Exodus 1: Israel’s Oppression

Exodus 1: Israel’s Oppression

We are beginning a sermon series for the Fall on the Book of Exodus.

Exodus is filled with many well-known stories:

  • Moses being rescued from the Nile River by the princess of Egypt
  • The burning bush and the voice of God
  • The stubborn pride of Pharaoh
  • The Ten Plagues on Egypt
  • The Passover
  • The parting of the Red Sea
  • The giving of the Ten Commandments on Mt. Sinai
  • The tragic golden calf episode.

These are all remarkable, inspiring stories that tell us who God is, and we see examples of both faith and unbelief.  Examples of great deeds of faith, and extraordinary acts of evil.  Almost 2/3 of the book is stories.

Yet Exodus has even more to offer us than those stories.  For there is something grand going on at the same time.

For starters, if we zoom out, Exodus is one part of a larger story recorded in “the Pentateuch.”   The word “Pentateuch” = five books (or scrolls).  So it’s a 5-volume set.  Jews call this the “Torah,” the Law of God. 

Books of the Pentateuch:

  • Genesis – A book of beginnings, including Creation.  ¾ of the book focuses on the beginning of a nation through a man of faith, named Abraham. 
  • Exodus – establishment of a nation
  • Leviticus – instructions for worship
  • Numbers – wanderings of the people for 40 years in the wilderness
  • Deuteronomy – calling the people to wholeheartedness before they enter the Promised Land, the land promised to Abraham 700 years earlier.

Under inspiration from God, Moses wrote all five books for the people of Israel.  Because it’s a 5-volume set, Exodus is not meant to be read in isolation.  Rather, it describes one stage of Israel’s story.

And then if we zoom out even farther than the Pentateuch, we will see an even bigger picture.

  • How Exodus fit into the grand story of God and man, especially God’s plan of redemption for this world. 
  • How this Covenant to Moses and Israel (what we now call, “Old Covenant) fits in the Bible with the New Covenant
  • How Israel’s deliverance from slavery to Egypt compares to our deliverance from slavery to sin.

All these things will come up this Fall as we work through this remarkable book. 

Many years ago, I read the OT regularly, but I struggled to make sense of it all.  So many people and nations and dates.  It was confusing, at times.  It was like trying to assemble a puzzle with 1000 pieces….but not having the picture on the boxtop.  So I decided to spend a couple of years slowly studying the OT—all those people and nations and dates.  And as I did this, the entire Bible began to make so much more sense.  It was like finally having the boxtop to the puzzle. 

So the better we understand the whole, the more real and applicable and glorious the entire Bible becomes.  We plan to connect those things this Fall.

Now, let’s look at a key passage in this book.  The Lord is speaking to Moses and the people shortly after delivering them through the Red Sea: 

Exodus 19:4–6 CSB  You have seen what I did to the Egyptians and how I carried you on eagles’ wings and brought you to myself. 5 Now if you will carefully listen to me and keep my covenant, you will be my own possession out of all the peoples, although the whole earth is mine, 6 and you will be my kingdom of priests and my holy nation.

This brief passage offers what I believe to be the theme of the book.  Exodus is about the descendants of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob becoming a nation.  And not just any nation, but a people whom God calls into a beautiful, glorious relationship with himself.  He is calling them into privilege and forgiveness and holiness.  It is an awesome calling.  But if you don’t know much about the OT from here forward in history, here’s a spoiler alert:  This covenant that God made with Israel didn’t work out very well because of the people’s stubborn unbelief.

But at this time in history in Exodus, God’s heart was to have Israel trust in him and follow him with a whole heart. 

So the Exodus is much more than stories like the Ten Plagues and the Red Sea.  It is about Israel moving from bad servitude to good servitude, from serving Pharaoh to serving the Lord God, from one kingdom to another.  

He calls them into his kingdom by means of a covenant.  Exodus reveals a covenant.

Exodus 19:4–6 CSB … Now if you will carefully listen to me and keep my covenant, you will be my own possession out of all the peoples…

A covenant is like a contract.  An agreement.  God made an agreement with the people.  Today we call it the “Old Covenant,” or the Old Testament.  This covenant given to Moses and to his people Israel was a promise from God.  It is all revealed in this book.  The Ten Commandments represent an aspect of the covenant.

And throughout this series, we will make the connection between the Old Covenant and the New Covenant. 

And this is important.  Listen to this:   As we go through Exodus, we will begin to see how the Bible is not an assortment of 66 random books.  Rather, the Bible reveals God’s beautiful, well-planned story of how He is the God of Redemption.  He redeemed Israel out of slavery to an evil king. 

And for us today, God redeems us out of slavery.  But not slavery to a nation.  Rather, slavery to sin.  And his means of this redemption is not a body of water called the Red Sea, but the body of his Son, Jesus Christ.

Look at this table.  This shows us a few of the differences between the old and the new covenants.

​​Comparison of Old and New Covenants

TopicOld CovenantNew Covenant
BondageEgyptSin and death
DelivererMosesJesus Christ
Means of DeliveranceRed SeaCross and empty tomb
CovenantConditional, Ten Commandments.  Temporal. Conditional only on believing it.  Eternal
InheritancePhysical landSpiritual inheritance in the eternal kingdom of God

So Exodus can help us better understand the NT and the core of Christianity…And what our faith is all about.


Even though we’ve hardly read a word of Exodus yet, what can we do as we read this book this Fall?

Two brief things:

  1. Come with a learner’s heart in this series

Each week, coming ready to grow in understanding of and appreciation for the Old Testament is a beautiful quest.  We will learn of some amazing stories of faith.  And amazing stories of unbelief and hard-heartedness.  At the same time, we want to learn about Christ and the New Covenant.  So if we’re prepared weekly to learn with a soft heart and a pen in hand, by December we will be different people.  The calling given to Israel… “to be the Lord’s possession, priests to Him, his servants in his kingdom”…  this calling is mine and yours, as well, under Christ.

Get ready in prayer.  It’s going to be good.

2. Rejoice in the wisdom and foresight of God for his plan of redemption.

Year after year, my amazement at God continues to grow.  Before time began, God planned this Covenant to Israel.  And he knew the people would fail, so a better covenant would be needed.  So all along, even before time began, God planned to send his Son, Jesus, to rescue not just Israel but the whole world.  The entire Bible, beginning in Genesis and extending through Revelation, slowly unfolds this glorious, eternal plan of God to redeem people from every tribe and language and people and nation.

Of this glorious eternal plan of God through his Son, the Apostle Paul tells us about it in the first 11 chapters of his letter to the Romans.  It is so glorious, that he concludes with this:

Romans 11:33–36 CSB

Oh, the depth of the riches and the wisdom and the knowledge of God!

How unsearchable his judgments and untraceable his ways!

For who has known the mind of the Lord? Or who has been his counselor?

And who has ever given to God, that he should be repaid?

For from him and through him and to him are all things.

To him be the glory forever. Amen.

Our cry, too, should be, “Oh, the depth of the riches and the wisdom and the knowledge of God!”  What a remarkable God we have.  Remarkable in power.  In justice.  Wisdom.  Knowledge.  And mercy.  What a privilege…an eternal privilege…we have through faith in Jesus to be a part of God’s eternal plan of redemption.  This series through Exodus will help us to rejoice. 

Let’s read Exodus now.

Exodus 1:1-7 (CSB)

1 These are the names of the sons of Israel who came to Egypt with Jacob;  each came with his family:

2 Reuben, Simeon, Levi, and Judah;

3 Issachar, Zebulun, and Benjamin;

4 Dan and Naphtali; Gad and Asher.

5 The total number of Jacob’s descendants was seventy; Joseph was already in Egypt.

6 Joseph and all his brothers and all that generation eventually died.

7 But the Israelites were fruitful, increased rapidly, multiplied, and became extremely numerous so that the land was filled with them.

Here in these first 7 verses, we are immediately connected to the Book of Genesis.  Remember Exodus is Volume II of this 5-volume set called the Pentateuch.  Let’s review some biblical history.  I believe this is very, very helpful in understanding much of the OT and NT. 

Genesis introduced us to Abraham, who is one of the most important men in biblical history.  He is the father of our faith.  Not only does he connect with his descendants, the nation of Israel, Abraham connects us with the gospel.   2000 years later, the Apostle Paul makes that connection very clear: 

Galatians 3:7–8 CSB  You know, then, that those who have faith, these are Abraham’s sons.  Now the Scripture saw in advance that God would justify the Gentiles by faith and proclaimed the gospel ahead of time to Abraham, saying, ‘All the nations will be blessed through you.’

That last part, “All the nations will be blessed through you,” is quoting Genesis 12, the covenant God made with Abraham.   Paul is saying that Jesus Christ is the Great Descendant of Abraham.  The whole world is blessed through Christ by the salvation he offers. 

Back to the story of Genesis.  Abraham had two sons, one named Isaac.  Isaac had two sons, one named Jacob.  God gave Jacob another name years later, “Israel.”  Jacob (a.k.a., Israel) had 12 sons, and they are listed here in the passage we just read.  These 12 sons became the heads of what became known as the 12 tribes of Israel.

So while the Bible is much more than a history book, it does contain real history.  Real people in real events in real time. 

It would be a joy to go back to Genesis 36 and learn how this family ended up in Egypt.  The key to the story was the 11th brother, Joseph.  In short, his 9 of his older brothers were so jealous of him that they sold him into slavery.  They “human trafficked” their own brother.  It’s an astonishing display of evil.  Sadly, some of you have stories of great evil in your families.  As sad as human trafficking is today, it’s even sadder to know that it has been around for about 4000 years.

In Genesis we see that Joseph became a rescuer—a redeemer—that reminds us of the redemption of Christ.  The entire family of 70 people end up in Egypt.  And over the next hundred-plus years, they flourish.  From vs. 7 here in Exodus 1, they have many, many descendants and become a large, formidable group living in Egypt.

That’s a crash course in the history of Genesis that leads us into Exodus which is Volume 2 of the Pentateuch. 

Vs.7 fast forwards us 400 years.  Let’s pick up the story in vs. 8.

Vs. 8-22

Exodus 1:8–22 (CSB)

8 A new king, who did not know about Joseph, came to power in Egypt.

9 He said to his people, “Look, the Israelite people are more numerous and powerful than we are.

10 Come, let’s deal shrewdly with them; otherwise they will multiply further, and when war breaks out, they will join our enemies, fight against us, and leave the country.”

11 So the Egyptians assigned taskmasters over the Israelites to oppress them with forced labor.  They built Pithom and Rameses as supply cities for Pharaoh.

12 But the more they oppressed them, the more they multiplied and spread so that the Egyptians came to dread the Israelites.

13 They worked the Israelites ruthlessly

14 and made their lives bitter with difficult labor in brick and mortar and in all kinds of fieldwork. They ruthlessly imposed all this work on them.

15 The king of Egypt said to the Hebrew midwives—the first, whose name was Shiphrah, and the second, whose name was Puah—

16 “When you help the Hebrew women give birth, observe them as they deliver.  If the child is a son, kill him, but if it’s a daughter, she may live.”

17 The midwives, however, feared God and did not do as the king of Egypt had told them; they let the boys live.

18 So the king of Egypt summoned the midwives and asked them, “Why have you done this and let the boys live?”

19 The midwives said to Pharaoh, “The Hebrew women are not like the Egyptian women, for they are vigorous and give birth before the midwife can get to them.”

20 So God was good to the midwives, and the people multiplied and became very numerous.

21 Since the midwives feared God, he gave them families.

22 Pharaoh then commanded all his people, “You must throw every son born to the Hebrews into the Nile, but let every daughter live.”

Vs. 8-14

So after Joseph died, future kings of Egypt forgot about him, and as Israel grew in numbers into several million, Pharaoh became alarmed, thinking that this family, now virtually a nation, might try to wipe out Egypt.  So the Egyptian ruler… being the kind and merciful king that he was… began to violently oppress Jacob’s descendants.  He forced them into slave labor, helping build cities for Egypt.  He was ruthless.  This is similar to what we see in history in every age, even in the United States with slavery in the 1800’s and earlier.  But the more Egypt oppressed them, the more Israel grew in numbers.  Children were popping out everywhere, to the point in vs. 12, the Egyptians dreaded Israel.

Vs. 15-22

If Israel thought it couldn’t get worse, it did.  The darkness and evil in the heart of this king of Egypt proceeded to a level that is hard for us to fathom.  He gave the order to the Israelite midwives to kill all baby boys who were born… because the boys would grow up to be men who would fight in war against them.  But God used these faith-filled midwives to protect the newborn boys.  So we might hope that their act of faith would be the beginning of things getting better.  But it did not.  Things got worse.  Since Pharoah’s wicked plan with midwives didn’t work, his evil heart went darker still.  He told all the Egyptian people, “Let’s drown all the boys in the Nile River.”  This tragic story is reminiscent of other such mass murderers in history, like Hitler in Nazi Germany with his extermination plans.

But this story in Egypt is part of God’s glorious story of redeeming his chosen people out of bondage into a covenant relationship with him that we saw in Exodus 19.  The stage is being set for a battle. Not a battle between Pharaoh and Israel but a battle between Pharoah and God himself, for God is going to fight for his people.  But until then, the people are suffering terribly.  Cruel, intense slave labor.  Baby boys murdered.  The chapter ends here, poising us for Chapter 2 (which we’ll read next week) when we are introduced to a baby boy named Moses.


So we end our passage in a very dark place.  Nothing cheery about it.  What can we possibly take from this, besides that rulers of nations can be very, very evil?

Though it’s not apparent yet from the story… we must…

Know and believe that God will fight for his people.

So far, it is not apparent yet that the Lord will rescue Israel from their suffering.  It’s not apparent yet…based on the circumstances….that he will fulfill his centuries-old promise to give them their own land.

At this moment in their history, Israel didn’t know how the story would end.  They couldn’t read ahead in the story like we can.  This afternoon, we could take an hour at home and read the next 14 chapters and know that it’s going to turn out OK.  In fact, it’s going to be far, far better than OK.  It’s going to turn out gloriously.  With astonishing miracles that culminate with the parting of this huge body of water, called the Red Sea.  That moment is a great monument for God to his people of his love for them.  And of his power over vast enemy forces. 

Let’s read ahead in the story: 

Exodus 14:29–31 CSB But the Israelites had walked through the sea on dry ground, with the waters like a wall to them on their right and their left. 30 That day the Lord saved Israel from the power of the Egyptians, and Israel saw the Egyptians dead on the seashore. 31 When Israel saw the great power that the Lord used against the Egyptians, the people feared the Lord and believed in him and in his servant Moses.

God fought for his people in the most remarkable way.  A stunning display of justice, mercy, and power.

So even though we’re ending today in Chapter 1 in a dark, dark place, you and I can read ahead to Chapter 14, and we can be reassured.  That’s the future glorious news.

However….we need to place ourselves in Chapter 1 in real time history, witnessing the suffering people of Israel.  They didn’t have chapter 14 yet.  The story hadn’t been written yet.  The events had not unfolded yet.  In fact, the events of the Red Sea in Chapter 14 didn’t occur for more than 80 years later!!!!  At least 80 more years of suffering!!!!!  Granted, God was obviously at work in powerful ways in Chapters 2 thru 13.  No question.  But the suffering in slavery continued until the day of Chapter 14.   In the meantime, in the midst of cruel slavery and baby boys being murdered, surely Israel asked, “Where is God in all this?”  They needed to believe that God would fight for them.  And likewise for us, we must believe that God will fight of us.  And that he HAS fought for us.

How has he fought and how will he fight for us?  Two ways:

  1. He already has fought for us in the Cross.

The gospel message tells us that every one of us is in cruel, unrelenting bondage.  Not to a nation, but to sin and death.  The NT tells us that the wages of sin is death.  But God, because of his great love and rich mercy, sent his Deliverer…not Moses, but Jesus Christ, the Son of God.  Every one of us needs deliverance from death.  And Jesus is our Only Rescuer.  He is our Red Sea experience.  If you have never sought forgiveness and eternal life and  freedom from sin, don’t delay.  Your “Chapter 14” Red Sea story is waiting to be written.

2. For those of you who have already been delivered by Christ, God will fight for you still.

Though you’ve been rescued from God’s wrath, you’re still fighting battles.

  • Battles against temptation and sin that are wearying.
  • Fighting to restore broken relationships
  • Angst over family members who don’t know Christ
  • Constant pressures against disease and ailments and work trials and school stresses.

We grow weary in the battle.  We wonder how it’s all going to turn out.  We’re in Chapter 1 of our story, and we wonder how Chapter 14 is going to turn out.  We wonder, will God fight for me and deliver me from my troubles?

Let me offer one thing that the Apostle Paul gave to strengthen us.

Romans 8:31–32 CSB  If God is for us, who is against us?  He did not even spare his own Son but gave him up for us all. How will he not also with him grant us everything?

Since God has fought for you to give you life through his Son’s death, surely he will continue to fight for you.  Surely now he will never take his eye off you.  Surely he will strengthen you today.   Surely he will never leave you nor forsake you through his indwelling Holy Spirit.  Surely he will bring you into glory to live with him forever…very soon.

The Cross is the ultimate proof of God fighting for us…not only to deliver us from God’s wrath, but to deliver us somehow and someday fully from the many trials of this life. 


Let’s close with a brief summary:

  1. The words of Exodus this Fall will be like a song to us, a song proclaiming the beautiful stories of faith and unbelief.  The stories of God’s magnificent patience, power, and love.  And as we zoom out, we will begin to see God’s unfolding plan of redemption that began with Abraham and leads us to Jesus Christ. 

So my prayer is that each week we come ready to learn, grow, obey, and worship our God, the Great Redeemer. 

2. And in this Chapter 1 of Exodus, we see a horrifying story that Israel was caught up in. 

But the stage is being set for some glorious moments, especially the great moment when God delivered his people from Egypt through the Red Sea.  And that event gives us a taste of what God has done in our day by delivering us through his Son, Jesus.  So even better than remembering the Red Sea, we remember the Cross.