Now I would like us to look at that call to Abraham, because it gives us an outline of what’s coming. Next time, we’re going to see a little bit more about the condition of the people in Egypt, and after that the birth of Moses. I want you to see that what we find here in these books—Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy—is what was prophesied very clearly by God to Abraham, and recorded for us in Genesis 15. This chapter describes what was probably the most significant day in the whole life of the patriarch Abraham.
God had called Abraham out of Ur of the Chaldees when he was 70 years old. God had promised him when He called him that he was going to be the father of a great nation. But Abraham had no children. The time came when Abraham was thinking in terms of an alternative. He had a servant in his household by the name of Eliezer. Abraham was thinking that this servant is going to be his heir. But God intervened. The story is told in this fifteenth chapter of Genesis. God took Abraham out at night under the stars and told him to look up at them.
“Can you count them?” No, they were beyond Abraham’s ability to count. God told him that his descendants would be as innumerable as the stars. And then we come to verse 6: “Abraham believed the LORD, and it was credited to him as righteousness.” James and Paul both teach that believing God is the very essence of the Gospel. Abraham becomes the first great example of that.
Immediately after that, God gives this magnificent promise. He had Abraham prepare for it. In ancient times, when they enacted a covenant (an agreement between two people), they would do it in a solemn way with the shedding of blood. They would take animals and cut them in two. Then they put the two parts of the animals over against one another on the ground. And then the two parties to the covenants would stand between the two rows of the slain animals in the area that had been consecrated by blood, and there they would exchange their promises.
God had Abraham do that. He took a heifer, a goat, a ram, a dove and a young pigeon. He divided them, and arranged them in rows. And then something happened that was different from the normal way a covenant was enacted. Abraham was on the sideline in a dream or trance. And while he was there, there were symbols representing God, which passed alone between the pieces. In other words, it was a way of saying that this covenant didn’t depend on Abraham. This was God making it. The term for that is “unilateral.” God was establishing a unilateral covenant with Abraham. It didn’t depend on Abraham’s obedience, faithfulness, understanding, strength, character, courage or anything else! God said. “This is what I am going to do.”
This is the great and marvelous promise God gives:
Know for certain that your descendants will be strangers in a country not their own. They will be enslaved and mistreated 400 hundred years. I will punish the nation they serve as slaves, and afterwards they will come out with great possessions… In the fourth generation your descendants will come back here. (The sin of the Amorites has not yet reached its full measure.)… To your descendants I give this land from the river of Egypt to the great river the Euphrates in the land of Kenites, Kenizzites, Kadmonites, Hittites, Perizzites, Rephaites, Amorites, Canaanites, Girgashites, and Jebusites” (Gen. 15:13-14, 16, 18-21).
This unilateral covenant God makes with Abraham contains six great statements, and that gives us an outline of the subsequent history of the people. First, the Jews would be strangers in a land that was not theirs. The last third of the book of Genesis tells us how that happened. They weren’t from Egypt where they ended up as slaves; they were from Canaan. How did they get down there? Jacob had twelve sons, and his favorite was Joseph. The other brothers hated him because he was the favorite son. So on one occasion, out of their hatred, they decided to sell him into slavery. Midianites came by in a caravan, and the brothers said, “Here, let’s sell him to the Midianites.” So they did, and the Midianites took Joseph down to Egypt, where he was sold as a slave.
It was a terrible thing to happen to a young man. He was 17 years old at that time, carried away to a foreign land. He didn’t even know the language. But he was a man of integrity, and he kept his faith in God in this pagan land. Furthermore, he kept his character, and God blessed him and protected him, even in very difficult circumstances—including being lied about and thrown in jail. And God used these events to bring him to a position of power in Egypt.
While Joseph was still in prison, the pharaoh had a dream on one occasion. He didn’t know what it meant and was puzzled about this, nor could he get any help from the wise men in his kingdom.
But he had a servant that had been in jail with Joseph some years before, and this servant remembered that Joseph had interpreted one of his dreams and it came true. And so he told the pharaoh, “There’s this man that I’d forgotten about, but he told my dream once. Maybe he could help.” And so they called Joseph up. Joseph explained the meaning of the pharaoh’s dream and told him, “There’s going to be a period of abundance, seven years of plenty in the land, and there is going to be seven years of famine.” Joseph told him that he should prepare for that.
He conducted himself so wisely that the pharaoh said, “Let’s put him in charge of the operation. Let him be in charge of saving up the grain for the years of famine.” Joseph acquitted himself very well, and became the second most powerful person in all of Egypt. When the famine came, it affected Canaan as well as Egypt. Joseph’s brothers and their father were there in Canaan. They didn’t have any food, so they went down to Egypt. As a result of that chain of events, God not only brought about the repentance of the brothers for what they had done and reconciliation with Joseph, but God also saved the family. And under the patronage of Joseph they came to Egypt and they lived there for 430 years.
The second statement God told Abraham is that they would be slaves in the land. Now they didn’t go there as slaves. They moved there favored by Joseph and with the blessing of the pharaoh. But we are told here at the very beginning of Exodus, that the time came when a king arose who didn’t know about Joseph. Under that pharaoh, whoever he may have been, the people began to experience the oppression that made their lives so bitter.