Salvation from Egypt
“When you did awesome things that we did not look for, you came down,
and the mountains quaked at your presence.” – Isaiah 64:3
Just as Americans may look back to the signing of the Declaration of Independence or the crossing of the Delaware during the Revolutionary War, Israelites looked back on the way God delivered them from Egypt as the defining event in the history of their nation. It became the basis for all their laws and traditions and the holiday of Passover. When God rescued his people through the plagues and the parting of the Red Sea, he showed his power over other nations and the comparative emptiness of other deities, and he put his stamp of ownership on the people of Israel.
If God had not intervened, Israel as a nation would never have existed. God’s ability to save caused the Israelites to break out into song: “Who is like you, O Lord, among the gods? Who is like you, majestic in holiness, awesome in glorious deeds, doing wonders?” (Ex. 15:11).
The part of the exodus story that sometimes gets overlooked, however, is the way it was anticipated. It was not accomplished overnight, and there were many times when the promise looked unbelievable. This is why a prominent theme of Israel’s praise is God’s steadfast love.
In Genesis 50 we read the last wish of a dying man. Joseph was the great grandson of Abraham. After many twists and turns in his life, Joseph eventually found himself a powerful ruler in Egypt. At the time of his death, the people of Israel had settled comfortably in Egypt, seeking his protection and refuge from a famine. It would have been completely understandable and perhaps even better (humanly speaking) for Joseph to recommend that his brothers stay in Egypt for as long as possible, where there were plenty of resources and chances to prosper. He could not have anticipated the way the Israelites would be exploited by the Egyptians as a cheap source of slave labor.
The last wish of Joseph echoes through Israel’s history, becoming one of the most powerful reminders of the hope of salvation from Egypt and the way God works in human history. During this Christmas season, it can also serve as a reminder to us of how God’s promises of salvation provide a hope that outlasts death and passes from generation to generation. When we are about to die, we can look forward with the same confidence that God has provided an “exodus” out of sin and death.
Joseph remembered that when God called his great grandfather Abraham out of the city of Ur, he did so not with the promise of land (Gen. 12:1). So he told his brothers: “God will visit you and bring you up out of this land to the land that he swore to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob… God will surely visit you, and you shall carry up my bones from here” (Gen. 50:24-25).
Four hundred years would pass before this visitation from God would occur, and Joseph’s bones would eventually find their resting place in the land of Israel (Ex. 13:19; Josh. 24:32). Joseph had no way of knowing God’s timetable, any more than we know it today. But he knew that God would honor his promise sooner or later, and that God does indeed “act for those who wait for him” (Isa. 64:4) – just as He acted for those who waited for the birth of Jesus.