The Forward Movement of God’s Plan

Title: The Forward Movement of God's Plan

Bible Book: Exodus 1

Author: Calvin Wittman

Subject: Progress; Plan, God's; Moving On; Providence



We’ve often heard the expression, “There are no such things as accidents, everything happens for a purpose,” and nowhere could this be more true than in the life of a child of God. As a Child of God you are not where you are by accident. God has either directed you to where you are or He has allowed you, because of your own choices, to be where you are. And regardless of where you may find yourself this morning, whether it is in a time of prosperity, a time of persecution, a season of pleasure or a period of pain, God not only knows where you are, but wants to use your circumstances to move His plan forward and to bring glory to Himself. This is true in the life of individual believers, it is true of churches and it was true of the nation of Israel. This is one of the most basic messages of the book of Exodus.

In order for us to have a clear understanding of both the context and the content of Exodus, a few prefatory words are in order. These basics will serve as a lens through which we can more clearly see the rest of this book.

First of all we must recognize that Exodus is a book of profound theology. Allow me quickly to give you ten great theological truths which are clearly taught in Exodus.1

1. God is a God of redemption and has a plan of salvation – Exodus shows us how He redeems His chosen people out of Egyptian captivity which foreshadows the redemption which would come to fruition in Jesus Christ.

2. God is a person and is knowable – In Exodus God reveals Himself to His people. As Francis Schafer said, while we cannot know God fully, we can know Him truly. Exodus is a book which reveals God to us in a knowable way.

3. God is a covenant God – that is, He is in covenant relationship with His people. It was true at Sinai and it was true at Calvary, God is a God who enters into a covenant relationship with His people.

4. God has a promised land for His people- for Israel it was Canaan, for us it is heaven, but God has a better place for us. To a certain degree the Exodus serves as an example for us to show that our pilgrimage through this world will be rewarded when we reach the land He has promised us.

5. God is a personal God who is always with His people – In Exodus He was with the people through a pillar of smoke by day and a pillar of fire by night. Today He is with us through His Holy Spirit, but God is ever with His people, we are never alone.

6. The invisible God works in visible ways to demonstrate His glory – In Exodus God worked signs and wonders, both in Egypt and in the wilderness. Unlike the God of the Deists, who is distant and uninvolved, our God is personally and tangibly involved in the lives of His people.

7. God calls His people to be different from the rest of the world – We will see this as God calls the Israelites to separate themselves from the Canaanites, and we see this same thing in the New Testament. God calls us to be His ambassadors, to demonstrate His attributes to the world around us, which necessitates that we be different.

8. God calls His people to follow His leadership – rather than navigating the wilderness themselves, God called Israel to follow His leadership. And in our lives today He has called us to follow the leadership of His Spirit as we trek through life.

9. God is omnipotent – that is, there is nothing too hard for Him to do. He can make streams in the desert, make food fall from the sky and annihilate the most formidable of enemies. There is nothing God cannot do.

10. God is sovereign – that is, there is no one or nothing which can stop the forward movement of His plan. God’s eternal plan, His overarching plan for all of eternity cannot be thwarted. In spite of our choices, of our obedience or disobedience, God’s plan will come to pass, in His way and His time. On a human level this is a difficult theological concept, but on a faith level it is quite simple. God is sovereign.

Secondly, as we begin to study Exodus we must understand that much of this book is classified as historical narrative. That is, God is giving us an accurate account of historical events, but from the unique perspective of His point of view. He has chosen not to tell us everything that happened, but what He does tell us is obviously of such importance that we must be careful not to miss what He would have us learn.

As we go through this book we should look it on three levels.2

1) The third level is the overarching big picture, often called the meta-narrative. This is where we deal with the bigger issues like the fall of man and God’s plan of redemption for all of creation. This has been called, the story of redemption.

2) Secondly we see God working in through history to preserve a people for Himself. Go through the entirety of the Old Testament and you will find God working to preserve Israel as a nation, not only because they were His chosen people but because from them would come the Messiah.

3) Finally we find the first, or most basic level at which we interpret Historical Narrative, and that is in the individual stories which comprise the bigger picture. Here we find God working in the lives of specific individuals, which reveals a great deal to us about the way God works in our lives as well.

Finally, as we begin to study Exodus, we need to recognize that it is a continuation of the book of Genesis. Chapters one and two are a bridge from Genesis to the heart of the Exodus. These two chapters connect what God has done in Genesis to what He is going to do in Exodus. If you really want to be prepared for this study it would behoove you not only to read Exodus, but to go back and read Genesis because what happens in Exodus is predicated on promises God made in the book of Genesis and carries the Genesis narrative forward.

This brings us to our text, Exodus Chapter one. This is the New American Standard Version. I would first draw your attention to four specific things in this chapter and then, at the end, we will make several observations with a view toward application.

I. God moves His plan forward through the past – 1:1

Look at verse one where it says, “Now these are the names of the sons of Israel who came to Egypt with Jacob…”

This takes us back to the story of Joseph and his coat of many colors. You remember the story from Genesis 37 where the scripture tells us of a capricious and spoiled young man named Joseph. The fact that his father Jacob favored him and lavished gifts on him, along with a dream he had that had his brothers bowing down to him caused his brothers to plot against him. You recall how they were going to kill him but that Judah spoke up and convinced the rest of the brothers to sell Joseph to Midianite traders who sold him as a slave in Egypt, but told his father he had been killed by a wild animal. Now the hand of God was on Joseph and through a series of events recounted for us in the final chapters of Genesis, he rose to be second only to Pharaoh in Egypt.

And there came a famine in Canaan and Jacob sent his sons into Egypt to buy grain and one thing led to another and Joseph and his family were reunited. He forgave his brothers and brought his father and their entire family to Egypt where Pharaoh gave them the land of Goshen, which was rich grazing land in the Nile delta. All of this God did as a means of preserving His chosen people.

For the Israelites who now found themselves in Egyptian slavery this was ancient history. It had happened more than 400 years earlier.

It is much easier for us to read the Bible and see God working through history than it is for us to see how He has worked the very same way in our individual lives, or in the life of our church and yet God has worked in your life, in our past, much the same way He did with Israel.

There are two pitfalls we must avoid as we consider our past.

A. Do Not Disregard the Past

First, we must not disregard the past – The past is demonstrative of how God will work in the future. In truth many of the Israelites were unaware of their past. They were unaware of the promises God had given Abraham and because of their ignorance, they were driven to hopelessness. God had not forgotten His people, but most of His people had forgotten their God. Scripture is chock full of promises that God has made to you and me. When we are unaware of them, when we lose sight of the reality that God has been active in our past, we will be tempted to think that He is not active in our present circumstances and will be absent from our future. Nothing could be further from the truth.

In Deuteronomy 7:17-19 God encouraged His people to remember his former works so that they would have faith to trust His future actions on their behalf. God tells them, “If you should say in your heart, These nations are greater than I, how can I dispossess them? You shall not be afraid of them; you shall well remember what the Lord your God did to Pharaoh and to all Egypt. The great trials which your eyes saw and the signs and wonders and the mighty hand and the outstretched arm by which the Lord your God brought you out. So shall the Lord your God do to all the peoples of whom you are afraid.”

We must be careful not to disregard the past, knowing it assures us that God will work now even as He worked then.

B. Do Not Get Stuck in the Past

Secondly, we must not get stuck in the past – The past is a guidepost to tomorrow, not a hitching post to yesterday. It is instructive to note that here in verse 1 God chooses to point to Israel’s past. He does so in order to show the connection, not only between where they had been to where they found themselves, but in order to show how their past would point to their future. Remember, God has a plan to move us from where we are to where He wants us to be. We are part of His overall plan of redemption for creation. He wants to use us to reach people with His love that are not being reached. He wants to show us how to plan today to further His kingdom for tomorrow. God’s plan is always moving forward and as individuals and as a church we should be more focused on pursuing the future than we are on preserving the past.

When we get so focused on keeping things the way they have always been we are unable to see God’s future because we are not looking ahead, we’re looking behind us. This was the problem with the religious leaders of Jesus’ day. They were so intent on keeping the law and on revering Moses that when the Messiah came they couldn’t recognize Him for who He was. We must not get stuck in the past.

God moves His plan forward through the way He has worked in our past.

II. God moves His Plan Forward through His provision – Vs. 1

Notice here; again in verse one, the word ‘Egypt.’ Whenever we hear the words ‘Israelites’ and ‘Egypt’ together we are tempted to think of their captivity. But when God sent the Israelites into Egypt, it was not for them to be persecuted, but it was for their provision.

Go back to Genesis 42 and following and you will read about the famine in Canaan and how God used Joseph to bring the descendents of Abraham into Egypt to preserve them. You see, originally, Egypt was a place of blessing not a place of burden. God took them there to provide for them.

But, now catch this, God often allows His blessings to become a curse when we try to hold on to what He has provided instead of pursuing the future He has set forth for us.

Did you get that? God often allows His blessings to become a curse when we try to hold on to what He has provided instead of pursuing the future He has set forth for us.

Go back to the last three verses of the book of Genesis. Genesis 50:24-26.

“Joseph said to His brothers, ‘I am about to die, but God will surely take care of you and bring you up from this land to the land which He promised on oath to Abraham, to Isaac and to Jacob. Then Joseph made the sons of Israel swear saying, God will surely take care of you and you shall carry my bones up from here.’ So Joseph died at the age of one hundred and ten years; and he was embalmed and placed in a coffin in Egypt.”

Repetition is one of the ways scripture emphasizes things of importance. Notice that twice in these three verses Joseph is careful to say that God would take care of them and take them to the Promised Land. They knew they were supposed to go back to Canaan, they just didn’t do it. For several generations the Israelites enjoyed the land of Goshen, the place in Egypt where they were living. The ground was fertile, the water was plentiful, and life was good. In fact, verse 7, it tells us that while in Egypt they were fruitful and multiplied. God used this provision to make them a strong nation.

But over time they became comfortable and when we are comfortable there is a tendency for us to become complacent and to forget that life is not about our enjoyment. As God’s people our lives are to be dedicated to fulfilling His purpose. To the Israelites this meant that they were to leave Egypt and to possess the Promised Land. They were not unaware of this, but because they were enjoying themselves, because they were comfortable and content, this tended to become less and less important to them. They lacked motivation to carry out God’s plan for their lives.

The earlier generations knew that they should return to Canaan but failed to do it. With each passing generation it became less and less of a priority till they forgot. But their children’s children paid the price. How often is the same true in your life and mine? How often do we become so at ease with the leeks and onions by the Nile that we lose sight of Zion? How many of us are so content that we would rather fight to preserve what we have than to allow God to provide something even better?

God had provided for them and He used His provision to move His plan forward. But because the provision was visible and the Provider was invisible, they became overly focused on the provision and forgot about the Provider. There is always that danger of becoming so enamored with the gift that we fail to remember the Giver. That’s what happened to Israel, and that’s when their provision became the source of their pain.

Look in Exodus 1 verse 8….

III. God moves His plan forward through our Pain

In order for us to understand the full impact of verse 8 it is necessary for us to understand something about Egyptian history.

The Pharaoh who ruled when Joseph was living was of a people group called the Hyskos. These were foreigners who had conquered Egypt and had ruled for centuries. It was Ahmose, the founder of the Eighteenth Dynasty who finally raised up an army and drove the foreign invaders out of Egypt. Because they had been ruled for so long by foreigners, the Egyptians had an inbred xenophobia, or hatred of foreigners. The Israelites were foreigners. They were ethnically different from the Egyptians. In fact, they were more akin to the Hyskos then to the Egyptians.

Verse 8 tells us that there came a Pharaoh who knew not Joseph. In other words, a Pharaoh came to power who did not revere Joseph. After all, Joseph had been in league with the hated Hyskos. In the eyes of the Egyptians they had been friends of their enemies, which made the Israelites their enemies.

The Pharaoh who enslaved the Israelites used this xenophobia to his favor. Verses 9 and following tell us how he stirred up his people against Israel.

a. There are more of them then there are of us

b. We have to be shrewd or else, when the next war comes they will aid our enemy.

c. This phrase “depart from the land,” is an idiom in Hebrew that is only used two other places in the Old Testament. In both other places it speaks to taking possession or to overflowing like water. Thus, here, it is better translated, “They will take possession of the land.”

Playing on the xenophobic fears of his people, Pharaoh basically says, “If we don’t do something about these Israelites, they will outnumber us, join with those who oppose us and will take over the land, just like the Hyskos who we had to kick out.”

So they enslaved them. Instead of being welcomed guests they became despised and hated. They were forced to do the most arduous of all physical tasks; they were brick makers and builders. Verses 13 and 14 tell us that they were crushed under the hands of their task masters and that their lives were made to be bitter.

It would be easy, particularly at this point in our study, to vilify the Egyptians. After all, they are the ones who hated the Jews. They are the ones who oppressed them and sought to destroy them, for certainly as we read the rest of this chapter we clearly see that genocide was Pharaoh’s ultimate goal. But that observation would be shallow at best.

Yes, the Egyptians were wrong in the way they treated the Jews, but it was God who permitted it. This is what some have called the uncomfortable side of provision. Sometimes God allows the pain in our lives, the difficulties we experience to so position us that we are ready to do what He wants us to do.

As I said before, when we are comfortable, the tendency to become complacent is ever a danger. When we have all we need and there is no pain, we have no motivation to change the way things are. But remember, God is ever in the business of moving us forward, and sometimes He uses the leverage of pain to pry us free from our comfort zones. Often times, because of our stubborn ways and our insensitivity to His movements, pain is the only thing that will get our attention.

The well quoted phrase from C.S. Lewis in his book, The Problem of Pain, is appropriate here. Lewis said, “Pain plants the flag of reality in the fortress of a rebel heart. God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our conscience, but shouts in our pains: it is His megaphone to rouse a deaf world.”

So long as things went well, Israel did not need to call on God. So God had to position them so that they recognized their need for Him and would listen to His voice.

Is this not true in your life and mine? Is it not the case with us as well that God has to resort to pain in order to get our attention? Let us not be so dense, so dull-witted or obtuse that we fail to recognize that what was true for Israel is also true for us.

When difficulties come they are not accidental. God has a purpose in allowing them in our lives. He wants us to call upon Him. He wants to get us to look to Him so that He can show us a better way, so that He can direct us where He wants to go.

Instead of cursing the pain, we would be much better served to look for the underlying cause. We should look for what God is doing and listen to what He is saying.

But in the midst of our difficulties, when we are tempted to fear those who are causing the pain, we must remember that it is God who we must fear. Which brings me to my next point….

IV. God moves His plan forward through our Obedience - Vs. 15-22

These 8 verses tell the story of Pharaoh’s genocidal plan. According to verse 12, the more the Egyptians afflicted the Jews, the more they multiplied and the greater of a threat they became.

So here in verses 15-22 is the short story of two Hebrew women, Shiphrah and Puah, midwives who helped the Israelite women deliver babies. Pharaoh tells them to kill the baby boys when they are born. But, as verse 17 tells us, because they feared God, they did not do what the king of Egypt had asked of them. And because of their obedience God blessed them.

In the midst of difficulties, it is easy to be tempted to compromise. It is easy to be tempted to try and appease those who are causing our pain, even when we know that doing so would be the wrong thing. But what is called for during difficult times is steadfast obedience, something God will always bless.

Perhaps you are going through a difficult time in your life. It could be in any of a host of arenas. Maybe it’s financial and you are tempted to rob God and not give Him the ten percent He is due. Perhaps it’s familial, there are those in your family who do not love the Lord and they are tying to draw you away from your devotion to the Master. Or maybe it’s occupational, like it was for Shiphrah and Puah, and your employer is trying to get you to do things which you know are wrong. Friend, stand your ground, obey the Lord and in the end He will bless you for your obedience.

There are two questions we must ask as we seek to apply this teaching.

A. Applied to Individuals

First, how does it apply to us as individuals? This morning God is calling each of us to look at our past, to see all He has done for you, and to use that understanding to point you toward the future. You are not where you are by accident. God wants to show you how where you’ve been has prepared you for where He wants to take you. All of us are on a journey. But many have gotten stalled along the way. Perhaps it’s on the plain of God’s provision, or maybe it is in the valley of deprivation, but somewhere along the way we’ve stopped moving forward. He has provided for you on so many different levels but so many Christians are focusing on the gift rather than the giver and no longer recognize that God has given them what He has given them so as to enable them to accomplish His purpose. Some of you are going through excruciating pain this morning. It could be that you’ve gotten bad news from the doctor, or one of your children is breaking your heart and life is just not turning out like you thought it should. Friends, God is trying to tell you something; He’s trying to get your attention. If you seek Him you will find Him, if you seek Him with all your heart. In the meantime, stay faithful. Keep on obeying Him. He will see you through. Remember this, whenever you see one of God’s children in trouble, it is always a precursor to God’s intervention. God wants to deliver you. He wants to prove Himself faithful in your sight. 2 Chronicles 16:9 says, “For the eyes of the Lord run to and fro throughout the whole earth to show Himself strong in the behalf o them whose heart is perfect toward Him.”


B. Applied to the Church

Secondly, how does this apply to us as a church? God has worked in our past. More than 45 years ago, faithful men and women were led by God to start a church up at the grange on Youngfield. They bought this piece of land and moved the church from the grange a mile east to this property where we now sit. And throughout the years God has blessed us and caused us to grow. He has caused our church to be fruitful and multiply. We have built buildings and expanded the scope of our ministry. He has provided for us. He has sent us faithful members who exercise their gifts and abilities, who faithfully bring their tithe into His storehouse. He has sent you pastors and staff members who were faithful to teach and preach His word and lead us to accomplish His kingdom’s cause. He has given us land and buildings, a church building that is paid for and one with which many have become comfortable. He has been faithful to provide and has moved His plan for this church forward through that provision. But we must be careful not to allow God’s provision to become a snare which would keep us from going where He wants us to go and doing what He wants us to do.


Five years ago I convened a group of men and women from our fellowship and shared with them that I felt God was leading us as a church to search for a new location. God had blessed us with growth and it was clear that if we were going to continue to reach new people we would need more space. And the church even voted at that time to look for new property. But as time pasted, and as obstacles seemed to stand before us, a growing number of our leaders felt that building a second education building across the street was our best option. I have long felt that even if we could have built it, it would have been a temporary measure at best. In fact, as recent as four months ago I continued to look for ways to get outside the boundaries of this property by suggesting a second campus. But since a great deal of time and money were expended to get a permit from the city, it was the consensus of the majority of our leaders that the pursuit of this building was our best option. And so we pursued that option, only to have the city deny us that permit. To many this has been painful, but from the eyes of faith it should be seen as providential. God has allowed this door to be closed because He wants to open another one for us. He has allowed the city counsel to harden their hearts against us so that we will look beyond the provision we have here to the promise He has for us somewhere else. I believe God wants to take us from where we are to a new place, a place which will enable us to reach more people, a place that will give us hope and a future.

As a church we stand at a crossroads. We can choose to lament that we cannot preserve the past or we can choose to devote ourselves, and all we have to pursue God’s future. Which will it be?

In the meantime we must be faithful to continue to fear God. Men cannot harm us. They cannot do anything to us that God does not allow. It is God who is at work in the midst of our circumstances. Good or bad, pleasant or unpleasant, it is God who allows all things and who works all things together for good to those who love Him, to those who are called according to His purpose.

1 For a more detailed explanation of some of these see, Exodus, The American Commentary, by Douglas K. Stuart. Broadman & Holman Publishers, Nashville. 2006, Pg. 35 ff.

2 Fee, Gordon & Stuart, Douglas. How To Read the Bible for All Its Worth. Zondervan, Grand Rapids, 2003. Pg. 91.


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