Providence in Exodus

If Genesis was quietly, but consistently, demonstrating the providential power of God, then Exodus demonstrates it in all its miraculous glory.

Exodus 1-4 – The Introduction

The first question of Exodus in terms of providence is – where is God? The first chapter shows his people being oppressed in the land that he brought them to, and he is silent apart from some minor blessings to the Hebrew midwives. In the second chapter, we see a baby boy being saved from the slaughter through a set of circumstances that are clearly providential, but as he grows up, God still seems to be failing to protect his people, and Moses’ abortive effort sees hi fleeing into Midian. Only at the end of chapter 2, do we see God coming into action.

23 During those many days the king of Egypt died, and the people of Israel groaned because of their slavery and cried out for help. Their cry for rescue from slavery came up to God. 24 And God heard their groaning, and God remembered his covenant with Abraham, with Isaac, and with Jacob. 25 God saw the people of Israel—and God knew. (Ex 2:23-25)

 However, the first two chapters of Exodus cover quite a few decades – the whole reign of a Pharaoh. During these years, God seems to be completely inactive, in stark contrast to his constant visible engagement with the lives of the Patriarchs. What is Israel to think in this time? There are two clear mistakes that they could make:

  1. Forget or forsake God: They could decide that God has abandoned them, or God no longer exists, or God is no longer their God, or the stories of the Patriarchs were just nice stories, and not what to expect today, or some variation or combination of the above.
  2. Try to fix the problem themselves: They could have concluded that God had clearly told them what he wanted – Israel to rule Palestine – and that God wanted them to make it happen. They could have concluded that the oppression by Egypt was a fundamentally wrong situation, and that promoting God’s good natural order meant changing the political situation some way – possibly by revolution.

What were they supposed to do?


God had a plan all along and Israel should have known their God well enough to know that all they had to do was wait for him to put it into action. Israel were not going to save themselves, and they were not going to judge Egypt themselves – it was all going to be an act of God.

A reasonable case could be made that Israel actually made the first mistake. The language of 2:23 is a bit vague, but the plain reading seems to imply that Israel had not cried out to God until this point in history (although it could be saying that they had been crying out for some time, but now God was going to respond). Is this a case of turning to God as a last resort, rather than resting in the knowledge of his providence?

The next main section of Exodus is God acting with spectacular power, and his people pretty much coming along for the ride. First he calls Moses through a burning bush, and his call makes it perfectly clear that God will be doing all the work:

7 Then the Lord said, “I have surely seen the affliction of my people who are in Egypt and have heard their cry because of their taskmasters. I know their sufferings, 8 and I have come down to deliver them out of the hand of the Egyptians and to bring them up out of that land to a good and broad land, a land flowing with milk and honey, to the place of the Canaanites, the Hittites, the Amorites, the Perizzites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites. 9 And now, behold, the cry of the people of Israel has come to me, and I have also seen the oppression with which the Egyptians oppress them. 10 Come, I will send you to Pharaoh that you may bring my people, the children of Israel, out of Egypt.” 11 But Moses said to God, “Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh and bring the children of Israel out of Egypt?” 12 He said, “But I will be with you, and this shall be the sign for you, that I have sent you: when you have brought the people out of Egypt, you shall serve God on this mountain.” (Ex 3:7-12)

16 Go and gather the elders of Israel together and say to them, ‘The Lord, the God of your fathers, the God of Abraham, of Isaac, and of Jacob, has appeared to me, saying, “I have observed you and what has been done to you in Egypt, 17 and I promise that I will bring you up out of the affliction of Egypt to the land of the Canaanites, the Hittites, the Amorites, the Perizzites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites, a land flowing with milk and honey.”‘ 18 And they will listen to your voice, and you and the elders of Israel shall go to the king of Egypt and say to him, ‘The Lord, the God of the Hebrews, has met with us; and now, please let us go a three days ‘journey into the wilderness, that we may sacrifice to the Lord our God. ‘ 19 But I know that the king of Egypt will not let you go unless compelled by a mighty hand. 20 So I will stretch out my hand and strike Egypt with all the wonders that I will do in it; after that he will let you go. 21 And I will give this people favor in the sight of the Egyptians; and when you go, you shall not go empty, 22 but each woman shall ask of her neighbor, and any woman who lives in her house, for silver and gold jewelry, and for clothing. You shall put them on your sons and on your daughters. So you shall plunder the Egyptians.” (Ex 3:16-22)

God gives Moses miraculous signs to take to Pharaoh, and still Moses has difficulty believing that God’s plan is the right one. His first response is that he is not capable of doing things the way that God has laid out.

Moses said to the Lord, “Pardon your servant, Lord. I have never been eloquent, neither in the past nor since you have spoken to your servant. I am slow of speech and tongue. (Ex 4:10)

God’s response shows that Moses’ attitude was not a humble lack of faith in his own abilities, but a lack of faith that God could achieve things his way when it seems contrary to human logic

The Lord said to him, “Who gave human beings their mouths? Who makes them deaf or mute? Who gives them sight or makes them blind? Is it not I, the Lord? Now go; I will help you speak and will teach you what to say.”
But Moses said, “Pardon your servant, Lord. Please send someone else.”
Then the Lord ‘s anger burned against Moses and he said, “What about your brother, Aaron the Levite? I know he can speak well. He is already on his way to meet you, and he will be glad to see you. You shall speak to him and put words in his mouth; I will help both of you speak and will teach you what to do.(Ex 4:11-15)

God will achieve his plan, and he will perform his miracles, but he will do it his way. Once again, Moses’ job was to do exactly what he was told to do and trust that God had the rest in hand.

The Lord said to Moses, “When you return to Egypt, see that you perform before Pharaoh all the wonders I have given you the power to do. But I will harden his heart so that he will not let the people go. Then say to Pharaoh, ‘This is what the Lord says:Israel is my firstborn son, and I told you, “Let my son go, so he may worship me.” But you refused to let him go; so I will kill your firstborn son. ‘” (Ex 4:21-23)

 Exodus 5- The Exodus

The second major section of Exodus is the clash between Yahweh, through Moses and Aaron, and Pharaoh. The is the classic, formative, account of Israel’s beginnings, that establishes God as the all-powerful creator who acts with power to save his people. The theme of God’s sovereignty and power is so obvious in this section, and so pervasive, that there is not point going over every instance. Some major sub-themes are worth noting:

Spectacular miracles showing God’s power over natural forces

10 plagues

Parting the red sea

Pillars of fire and cloud

Near the end of the plagues, in the plague of hail, God directly links the plagues with his providential control.

13 Then the Lord said to Moses, “Get up early in the morning, confront Pharaoh and say to him, ‘This is what the Lord, the God of the Hebrews, says:Let my people go, so that they may worship me, 14 or this time I will send the full force of my plagues against you and against your officials and your people, so you may know that there is no one like me in all the earth. 15 For by now I could have stretched out my hand and struck you and your people with a plague that would have wiped you off the earth. 16 But I have raised you up for this very purpose, that I might show you my power and that my name might be proclaimed in all the earth. (Ex 9:13-16)

The plagues are not just an expression of God’s power – they are a demonstration of it. The Exodus is not just about getting Israel out of Egypt – he could do that through stealth – God is delivering this barrage of plagues to show to all the nations that he is the ruler of the universe and is in control of everything.

God’s power over Pharaoh’s reactions

God says that he will harden Pharaoh’s heart (Ex 4:21, 7:4-5).

Pharaoh’s heart became hard (Ex 7:13, 23)

Pharaoh hardened his heart (Ex 8:15, 32)  “just as the Lord had said” (Ex 8:15). Note Exodus 9:34-10:2

God hardened Pharaoh’s heart (Ex 9:7, 10:20)

This is not just God controlling the emotions of one man, but the actions of the ruler of the greatest super power of the age. By showing his power over Pharaoh, God is showing his power over every nation on earth. There is nothing outside of his direct control for the good of his people.


God protects his people from oppression

whether we see Pharaoh as an oppressive foreign power, or an oppressive government.

note the power of Pharaoh’s army – 600 chariots in ch 14

14:14 The Lord will fight for you; you need only to be still.”

Ex 17 – battle with the amalekites

God provided his people’s needs

Plundering the Egyptians 11:1-3

12:33 The Egyptians urged the people to hurry and leave the country. “For otherwise,” they said, “we will all die!” 34 So the people took their dough before the yeast was added, and carried it on their shoulders in kneading troughs wrapped in clothing. 35 The Israelites did as Moses instructed and asked the Egyptians for articles of silver and gold and for clothing. 36 The Lord had made the Egyptians favorably disposed toward the people, and they gave them what they asked for; so they plundered the Egyptians.

Ch 16 – manna and quail

Israel’s response

Israel’s initial response was skepticism and resistance

5:20 When they left Pharaoh, they found Moses and Aaron waiting to meet them, 21 and they said, “May the Lord look on you and judge you! You have made us obnoxious to Pharaoh and his officials and have put a sword in their hand to kill us.” 22 Moses returned to the Lord and said, “Why, Lord, why have you brought trouble on this people? Is this why you sent me? 23 Ever since I went to Pharaoh to speak in your name, he has brought trouble on this people, and you have not rescued your people at all.”

6:6 “Therefore, say to the Israelites:’I am the Lord, and I will bring you out from under the yoke of the Egyptians. I will free you from being slaves to them, and I will redeem you with an outstretched arm and with mighty acts of judgment. 7 I will take you as my own people, and I will be your God. Then you will know that I am the Lord your God, who brought you out from under the yoke of the Egyptians. 8 And I will bring you to the land I swore with uplifted hand to give to Abraham, to Isaac and to Jacob. I will give it to you as a possession. I am the Lord. ‘”
9 Moses reported this to the Israelites, but they did not listen to him because of their discouragement and harsh labor.

Then they are faithful in action during the last plague – the plague of the 1st son, but this does not last long

14:10 As Pharaoh approached, the Israelites looked up, and there were the Egyptians, marching after them. They were terrified and cried out to the Lord. 11 They said to Moses, “Was it because there were no graves in Egypt that you brought us to the desert to die? What have you done to us by bringing us out of Egypt? 12 Didn’t we say to you in Egypt, ‘Leave us alone; let us serve the Egyptians’? It would have been better for us to serve the Egyptians than to die in the desert!”

16:1 The whole Israelite community set out from Elim and came to the Desert of Sin, which is between Elim and Sinai, on the fifteenth day of the second month after they had come out of Egypt. 2 In the desert the whole community grumbled against Moses and Aaron. 3 The Israelites said to them, “If only we had died by the Lord ‘s hand in Egypt! There we sat around pots of meat and ate all the food we wanted, but you have brought us out into this desert to starve this entire assembly to death.”

19 Then Moses said to them, “No one is to keep any of it until morning.”
20 However, some of them paid no attention to Moses; they kept part of it until morning, but it was full of maggots and began to smell. So Moses was angry with them.

26 Six days you are to gather it, but on the seventh day, the Sabbath, there will not be any.”
27 Nevertheless, some of the people went out on the seventh day to gather it, but they found none. 28 Then the Lord said to Moses, “How long will you refuse to keep my commands and my instructions?

17:1 The whole Israelite community set out from the Desert of Sin, traveling from place to place as the Lord commanded. They camped at Rephidim, but there was no water for the people to drink. 2 So they quarreled with Moses and said, “Give us water to drink.” Moses replied, “Why do you quarrel with me? Why do you put the Lord to the test?”
3 But the people were thirsty for water there, and they grumbled against Moses. They said, “Why did you bring us up out of Egypt to make us and our children and livestock die of thirst?”

Celebration and remembrance of God’s actions

12:17 “Celebrate the Festival of Unleavened Bread, because it was on this very day that I brought your divisions out of Egypt.

24 “Obey these instructions as a lasting ordinance for you and your descendants. 25 When you enter the land that the Lord will give you as he promised, observe this ceremony. 26 And when your children ask you, ‘What does this ceremony mean to you? ‘ 27 then tell them, ‘It is the Passover sacrifice to the Lord, who passed over the houses of the Israelites in Egypt and spared our homes when he struck down the Egyptians. ‘”


13:3 Then Moses said to the people, “Commemorate this day, the day you came out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery, because the Lord brought you out of it with a mighty hand.

13:8 On that day tell your son, ‘I do this because of what the Lord did for me when I came out of Egypt. ‘ 9 This observance will be for you like a sign on your hand and a reminder on your forehead that this law of the Lord is to be on your lips. For the Lord brought you out of Egypt with his mighty hand. 10 You must keep this ordinance at the appointed time year after year.

14 “In days to come, when your son asks you, ‘What does this mean? ‘ say to him, ‘With a mighty hand the Lord brought us out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery. 15 When Pharaoh stubbornly refused to let us go, the Lord killed the firstborn of both people and animals in Egypt. This is why I sacrifice to the Lord the first male offspring of every womb and redeem each of my firstborn sons. ‘ 16 And it will be like a sign on your hand and a symbol on your forehead that the Lord brought us out of Egypt with his mighty hand.”

to ch18


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