Israel's Bondage & the workings of the invisible God

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The Book of Exodus Bible Study - Chapter One

Israel's Bondage & the workings of the invisible God 

by I Gordon

I have had it in my mind lately to do some studies through the book of Exodus, which could be useful for basic discipleship and Christian living. The book of exodus is an amazing book and very useful in this regard. Taken from a literal point of view, it is an epic tale of oppression, deliverance, and freedom that any historian would drool over. It is an incredible, historically accurate account of Israel's slavery and exodus from the might of the Egyptian empire. But it doesn't just end there! God, in His wisdom, has again chosen to reveal more in this book than simply a historical event. When the Apostle Paul speaks of the events in this book he writes -

1 Cor 10:1-6 'For I do not want you to be ignorant of the fact, brothers, that our forefathers were all under the cloud and that they all passed through the sea. They were all baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea.  They all ate the same spiritual food and drank the same spiritual drink; for they drank from the spiritual rock that accompanied them, and that rock was Christ  . Nevertheless, God was not pleased with most of them; their bodies were scattered over the desert. Now these things occurred as examples to keep us from setting our hearts on evil things as they did.'

Notice that Paul says that these events were examples for us! In other words, the red sea gives us a picture of our baptism. Moses striking the rock is a picture of the true rock, the Lord Jesus Christ, being struck for us. The water that the rock gave forth, which quenched Israel's thirst, well that's a picture of the Holy Spirit that was poured out after Jesus had been crucified. So Exodus isn't just a dusty old historical book that we read and stand amazed at the things that God used to do 3500 years ago. It has instruction for us! I think you get the point so I'll stop saying the same thing now.  [1] 


Before you begin with the rest of this study, please go and read Exodus chapter 1, and also chapter 2, verses 23-25. While reading, consider the cause and purpose of Israel's bondage in Egypt and in what ways it may relate to us. Especially relevant is how God views these events and what He is wanting to achieve through them. Other verses worth considering, which will be mentioned in this study, are Psalm 105:23-26, Genesis 15:13-16, and Romans 9:17. Please do all this before reading this study as it is always more profitable to be searching these things out for yourself and allowing God to reveal things to you, than to simply read what someone else has to say on the matter. You should find that in allowing Israel's bondage to increase, God has a purpose not only for Israel, but also for Egypt and even the entire world!

The Historical Background

Exodus 1:1-7 '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. Now Joseph and all his brothers and all that generation died, but the Israelites were fruitful and multiplied greatly and became exceedingly numerous, so that the land was filled with them.'

Exodus starts then by giving us a quick reminder of the closing events of the book of Genesis. I'm sure you know the story so here is the lazy man's version... Joseph is betrayed and sold as a slave by his brothers and ends up down in Egypt. After a series of trials and hardships, God turns the whole thing around (as He loves to do!) and Joseph ascends to the Egyptian throne, with only the Pharaoh above him. Severe famine strikes the land of Israel, forcing Joseph's brothers to come to Egypt in search of food. After a cunning reconciliation, Jacob, his eleven other sons, and their family also come down to live in Egypt. And there they live, happily ever after... until...

The Beginning of the Bondage!

Exodus 1:8-11 Then a new king, who did not know about Joseph, came to power in Egypt. 'Look,' he said to his people, 'the Israelites have become much 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.' So they put slave masters over them to oppress them with forced labor, and they built Pithom and Rameses as store cities for Pharaoh.

Happily ever after... until a new king arose that did not know about the exploits of Joseph. And here the bondage begins. Now, all I really want to get at in this study is the cause, purpose, and outcome of Israel's bondage for this is very instructive for us! So before we jump into the good stuff, let's just establish the general types that are presented to us at the start of this book. We have:

Egypt - Ok, so everyone knows that Egypt is used in scripture as a type of the world. As a picture of 'worldliness', the Egyptian empire oozed power, wealth and control, and it was from this empire that God called His people out so that they would be separate for Him. The same applies today.

Pharaoh - The Pharaoh had absolute control over Egypt, and was even worshiped as a god by his subjects  [2]  . In the actions of Pharaoh, in stubbornly refusing to allow God's people to leave Egypt we have a picture of Satan - the 'god of this world' who exercises his power and control to prevent those called today from leaving his worldly system and coming to God.

Israel - Here we have God's people who were called to come out of Egypt. Their experience gives us an illustration God's 'called out' ones today, the church.

Bondage - As the time of Israel's deliverance grew closer, the bondage and slavery that Egypt enforced over them increased. I will be using this to typify two things. Firstly, in the picture of God's people coming out of Egypt, it represents the burden and awareness of sin which increases before our deliverance. Secondly, I will also use it at times as a picture of the trials in general that believers in the Lord go through.

The Cause of the Bondage

So, question time! What, or who, was the cause of Israel's bondage? Multi-choice was always my favourite at school (gave me more of a chance!) so here are the options - a) Pharaoh b) Satan c) God. Well, which is it? That's right, d) All of the above!

a) Pharaoh - Just looking at things in the natural, we read in verses 8-11 that a new King arose over Egypt that didn't know about Joseph. The Israelites were increasing in number and through fear of being overtaken the new Pharaoh purposely enforced hard labour upon them.

b) Satan - Now who do you think was behind the scenes, and in control of the godless Egyptian empire? That's right - Satan. Through Pharaoh's stubborn persecution and hatred of the Israelites we see the working of the one who has repeatedly stood against God's people and will again in the future.  [3] 

c) God - Pharaoh may have been increasing Israel's bondage, Satan may have been egging him on, but ultimately, God is the one who is in control. With this in mind, we read in Psalm 105:23-25 'Then Israel entered Egypt; Jacob lived as an alien in the land of Ham. The LORD made his people very fruitful; he made them too numerous for their foes,  whose hearts He turned to hate His people, to conspire against His servants.' 

Now this makes it all the more interesting! You see, if God was the one who ultimately controlled the Egyptians hearts, and if He turned them to hate His people, then He did it for a specific reason; or more correctly with God, He did it for several specific reasons!

Now before we look at the purposes that God had in this bondage, let's just apply what we have learnt so far to our lives. You may remember, if you have been paying attention, that it was said earlier that the bondage is a picture of i) the burden of sin, and ii) the general trials and difficulties that we go through in our Christian life.

i) The Burden of Sin -  You will normally notice that before God saves a person out of the world (Egypt), that He will allow the bondage of sin, and their awareness of that sin, to increase. Look back at your own situation... did God bring you to an utter conviction of your sin before you cried out to Him?  [4] 

ii) Trials and difficulties - Of the many promises of Jesus, this one is strangely quoted less than others - 'In this world you will have trouble!' So what can we learn from Israel's burden in Egypt for our lives? The main point is that God is still in control! Don't blame Satan and fear that God has left you. It is God who allows the trials to occur. Some trials are definitely of our own making; some are outside of our control. But none are outside the range of a loving sovereign God.

The Purpose and Workings of the Invisible God!

Ok, we have seen that God was in control of the hardship Israel went through. Now here is the biggie - Why? What did He want to achieve? And for that matter, what does He want to achieve when he allows us to go through similar trials?

a) God's purpose for Egypt - We read in Genesis 15:13-16 where God said to Abraham '...Your descendants will be strangers in a country not their own, and they will be enslaved and mistreated four hundred years. But I will punish the nation they serve as slaves, and afterward they will come out with great possessions... In the fourth generation your descendants will come back here, for the sin of the Amorites has not yet reached its full measure.'

God allowed Israel's bondage to increase because He was determined to judge Egypt for its years of repeated sin. Never forget that God's judgement is always perfect!  [5]  So likewise with us, one of the purposes that God can have in allowing our burden to increase is for judging the Egypt in our lives! Before being saved, God allows the burden of sin to increase so that when we come to Him we will acknowledge our worldly lives and leave those ways at the cross, where all sin was judged. Similarly, sometimes in our Christian lives the temptation of the world can lead to a new trial or bondage that God does not want in our lives. If we do not judge ourselves in these matters, God can allow us to be burnt so that through the judgement of this sin, we will not fall into the same trap again.

b) God's purpose for Israel -  God's purpose for Israel was many and varied. So it is with us.

i) Reveal the true character of Egypt - Similar to what I have written above, we see that God wanted to reveal to Israel exactly what Egypt was like. You see, the beginning of Israel's stay in Egypt, while Joseph ruled, was quite prosperous for the Israelite people. They had it pretty good. Now while this may have occurred for a season, God longed for a separated people for Himself and so He allowed the bondage in Egypt to increase so that they would see the true nature of Egypt, and in doing so, separate themselves from the Egyptians. Now, I'm sure you are smart enough to work out how this applies to Christians today! Lots of Christians cannot see the harm that worldliness can have upon their Christian life. But it's a trap! You may go back to worldly principles and desires and, like Israel in Egypt, things may start off sweet... but it is never how it ends up! If that is you then God may have to show you the true character of Egypt (worldliness), for your own future protection, and this is usually through allowing the trials and bondage in Egypt to increase.

ii) Bring increase to Israel - Apart from revealing the true nature of Egypt, God also allowed Israel's bondage to increase so that they themselves would increase. A paradox? Not with God. We read in Exodus 1:11-12 'So they appointed taskmasters over them to afflict them with hard labor. And they built for Pharaoh storage cities, Pithom and Raamses.  But the more they afflicted them, the more they multiplied and the more they spread out...'  This is a principle that spans the entire Bible.  [6]  God uses the trials and difficulties of this life (whether they are self inflicted or beyond our control), to bring increase in our life.  [7] 

iii) Draw Israel to God - This is always the end result that God desires out of any trial we go through, or burden we seek to be free from. We read in Exodus 2:23-25 'And the sons of Israel sighed because of the bondage,  and they cried out; and their cry for help because of their bondage rose up to God.  So God heard their groaning; and God remembered His covenant with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.  And God saw the sons of Israel, and God took notice of them  .' Whether it is an unbeliever struggling under the bondage of sin, or a believer going through a difficult trial, the end result should be the same. Sometimes we have things so good that it takes a difficulty before we truly cry out to God and learn to trust in Him. This thought is also expressed in 2 Cor 1:8-11.

b) God's purpose for the World!  - I told you that the purposes of God are varied! You can rest assured that He also has a purpose for those in the world who sit back and watch all the action from a distance. We read in Romans the following, very interesting, scripture. 'For the Scripture says to Pharaoh: 'I raised you up for this very purpose, that I might display my power in you and that my name might be proclaimed in all the earth.' Why did God allow the bondage to be so bad? Why did He allow Pharaoh to resist His own people with such stubbornness? Here is the answer - so that God may display His awesome power in delivering His people and so that all the nations who looked on would marvel and know that the God of Israel is the one true God! Do you think it would be any different for us? Not at all! In all the burdens and difficulties we go through in this life, God has this same plan designed for those 'in the world' around us. He cares for those who do not know Him yet, and would like His work in delivering us to be a testimony that we would share with those around us, so that all may know how wonderful the true God is!

In conclusion, all we can do is stand back and be amazed at the wisdom and justice of the Almighty God. His ways are perfect! While we live on this earth we will never understand all that happens or why things occur in our lives. We only 'see through a glass dimly' as the Bible puts it. But we can still rest, assured that the invisible God is not only at work, but that He has a purpose in everything that He does!

 Oh, the depth of the riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God!
How unsearchable his judgments,
and his paths beyond tracing out!
'Who has known the mind of the Lord?
Or who has been his counselor?'
'Who has ever given to God,
that God should repay him?'
For from him and through him and to him are all things.
To him be the glory forever! Amen.

[1] ↩  Actually, something I do want to say before we get right into it, is to acknowledge a couple of good books which have helped me and would probably help you as well. The first is a series of commentaries by C.H.M, an old brethren writer from about a 100 years ago. Ok, so they probably won't make the best selling list at your local Christian bookstore but they are very good. They are called 'Notes on Genesis, Notes on Exodus' etc. He did these for the first five books of the Bible. Some of the points I will end up making in this exodus series are bound to have been stolen from his commentary on Exodus. So ring up your 2nd hand Christian bookstore if you are a serious Bible student. Also, A.B Simpson has done an awesome commentary series called 'Christ in the Bible commentary'. Very Christ centered! Well worth looking at, especially the Old Testament books.

[2] ↩  Harpers Bible Dictionary says this about the Pharaohs of Egypt. 'The king of Egypt was considered a god by his subjects. He was the embodiment of the royal falcon god Horus, and from at least the fifth dynasty (ca. 2494-2345 b.c.) on, he was looked upon as the son of the great sun god, Re. When he died, he became the god Osiris and joined the other divinities in the afterworld. Theoretically, all of the land of Egypt and its products belonged to the pharaoh (see Gen. 47:20), and his word was the law of the land.'

[3] ↩  Satan has always tried to stand against the purposes of God, and this means standing against the people of God. He did it in this example when Israel was in Egypt; he did it through Herod's persecution of Israel when Joseph and Mary had to escape with Jesus into Egypt (Matt 2:13-21); he did it through Hitler and the holocaust in a horrific attempt at thwarting the purposes of God; he has done it countless times in the last 2000 years to the Church; and once more, in the near future will try with all his might and resources to finally wipe out the Jewish race. It won't succeed because God, like He has always done in the past, will intervene for His people. (Matt 24:15-22, Rev 12:13-17)

[4] ↩  He certainly did with me! I can fully relate to the start of Pilgrims Progress where John Bunyan wrote 'I had a dream in which I saw a man dressed in rags standing in a certain place and facing away from his own house. He had a Book in his hand and a great burden on his back. As I looked, I saw him open the Book and read out of it, and as he read he wept and trembled. Unable to contain himself any longer, he broke out with a sorrowful cry, saying 'What shall I do?' Later, after meeting Evangelist, he said 'I fear this burden on my back will make me sink lower than the grave, and I'll fall into Hell!' The book that he read from was the Bible and the great burden on his back was sin. Like Israel in Egypt, the Holy Spirit will increase this burden before deliverance occurs.

[5] ↩  This Genesis passage also shows why Israel would have to wait so long in Egypt - It says that Israel would have to wait the 400 years in Egypt until the sins of the Amorites reaches it full measure! Amazing! Even though God was going to give the Promised Land to Abraham's descendants, the taking of that land would involve the deaths of many amongst the nations that currently inhabited that land. So God would not allow Israel to enter the land until the sin of those nations had reached a particular level - a level that then demanded their own judgement. Everything is perfect and in control with God!

[6] ↩  Although, sorry, at the moment I am too lazy to find all the verses showing this principle working throughout the Bible. But despite my laziness, the statement is true! Here are a few passages to look at in the New Testament - Acts 8:1-4, Romans 5:3-5, Phil 1:12-14

[7] ↩  For Israel this passage obviously speaks of the trials leading to an increase in the number of Israelites, whereas in our life it is an increase in our fruit and character. This principle is not reserved for 'naughty' Christians either! Remember John 15:2 '...every branch that bears fruit, He prunes, that it may bear more fruit.'