Exodus is the second book of the Bible, and it picks up the Bible story a few hundred years after the end of the book of Genesis. God’s chosen people (Abraham’s family which had grown into the nation of the Israelites) find themselves enslaved by a Pharaoh in Egypt.
In the book of Genesis, God had chosen Abraham and his descendants to be a blessing to the world. But, at this point in the story, it seems the Egyptians are thwarting God’s plan for the Israelites (and, thus, the world). The once favorable Egyptian neighbors (Genesis 50), now see Israel as a threat to their authority and enslave them (Exodus 1:9-10). Oppressed by an entire governmental system, with laws levied against them, the Israelites languished under the yoke of slavery. Where is God?
Have you ever felt like that? Though it’s likely you’ve never been a slave, perhaps you’ve looked at the circumstances and thought, where is God?
For African Americans in the 19th-century, who suffered under governmental oppression and slavery, the book of Exodus helped them to trust in God. A famous African American spiritual, “Go Down, Moses,” shows how foundational this Exodus narrative was to those who suffered under American slavery. Enslaved African Americans identified with the ancient Israelites—and found comfort in the God who delivers.
And God heard their groaning; and God remembered his covenant with Abraham, with Isaac, and with Jacob; and God saw the Israelites; and God knew. (Exodus 2:24 CSB)
God raises up a man named Moses to help lead the Israelites out of Egypt. In a climactic showdown between God and Egypt, God demonstrates his power.
God delivers the Israelites from Egypt and leads them to a mountain where he initiates a formal relationship with this nation. God defines this relationship in what theologians call the Decalogue—you have probably heard it called the Ten Commandments. God delivers his people from Egypt so that “the nation may worship and enjoy God’s presence at the mountain.”1 God’s presence can’t be entered lightly, however, and so he sets up rules and regulations for Israel because they are sinful, and he is holy. God’s commands are good guidelines that allow the Israelites to live with their God. They are not a way of life merely, but a way to live close to God.
Notice, however, that God gives them rules to live by after he has saved the Israelites. God did not save the Israelites because they obeyed him and lived right. God’s rescue was a gift of grace.
God did not save the Israelites because they obeyed him and lived right. God’s rescue was a gift of grace.
The book of Exodus ends on a note of hope. The Israelites construct the Tabernacle (a portable dwelling place) where God’s presence dwells. “For the cloud of the LORD was over the tabernacle by day, and there was a fire inside the cloud by night, visible to the entire house of Israel throughout all the stages of their journey” (Exodus 40:38).
Again, God delivers his people from bondage with a greater goal in mind—to be their God, to be with them, to comfort them in their journey, and to protect and provide for them.
God’s plan to bless the nations through his chosen people moves forward through his own wondrous act of salvation on Israel’s behalf and his initiation of a loving relationship with them. It also sets the stage for a greater act of deliverance to come at the climax of the Bible—when Jesus Christ rescues his people from the bondage of sin to bring them into a loving relationship with God.
Are there things that bind you that you long to be free from? Open Exodus to witness God’s mighty power to save. Cry out to him for deliverance, and ask him to give you the wonderful gift of his presence.