READING SERMON

Rev Douglas Kuiper - October 2002

Theme - "ISRAEL'S BONDAGE IN EGYPT"

Text: Exodus 1:7-22

Scripture: Exodus 1

Psalters:

290:1, 5-8 - (emphasizing that stanzas 6-7 speak of the sins of Israel while in Egypt)
301:1-4 - (drawing attention to stanza 4)
289:1, 4, 5, 11, 12, 18 - (drawing attention to stanza 11 as a versification of the text)
357:1-4 - (drawing attention to stanza 1)

Beloved saints in Christ, the church's interest in the history of the Old Testament must always be to see how God, also in the Old Testament, worked for the salvation of His church and the realization of His covenant. We must see that what God did then for Israel, He still does now for His church. To understand this, we must know that Israel was the church in the Old Testament.

Many today argue that Old Testament Israel and the New Testament church are two different entities. If this is true, our examination of Old Testament history can only serve the purpose of helping us understand a story which really has no application to us. But Old Testament Israel and the New Testament church are one and the same; Israel is the church in the Old Testament, and the church of the New Testament is the spiritual Israel. Scripture shows this to be true; Stephen, in Acts 7:38, calls Israel "the church in the wilderness." And the apostle Paul by inspiration says to the New Testament church regarding the history of Israel's wilderness wanderings, "Now all these things happened unto them for ensamples: and they are written for our admonition, upon whom the ends of the world are come" (I Corinthians 10:11).

The church of Jesus Christ is as old as history. The history of Israel is the history of the church. The history of Israel's deliverance from Egypt is the history of the church's deliverance from the bondage of sin, portrayed in a type. For the deliverance from Egypt through the Red Sea was one typical victory that God gave His church, in fulfillment of His promise in Genesis 3:15.

We are the more impressed with this history of Israel's deliverance, when we understand the need for that deliverance, and how God was preparing the way for that deliverance long before Israel knew of it. Often we wonder why God does not immediately realize His promises to save His people and destroy our enemies; and we often wonder if God may have forgotten His promise. Always the answer is that He does not tarry; He fulfills His promises as quickly as possible; and when it seems to us that He tarries, He is in fact preparing the way to fulfill those promises.

This point already begins to emerge in our text. Exodus 1 speaks of the cruel bondage of Israel in Egypt. It speaks explicitly of Pharaoh's sinful motivation for bringing Israel into bondage. It allows us to speak of Satan's devilish masterminding of this bondage. But even more, it requires us to ask the question, "What was God's design and purpose in this bondage?"

ISRAEL'S BONDAGE IN EGYPT

I. Sinfully Motivated

II. Devilishly Masterminded

III. Divinely Designed

I. SINFULLY MOTIVATED

Notice that the bondage which Israel endured in Egypt, as described in our text, progressed from being severe, to being cruel, to being downright deadly.

The first stage in that bondage was severe. It consisted of Pharaoh forcing the children of Israel to do hard labor. Of this we read in verse 11: "Therefore they did set over them taskmasters to afflict them with their burdens. And they built for Pharaoh treasure cities, Pithom and Raamses." These treasure cities were cities in which Pharaoh could store and preserve the fruits of the fields. He would use these either for trading, or for reserves in wartime. War was common in those days; Pharaoh had some reason to be concerned that the Israelites might ally themselves with his enemies (verse 10; "that, when there falleth out any war, they join also unto our enemies, and fight against us."). To build these cities the Israelites were forced. They were not employed in this endeavor according to their will, and given a fair wage. They were forced. The word "burden" in verse 11 means "forced labor." Over them were placed taskmasters, not simply to supervise the work, but to afflict the people - to make them work harder and faster by whipping them. Verse 12 notes that this severe bondage did not accomplish Pharaoh's objective - the people continued to grow, and this grieved the Egyptians.

Verses 13 and 14, therefore, do not merely repeat the fact of the severity of the bondage, but speak of its development from being severe to being cruel. Scripture speaks of more labors that were expected of the Israelites - they were to do "all manner of service in the field." Likely this refers to the tedious work of irrigating the fields, by carrying water from the Nile River, or by digging irrigation ditches in the fields. At the same time, the labors expected of them both in the field and in building the cities was made harder. We read in both verses 13 and 14 that the Egyptians made the Israelites to serve "with rigor," that is, with cruelty; and that the Egyptians made the lives of the Israelites "bitter." But even this cruelty apparently did not stop the Israelites from multiplying.

The last part of the chapter speaks therefore of another progression in this bondage - from being cruel, it became deadly. Pharaoh required that the male Israelite babies be killed. He required this first of the Hebrew midwives, Shiphrah and Puah, who were likely the head midwives, and who must give the same command to the other midwives. Pharaoh specifically commanded the midwives to observe during childbirth whether the baby was a boy or girl, and to kill the boys immediately. When it became apparent that the midwives were obeying God rather than Pharaoh, and that God was still blessing the Hebrew women with fertility, Pharaoh commanded all the Egyptians to lend their hands to his cause, by killing any Hebrew boy whom they knew to be born.

What was Pharaoh's motivation in this bondage?

His stated motivation was to protect himself and his nation against the Israelites, according to verse 10: "Come on, let us deal wisely with them; 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." It did not escape Pharaoh's attention that the Israelites had increased abundantly and multiplied since entering Egypt. Referring to what happened after the death of Joseph, and his brethren, and all that generation, we read in verse 7: "And the children of Israel were fruitful, and increased abundantly, and multiplied, and waxed exceeding mighty; and the land was filled with them." When Jacob entered Egypt, he came with 70 souls. When Israel left Egypt 430 years later, she numbered over 600,000 men who were able to war; adding to this the number of women and of children under 20, one can imagine that the nation numbered upwards of 3 million. Pharaoh realized that they were more in number, and stronger in might, than the Egyptians themselves, and that they posed a threat. He apparently knew that God had promised Canaan to them, for he speaks of their getting up out of the land (vs 10). His motivation in bringing them into bondage was, therefore, to prevent them from being a threat to Egypt. He cared not for the promises made to Joseph by a past Pharaoh. He was a new king, which knew not Joseph (vs 8); this does not mean he did not know about Joseph or the promises made to him, but means that he had no regard for those promises; he didn't care. He cared only about himself and his own people.

Even more, his motivation in bringing Israel into bondage was to destroy them. This is clear from the deadly measures he took, of commanding all male children to be killed. Were this done, the women of Israel would have to marry Egyptian men, and the nation of Israel would have died out. But even the hard bondage itself indicates that Pharaoh desired Israel's destruction. Hard work is deadly. Even today, construction sites are hazardous places at which to work. Pharaoh calculated that by forcing the Israelites to do such hard work, some would die on the job site, while the others would become so physically weakened that they would be in no condition to continue multiplying, or to escape; and their spirit would be broken. They would cry out to him for mercy, rather than to God.

Ultimately his motivation was hatred. He hated the church! He hated the church's king who was promised! He hated the church's God! Motivated by such hatred, he determined to "deal wisely" with them (verse 10), that is, to use earthly wisdom to accomplish his sinful purpose.

To begin applying this history to us, we must see that what Israel endured in bondage was nothing else than the persecution which the church in the world is called to endure. The world's harsh treatment of the church, and her attempts to kill and destroy the church, is persecution.

Throughout the history of the world, the church has suffered this bondage of persecution and hatred. Even we suffer the same today in our land - though the persecution has not developed to the point of the government putting us to death. That day is coming. But though it is not yet here, we do suffer persecution in some way and to some degree. The world hates us; she tries to make us look silly, and mocks us; and she does all of this to crush our spirit, and make us assimilate with her.

The history of Israel in our text reminds us that, when the world begins persecuting the church, she uses mild tactics; but when those do not work, she develops new forms of persecution, and uses them with greater intensity, until she finally begins to kill the believers. Expect such development of persecution, beloved!

This bondage was not merely one of persecution, though; it was a picture of the church's bondage to sin. To understand this, we must see that behind Pharaoh's sinful motivations were Satan's. For this bondage was devilishly masterminded.

II. DEVILISHLY MASTERMINDED

Pharaoh was a tool of Satan, to accomplish Satan's purpose.

We do not read of Satan in this passage. But we do know that Satan is behind every effort to destroy the church of Jesus Christ. The destruction of this church has been Satan's goal from the beginning of the world, for he also hates the church's King, and the church's God! Satan desires to be God himself! So he tries to thwart God's purposes, and establish his own kingdom. To do this very thing, Satan masterminded this bondage of Israel in Egypt.

Satan's purpose in this bondage was to destroy the church. Satan knew the promise of Genesis 3:15, the promise of a Savior for the church, who would crush Satan's head. He knew that God had announced the victory of the seed of the woman, and the destruction of the seed of the serpent. He knew that this Savior, Jesus Christ, would come in the line of generations. So he knew that the best way to destroy the church would be to prevent the Savior from coming, by destroying the male children. If Christ did not come, there would be no church! And God's promises could not be fulfilled!

But Satan also masterminded Pharaoh's plan to begin small. In fact, Satan had already been working to destroy Israel, by causing her no longer to hope for the promises, but making her complacent in the land of Egypt, and causing her to worship Egypt's gods. God says to Israel through Ezekiel, that when he came to bring Israel out of Egypt, He said unto them: "Cast ye away every man the abominations of his eyes, and defile not yourselves with the idols of Egypt; I am the LORD your God" (Ezekiel 20:7). When this didn't work, Satan caused Pharaoh to make the Israelites slaves. And when that didn't work, Satan caused Pharaoh to try to kill them.

Let us remember Satan's attacks on the church. He begins small. Beware the small ways in which Satan deceives you! And he attacks the males of the church. Let the men of the church be strong! And teach your sons as well as daughters to war against Satan for the cause of the kingdom of God, that the church of Jesus Christ might have godly, strong men to continue the battle.

Understanding that Satan masterminded this bondage of Israel, we can see better that it was a picture of the church's bondage to sin. Especially in two ways this picture shows itself.

First, that we are in bondage to sin by nature means that we are servants of the devil. Ultimately Israel served the devil, for he was the mastermind behind Pharaoh; Pharaoh was Satan's spokesman and representative. We were created God's servants; but when Adam fell, and we in him, we became the slaves of the devil. As the devil's servants, we are compelled to do what he would have us do. That is, we are forced to sin! When we say we are "forced to sin," we do not mean that we sin against our will; rather, we mean that we can only sin, of ourselves, apart from God's grace. Sin is a cruel taskmaster, in that it allows no competition; it will not allow us to serve any other master.

This bondage of Israel in Egypt, as a picture of the bondage of sin, reminds us of the twin doctrines of the total depravity of our nature, and the bondage of our will. Our nature's depravity is total and complete - we are unable to do any good of ourselves, just like the Israelites were unable to do anything of their own accord, but forced to do exactly what Pharaoh told them to. And our will is bound also! Let none claim that we can choose to do good of ourselves - the Israelites could not choose to do anything but serve Pharaoh; and our natural condition is such that we cannot choose to do anything but serve Satan

Second, that we are in bondage to sin means that we experience the bitterness and the cruel rigor of sin. Sin causes pain and sorrow. God had said it would do so; He warned Adam in the Garden of Eden, as He warns us today in His Word, that the wages of sin is death. He is a fool who gives himself over to sin, for he looks only at its outward pleasure, ignoring the sorrow which it will bring. The sorrow is that of misery - physical misery, for certain sins have physical effects; and spiritual misery, for God sees to it that the sinner experiences God's wrath. The sorrow is also that of death - physical death, for before sin there was no death; and spiritual death, existence apart from God. Satan knows that such is the wages of sin; and therefore, wanting to destroy us, he leads us into sin.

Though he is a cruel taskmaster, and will bring us into sin which leads to sorrow and death, the fact is that natural man - you and me by nature - still enjoy sin, and seek its sensual pleasures. So it was that Israel, as she wandered in the wilderness, cried out to go back to Egypt! She had forgotten the cruel bondage from which she had been delivered, and thought only of the good food and nice times she had enjoyed in Egypt! Sin has its appeal for us, and that appeal covers up the harsh reality of sin's bondage. Let us be warned by this, and let this principle be ever fixed in our minds: whenever sin appeals to our flesh, it is mocking us; it presents itself as appealing; but it will surely snare us. This is why the devil masterminds sin to accomplish his purpose. The good news is that sin serves a higher purpose yet!

III. DIVINELY DESIGNED

We know and believe that God was sovereign over this aspect of Israel's history, and over this bondage into which Israel was subjected.

This is clear from the fact that God is God; He is sovereign over all things. Apart from any specific Scriptural reference to His sovereignty over Israel's bondage, we would believe He was sovereign. But Scripture directs our attention to God's sovereignty in this particular bondage of Israel. God had said to Abraham, "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" (Genesis 15:13-14). Furthermore, God said to Pharaoh, "And in deed for this cause have I raised thee up, for to shew in thee my power; and that my name may be declared throughout all the earth" (Exodus 9:16).

This sovereignty of God over Israel's bondage is even indicated in our text, by the fact that He did not allow Satan and Pharaoh to accomplish their goals. Pharaoh's design was to destroy Israel; but whenever he took steps to do that, Israel grew yet more. We read of this in verse 12: "But the more they afflicted them, the more they multiplied and grew." Pharaoh's efforts were counterproductive. The same idea comes out of verses 20-21: "Therefore God dealt well with the midwives: and the people multiplied, and waxed very mighty. And it came to pass, because the midwives feared God, that he made them houses." Though Pharaoh by now sought actively to destroy Israel, they grew and became mighty; and the midwives, whom Pharaoh would have used as the cause of death, God blessed, and gave them families, so that they were a cause of the continued growth of His church. Evidently God, not Pharaoh, was sovereign; for Pharaoh could not realize his purposes, while God did realize His.

What, then, was God's design in this bondage?

First, His design was to chastise His people. Bondage to sin is always part of God's punishment for sin; and though God punished the sins of His people by the death of His Son on the cross, still the bitterness which sin works is part of God's chastisement of us for sin.

By this bondage, therefore, God reminded Israel that she also was sinful, and that such bondage is what she deserved. She was the people of God, the descendants of Abraham, the recipients of God's promises. Did she deserve them? Was it that she was better than any other nation, that made her receive these promises? Not so. Moses reminded her of that later, Deuteronomy 9:4, 6: "Speak not thou in thine heart, after that the LORD thy God hath cast them out from before thee, saying, For my righteousness the LORD hath brought me in to possess this land: but for the wickedness of these nations the LORD doth drive them out from before thee. . . Understand therefore, that the LORD thy God giveth thee not this good land to possess it for thy righteousness; for thou art a stiffnecked people." Already in Egypt, before she had entered the wilderness, she sinned. For these sins God chastised her. So He says in Ezekiel 20:7-8: "Then said I unto them, Cast ye away every man the abominations of his eyes, and defile not yourselves with the idols of Egypt: I am the LORD your God. But they rebelled against me, and would not hearken unto me: they did not every man cast away the abominations of their eyes, neither did they forsake the idols of Egypt: then I said, I will pour out my fury upon them, to accomplish my anger against them in the midst of the land of Egypt." There God Himself says that He chastised Israel, while yet in Egypt, for her sins.

This is a reminder to us. We, the New Testament Israel, the church, the body and bride of Christ, have also received the promises, and are also brought into favor with God. Why? Do we deserve salvation any more than any other person does? Indeed not! Adam brought us also into the bondage of sin, and we deserve everlasting destruction! Our deliverance from this bondage is entirely of His grace! And when, from time to time, we experience His chastisement in the way of suffering from the effects of sin, we must know that He is reminding us of our unworthiness to be called His children, and of the love He has for us as a Father, to chasten us.

Secondly, God's design in this bondage was to prepare Israel for her deliverance. Why did she need such preparation? Partly, because she was not ready of herself to leave Egypt. True, God had His remnant according to election, and preserved that remnant in faith; so we must understand that some longed for Canaan, because it was the promised land. The majority of Israel, however, was carnal. They loved Egypt. God had to prepare them to leave Egypt. He did so by awakening in them a desire to escape the suffering of Egypt's bondage. Through this suffering, He would sanctify His people and cause them to look to Him for salvation.

And partly, Israel needed preparation for her deliverance because the way of deliverance would seem to be a hopeless, foolish way. How was the Red Sea going to save her? She wondered first how she would ever get through the Red Sea. She would drown! Then God wonderfully opened a path. But the question then was, how would that prevent Pharaoh from following and attacking Israel? And God wonderfully closed the Sea upon them. The answer to the "how" she would only know AFTER the deliverance. Beforehand, the way God had chosen to save her seemed doomed to failure. Therefore, she must be brought to such despair, by her bondage, that she was ready to follow God's guidance and to seek His way, even though it seemed wrong.

The same is true of our salvation in the cross of Christ, and our final redemption when He returns. The ways God has said He would save His church seem to be foolish, ineffective ways. The cross is foolishness to the natural mind! How would Christ's shed blood and death save? How will His return do it? God assures the church that He will save in these ways, but they seem silly. However, God will use the persecution we endure to prepare us for deliverance His way to cause to look to Him, and desire deliverance His way, because our situation is so hopeless. Persecution will sanctify us in that sense.

Thirdly, God designed this bondage to fill up the world's cup of iniquity. God always delivers His church in the way of destroying her enemies. This destruction must clearly be just. The justice of it would be grounded in the hatred and persecution which the world manifested toward the church. So God was ripening Egypt for her destruction.

We see that God all along is mindful of His covenant of grace. He was fulfilling His promise to Abraham, by preparing to deliver Israel from Egypt's bondage.

What a word of comfort for us! Persecution and chastisement will come upon us, too! And the Lord designs such so that our enemies will fill up their cup of iniquity, in order to prepare them for their destruction.

Meanwhile, He prepares us for our deliverance by sanctifying us, so that we more and more hate our sins, and hate the sorrow that our sins bring upon us in this vale of tears, and makes us long for the heavenly Canaan, where sin will be no more.

Zion is redeemed through judgment! Through judgments upon us, for our sins; and through judgments upon the wicked, for theirs!

But surely, she is redeemed. God promised to redeem her, and does not forget His promises. He promised Christ! He would send Christ! The baby boys of the church of old must not die! They would live, that Christ might be born, to live, and to die, to redeem His people.

AMEN.