The greatest leaders in the Bible were those who were chosen by God and they were often reluctant starters. They contrast with those, past and present, who trample on the bodies of others in their scramble to the top.
Moses takes a lot of persuading to confront the Pharaoh and lead the Hebrew slaves to freedom. “Slow of speech and tongue,” by his own confession, he’s not slow with excuses! And yet he emerges as a nation-maker in God’s hands and it is said of him that Yahweh (the LORD) would “speak to him face to face, as one speaks to a friend” (33:11). No bypassing the conscious mind required there!
It is stories like that which prompted me to state last year, at an Anglican high school prize-giving evening, that you cannot always be what you want to be, but you can be anything that God wants you to be. It seems to be abundantly true in my own experience of life as well!
I notice that through Exodus the Covenant promises to Abraham are still on show (2:24, 3:15, 6:8, 19:5 and so on). The book another step in the continued outworking (particularly with the Law given at Sinai) of those promises and the establishment of Israel asa she was to relate to Yahweh and the world.
The book also begins to touch on things that we may find difficult to stomach in our relatively stable and peaceful Western culture:-
1 The death of the firstborn at the Passover, the final Plague, can only be understood in the light of the continued stubbornness and arrogance of the Pharaoh, standing in the way of God. The Plagues assert that Yahweh is greater than any Egyptian god but the Pharaoh fails to be convinced. Yes, I know that it says that God hardened Pharaoh’s heart but (briefly) this can be seen as part of a recurring theme, where human responsibility meets God’s firming of people’s choices, turning their evil intent to his own will and purposes. God is ultimately in control as he weaves his pattern from circumscribed human free will.
2 Sacrifice was common amongst the nations of those days but in Israel’s case it was not a matter of God needing human praise but rather a provision by which people could be alleviated of the guilt of their sins. It was a constant reminder that Yahweh was not to be manipulated or devalued in any way. God would always be God, but Israel needed to know that God is great for her own spiritual health and because it was only when they acknowledged that fact in word and deed (by giving of the best and consecrating the firstborn) that they could take their proper place in the world as an example and instrument of salvation for the whole world. When sacrifice is understood along with the idea of redemption (13:11-13) we begin to see the significance of Christ’s, the “firstborn’s,” death and the talk of redemption in the New Testament.
3 An appreciation of the enormity of the plan for Israel and for the salvation of the World may also help us to somewhat understand the severity of the penalties for stepping out of line. The laws were given to Moses at a time when Israel’s future was precarious. We see a lot of people living day to day in the wilderness, having left the secure (if enslaved) existence in Egypt, led by God, whom they could not clearly see, but mediated through Moses, threatened by enemies and scrounging for food and water. It was a recipe for rebellion and it jeopardised the whole future of Israel and the reason for her existence. Any deviation at this stage had to be dealt with decisively, and it was! If the death penalty seems severe then bear in mind that there were no prisons in the wilderness. Harsh measures for harsh times! Notice, too, that this was not a dictatorship imposed on Israel against her will. Exodus 24:7 shows that Israel clearly agreed to the terms of the Covenant.
Further observations in Exodus include instructions for the construction of the Ark of the Covenant and the Tabernacle, which would in turn provide a blueprint for the Temple. The intermediary role of the priesthood is also outlined and each of these provide a rich background against which the reader can appreciate the New Testament references to Christ as both High Priest and Temple.