Exodus 1-40: A Five-P Book
It’s time for an "Exodus wrap-up," so to speak. I don’t normally use alliteration for making the points of a sermon or a talk, but this week it works too well not to. Exodus can be wrapped up in five P’s. Promise. Power. Purpose. Passion. Presence.
Promise. The baseline of the exodus story is God’s promise to Abraham back in Genesis 12. There God promised Abraham that Abraham would become a great nation, have numerous descendents, possess the land, and be the instrument through whom God would bless all peoples. While this is a multi-faceted promise, it is helpful to think of it in a threefold manner: offspring, land, and presence/relationship. While the offspring and land are clearly promised, there is no doubt that they carry with them a promise of God’s presence with Abraham. Only through God being with him will Abraham father a nation and possess the land.
Exodus opens with an affirmation that the offspring aspect of the promise is fulfilled. Genesis moves us in this direction through the patriarchs and the twelve sons of Israel. Exodus 1 explicitly affirms fulfillment by noting that all of Egypt is now swarming with Israelites. Abraham does indeed have offspring too numerous to count.
Exodus closes with the glory of Yahweh descending in the form of a cloud upon the newly constructed Tabernacle. Thus, in terms of the threefold promise, Exodus is the story of God coming to tabernacle among Abraham’s offspring. God is with Israel. God is Present. There is an experiential relationship.
The land aspect of the promise does not get answered until the stories of settlement and conquest of the land (Joshua). The Pentateuch (Gen. – Deut.) closes with Israel encamped along the Jordan, listening to the farewell speeches of Moses and re-covenanting with Yahweh, all in preparation of crossing into the land to possess it. The presence of Yahweh with Israel is critical to the fulfillment of possessing the land. Without the exodus story of Yahweh’s move to dwell in the midst of Israel, the possession of the land remains an impossibility. Abraham’s story could not go on.
Presence. Presence is our fifth P because Exodus closes with the tabernacle-ing of Yahweh among Israel. Yahweh comes to dwell in their midst. This is the climax of the narrative. From Yahweh’s speech with Moses at the burning bush the narrative has been driving towards this event, or better, Yahweh has been driving events towards this moment. In a sense, Exodus answers the question and doubts about the promise of Presence. Israel belongs to Pharaoh – dare we say they are literally "Pharaoh’s people" – and it appears that Yahweh has forgotten them. Yes, they are multiplying, but they are slaves working someone else’s land.
Is God really with them? The burning bush message to Moses is that "I have seen and I have heard, and I will bring the Israelites to Myself to worship Me." Thus, while Exodus closes with the climactic tabarnacle-ing of Yahweh among the Israelites, it also shows that Yahweh was with Israel every step of the way from bondage to Sinai. Exodus culminates in Presence, but it also testifies that Yahweh is Present through and through.
Framed by Promise and Presence, we come to the interior P’s of Power, Purpose, and Passion, which arise out of Yahweh’s self-Presentation (another P!) through the proclamation of His personal Name to Moses. Power, Purpose, and Passion correspond respectively to Yahweh at the burning bush (ch. 3:13 ff.), Yahweh after an initial, perplexing failure (6:6-8), and Yahweh in response to Israel’s sin and Moses’ probing (34:6-7).
Power. The first revelation of the Name occurs at the burning bush when Moses asks God about God’s name. "Suppose I go to the Israelites and say to them, ‘The God of your fathers has sent me to you,’ and they ask me, ‘What is his name?’ Then what shall I tell them?" Notice that the name question is not an identity question. There is no mistaking which God it is that has sent Moses: the God of your fathers. The name question is really a character question, and more specifically, a power question.
In other words, "What am I to tell them when they ask if you, God, are really powerful enough to deliver on this promise of liberation?" Is the God of Abraham more powerful than the ruling Pharaoh? Is God’s name greater than Pharaoh’s name? The answer: "YAHWEH." "I AM." And by implication, Pharaoh is not. It is Yahweh whose presence and word determines reality. Yahweh, not Pharaoh, is the one to be reckoned with. It is Yahweh’s claim upon Israel that ultimately matters. Yahweh is the powerful One, not Pharaoh. Yahweh will win this power struggle. Pharaoh is no match. Pharaoh’s claims are bogus. Yahweh IS.
Purpose. The grand purpose of Yahweh is disclosed to Moses in Yahweh’s second declaration of His Name. Moses had just experienced an embarrassing failure before Pharaoh. Moses said to Pharaoh, "Thus says Yahweh, ‘Let my people go…’" and Pharaoh answered, "Who?" Moses tried it again, and still no freedom. Instead, Pharaoh increased the bitterness of Israel’s slavery, causing the Israelites to turn against Moses in the process. Moses promptly challenged the Lord (5:22, and notice this is not the Name, LORD) regarding why this has happened.
In this complaint and the use of Lord instead of Yahweh, Moses was raising power questions and purpose questions. Yahweh was up to the task of answering the questions. He began by reasserting His power, and then moved to a declaration of purpose framed by "I am Yahweh" (6:6-8). Yahweh’s purpose was fourfold: (1) to liberate Israel, (2) to take Israel as His covenant people, (3) to be known experientially by Israel, and (4) to bless Israel with the land.
In this revelation of the Name we see that Yahweh’s purpose goes beyond liberation to the creating of a covenant people to whom He will be Present. This covenant purpose is pressed out even further at Sinai where Yahweh invites Israel to enter into covenant that He might make them into a holy nation and a kingdom of priests. Yahweh seeks to make Israel into the people that mediates His ultimately saving, blessing Presence to all creation (19:3-7).
Passion. Having said yes to Yahweh’s covenant proposal, Israel immediately threw the covenant and Yahweh’s purpose into jeopardy with their sin of the golden calf. The covenant was broken, shattered beyond repair. Is this the end of Yahweh’s Presence with Israel? Had Yahweh’s purpose been thwarted forever? Would the story end "sadly-ever-after?" Some pretty heavy conversation took place between Yahweh and Moses, peaking with another revelation of the Name. (In Exodus the heaviest conversations always end with a fresh revelation of YAHWEH.) God declared, "Yahweh. Yahweh. The compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, maintaining steadfast love to thousands, forgiving wickedness, rebellion, and sin, yet not failing to punish the guilty."
In this gracious declaration of the Name the gospel truth was revealed: Yahweh was so passionate for His people and His purpose that while Israel’s sin may have significantly impeded His covenant relation with Israel and the fulfillment of His purpose, Israel’s sin could not ultimately deter Yahweh from embracing His people or accomplishing His purpose. Yahweh’s passion for Israel was stronger than Israel’s rebellion against Yahweh. Yahweh’s passion to fulfill His purpose was stronger than Israel’s ability to cut short that purpose. Just as Yahweh would not be defeated by Pharaoh, so Yahweh would not be ultimately hindered by Israel. Compared to both oppressive Pharaoh and rebellious Israel, Yahweh IS.
And thus the five P’s of Exodus: Promise, Power, Purpose, Passion, and Presence. As the story unfolds, it becomes apparent that all five P’s are operative throughout the narrative. My hope and prayer is that we discover them to be ever operative within our own lives.
That’s our Exodus wrap-up. My prayer is that God has given you a "good read," not just through Exodus Talks, but more importantly through Exodus.
Know the Tabernacle-ing God. Be a tabernacle of Presence.