We all know the scene in the movie, we know it because we have seen it so many different times. It happens in all the movies, the headquarters, the dinner, the sideline, or some other meeting place. The movie has built up to what is about to follow. They need to capture the bad guy, defeat the enemy, score a touchdown, and find the dog, child, or some other thing. They have spent the whole movie building to this final scene a battle, the last leg, the last shot before the timer runs out. They spell out their plan, sometimes we get to know every detail, and other times we know nothing of the plan. Everything balances on this plan. Everyone is in the right spot at the right time. If one aspect fails, then this whole movie would have been a bust. Impossibly possible. They pan in on one of the actors who comments that this is either a foolish plan or a plan of a genius. The scene ends with someone saying some heartfelt words, “If I don’t see you again…” Then the scene fades and the actual scene takes place. We see the plan fail or succeed; we ultimately see the movie end in victory. In some cases, the plan seemly fails but that was the plan all along. In today’s passage, we get to see the game plan for the next chapters and the book of Exodus. We see God’s plan of how he is going to rescue and redeem his people. But more than that we get to learn about who God is, these great and glorious truths that we get to know more about the God who revealed himself to Moses.
Going to the Elders
Moses as he stands barefoot, faces covered and before the bush that is not consumed. The Lord speaks to Moses and spells out his mission more clearly. Moses is sent to go and gather the elders of Israel and tell them “The Lord, the God of your fathers, the God of Abraham, of Isaac, and Jacob, has appeared to me.” We see some encouraging signs here in this passage even before we get the glorious promises that God is going to tell Moses. The first is that the nation of Israel still retains its national identity even while living in the land of Egypt under the king of Egypt. They still have the Council of Elders. Now, I do not want to get hung up on this point, but I think it is worth pointing out. That we see throughout Israel’s history that they have elders over the tribes, from the book of Exodus to the time of Jesus’s death. We will even see that the number of seventy is consistent from this time to the Sanhedrin. Now this does not mean it was always as consistent. But we see the principle engrained in the people of God. So when the church is established in the New Testament you can see not only the language is used but also the practice that local churches are overseen by elders. The next encouraging point that we have pointed out before is that they not only retain their national leadership (whatever that might look like) but they still are connected to the God of their fathers, just like Aram and Jochebed (Moses’ parents) taught Moses, so it appears the whole nation of Israel still worshipped the living God. They cried out to the God of their fathers and the God of their fathers responded.
Moses is told instructions from God on how he was to go and speak to Pharaoh. He was to go with the elders of Israel. They were all to speak to Pharaoh. In verse 16 the Lord tells Moses that he has ‘observed’ their affliction. Again, this is quite a sterile word, that observation implies a distance between the people and God. A better translation is that the Lord has visited the people inspecting their afflictions. This is what is told to the people (same Hebrew word observed/visited) in Exodus 4:31, “And the people believed; and when they heard that the Lord had visited the people of Israel and that he had seen their affliction, they bowed their heads and worshiped.” This again is evidence that the People of God had not departed from God’s word. This is the exact promise that the brothers of Joseph made to Joseph on his deathbed, “I am about to die, but God will visit you and bring you up out of this land to the land that he swore to Abraham, to Isaac, and Jacob.” Then Joseph made the sons of Israel swear, saying, “God will surely visit you, and you shall carry up my bones from here.” (Gen 50:24–25). God had promised he would visit them and bring them out. This would be the story that would have been passed down from generation to generation. The King of Egypt might have forgotten who Joseph was but not the people of God. The first step was for Moses to go and speak to the elders of Israel, tell them who send him, tell them that the Lord God (Yahweh Elohim) had appeared to him, and speak to them. The last thing he was to tell them was, “And I promise that I will bring you up out of the affliction of Egypt to the land of the Canaanites, the Hittites, the Amorites, the Perizzites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites, a land flowing with milk and honey” (Ex 3:17). They had vowed to Joseph to carry his bones out of Egypt but now God makes a promise to them. Not only he would save them from slavery but they would have the land which he had promised to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.
God then reassures Moses, that as he speaks to the elders, they will listen to him. This is important because, at the start of Chapter 4, Moses’s question is asking, what if they do not listen? But we will see more of that next time.
Going to Pharaoh
The second phase was that they were to go to Pharaoh, who is often called the King of Egypt. Again, the message is quite simple, They are sent bearing God’s name, that he has visited them, they are to ask for a simple request, to go into the wilderness for a three-day journey to be able to worship the LORD their God with sacrifices. Now this might seem like a simple request, but we will see that this is very important. We will see that Pharaoh does not always say no to Moses, but he does limit what the people of God can take or who can go. In this simple. The request is the heart of what the people of God seek to be able to do. Remember what God promised Moses just moments before in their conversation, that Moses will know because of the sign God will show them that they serve God on this mountain (Ex 3:12). Even from this stage we see the people of God are saved to serve, saved to worship. They are called out to bow down before their savior.
Now we have the truth and promises that God has visited his people and he will bring them out of Egypt, into the promised land that they would worship him. God had told Moses that the elders would listen to him. However, this is not the case with Pharaoh. Isaiah is told that he will go to people that do not want to hear or people that will not see or understand (Is 6:10 ff). Moses is told that Pharaoh will not listen unless God compels him with a powerful hand. We will see more of this in chapter 6. But for now, we need to note that even before Moses returns to Egypt God already knows this is not going to be a swift response from Pharaoh. That God will use his might and power to free the Israelites. God will go to great lengths to save his people from Pharaoh’s oppressive hand. In verse 20, God tells Moses that he will be the one to save his people with an outstretched arm. And he will strike the Egyptians. Moses struck an Egyptian and killed him. But this time God will strike them, he will strike them with pestilence, hail, and finally, he will strike the firstborn. Now we often call these the ten plagues. I will repeat this often through this time, but I do not like that term, mainly because the Bible gives them a name, they are called signs and wonders. I think plagues focus on the effect that it causes on creation, but signs and wonders seek to focus on the origin of these great signs and wonders. A plague has a recipient a sign has a performer, a wonder has an actor. Not in pretend but in someone acting. Plagues focus on the natural, and signs and wonders focus on the supernatural. The focus of chapters five to thirteen is the fact that God goes to great lengths to save his people and judge those who oppressed his people.
Now as the Lord is mentioning all of this to Moses, he keeps on showing the great blessing this Exodus will be. In some way, it is like a late-night commercial, but wait there’s more, but unlike that commercial, which promises more steak knives or additional things mainly to try and get you to buy their product at that time, there are only available to the first 50 callers or for a limited time. However, the lord is not a salesman, but a covenant-keeping, gracious, and merciful God. He tells Moses not only that he will redeem the people of God, but he would also give them the promised land, or that he would be their God and they would be his people. But he tells them that the Egyptians will show them favor and they will not leave Egypt empty. This is again what God had promised to Abraham, “But I will bring judgment on the nation that they serve, and afterward they shall come out with great possessions” (Gen 15:14). What we will see is not only God will redeem the people of Israel, but he will also judge the Egyptians for how they have treated his people.
Going to the ends of the Earth
Even before Moses has left the scene of the burning bush, we can see a great list of things that should drive us to eagerly anticipate what we will read in the coming chapters.
We have pointed out from the start that we have been given a great introduction to what God was doing and what he promised to do for his people, right from the start when God called Abraham. But what we see here is that God has a plan and he has made promises to his people. If we understand the glorious truths that are found thought-out the whole counsel of God when God begins by saying, “I will…” these promises are laced throughout the scripture and Exodus three is no different. He explains and explains exactly what will happen in the next chapters. He has a plan and he has made his promises. We can see this does not stop at the end of Exodus these promises the New Testament authors pick up and say they are our promises as well.
We see not only that God has a plan but this is all within his providence. The Heidelberg Catechism says in question 27 that providence is not chance but everything comes from God’s fatherly hand. The next question asks “What does it benefit us to know that God has created all things and still upholds them by his providence?”
“We can be patient in adversity, thankful in prosperity, and with a view to the future we can have a firm confidence in our faithful God and Father that no creature shall separate us from his love; for all creatures are so completely in his hand that without his will they cannot so much as move.”
Alongside providence, we see God’s power and might that he is willing to go head-to-head with Pharaoh to redeem his people from this oppression they face. God will go to great lengths showing great signs and wonders so that in the end Pharaoh will know the Covenant keeping God of the Israelites.
As stubborn as Pharaoh will be, he is not as stubborn as the Lord. Pharaoh’s stubbornness is rooted in sin and pride. However, God’s stubbornness is found in his steadfast love for his people. He will not give up but will continue to show his power to Pharaoh until he lets his people go. The Lord not only shows this to Pharaoh but also his people as they soon will forget and seek to return to Egypt.
God is not only saving his people to be able to get them away from this oppression but that they would be servants to him. They would be holy people who serve and obey the one true living God. He is saving them to serve. They go from working for Pharaoh to worshiping the Lord.
God’s plan includes a great blessing upon his people. They would receive a great inheritance from their God. We should also see all the above points in this one point, it is one thing to have the Israelites walk out as free men and women. But it is even more of a sign of God’s blessing when they walk out with a great blessing from the Egyptians.
Finally, we see God’s presence is with his people. He visits them and comes down to them, he is bringing them out of Egypt so that he might dwell in their midst. Again, God is not merely bringing them out to be their people but bringing them out to be his people. That the Holy God would dwell amid his people forever.
Now, it does not take long for us to be able to see these truths connected to the Gospel of our Lord and Savior that in the gospel we see the plan and promise given by God from the beginning. We see his providence in all circumstances to carry out his plan. We see his power revealed. We see his persistence and patience with us. We see the purpose is not merely to be saved from sin but to live for Christ. We see we do not merely have a debt paid in full but the great and glorious inheritance found in Christ. We see the truth that God seeks to be with his people and dwell in their midst. He goes to great lengths to do this and what has and will the Israelites do, is cry and complain. This is the story of the Christian, that we worship a great and glorious God who has promised to save us, through his providence and power he persistently pursues us that we would be saved for the purpose of having a glorious inheritance in his presence.