By Edward Dennett
THE grand subject of the book of Exodus is that of redemption. In Genesis we have creation, and then, after the fall, and the announcement of a Deliverer in the seed of the woman, who should bruise the serpent's head (Gen.3:15) - the revelation, in fact, of the second Man, of whom Adam was a figure (Rom.5:14), and in whom all God's counsels should be established - "all the great elementary principles which find their development in the history of the relationships of God with man, which is recorded in the following books." The book of Genesis has therefore been aptly termed the seed-plot of the Bible. But in Exodus the subject is one - redemption with its consequences, consequences in grace, and when the people, showing their insensibility to grace, as well as ignorance of their own condition, had put themselves under law, consequences of government. Still the grand result of redemption, the establishment of a people before God, in relationship with Him, is achieved; and this it is that lends such an interest to the book, and makes it so instructive for the Christian reader.
The first five verses contain a brief statement of the names of Jacob's sons who came into Egypt with their father - they and their households, numbering, together with Joseph and his house already in Egypt, seventy souls. The particulars, of which this is a brief summary, are found in Genesis 46. The immediate occasion of their going down to Egypt was the famine; but by the famine, as by the wickedness of Jacob's sons in selling their brother to the Ishmaelites (Gen.37:28), God was but accomplishing the fulfilment of His own purposes. Long ere this He had said unto Abram, "Know of a surety that thy seed shall be a stranger in a land that is not theirs, and shall serve them; and they shall afflict them four hundred years: and also that nation, whom they shall serve, will I judge: and afterward shall they come out with great substance" (Gen.15:13,14). This is the history of the first twelve chapters in Exodus; and it fills us with admiration to reflect that, whatever the actings of men even in wickedness and high-handed rebellion, they are made subservient to the establishment of the divine counsels of grace and love. As Peter indeed said, on the day of Pentecost, concerning Christ, "Him, being delivered by the determinate counsel and foreknowledge of God, ye have taken, and by wicked hands have crucified and slain" (Acts 2:23 ). Thus even the wrath of man is yoked to the chariot wheels of God's decrees.
There is undoubtedly a reason for the children of Israel being shown to us, at the opening of the book, in Egypt. In Scripture Egypt is a type of the world, and hence Israel in Egypt becomes a figure of man's natural condition. Thus, after the statement that "Joseph died, and all his brethren, and all that generation" (v.6), the narrative passes rapidly on to describe their circumstances and condition. First, their increase and, indeed, prosperity are indicated. They "were fruitful, and increased abundantly, and multiplied, and waxed exceeding mighty; and the land was filled with them" (v.7). They were the children of promise, albeit in Egypt, and as such God's favour was resting upon them. Hence this picture of earthly prosperity. God never forgets His people, although they may forget Him.
Now another figure appears on the scene "a new king over Egypt, which knew not Joseph" (v.8). The statement that he "knew not Joseph" is exceeding significant. Joseph in Egypt was a type of Christ in His earthly glory and consequently not to know him is characteristic of a moral state. Pharaoh in fact is the god of this world, and as such must of necessity be in antagonism to the Lord's people. Accordingly we read at once of his crafty devices and malicious designs to destroy their prosperity, and to reduce them to helpless and hopeless bondage (v.9-12). And what was his motive? "Lest they multiply, and it come to pass, that, when there falleth out any war, they join also unto our enemies, and fight against us, and so get them up out of the land" (v.10). Satan knows, what we are apt to forget, that the world must hate the children of God, and that they, if faithful, must be in antagonism to the world, and hence he in the person of Pharaoh seems to provide for the contingency of war, and to prevent their deliverance. He therefore "set over them taskmasters, to afflict them with their burdens. And they built for Pharaoh treasure cities, Pithom and Raamses."1Thereby they are brought under bondage to the world, "and the Egyptians made the children of Israel to serve with rigour: and they made their lives bitter with hard bondage" (v.13,14). The other side of the picture is, "The more they afflicted them, the more they multiplied and grew" (v.12). This arose from the fact already pointed out, that, whatever their condition, they were the people of promise, embraced in the purposes of God, and as such were watched over, shielded, and blessed; so that Pharaoh, as the god of this world, was powerless to accomplish their destruction. The real question was, as the issue shows, between God and Pharaoh; and the king of Egypt was, in his schemes against the children of Israel, fighting against God. Hence his failure on every side. On the other hand, the condition of the Israelites portrays most strikingly the condition of the sinner - the sinner rather who has been made to feel the iron yoke of his slavery to sin and Satan. As with the prodigal, who falls lower and lower, until he is at the point of death and in utter degradation, before he comes to himself, so here God makes the children of Israel feel the weight of their burdens, and to taste the bitterness of their vile servitude, to awaken in them a desire for deliverance before He commences to act on their behalf. There is such a thing as the sinner being insensible to his degradation, and contented, if not happy, in his alienation from God; but if he is to be saved he must pass through the experience which is foreshadowed by this account of the condition of the Israelites. Until then, he never knows his real state, or desires deliverance.
The rest of the chapter (v.15-22) is taken up with a description of another attempt to enfeeble, and in time to destroy, the children of Israel. But again there is the activity of another on their behalf. Pharaoh was an absolute king, and none of his subjects dared to oppose his will; but even these feeble women are sustained in their disobedience, because they judged it their first duty to fear God. The mightiest monarch in the world is powerless as against God, and equally so against those who are identified with God and His people. Hence Shiphrah and Puah "did not as the king of Egypt commanded" (v.17), and God dealt well with them, and because they feared God, He made them houses (v.17-21). "If God be for us, who can be against us?" (Rom.8:31). We may therefore learn, first, the utter impotence of the enemy to frustrate the purposes of God; secondly, the invincibility of those who are connected with His purposes; thirdly, how the fear of God can lift the feeblest and humblest above the fear of man; and then, last of all, how grateful to the heart of God is every sign of fidelity to Him in the midst of a scene where Satan reigns, as the god of this world, and oppresses and seeks to destroy His people.
But Pharaoh's enmity increases, and he "charged all his people, saying, Every son that is born ye shall cast into the river, and every daughter ye shall save alive" (v.22). The next chapter will show us how God used this very decree of the king to prepare a deliverer for His people.
1) Not even the site of these cities - although many conjectures are offered - can with any certainty be now identified.