show that together these books tell a single story of the beginning of God’s redemptive work in the world.
Exodus 1 English Standard Version (ESV)
Israel Increases Greatly in Egypt
1 These are the names of the sons of Israel who came to Egypt with Jacob, each with his household: 2 Reuben, Simeon, Levi, and Judah, 3 Issachar, Zebulun, and Benjamin, 4 Dan and Naphtali, Gad and Asher. 5 All the descendants of Jacob were seventy persons; Joseph was already in Egypt.6 Then Joseph died, and all his brothers and all that generation. 7 But the people of Israel were fruitful and increased greatly; they multiplied and grew exceedingly strong, so that the land was filled with them.
Pharaoh Oppresses Israel
8 Now there arose a new king over Egypt, who did not know Joseph. 9 And he said to his people, “Behold, the people of Israel are too many and too mighty for us. 10 Come, let us deal shrewdly with them, lest they multiply, and, if war breaks out, they join our enemies and fight against us and escape from the land.” 11 Therefore they set taskmasters over them to afflict them with heavy burdens. They built for Pharaoh store cities, Pithom and Raamses. 12 But the more they were oppressed, the more they multiplied and the more they spread abroad. And the Egyptians were in dread of the people of Israel. 13 So they ruthlessly made the people of Israel work as slaves 14 and made their lives bitter with hard service, in mortar and brick, and in all kinds of work in the field. In all their work they ruthlessly made them work as slaves.
15 Then the king of Egypt said to the Hebrew midwives, one of whom was named Shiphrah and the other Puah, 16 “When you serve as midwife to the Hebrew women and see them on the birth stool, if it is a son, you shall kill him, but if it is a daughter, she shall live.” 17 But the midwives feared God and did not do as the king of Egypt commanded them, but let the male children live.18 So the king of Egypt called the midwives and said to them, “Why have you done this, and let the male children live?” 19 The midwives said to Pharaoh, “Because the Hebrew women are not like the Egyptian women, for they are vigorous and give birth before the midwife comes to them.” 20 So God dealt well with the midwives. And the people multiplied and grew very strong. 21 And because the midwives feared God, he gave them families. 22 Then Pharaoh commanded all his people, “Every son that is born to the Hebrews you shall cast into the Nile, but you shall let every daughter live.”
- Read this passage slowly. If time allows, read through the whole chapter once before reading the selected portion to gain a better and fuller picture.
- The Israelites spent 430 years in Egypt after Jacob’s family traveled there (as we read in the last chapters of Genesis). Their privileged lives in Goshen have been taken away gradually. When their exploding population reached a point that it became a threat to the Egyptians, the Pharaoh issued a decree to kill all baby boys at birth. During this long period of hardship, God appeared to be silent or absent.
- There are times in our lives when God seems to ignore or be unaware of our difficulties. The story of Exodus helps us realize that the sense of God’s absence is part of a greater narrative in which, though we may not be able to see it, God continues to be at work.
- Usually our understanding of God’s salvation includes God’s continual and active protection against sickness, relationship conflicts, unemployment, death, disappointment and failure. Therefore, when we experience “God’s absence” whether it’s a few weeks, months, or years, for most of us, we don’t think of it as “normal”. But this text, along with numerous others throughout Scripture, argues otherwise.
- Have you had any “God’s absence” experience? What was it? How did you feel? Was it resolved? Recall Joseph’s experience in Genesis 37-50, how would that help you see the “Immanuel” God in your own experience?
Tell God your situation right now. Whether you feel “God’s absent” or “Immanuel”, ask God to help you become aware of Him through a small incident today