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.
Let me tell you about this king. Pharaoh Thutmose I, the third king of the 18th dynasty – the Golden age of Egyptian prosperity. Thutmose was not born to be Pharoah, but was born a commoner. Thutmose was a military genius, rising in the ranks to become the right hand man of the Pharaoh before him, staging a series of military campaigns that solidified the dynasty and establish Egypt once again as a world power. He was rewarded with the hand of the Pharaoh’s daughter, placing him next in line to become the most powerful man on the face of the earth. This commoner went on to become Pharaoh, revered as the son of God among his people. History validates the Biblical picture of this Pharaoh, a builder of great cities, yet as many who come from nothing to rule everything, becoming increasingly paranoid that his power would be taken away just as quickly. This military genius knew the danger of having a great population in his midst (estimated at 2.5 million Israelites at this time) that did not know him as God and king. Therefore, he dealt shrewdly with them and placed greater and greater burdens upon them, keeping them in fear of his great might. He would be their Lord.
But we know something Pharaoh doesn’t Genesis 15: 13-15: Then the LORD said to Abram, “Know for certain that your offspring will be sojourners in a land that is not theirs and will be servants there, and they will be afflicted for four hundred years. But I will bring judgment on the nation that they serve, and afterward they shall come out with great possessions.” We’ve already been told that God has a plan to keep his people in Egypt until he is ready to bring them out, and will not bring them out prematurely. See, Pharaoh thinks it is his power and might keeping the Israelites under his feet, but we know that God has a plan and is ultimately in control of he fate of his people. As Jesus said to Pilate, “No earthly king has power unless it is given him from above.” This is what happens when we forget God's promises. We start to consider other forces in our life as king. Our boss. Our jobs. Our teachers or professors. Our boyfriend. Our fears. We let anyone, or anything or any circumstance muscle into our life and proclaim its dominion over us. But it is not so. God is Lord. And God is about to show Pharoah that He is still in control.
Moses thinks that he is Lord: As Pharaoh’s paranoia grew, he became even more merciless, seeking to decimate the Hebrew population by killing all newborn sons. Moses was one of those children, condemned to die as an infant. Providentially, he was rescued from death and raised as a member of Pharaoh’s household. Many scholars believe that the young girl who rescued Moses was none other than Hapshetsut, who would become greatest of the female Pharaohs. Hapshetsut did not bear any male heirs, and it is believed that she was rearing Moses to be the next King of Egypt. As the book of Acts records, “Moses was instructed in all the wisdom of the Egyptians and he was mighty in his words and deeds.” As Chuck Swindoll writes in his biography of Moses:
He made a name for himself and earned the Egyptians respect. Early on, it became obvious that this son of the princess wielded both power and influence. By the time he reached thirty, extrabiblical historians tell us, he had already led the Egyptians army to smashing victory over the Ethiopians. A bold military strategist. Highly valued. Bronzed by the sun. Scarred by battle. Wise in worldly matters. Competent as a leader. And inspiring to boot. Yes, this certainly was one highly qualified young man . . . Moses – primed for the throne. The pride of Egypt!
Here’s the problem: Moses knew it. Moses looked at his life, his experiences, his education, his background, his victories, his position and knew that he was destined for greatness. He knew that if anyone was going to save his people – it would be him, who else could it possibly be? In his own mind, Moses already thought he was king, that he was the one to deliver his people.
Look at Acts 7:23-25: When he was forty years old, it came into his heart to visit his brothers, the children of Israel. And seeing one of them being wronged, he defended the oppressed man and avenged him by striking down the Egyptian. He supposed that his brothers would understand that God was giving them salvation by his hand, but they did not understand.
Notice that from the beginning this was all Moses’ idea. He had no direction from the Lord, no instruction to do this, he just assumed that people would know he was the deliverer and rise up behind him. As we know, Moses was indeed the man through whom God would deliver his people, but at this point in his life, he grew impatient with waiting upon God’s guidance and took matters into his own hands. How easily this can happen to men and women with good intentions – you love God and believe he wants to use you, but instead of prayerfully and patiently waiting for his direction and instruction, you bust through whatever doors seem to be a little open to you. We saw this before with Abraham – maybe God wants me to have this kid with Sarah. We saw it with Jacob – surely Joseph’s got to the the anointed one, so let me give him a royal robe. The lesson that Moses needed to learn and that we need to be reminded of is that we are not Lord! Be patient. Wait upon the Lord, and when he tells you to move, only then do you move.
Moses Learns that God is Lord: Moses’ impatience and pride cost him dearly. He was run out of Egypt into hiding in the wilderness. Those forty years in the desert must have been humiliating for this Egyptian prince. He had to learn a new way of life – the life of a desert nomad. He had to learn how to adapt to his surroundings and fit in with people very different than he knew in the palace. Away from the bustle of the city and the excitement of the political and military arenas – he now spent his days walking with sheep for forty years!
The palace, the education, the victories, everything was left behind and became like a nearly forgotten dream. Moses had entered into a new academy – the academy of the desert. The place where dreams go to die. Maybe you’ve been there or are going through it right now. All the hopes you built your life upon have been crushed – your career, your marriage, your ministry. You wonder where God is and why he seems to not care that you are frittering away the most productive years of your life. Let me tell you a secret about this time that you don’t hear often in church. On any given Sunday, many of us are experiencing the wilderness, hoping that no one notices that my life is as dry as the desert and I am simply just clinging on to faith. We wonder where our zeal went. We wonder why it doesn’t seem that God is moving in us like he once did. We seem to be a shell of who we once were. We are princes in exile and it doesn’t seem to make any sense. Many of us simply give up. We walk out of our faith. We make poor decisions that radically affect our lives. We let the wilderness break us. But let me assure you of something. For those of us who press on, who persevere through the wilderness we ultimately come to see that the wilderness is a necessary part of growing in Christ.
The wilderness is where God gets our attention and grabs hold of us and reminds that it is not about us – our faith, our strength, our abilities, our righteousness, but about Him. This is what Moses had to learn. Its been said that “Moses spent 40 years thinking he was somebody, 40 years learning he was nobody, and 40 years learning what God can do with nobody.” We see the transformation in Moses’ mindset when God appears to him at the end of forty years in a burning bush (3:4): God called to him out of the bush, “Moses, Moses!” And he said, “Here I am.” Then he said, “Do not come near; take your sandals off your feet, for the place on which you are standing is holy ground.” And he said, “I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.” And Moses hid his face, for he was afraid to look at God.
Moses has learned humility. He takes off his shoes and approaches God as holy – God as king. Let’s read on. Then the LORD said, “I have surely seen the affliction of my people who are in Egypt and have heard their cry because of their taskmasters . . . Come, I will send you to Pharaoh that you may bring my people, the children of Israel, out of Egypt.” But Moses said to God, “Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh and bring the children of Israel out of Egypt?” Did you catch that? Who am I that I should go? God’s answer? I will be with you. Moses has finally leaned the lesson that he could only learn in the desert – the lesson of dependence. Apart from me, Moses, you can do nothing. God reveals to Moses His kingly name, “I AM WHO I AM”. “Who am I?” God says, “I am the only self-existent infinite being in the entire universe. Everything else is dependent upon me and I am dependent upon nothing. I am King over all, and Moses, now that you understand that, I am going to use you to go get my people and lead them out and on this very mountain you will worship me as such.” That’s what wilderness school does, it strips us of our pretenses and our ego, so we can learn how to depend on God.
Egypt Learns that God is Lord: This sets us up for the climax of the Egyptian enslavement. Moses and his brother Aaron stand before Pharaoh in Exodus 5 and demand that he “let my people go”. But Pharaoh said, “Who is the LORD, that I should obey his voice and let Israel go? I do not know the LORD, and moreover, I will not let Israel go.” Pharaoh will be introduced to the Lord soon enough.
I want to show you this picture. This is the Temple of Dendur on display at the Metropolitan Museum, NYC. I took this picture during a trip there with my university class. It was built by the Romans at a much later date, but it is a good representation of Pharaoh’s morning temple from the time of Moses. The temple stood on the West bank of the Nile. Every morning Pharaoh would bring water from the Nile up to the temple. He was responsible for keeping the Maat. the idea that “things are right if they are the way they should be. The way things should be is determined by past. . . the king was the dispenser of order, the dispeller of chaos.” This was a very important religious custom. The pharaoh had to appease the gods every day to keep order.
As we stood in the Metropolitan Museum, my professor read Exodus 7:14-19. Now I want you to understand what is going on here – this is not an attack upon the Egyptian people, although the polluting of their major water source would have been devastating – it is an attack upon their religious system. How is Pharaoh going to appease the gods and keep the maat if the water has turned to blood? The orderly religious system of the Egyptians was being completely overturned. And on it goes – each of the plagues are specifically designed to attack one aspect of the Egyptian religion, to expose one of their false gods as a lie, so that the Egyptians will know that “I am the Lord”.
On and on it goes. The Lord says “Go”, Pharaoh says, “No!” and so God dismantles another part of Egypt’s religious, cultural and economic systems. The devastating climax comes in Exodus 11 in which “The LORD said to Moses, “Yet one plague more I will bring upon Pharaoh and upon Egypt. Afterward he will let you go from here. When he lets you go, he will drive you away completely . . . So Moses said, “Thus says the LORD: About midnight I will go out in the midst of Egypt, and every firstborn in the land of Egypt shall die, from the firstborn of Pharaoh who sits on his throne, even to the firstborn of the slave girl who is behind the handmill.” The last plague was the worst, falling on Egyptians and Israelites alike if they did not follow God’s instructions. The plague on the firstborn sons was significant in two ways. First, it reflected judgment upon Pharaoh’s earlier decree that every Hebrew boy should be thrown in the Nile. Second, the firstborn sons were essential to the Egyptian religion. In Egypt, the first born functioned as priests, offering sacrifices to the dead. In this way, every Egyptian family was connected to the Egyptian religion. Once again we see God overturning false worship as Lord over all. As a just God, he was bringing judgment upon sin, but as a God of love, he was also mercifully providing a way out.
The way of escape, the way to life was explained to every Hebrew family. They were to take a lamb, a male lamb without blemish, one for each household, and slaughter them at twilight on the fourteenth day of the month. Then they were to take some of the blood and place it over the sides and the tops of the doorframes, and not leave their house. On that night, the Lord passed through Egypt and struck down every firstborn – but the blood was a sign that the family within had heard the Word of the Lord and had trusted God, believing what he said to be true. The Lord would see the blood and pass over that household, allowing the firstborn to live.
Now imagine if you were living in Egypt at that time. You had a choice. You could trust God and do what he said. You could recognize that there was salvation in no other God, get yourself dirty and smear the blood over you door to save your family. Or you could ignore the Word of the Lord and try to make it on your own. Hebrew or Egyptian – all had to make the same choice. Anyone who believed the Word of the Lord and responded in faith, applying the blood of the lamb to their household would be saved. God was not a religious system – He is a personal God who takes such offense at sin that he must judge it, yet being merciful he provides the means of salvation. This is part of his plan to unite all things in Christ. In Him, Christ, we have redemption through his blood. He is our Passover lamb who was slaughtered so that we may live. God is still turning over temples. He is still calling us to renounce our false Gods, our false kings, and to here his word that all who trust in him to save will be passed over in his judgment. Have you trusted in Jesus, God’s Passover Lamb? Or are you trusting in some other God, some other king?
It was on the same field trip that I learned something amazing – on that trip I saw an actual Egyptian doorpost. Do you know what the Egyptians had on their doorposts? The names of their household gods. Their false religion. In order to be saved, they had to renounce their faith in their false gods – covering them with the blood of the lamb. Where does the blood of Jesus need to applied in your life. What parts of your life has you not yet placed under his rule, his kingship, his blood?