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“The Counsel of the Lord, that shall stand.”
“….And all the souls that came out of the loins of Jacob were seventy souls: for Joseph was in Egypt already. And Joseph died, and all his brethren, and all that generation. And the children of Israel were fruitful, and increased abundantly, and multiplied, and waxed exceeding mighty; and the land was filled with them. Now there arose up a new king over Egypt, which knew not Joseph….And Pharaoh charged all his people, saying, Every son that is born ye shall cast into the river, and every daughter ye shall save alive.” (Exodus 1:1-22)
Knowing God’s promises, that “all things work together for good to them that love God, to them that are called, according to his purpose,” that “no evil shall happen to the just,” that “no weapon that is formed against thee shall prosper,” how often have you looked at your circumstances and thought, “I know those promises are true, but everything I see, everything I am experiencing, everything I feel appears to me to be evil and is telling me that all things are against me, every weapon formed against me is prospering”?
That is exactly how the children of Israel must have felt when they found themselves bondmen in Egypt, serving as slave laborers under cruel taskmasters, who made their lives bitter, according to the whims of Egypt’s reprobate king, Pharaoh. God had promised that he would be with them, bless them in all things and at all times, that he would make them a great nation. He had promised to give them all the spoils of the land of Egypt. But Pharaoh ordered that the nation be destroyed, that every male child born to the children of Israel be drowned as soon as it was born. They must have thought the same thing their father Jacob thought when Joseph was secretly arranging to bring them down into Egypt. — “All these things are against me.” Read Exodus chapter 1 and you will see why they might have entertained such thoughts.
Let me call your attention to three things that appear to me to be matters of great importance as we study the Book of Exodus and the events recorded in these chapters by divine inspiration. And what I am saying here about Exodus applies to all the Old Testament Scriptures.
First, we should always remember that the nation of Israel was chosen of God, used of God, and blessed of God for spiritual, not carnal, reasons. It was never God’s intention that Christ would come to the earth to reign as a physical king over Abraham’s physical descendents. Rather, God used Abraham’s physical descendents (the nation of Israel) to accomplish his purpose of grace toward his elect, the spiritual seed of Abraham, his church, called in the New Testament “the Israel of God.” Israel was, throughout the Old Testament, typical of God’s church. All God’s dealings with Israel as a nation have a spiritual meaning, and must be interpreted in a spiritual way as applying to you and me, the church of God. By preserving the nation of Israel, the Lord God graciously preserved Abraham’s seed, through whom Christ, the woman’s Seed, came into this world. As God fulfilled all his promises to the nation of Israel when he brought them into the land of Canaan (Joshua 21:43-45), so he will fulfil all the promises he has made to his elect, Abraham’s spiritual seed, in Christ (Romans 11:25-27).
Second, the Holy Spirit tells us that everything that happened in the book of Exodus, indeed, everything that happened in the history of the Old Testament, was not only written for our instruction, but also happened for our instruction. Everything that came to pass was brought to pass by our God for our instruction, comfort, and edification in the knowledge of Christ (Romans 15:4; 1 Corinthians 10:1-6, 11).
Third, everything in the history of Israel is directly related to the redemption of our souls by Christ. Let me show you something in Luke 9:31. You will recall that on the mount of transfiguration Moses and Elijah appeared with our Savior on the mount. When they did, they spoke to him about “his decease which he would accomplish at Jerusalem.” That means that our Savior’s substitutionary death at Jerusalem was not something that happened to him. It was something accomplished by him. It was the accomplishment of God’s eternal purpose, all the prophecies, pictures, and types of the Old Testament, God’s covenant promises, and our eternal redemption.
But the word decease in verse 31 is particularly instructive. The word that is translated “decease” (exodov) is the word “exodus.” The word means “departing.” And the departing, the exodus, that our Savior accomplished in his death was typically portrayed throughout the Book of Exodus.
Israel in Egypt
Now, let’s look at Exodus chapter one. The first thing we see is the fact that Israel is now in Egypt.
“Now these are the names of the children of Israel, which came into Egypt; every man and his household came with Jacob. Reuben, Simeon, Levi, and Judah, Issachar, Zebulun, and Benjamin, Dan, and Naphtali, Gad, and Asher. And all the souls that came out of the loins of Jacob were seventy souls: for Joseph was in Egypt already” (vv. 1-5).
These verses show us that the Book of Exodus is a continuation of the Book of Genesis. It is but another part of God’s unfolding drama of redemption set before us upon the pages of Holy Scripture.
As the word “exodus” suggests, the theme of this book is redemption. In the Book of Genesis, the book of beginnings, we have first the creation, then the fall, and then the promise of redemption. In Genesis 3:15 God promised that he would send his Son into the world, as the seed of woman, to crush the serpent’s head and deliver his elect from the ruins of sin and death by the sacrifice of himself. He promised the coming of another Adam in and by whom his people would be redeemed (Galatians 4:4-5).
After making the promise of redemption in Genesis 3:15, the Lord gave Adam and Eve a vivid picture of how he would accomplish it. He killed an innocent victim, stripped Adam and Eve of their fig leaves, and clothed them with the skins of the slain victim. When Abel came to worship God, he brought the firstlings of his flock, indicating his faith in God’s promise, trusting Christ the Lamb of God, and was accepted. Cain brought the fruit of his own labor, despising Christ, and was rejected. Because he was rejected and Abel was accepted, Cain hated his brother and murdered him. That was the first display of the enmity, the malice, and hatred the seed of the serpent has for the woman’s Seed.
But God’s purpose was not thwarted by Cain. The Lord brought another man into the world, Seth, by whom he would bring in the woman’s Seed. Later, after the flood, he chose Noah’s son, Shem, as the one through whom Christ must come. Then, he called Abraham, and declared that through him our Savior must come into the world, and promised that by that One who would come he would give the blessing of his grace and salvation to all nations. Abraham believed God, built an altar, offered sacrifices, and worshipped. Then, God told Abraham that the things that we see in the Book of Exodus would come to pass (Genesis 15:13-14).
Abraham had two sons: Ishmael and Isaac. God chose Isaac. Isaac had two sons: Esau and Jacob. God chose Jacob. Jacob and his twelve sons, with their families (70 souls in all), came down to Egypt. That is where the Book of Genesis closes and the Book of Exodus begins. You can see why Genesis is very properly called “the seed-plot of the Bible.”
As the book of beginnings, Genesis displays many, many things. Still, it ends with Joseph dead and Israel in Egypt. In Exodus there is just one subject — redemption. It vividly portrays the redemption of God’s elect by the purpose of God, by the purchase of blood, and by the power of grace.
Everything was going well for Jacob and his sons in Egypt. When Joseph brought them into the land, he was prime minister of Egypt, second only to Pharaoh. Joseph arranged for his family to dwell in Goshen, the richest, most fertile, well-watered place in Egypt. There they prospered. Then we read, “And Joseph died, and all his brethren, and all that generation” (v. 6). Let me remind you of three things here. They are things that we need to remember.
First, you and I must die. At God’s appointed time, you and I shall leave this world of time and pass into another, everlasting, eternal world, either a world of eternal woe or a world of eternal bliss. “It is appointed unto men once to die.” Let us be wise. May God teach us to number our days and apply our hearts to Wisdom, to Christ who is our Wisdom.
Second, though we all must die, God’s people lose nothing, and gain much by death. In fact, when our bodies die, we begin to live and never die (John 11:25). “Blessed are the dead that die in the Lord.” “Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of his saints.” That means there is no reason for any ransomed soul to fear death.
Third, though God’s servants die, God’s purpose endures. Though God’s servants die, God’s promise stands. Though God’s servants die, God’s church survives. The loss of Don Fortner will be no loss to God’s work, God’s people, or God’s purpose. When my appointed time has come, when my work is finished and I have breathed my last mortal breath, my death will not make the slightest hesitation in the accomplishment of God’s purpose. — “One generation passeth away, and another generation cometh: but the earth abideth for ever” (Ecclesiastes 1:4).
I could not help laughing with thankful joy, when I read John Trapp’s comment on verse 6. — “God also maketh haste to have the number of his elect fulfilled; and, therefore, despatcheth away the generations.”
“And the children of Israel were fruitful, and increased abundantly, and multiplied, and waxed exceeding mighty; and the land was filled with them” (v. 7). — While they were in the land of Egypt, the children of Israel grew into a great nation. They prospered greatly. The nation grew from 70 souls to 600,000 men, besides women and children (Exodus 12:37). That makes their number, I would imagine, about 4,000,000. And as long as we are in this world, God’s church continues to grow and multiply.
Back in Genesis 1:28 God commanded Adam and Eve to be fruitful, to multiply, and to replenish the earth. That was his command in the original creation. God gave the same commandment to Noah when he came off the ark (Genesis 9:1). And he repeatedly promised Abraham that he would make him fruitful, that he would make his seed multiply, and that he would make his seed a blessing to the earth (Genesis 17:2; 22:17).
There are a good many people who take those commandments to Adam and Noah, and those promises to Abraham to mean that men and women are to produce as many children as possible, regardless of their ability to provide for and educate them. But they forget the command and the promise was given in context with God’s covenant and promise of redemption. Its connection is not with physical descendants, but with spiritual descendants. Our Lord’s new creation command to his church is to be fruitful, multiply, replenish the earth, and subdue it (Matthew 28:18-20). And his promise is that we shall (Romans 11:26; Revelation 7:9; 19:6).
Verses 8-22 describe a time of great sorrow for the children of Israel. The chosen seed is looked upon as an enemy to be destroyed. The people of God are despised, treated with horrible cruelty, and mercilessly persecuted.
“Now there arose up a new king over Egypt, which knew not Joseph” (v. 8). — Nothing is so quickly forgotten as kindness and a magnanimous spirit. Joseph was now dead. The new Pharaoh and the Egyptians forgot all the benefits they had received from him. Had it not been for Joseph, they would have starved to death. But now, they looked upon Joseph and his descendants as their enemies. — As Solomon tells us, “Now there was found in it a poor wise man, and he by his wisdom delivered the city; yet no man remembered that same poor man” (Ecclesiastes 9:15). How often that is the case!
“And he said unto his people, Behold, the people of the children of Israel are more and mightier than we: 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. Therefore they did set over them taskmasters to afflict them with their burdens. And they built for Pharaoh treasure cities, Pithom and Raamses. But the more they afflicted them, the more they multiplied and grew. And they were grieved because of the children of Israel. And the Egyptians made the children of Israel to serve with rigour: And they made their lives bitter with hard bondage, in mortar, and in brick, and in all manner of service in the field: all their service, wherein they made them serve, was with rigour” (Exodus 1:9-14)
The enmity of the serpent and his seed against the woman and her Seed, the enmity of Satan and this world against Christ and his church is relentless (Revelation 12). It never ceases. It never abates, but only increases. Therefore, our Savior tells us plainly, “In the world ye shall have tribulation.” The enmity of this world against God and his people may vary in its outward manifestations, but it is ever the same. If ever we fail to recognize that fact, we simply bury our heads in the sand and court misery.
Satan’s devices can never thwart God’s purposes or hinder his work. Pharaoh’s schemes did not hinder what God had purposed. Verse 12 tells us that, “the more they afflicted them, the more they multiplied and grew.” Pharaoh’s efforts at suppression were completely neutralized by the abundant increase God gave. As David sang, so we may sing, “Thou hast enlarged me when I was distressed” (Psalm 4:1).
Pharaoh and the Egyptians did make the lives of the children of Israel “bitter with hard bondage,” but that was a great blessing. Egypt typifies the world. It was not until their lives were made bitter in Egypt that the children of Israel sighed by reason of their bondage and cried out to God. — “Therefore he brought down their heart with labour; they fell down, and there was none to help. Then they cried unto the LORD in their trouble, and he saved them out of their distresses” (Psalms 107:12-13). Blessed is the soul made bitter by reason of sin and its bondage by the goodness of God. To such the Lord God makes every bitter thing sweet (Proverbs 27:7). Israel ate the Passover lamb with “bitter herbs” (Exodus 12:8). And we eat Christ our Passover with bitter tears of repentance. No sooner did they come out of Egypt than they came to the bitter waters of Marah (Exodus 15:23). But those waters were made sweet to them by the tree Moses cast into the waters. So the Lord God makes the bitter things of this world sweet to us by the cross of Christ, by the glorious gospel of his free grace in Christ.
What a blessed evidence this is of our God’s great love to us! Every persecution, every scoff, every sneer, every form of opposition we meet with in this world is but a source of blessedness for our souls! The believer will never meet with a pain, or a sickness, or a sorrow that our great God and Savior will not convert into a cause of joy (Psalm 105:23-24; Romans 8:28). Robert Hawker wrote…
“As Israel flourished more after Joseph’s death, and under the oppression of another king which knew not Joseph: so the true Israelite now literally and truly abounds more in divine things in seasons of trouble, than in the sun-shine of life. And the church of Jesus hath abundantly increased since the Redeemer’s return to glory, more than in all the time while he was personally with his disciples here upon earth.”
The rest of this chapter describes Pharaoh’s continued attempts to destroy the people of God. That is the thing that we see outwardly. But behind Pharaoh’s wicked designs, we see Satan’s relentless fury against Christ and his malicious attempts both to thwart God’s purpose, to destroy our Redeemer, and to destroy us.
“And the king of Egypt spake to the Hebrew midwives, of which the name of the one was Shiphrah, and the name of the other Puah: And he said, When ye do the office of a midwife to the Hebrew women, and see them upon the stools; if it be a son, then ye shall kill him: but if it be a daughter, then she shall live. But the midwives feared God, and did not as the king of Egypt commanded them, but saved the men children alive. And the king of Egypt called for the midwives, and said unto them, Why have ye done this thing, and have saved the men children alive? And the midwives said unto Pharaoh, Because the Hebrew women are not as the Egyptian women; for they are lively, and are delivered ere the midwives come in unto them. 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. And Pharaoh charged all his people, saying, Every son that is born ye shall cast into the river, and every daughter ye shall save alive” (Exodus 1:15-22).
Throughout the whole of this chapter, the eye of faith sees the hand of God working behind the scenes, secretly performing his will, graciously working out the salvation of his elect. Pharaoh was an absolute king in Egypt; but — “The king’s heart is in the hand of the Lord, as rivers of water: he turneth it withersover he will” (Proverbs 21:1).
None of Pharaoh’s subjects dared oppose his will. But here are two Hebrew mid-wives (Shiphrah and Puah) who defied the king’s orders because they feared God. And the Lord God sustained them, protected them, and blessed them. C. H. MacIntosh wrote, “The mightiest monarch in the world is powerless against God, and equally so against those who are identified with God and his people.” — “If God be for us, who can be against us?” (Romans 8:31)
There are many things to be learned from this chapter, lessons we need to be constantly reminded of as we make our pilgrimage through this world. May God the Holy Spirit graciously inscribe them upon our hearts and constantly bring them to our memories.
1. Satan and wicked men are utterly impotent before our God. Nothing and no one shall ever frustrate the purposes of God.
2. God’s people, his church, his kingdom, and his cause are completely invincible!
3. The fear of God will deliver us from the fear of man, even as it did Shiphrah and Puah.
4. God always honors those who honor him, just as he dealt well with the mid-wives because they honored him. Honor God and God will honor you.
5. Our God rules, everywhere, all the time, in all things!
Joseph was sold into Egypt by the wicked devices of his brothers; but he came there by the purpose of God “to save much people alive.” Israel was forced to go to Egypt because of famine, famine the Lord God brought in order to accomplish his wise and good purpose and promise (Geneses 15:13-14). I am continually filled with admiration, and made to repent of my horrid unbelief, when I pause to reflect upon these things. Whatever the deeds of men may be, even in wickedness and high-handed rebellion, they are subservient to God’s everlasting purpose of grace and love. As Peter said on the day of Pentecost concerning Christ, “Him, being delivered by the determinate counsel and foreknowledge of God, ye have taken, and by wicked hands have crucified and slain” (Acts 2:23), so it is now. That by which men intend to do us evil is designed and brought to pass by God’s purpose to do us good.
It is God’s prerogative to bring good out of evil. Joseph’s brothers sold him to the Ishmaelites. The Ishmaelites sold him to Potiphar. And Potiphar cast him into prison. But all the while the Lord God was accomplishing his own gracious purpose. The wrath of man was working his praise. There are “wheels within wheels” in the machinery of God’s providence. He uses everything to perform his unsearchable designs. Potiphar’s wife, Pharaoh’s butler, Pharaoh’s dreams, Pharaoh himself, the dungeon, the throne, the fetters, the royal signet, the famine, the order of Pharaoh to murder the baby boys born in Israel, the bricks, the mortar, and the taskmasters, yes, even Satan himself, — all were at God’s sovereign disposal. All were instruments by which God wisely performed the good pleasure of his will.
Our great God, all-wise and almighty, is in all things performing his will, unfolding his counsels of redeeming love, and doing his people good. Infidels cannot see it. Religious will-worshippers despise the fact of it; but we rejoice to know and pray for grace to walk in the light of that blessed revelation of grace all the days of our lives. “The Judge of all the earth shall do right.” And we rejoice to know that he does it for the everlasting good of our souls
“God moves in a mysterious way
His wonders to perform;
He plants His footsteps in the sea
And rides upon the storm.
Ye fearful saints, fresh courage take;
The clouds you so much dread
Are big with mercy and will break
With blessings on your head.
Judge not the Lord by feeble sense,
But trust Him for His grace.
Behind the frowning providence
He hides a smiling face.
His purposes will ripen fast,
Unfolding every hour;
The bud may have a bitter taste,
But sweet will be the flower.
Blind unbelief is sure to err
And scan His works in vain;
God is His own interpreter.
And He will make it plain.”
Surely, in the light of these facts, we ought to sing in the face of any evil, “It is well with my soul.” Even the wrath of man is yoked to the chariot wheels of God’s decrees. God give us grace to rest in his hands with childlike confidence, knowing that “the counsel of the Lord, that shall stand.”