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Idle Threats

Exodus: Captivity to Covenant  •  Sermon  •  Submitted
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Intro: Do you remember years ago the swimmer Michael Phelps? The guy was an unstoppable force when it came to swimming. He still holds the record for most gold medals, 23. The closest to him is 9. When you watched, you knew the guy was getting gold. And it was amazing that even when everyone thought he was done, he came back in 2016 to Rio De Janeiro and still won more medals. He was a must watch athlete, not just in Olympics, but overall in society at that point. No matter how hard they tried, he was seemingly unbeatable.
But as we know, everyone eventually breaks down. He no longer swims in Olympic competition. No one has a perfect body forever. He’s not that same person. But the illustration helps to that end, because I want to show you in this text today, even in some of the darkest days and incredible threats against Israel, God cannot be stopped. And he cannot be stopped even today.
READ THE TEXT
CTS: Be confident that the promises of God will not be thwarted.

Introduction to Pharaoh: The Offspring of the Serpent

As we enter this text, we are immediately given a new character to engage with. We have seen that God’s people have multiplied greatly. The time has been 430 years between the death of Joseph and now. Pharaoh's over time have been positive toward the Israelites because they knew what Joseph and his family did. There is some indication that the Pharaoh of Joseph’s time was a Hyksos Pharaoh, which were foreign people that became king in Egypt. They were not full-blooded Egyptians. This was seen as detrimental to the Egyptian culture over time, and we now enter a new king who has finally had enough. Foreigners have shaped culture long enough, but now a full-blooded Egyptian is on the throne and will do whatever it takes to keep the culture pure from foreigners. This then leads us into verse 8.
Before we go further, I want to expand on the theme that we have already talked about in detail last week, but needs to be seen here and throughout the rest of Exodus, particularly the first half oIIf it. Remember that the Serpent, Satan himself, is in direct rebellion against God. He uses two primary means to carry out his purpose: deception and assault. He tempts or he outright attacks God’s people throughout Scripture. He is the Deceiver, the Tempter, Accuser, and hates God and His people. What we see here in Exodus is the work of a king, Pharaoh, but we must also view him as an offspring of the Serpent, for what he does here and throughout show that he is in direct opposition of God himself. Ryken outlines the work of Pharaoh in this way:
He resents God’s people (meant for God’s glory, they were to be free to serve him)
He rejects God’s promises (that they were to be a great nation)
He resists God’s plan (to give a land to call their own)
Hebrews 11:22 ESV
22 By faith Joseph, at the end of his life, made mention of the exodus of the Israelites and gave directions concerning his bones.
Keep these things in mind as we walk through the text.

I. The Threat of Oppression Fails (8-14)

I want you to keep this text in mind from Genesis 15:13
Genesis 15:13 ESV
13 Then the Lord said to Abram, “Know for certain that your offspring will be sojourners in a land that is not theirs and will be servants there, and they will be afflicted for four hundred years.
Its a reminder that this part of the promise and covenant made to Abraham was that before God’s people would take the promised land, they would go through difficulty and a long period of time of suffering before they promise would be fulfilled. Here we are. Something we should remember is that God ordains hard times and sufferings in our lives in order to bring us to His promise. It was the case with the Israelites, it is the case for us today, and this text shows that with clarity.

A. The attempt (8-11)

The threat of the Israelites is founded in a common tactic of those that desired to eliminate a people group. It has happened throughout history, and it has worked in many instances. What we see here is an attempt to subjugate a people by keeping them under their thumb. What Pharaoh does is begin to make the argument, because he hates these people, that they are growing too big, too powerful, and if they get any bigger and continue to roam freely throughout the land, they will be able to overthrow us and leave the land. Obviously, though he hated the people, he also desired for them to stay because of their economic contributions. He also wanted them to be in the land, because of his very plan to enslave them to be a workforce for his purposes. Pharaoh wanted glory. He wanted cities built, and what he saw was a workforce toward that end. Keep them in check, enslave them. They would build Pithom and Raamses, two Egyptian cities.
This enslavement would not only provide a workforce, but it would also bring about death. This heavy burdens, enslaved people throughout the history of the world, some die in these conditions. They would be weakened, and it would discourage multiplication because (a) they were too exhausted to pro-create (b) they wouldn’t want to bring children into a world like this.
This was the plan, to subjugate God’s people and to stop their growth.
Remember, Pharaoh as a seed of the serpent resents God’s people, rejects God’s promises to make them a great nation, and resists God’s plan to move Israel out.

B. The failure (12a)

Verse 12 shows us what happens. But…When you see that word, it should cause us to pay attention carefully. We see that word show up so many times in Scripture, pointing to the fact that God is working, despite the plans and machinations of men. Despite rebellion, despite sin, God is still working and in control, even using these very trails and oppressions to bring about His promises.
Instead of stopping growth, it actually was the catalyst to their growth. The more they were oppressed, the more they multiplied. What Pharaoh did was actually cause them to grow faster. Very clearly, we see that God is not thwarted by the plans of Pharaoh. In this spiritual war, where Satan is trying to destroy God’s people, he only fulfills the plans of God.
This has been evident already throughout the Genesis narrative, culminating in the Joseph narrative at the very end of the book, where Joseph says to his brothers these words from Genesis 50:19-20
Genesis 50:19–20 ESV
19 But Joseph said to them, “Do not fear, for am I in the place of God? 20 As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today.
Powerful Pharaoh, considered most likely at that time the most powerful person in the world, cannot thwart the plan of God. Satan cannot thwart the plan of God. We get echoes of the Genesis narrative, the command of the promise to be fruitful and multiply, and also the promise made from the seed of Eve, to crush the Enemy, the Serpent. We see the promise played out from the Abrahamic covenant, that a great nation will come from you, and in that seed the nations of the earth will blessed.

C. The results (12b-14)

The results are that God’s promises continue, and that he will not let His promises fail because of some big shot Pharaoh. He won’t let his racism, his evil work prevail.
Yet, we also see that the results of them growing leads to more fear from the Egyptians. In turn, they become even heavier handed on the Israelites. They became ruthless, making their sufferings greater.
Here is the reminder for us as God’s people: we are not immune to suffering. We see here that God will keep His promises, but it doesn’t mean that we are exempt from living in a lost and fallen world. We live with people that are in rebellion against God. God has allowed this rebellion. He even says throughout the Bible that God’s people will face suffering, even of their own doing or the doing of others.
Jesus even promised to the church John 15:18
John 15:18 ESV
18 “If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you.
The church, who are the finality of God’s people, in the early days right after Jesus’ ascension, were persecuted relentlessly. Even by a man who would later become Christianity’s greatest missionary and writer of Scripture himself, Paul.
Acts 8:1 ESV
1 And Saul approved of his execution. And there arose on that day a great persecution against the church in Jerusalem, and they were all scattered throughout the regions of Judea and Samaria, except the apostles.
The scattering of God’s people then led to this in Acts 8:4
Acts 8:4 ESV
4 Now those who were scattered went about preaching the word.
It is often in the fires of persecution, of suffering, that God’s people spread faster and further. This is evident here in the Exodus text. It is evident throughout the Bible. And it should remind us that no one in the world is at a disadvantage just because they are under persecution. It is where God purifies his church, makes it healthy, and causes it to spread faster. While Christianity is waning here in the US, in places like China and other places where persecution is heaviest, God’s people are growing exponentially. Do we want to experience persecution? No. But just because we don’t want it doesn’t mean it’s not part of God’s plan. We can trust that God is going to bring about his promises. We must be faithful to understand and trust Him. Whatever comes, whoever is seemingly “in control” in our nation or around the world, cannot thwart the plans of God. Nothing can stop his hand. Nothing can stop his redemptive work, that in Christ all the nations of the earth will be blessed.
If persecution comes, know that God is not thwarted, and that we should count it as an honor to face it. Why? Because of what the apostles and early church did and said here in Acts 5:41-42
Acts 5:41–42 ESV
41 Then they left the presence of the council, rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer dishonor for the name. 42 And every day, in the temple and from house to house, they did not cease teaching and preaching that the Christ is Jesus.
I love what Charles Spurgeon said about this very subject:
Exodus—Saved for God's Glory Prosperity Under Persecution

You shall find in any individual church that wherever evil men have conspired together, and a storm of opposition has burst forth against the saints, the heart of the Lord has been moved with compassion.… Be patient, then, my brethren, amidst the persecutions or trials you may be called upon to bear; and be thankful that they are so often overruled for the growth of the church, the spread of the gospel, and the honor of Christ.

II. The Threat of Death Fails (15-22)

Now, Pharaoh continues his attempt to stop the spread of the Israelites. As they grew, he and the people of Egypt became fearful. So, instead of outright murder, he will go behind the scenes to attempt to kill Israelites to stop their spread.

A. The attempt (15-16)

Pharaoh’s second attempt is to get the midwives of the Israelites to kill all the male children. There has been some debate if only two midwives could have been the midwives of all the Israelites. Some believe that they were “head” mid-wives. Regardless, we are only told about these two. Shiphrah and Puah.
Note something here, these are the first two names to show up outside of the first seven verses. In section that has mentioned Pharaoh many times, we don’t get his name. Its not that he didn’t have one, but that Moses under the inspiration of God as he wrote the Pentateuch, is purposely showing theological truth. The most “powerful” man in the world gets no name mentioned in Scripture. These two women (remember that women of that time didn’t hold much value. You see this throughout Scripture that women hold a very strong place in comparison to the rest of pagan nations) are named, instrumental in God’s plan to save babies and continue His covenant promises. Shiphrah and Puah, as you will see, will be instruments of God’s grace and purposes for the Israelites.
1 Corinthians 1:27 ESV
27 But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong;

B. The failure (17-19)

Remember that Scripture is a literary masterpiece as well? Moses writes here, again, mirroring the previous section, BUT. Despite all the devious plotting, the racism, the outright evil plan to murder children, God still is on the throne and will continue to fulfill His promises.
These named midwives, in direct rebellion against the most powerful man in the world, disobey his command. Why? Because they feared God more than man. They understood the morality involved, that God never condones the wrongful murder of life. God is the God of life and death, only he gets to determine it.
I am reminded of the three Hebrew men who defied the most powerful man in the world at that time, when Judah was exiled into Babylon. Told that they must worship him, and if they don’t, they would be thrown into a fiery furnace, this wis what they said: Daniel 3:16-18
Daniel 3:16–18 ESV
16 Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego answered and said to the king, “O Nebuchadnezzar, we have no need to answer you in this matter. 17 If this be so, our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace, and he will deliver us out of your hand, O king. 18 But if not, be it known to you, O king, that we will not serve your gods or worship the golden image that you have set up.”
Much like those men, these women understood that their accountability was ultimately to God first and foremost. What Pharaoh was asking was untenable for a person who feared the Lord. Unallowable, sinful. Life is too precious. It was outright murder. This speaks to the value of life as well here in the text. All life is precious from conception. God does not condone murdering of any person. Abortion is murder. Taking innocent life is murder. Taking elderly life because they are supposedly “not contributing to society” is murder. Life from womb to tomb is precious in the sight of God. The midwives knew this. God’s people are to reflect that as well.
And no doubt, we must know that they readily knew that they would be face with death if they did not obey. But they refused to relent. They would not give into the demands of this wicked king, the ways of the world. God’s people are called to take their stand, and when push comes to shove, when the world demands sinful action, wickedness upon its citizens, we say “No. We fear God more than man.”
When the church is faced with “stop preaching the Gospel, don’t preach the Bible because its considered hate speech, don’t meet and worship, shut up about Jesus (and I mean true Gospel proclamation, not just morality)” what we will our response be? Let the early church remind us: Acts 5:27-32
Acts 5:27–32 ESV
27 And when they had brought them, they set them before the council. And the high priest questioned them, 28 saying, “We strictly charged you not to teach in this name, yet here you have filled Jerusalem with your teaching, and you intend to bring this man’s blood upon us.” 29 But Peter and the apostles answered, “We must obey God rather than men. 30 The God of our fathers raised Jesus, whom you killed by hanging him on a tree. 31 God exalted him at his right hand as Leader and Savior, to give repentance to Israel and forgiveness of sins. 32 And we are witnesses to these things, and so is the Holy Spirit, whom God has given to those who obey him.”
But how did they disobey? Well, the dialogue between Pharaoh and these women show that there was some sense of deception involved. Some have said that these women were wrong for “lying.” We can make the case here, and what I am doing this morning, is that these women told the Israelite women to not call them until at the very last moment to help with the child. In other words, we will come and help right after the child is born. What Pharaoh wanted the women to do was kill the child secretly as they were giving birth and say that the child didn’t make it. So, in order to be obedient, they came up with this plan. So, when the women told why about the Israelites women being more “vigorous,” they weren’t lying. They didn’t get to the children in time. Plausible deniability.
The courage and boldness of these Shiphrah and Puah stand in contrast to unnamed Pharaoh. A coward who was getting others to do his dirty work for him, they are the very people that said no and stood in the fear of the Lord. Pharaoh, the offspring of the serpent was wisely defeated by the offspring of God’s people.

C. The results (20-22)

God then deals well with Shiphrah and Puah. First, the people grew more and grew stronger. Praise the Lord! His promises continue. Another plan of Pharaoh thwarted. Promises are continued to be kept. God may not be speaking in this chapter, but he is certainly working to bring about his plan.
Not only that, these two midwives beget children. Midwives usually in ancient culture tended to be women who could not have children. This meant that they could dedicate their lives to helping women that could, helping in birth and helping mothers in the community. But God looked favorably on them, blessed them, and gave them children. Yet again continuing his promise to make a nation out of Abraham, even from miraculous childbirth!
But we also see one final outright attempt. He no longer is going to hide behind oppression. He is no longer going to try to kill the offspring behind the scenes. He tells his leaders to kill the male children. If you see a male baby, throw him in the Nile. Why the males? Males were the military force of nations. Kill the males, they lose potential warriors. It will also stop population growth over time.

CONCLUSION:

This should bring to mind that this very thing was done well over a thousand years later, at the birth of Christ.
Matthew 2:16 ESV
16 Then Herod, when he saw that he had been tricked by the wise men, became furious, and he sent and killed all the male children in Bethlehem and in all that region who were two years old or under, according to the time that he had ascertained from the wise men.
The next chapter of Exodus sets the state for a deliverer to come, in spite of this very edict. In an ironic way, a baby will be born from the very place that these boys will be thrown into to die. A deliverer will come in spite of the working of the offspring of the serpent, Pharaoh here, Herod there. And that deliver will bring God’s people out of slavery to save them and redeem them as his own. Jesus is that deliverer, the fulfillment of all these promises.
Jesus would have to go into Egypt. He would come back to his people in Jerusalem to save them. Jesus is the answer, the clearest promise of God fulfilled. The promise of the final and ultimate Promised Land, the new heavens and the new earth, is coming. We the church wait until Jesus comes again, while also fulfilling that plan of God by standing against the defeated serpent who tries to
John 10:10 ESV
10 The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.
So church, remember, that no matter what comes, God is on the throne, and he will not be thwarted. Jesus will not fail. His promises are true.
The unnamed kings cannot thwart the name above all names, Jesus Christ.
Whatever comes church, trust and obey the one who comes to bring life, and life abundantly. Threats against his people are ultimately idle. Why? Because Jesus, the snake crusher, reigns.
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