God made a promise to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. He made more than one actually, but the one primarily in view in Exodus 1-18 is the one to which Joseph alludes at the end of Genesis: God will bring Israel out of Egypt and give to them the land He swore to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob (Gen. 50:24). To keep that promise, Israel must be set free from Egypt’s bondage.
1. God is still the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob (chs. 1-2)
The expression “the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob” (3:6, 15-16; 4:5) occurs only here in the Old Testament. Why such an expression if these three patriarchs are long dead? Because He is still their God and all His promises to them are still in force. And because their descendants are in deep bondage and He is a covenant-keeping God, He now (in Exodus) moves to deliver Israel from bondage in Egypt (2:24).
Being the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, even after they have died, also implies that those three men are technically still alive, a point Jesus makes in a discussion with the Sadducees: “He is not the God of the dead but of the living” (Matt. 22:32).
2. The God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob is the eternal I AM (chs. 3-6)
Exodus 1-18 deepens our understanding of Yahweh (or Jehovah) as the name of the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. God has multiple titles or appellations: God, God Most High, God Almighty, Lord, Lord of hosts, and many others. But He has only one name—Yahweh—and that name is clearly revealed in the Exodus from Egypt in a way that it had not been revealed before. The name Yahweh is related to the Hebrew verb of being. That’s why God explained His name to Moses at the burning bush as “I AM that I AM” (3:14). Essentially, the name Yahweh means “He is.” And if He is, then He is always the same. He is what He was, and He is what He will be. He is the same God who made a covenant with Abraham, Isaac, and is now at work to fulfill the promises He made to them. “I have remembered My covenant; therefore, tell the children of Israel, I am Yahweh, and I will bring you out from under the forced labor of the Egyptians, and I will deliver you from bondage to them, and I will redeem you with an outstretched arm and with great acts of judgment” (6:5b-6).
3. The eternal I AM is greater than Pharaoh and all the gods of Egypt (chs. 7-12)
Pharaoh stands between God’s promises to the patriarchs and the fulfillment of those promises. But Exodus 1-18 reveals that Pharaoh is no obstacle at all to the eternal I AM who, through a succession of plagues, humbles Pharaoh and brings Egypt to its knees. The Egyptians themselves voice their concern to Pharaoh, “Do you not yet realize that Egypt is destroyed?” (10:7). Nothing but divine power could break the obstinacy of Pharaoh’s heart. “I know that the king of Egypt will not allow you to go except by a powerful hand” (3:19). God’s was the powerful hand that freed Israel from Pharaoh and from their bondage (see 13:3, 9, 14, 16). In the climactic tenth plague, God killed the firstborn of every household that had not slain a lamb and applied its blood to the doorposts. Every year, Israel was to commemorate this event as the Passover (12:24-27). Where there is blood, God passes over.
All the might of ancient Egypt proved no match for Israel’s God. Even Moses’ father-in-law Jethro comes to faith in Israel’s God as a result of the acts of great power poured out on Egypt: “now I know that Yahweh is greater than all the gods of Egypt” (18:11).
4. Yahweh leads Israel out of Egypt and on their way toward the Promised Land (chs. 13-18)
Much journeying and many trials lay ahead before Israel would see the fulfillment of God’s promise to bring them into the land He had promised Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. So God led them out in a way that recognized their weakness and magnified His greatness. He avoided the way of the Philistines, knowing they were not yet ready for war. He deliberately pinned them against the Red Sea in order to let them see a signal demonstration of His power over Pharaoh, one that they would hopefully never forget and one that would buoy them for the challenges that lay ahead. Even Marah’s lack of water and the daily provision of manna was a test to deepen Israel’s confidence in God and to foster obedience to Him. Too often, Israel responded to God’s tests of them by testing God in return. They doubted and murmured instead of trusted and obeyed. In spite of all the wonders God had done in Egypt and at the Red Sea, Israel still had a lot to learn about the God who was so powerfully and thoughtfully working out the fulfillment of His promise to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.
God is also working out the fulfillment of all His promises to you and to me. As He does so, He is revealing to us Himself and His ways. He wants us to see that no modern-day “Pharaoh” can hold back or hinder the promises of the eternal I AM. He wants us to see His thoughtful, powerful care as He fulfills His promises to us. He wants our hold on His promises and our experience of their fulfillment to deepen our understanding of and relationship with Him, the Keeper of those promises.
- What promise at the end of Genesis does Joseph expect God to fulfill?
- To whom did God make that promise? (Should we expect the fulfillment of all God’s promises during this lifetime?)
- Think of two or three promises in the Bible that apply to you and that you especially feel the need of?
- Do you expect God to fulfill these promises to you?
- How can meditating on what God did for Israel in Exodus 1-18 help you to more fully trust Him to fulfill His promises to you?
- Just as He did for Israel in the exodus from Egypt, God wants to reveal more of Himself and His ways as He works toward the fulfillment of His promises to us. Think of a promise God has fulfilled for you or maybe a promise the fulfillment of which is still unfolding. What is God revealing to you about Himself and/or His ways through His fulfillment of that promise?
- Can mighty, obstinate Pharaoh keep God’s promise to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob from being fulfilled? What do you see as obstacles to God’s promises to you? Are they really obstacles?
- How should God’s deliverance of Israel from Egypt assure them of His care of them in their travels?