When Blessing Makes Life Bitter

Dr. Kevin DeYoung, Senior Pastor

Exodus 1:1-1:14 | August 30 -

August 30
When Blessing Makes Life Bitter | Exodus 1:1-1:14
Dr. Kevin DeYoung, Senior Pastor

This morning, we begin a new series on the great book of Exodus. Before the service, one of the elders asked me, “How long do you think we’ll be in Exodus?” As Allen Knapp said, “Well, it took the Israelites 40 years.” We’ll try to move more quickly than that! But this is a good book, and there are lots of good and new things in it that we haven’t seen before.

It’s very good to be back. We were in Colorado for a few weeks this summer, but we were mostly around here while I was on study leave. Thank you so much! I made good progress on my dissertation. It’s never as much as I’d hoped, but I was able to write a chapter and then some. The revised plan is to have it written up in the next 18 months.

It was a real privilege to have a little more relaxed schedule and to get to study. We were here for a good portion of the time, so I know firsthand that you had very good preaching. Pastor Jason took you through a great series in Philippians, along with Pat, John, Dave, Nick, and the others who preached here. You were very well-fed, and I am eager and excited to be back with you, starting this book together.

These are the names of the sons of Israel who came to Egypt with Jacob, each with his household: Reuben, Simeon, Levi, and Judah, Issachar, Zebulun, and Benjamin, Dan and Naphtali, Gad and Asher. All the descendants of Jacob were seventy persons; Joseph was already in Egypt. Then Joseph died, and all his brothers and all that generation. But the people of Israel were fruitful and increased greatly; they multiplied and grew exceedingly strong, so that the land was filled with them.
Now there arose a new king over Egypt, who did not know Joseph. And he said to his people, “Behold, the people of Israel are too many and too mighty for us. 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.” Therefore they set taskmasters over them to afflict them with heavy burdens. They built for Pharaoh store cities, Pithom and Raamses. 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. So they ruthlessly made the people of Israel work as slaves 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. Exodus 1:1-14

Some of you may have seen that I have a new children’s book out. The illustrations, if nothing else, are fantastic. I can say that because I had nothing to do with the illustrations.

Before the full book came out, some of you may have seen some samplers floating around that had the pictures and 15-20 pages of the book. It was just a teaser. Once in a while, though, I would talk to people—even some of you!—who would say, “Kevin, I got your book, and wow! It looks really great!” Then I would see you wanting to ask, sort of sheepishly, “Is this the whole book?”, because it was 15-20 pages, and I think it ended with the Tower of Babel. I know some of you were thinking, “Kevin, you’re kind of intense, but this is a little dark even for you! I don’t know. You know, ‘Creation and the Fall, Cain and Abel, and the Tower of Babel. Merry Christmas, kids! This will be a wonderful gift!’”

No, that was not the whole book. That was just the introduction, which is important for understanding the rest of the story. Do not skip the introduction! Students: if you get assigned a book, don’t skip any of it. But if you’re going to skip something, don’t skip the introduction! Read the introduction and conclusion. At least do that much!

An Introduction to Exodus

This introduction tells us a lot of what we need to know about the story of Exodus, but by itself it can feel a little dark and grim. I debated going through verse 7, where they’re multiplying, or through the end of chapter 1, where we have the story with the midwives. But I think ending at verse 14 was the best way to introduce the book.

It’s an important introduction. First of all, it provides a beginning to the book. In this case, the beginning is actually a continuation. Look at the previous page (Genesis 50). It ends with the death of Joseph. Sure enough, in Exodus 1, we pick things up with Joseph dying. Actually, it goes back even father than that. Genesis 46:8 says, “Now these are the names of the descendants of Israel, who came into Egypt…” It’s almost word-for-word the exact same language that we have in verse 1.

Moses, who wrote this book by the inspiration of the Spirit, is taking us back. We’ve already seen in Genesis how Jacob and his family came into Egypt because there was a famine in the land. Now, we’re going to back up and recall how that happened. Genesis and Exodus are all a part of the same story; we’re connecting them together.

There’s actually even more of a connection than that. I have a one-question quiz for you. Look at your Bibles: what’s the name of this book? It’s not a trick question, but you are tricky people. It’s “Exodus”! Now, why do I ask you that? Because we get that from the Greek translation of the Hebrew, but that’s not the name of this book in the Hebrew Bible. As was often the case in the ancient world, the Hebrew Old Testament named the books after the first few words in them. In Hebrew, this book is called, “These Are The Names”. It’s not as catchy as “Exodus”, but that’s what it was called. It made sense, and it helped to connect it with the names that had come before in Genesis—that we’re continuing the story of these people, who left their Promised Land and came into Egypt.

There’s actually another connection that’s pretty cool, I think. I know you love these things. There’s a Hebrew letter called “vav”. It looks sort of like an eighth note with a stem going down and a little hook. When you put that on the front of a word, it makes a conjunction. That is, it could mean “so”, or “now”. It usually means, “and”. Exodus begins with “wə’êlleh šêmōwṯ”, or “these are the names…” Because it has “vav” at the front, you could literally translate it as “[And] these are the names…” So if your teacher tells you you can’t start a sentence with “and”, you can say, “God started a whole book with ‘and’.”

More than that, if you looked at Leviticus in Hebrew, it begins with “vav”, or “and”. The book of Numbers also begins with “and”, because these four books—Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, and Numbers—all connect into the same saga. Moses starts book after book with “And these are the names…” “And…” “And…” It’s all a part of the same story.

We also see in these opening verses how the Israelites got into such a terrible predicament. The book is called “Exodus” because it shows how they got out of Egypt. But if you’re going to have an exodus, you need to have an “eisodus”. “Eis-” is the Greek word for “going into”, and “ex-” is the word for “coming out of”. How did these people get into Egypt? How did they become slaves, such that they needed to be delivered through the Exodus? That’s what these opening verses help to explain.

We also see in this introduction that God is setting the stage for the big themes in this book. One of the themes is that God cares for oppressed people. We’re going to see that unfold. Another is that God will move heaven and earth—and cause heaven to rain down on earth!—in order to save his people. We’re going to see a great deliverance and salvation.

Perhaps the central theme in the book of Exodus, though, is that we serve a God who will make himself known. In my preparation this summer, I read a number of things, one of which was a book giving a biblical theology of Exodus called “The God who Makes Himself Known”. It’s a very apt title, because that is the central theme of this book, which we’ll see over and over. We have a God who will be known in the earth as the only true God amidst the whole pantheon of false deities in Egypt, the only one with real power (unlike this Pharaoh), and the only one worthy of worship. God will reveal himself through the hardness of his enemies, through the faith and obedience of his people, through his gracious provision at the Passover, through his own great power in the plagues, and through his own abiding presence in the Tabernacle. Even here, as the Israelites get into a ruthless, bitter predicament, it is all toward that end: that God would make himself known.

I think I can pretty well guarantee that you are going to see things in Exodus you haven’t seen before. Maybe, for some of you, it’s your first time in church in a long time—or ever!—and so everything here is new.

Then there’s a lot of people here that hear “Exodus” and think, “Oh, yeah. That’s right! I like it. There’s the burning bush thing. That’s kind of cool. Then there are all the plagues, and those are really nasty. Somebody should make a really bad movie out of that. Then there’s the parting of the Red Sea, and they go through. Then there’s the Ten Commandments, and then… I don’t know. The last half of the book gets really boring. But yeah, I remember some of these stories!”

Well, we’re going to get to those stories, and you’re going to see connections that you didn’t see before, new things about God that you may not have realized before, and ways in which this book unfolds that you haven’t thought of before. That’s all to whet your appetite for the rest of the book.

This little introduction this morning also carries its own lesson with it: sometimes we enjoy blessings by the hand of God while enduring bitter circumstances from the hands of godless people at the same time. We’d like to think that blessings and bitter circumstances are far away from each other. “Lord, give me blessing—not these bitter circumstances. If I’m in the bitter time, I want the blessing. If I’m in the blessing, I won’t have these circumstances.” But what we see here, and all over the Bible, is that they’re often all mingled together. God’s people are living under his pronounced blessing; and, at the same time, there is pain, difficulty, and bitter circumstances.

The Divine Blessing (v. 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. Exodus 1:7

This fruitfulness is a sign of their obedience. More importantly, it is a sign of God’s blessing.

I hope that some of you have your Bible knowledge starting to fire on all cylinders as you read verse 7. It should bring to mind some notable passages. I want you to go back to Genesis 1:27-28:

So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them. And God blessed them. And God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it, and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth.” Genesis 1:27-28

God’s command in the Garden was to multiply and take dominion. Do you hear the missionary overtones in what God is saying? “Adam and Eve: there’s just two of you, but I want you to be fruitful, multiply, and increase.” Do you hear echoes here? In fact, some of the very same words in Genesis 1 get picked up again by Exodus 1. God’s people, in fulfillment of this creation mandate, are in fact being very fruitful, multiplying, and spreading. Why was that was God’s purpose? Because he wants to be known.

What does it mean that we’re made in God’s image? In the ancient world, if a king conquered a territory, he would put up a statue, like we would wave a flag. The king, or the god, in their stories would make some kind of icon or statue to represent that “This my land—my territory. It belongs to me. Here’s my statue.” And what does God do? He wants his icons—not stone and wood, but flesh and bone human beings—his image-bearers—to multiply, increase, and spread out, so that his glory would be known!

It doesn’t take much for us to get discouraged. Every week there’s some new tragedy, catastrophe, or shooting—something seemingly too terrible to even talk about or fathom. Well, God’s plan was that human beings would fan out, multiply, and spread, not so corruption would grow, but so his image would be reflected! The Israelites in Exodus 1 are fulfilling this function.

Blessed be his glorious name forever; may the whole earth be filled with his glory! Psalm 72:19

How does the earth get filled with the glory of God? Through his glorifying image-bearers. “Go out, reflect that glory, proclaim that glory, and bear witness to and speak of that glory!” There is a larger missionary purpose, even in Genesis 1. As we see the Israelites multiplying with that purpose in Exodus 1, it will come head on in conflict with Pharaoh, who wants his name to be great in all the earth. He understands the growth of Israel to be a threat, as they are faithful to their calling to be image-bearers.

But not only are they faithful to their calling to be image-bearers. Even more importantly, we see that God is faithful in his calling to Abraham. The other passage you should have in your head is Genesis 12, because what we see in Exodus 1 would not be happening, no matter what Israel was doing, unless they were living under the blessing of God.

Now the Lord said to Abram, “Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you. And I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and him who dishonors you I will curse, and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.” Genesis 12:1-3

Here’s Abram. He’s a pagan living in Babylon, and he’s called to come, to have a land, and to have a child, because God will make him great. God promised Abraham that his offspring would multiply. It took around 100 years, and he finally had a son. Then God said, “I want you to kill that son,” just to see if he really believed him, and he did believe.

Over and over again in the book of Genesis, we have this promise. In Genesis 26, it’s relayed to Isaac: “I will multiply your offspring…” Then, in Genesis 46, it’s relayed again to Joseph: “I will make you into a great nation.” Unmistakably, when we get to Exodus 1:7 we are to understand that God’s people are living under his distinct blessing—the Abrahamic Blessing; the Promised Blessing that they would increase, multiply, and be a great nation.

Back in Exodus 1, you see (v. 5) that “All the descendants of Jacob were seventy persons…” You could translate it as “The souls issuing from Jacob’s loins…” The Hebrew word is the word “thigh”, which is often a euphemism in the Old Testament for the reproductive organ. That’s what it’s saying: literally, they came from the procreation of Jacob, of the line of Abraham, and there were 70 souls.

You have to remember that the first people who read Exodus were most likely the second generation of Israelites in the wilderness. This is what scholars figure, and there’s good reason for it. Israel will get out of Egypt, and then they’ll complain and want to go back. God will be angry with them, and he’ll say, “The whole first generation, who saw all of my wonders, will die out.” So there’s a second generation who don’t know all the stories. They don’t know how all this happened. So you can imagine them reading and hearing from Moses: “We came in, and there were only 70? There’s millions now! From 70?!” “Yes, because God blessed you! Israel was living under the blessing of God!”

Then Israel came to Egypt; Jacob sojourned in the land of Ham. And the LORD made his people very fruitful and made them stronger than their foes. Psalm 105:23-24

That’s what the Lord did: he made them fruitful.

Exodus 1:7 packs in every possible way to say that Israel was growing. One commentator translates it this way: “As for the Israelites, they grew; they were fruitful; they swarmed; they increased; they became more and more powerful; and the land was filled with them.” These people are drinking the URC water! They’re swarming all over!

God’s call is that he would be known in all the earth for the sake of his glory. For Israel, this meant that they would have the blessing of prodigious procreation. And it was a blessing. It was “militant fecundity”. Look it up. It’s a good word.

Some of you women have read the book, “What To Expect When You’re Expecting”. It’s like the holy grail of prenatal everything-you-want-to-know. Well, I read a book a year ago called “What To Expect When No One’s Expecting”. It was about the falling birthrate in America and across the globe. It sounded more interesting to me, so I read that book instead. A generation or two ago, you’d hear about the population bomb: “There’s too many people. The earth can’t contain them all.” Now demographers are warning of a population bust—that the population of the earth will probably peak around 9 billion people, and then will start to plummet.

In 1979, the world’s fertility rate was 6.0. You need a fertility rate of 2.1 to replace yourself—one woman having 2.1 children. The 0.1 is to make up for still births, miscarriages, and other things. Globally, it’s currently 2.52, but it’s rapidly falling. America’s fertility rate is about the highest in the Western world, at 1.93, which is still well below replacement rate—and the only reason our rate is relatively high is because Hispanic women are doing most of the heavy lifting at 2.35, and their rate is falling fast as well.

I didn’t bring up the book to give you statistical measures of the fertility rate, nor am I going to try to give you some absolute prescription about how many children you must have. Some of you aren’t married. Some of you are done having children. Some of you have a lot of children and wish you were done having children.

I wanted to draw attention to the conclusion of this (non-Christian) book. He quotes a well-known demographer who says, “Conservative religious families are larger than theologically liberal families. Conservatives also are better at retaining their children within the fold than liberals.” This particular quote is said with great fear. He’s arguing that though we’ll see a short-term rise in secularism, in the long term there will be a rise in fundamentalism, because the conservative religious people—of whatever religion—are going to out-populate the secular people.

Secular Americans have a fertility rate of 1.66, compared with a rate of 2.3 and 2.2 for observant Catholics and Protestants, respectively. Surveys show that 21% of non-religious Americans want to have three or more children. This number goes up to 36% for Protestants, and when you look at those who attend church every week, 41% say that three or more children is ideal. In the not-too-distant future, the only couples replacing themselves may be religious couples.

Here’s how this author puts it at the end. This is what I think is instructive for us on a heart level. I don’t know if he’s a Christian or not, but he says, “Although there are many good reasons to have [your first] baby, at the end of the day, there’s only one good reason to go through the trouble a second time”—and we might say a third, a fourth, etc.—“because you believe, in some sense, that God wants you to.”

The basic reason people stop having children is because they’ve come to see them as a liability rather than a source of hope. There are large cities in the United States with more dogs than children—and places where the dogs are treated better than the children. Children are seen as a liability—they cost a lot of money, take a lot of time, and prevent you from doing a lot of cool things that you want to do—instead of a source of hope for the next generation—hope in what God could do with this child; hope for this image-bearer reflecting the glory of God.

I don’t want to lay down an absolute prescription about how many children you should have, but to say that surely, if we are to be biblical, we must understand and appreciate at the heart level that to have children is to be blessed. To have 318—I heard that that’s the number of children in this congregation—is to be under the very rich blessing of God. It doesn’t always feel that way. I sometimes jokingly introduce myself by saying, “I’m Kevin. I have a wife and four wonderful children—six, total.” Kids, wherever you are, you’re all wonderful. It’s hard to be a parent. Not every day feels like a blessing. But there is no mistaking what God is doing in verse 7: showing that children are a blessing. To be multiplying with children is to be experiencing the blessing and promise of God.

So if you look at the world, and say, “What am I going to do about this world, and this culture?”, and you’re just overwhelmed, here’s one thing you can do. It’s a pretty good thing: have children, adopt children, foster children, take care of those grand-babies, and raise them up to follow Jesus. There may be no simpler or more important thing you can do in all the world. To multiply is not only a biblical mandate, but a divine blessing. Let’s embrace it as such.

The Bitter Circumstances (vv. 8-14)

In the midst of all that blessing, Israel had bitter circumstances. Verses 8-14 show how Israel went from favor to disgrace; from a protected, privileged people to a persecuted people. In verse 9, Pharaoh gets his people together. That doesn’t mean the whole nation. He doesn’t have TV or a Twitter account. It probably just means that he got his advisors together. He’s going to manipulate them. He’ll say, “Look. We’ve got foreigners in this land, and they’re multiplying and making things hard for us. They’re a dangerous threat to us. We’ve got to get rid of them.”

He was a Pharaoh who did not remember Joseph—whether that was honest ignorance, or whether it was really his own decision to say, “I’m putting that behind me. I’m going to pretend like I don’t know him.” Whatever the case, he stroked his chin and said, “Joseph who? Who are these millions of people that we’ve got living in Goshen, in our best land? I don’t remember this!” Well, he should have. Turn back to Genesis 47:

So Joseph went in and told Pharaoh, “My father and my brothers, with their flocks and herds and all that they possess, have come from the land of Canaan. They are now in the land of Goshen.” And from among his brothers he took five men and presented them to Pharaoh. Pharaoh said to his brothers, “What is your occupation?” And they said to Pharaoh, “Your servants are shepherds, as our fathers were.” They said to Pharaoh, “We have come to sojourn in the land, for there is no pasture for your servants’ flocks, for the famine is severe in the land of Canaan. And now, please let your servants dwell win the land of Goshen.” Then Pharaoh said to Joseph, “Your father and your brothers have come to you. The land of Egypt is before you. Settle your father and your brothers in the best of the land. Let them settle in the land of Goshen, and if you know any able men among them, put them in charge of my livestock.” Genesis 47:1-6

This was the arrangement. Pharaoh said, “You’re Joseph’s family? The Joseph with the dreams? The Joseph who saved Egypt? The Joseph who had us store away food for the famine years? Come on in! Take the best land and settle there! Be in charge of some of my livestock!” That was the arrangement.

Now there’s a new Pharaoh. Some scholars think that the Pharaoh during Joseph’s time was a foreign Pharaoh of a different dynasty. Now that he’s been expelled and they once again have an Egyptian Pharaoh, they’re particularly leery of foreigners. Whatever the case, this new Pharaoh sounds the alarm: “We’re about to be overrun with strangers!”

One commentator says, “If a regime wishes to be given freedom to oppress a given group within a nation, it defines that group as an undermining force, a real danger, and potentially the agent of overthrow of the established order.” Pharaoh got everyone stirred up to be afraid of these non-Egyptians in their midst.

Maybe I’ve just been away from preaching too long. I talked about reproduction. Next week, when we get to Shiphrah and Puah, you can bet I’m going to say something about abortion. I want to say something this morning about immigration! I didn’t get the call, but someone just told me that a reporter from CNN called the office on Friday morning and said, “I’m doing an article on Donald Trump, who claims he’s a Presbyterian. Could Kevin give a comment on that?” I was glad that I didn’t get that call! I missed out on that one!

Listen: what we see here is not identical to all the issues in our country. The Israelites were there legally. They had been given the right to have a certain land. Now, this new Pharaoh is reneging on that promise. It’s not an identical situation. Certainly, a country has a right to enforce its own laws and to protect its citizens. But at a heart level, whatever sort of candidate you’re going to vote for, or whatever sort of policy you think is best, surely we do not want to end up sounding like this Pharaoh.

We don’t want to have the sort of heart attitude that looks out, sees foreigners, and thinks, “They’re not like us. They don’t sound like us or look like us. They’re dangerous. You probably don’t want them nearby. You better be careful. Don’t you see? There’s a lot of them. When we get into trouble, they go up and we go down.” It’s a sort of zero-sum economics and morality: “If the foreigners are growing, then we’ve got to be decreasing. If something’s going good with them, it’s got to be going badly with us.” Policy becomes driven by fear.

Christians and politicians can argue about that. There’s probably more than one way that Christian principles can be applied. But, at the level of our heart, surely we do not want to end up sounding like this Pharaoh: the sort of person who looks out and says, “If somebody has a little different accent, and a little different skin, then I think they’re a little nasty, dirty, and dangerous, and I don’t like any of them here.” Surely we, as Christians, who are strangers and aliens in the world, can have a different perspective than that, whatever policy may be necessary.

I think that’s a fair application. I was studying this and reading the commentaries, and I thought, “This just screams out for some application in our own day.”

Pharaoh’s policy must have been met with acceptance, because it seems to have been implemented quite swiftly. The Israelites were forced to build these storehouses at Pithom and Raamses. They would have housed great granaries, and were probably storehouses for military implements being built in the northeast corner of the country, which is where the invaders would come from. The Israelites had to build, from the ground up, these new cities to house all of the Egyptian treasures.

You can see, in part, how desperate Egypt is to slow their population growth. They probably thought, “Well, if they’ve got to go far away and build these store cities, men can be separated from their wives. That should slow down the population growth. Maybe, if we treat them harshly enough, some of them will just be too exhausted to have kids. Maybe they’ll be malnutritioned and overworked, and they’ll just die.”

We’re going to see, next week, that the state takes even more extreme measures when those don’t work, saying, “Let’s find a way that someone will kill their babies for us.” But it doesn’t work. The greater the oppression, the greater the growth, just like God promised to Abraham: “Whoever blesses you, I will bless; whoever curses you, I’ll curse.” As the Egyptians start stirring up their cursing, God’s getting ready to unleash his plagues.

Look at the different expressions in verses 13-14. I showed all of the expressions about the multiplication of God’s people in verse 7—they were fruitful, they swarmed, and they grew. Now the same thing is happening to describe the bitterness of their circumstances: they had lives that were bitter; they were forced into hard labor and all kinds of work; and they were used ruthlessly, worked ruthlessly, and forced to serve Pharaoh ruthlessly. The situation was intolerable. As extravagant as the blessing was, so severe were their bitter circumstances! Oppression and growth came together. Do you see that in verse 12? The Egyptians were in dread of the people. They tried everything, but they kept growing, because God’s blessing was invincible.

Be Faithful in What You Can Do

So, what do we do? Let me give you two things in conclusion: first, be faithful in what you can do. You’re not in control of everything. Actually, you’re not in control of much. Under God’s authority, you’re not in control of anything! So just do what you can do. Get married if you can. Have babies if you can, and teach them about the Lord. Remember this generation in the wilderness, who’s hearing these stories. They had not yet received the land that had been promised to them. They were wandering around in the wilderness. Surely this Moses’ way of telling them, “God’s promise has not failed. Be faithful. Keep calm and carry on.”

Have you seen that famous sign? It comes out of World War II. The British government made signs saying “Keep Calm and Carry On”—which was hard to do when you were being bombed and having air raids from above. Actually, most scholars think that the signs probably weren’t even displayed much, but were put away. Years later, people found this ad campaign that was never really made public. Now, it’s become quite a catchy saying: “Keep calm and carry on.” I’ve seen ones that say “Keep calm and eat chocolate.” “Keep calm, and just dance.” “Keep calm and don’t forget to be awesome.”

That’s not saying that you don’t cry out for deliverance; the Israelites will do that. It’s not saying you always go with the flow; the midwives surely weren’t going to do that! It’s akin to Jeremiah 29: you’re strangers in a strange land. Your situation has turned, just like that. It can happen in a culture. You’re privileged and protected—and suddenly, you’re persecuted.

Settle down. Get married if you can. Have kids. Have a job. Tend to your gardens. Make the best of it. Be faithful in what you can do, and realize that in a fallen world your faithfulness may produce fear, and your kindness may elicit hatred. As Jesus said, “people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil.” Those who will not accept the culture’s reigning immorality are objectionable, not only because they offend enlightened sensibilities, but because they offend seared consciences. The blessings of God often function as a threat to the fallen world—to its system, its values, and its desires.

People sometimes ask me, on a panel or something, “Pastor, what do you think is going to happen? All these things are changing so fast in our culture and in the Western world. What’s going to happen to the church?” I’m neither a prophet, nor the son of a prophet, but I do work for a non-profit! That’s not my line; I stole it from someone else.

But here’s what I would say: if the church is faithful in the midst of a fallen world, I think we are in store for a unique blessing from God. Maybe it’s a smaller, leaner church, but it may very well be a stronger church. At the same time, if the church is faithful, I think we can expect some bitter circumstances. Perhaps it’ll be in other places sooner than here. Perhaps it’ll be in a few years—or many. I don’t know. But I think we will see both. There the temptation will be: “Perhaps, if we can be less faithful, we’ll avoid these bitter circumstances.” That may work, but in so doing you’ll also avoid the blessing of God. The two will go hand in hand.

Trust, No Matter What

Second: trust that the hardest part of your story is not the end of God’s story for you. We can almost like this part of Exodus! We think, “Oh, boy! It’s going to get really bad, and they’re going to have to make bricks without straw, but that’s just setting it up for when God’s going to come. It’s going to be so sweet when he gets them out!” They didn’t know that. They lived as slaves 400 years—a lot longer than this country’s been around. That’s a long time to keep believing the promises.

Some of you have bitter circumstances. I don’t have to spell them all out. I don’t know what they all are. Maybe it’s family turmoil, pain with your kids, a job that’s miserable, not having a job, or wishing you were married. It could be any number of things. If you feel like you’re in the midst of bitter circumstances, will you believe? Can you believe that God brought you into this mess so that he can bring you out for his glory?

Israel is going to find that it’s much more delightful to serve God than Pharaoh. They’re still going to serve. They’re still going to be slaves (of a kind), but that bondage to God is going to be freedom. It will mean that He gets glory.

He’s not done getting glory through you. Some of you are saying, “Oh God, I wish you were!” But he’s not! His story for you is not done. God promised them not only an offspring, but a land! Notice: when Exodus begins, they’re not in the land! They’ve got to get back, and God’s got a plan to get them there. But they’re comfortable in Egypt. If God just put out a “For Sale” sign and said, “Hey! There are new plots available in Canaan!”, I think people would say, “That’s alright. We’ve been here a while. This is good. We’ve got the best land in Egypt. It’s great! We don’t need to leave!” God’s will find a way to get them back.

We can get pretty comfortable, too. He’s getting us to heaven—that’s the goal: getting us to the Promised Land. If that means he’s got to make it a little uncomfortable here, so we know how comfortable that will be, he’ll do it.

The journey to the Promised Land was never promised to be easy. It often involved unpromising times, as these people, perhaps reading this for the first time while wandering in the wilderness, were wondering, “Really, God? We’re not there yet. Is it going to happen?” “Yeah. It will.” You need to trust that, wherever you are in your story now is not the end, because God is writing the story.

God will use this Pharaoh for his purposes. Don’t you love it? This Pharaoh doesn’t have a name! Next week, two midwives—Shiphrah and Puah—get a name that will be known for all of history. Scholars can and do argue about which Pharaoh he is, but it’s not important. He’s an instrument. God’s going to harden Pharaoh’s heart, and Pharaoh is going to harden his own heart. He’s going to do it so that God can show who God is.

Moses shared these stories, passing them on. As we hear them ourselves, surely we are meant to remember that if God uses as a mere instrument the most powerful person on the planet—and that was Pharaoh in this day—surely he’s got a good plan for us. So keep calm, and don’t forget that God is awesome.

Let’s pray. Our Father in heaven, we give thanks for your promises, provision, and protection. We give thanks for Jesus, who saves us, and for your Spirit, who seals us. We pray that by the same grace with which you have saved us, you will also lead us home. We pray this in Jesus’ name. Amen.