12 As the sun was going down, a deep sleep fell on Abram. And behold, dreadful and great darkness fell upon him. 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. 14 But I will bring judgment on the nation that they serve, and afterward they shall come out with great possessions. Genesis 15:12-15 ESV
God had warned Abraham in Genesis 15 that his descendants would be in a foreign land for four hundred years, and Egypt was the place He had in mind. Initially, Egypt was a place of great prosperity and growth for the Israelites. Their numbers grew by leaps and bounds as they spread out over the fertile land of Goshen. But as God had foretold, the attitude of the Egyptian leadership changed towards the Israelite sojourners over the years, turning from welcome and favor to a resentment and deep fear of them, due to their ever-increasing numbers. As a result, the people of Israel were stripped of their freedoms, made into slaves and severely mistreated by their Egyptian captors.
The Israelite people would be freed and delivered out of Egypt by God through Moses, an Israelite in the priestly line of Levi. Even though he was born under slavery and under the threat of death by Pharaoh in Egypt, Moses was granted great favor by the Lord. His life was spared, and he spent his first forty years raised in luxury in Pharaoh’s palace. But Moses’ loyalty to his own people led to him killing an Egyptian he witnessed beating an Israelite, beatings that were common during their years of servitude. Moses’ act was discovered, and he was forced to flee for his life. He spent his next forty years in a desert, far from the palaces of Egypt, tending sheep and raising a Midianite (non-Jewish) family.
But God had a plan to bring His people out of Egypt and He chose Moses, a very unlikely eighty-year-old candidate, to lead them out. After forty years of leading sheep around in the desert, Moses must surely have assumed that his days as a leader of men and women were over. But God had a different plan. He miraculously brought Moses back into the palace of Pharaoh, just as He had done when Moses was a baby. This time, it was to lead God’s people out of Egypt into freedom.
God’s new plan for Moses started with a burning bush in the desert, which Moses observed was on fire, but not being consumed. The account of Moses’ call by God and the execution of his mission can be found beginning in Exodus chapter 3. God called to Moses from the burning bush, telling him that, through Moses, God would bring the Israelites out of slavery into the promised land of freedom, a land flowing with milk and honey. God then gave Moses three miraculous demonstration signs to convince Pharaoh that Moses did indeed speak for God: 1) a staff that Moses could turn into a dangerous snake and back again, 2) the ability for Moses to inflict leprosy on and then to heal his own hand and 3) the miracle of turning a cupful of water from the Nile River into blood as it was poured upon the ground.
Moses did everything he could to turn down God’s assignment, including claiming that he could not speak well, but God did not accept Moses’ excuses. To assist him, God called Moses’ brother, Aaron, down from Egypt be his mouthpiece before Pharaoh. (In time, Moses was able to speak for himself quite well before Pharaoh).
Despite Moses’ miraculous demonstrations, the Pharaoh was not about to let God’s people go. In fact, after Moses’ visit, the Pharaoh came down all that much harder on the Israelite slaves and their task masters, increasing their burdens. Despite God’s promise of freedom, things seemed to be going in the other direction, and hope seemed to evaporate. The Israelites were now in more trouble, and the blame for the increase was laid at squarely at Moses’ feet. But God had a different result in mind:
6 But the Lord said to Moses, “Now you shall see what I will do to Pharaoh; for with a strong hand he will send them out, and with a strong hand he will drive them out of his land.” Exodus 6:1 ESV
It was time for God to deliver His people once and for all, and to demonstrate to the entire world who He really was.
This was quite a crowd of people for God bring to freedom, to move out of Egypt, and to sustain in the desert. The group of Israelites had started out quite small when they came down into Egypt, beginning only with the family of Jacob, who had come down there to survive the great seven-year famine predicted through Joseph while interpreting an earlier Pharaoh’s dreams. During their time in Egypt, subsequent generations in the line of Judah were born, as mentioned in Matthew’s genealogy of Jesus Christ: Ram, Amminadab and Nashon, descendants of Hezron, the son of Perez.
In all, there were seventy men (plus women) who had initially gone down into Egypt to survive the famine, joining Joseph and his children who were already there. It is not clear which of these new generations enjoyed prosperity and how many suffered through slavery. Initially, the Israelites were quite welcome as their population was small. If one assumes that the Israelite population doubled approximately every thirty years, it would have taken roughly 300 years for this group to grow from 70 men to 70,000, plus women and children. While we do not know exactly when their slavery started, it can be estimated that their last one to two hundred years in Egypt were years of slavery and hardship for the Israelites.
If the Israelite population continued to double every thirty years even during their years of hardship and slavery, their last hundred years would increase the male population from roughly 75,000 to around 600,000, which the Bible tells us was the number of men brought out of Egypt by Moses after the Passover. Besides women and children, a “mixed multitude” went up with them, implying that many of the Egyptians rejected their own gods and followed after the true God of Israel along with the Israelites as they migrated out of Egypt.
37 And the people of Israel journeyed from Rameses to Succoth, about six hundred thousand men on foot, besides women and children. 38 A mixed multitude also went up with them, and very much livestock, both flocks and herds…
40 The time that the people of Israel lived in Egypt was 430 years. 41 At the end of 430 years, on that very day, all the hosts of the Lord went out from the land of Egypt. Exodus 12:37-41 ESV
Have you ever felt that God had given up on you? Describe the circumstances. How did God ultimately come through for you?
What can you do today that is a step of renewal or revival towards something that was important to you once, something that you had given up hope on? God may not be finished with it yet. He may have had good reasons for the delay. As God asks, “Is anything too hard for Me?”
Have you ever felt too old, too young, or too “anything” to be useful to God? Moses was eighty years old when God called him and used him to do mighty things for God’s kingdom. Perhaps you feel you had too much of a sinful past to be used? Remember, Moses had murdered a man before fleeing Egypt as a young man. All men have sinned, and what God wants to use, He cleanses, as we willingly make ourselves available to Him.
What might God be calling you to do today?