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God Loves You Even If You Don’t Know Him

Date: Jun. 6, 2021

Author: Dan Bockenfeld

Exodus 1:1-22

Key Verse: Exodus 1:12

But the more they were oppressed, the more they multiplied and spread;

Today, we are beginning our study in a new book, Exodus. Exodus is the second book in the Bible, right after Genesis. It is thought to be written by Moses and it is a continuation of the story from Genesis. If you remember, we had a study on the book of Genesis that concluded on March 31, 2019. The theme of that series was “The Beginning”, because Genesis literally was the beginning of so many things. Our theme for our study of Exodus is “Getting to know God”. In Genesis, God befriended one man Abraham and made him a great promise, to turn him into a great nation. Abraham and his eventual family came to know God on a personal level, but there is always more to know about God. The book of Exodus goes deeper about God’s nature and what matters to him on a level not seen in Genesis. Today’s passage is the very beginning of the book. It is the piece that ties Genesis and the rest of Exodus together. This first chapter sets up the reason for the Exodus.

The passage starts out, “These are the names of the sons of Israel who went to Egypt with Jacob, each with his family: Reuben, Simeon, Levi and Judah; Issachar, Zebulun and Benjamin; Dan and Naphtali; Gad and Asher. The descendants of Jacob numbered seventy in all; Joseph was already in Egypt.” (1-5) You might remember, from our study of Genesis, Jacob was Abraham’s grandson and he had twelve sons from four different women. Jacob’s second youngest son Joseph was Jacob’s favorite because he was the firstborn of his favorite wife Rachel. All of the other sons were jealous of Joseph, so they plotted against him. They attacked him and threw him down a well. Then they sold him to some Midianite traders. They made him a slave and Joseph was taken to Egypt. His brothers faked his death and thought they never had to see him again.

Joseph had his ups and downs during his time in Egypt, but God was always with him. One day he found favor with Pharaoh because Joseph was able to interpret his dreams. The dreams dealt with a time of abundance and a time of famine. Pharaoh, then, made Joseph in charge of everything to prepare for the famine. Joseph became prime minister, second in charge, only subject to Pharaoh himself. When the famine came, Egypt was the only place with grain because they were preparing for it during the good times. Because of this, Jacob sent his sons to Egypt to get grain, but no one knew that their brother, Joseph, was the one in charge. After a while and some tests, Joseph revealed himself to his brothers. After reconciliation, Joseph had his brothers and father move to Egypt, with permission from the Pharaoh, to the land of Goshen, and they stayed there for quite a while.

The first few verses from Exodus reiterate this fact. Each of the names of Jacob’s sons is given and they are clumped together. Reuben, Simeon, Levi, Judah, Issachar, and Zebulun were born from Leah. Benjamin was born from Rachel. Dan and Naphtali were from Bilhah. And Gad and Asher were from Zilpah. When they went to Egypt the family number seventy people, so you can see how God was starting to fulfill his promise to Abraham to make him the father of many nations. He was one man, with one son of the promise and that line had over seventy people to it, plus Joseph’s family, which was already in Egypt. It is not quite a nation, but in just a few short generations, the expansion was at hand.

The passage continues, “Now Joseph and all his brothers and all that generation died, but the Israelites were exceedingly fruitful; they multiplied greatly, increased in numbers and became so numerous that the land was filled with them.” (6-7) Here, we see the transition beginning. Joseph and his brothers died. At the end of Genesis, it is mentioned that Joseph was 110 when he died. Since he was the second youngest of the brothers, it is quite possible that he was the last one to die. After Joseph’s death, his people weren’t lost. The passage says that they were exceedingly fruitful. They were fulfilling God’s original decree to Adam and Eve, to be fruitful and increase in numbers. God was with his chosen people even if he didn’t talk to them directly, as he did with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. But if you look at the words the author used to describe the fruitfulness, you can see it is really just three different ways of saying that they grew in numbers. The multiplied greatly. They increased in numbers. They became so numerous that the land was filled with them. This repeating is intended to show how completely they were fruitful. They really, really got bigger. In the third one, they became so numerous that that land was filled with them. The land referred to was probably not all of Egypt, but Goshen, where they were settled. The Israelites were multiplying like rabbits.

The passage continues, “Then a new king, to whom Joseph meant nothing, came to power in Egypt. ‘Look,’ he said to his people, ‘the Israelites have become far too numerous for us. Come, we must deal shrewdly with them or they will become even more numerous and, if war breaks out, will join our enemies, fight against us and leave the country.’” (8-10) Previously, when I read this section, I got a little confused. How could a new king not care about what Joseph had done for the nation? It must have been passed down in the historical record. As I was preparing for this message, I had the opportunity to read a few things about the history of this period. There is a belief that Joseph came to Egypt during the Hyksos period of Egypt. The Hyksos were probably Semite traders who came to Egypt from the sea in the North. Through trade, the amassed political power and came to control northern Egypt. They were foreigners, but they acclimatized themselves to Egyptian culture. They became Egyptian. It is believed that it is during this time that Joseph became prime minister, which makes some sense, since Pharaoh seemed willing to let a foreigner run things, since he was not exactly pure Egyptian either.

After Joseph died, the Egyptian Kumose from southern Egypt began an assault on the north, but it was his brother Ahmose who would drive the Hyksos from the land. Ahmose started the 18th dynasty in Egypt and initiated the New Kingdom period. Because of the Hyksos, the Egyptian government grew weary of all foreigners. Anything not Egyptian was treated with a skeptical eye. All mention of Hyksos rule was removed and destroyed, and they were painted as invaders who wanted to destroy Egyptian culture. It was recorded that the Hyksos destroyed temples and slaughtered innocent people, but there was no proof of that ever happening. It was pure propaganda, but it may help to understand why the new king was so afraid of the Israelites, who kept multiplying in Goshen. He was afraid that they would turn on the Egyptians at the first chance they got. Now, I would think that if you were to treat the Israelites well, then they will be on your side and support you when war comes. However, paranoid people don’t see things that way and the king just saw them as a threat to be managed.

Pharaoh’s plans was to take this group of foreigners and turn them into slaves. “So they put slave masters over them to oppress them with forced labor, and they built Pithom and Rameses as store cities for Pharaoh.” (11) The Israelites were forced to work for Pharaoh, and they built up two cites as cities where the government would store food. “But the more they were oppressed, the more they multiplied and spread; so the Egyptians came to dread the Israelites and worked them ruthlessly.” (12-13) The xenophobic Egyptians pushed the Israelites harder and harder, but the more they were oppressed, the more the multiplied. It doesn’t say that they were oppressed because they were multiplying, but that the more they were oppressed the more the multiplied. Despite the pressure placed on them by the Egyptians, the Israelites grew to even greater numbers. It reminds me of the time of the early church, as show in Acts. As the early Christians were persecuted by the Jews, more and more people were converted and came to believe in Jesus as the Messiah. You can see God’s hand on the Israelites, here, even though it is not directly mentioned in the passage. It is his continued blessing of being fruitful and increasing in number despite the harshness in their lives that we can know that God is working through his people. He loves them and wants for them to succeed.

Yet, because of their blessed lives, even under slavery, the Egyptians worked them harder and harder, even ruthlessly. That should make sure to kill their spirit. “They made their lives bitter with harsh labor in brick and mortar and with all kinds of work in the fields; in all their harsh labor the Egyptians worked them ruthlessly.” (14) Moses, here, uses a lot of descriptors to show how intolerable life had become, “made their lives bitter”, “harsh labor”, “all kinds of work”, “worked them ruthlessly”. This labor was to be population control. The work was supposed to weaken the Israelites. The strong would become weak under the load and the already weak would perish, thereby reducing the Israelite population. The Israelites were doing dangerous work in order to have them die while working.

However, that plan was not working. They weren’t dying off in significant numbers and they continued to grow in numbers. In light of that, Pharaoh had another plan. “The king of Egypt said to the Hebrew midwives, whose names were Shiphrah and Puah, ‘When you are helping the Hebrew women during childbirth on the delivery stool, if you see that the baby is a boy, kill him; but if it is a girl, let her live.’” (15-16) Pharaoh went to the Hebrew midwives and ordered them to kill the baby boys after they are born. This passage only mentions two midwives. They were possibly the head midwives with more working underneath them since the Israelites were so numerous and having so many babies. Two wouldn’t be enough for all the people. Pharaoh wants to take care of the issue at the source. All his efforts failed, so he keeps getting more and more drastic.

Unfortunately for Pharaoh, this order didn’t work either. “The midwives, however, feared God and did not do what the king of Egypt had told them to do; they let the boys live.” (17) These midwives feared God more than the king. They would not do what they were told to do because they had a greater master in God. Here marks the first time in Exodus that God is mentioned. There was no mention of God in the first 16 verses, but in this seventeenth verse, God is mentioned in relation to these midwives and their fear of him. They saw God as more powerful than the Pharaoh. Pharaoh could only kill the body, but God was capable of more than that, so they did what was right in God’s eyes and not what Pharaoh said.

Upon learning that Hebrew boys were still being born, Pharaoh called the midwives back and asked them why they didn’t do what he said. The midwives’ answer is either the truth or the greatest answer they could ever make up. “The midwives answered Pharaoh, ‘Hebrew women are not like Egyptian women; they are vigorous and give birth before the midwives arrive.’” (19) They effectively called the Egyptian women weak and in need of help, but the Hebrew women were vigorous and give birth before the midwives arrive. What is alluded to here is that Pharaoh wanted the death of the boys to be done in secret. Otherwise, the midwives could still kill the boys after birth. Instead, they didn’t and used this excuse as a reason why they didn’t kill the boys. If they had, it would have been very public.

The midwives’ actions did not go unnoticed. “So God was kind to the midwives and the people increased and became even more numerous. And because the midwives feared God, he gave them families of their own.” (20-21) God protected the midwives and allowed them to have families of their own. And the Israelites just kept on growing. Everything that Pharaoh had tried had backfired. Instead of his measures reducing the population, the Israelites continued to grow and become more numerous. He was fighting a losing battle and it was getting frustrating to him, so he sent out one more decree. This one more public than the last with the midwives. “Then Pharaoh gave this order to all his people: ‘Every Hebrew boy that is born you must throw into the Nile, but let every girl live.’” (22) Pharaoh issued a decree that every Hebrew boy born must be thrown into the Nile, but the girls are to live. I’m not going to go into it, but next week, we will see the ramifications of his actions. In his efforts to crush the Hebrews, Pharaoh created the opportunity for a deliverer to rise up and lead the Israelites out of slavery.

During the entire time of oppression, God was continually with his people. He kept blessing them and loving them despite all the harshness that was placed upon them. God made a promise to Abraham, hundreds of years earlier and even predicted their enslavement. God said to Abraham, “Know for certain that for four hundred years your descendants will be strangers in a country not their own and that they will be enslaved and mistreated there. But I will punish the nation they serve as slaves, and afterward they will come out with great possessions.” (Genesis 15:13-14) Right now, we are only seeing the first part of this promise, but the rest will come as we go through the book of Exodus. Even during these harsh times, God was with Abraham’s descendants. Everything that Pharaoh did to try to curtail their growth didn’t work. They kept on growing and growing because God loved them and was working out his plan for them despite what was happening to them.

What I find really interesting, however, is that while this is all going on, there is little to no interaction going on between God and his people. Under Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, God had talked to them and guided them, but not to any of Jacob’s sons. Joseph had dreams from God, but God did not speak to him. After that, there is no record of God speaking to his people until he talks to Moses later in Exodus. By this point in time, there are people who fear God, but they really don’t know him. There was no one to teach the people about God, only the stories from ages ago. There was no written record and no one who spoke to God. The people didn’t know God, but God still loved them.

Even if we don’t know God, God still knows us. God told the prophet Jeremiah, “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, before you were born I set you apart; I appointed you as a prophet to the nations.” (Jeremiah 1:5) And King David wrote “For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb.” (Psalm 139:13) God created each and every one of us. He knew us before he formed us in the womb. Before conception, God knew who we are. If he knew us back then, before we were a thought in our parents’ minds, then he surely knows us now. But knowing us and loving us are not necessarily the same thing. Some of us might say, that if you were to really know me then you might not like me.

Yet, God still does love you even though he knows you. We can see that through Jesus. He is the ultimate example of how much God loves us. The apostle Paul wrote in the book of Romans, “But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” (Romans 5:8) Christ died for us while we were still sinners. He didn’t ask for us to do something good and great to show that we needed to be saved, but he did it while we were his enemies. Paul also wrote, “While we were God’s enemies, we were reconciled to him through the death of his Son” (Romans 5;10) That death happened what we will still enemies of God. We did not know him, but he still loved us. This is part of who God is.

This gives some solace to those who don’t know God at all. You might think that God doesn’t love you because you don’t know him. Before I met Christ, I thought that God hated me and took pleasure in dangling opportunity in my face only to yank it away. I thought that God was torturing me, and I hated him for it. I was really an enemy of God in my heart. I wished he would go away and leave me alone because I was so miserable about not getting my way. After I started to know about God and learn about him, I realized how wrong I was. God didn’t hate me. He loved me and he wasn’t letting me get my way because my way would have hurt me really bad. I was the kid trying to touch a hot stove and getting upset when my parent grabbed my hand to stop me. What I wanted was bad for me and God loved me so much that he didn’t want for me to be hurt. I still made mistakes and was still hurt, but I could have had my heart ripped out if I got what I wanted. Even when I didn’t know God, he still loved me.

This extends to those who learning about God. As I said earlier, we can always learn more about God. There is a never ending well of knowledge about God because God is infinite. The more we learn about God, the more we realize just how deep that his love for us is. Our current position does not dictate how much God loves us. If he was willing to sacrifice his son for us on the cross while we were his enemies, then how much more is his love for us as we get to know him more and more! It is amazing to know that God’s love for us is not dependent on how much we know. We don’t limit God in that way. He is not bound by our limitations. He loves freely. We see it in this chapter. The people knew very little about God, but he kept blessing them and protecting them. There were evil forces against them, but God kept watching over them. He had a plan in place to grow them and make them prosper, despite their harsh conditions. God had a plan to deliver them, as he told Abraham hundreds of years earlier. It gives us hope right now. No matter what is going on in our lives, no matter how hard our lives are right now, we can have hope in the knowledge that God loves us and he is with us.

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Isaiah 35:1-10

Key Verse: 35:10

  And the ransomed of the LORD shall return
    and come to Zion with singing;
  everlasting joy shall be upon their heads;
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    and sorrow and sighing shall flee away.

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