After Joseph’s death at the end of the book of Genesis, the story of Scripture picks up in Exodus likely a few hundred years later. Pharaoh’s have come and gone, completely forgetting who Joseph was and what the Lord did through him to save Egypt and the surrounding countries. Meanwhile, Joseph’s family continues to multiply into a nation: “But the people of Israel were fruitful and increased greatly; they multiplied and grew exceedingly strong, so that the land was filled with them” (Exodus 1:7). These opening verses of Exodus are intended to call our minds back to the first command in Scripture—for Adam and Eve to “be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it…” (Genesis 1:28). God has blessed the family of Abraham, just as he promised, turning them into a multitude of people. However, the Egyptians fear their great numbers and therefore place them in hard and cruel slavery (Exodus 1:11–14).
We skipped past portions of the story that are more familiar, including Moses’ basket-ride down the Nile, his killing of an Egyptian, and his fleeing into the wilderness. We jumped ahead to chapter 2, where we see the already-brutal slavery become even worse, and naturally, the people cry out to God in anguish, wondering where he had been. At the end of chapter 2, we see this beautiful statement: “And God heard their groaning, and God remembered his covenant with Abraham, with Isaac, and with Jacob. God saw the people of Israel—and God knew” (Exodus 2:24–25). Even in their suffering, God had not forgotten them or turned his back on them. He heard them, saw them, and cared deeply for them. In fact, for reasons perhaps beyond what we can understand, this was actually part of God’s promise that he made to Abraham when he established the covenant mentioned here. In Genesis 15, when the Lord tells Abraham to make animal sacrifices in a covenant ratification ceremony, we see that the Lord tells Abraham that his descendants would sojourn and be slaves in a foreign land for four hundred years before being brought out into the Promised Land (Genesis 15:12–14). If we were to keep reading in that passage, we would see that part of God’s reason is that it was not quite time for him to judge the residents of the Promised Land, so Abraham’s descendants would have to wait to inhabit it (v. 16).
Years after fleeing into the desert, Moses comes across the Lord in the burning bush, and the Lord tells him that he has heard the cries of Israel and plans to use Moses to bring them out of Egypt. In this conversation, the Lord reveals a new name to Moses, which encapsulates his eternal covenant faithfulness: I AM WHO I AM, or Yahweh. This is a name that speaks of God’s never-changing nature, and his never-failing faithfulness. He is the same yesterday, today, and forever, so the covenants he made with the Patriarchs will never fail. Moses, and the people of Israel, could count on him to deliver them and bring them to the Promised Land. As is often the case in Scripture, though, God’s plan would look MUCH different than what the people expected. He would bring them out of Egypt with a mighty and outstretched hand and fulfill his promise to Abraham in Genesis 15 by bringing them out with great possessions (Ex 3:19–22), but it would be a longer road ahead than any of them knew as he brought Pharaoh to the point of seeing who God really is. He is eternally faithful and absolutely loving, but he requires our patience and trust as we follow him.