The following sermon was given by Pastor Phil Henry on the morning of June 19, 2016. The sermons title is, 'Trusting God in Every Season' and the text can be found in Exodus chapter 2. For more info go to www.mercyhillnj.org.
Please note that these are created by pastor Phil Henry, and was originally created as an aid for himself. The notes may or may not reflect exactly what's in the sermon.
“Trusting God’s Plan in All the Seasons of Life”
a sermon from Exodus 1:1-21
the first sermon in a series in the book of Exodus
by the Rev. Phillip Henry, pastor
preached at Mercy Hill Presbyterian Church (PCA) on
Sunday, June 19, 2016, in Sewell, NJ.
“The best laid plans of mice and men oft’ get laid to waste.” So goes the famous American proverb, and truer words could hardly be spoken. The Bible picks up on this theme again and again in various ways, both teaching, and telling stories, of how the plans of people are subject to change, but the plans of God come to pass. In fact, one of my favorite proverbs goes like this:
“Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not unto your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge Him, and He will direct your paths.” (Pr. 3:5-6)
In other words, the mark of wisdom is not “leaning on your own understanding,” that is to say, “trusting in your own plans,” but rather “learning to trust the plan of God in all the seasons of life.”
This isn’t easy for us, is it? I think we need help in this area: learning how to trust God’s plan in all the seasons of life: especially in those seasons in which everything we plan seems to be “laid to waste,” to quote that proverb again.
Where are you this morning with your plans? How are your plans turning out? Are you at a crossroads or a juncture in your life in which “your plans” are being laid to waste, and you find yourself confused, or in a crisis?
My sermon this morning is entitled, “trusting God’s plan in all the seasons of life” and I’d like to see how God’s Word addresses this need we have.
Keep in mind, we don’t particularly need to learn to trust God when things are all going well; in such seasons we often find it easy to trust God—it is when the chips are down, and we’re faced with few or no other options—that’s when trusting the plan of God becomes so important, and so difficult.
That’s where we need help.
In the springtime and summer of faith, trusting the plan of God normally doesn’t take much work. But it is when the temperatures get colder and winter sets in—it is in such seasons that you need to trust the plan of God.
My text this morning in the book of Exodus shows us two critical seasons when trusting the plan of God is so important or crucial:
- first, in the death of the patriarchs;
- second, when faced with the demands of an oppressor.
We’re going to read God’s Word in a moment and see how these two seasons pressed upon God’s people in the beginning of the book of Exodus. We will also see how the people trusted Him and were carried through these seasons.
But first, let me set the scene for you. The story we’re about to read—the first verses of the book of Exodus, the second book of the Bible—this story actually begins in the book of Genesis.
Jacob, the grandson of Abraham, has twelve sons. The final section of Genesis tells a story about his sons, in which one of his sons, Joseph, has a dream that he will be raised up over the others. Because of this, Joseph provokes the jealousy of his brothers who wind up selling him into the hands of some slave traders.
Before long, a famine hits the land and his brothers wind up coming to Egypt in the seeking grain. But the grain supply is in the hands of the Egyptian prime minister, so they come into his presence and bow down before him. But wouldn’t you know it, that prime minister, of all people, turns out to be their long lost brother, Joseph, who was miraculously delivered from slavery and raised to that high status in a series of most unlikely circumstances. When the story finishes, Joseph comforts his brothers with these amazing words:
“…you meant evil against me, but God meant it for God, to bring about that many people should be kept alive as they are today.” (Genesis 50:20)
So as the book of Genesis ends, there is a rising note of hope and confidence in the power of God in spite of seasons of changing circumstances or fierce opposition. And that’s just how Exodus begins: emphasizing the importance of trusting the plan of god in all the seasons of life. Listen now to God’s Word. Read. Pray.
Trusting God’s plan in all the seasons of life. The first season our text shows us is how the Hebrews trusted God in a season when the patriarchs had passed away.
A. the death of the patriarchs
What’s happened is that the patriarchs have died and the people are left, we would assume, to “figure things out for themselves.” The farther and farther we get from the “greatest generation,” the more interviews we’re hearing from the shrinking number of men that survived World War II; it is as if we feel that once the last living veteran of that Great war passes from the scene, some vital link to our past will forever be lost.
This is a prominent note in our text. Moses, the author of this book, goes to great pains to name all the sons of Jacob—the twelve men who would give their names to the twelve tribes of Israel—and then among them, he highlights Joseph, for good reason, and then proceeds to tell us that they all died.
If the greatest generation has passed, how do we now trust God’s plan? What do we do? Notice what my text shows as the primary way in which the people trusted in God’s plan. Notice what they DID.
Did they pray? Did they worship? Did they “love their enemies”? No, none of these things are what the text tells us they did, though they certainly might have done these things. Rather, the text tells us that the people were “fruitful and increased greatly”; that they “multiplied and grew exceedingly strong”; so that “the land was filled with them” (1:7).
This may seem strange to your ears or to modern thinking, but the people of God, in this season of changing circumstances, their response was to trust God; and the way we know that they trusted God is that they were fruitful and they multiplied.
And God doesn’t just tell us this in verse 7; notice throughout my text—as many as three or four times, we are told, and it is emphasized, that the people were fruitful and they multiplied.
Which brings me to my second point: the Hebrews trusted God’s Plan in all the seasons of life, especially when they were confronted by the demands of an oppressor.
Notice what happens: as the people are fruitful and multiply, Pharaoh becomes angry and oppresses them. At first, he oppresses them with demands that they essentially become indentured servants and forces them to build cities for him and for his goods. The thought was certainly something like, “An oppressed people cannot multiply, cannot be fruitful; you can’t make babies that will be healthy if you’re sorely oppressed and abused.”
But that doesn’t succeed.
Then, the program of oppression changes to be one of demanding that the baby boys are murdered. (As a sad aside, the debate today about abortion is such that we have made oppression of babies a “right” that is not to be denied, rather than seeing it as God’s judgment on our selfishness and laziness as a nation and as a church.)
The plan is this: talk to the Midwives union and tell them whenever they see a baby boy, they are to kill it as it comes out of the birth canal of the Hebrew mothers. But the midwives, seeing this as a kind of war, play the role of “double agents” and lie to their Egyptian overseers, and manage to insult them at the same time.
Finally, since this doesn’t succeed, the program of oppression changes to one of outright genocide. Wherever you see a Hebrew boy, kill him. Drown him. Stone him. Do whatever you have to do to get rid of him.
But no matter what the oppression is, the people continue to “be fruitful and multiply.”
What a beautiful picture of divine blessing and human obedience. I can think of nothing that would have been easier than to simply settle down into slavery and give up hope. But no, the people don’t do that. They continue to come together in sexual intimacy. Think of the challenge this must have been for the women, for the men. To be sexually intimate in such circumstances? To continue to believe that there will be a future for your child?
They weren’t content to let other people do the work of carrying on the family name. Each one, every one, all the people were fruitful and multiplied under God’s gracious hand of blessing.
C. The Explanation of the Phrase “fruitful and multiply” in the larger context…
What are we to make of this phrase that appears again and again in the first chapter of Exodus?
Clearly we are intended to understand that being fruitful and multiplication is a major theme of the book. Appearing as it does, three times here, we should expect to find it repeated throughout the book as a major theme, and in fact it is.
When the event that has given this book its name actually takes place, in Exodus 12:37, we find that the family of Jacob, who had come to Egypt with a total of 70 people, after more than four centuries of slave labor have increased to about 600,000 men (Exodus 12:37).
“The book of Numbers begins with a national census (1:45-46). This census was conducted after the exodus from Egypt and it totals 603,550 men above the age of 20. Since these figures apply only to adult males, it has been traditionally assumed that the total number of participants including women and children, could have approximated 2.5 million people.”
In other words, one of the reasons the book of Exodus is written is to record the great blessing of God on the actual numbers of His people. They increased in population, and this was not only God’s will, but the result of God’s blessing.
But why is fruitfulness and multiplication such an important theme in Exodus? This is a question worth exploring a little further. The answer rests in this unique phrase, “fruitful and multiply” that appears so often in our passage this morning.
What we find is that this phrase first shows up in the Bible in Genesis chapter 1, inc which it is used as a technical term as part of the original “creation mandate”:
God blessed them and God said to them, ‘Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth, and subdue it.’ (Genesis 1:28)
Here’s what happens in Creation. First, in Genesis 1:26, we find the Triune God making “man in His image” and “after His likeness.”
The image of God is not a mark or a facial resemblance; in the Bible, the image of god means living like God lives, doing the things that God does. Theologians call this image-bearing idea Mankind’s being called God’s vicegerent, or sub-ruler.
What has God done in the days of Creation? He was fruitful and he multiplied wonders in the created world. What was the final wonder which He fruitfully made? Mankind, male and female, made in His image (something not true of any other creature). What does He then command His image bearers to do? Just what He has been doing: we are called to be fruitful and multiply.
Then, this theme of fruitfulness and multiplication is repeated, lest we forget what God designed Mankind to do, three more times in the book of Genesis:
- Genesis 9:27, after the world is destroyed by the waters of the flood, God tells Noah to “be fruitful and multiply.”
- Genesis 12 and 15, God promises to make of Abraham a great and mighty nation, so that his descendants will number as “the sand on the seashore” and as the stars in the heavens
- Genesis 35, God commands Jacob, Abraham’s grandson, in a vision at Luz to be “Fruitful and Multiply.”
In fact, the theme of fruitfulness woven throughout all the covenants which God makes with his people, so that fruitfulness is almost always promised as the blessing for covenant faithfulness, and fruitlessness (or barrenness) is the curse for covenantal disobedience.
Make no mistake: the fact that the opening chapter of Exodus begins on the same note that the opening chapter of Genesis begins IS NO ACCIDENT.
We are to understand that what God did in Eden, before sin entered the world, He is doing again in Egypt, in the midst of slavery and oppression: He is blessing His people to carry out His command to “be fruitful and multiply.”
We are to understand that, while the people of God will show their sinful and rebellious sides plenty of times in this book of Exodus, at least in the opening chapter, we see a picture of covenant faithfulness because, despite the season of changing circumstances, and the death of the patriarchs, they are continuing to be faithful to God’s command: and they are making Egypt into an Eden, in part, by their fruitfulness and multiplication.
In the original command in Genesis, God blesses the first and and woman, and then commands them to be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth. Now, in Egypt, far from Eden, God again blesses His people, and they are obedient to carry out His command.
How can we apply this first point?
The last thing we want to do when our circumstances change, especially when we lose the people around us that are most precious to us, is to be obedient to God’s commands. Yet, clearly, this is God’s will for us—and not only that, God’s provision for us.
In any change of your circumstance, the most important thing is that you seek the blessing of God by being obedient to God’s commands.
- Having no other gods before Him.
- not making any graven images in your worship of Him.
- Not taking His name in vain: and that doesn’t just mean cussing, it means honoring every thing and circumstance whereby God reveals Himself, especially in His Holy Worship;
- Not defiling, but honoring the sabbath, which in the new Covenant, because Jesus rose from the dead on the first day of the week, and the Spirit of God at pentecost was poured out on the first day of the week, is now Sunday, not Saturday.
- Honoring your father and mother
- Not committing murder.
- Not committing adultery.
- Not stealing.
- Not bearing false witness (but telling the truth).
- Not coveting your neighbor’s property or possessions or spouse, but being content with what you have been given by God.
But specifically, we must not ignore the simple truth that the specific command which Jacob’s family was obedient to was the Creation Mandate, namely, to be fruitful and multiply: namely, to have children.
- God doesn’t say, “check whether or not there are concerns about global warming.”
- God doesn’t say, “see if you can afford their college education.”
- God doesn’t say, “determine if you have a temperament for being a mother to a large number of children, or whether its better for you to concentrate your love on just one or two kids.”
- God doesn’t say, “Wait till you have both established yourselves in your career, and in the meantime, get some dogs to stave off the God-given parental instinct imbedded in every newly married couple.”
- God doesn’t say, “Wait till you’ve paid off your school loans and have been able to travel some.”
- God doesn’t say, “Avoid marriage and live with your boyfriend or girlfriend as if you were married and enjoy the pleasures of marital intimacy without any of the God-honoring covenant which goes with it.”
- God doesn’t say, “Just replace yourselves, that’s enough ‘multiplication’ to satisfy me.”
- God certainly doesn’t say, “Murder your unborn baby because you haven’t graduated from high school, or college, or you don’t remember who the father was, or you’re not ready to be a father, or you don’t want to look at the consequences of the tragedy that resulted in your being pregnant for the rest of your life.”
God doesn’t say any of that.
God does say, I have blessed you. Now be fruitful and multiply as an act of obedience.
And by the way, if you cannot have children, then adopt them, for there are thousands, millions of children without fathers or mothers who God desires to place into godly families.
A word to the fathers on fathers day: men, obviously you can see by these examples that not everyone wants to be fruitful and multiply. Maybe this applies to you as well.
Maybe you’ve fallen for the cultural lie that children are optional marriage, or that the size of your family is a matter of personal choice, and not something that God really cares about.
But if you’re honest, you may find as you consider this challenge that perhaps the reason you don’t want to be fruitful and to multiply is that it is hard work.
In the first place, marriage is hard work. Earning money to support your wife is hard work. Loving and learning to be long-suffering in such circumstances is hard work. Instructing your wife and your children is hard work. Praying for your family is hard work. Confronting your children, your sons and your daughters when they are rebellious or disrespectful to their mothers, or when they defy the Lord’s Word and resist obeying His commands—confronting your children is hard work.
Sacrificing and serving the family that God gives you is hard work.
Helping your children hate their sin and love God with their whole heart, soul, mind, and strength is hard work.
Not giving up this hard work in spite of your failures and shortcomings, this is supremely hard work.
Finally, believing the promises of God are enough, and that the commands of god are enough, not looking at the “hard work” and the uphill climb ahead of you, but simply walking by faith in a Promise Keeping god—this is the hardest work of all.
But that’s the point, though, isn’t it? Trusting God in the changing seasons of life means obedience, despite what we see with our eyes, or how we feel, or what’s happening around us, or any other thing.
That’s the message of this text: in the beginning of Exodus, the people of god are obedient to make Egypt a new Eden by being fruitful and multiplying, in spite of the death of the patriarchs. In spite of the demands of their oppressors.
IIIB. Possible Objections
In hearing me exhort you in this way, some of you may be wondering whether my text in Exodus 1 really has that much to do with Christians today not being stingy with the number of children that they have.
Let’s review the logic here. Exodus 1 is a critical text in the Bible that traditions from Genesis to the Promised Land. The theme of Exodus is going from slavery to freedom, and clearly the “freedom” that God intends for His people to enjoy in part is the freedom of being very numerous. That’s true in every chapter of the Bible up till now. It is also true that in modern society, there is a full frontal attack on this biblical logic of fruitfulness. We come up with every excuse in the book to justify our lifestyles of zero, one, or two children—and while there are exceptions to every rule, that doesn’t justify wholly ignoring the rule!
But if you were to press me, I would say that while this text doesn’t speak to less than the importance of being fruitful and multiplying—in terms of procreation and pursuing the blessing of having many children—while it doesn’t speak to less than that, it does speak to more than that.
After all, trusting God’s plan in all the seasons of life goes beyond simply answering the question, “How many kids does God want us to have?” It includes how you handle any kind of trouble God might throw your way. Are you going to be faithful and consult God’s Word when the chips are down, or are you going to go your own way?
Are you going to do your own thing, or are you going to listen to the Lord?
While I’m obviously a fan of having a big family—and I can tell a number of you agree with me, especially my parents who are here this morning, and also Polly’s parents, though I will admit they weren’t always a fan of our decision at the time, they wouldn’t send any of them back—there are many ways in which we must face the temptation and test, in life’s changing circumstances, and when an oppressor or persecutor is making demands of us, to trust God vs. going our own way.
Others of you might be in a different position. You might struggle with the entire premise of this sermon to begin with: trusting God in all the seasons of life—maybe you struggle with doubts or skepticism that God can be trusted at all, or that he even exists.
Such questions normally arise by taking a look at the “changing seasons of life” and not seeing order or not seeing a “plan” there, but only chaos, disorder, and despair or even destruction.
IN other words, some of you may be thinking, “Well in real life, when the seasons of life change, I haven’t found it helpful at all to trust God.” You’re not alone: many people struggle with skepticism when it comes to seeing, understanding, or accepting the plan of God, especially in light of how so many “bad things” seem to happen to “good people” to quote a famous phrase.
How can you trust the plan of God when things don’t seem to be just or right or good, or when we can’t either see or understand the plan?
We need help in dealing with these kinds of tough questions. Skeptics and atheists, in response to the Christian assertion that God is both all powerful and all loving, point to terror and tragedy in the world, and voice their doubt in this way:
“if God is all powerful, then He can’t be all loving; and if God is all loving, he can’t be all powerful.”
Thinking that they’ve mounted an unanswerable question, the skeptic then often leaves “religion” or faith behind, or reading the Bible, or God, or the church, and goes his own way to do his own thing.
But beneath this is an assumption, and it is a proud assumption, that we “know better”—or even that we know best. Measuring our situations by our own judgment, and closing our minds to the judgment of others or of God, we stubbornly refuse to consider the possibility that there might be a bigger story at work than the one we see from our very limited vantage point.
In response to this, I could say a number of things, but in connection with this morning’s sermon, consider that “it is possible that God has reasons for allowing evil to exist that we simply cannot understand. In this the Christian can have confidence in God knowing that His ways are above our ways (Isaiah 55:8-9).”
Consider also that “…it is quite possible that God uses the suffering to do good. In other words, He produces patience through tribulation (Rom. 5:3). Or He may desire to save someone through it.”
One famous example of this I’ve already mentioned this morning, that of Joseph. While what his brothers did to him was wrong, God ultimately used that wicked deed for the good of Jacob’s family, by raising up Joseph in Egypt during a time of famine. Do you remember what Joseph’s last words were? he said, “You meant it for evil, but God meant it for good" (Gen. 50:15-21).
And the greater Joseph in the Bible was sold, not into a caravan of slave traders, but given over to the wrath of God for our sins. This Greater Joseph is the Lord Jesus Christ, of whom Joseph in the Bible is merely a type.
In the most evil thing that could ever happen in the world, the death of the Innocent Lamb of God, God then used as a means to save His people from their sins.
Let me conclude with an illustration.
In the 80’s, there was a TV show called the A-Team in which a group of Viet Nam vets, led by Col. John "Hannibal" Smith, were called on to deal with a difficult if not impossible problem. Every show was about the same: Hannibal would come up with a plan; no one would think it would work; in the process it would fail a dozen different ways; but in the end, the Colonel would say with his cigar clenched between his teeth, “I love it when a plan comes together.”
The idea is that somehow a plan “comes together” is woven into the story of each of our lives. Things fall apart, we try and piece them back together, and sometimes, but not always, our plans “come together.” More often than not, the plans seem to change along the way, and if we adapt to them with faith, we discover that it isn’t our plans that come together, but God’s.
But the “plan of God” isn’t always as tidy as Hannibal’s plans are in the A-Team. For one thing, no one ever seemed to die in their explosions, car wrecks, and strategies. The film crew was always left on the scene just long enough to show that the bad guys were thrown off the trail, but still able to struggle and get up again. In our lives, the people who get affected by explosions, car wrecks, and strategies often don’t get up again. And it isn’t always the bad guys who are “exploded.” Sometimes its the people who to us seem innocent.
But the message of the Christian faith—the good news of the Gospel, as it is often called—is not that God never permits harm to come to His people, or that somehow His plan leads you every day and in every way to things that are better and better.
No, the good news is that God’s plan has secured your eternal future blessedness forever by conquering death Himself; by bearing the utter and unimaginable consequences of death Himself when He died on the cross.
He didn’t die to make good people safe from evil; he died to redeem His enemies and make them His friends.
By His wounds we are healed; all we like sheep have gone astray, each of us to His own way, but the Lord has laid upon Him the iniquity of us all.
So that when God says, “I love it when a plan comes together,” he’s talking about His plan to take people like you and me, who are far off from God, and bring us near by the shedding of the precious blood of His dear son, and our Lord, Jesus Christ.
But the bad news is that if you reject this great salvation, there is NO OTHER WAY in which to be made a friend with God. No amount of planning or good works or noble efforts on your part can prepare you for that ultimate moment when you stand in God’s presence, the judge of all the earth, and give an account for your life. In that moment, there will simply be one question: have you trusted in the shed blood of My Dear Son for the remission of your sins? Have you been baptized in my Great Name as a sign and seal of my great plan, the covenant of grace?
Let’s not wait for that day to trust God; rather, determine today that you will, no matter what curveballs God throws your way, that you will trust God in all the changing seasons of life. That way, when the final season comes upon you, death, you will be prepared to meet him as one who has trusted Him your whole life.
From the web at: http://journeyrevolution.blogspot.com/2009/05/how-many-jews-left-egypt.html The author continues with this observation: “Some believe that the number could have been much higher than that. The estimated 2.5 million people is reached by estimating that the men would have been married and each family having at least 2 children. Among the Jewish people of ancient culture, large families were considered an honor. It is reasonable to believe that families would have totaled many more children than just two. If the number of children per family were just four, then the number of people that left Egypt could have been 3.5 million people.”