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Author:Rev. Joe Poppe
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Congregation:Redeemer Canadian Reformed Church
 Winnipeg, Manitoba
Title:Despite Pharaoh’s cruel oppression, God prospers His people
Text:Exodus 1:8-22 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday
Topic:Maintaining the Antithesis

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Confession of Dependence and Divine Greeting


Ten words of the covenant


Prayer of confession and illumination


Ministry of the Word

Reading: Exo.1


Text: Exo.1:8-22

Despite Pharaoh’s cruel oppression, God prospers His people.  We’ll see:

  1. how Israel’s oppression is motivated by Pharaoh’s sinfulness.
  2. how Pharaoh’s cruelty is masterminded by Satan.
  3. how Satan’s enmity is opposed by God.





Prayer of thanksgiving and intercessions


Divine blessing

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. Joe Poppe, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.

Beloved congregation of the Lord Jesus Christ,

            This morning we begin the study of a new book, “Exodus.”  The name means “exit or departure.” (Luk.9:31).  This book tells us of God’s wonderful works of redeeming His people from slavery in Egypt.  How He delivered them with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm.  We need to remember the purpose of Scripture as we begin studying this new book.  The Bible is God’s revelation about Himself.  In it He makes known to his people who He is.  In it God shows forth His mercy and grace to fallen sinners.

            At first glance, it may appear that God is silent, that He is absent in our text.  Yes, it is true that He prospered Jacob’s family during their sojourn in Egypt.  Jacob’s family grew from a small company of about seventy men to a mighty nation.  Their growth was such that Pharaoh became concerned about so many Hebrews dwelling in his land.  That he oppressed them and made them slaves.  The question is: where was God in all this?  Israel was in distress.  Suffering harsh bondage.  Working as slaves under cruel slave masters.  And for a time that spanned generations (Exo.2:23; 3:7), it seemed like God didn’t care.  Outwardly, God did not immediately respond to Pharaoh’s cruel oppression of His people.

            Yet our text shows us that there is more going on behind the scenes than meets the eye.  In Genesis 3:15 God outlined the enmity that would exist between the seed of the woman and the seed of the serpent.  Pharaoh’s cruel oppression of Israel is masterminded by Satan.  Yet God is also at work, fulfilling His covenant promises.  Preparing His people for His mighty acts of deliverance.

            What we need to remember, beloved, is that the book of Exodus is about more than just Israel’s deliverance from slavery in Egypt.  It is about their deliverance from sin and death.  God’s people were delivered for a purpose.  So that God could reaffirm the covenant He had made with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.  So that they could enter into a covenant relationship with God.  To learn to know Him and worship Him as LORD.  To learn to live as His people, as a kingdom of priests and a holy nation (Exo.19:6).  I preach to you the Word of God under the following theme:

Despite Pharaoh’s cruel oppression, God prospers His people.  We’ll see:

  1. how Israel’s oppression is motivated by Pharaoh’s cruelty.
  2. how Pharaoh’s cruelty is masterminded by Satan.
  3. how Satan’s enmity is opposed by God.

Our text begins by speaking about how a new king, who did not know about Joseph, came to power in Egypt.  This king did not remember the great service that Joseph had rendered to Egypt.  Joseph had interpreted the king’s dreams, predicting seven good years and seven years of famine.  He had saved up food so that the Egyptians had enough food to eat during what would otherwise have been a devastating famine.  This new king who came to power no longer felt beholden to Joseph’s people.  Instead he saw them as a threat.

The reason he saw the Israelites as a threat was because they had become a large nation of people.  The verses prior to our text make that clear.  Verse 7 says that “the Israelites were fruitful and multiplied greatly and became exceedingly numerous, so that the land was filled with them.”  When Jacob entered Egypt his family numbered seventy men plus their wives and children (Gen.46:26-27).  When Israel left Egypt 430 years later it numbered six hundred thousand men plus their wives and children.  It was this explosive growth that caused Egypt’s new king to plot against the Israelites.

He said to his people, “Look, the Israelites have become much too numerous for us.  Come, we must deal shrewdly with them or they will become even more numerous and, if war breaks out, will join our enemies, fight against us and leave the country.” (Exo.1:9-10).  Thus Pharaoh’s stated motivation was to protect himself and his people from the Israelites.  He was afraid that they would become even more numerous and stronger than the Egyptians themselves.  He feared that the Israelites might join with the Asiatic tribes who often invaded the Nile delta, and attack Egypt and leave the country.

Pharaoh’s manner of dealing shrewdly with the Israelites was to subject them to hard labour.  The Egyptians “put slave masters over them to oppress them with forced labour, and they built Pithom and Rameses as store cities for Pharaoh.” (Exo.1:11).    The Israelites were not employed according to their own free will, and given a fair wage.  They were forced to work hard as slaves, afflicted by slave masters who made them work harder and faster by beating them.  In this way the Egyptians wanted to accomplish two goals.  To stem the dramatic increase in Israel’s numbers, and to protect themselves from the invasion of their enemies by having two cities built to protect the eastern border of the Nile delta.

The king’s action is a classic example of using an alleged threat as an occasion for one’s own wickedness.  It is important to note that up to that time the Israelites had done nothing to wrong the Egyptians.  Pharaoh’s abuse of the Israelites was based on a hypothetical situation: if the Israelites continued to multiply, and if Egypt’s enemies came against her, and if the Israelites joined them, then they could succeed in escaping from the land.  He used this line of reasoning to persuade his court officials and the people to oppress the Israelites.

Pharaoh did not care about the promises made by a past king to Joseph giving him and his family the land of Goshen to live in.  Our text identifies him as a new king, probably the first in a new dynasty.  He had no regard for those promises; he didn’t care.  He only cared about himself and his own people.  Pharaoh saw the Israelites as an easy target of exploitation.  He could use them as slaves to further his ambitious building program.  And by doing so he could prevent them from becoming a threat to Egypt.  So he made them slaves.

Yet Pharaoh’s actions did not have the desired effect.  Exodus1:12 states, “But the more they were oppressed, the more they multiplied and spread.”  The oppression resulted in increased growth.  It is amazing how many times in church history persecution leads to the growth of the church.  This made an impression on the Egyptians.  Our text says, “so the Egyptians came to dread the Israelites.”  Their plan was not working.  The Israelites continued to multiply rapidly.  So Pharaoh intensified his assault.

The Egyptians worked the Israelites ruthlessly.  “They made their lives bitter with hard labour in brick and mortar and with all kinds of work in the fields; in all their hard labour the Egyptians used them ruthlessly.” (Exo.1:14).  The Israelites were responsible for making bricks out of clay and straw; for transporting them to where the cities were being built, for mixing mortar and building the storage cities.  They were forced to dig canals to irrigate the crops, and to do all the backbreaking labour involved in growing grain and other crops.

You might wonder how hard work would prevent the Israelites from multiplying rapidly.  Hard work is often deadly.  Even today, construction sites can be dangerous places to work.  Especially if you are being pushed relentlessly to work harder, and suffering repeated whippings when you don’t.  Pharaoh figured that some would die on the job site, some would become so weakened they would be in no condition to continue multiplying, and that he could break the Hebrew’s spirit.  The Egyptians used the Israelites ruthlessly.

Up to now our text has described the actions of Pharaoh and the Egyptians in abusing and oppressing the Israelites.  We read much about the actions of sinful man.  But what about God?  Where was God in all this?  Israel was in distress.  Suffering harsh bondage.  Working as slaves under cruel slave masters.  This time of oppression spanned at least the first eighty years of Moses’ life.  Generations!  And it seemed like God just didn’t care.  We read nothing about Him responding in any outward way to what the Egyptians were doing to His people.

As Christians we often face trying times in our lives.  We live in a broken world, filled with sinful people.  We can be confronted with great struggles in life.  Various illnesses, ongoing pain, struggles in our mental health.  Brokenness in relationships, severe loss, or bereavement.  We may face oppression or abuse from a variety of sources.  Struggling through these things is not easy.  Especially if we continue to have to carry the same burden for a long time.  Yet one of the greatest discouragements we can face in such circumstances is the feeling that God isn’t doing anything about my problem.  Then we can begin to doubt His goodness, His faithfulness, His care.

Yet in our text God is not silent.  Evidence of His love and faithfulness abounds.  You just have to look to see it.  God had promised the patriarchs Abraham, Isaac and Jacob to make a great nation out of them.  And he was doing that, no matter how hard Pharaoh tried to stop it.  Note how Exodus 1:7 piles word upon word to emphasise Israel’s growth.  They “were fruitful,” “multiplied greatly,” “became exceedingly numerous;” “the land was filled with them.”  Verse 12: “The more they were oppressed the more they multiplied and spread.”  God was at work fulfilling his promises!  Despite Pharaoh’s cruel oppression, God prospers His people.

This brings us to our second point.  In it we’ll see how Pharaoh’s cruelty is masterminded by Satan.  Often when we read Scriptural accounts, or even when we examine our own lives – we see what happens on the human level and forget about what goes on behind the scenes.  Yet it is very important for us to note that God has put enmity between the seed of the woman and the seed of the serpent.  In Genesis 3:15 God gave a very great promise to Adam and Eve, after their deplorable fall into sin.  Speaking to Satan God said, “And I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers; he will crush your head, and you will strike his heel.”

With these words God promised that one of the offspring of the woman would come to crush Satan’s head and provide redemption for His people.  God indicates that throughout history there would be hostility, strife, warfare between the children of God and the followers of Satan.  Without many people even consciously realizing it themselves, they serve as instruments in Satan’s hand.  In our text we see how Pharaoh’s cruelty is masterminded by Satan, and motivated by his enmity against God and his people.

The destruction of God’s people has been Satan’s goal since the beginning of the world.  Pharaoh was a tool of his, to accomplish his purpose.  Satan had already been working to destroy Israel.  He turned God’s people away from the Lord by making them complacent in Egypt, forgetting about God’s promises.  We know from Ezekiel 20:7 that the Israelites had begun to worship the Egyptian gods.  The first and main problem was not their physical slavery.  It was their spiritual bondage to sin and Satan.

In our text Satan has used Pharaoh to step up his attacks against the Old Testament church.  First by physically oppressing God’s people, by making them slaves, by using them ruthlessly in an attempt to break their spirits.  But when this did not succeed, Satan carries his plan for the destruction of the Israelites one step further.  Our text tells of how Pharaoh commanded the Hebrew midwives to murder all the boys born among the Israelites.  What an ingenious plan this was.

Satan knew that God had announced the victory of the seed of the woman over him.  He knew that the Messiah would come in the line of the generations.  So he knew that the best way to destroy the church would be to prevent Christ’s coming by destroying the male children.  If the Christ did not come, there would be no church, no salvation.  Satan would remain ruler of the world.

From Pharaoh’s perspective this plan had real merit. Kill all the Hebrew boys, and in a generation the girls would have no one to marry.  Perhaps they would seek mates among the Egyptians, and so become assimilated with them.  At the very least, the birthrate among the Israelites would be dramatically slowed down.  So that Pharaoh could maintain control over the Israelites, so that he could continue to use them as his slave workforce.

Notice beloved, how slick Satan is in his attacks.  Leading God’s people astray by enticing them to worship Egypt’s gods.  Making them complacent about their lives in Egypt, through the good things they enjoyed there.  Later, when in the wilderness, the people often looked back at the pleasures they enjoyed in Egypt.  They complained about the manna God provided, saying, “We remember the fish we ate in Egypt at no cost-- also the cucumbers, melons, leeks, onions and garlic.” (Num.11:5).  Softening the people up with the pleasures of this life to lead them away from the service of God.  And then following that up with severe outward persecution: making them slaves, and trying to kill their newborn boys.

As God’s people living in the twenty-first century, we should not be ignorant of Satan’s continued attacks against the church of Jesus Christ.  We need to remember Paul’s warning in Ephesians 6:12.  He said, “For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.”  There is a spiritual war going on.  A war for our souls.  As Peter says in 1 Peter 5:8, “Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour.”

Satan tries to lead us astray with the pleasures of this world.  The material prosperity we enjoy is a rich blessing from God’s hand.  But Satan also uses it as a temptation, to lead us astray.  The question is: who are we going to serve, God or money?  Whose will do we do: God’s will or our own?  And Satan is not afraid to use the people of this world to ridicule us, to oppress us, even to persecute us.  To try to get us to conform to the ways of this world.

Exodus 1 shows us how God built His Old Testament church by multiplying His people.  They were fruitful, and multiplied greatly and became exceedingly numerous so that they filled the land.  Satan fiercely opposed that.  He knew that God builds His church through the generations.  So he incited Pharaoh to command the midwives to kill the baby boys.  Today we see something similar happening.  There is lots of social and economic pressure on us not to be fruitful and multiply.  In Canada it is not cool to have more than 2.2 kids.  That is having an effect on us.

Beloved, do we still see children as a blessing from God?  Do we agree with the Psalmist when he says, “Sons are a heritage from the LORD, children a reward from him…  Blessed is the man whose quiver is full of them” (Psa.127:3,5)?  Statistically, as Canadian Reformed Churches, our growth rates are nowhere near as high as they used to be.  Anecdotal evidence suggests that the pressures of society to conform are influencing us in the decisions we make about receiving children from the hands of the Lord.  It is ironic: the world’s population of Muslims is growing dramatically; yet in many formerly Christian countries the birthrates are below self-sustaining levels.

Viewing Satan’s attacks against the church can easily cause us much discouragement.  For he is a formidable enemy who seeks to bring death and destruction upon God’s people.  Yet we need not worry or become anxious.  For God is in control of history.  He is Lord of lords and King of kings.  He has dominion even over Satan and all his evil forces.  In our final point we’ll see how Satan’s enmity is opposed by God.

Our text speaks about the “Hebrew midwives.”  Literally, it speaks about “the midwives of the Hebrews.”  There is a question about whether or not these midwives were themselves part of the Israelite people.  Our text gives several indications that they were not.  In the first place, it seems quite ridiculous for Pharaoh to command Israelite women to commit genocide against their own people, and then to accept excuses from them when they did not fulfil his command.  Further, the comment that they “feared God” seems to indicate that they were not Israelite by birth.

The midwives did not heed Pharaoh’s command to murder the Israelite baby boys.  Our text says that they “feared God and did not do what the king of Egypt had told them to do; they let the boys live.” (Exo.1:17).  When called to give account the midwives told Pharaoh, “Hebrew women are not like Egyptian women; they are vigorous and give birth before the midwives arrive.” (Exo.1:19).  So we see how God used these midwives to foil Satan’s plan to destroy His people.

When reading this passage, the question often arises about whether or not the midwives were justified in lying to Pharaoh about how the Hebrew women gave birth before the midwives arrived.  We cannot spend much time on this.  But I would like to make a few comments.  The ninth commandment teaches us not to give false testimony against our neighbour.  Scripture teaches that lying and deceit are of the devil and are thus to be avoided (Joh.8:44).  But how about the so-called “lies of necessity”, told to save the life of another?  Like those told by these midwives, or by Rahab about the spies in Jericho, or by those who hid Jews during the Second World War?

Scripture gives us an answer.  God did not view these lies as sin, or punish the midwives for telling them.  On the contrary!  Our text says that “God was kind to the midwives” and because they “feared God he gave them families of their own.” (Exo.1:20-21).  We need to remember that God gave His commandments to teach us how to love Him and our neighbour as ourselves.  That is what these women did; that is also what Rahab did.  Their actions were motivated by the fear of God and love for their neighbour.  And so God blessed them, and incorporated them into his people and gave them families of their own.

The result of the god-fearing actions of the midwives was that Pharaoh’s plot was foiled.  Our text says that “the people increased and became even more numerous.”  Satan’s enmity against the Lord and his people was opposed by God Himself.  We spoke earlier about how it seemed as if God was absent, or silent in our text.  Nothing could be further from the truth.  God was at work, fulfilling his promises to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.  Making their family into a great nation.  Preparing His people for the exodus, so that he could take them and give them the land of Canaan as their own possession.

Beloved, God is sovereign King over all the earth.  We should not see the oppression of God’s people in Egypt as an unexpected thing.  God had foretold it.  In Genesis 15:13-14 the LORD said to Abram, “Know for certain that your descendants will be strangers in a country not their own, and they will be enslaved and mistreated four hundred years.  But I will punish the nation they serve as slaves, and afterward they will come out with great possessions.”

Israel’s oppression in Egypt was necessary.  To chastise His people for their sin of worshipping Egypt’s gods.  To put his people in a situation where they would turn to the God of their forefathers and seek His help.  To give the LORD an opportunity to make known His name to them, and to show them His mighty acts of salvation.  In Exodus 9:16 God says to Pharaoh, “I have raised you up for this very purpose, that I might show you my power and that my name might be proclaimed in all the earth.”  Ultimately, it was not Satan who was in charge of the history recorded in our text; it was God!  He was at work to accomplish His goal of redeeming His people; He was at work preparing them to live in covenant communion with Him.

What comfort our text gives us today.  Especially for those times in our lives or in church life when it appears like Satan has the upper hand attacking and destroying God’s people.  For those times when we lose sight of the mighty work of God in redeeming us, His people.  We may know that Jesus Christ has won the victory over Satan by dying on the cross, and so delivering us from sin and the power of the evil one.  Our comfort is that Jesus is our ascended King, who exercises power and dominion from His position on the throne at God’s right hand.  He will continue to gather, defend and preserve His church by His Spirit and Word.  Jesus said that He will build His church and the gates of hell will not overcome it (Mat.16:18).

Beloved, what our text teaches us to do, is to look beyond the outward circumstances of daily life.  It teaches us to be aware of the fact that God has placed enmity between the followers of Christ and the followers of Satan.  Day by day we are involved in spiritual warfare; a war is being fought over our souls.  Satan seeks our allegiance, and tries to draw us away from Christ and His church.  But God remains at our side, helping us to stand firm against his attacks.  Teaching us to hold fast Christ’s victory; to fight the good fight of the faith and take hold of the eternal life promised to us.  May the Spirit continue to help us to seek our hope and salvation in Christ our Saviour, and in Him alone.  Amen.


* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. Joe Poppe, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.
(c) Copyright 2008, Rev. Joe Poppe

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