The book of Exodus opens with Israel in a bad state. The deliverance and preservation of Egypt wrought by Joseph is long forgotten. The Egyptians regarded the Israelites as a threat, because “the people of Israel were fruitful and increased greatly; they multiplied and grew exceedingly strong, so that the land was filled with them.” (Ex. 1:7) The Egyptians dealt “shrewdly with them” and Israel ended up enslaved by the Egyptians.
By the time Moses is chosen as the deliverer of the people, he has a history! He’s a murderer and a fugitive, and he marries a non-Israelite woman. But God breaks in, and the burning bush incident is the means of God getting his attention, and sending him back to Egypt.
Things get worse before they get better
When Moses is reluctantly persuaded to do what God tells him to, he and his brother Aaron receive a warm welcome from the elders of Israel. But things don’t go so well with Pharaoh, and rather than acquiesce to the demand to let Israel go to worship in the wilderness, Pharaoh figures they have too much time on their hands, and increases their work. Things take a turn for the people. Deliverance seems far away, and hardship very present. They are discouraged, they are angry, and they are ready to blame Moses and Aaron for their troubles. They essentially say, “This is all your fault!”
Should the people have been surprised by this? God had told Moses that Pharaoh would not let the people go. Perhaps Moses didn’t convey that bit to the elders when he first spoke to them, but it required a measure of faith. They knew deliverance was promised, but they didn’t know when, they didn’t know how long their present difficulty would last. Does this sound familiar? Believers in the Lord Jesus have the promise of deliverance, of ultimate glorification, but we also don’t know how long present circumstances may prevail. “For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us.” (Rom 8:19) Paul affirms better things are coming, but he doesn’t (nor can he) say exactly when. Present suffering along with the promise of eternal glory without any suffering means that, by definition, things are worse now than they will be in glory. Just as the Israelites experienced this, so do we.
Facts about God are the foundation of hope
After this increase in suffering and bitterness, God specifically speaks to Moses things that are the basis of the hope Israel should have. In Exodus 6, the Lord gives a list of things that should encourage them. The important thing to see is they all have to do with who God is, and what He has said. “I am the Lord. I appeared to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob, as God Almighty, but by my name the Lord I did not make myself known to them.” (Ex 6:3) At the burning bush, God had revealed his name, I AM, to Moses. God means Moses and the people to understand a new level of knowledge about Him. God had appeared to the patriarchs, but hadn’t made himself known by “the Name.” What a privilege the Israelites now have!
Importantly, God reaffirms the promises he made to them. God will bring them out of slavery, deliver them from their burdens, and judge their oppressors. Did they know the timetable, or exactly how it will be accomplished? They do not, but all of this is once again prefaced by “I am the LORD.” (Ex. 6:6) Who God is means that what He says is wholly trustworthy. This is why knowledge of God’s promises, knowledge of His word is critical to understanding the hope we have as believers. We can’t be encouraged nor have hope if we don’t dwell on the promises God has made. It’s this that God is calling the Israelites to do. “This is who I am, so trust me to bring this about.” Finally, God says “I will bring you into the land that I swore to give to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob. I will give it to you for a possession.” God goes all the way back to Genesis 12:8, when he first made promises to Abram, even before his name was changed to Abraham. What he says here in Exodus is a repetition of that promise. Delay is not defeat. God will bring them into the land.
New Testament believers can have this same confidence—and hope—because the God who made these promises brought them to fulfillment. The promises we have, but do not yet see, is there any doubt that God will likewise do it? Hope isn’t based on our circumstances, nor on our experience, but on God’s promises. Although we don’t know when, or even how, we do know, as Paul said “He who calls you is faithful; he will surely do it.”
Matt Ferris lives in Wheaton, Illinois and is involved in Bible study ministry in his local church. He is also active in children's ministry and has written a number of hymns. His books include Evangelicals Adrift: Supplanting Scripture with Sacramentalism, If One Uses It Lawfully: The Law of Moses and the Christian Life and Losing Religion, Finding Jesus: Moving beyond Cultural Christianity. He and his wife have been married since 1987 and have four adult children and six grandchildren. He blogs at gentlemantheologian.com. You can follow him on Twitter @ferrismattic.