Overview of Exodus
and Study of Exodus 1-4

January 16th

Produced by The Listening for God Ministry
Copyright 2016


The events in the book of Exodus took place circa 1300 B.C., during what is called the Late Bronze Era. When we concluded Genesis, the first few generations of descendants of Jacob had settled in Egypt to avoid a great famine, with plans to eventually return to the land of Canaan.

When we begin reading Exodus, we learn that God had delivered on his promise to multiply the offspring of Jacob. After about 400 years, the Israelites (also known as the Hebrews) now numbered around two million people and had not yet returned to the land of Canaan. Unfortunately, they were no longer treated like honored guests in Egypt. Instead, the ruler of Egypt (Pharaoh) had been oppressing the Hebrews and treated them as slaves by forcing them to build his cities. Archaeological findings concur with the account in Exodus that the Israelites were forced to work in mines and other places.

Ancient historical records help to explain how the attitude of Egypt towards the Israelites changed over the centuries due to various outside threats. The Egyptians had begun to worry that the growing population of Hebrews would become allies with one of their enemies and seek to overthrow Pharaoh.

In this book we read a narrative describing how God listened to the cries of his people and then used his power to intervene in the life of the Israelites. We will also see how God used ordinary and flawed people to achieve his goals. As we read Exodus, we can consider the ways in which he intervenes in our lives, during the Late Internet Age. We may also ponder how he might want to use us, in our flawed and damaged condition, to achieve his plans.

We will divide up the book for study purposes as shown below:

    Exodus 1-4 (Prince of Egypt) - January 16th
    Exodus 5-7 (Let My People Go!) - January 17th
    Exodus 8-10 (Faithful Persistence) - January 18th
    Exodus 11-13 (The First Passover) - January 19th
    Exodus 14-16 (Parting of the Red Sea) - January 20th
    Exodus 17-20 (The Ten Commandments) - January 21st
    Exodus 21-23 (Success Comes in Small Increments) - January 22nd
    Exodus 24-27 (First House of Worship) - January 23rd
    Exodus 28-30 (The Role of the Priest) - January 24th
    Exodus 31-34 (Rebellion in the Desert) - January 25th
    Exodus 35-37 (Moses Explains the Tabernacle Design) - January 26th
    Exodus 38-40 (Tabernacle Done!) - January 27th

References used for the analysis of this book includes the following

Exodus 1-4 (Prince of Egypt)

Please refer to one or more Bible versions of your choice to read this section. We recommend that you read at least two versions for added understanding. For your convenience, we have provided six links below, each of which takes you directly to today's chapters in a specific version:

Key Verses

God listened to their groanings.

God remembered his covenant with Abraham, with Isaac, and with Jacob.

God saw what was going on with Israel.

God understood.

- Exodus 2:24-25 (MSG)

Summary of Chapters

The first four chapters of Exodus focus primarily on the early life of Moses, set in the context of the cruelty inflicted on the Israelites by the Pharaoh and the people of Egypt.

In the first chapter we read how the Pharaoh was so paranoid about the growing population of Israelites that he ordered the death of every newborn Israelite boy. But a baby in the Levite clan, who later became known as Moses, was protected, and ironically was adopted by the Pharaoh’s family, as described in chapter 2.

The baby was given the Egyptian name of Moses and was raised as a prince of Egypt. His adopted family ensured that he was educated and trained in self-defense and other disciplines. One day he used these skills in an extreme way, killing an Egyptian who was mistreating one of the Hebrew slaves. Moses became an outlaw and made his own personal exodus to the land of Midian. Upon his arrival, he met his future wife, Zipporah, at a well, where he used his military training to defend her and her sisters from a group of mean-spirited shepherds.

During this time, God continued to hear persistent cries and groans from the people, so he put his plans into action. Chapters 3 records God’s call to Moses from a burning bush:

    When the LORD saw that he had gone over to look, God called him from within the bush, “Moses! Moses!”

    And Moses said, “Here I am.”

    -Exodus 3:4 (NIV)

God tells Moses that he is the God of his ancestors Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. He then commands Moses to rescue his people. Moses wasn’t sure how this was going to work, so he began crafting potential objections, like “What if they want to know your name?”

    God said to Moses, "I-AM-WHO-I-AM. Tell the People of Israel, 'I-AM sent me to you.'"

    God continued with Moses: "This is what you're to say to the Israelites: 'God, the God of your fathers, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob sent me to you.' This has always been my name, and this is how I always will be known."

    - Exodus 3:14-15 (MSG)

Apparently, a command from the Almighty was not sufficient to get Moses moving, so he continued to express his fear of potential obstacles as described in chapter 4:

God patiently responded to each objection - until Moses asked God to send someone else. God explained that he would perform miracles to convince people to listen and he would send Moses’ brother Aaron to be the public speaker. Finally, Moses bought into the plan and packed his bags for Egypt. He almost didn’t make it because he had failed to circumcise his son as required, and God was prepared to kill him for that omission, but Zipporah took care of it.

God contacted Aaron, as he said he would, and sent him to meet Moses on the way so that they could arrive together to execute God’s plan.

Reflection and Application

We read a familiar theme of God’s plans to use a human who is obviously flawed, and in this case one who was suffering from a severe case of lack of self-confidence. We will observe this theme throughout the Bible and are almost certain to recognize our own shortcomings in one or more of these characters. We should feel comforted when we understand how God compensates for the flaws of the Biblical people and trust that he will do the same for us, because he sees our potential in ways that humans may not. Note that God was patient with Moses' questions until he asked God to send someone else. If God sends us on an assignment then we should feel compelled to obey. We may be nervous, unsure, and afraid, but if he sent us then we can trust that he will go with us and we shall overcome our weaknesses through him.

We will find many versions of God's name in the Old Testament. What did he mean he says his the following: "My name is I am" In his study of the Old Testament, Pastor Doll told his audience that the divine name is a mystery, but when he says his name is "I am" it means he is everything (1).

Another name that we see is Yahweh, which can be traced to this section of the Bible. Father Lawrence Boadt presents a clear explanation of the connection in his book, Understanding the Old Testament. Boadt says that Yahweh "can mean something like 'He who is' or 'He who causes what is.' It derives from the verb meaning to 'to be' (hawah)." Boadt explains further that when used to define God it means “The God is who is always present (2).” Yahweh is the God of Abraham, the God of the book of Exodus, and the God of the 21st Century.

How do you think Yahweh viewed the actions of the midwives who disobeyed Pharaoh’s orders by not killing the Israelite baby boys? There are many passages in the Bible where we are instructed to obey the authorities, but there are times when we must recognize that God’s laws overrule man’s laws. This was the view of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr, who was born on yesterday's date in 1929 (January 15, 1929 – April 4, 1968).

King was an ordained Baptist Minister who executed a strategy of civil disobedience as a protest against discrimination of African-Americans in the United States during the 1950s and 1960s. He was arrested thirty times for civil disobedience but was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize and was named Time Magazine's “Man of the Year” in 1964. His leadership was the catalyst for changing hearts and enacting a set of laws designed to remove racial barriers so that people in the United States could truly be treated as equal, regardless of race. The following quote from King justifies the actions of these midwives:

    "Law and Order exist for the purpose of establishing justice and when they fail in this purpose they become the dangerously structured dams that block the flow of social programs."

    - Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr (3)

We can be encouraged by the choices made by the civilly disobedient Israelite midwives, Dr. King, and others who answered to the higher authority instead of the local authorities.

What about the murder of an Egyptian by Moses? How is that justified? Moses thought he got away with it, but later realized he had been observed. The Bible does not record an adjudication process nor any punishment from God for this particular crime, but surely God dealt with him in some private way. Dr. King would not have endorsed Moses’ action in that particular case, even when the violent act was committed to defend an innocent man who had been mistreated:

    "If you succumb to the temptation of using violence in the struggle, unborn generations will be the recipients of a long and desolate night of bitterness, and your chief legacy to the future will be an endless reign of meaningless chaos."

    - Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. (4)

Questions and Prayers for Further Reflection

    Related Questions

    1. What are some of the positive attributes of your parents and ancestors that you recognize in yourself?
    2. What are some of the appropriate responses that we can take to address oppression in our world?
    3. What are the flaws that we recognize in ourselves that are holding us back from serving God?
    Recommended Prayer
    Father, please help us to find appropriate ways to respond to injustice.

    Suggested Prayer Concerns
    People around the world who are desperately seeking freedom and equality


    (1) "Study of the Old Testament," led by the Rev. Gregory Doll, Noroton Presbyterian Church, January - May 2011
    (2) Boadt, Lawrence, Reading the Old Testament: An Introduction, Paulist Press, Mahwah, NJ; 1984, p 166-167
    (3) Quotations of Martin Luther King, Jr, Applewood Books, Bedford, MA 2004, p 14
    (4) Ibid, p.27

    Looking Ahead

    Tomorrow's reading: Exodus 5-7 (Let My People Go!)

    Comments and Questions
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