Meditations in Exodus: 1. Circumstances
Ex 1:5-7 The descendants of Jacob numbered seventy in all; Joseph was already in Egypt. Now Joseph and all his brothers and all that generation died, but the Israelites were fruitful and multiplied greatly and became exceedingly numerous, so that the land was filled with them.
Exodus has never before seemed to me to be a fruitful field for mediation but its seems to call and especially with the question, what can I learn from what I read? This obviously should always be the background question that must follow in study of the Bible after finding out first what the original writers sought to convey, else that study simply remains an intellectual exercise. But God’s word is here to teach us, challenge us and train us (see 2 Tim 3:16).
The account starts out by reminding us who were the sons of Israel who now found themselves in Egypt with old man Israel: eleven sons, Joseph already being there (1:1-5), seventy (or 75 according to the footnote) in all. They had come because of a famine that covered the whole of the area. Very clearly, in hindsight at least, God had used Joseph to become the bringer of wisdom to the king of Egypt, both foretelling the coming years of good then bad, and how to deal with the seven years of famine that would come. It is a complex story and one which had its origins right back with grandfather Abram being given the revelation by God of what would happen: “Then the LORD said to him, “Know for certain that your descendants will be strangers in a country not their own, and they will be enslaved and mistreated four hundred years. But I will punish the nation they serve as slaves, and after ward they will come out with great possessions.” (Gen 15:13,14). It is also a story of mystery.
Now why do I say that? Well, the question has to arise in the thoughtful person, did God simply know that in the workings of this fallen world a famine would occur in the not too distant future or did He purposefully bring it? Knowing it was coming, could He not have prevented it? Knowing it was coming, did He have to allow Joseph to go through years of slavery and imprisonment before being brought into Pharaoh’s court with divine knowledge and wisdom to help him? Knowing that Israel and his family would end up in Egypt could He not have told them to go back home after the famine was past so they did not end up in a disadvantageous position in the centuries to come? All good and valid questions!
Well there was a clue given two verses on: “In the fourth generation your descendants will come back here, for the sin of the Amorites has not yet reached its full measure.” (Gen 15:16) Much, much later on in the story the Lord reveals that He has a threefold purpose that will be revealed nearer the end of the story and it is well to keep these things in mind throughout:
- To bring judgment on Egypt for all their superstitious and occult-based idol worship and the intransigent pride of the Pharaoh who will be ruling in some four hundred years time,
- To being judgment on the Canaanites (‘Amorites’ is shorthand for the Canaanite mixed peoples) who will become another general people-group who will have degenerated into pagan occult idol worship of the most terrible kind, and
- To provide Israel with a home of their own, in a manner they will never forget and which will reveal amazing things about God.
Now of course all these thing become clear only in retrospect. How much of it all was simply the outworkings of a broken, fallen world, and the sinful goings on of people, and how much of it was the purposeful working of God we can never know. It is clear from Scripture that God works through His knowledge of what people will do and how they will respond, and so He will intervene in ways that help direct, guide or change the affairs of men. He never seems to make men and women respond in the ways they do but He clearly knows how they will respond in given circumstances.
So what do these ponderings on the early affairs of life of Israel teach us? Well first of all that the circumstances that we find ourselves in are a combination of:
- the workings of a broken and fallen world that ‘goes wrong’
- the activities of sinful human beings, including us! and
- the intervention and working of Almighty, all-knowing and all-wise God
Moreover, in respect of where we are in history, it comes from
- a life of interaction of all these things,
- many of which we will not be aware and
- which we do not know their destination, i.e. where they are taking us.
Does that leave a sense of lost-ness, for that is what a lot of people do genuinely feel deep down, and that is quite understandable. If we do not believe in God, then life is just a random jumble. We may believe in God but a God who keeps things close to His chest and we are left in the dark. But that isn’t how it is supposed to be with Christians for the New Testament gives us a sense that there IS purpose and direction to our lives.
For example, “he chose us in him before the creation of the world…. he made known to us the mystery of his will according to his good pleasure, which he purposed in Christ, to be put into effect when the times will have reached their fulfillment.”(Eph 1:4,9,10) Then a little later on, “we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.” (Eph 2:10) Whatever else those verses say, they indicate God has plans and purposes and we are part of them.
So, is this world a mess of random and shamble-like circumstances. A mess? Yes, it seems like that sometimes. Random? Well not really but we’ve seen how various things interact with one another. Shamble-like? Well it may seem like that sometimes but we need to remind ourselves of some fundamental truths: “Jesus said…, “My Father is always at his work to this very day, and I, too, am working.” (Jn 5:17) and “we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” (Rom 8:28) God does not sit around doing nothing. He has plans and purposes and He is constantly working on them and however we are involved He is working to bring good into our lives – in all things!
How much Israel was aware of being in God’s purposes we can’t be fully sure but there are certainly some things He was clear about and we’ll pick them up in the next study.