The God of Exodus is a forgiving God. This may startle many; I mean, I’m only up to the second book and the key take-away from it is God’s forgiveness? Doesn’t that become important later, when Jesus shows up?
Forgiveness is central to God’s grace through Jesus, but it has been a foundation of His personality from the beginning.
You’re probably familiar with the first half of Exodus, when God used Moses to rescue Israel from Egyptian slavery. You’ve likely heard the story of Moses bringing the Ten Commandments down from Mount Sinai, and then the whole deal with the golden calf. So where does forgiving fit into all this?
God Redeems A Faithless Israel
When Moses first talked to Pharaoh, things became worse for Israel. Understandably, they were upset and rejected Moses, whom God sent.
So Moses spoke thus to the children of Israel; but they did not heed Moses, because of anguish of spirit and cruel bondage. — Exodus 6:9
So God waited around for them to show a little faith, right? Nope. For some reason Christians often believe that we must have faith in God for Him to rescue us. And while He appreciates it, and it makes the process easier for us, isn’t not a necessity.
Not only did God save a faithless Israel, He did it spectacularly. That sounds like a forgiving God to me.
The Plagues And God’s Glory
God sent ten devastating plagues to Egypt (sparing the area where Israelites lived) in order to rescue His people. But rescuing His people wasn’t the only thing on God’s mind.
“I will harden Pharaoh’s heart, and multiply My signs and My wonders in the land of Egypt. … And the Egyptians shall know that I am the Lord…” — Exodus 7:3, 5
God hardened Pharaoh’s heart, not to drag out Israel’s suffering, but to make a point to the arrogant Egyptians. And, most likely, show His people His power so they would trust him.
However, by the time Israel reached the Red Sea, Egyptians on their heels, they’d already forgotten God’s power (Exo 14:11-12)! But our forgiving God didn’t abandon them for their faithlessness, He led them through the sea and into redemption.
Israel’s Grumblings And A Forgiving God
After the Red Sea is desert. Three days later, the only water they found couldn’t be drunk, but God easily solved that problem. A mere month and a half later, Israel complained about the lack of food. They didn’t ask God for food, instead they grumbled and threw wild accusations.
And the children of Israel said to them, “Oh, that we had died by the hand of the Lord in the land of Egypt, when we sat by the pots of meat and when we ate bread to the full! For you have brought us out into this wilderness to kill this whole assembly with hunger.” — Exodus 16:3
God had just saved Israel and already they were ungrateful! They’d also forgotten God’s ability to bring forth plagues, move seas and clear up water.
In response, God made a special bread rain down from the sky. The people called it manna, and God gave strict instructions of how it was to be gathered. Which the people followed, after disobeying and realising the bread became inedible if they didn’t follow the instructions.
The First Laws
By the third month, Israel reached Mount Sinai and agreed to be God’s people and follow His covenant. God told Moses the Ten Commandments, and a series of other laws for whole range of scenarios. Israel accepted the laws, and the covenant was sealed.
God provided special instructions for the Tabernacle — a special place within the camp where He would dwell without frightening the people. Then God gave Moses the Ten Commandments in tablet form, and sent him back to Israel who camped at the bottom of the mountain.
The Golden Calf And Broken Law
Israel, bored after a few weeks of waiting for Moses, made a golden calf to worship and thank for rescuing them from Egypt. There go the first two commandments, only months after being rescued from Egypt, and likely weeks or days since the first laws were given. God was understandably unimpressed.
“They have turned aside quickly out of the way which I commanded them… Now therefore, let Me alone that My wrath may burn hot against them and I may consume them. And I will make of you [Moses] a great nation.” — Exodus 32:8, 10
Moses was furious, but apologised to God multiple times on Israel’s behalf. While God didn’t destroy Israel, He refused to dwell among them in a Tabernacle. Though He is forgiving, separation from God is the result of sin.
God’s Forgiveness and the Tabernacle
After Moses and God talked awhile, the covenant was renewed, new tablets for the Ten Commandments were formed and Israel was allowed to build the Tabernacle. They turned from Him so quickly, yet God forgave them! And He must’ve known that they would continue to do sin over the centuries. Yet he accepted them.
The Tabernacle was built from materials freely and willingly donated by the people of Israel. And I think this is a moment that truly warms God’s heart: the people donated much more than was required.
… And the people were restrained from bringing, for the material they had was sufficient for all the work to be done — indeed too much. — Exodus 36:6-7
One year after Israel was freed from Egypt, the Tabernacle tent was raised up. The Lord filled the Tabernacle, and appeared as a cloud above it by day and a fire by night. When the cloud or fire moved, the Israelite camp followed, and when it remained still, the people waited.
What Else Does Exodus say?
The overarching message from God in Exodus is that He is forgiving. But there are other truths and lessons woven into the story, two of which really stood out to me.
The Great I AM
When God spoke to Moses from the burning bush, Moses asks for God’s name, and the response is intense:
And God said to Moses, “I AM WHO I AM.” And He said, “Thus you shall say to the children of Israel: ‘I AM has sent you.'” — Exodus 3:14
God is I AM. I must admit, it sounds a bit underwhelming at first glance. For years I never thought twice about it. And then, thanks to some Japanese language lessons, I saw the meaning beyond language.
A literal translation of the Japanese for “I am at the shops” is “I exist at the location shops.” The English verb “am” actually carries the meaning of “exist”. Turn the verb into a noun, and what is God’s name? “(I am) existence.”
Within God’s name is everything — all of existence! God is a being of existence, a being of everything that is life in this universe. Now that’s big. So big, and so fundamental, that the meaning of I AM can’t be fully appreciated in our language.
A Note on Moses
I discovered something unexpected about Moses. Here was a man who said “no” to God. God. While he stood there with God’s presence all around him, Moses said “no”?!
Yep, that’s right. Twice, actually (Exo 4:10, 13). I laughed when I read it. A human convinced he knew better than God? And yet, aren’t we all like that?
So the Lord said to him, “Who has made man’s mouth? Or who makes the mute, the deaf, the seeing, or the blind? Have not I, the Lord? Now therefore, go, and I will be with your mouth and teach you what you shall say.” — Exodus 4:11-12
Moses didn’t actually perform the first few miracles. His brother Aaron did (Exo ch 7 – 8). Then, as you read, Moses starts to hold the rod and perform miracles (Exo 9). Reading between the lines, I’d guess he found his confidence, and learnt to fully trust in the Lord.
It’s a real relief to discover that Moses, the famous hero of the Old Testament, who talked to God face-to-face, who performed miracles beyond imagination, who led Israel from the powerful, mighty Egyptian Empire — that Moses was scared. Had doubts. Took some time to warm up to the task God had given him.
So quickly Israel turned from God, lost faith, broke laws. And on many occasions we are just like them. And yet the great I AM is astounding in His forgiveness: seeing our many transgressions, and yet still holding up his end of the bargain. This is the God of Exodus.
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A few weeks ago a received a very special present — my copy of the anthology two non-fiction pieces of mine went into! Be sure to check it out. Thank you so much to all the editors at Writer’s Edit who put in such great work.
I was fifteen when my mother had a mental break down. I didn’t understand what was happening. My family didn’t know what to do. Out friends didn’t know how to help. It took a few years, but now I open up in my short memoir about how to ask after the mentally unwell.