By Justin Borger with assistance from Generous Giving staff
The book of Exodus recounts God’s faithfulness to his promises in multiplying his people into a great nation and delivering them from bondage in Egypt “with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm” so that they would be free to serve a new Master. We read of God’s generous provision of manna from heaven and water that sprang up out of rocks in spite of the people’s grumbling as they journeyed through the desert. Exodus also describes God’s gift of the law at Mt. Sinai and his gift of himself to his people through a binding covenant relationship. In this law God gave his people many instructions concerning their responsibility to act as diligent stewards of their gifts and resources and to show generosity to their neighbors, the poor and needy among them, and even strangers from other lands. Finally, we read about the design and construction of the tabernacle—the symbol of God’s abiding presence with his people—and how God called his people to give generously from their material possessions so that the Lord would be honored and that his presence would be with them as they went into the promised land.
Our study of Exodus consists of two parts. In the first section, readers will find our stewardship study notes. These notes analyze, in a passage-by-passage fashion, the implications of the book’s teaching for Christian generosity and related issues. The second section consists of short essays describing the book’s major stewardship themes. These notes and essays are not intended to be comprehensive explanations of Moses’ goals in writing this book, nor do they exhaust the book’s possible applications in matters related to stewardship and generosity.
While Generous Giving’s Bible study material will aid anyone who is searching the Scriptures for guidance, they may prove especially useful as sermon helps for pastors and as a resource for teachers, advisors and lay leaders interested in obeying and teaching the message of Scripture in matters of generosity and stewardship. We readily acknowledge our fallibility in writing these study notes, for they are the work of humans, not God. Please search the Scriptures (Acts 17:11) as you read this material critically, carefully and prayerfully. May God bless you in your studies.
Passage-by-Passage Study Notes
Exodus 2:1-10 — The diligent care and stewardship which Moses’ family exercised in protecting him from Pharaoh provides a clear illustration of divine sovereignty and human responsibility working together. Although God’s plan is the ultimate cause of everything that has happened in history, we are called, like Moses’ mother and sister, to participate in his purposes as active stewards rather than passive spectators.
Exodus 2:11-12 — Moses seems to have acted impetuously. He did not have the authority to execute the Egyptian official who was beating the Hebrew slave. However, Moses’ desire to defend the slave was entirely just, and it would have been equally wrong to do nothing, for God calls us to practice justice and mercy (Micah 6:8). However, when we defend those who are being oppressed or abused, we must be careful that we do not become oppressive or abusive ourselves. (See Acts 7:25 and Hebrews 11:24-26, which do not condemn Moses for what he did.)
Exodus 2:19-20 — Once again Moses comes to the defense of those who are being oppressed unjustly. God often uses our own personal encounters with injustice, like Moses’ experience with slavery in Egypt, to sharpen our sensitivity to the mistreatment of others. Although Moses had acted impetuously when he killed the Egyptian official, on this occasion he acted with measure and used appropriate force to defend Jethro’s daughters. Moses’ defense is a beautiful example of the way we are to exercise stewardship over our physical strength. We are given resources like physical strength for the purposes of protecting those who are weak and of ensuring justice, rather than for the sake of personal gain or revenge. The same holds true for our other abilities. For example, those who have been blessed with the capacity to make more money than they need are to practice stewardship of that money in the way they use it for others. In addition to protecting Jethro’s daughters, Moses acted as a humble servant by watering their animals. Like Moses, we always should be willing to work with our hands and engage in humble tasks (1 Thessalonians 4:11-12; Romans 12:16). See Exodus theme essay Rest and Giving Rest.
Exodus 2:19-22 — Generosity begets generosity. When Jethro heard about what Moses did for his daughters, he practiced hospitality and even gave Moses one of his daughters in marriage. We reap what we sow.
Exodus 2:23-25 — This is the first of many verses that record God’s concern for his people while they were in bondage (e.g., Exodus 3:7, 9, 16; 6:5; 8:29). God hears his people’s groans for two reasons: (1) God always listens to all those who truly cry to him in faith and (2) God is moved by his own promises, i.e., the promises which he made to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob (Genesis 17:7, 19; 35:11-12). God reveals himself as a God of deliverance who comforts the afflicted and afflicts the comfortable. When we are in need, we should cry out to him in faith that he will hear when we ask him for help (James 1:5-6).
Exodus 3:8a — God comes down to his people who are in need in order to take them into a land of blessing. This pattern of “coming down” is repeated throughout Scripture, most clearly in the Incarnation of Jesus Christ, who came down as Immanuel—“God with us”. Like Jesus himself, Christians are called to go down to others in need. Romans 12:16 says, “Do not be proud, but be willing to associate with people of low position.” In fact, there is no “be willing” in the Greek. We are simply called to stoop down. However, we are not merely to associate with the lowly for the sake of remaining lowly, or “wallowing in the mud,” but for the purpose of raising up other people and bettering their situation, just as we have been raised with Christ (Colossians 3:1ff). See Exodus theme essay Freedom for Sacrifice.
Exodus 3:8b (Key Passage) — Land of Milk and Honey: God promised Moses that he would bring the people into “a good and spacious land, a land flowing with milk and honey.” This is the proverbial description for the land of Canaan, which was known as a place oozing with the best of creation’s bounty. Deuteronomy 8:7-9 described the promised land as “a land with streams and pools of water with springs flowing in the valleys and hills; a land with wheat and barley, vines and fig trees, pomegranates, olive oil and honey; a land where bread will not be scarce and you will lack nothing; a land where the rocks are iron and you can dig copper out of the hills.” In addition to this great fertility, the promised land also would be spacious. God told Moses that the land he had determined to give his people was home to no less than seven nations, and 10 different peoples are listed as natives of the same territory in Genesis 15:19. Clearly God was determined to bless his people abundantly. See note on Exodus 23:25-26 and Exodus theme essays Freedom for Sacrifice and Rest and Giving Rest.
Exodus 3:10 — As soon as God promised Moses that he would free his people and give them the promised land, he informed Moses that he would use him to do it. God chose Moses, a refugee in a foreign land who was working as a shepherd over a flock that didn’t even belong to him, to accomplish his plan for the deliverance of his people. God continues to use believers to accomplish his redemptive purposes today. As members of Christ’s body, we are the hands and feet of God in the world. Like Moses and our Savior himself, followers of Jesus especially are called to show God’s love and generosity to those who are poor and oppressed. We are to seek out those who are suffering or being mistreated or spiritually lost and suffering, so that in God’s family they might find blessing through our generosity. The apostle James even went as far as to say, “Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress ...” (James 1:27). See Exodus theme essays Freedom for Sacrifice and Rest and Giving Rest.
Exodus 3:21-22 (Key Passage) — You Will Not Go Empty Handed: Not only were the Israelites to be released from captivity, but they also were going to plunder their oppressors at God’s command. This promise, which is actually fulfilled in Exodus 12:35-36, repeats the promise God gave Abraham in Genesis 15:14, which revealed that God planned to punish Israel’s oppressors by sending the Israelites from the land with “great possessions”. Some Old Testament scholars also connect the despoiling of Egypt with instructions that are given about the release of slaves in Deuteronomy 15:12-15, which says that slaves are not to be sent away “empty handed” but are to be given something in compensation for their time as slaves. “Remember that you were slaves in Egypt and the LORD your God redeemed you. That is why I give you this command today” (Deuteronomy 15:15). Certainly, this part of the story of Israel’s redemption is full of practical and theological significance. At a very basic level, it reveals something of God’s generous nature and concern for the oppressed. God did not send the Israelites on their way “empty handed” (Exodus 3:21). In a similar fashion, when the Christian is freed from slavery to sin, God does not merely save us from hell and judgment but also graciously gives us “all things” (Romans 8:32). God demonstrates his generosity in salvation, not only by freeing us from what is bad, but equipping us with good. This passage is also significant in that it foreshadows what we read in Zechariah 14:1-19. In this passage a great reversal occurs that is similar to the reversal about which we read in the story of the exodus, as the Israelites plunder the land of their captivity. Zechariah 14 begins with all the nations plundering the possessions of God’s people (Zechariah 14:1-2) but ends with “the wealth of all the surrounding nations” being collected in God’s victory as King (Zechariah 14:14). This section makes it clear that God is strong to save his people in distress. And it shows that in the end, all of the world’s wealth will be returned to God. See Exodus theme essays Freedom for Sacrifice, Rest and Giving Rest and What God Commands.
Exodus 4:10-17 — Moses complains that he has not been given what he needs to do the work that God has called him to. He tells God that he has always been a poor communicator and says that even talking with God hasn’t improved his ability to speak. Jehovah gives a forceful response: “Who gave man his mouth? Who makes him deaf or mute? Who gives him sight or makes him blind? Is it not I, the LORD? Now go; I will help you speak and will teach you what to say” (Exodus 4:11-12). In the Hebrew, when God says that he will help Moses’ mouth, he actually says, “I will be with your mouth.” Of course, we often accuse God of failing to provide when we really just don’t want to do what he says. After all of Moses’ excuses have been evaporated by God’s promises, Moses cries out what he was really thinking all along, “O Lord, please send someone else to do it” (Exodus 4:13) God always gives what he demands. He provides for the obedience he requires. Even seemingly impossible commands, like the duty we have to offer our bodies as living sacrifices holy and pleasing to God (Romans 12:10), or the command to take up our cross and follow Jesus’ sacrificial example (Mark 8:34-38), can be accomplished because in Immanuel, God is not only with our mouth as he promised Moses, but God is with us as well. Truly believing that God is with us means that we can obey God’s commands without fear or anxiety because he has promised to apply his power to our weakness and to give all that he demands. In addition to his own presence, God gives him the help of his brother, Aaron. God not only provides for us directly through the presence of his Holy Spirit, but he also provides for us and encourages us through the help of other people. See Exodus theme essays Freedom for Sacrifice and Rest and Giving Rest.
Exodus 4:31 — The people worshiped God when they learned of his concern for them. In a similar fashion, Romans 12:1 says that we are to offer our bodies to God in view of his mercy and compassion. Offering our bodies—the concrete side of our existence—to God as living sacrifices that are holy and pleasing to him is our spiritual act of worship as Christians. This tangible worship is what God calls us to today when we learn about his concern for us. See Romans theme essays Physical Sacrifice and Spiritual Worship and Generosity in View of God’s Mercy and Exodus theme essay Freedom for Sacrifice.
Exodus 5:1 (Key Passage) — Let My People Go: God hates it when we withhold things that belong to him or other people (see note on Romans 13:7). In Exodus 4:22-23, God instructed Moses to tell Pharaoh, “Israel is my firstborn son ... Let my son go, so he may worship me.” Later in Exodus 19:5, God calls Israel his “treasured possession”. God’s regards his people as his children and his most precious belonging, and Pharaoh was robbing God by failing to let them go. Years later the prophet Malachi was especially concerned with the sin of robbing God. Sadly, however, Malachi had to deliver his message not to a pagan tyrant but to God’s own people when they refused to let go of the things that belonged to him (see notes on Malachi 1:6-9; 3:6-9). Do we refuse to let go of the things that belong to God? Do we rob God today? Do we cheat God out of ourselves? Do we cheat him out of our time? Do we rob him of our efforts? How often are our energies absorbed by God’s purposes rather than our own? Truth be told, we tend to offer up the dregs of our existence to God after spending the best part of our time and energy on the things we really care about. We are often our own captors. As God’s people, we ourselves often refuse to let God’s people go. When we find our hearts hardening and our grip tightening on things that we ought to give away, we must cry out to God that he would soften our hearts and immediately let go of the things that do not belong to us. We do not want to end up like Pharaoh or the rich young ruler (see note on Mark 10:17-25) and others who have refused to let go of the things God demands as his own. See Exodus theme essays Freedom for Sacrifice, Plagues of an Unyielding Heart and What God Commands.
Exodus 5:4-5 — Pharaoh’s initial response to God’s demand revealed his true priorities. Pharaoh did not even respond to Moses’ words directly but was preoccupied by the fact that the people were being taken away from their lucrative labors, which provided Egypt’s economic success. Pharaoh knew that time was money, and his initial response to Moses’ message was, “Get back to your work! Look, the people of the land are now numerous, and you are stopping them from working.” Greed hardened Pharaoh’s heart. See Exodus theme essay Plagues of an Unyielding Heart.
Exodus 5:5 — Commentator R. Alan Cole points out that we should beware of anxiety and the fear of being swamped by immigrants and newcomers into our country: “Many modern immigration restrictions stem from this fear. Christians should ponder carefully their attitudes to such laws on the basis of Scripture, noting how readily fear leads to hatred and cruelty, as here [in Exodus 1:9-11; 5:5].” Fear easily can produce greedy behavior, and as we will see in the following note, greed leads to oppression. See Exodus theme essay Rest and Giving Rest.
Exodus 5:6-18 — As is often the case, Pharaoh’s greed produced increased oppression, even violence. The same day that God told Pharaoh through Moses to let the Israelites go, Pharaoh greatly increased the labors demanded of the Hebrew slaves by ceasing to supply the straw that was necessary for the making of bricks even though he demanded that the same quota of bricks be made as before. When the Israelites were unable to meet these demands, their foremen were beaten (Exodus 5:16). On top of all this, Pharaoh diagnosed the Israelites’ problem as laziness. Lest we look down our noses at Pharaoh’s greed, Paul notes in 1 Corinthians 6:5-10 that greedy self-preservation of our resources often produces the same injustice in the covenant community—the last place on earth we should find it. See Exodus theme essay Plagues of an Unyielding Heart.
Exodus 6:7 (Key Passage) — Covenant of Belonging: “I will take you as my own people, and I will be your God.” The relationship God shares with his people hinges on the idea of belonging. When we look for something beyond this relationship for satisfaction and joy, the problem is not that we want too much but, rather, that we want too little. This covenant is repeated in various ways throughout Scripture, but the central idea of belonging remains the same: Exodus 19:5-6; Leviticus 26:12; Psalm 24:1; Jeremiah 3:22; Zechariah 2:8-10, 12; 8:2; 13:9; Romans 14:7, 8; 1 Corinthians 3:23; 6:19-20; Titus 2:14; Revelation 21:2-3. See Zechariah theme essay Belonging to God and Exodus theme essay Freedom for Sacrifice.
Exodus 6:8 — God promises to give Israel the promised land as a possession. See note on Exodus 3:8b.
Exodus 7:14-12:51 (Key Passage) — Plagues of an Unyielding Heart: Before the first plague falls, God describes Pharaoh’s heart as “unyielding”. Pharaoh refused to give what God demanded. This attitude was the human cause that set the terrible effects of the 10 plagues in motion. In Exodus 3:19-20, God said that unless compelled by his wonders, Pharaoh would never let his people go. Thus, the disasters that follow in the story of the 10 plagues originated in the unyielding attitude of Pharaoh’s heart and in his stubborn refusal to release God’s “possession” (Exodus 19:5). Although we should exercise caution in drawing too close a parallel between Pharaoh and ourselves—because God hardened Pharaoh’s heart (Exodus 10:1) yet promises to give us hearts that are new (Ezekiel 36:26)—it is still important for us to recognize that an unyielding heart always brings disaster, regardless of whether it is Christians or non-Christians who refuse to let go of the things God requires. After all, it was not a pagan Pharaoh but God’s own people to whom the prophet Malachi later said, “Will a man rob God? Yet you rob me ... You are under a curse—the whole nation of you—because you are robbing me” (Malachi 3:8-9). God demands that we let go of everything that does not belong to us (see note on Romans 13:7), and as the story of the 10 plagues teaches us, God is very, very serious about this demand. See Exodus theme essays Freedom for Sacrifice and Plagues of an Unyielding Heart.
Exodus 7:14-24 — The plague of blood is a powerful testimony to the truth of Psalm 24:1: “The earth is the Lord’s and everything in it, the world, and all who live in it.” God’s ownership and sovereignty extend over all creation. The Nile River was the greatest natural resource Egypt possessed, serving as the source of her natural fertility and prosperity throughout history. By changing the waters of Egypt into blood, God demonstrated his control over the source of Egypt’s economic vitality. The effect of this plague would be similar to what it would be like for America suddenly to lose access to all of her oil wells, refineries and reserves. For an agrarian economy, the result would have been devastating. See Exodus theme essay Plagues of an Unyielding Heart.
Exodus 8:1-7 — Although the plague of frogs may seem trivial in comparison with some of the later plagues, the nuisance could not be ignored. God often uses seemingly trivial nuisances like budgets and finances to keep us from ignoring him. He reminds us of what he wants with the things that are all around us, the things that make their way into our home life and into the nooks and crannies of our existence. Like a plague of frogs, it is difficult to ignore our budgets and finances when we have been poor stewards of our resources or when we refuse to part with the things God tells us we must let go. See Exodus theme essays Freedom for Sacrifice, Plagues of an Unyielding Heart and What God Commands.
Exodus 8:16-19 — Most commentators suggest that the plague of “gnats” was probably a plague of mosquitoes. This would have been an unbelievable torment for the people living in Egypt. However, in an agrarian culture, this also would have posed a real economic threat. The insects were not only on men but also on animals, and this would have sharply reduced their ability to work and produce food (Exodus 8:18). When attention is given to this, it is clear that all of the plagues would have had devastating economic ramifications. This was fitting in light of the fact that Pharaoh’s heart was so greedy and unyielding (See note on Exodus 7:14). See Exodus theme essays Freedom for Sacrifice and Plagues of an Unyielding Heart.
Exodus 8:20-32 — Evidently the previous plagues had been less severe than the plague of flies. Now the land was ruined by the flies (Exodus 8:24). Plague by plague, Egypt’s economy was being destroyed. In spite of Pharaoh’s initial belief that he could retain the Hebrew labor force free of cost, God was showing him the penalty for his stubborn refusal to give to God the things that are God’s (Matthew 22:21). Accordingly, Pharaoh summoned Moses in order to make concessions (Exodus 8:25-28). However, the concessions Pharaoh attempted to make with Moses revealed Pharaoh’s controlling fear, i.e., the loss of the lucrative labor force which the Hebrew slaves provided. Pharaoh didn’t want the slaves to get too far away from his grip, and he told Moses, “You must not go very far. Now pray for me.” Once again, after Pharaoh was given relief, his heart grew hard and unyielding (see note on Exodus 8:15). See Exodus theme essays Freedom for Sacrifice and Plagues of an Unyielding Heart.
Exodus 9:29-30 — Moses told Pharaoh that he would pray for him so that the hailstorms would end and so that Pharaoh would “know that the earth is the Lord’s.” By demanding that Pharaoh let the Israelites go, God was not merely demanding that Pharaoh release his people but also requiring Pharaoh to recognize God’s absolute ownership and sovereign rule over everything. Moses adds a final comment: “But I know that you and your officials still do not fear the LORD God” (Exodus 9:30). To fear God means to submit to him as Lord of our possessions. Submission does not merely mean lip service and wordy recognitions, but it also must include giving to God the things that are God’s, i.e., yielding to God without reservation. See Exodus theme essays Freedom for Sacrifice and Plagues of an Unyielding Heart.
Exodus 10:24-26 (Key Passage) — Worship with Possessions: After the plague of darkness fell, Pharaoh told Moses to go: The Israelites would be allowed to worship God in the desert, yet the flocks and herds were to be left behind. The Israelites’ livestock certainly would have appreciated in value since the Israelites’ animals were the only cattle still alive and well in Egypt. In addition to this, Pharaoh planned to hold the Israelites’ animals as ransom to ensure the return of his lucrative labor force. Moses responded that “not a hoof is to be left behind.” According to Moses, it would be impossible to worship God without possessions. Sacrifices must be made. Moses told Pharaoh, “We have to use some of them in worshipping the LORD our God, and until we get there, we will not know what we are to use to worship the LORD.” God wanted Moses to lead the Israelites into the desert in a state of openhandedness, ready to give whatever God asked. Unlike Pharaoh, their hearts would not be “unyielding” when they approached their God. Anything God specified must be given, and so they would take all of their possessions with them when they went to worship. Like Moses, Jesus himself taught us that it is impossible to separate our worship from our possessions, “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (Matthew 6:21). Most people will acknowledge that it is impossible to worship without our hearts; Jesus taught that it is equally impossible to worship without our possessions. See Exodus theme essays Freedom for Sacrifice and What God Commands.
Exodus 12:1-30 (Key Passage) — Passover: Salvation from bondage would not come without sacrifice. God gave Moses and Aaron specific instructions regarding the Passover feast that the Israelites were to observe annually. This feast required the shedding of blood. A spotless year-old paschal lamb must be slain. Some of the blood was to be put on the sides and top of the doorframe so that the Lord would pass over the Israelites’ houses and the destroyer would not be allowed to kill the firstborn (Exodus 12:7). The meal was to be eaten in anticipation. They were to eat “in haste,” ready to go even while they ate (Exodus 12:11). The meal served both as a reminder of their salvation from Egypt and as a consecration from the Egyptian way of life. The Israelites were to see that they were not only being taken out of Egypt physically, but they also were to leave Egypt’s values system behind in order to truly follow the LORD wholeheartedly. Today, we no longer celebrate the Passover because Jesus was sacrificed for us as the one true Paschal Lamb. Christ’s sacrificial death on the cross has caused God’s judgment to pass over all those who have faith in the Lamb. Accordingly, all those who have received forgiveness through Jesus’ sacrifice are called to be imitators of the Lamb who was slain through sacrifices of our own. Jesus said, “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me and for the gospel will save it” (Mark 8:34-35). It is impossible to follow Jesus if we refuse to live sacrificially with our finances and the rest of our lives. Because money matters are such an integral part of our everyday existence, remembering Christ’s sacrifice requires us to celebrate the fact that God’s judgment has passed over us with our money and our resources. This means that we will not be bogged down with the things of the world but will separate ourselves from the world’s unyielding way of life by being generous with our possessions. Just as the Israelites were strangers in Egypt on their way to the promised land, we are pilgrims on our way to a far better country, heaven.
Exodus 12:31-32 — Finally, Pharaoh lets God’s people go. His unyielding heart had been broken along with the entire land of Egypt. See note on Exodus 7:14 and Exodus theme essay Freedom for Sacrifice.
Exodus 12:33-36 — The promise God made in Genesis 15:14 and Exodus 3:21-22 is actually fulfilled in Exodus 12:35-36. God punishes Israel’s oppressors by sending the Israelites from the land with “great possessions.” Some Old Testament scholars also connect the despoiling of Egypt with instructions that are given about the release of slaves in Deuteronomy 15:12-15, which says that slaves are not to be sent away “empty handed” but are to be given something in compensation for their time as slaves. “Remember that you were slaves in Egypt and the LORD your God redeemed you. That is why I give you this command today” (Deuteronomy 15:15). Certainly, this part of the story of Israel’s redemption is full of practical and theological significance. At a very basic level, it reveals something of God’s generous nature and concern for the oppressed. God did not send the Israelites on their way “empty handed” (Exodus 3:21). In a similar fashion, when the Christian is freed from slavery to sin, God does not merely save us from hell and judgment but also graciously gives us “all things” (Romans 8:32). God demonstrates his generosity in salvation, not only by freeing us from what is bad, but equipping us with good. This passage is also significant in that it foreshadows what we read in Zechariah 14:1-19. In this passage a great reversal occurs that is similar to the reversal about which we read in the story of the exodus, as the Israelites plunder the land of their captivity. Zechariah 14 begins with all the nations plundering the possessions of God’s people (Zechariah 14:1-2) but ends with “the wealth of all the surrounding nations” being collected in God’s victory as King (Zechariah 14:14). This section makes it clear that God is strong to save his people in distress. And it shows that in the end, all of the world’s wealth will be returned to God. See Exodus theme essays Freedom for Sacrifice, Rest and Giving Rest and What God Commands.
Exodus 13:1-2 (Key Passage) — Consecration of the Firstborn #1: As a representative of the whole, the Israelites were to consecrate to God every firstborn male from both men and beasts. As commentator Alan Cole notes, to “consecrate” could mean either to “sacrifice” or to “consider as belonging to God”. This consecration was closely connected to what God had done in both the Passover and the exodus itself. Even though God had spared the Israelites while he had slain the firstborn of Egypt, he had not relinquished his rights to them as his own property. God said they belong to him: “They are mine” (Exodus 13:2). Commentators C.F. Keil and F. Delitzsch point out that this claim was not based upon the fact that every created object is owned by God and therefore to be devoted to him, but rather, as Numbers 3:13 and 8:17 explain, God’s claim to the consecration of the firstborn was grounded in the fact that when God destroyed the firstborn of Egypt, he sanctified the firstborn of the Israelites to himself. Throughout the history of salvation we see that God’s claims of ownership are amplified again and again. God owns the world not only by right of creating it, but also because he is redeeming it to himself. God owns the world as both Creator and Re-Creator. See Zechariah theme essay Holy to the Lord and Exodus theme essays Freedom for Sacrifice and What God Commands.
Exodus 13:11-13 (Key Passage) — Consecration of the Firstborn #2: Moses gives further instructions regarding the consecration of the firstborn which he began in Exodus 3:1-2. The practice of the offering the firstborn male was to begin after God brought them into the land he had promised to give them. As always, our giving comes as a response to God’s generosity. For the Israelites, childbirth served as a continual reminder of the fact that God owns everything. When God gave life at the time of birth to men or animals, the Israelites were called to respond to God’s generosity as the giver of life through generosity of their own. In the case of firstborn sons, this responsive giving would have been a lifelong reminder, for these sons were to be devoted to God as living sacrifices, and their energies and resources were to be submitted to the Lord’s service. Later this lifelong work was transferred entirely to the Levites (Numbers 3). A firstborn son, however, was still to be redeemed by paying five shekels to the priests who labored as God’s special servants (Numbers 3:47). This contrasts sharply with the ‘child sacrifice’ of the Israelites’ neighbors: when God has his children sacrifice, we are not dedicating those things to destruction; we are committing them to a higher calling. Similarly, while some religions require financial sacrifice for worthless idols and empty ceremony, God calls his people to sacrifice in ways that produce life and health and blessing. See note on Romans 12:1, Romans theme essay Physical Sacrifice and Spiritual Worship and Exodus theme essays Freedom for Sacrifice and What God Commands.
Exodus 13:14-16 (Key Passage) — Remember God’s Generosity: God gave the Israelites specific instructions about the way in which they were to remember what he had done for them in Egypt: “In the days to come, when your son asks you, ‘What does this mean?’ say to him, ‘With a mighty hand the LORD brought us out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery. When Pharaoh stubbornly refused to let us go, the LORD killed every firstborn in Egypt, both man and animal. This is why I sacrifice to the LORD the first male offspring of every womb and redeem each of my firstborn sons.’ ” The Israelites were to remember their salvation from Egypt by giving God their firstborn sons and animals as representatives of the whole. This was to be done not only for the generation that actually left Egypt but also “in the days to come” (Exodus 13:14). Like the Israelites’ children, as Christians we are called to see ourselves as participants in the exodus. The God who saved our spiritual forefathers from slavery in Egypt is the same God who through Jesus has saved us from slavery to sin. With the Israelites we are sharers in the same generosity. This is one of the reasons we are called to remember God with our possessions and resources. Even though Jesus fulfilled the law and all its requirements, Old Testament laws like the consecration of the firstborn continue to inform and instruct us concerning the general categories of obligation we have to God as slaves who have been redeemed. As this law shows us, one important category of obligation that we have is to remember God’s generosity with the material resources with which he has blessed us, teaching our children to do the same. Indeed, our responsibility to view our lives through a sacrificial lens has not been abolished but amplified. We are to offer our bodies as living sacrifices to God (Romans 12:1) as we pick up our own crosses and give all that Jesus asks us to give (Mark 8:24-27). See Exodus theme essays Freedom for Sacrifice and What God Commands.
Exodus 15:22-27 — Only three days after worshipping God for saving them from Pharaoh’s chariots, the people began to grumble because they didn’t have water. Moses cries out to God, and the Lord makes the water sweet. God has not redeemed his people to abandon them to want and poverty without comfort and rest. He calls us now to find rest in him and his mission (Matthew 11:25-30), and to make the water sweet for our brothers and sisters in need (Matthew 25:31-46, 1 John 3:16-19). See note on Exodus 16:2-3. See Exodus theme essays Rest and Giving Rest and What God Commands.
Exodus 16:2-3 (Key Passage) — Grumbling: In the desert the Israelites grumbled against Moses and Aaron and even despaired of life itself. They said, “If only we had died in Egypt where we sat around meat pots and ate all the food we wanted,” and they longed for the land of bondage which God had ruined for their salvation. Rather than appreciating God’s past generosity, we often idealize past points in our own history (or the lives of others) and use them to complain about our present circumstances. The Israelites’ grumbling is a prime example of this ungrateful attitude. They were idealizing their experience as slaves, using their selective memories as an excuse to grumble. Grumbling and despair are a denial of the gospel. Grumbling is rooted in a deep distrust of God and his providence; grumblers doubt God’s desire and his ability to give us what we need. The Israelites distrusted God’s goodness and power and asked, “Can God spread a table in the desert? When he struck the rock, water gushed out, and streams flowed abundantly. But can he supply meat for his people?” (Psalm 78:19-20). How quickly we forget God’s generosity when we want what we do not have. The Israelites had seen God’s provision and the host of miracles he preformed for their benefit, but as soon as their stomachs began to growl, their hearts began to grumble. As an anecdote, they learned to continually tell the story of God's redemption and praise him for his mighty acts of release and provision. See Exodus theme essay Freedom for Sacrifice, Plagues of an Unyielding Heart, Rest and Giving Rest and What God Commands.
Exodus 16 (Key Passage) — Manna from Heaven: Graciously responding to the Israelites’ grumbling, God provided a miraculous source of food for his people, who had exhausted their own resources. This source of food was given not only as an answer to the Israelites’ immediate needs, but also as a way of testing their willingness to follow God’s commands in general (Exodus 16:4). God gave two main instructions concerning the miraculous food he promised to provide. First, each person was to gather no more than was needed on a daily basis; and the Lord specified this amount as an omer (probably about 2 quarts) a day per person. The Israelites were to live in a state of total dependence upon God’s providence at all times. Thus, hoarding manna and accumulating stockpiles was forbidden in light of God’s promise to provide day by day (Exodus 16:19). The desire to accumulate would serve as a clear indicator of unbelief. God wanted the Israelites to trust in his power to provide and the constancy of his will to do so. This first instruction bears a striking resemblance to what Jesus taught his disciples in the Lord’s Prayer: “Give us today our daily bread.” Just as the Israelites were told to gather only what they needed, Jesus commands Christians not to worry about tomorrow, “for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own” (Matthew 6:34). One exception was given to the command to gather only enough for each day: on the sixth day the people were instructed to gather twice as much so that they could rest on the seventh day, which was a “holy Sabbath to the LORD” (Exodus 16:23). Finally, we should note the fact that this passage is quoted in 2 Corinthians 8:15. Here we see the apostle Paul encouraging the Corinthians to be generous so that the needs of all of God’s people are provided for. “Then” says Paul, “there will be equality, as it is written: He who gathered much did not have too much and he who gathered little did not have too little” (2 Corinthians 8:14-15). Just as the Israelites used the manna God gave to provide everyone with what they needed, each of us must use the various gifts and resources God gives for the greater benefit of the entire Christian community. See note on Exodus 20:8-11. See Exodus theme essays Freedom for Sacrifice and What God Commands.
Exodus 17:4-7 — God supplies water for the thirsty Israelites. This is yet another clear example of God’s providing a material necessity to the Israelites in spite of their ungrateful attitudes.
Exodus 17:8-16 — God demonstrates his ability and desire to defend his people from their enemies by enabling the Israelites to defeat the Amalekites in battle. Similarly, Christians today have been made “more than conquerors” through God’s love (Romans 8:37). Thus, it is necessary to recognize that we are participants in a battle. Christians still are called to engage in an ongoing fight. As the language of the New Testament illustrates, it is appropriate to use military terminology and the imagery of warfare to describe various aspects of our responsibilities as stewards. As stewards of God’s gifts and recipients of God’s generosity, we are called to pursue and destroy the evil desires of our hearts and the spirit of the age. Through the power of God’s Spirit, we are to do battle against greed, covetousness, materialism, consumerism, oppression, injustice, the love of money and the desire to accumulate more and more “things.” Ever since sin entered the world, God’s people have been called to a fight, and many of the things we are called to fight can be destroyed only by practicing stewardship and sacrificial generosity through the power of God’s Spirit and in the likeness of his Son. See Exodus theme essay Freedom for Sacrifice.
Exodus 18:13-27 — Stewardship in leadership roles includes the responsibility to delegate responsibilities. Jethro’s advice to Moses along these lines is highly instructive. He encouraged Moses to “share the load” and to distribute the work of leadership among other trustworthy and capable individuals in the community. This is especially important in the contemporary church, where 20 percent of the people often do 80 percent of the work. Grossly disproportionate workloads in the church show that we are not being good stewards of the community’s gifts that God has given to us. We all have strengths, and we are all called to use those gifts and abilities for the good of the body (Romans 12:4-8) and to encourage and enable others to use their gifts as well.
Exodus 19:5-6 (Key Passage) — My Treasured Possession: Again, as we saw in Exodus 6:7, the covenantal relationship God shares with his people hinges on the idea of belonging. When we look for something in addition to this relationship of belonging for satisfaction and joy, the problem is not that we want too much but too little. In Exodus 19:5, God adds the condition, “If you obey me fully and keep my covenant, then out of all nations you will be my treasured possession. Although the whole earth is mine, you will be for me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.” God requires us to respond to his generosity by stewarding our covenantal obligations. God’s people are blessed so that they can become a blessing. A few are chosen so that many will be benefited. Like the Israelites, Christians are called to be a priestly people. This means that we are to act as God’s representatives in the world by practicing righteousness, justice, mercy, generosity, stewardship and love. See Exodus theme essays Freedom for Sacrifice and What God Commands.
Exodus 19:10-15 — The people are commanded to consecrate themselves before God gives them his law. Stewardship of God’s word calls us to live lives that are holy and blameless. Because God has revealed himself as a “holy God,” we must devote ourselves to being holy. See Exodus theme essay Freedom for Sacrifice.
Exodus 20:1-17 (Key Passage) — Ten Commandments: As fifth-century church father St. Augustine said, “God gives what he demands.” It wasn’t until God gave Israel freedom from slavery in Egypt with “a mighty hand and an outstretched arm” that he handed down his law and demanded that it be obeyed. God always prepares us for the obedience that he requires with the grace that he gives. The preface to the Ten Commandments (Exodus 20:1-2) places God’s law within an atmosphere of grace and generosity. We obey God because he is the LORD our God who brought us out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery. We obey God because of who he is to us and what he has done for us. God is free to demand anything because he himself has provided everything. Our obedience is a response to his matchless generosity and grace. See Exodus theme essays Freedom for Sacrifice and What God Commands.
Exodus 20:3 — First Commandment: No other gods. This command identifies God as the only true object of worship. There must be nothing that comes before God. All other loves must be subservient to our first love. When Jesus spoke about other “gods” that compete with our affection for the one true God, he specifically identified money as the number one contender. Jesus said, “No one can serve two masters. Either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and Money” (Matthew 6:24).
Exodus 20:4-6 — Second Commandment: Make no idols. This command concerns the way in which we are to worship God. In the first commandment we are prohibited from worshiping false gods. The second commands us not to worship the one true God in ways that are false. One of the ways that we may worship God falsely (and therefore fashion idols for ourselves) is by associating God with unbiblical values and priorities. In this way we carve out thoughts and ideas about God for ourselves, just as the ancients fashioned images out of wood and stone in ways contrary to the way God has revealed himself to be in his word. For example, we may idolize certain standards of living and then attempt to justify ourselves with false assumptions about what God wants for us. “After all,” we might say to ourselves after purchasing a third car or a larger house that we don’t need, “Why would a fabulously rich and almighty God want anything less than the best for his children?” But when we look at God’s Son, the manifestation of God’s nature (Hebrews 1:3), we see that he was revealed in poverty and humility rather than power and prosperity (Matthew 8:20; Luke 2:6). See Deuteronomy theme essay Prosperity Idols and Colossians theme essay Idolatry.
Exodus 20:8-11 — Fourth Commandment: Remember the Sabbath. Christian stewardship requires that we integrate weekly work with weekly rest, first with respect to God and second with respect to man. With respect to God, we are called to set a portion of our time aside on a weekly basis for deliberate worship and service to him. We should note that the fourth commandment not only teaches us about the need for rest, it also teaches us about the importance of work. After all, the only way to rest well is to work hard, i.e. “Six days you shall labor and do all your work ...” It is impossible to really rest when we have failed to be diligent in our work because anxiety about what is left undone will make us restless, but “the sleep of a laborer is sweet” (Ecclesiastes 5:12). When we work diligently and still find that we have too much to do, we can rest in the fact that God has called us to be still and trust in his providence. We also should note that the command stresses the duty we have to give rest to others, especially those that are under our authority or care, i.e., “your son or daughter ... your manservant or maidservant ... your animals ...” even the “alien within your gates.” This part of the command is especially important for us to remember as Christians because Jesus, the “Lord of the Sabbath” (Matthew 12:8), showed special interest in giving rest to others by doing good works on the Sabbath, and we are to follow his example in all things. Finally, the fourth commandment is grounded in God’s own example. God himself demonstrated the timeless relevance of weekly rest by resting after the six days of creation (Genesis 2:2-3). Even though God is all-powerful and does not need to rest himself, he provided an example which demonstrates that “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath” (Mark 2:27). Accordingly, the continued relevance of weekly rest can be seen most clearly in the circumstances surrounding God’s original example. As scholar John Murray has observed, because God’s original example of rest preceded sin and the need for redemption, weekly rest is relevant regardless of our sinful state and our need for redemption. Today, as Christians living in a world that is restless due to the effects of sin, we demonstrate humility as creatures who really need the rest God gives by accepting such rest on a weekly basis. As stewards of God’s gifts, we have been called to make the most of our time and strength, and we do this best by following the example God set in the beginning, along with the more fully developed example Jesus set during his earthly ministry. We must realize that the rest Jesus offers as “Lord of the Sabbath” is not inactive. Ultimately, the rest Jesus gives is restful because it is done in union with his power and his own good work. Jesus says, “Come to me, all who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you ... For my yoke is easy and my burden is light” (Matthew 11:28-30). See Exodus theme essays Rest and Giving Rest and What God Commands.
Exodus 20:12 — Fifth Commandment: Honor your father and mother. God’s law reveals the categories of obligation that we have as Christians. Among these obligations is our responsibility to give honor where it is due. As the specific words of the fifth commandment show, children have a special obligation to honor and obey their parents. Moreover, paying honor and obedience to parents is a real benefit to the child, as Ephesians 6:1-3 reminds us, because it is ultimately our heavenly Father who blesses us and rewards us—not just our earthly parents. We should remember that this commandment has a more general application beyond parent/child relationships. As Romans 13:7 says, “Give everyone what you owe him: if you owe taxes, pay taxes; if revenue, then revenue; if respect, then respect; if honor, then honor.” We must fulfill all our obligations and pay our debts wherever they exist, particularly when our parents who gave us life cannot care for themselves. The apostle Paul says that those who fail to use their resources to care for parents have “denied the faith and are worse than unbelievers” (1 Timothy 5:8). See Matthew theme essay God as Father and Exodus theme essay and What God Commands.
Exodus 20:13 — Sixth Commandment: You shall not murder. God owns life itself; we rob him when we kill other people or hinder their health. In essence, we are to do no harm. However, this is only the negative side of the commandment. By extension, a positive command is implied. We are to bless and promote life wherever possible. This includes the duty to protect the lives and welfare of other people with the same sense of urgency, diligence and concern that we show for ourselves. Just as hatred leads to death, love leads to life. When we love others with our possessions, hospitality, money, time and talents, this leads to the fulfillment of this command in radical ways, a radical obedience exemplified by Jesus himself in his life and death on the cross.
Exodus 20:14 — Seventh Commandment: You shall not commit adultery. By extension, the command against adultery is a command against sins of covetousness and theft. This connection is all the more relevant in light of the close connections that Scripture draws between sins of lust and adultery with sins of greed and robbery. For example, the tenth commandment begins by saying, “You shall not covet your neighbor’s wife” (Exodus 20:17). Another striking biblical connection between these sins can be seen in the prophet Nathan’s description of David’s adultery with Bathsheba in 2 Samuel 12:1-10. Here, rather than describing the sin of adultery in terms of sexual immorality, Nathan describes David’s sin with Bathsheba in a way that focuses on and condemns greed and theft. Because there is no more intimate belonging than a spouse, committing adultery is, perhaps, the most extreme form of theft. On top of this, we should note the close connection between adultery and theft that is revealed in Proverbs. For example, Lady Folly’s invitation to adultery is presented in the metaphorical language of drinking “stolen water” (Proverbs 9:17). Finally, we should note that when God says he “abhors” dishonest scales in Proverbs 11:1, the actual Hebrew word for “abhors” means that God views deceptive business practices as an “abomination,” a word typically used to refer to sexual sins.
Exodus 20:15 — Eighth Commandment: You shall not steal. In his exposition of the eighth commandment, reformer John Calvin observed that because generosity or charity is the “end of the Law,” we must get our understanding of what it means to steal from that positive “end.” “This, then,” Calvin said, “is the rule of charity, that everyone’s rights should be safely preserved, and that none should do to another what he would not have done to himself. It follows, therefore, that not only are those thieves who secretly steal the property of others, but those also who seek for gain from the loss of others, accumulate wealth by unlawful practices, and are more devoted to their private advantage than to equity” (J. Calvin, Commentaries III, 110-111). Calvin argued that the prohibition against stealing also implied the positive command to be generous. In other words, we not only steal when we take from others but also when we fail to give what we owe (James 5:4). We steal by being stingy. We steal by living extravagant lifestyles that cause us to neglect the needs of others (James 5:5). Though the list could go on, the point is that we should give, even beyond what we may owe in any strictly legal sense. As the apostle Paul reminded us in 2 Corinthians 8:9, Christians must be cheerful givers because we know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for our sakes he became poor, so that we through his poverty might become rich (2 Corinthians 8:9). See Malachi theme essay Robbing God and Exodus theme essay What God Commands.
Exodus 20:16 — Ninth Commandment: Speak the truth. The ninth commandment carries obvious economic implications. For example, a major concern in God’s law was the issue of “dishonest scales” or business practices (Leviticus 19:35; Deuteronomy 25:13-16; Proverbs 20:10, 23; Ezekiel 45:10; Hosea 12:7-8; Amos 8:5; Micah 6:10-11; Luke 6:35-38; cf. Acts 5:1-11). In all of our business ventures, truth must be our bottom line. Of course, this commandment extends beyond our obligation not to deceive people or tell lies. The command is given in the context of a relationship with our neighbor. We are to love our neighbors as ourselves and to speak about them as we would have them speak about us. We are to be caretakers or stewards of the truth, speaking the truth in love and charity. Though we should not be flatterers, our words should be generous, speaking in ways that build others up.
Exodus 20:17 — Tenth Commandment: You shall not covet. This commandment moves God’s law beyond our outward actions and into the realm of our internal desires. The book of Proverbs tells us that wise people desire neither poverty nor riches (Proverbs 30:8-9). Christians are warned against coveting and called to contentment (Matthew 6:11; Philippians 4:11-12; 1 Timothy 6:6-8; Hebrews 13:5-6) because “people who want to get rich fall into temptation and a trap and into many foolish and harmful desires that plunge men into ruin and destruction.” (1 Timothy 6:9; see also Mark 10:23, 25). The apostle Paul even tells us that the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil (1 Timothy 6:10). A covetous heart that itches to get more of what other people have can never be satisfied. It is bound for the disappointment of endless craving (Ecclesiastes 5:10). We should also note that greedy desires are not only a problem for isolated individuals. Covetousness has the power to destroy our relationships and communities (see James 4:1-3). 1 Corinthians 6:5-10 illustrates the fact that even the Christian community is not immune to rivalries that spring from covetousness and greedy self-preservation. Similarly, pastor Tim Keller notes that a good number of believers confess to sins like lust and adultery, but few if any ever confess to stealing or covetousness. Covetousness is dangerous, and Jesus warns us against it in the strongest language possible (Luke 12:15; see also 12:18-21) because so few of us think we are guilty of it. Covetousness leads to ingratitude, a lack of generosity and, when left unchecked on a wide scale, social injustice, political upheaval, war and death. See Colossians theme essay Idolatry and James theme essay Warning to the Rich.
Exodus 20:24 — Moses told Pharaoh that he must let God’s people go in order to worship and sacrifice to God in the desert. Here we see that this actually takes place. See note on Exodus 3:18. See Exodus theme essay Freedom for Sacrifice.