So the Book of Exodus began with a genealogy: “These are the names of the sons of Israel who went to Egypt with Jacob, each with his family…” followed by the names of Jacob’s twelve sons. Which, to us, is a horrible way to start a book. So boring, right?
But for the ancient people of Israel, starting with a genealogy felt just right. Because, for them — after 400+ years of slavery in a foreign land — that opening genealogy reminded them who they were. It reconnected them to their core identity as the children of Israel, the children of Jacob.
For many traditional cultures, who you are as an individual is defined by who you are related to, where you come from. If you are not related to anyone, then really you are no one.
So Moses began the Book of Exodus with a genealogy because he wanted his people to know: you are someone. You belong to someone. You belong to the family of Jacob.
But Moses also wanted his people to know that he is someone also: he is the messiah — the champion — chosen by God to rescue the people of Israel from slavery.
So over the episodes that followed, Moses showed how the events of his early life actually connected him to the great messiahs of the past. He was saved through water, like Noah. He was tested and prepared in the wilderness, like Jacob. He married and raised a family in a foreign land like Joseph. And he met God face-to-face in flames of fire just like Abraham.
The major point Moses has been making over the last few chapters is this: I am God’s messiah, sent to lead God’s people home to the mountains on the far side of the wilderness.
So by this point in the book, the people of Israel know who they are, and they know who Moses is supposed to be. But they do not really know yet who God is.
And that became clear to us during the episode last week.
When Moses first arrived in Egypt, and told the people of Israel who they were related to, and who he was as their messiah, and when he proved it all by performing miraculous signs, the people believed!
But then, when the king of Egypt said, “Who is the Lord, that I should obey him?” and then, when he proceeded to make their lives miserable, God’s people began to say, “Wait a second, Pharaoh has kinda got a point here: who is the Lord, that he would make our sufferings even worse than they were before? And if he is going to do that, then why should we obey him?”
Basically, they had put their faith in Moses’ miraculous signs, but not in God’s Word. God had told them, very clearly, that Pharaoh was going to fight back, that God himself would have to beat Pharaoh into submission. But the people ignored that part of Moses’ preaching. They focused on the miracles instead. They figured that, with a powerful magical bomoh like Moses on their side, they were going to just name their freedom and then claim it.
So the people believed in God, and their belief was a sincere belief. But it was also a false belief, because they were believing in their own idea of who God is. They believed in a God who would never let his people suffer! They believed in a God who would lead them to easy victories!
And when God did not turn out to have the identity they had imagined for him, they turned around and doubted Moses’ identity as God’s messiah. And then Moses turned around and doubted God’s identity as deliverer. The last thing Moses said last week was, “you have not rescued your people at all!”
So it is clear that no one in the Book of Exodus really knows who God is yet, not even Moses. Everyone, really, is asking this question along with Pharaoh: “Who is the Lord, that I should obey him?”
Well, today God answers that question.
Last week, when Moses finished by saying, “you have not rescued your people at all!” God finally said, “Okay. Enough. Stand back everybody! Now you will see what I will do to Pharaoh.
“But now,”  God also said to Moses, “to answer the deeper question you are all asking: I am the Lord.  I appeared to Abraham, to Isaac and to Jacob as God Almighty but by my name the Lord I did not make myself fully known to them.”
Now, this part is a bit confusing. Because here God says that Abraham, Isaac and Jacob only knew him by the name God Almighty. In Hebrew this is El Shaddai, which means God of the Mountain. He says they did not know his name ”the LORD”, which in Hebrew is Yahweh, which means the One Who Exists.
But when we go back to the Book of Genesis, we find that God actually did call himself ”the LORD” four times: once to Abraham, once to Abraham’s concubine Hagar when she was lost and in trouble, and two times to Jacob. So how can God now say that they did not know him by his name the LORD?
Well, God actually goes on to explain what he means by this. First he says:
 “I also established my covenant with them to give them the land of Canaan, where they resided as foreigners.  Moreover, I have heard the groaning of the Israelites, whom the Egyptians are enslaving, and I have remembered my covenant.”
Three episodes back, when God appeared to Moses on a mountain in flames of fire, he introduced himself as the LORD. And we realized that God was deliberately connecting his meeting with Moses back to the time when God appeared to Abraham on a mountain in flames of fire. Now, that meeting with Abraham was the very first time in the bible that God introduced himself as the LORD. And then, right after introducing himself, God went on to make this covenant with Abraham: this promise to give them the land of Canaan.
So God’s name “the LORD” is directly tied to the concept of God’s covenant. When we hear “the LORD” we should immediately think, “The God of the Covenant”.
So Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob did know God by his name “the LORD”, and they knew that this name meant “The God of the Covenant.” But for them, this was just…head knowledge. They knew God’s name. They knew God’s promises. But they had not yet experienced the reality of those great promises. They had not yet experienced the weight of God’s name. They knew him as “The God of the Covenant”, but they had not actually seen him keep his covenant.
God is telling Moses here that even Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob did not fully know God’s character. They understood him as the Mountain God, God Almighty, they knew he was also the God of the Covenant, but they had not yet fully experienced him as the Covenant-Keeping God.
All this is about to change. That is why God goes on to say:
 “Therefore, say to the Israelites: ‘I am the Lord, and I will bring you out from under the yoke of the Egyptians. I will free you from being slaves to them, and I will redeem you with an outstretched arm and with mighty acts of judgment.  I will take you as my own people, and I will be your God. Then you will know that I am the Lord your God, who brought you out from under the yoke of the Egyptians.  And I will bring you to the land I swore with uplifted hand to give to Abraham, to Isaac and to Jacob. I will give it to you as a possession. I am the Lord.’”
So the people of Israel are going to experience what Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob never got a chance to! They are going to get to know God in a way that their ancestors never did! Abraham and his people knew God’s name by faith. But Moses and his people are about to experience God’s name with all their senses!
What an amazing turning point in God’s plan of redemption! What an amazing time to be alive, right?
So  Moses reported this to the Israelites, but they did not listen to him because of their discouragement and harsh labor.
 Then the Lord said to Moses,  “Okay, nemind about them. You, just go, tell Pharaoh king of Egypt to let the Israelites go out of his country.”
But it seems that Moses is also not ready to listen because of his discouragement, because  Moses said to the Lord, “If the Israelites will not listen to me, why would Pharaoh listen to me, since I speak with faltering lips?”
Well, God has already told us what to expect. He has already said, “Stand back everybody! Now you will see what I will do to Pharaoh!” So, in a way, the fact that his people are weak and unbelieving at this point does not matter at all: God is the Covenant-Keeping God, and he is going to keep his covenant, even if his children are too discouraged to believe. God knows that true faith only comes after deliverance, so he is going to deliver his people — and then we will see how.
So let’s read on and find out what God will do to Pharaoh!
 Now the Lord spoke to Moses and Aaron about the Israelites and Pharaoh king of Egypt, and he commanded them to bring the Israelites out of Egypt.
All right! Bring it on!
 These were the heads of their families:
The sons of Reuben the firstborn son of Israel were Hanok and Pallu, Hezron and Karmi. These were the clans of Reuben.
 The sons of Simeon were Jemuel, Jamin, Ohad, Jakin, Zohar and Shaul the son of a Canaanite woman. These were the clans of Simeon…
This is another genealogy!
What kind of terrible writer is Moses to leave us hanging like this? Where’s the action? Where are the explosions? Where is God’s outstretched arm and mighty acts of judgment?
Well, Moses is actually a great writer. He knows that his readers are all ready for the action to begin — which is why he pauses now, at the point of greatest tension, to go back to the beginning and deepen our understanding of certain things: God has just thoroughly introduced himself in his identity as “The Covenant-Keeping God”. So it is actually appropriate now for Moses to go back and reintroduce the people of Israel in their identity as the children of the Covenant-Keeping God.
Remember, for ancient readers, genealogies were all about identity. Who someone is as an individual is deeply connected to who they are related to, where they came from. The Book of Exodus began with a very simple genealogy, just enough to let the people of Israel know that they belong to Jacob. This genealogy is far more detailed, so it is meant to communicate something more than the first genealogy.
So let’s read on and see what Moses wants to communicate.
So far he has covered Reuben, Jacob’s firstborn son, and Simeon, Jacob’s secondborn. Now he moves on to Jacob’s thirdborn son:
 These were the names of the sons of Levi according to their records: Gershon, Kohath and Merari. Levi lived 137 years.  The sons of Gershon, by clans, were Libni and Shimei.  The sons of Kohath were Amram, Izhar, Hebron and Uzziel. Kohath lived 133 years.  The sons of Merari were Mahli and Mushi. These were the clans of Levi according to their records.
Oh. But now, instead of moving on to Judah, Jacob’s fourthborn son, Moses focuses in on just one branch of Levi’s family:
 Amram married his father’s sister Jochebed, who bore him Aaron and Moses.
Ah, okay, that makes sense. Moses is proving his personal identity by detailing who he is related to.
Amram — Moses’ father — lived 137 years.  The sons of Izhar — Moses’ oldest uncle — were Korah, Nepheg and Zikri.  The sons of Uzziel — another uncle — were Mishael, Elzaphan and Sithri.  Aaron — Moses’ brother — married Elisheba, daughter of Amminadab and sister of Nahshon, and she bore him Nadab and Abihu, Eleazar and Ithamar.  The sons of Korah — Moses’ cousin — were Assir, Elkanah and Abiasaph. These were the Korahite clans.  Eleazar son of Aaron married one of the daughters of Putiel, and she bore him Phinehas.
These were the heads of the Levite families, clan by clan.
Now, to us, most of these names are meaningless. But the people of that time would have known Moses’ uncles and cousins and nephews, and they would have been able to read this and go, “Ah, yes! I see how Moses and Aaron fit into the story here.”
And that is how Moses finishes this section, really. He says:
 It was this Aaron and Moses to whom the Lord said, “Bring the Israelites out of Egypt by their divisions.”  They were the ones who spoke to Pharaoh king of Egypt about bringing the Israelites out of Egypt—this same Moses and Aaron.
So Moses’ main point with this genealogy is to establish his credentials and Aaron’s credentials as messiahs for God’s people. He is pointing out that they are the sons of Amram, the son of Kohath, the son of Levi, the son of Jacob, the son of Isaac, the son of Abraham. Which makes Moses and Aaron the seventh generation from Abraham, just as Abraham was the seventh generation from Eber — who was the father of the ‘Eberew people — just as Enoch, before Noah’s flood, was the seventh generation from Adam. Moses is highlighting the fact that he and his brother are messiahs descended from a long line of messiahs.
Which explains why this genealogy stops with Levi’s family; there is no need to go on with the rest of Jacob’s sons.
But that is not all that is going on in this genealogy. Some of these names become famous later on during the Exodus. Some turn out to be good! Some turn out to be really bad. Which makes sense, because their ancestor Levi was really quite bad.
In fact, all three of Jacob’s oldest sons were really quite bad. Reuben disqualified himself for firstborn status by sleeping with his father’s concubine. Simeon and Levi disqualified themselves for firstborn status by murdering an entire city. That is why the fourthborn son Judah became the official firstborn and inherited the greatest blessing from Jacob before he died.
Which would raise a question in the people’s minds: Moses, you and Aaron are descended from a murderous ancestor. How can God’s messiahs come from such a corrupted family?
Moses’ answer to this question is found here in this genealogy. And his answer is, “I dunno! By God’s grace alone, I guess? I can’t explain it, I can only show you the evidence and tell you that, yes, Aaron and I have been chosen from the corrupt tribe of Levi to lead you into freedom and true worship!”
So another point Moses is making through this genealogy is that even the sons of Levi can be redeemed! A man is not automatically disqualified to be messiah simply because he is descended from Levi. That is why Moses includes famously good names here like Eleazar, Ithamar and Phinehas.
At the same time Moses also wants to make it clear that even the sons of Levi can be condemned. A man is not automatically qualified to be messiah simply because he is descended from Levi. That is why he includes famously bad names here like Nadab, Abihu, and Korah, Moses’ own cousin, who later led a rebellion, tried to set himself up as messiah, and was destroyed in the wilderness.
So the meta-lesson that God teaches us from this genealogy is that salvation does not come from being born into a “good” family, while damnation comes from being born into a “bad” family. The truth is: no one deserves salvation. No one deserves to have God as Father. The first three sons of Jacob were corrupted. But in the story of the Old Testament, Reuben’s tribe and Simeon’s tribe basically fall apart and disappear, while Levi’s tribe becomes the tribe of priests. Why? Because Levi was better than Reuben or Simeon? No. Simply because God graciously ordained that some of Levi’s descendants would repent of their ancestor’s corruption and, in a sense, save Levi’s tribe from judgement.
This is the point: it does not matter where you come from, what family you were born into, who you are related to: your identity can be redefined and redeemed if God decides that he is going to be related to you!
And this brings us to the end of Part 1 of the Book of Exodus. It began with a genealogy, and it ends with one. It began by telling us that the people of Israel are related to Jacob. It ends by telling us that the people of Israel are related to God through a covenant that was first made with Abraham, and is now being passed on to Moses, Abraham’s son in the seventh generation.
And most of Part 1 has been focused on proving that Moses is God’s chosen messiah for this moment in history. But here and there in Part 1, people have wondered who this God is exactly. Moses himself has asked, “What is your name?” Pharaoh asked, “Who is the Lord?” And the people asked, “Hey! If this god truly is the Almighty Mountain God, then why aren’t these low-land river gods of Egypt just melting away without a fight?”
Today God has answered those questions definitively. “This is my name: I am the Lord, and I will bring you out. I am the Covenant-Keeping God, and I am about to keep my covenant. So brace yourselves! Because you are about to experience who I am in a way that your ancestors never got to.”
And today Moses has responded to God’s self-revelation by saying, “Okay. If that is your name, then these are our names.” Saying, in essence: now that we know better who God is, we are better able to know who we are.
So what we have learned from this episode today is that who God’s people are is directly linked to who God is. And, in fact, if God’s people forget who God is, then they also lose track of who they are as God’s people. The reason God has taken more than 400 years to get ready for this war against the gods of Egypt — and the reason he is allowing the gods and kings of Egypt to fight back for a little while here — is because God wants his people to experience him as they have never experienced him before. He has allowed his children to be defined as slaves and nobodies by the Egyptians so that, when he redeems them with an outstretched arm and with mighty acts of judgment, then they will know in their bones that he is the LORD their God.
So now it is time for us to ask that question we like to ask every week: so what? Why do we care? What does this have to do with us?
Well, this has everything to do with us because, just like the ancient people of Israel, our modern, globalizing world is wrestling deeply with this question: where does a person’s identity really come from? Traditional cultures say that a person’s value and status is assigned from the outside, by society. But our modern cultures say that a person’s value and status is self-assigned from within, by the individual.
Which one is correct?
Well, this episode believes that traditional cultures are right: a person’s identity is assigned from the outside. If you are born to an Egyptian king, you are Egyptian royalty. If you are born to an Israelite slave, you are an Israelite slave. And even in our modern world it is very obvious to us that we are all still deeply defined by our genetic heritage, by our spiritual heritage, by our cultures and societies, by centuries of history.
But we modern people do not like this, do we! We do not like to be told that who we are is defined by who we are related to. More and more we are saying No! I have the right to reject the identities that have been assigned to me, I have the right to redefine myself genetically, spiritually, culturally. And that is what we are doing, more and more with every passing generation.
But it is not working, is it. We are the most powerful, self-defined, self-actualized, self-everything people who have ever lived, we have wrenched ourselves free from the slavery of every possible tradition, biological and social…and yet somehow we are more depressed, more mentally ill, more emotionally unstable, more combative and divided than ever. It is almost as if the more control we gain over our physical reality, the more control we lose over our internal reality.
We are discovering that we simply do not have the strength to actually sustain a whole new independent self-created identity. We are discovering that our whole new independent self-created identities are not new or independent at all, that we are all hopelessly corrupted by the clinging, trailing roots of traditions we simply cannot escape. We were all born into genetic, spiritual and cultural slavery, and in slavery we remain.
Basically, our modern experience is actually proving that traditional cultures are right: a person’s identity really is assigned from the outside. We can tell because those who try to create a self-assigned identity quickly become more miserable and self-destructive than people who accept their slavery.
Sooo…is that what this episode trying to teach us, then: just submit to society for your own good? Just submit to genetic and spiritual and cultural slavery?
No. This episode is telling us that traditional cultures are right: a person’s identity is assigned from the outside. We are all born into genetic, spiritual, and cultural slavery. But this episode is also telling us that traditional cultures are wrong: just because we were all born into slavery does not mean we have to be defined by our slavery forever. Remember the point of Moses’ genealogy here? It does not actually matter where you come from, what family you were born into, who you are related to: your identity can be redefined and redeemed if God decides that he is going to be related to you!
Which means that, while our modern cultures are wrong to say we can escape by rewriting our own identities from within, at the same time our modern cultures are right to believe in the possibility of escape.
So our application today is not just submit to slavery. Our application is: escape from slavery by becoming related to God.
But this raises a few other questions, like: who is this God, and why should we want to be related to him? And if we do decide that we want to be related to him, how do we do that? If we are so helpless in our genetic, spiritual and cultural slavery, how can we persuade God to decide to be related to us?
So: who is this God, and why should we want to be related to him?
First of all, this is the LORD, the One Who Exists. Which is a way of saying that he created everything else that is not him. Which means he created us, he designed each one of us with a particular identity for a particular purpose. And the simple truth is: we will only be truly happy and fulfilled as we discover our identity and fulfill it. The opposite is also true: we will continue to be unhappy and discontent for as long as we reject what God created us to be.
But God is not just the One Who Exists, the Creator. He did not just set us going and then say, “Good luck! Have fun!” No: he is also the Covenant-Keeping God. This means that he speaks, he makes promises, and then he keeps them. It also means that he listens. He even listens to those who do not listen to him. He told Moses today, “I have heard the groaning of the Israelites, and I am going to keep my covenant.” But then, when Moses told the Israelites this good news, they did not listen to him because of their discouragement. But their lack of belief did not turn God aside from keeping his promises.
And we know this because God did keep his promises. I do not want to spoil the story of Exodus for those of you who do not know how it ends, but…God does deliver his people from slavery in Egypt. Moses does redeem the identity of Israel, transforming them from Egyptian slaves to the children of God.
And if you have been travelling with us through the Book of Exodus for the last few weeks, then you already know that Moses the messiah of Israel is a preview of Jesus Christ, God’s Messiah for all nations. Jesus, who is the Son of God, took on mankind’s identity, so that he could give his identity to mankind, transforming us from genetic slaves into the children of God.
So: who is this God? He is the God who loves even when he is not loved, who understands even when he is not understood, who spends himself to redeem even those who resist being redeemed.
And now that we know what kind of God this is, why would we not want to be related to him?
But if we do decide that we want to be related to this God, how do we do that?
Or, really, this is the question: since we are so helpless in our genetic, spiritual and cultural slavery, how can we persuade God to decide to be related to us?
Well, we have already heard the answer, actually: we groan. We groan in our slavery and cry out, and our cry for help because of our slavery goes up to God. God hears our groaning and he remembers his covenant. He has compassion on us, and he acts. Because this is yet another element of God’s covenant: he has promised to respond to everyone who recognizes their slavery and cries out to him for help.
So look, if you are here today and you are not a Christian, and if you have recently become aware of your slavery to the oppressive and corrupting traditions of your fathers, then know this: you can have a new Father. You can become part of a new tradition, a new tradition that is actually the oldest tradition of all, because it comes down to us directly from the Creator.
And if you are here today and you have been trying to escape from the traditional identities assigned to you at birth, if you have been trying to redefine yourself apart from everything that made you, then know this: there is no such thing as an identity in isolation. If you continue down that modern road, eventually you will find yourself closed up in a featureless self-defined universe with a population of exactly one: perfect solitary confinement. And you know what happens to human beings when they are kept in solitary confinement for too long, right? They go mad. You will go mad. Most likely you are already going mad.
And if you are a sensitive person then most likely you already know this. You can feel it happening, you can see it happening to your friends, to the world all around you. It happened to me, when I was fifteen years old, as I slowly came to realize that it was who I am that was actually keeping me from becoming who I wanted to be. Ultimately, I was in slavery to myself! And how can a person escape from who they are? In my growing madness and despair, I seriously considered whether escape meant leaving this life. The only thing that kept me from ending it was fear, and the fact that I knew God’s name. I knew his reputation as the Covenant-Keeping God, the One who has promised to respond to all who cry out to him for redemption.
So I decided to test his name, his reputation. I cried out. I groaned in my slavery. And I finally experienced the Covenant-Keeping God. He stopped being just a theory, just a name. He became a Person. He became my Father. And the funny thing is that, in experiencing him as he really is — the merciful redeemer — I finally began to experience myself as I really am: his child, purchased and precious.
So listen, friend: it may be that you are not yet ready to listen because of your discouragement and harsh labor. Your despair in your slavery may be so great that you do not even have the strength to believe. But you can groan. So groan: “God! Why have you brought this trouble on me? What are you doing? You have not rescued me at all!” Do this, and you will hear God’s voice saying, “Now you will see what I will do…” Ask him to become related to you, and he will do what you lack even the will to want: he will redeem you from genetic, spiritual, and cultural slavery. He will transform you from a slave to a child of God.
But if you are here today and you are already a Christian — what about us? What is our application for today?
Well, as we have discovered, this whole episode is all about how knowing God makes us who we are as God’s people. But this episode has also made it clear that the only way we really know God is by experiencing his deliverance. Which means that suffering and slavery is a necessary part of our faith! Without an experience of slavery, we will not understand God’s freedom. Without an experience of suffering, we will not understand God’s healing.
It is possible for a person to be born into a Christian family, grow up going to church every week, to know God’s name and know everything about God and the bible and theology — and still not know God. It is even possible for a person to have profound spiritual experiences like speaking in tongues and prophecy and ecstatic visions — and still not know God. But how is this possible?
It is possible because we are really good at insulating ourselves and our families from suffering and slavery. As I noted earlier, we are among the most powerful, self-defined, self-actualized, self-everything people who have ever lived, we have gotten really good at controlling our physical reality. Which means that it is really easy for us to forget what we have been delivered from. And it is really easy for us to raise children who know everything about God but have never actually experienced God’s deliverance because we have solved all of their problems before they even had a chance to learn how to groan.
For many of us, our first experience of God took place at that first great point of deliverance, when he rescued us from the misery of trying to define our own identities from within. But that is supposed to be just the beginning of our experience of God! And can you guess how our experience of God is supposed to continue to grow throughout our lives? Through our continued need for deliverance from suffering and slavery. If we use our modern power to delete suffering and slavery from our lives, we also delete the need for God’s continued deliverance. And when God’s continual deliverance ceases to be a reality in our lives…we forget who God really is, and we forget who we really are.
So our application today is really a kind of warning: let us not be so quick to solve every problem for ourselves or for our children. Let us not be so quick to protect ourselves or our children from the reality that man is born to trouble as surely as sparks fly upward. Every grief, every sorrow, every sickness is another chance for us to groan, to cry out, to wait in the darkness for our Father’s deliverance, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge — that we may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God. Let’s leave room in our lives for God to deliver us!
But now some of us are thinking, “Uh oh. I am strongly risk-averse. I am really good at insulating myself from trouble. What if I cannot break this bad habit?”
Well, don’t worry: no matter how good we get at avoiding suffering, God knows how to discipline his children. If he loves us, he will make sure to break through our protective armour. If he loves us, he will make sure we grow in our experience of him!
So if you are here today, and you are a Christian, but you are at a point right now where you are scarcely able to listen because of your discouragement and harsh labor…take courage! Groan. And wait. Because your suffering right now is a sign that our Father loves you, that he is still transforming your identity into the image of Jesus Christ. We do not know how exactly he will do it, but he will redeem you once again with an outstretched arm. And as he draws you once again out of the darkness, you will look back and realize that you have come to known him in ways you did not know before.
This has been my experience: every crisis, every storm that has threatened to drown me, that has left me numb and helpless, has ended up changing me in ways that I was unable to change myself. And I know that there are many among us today who can testify to the same severe mercy in their lives. And for this we thank God.
Let me close now with this final Good News: earlier I mentioned that Moses’ cousin Korah ended up leading a rebellion against Moses, tried to set himself up as a new messiah, and fell under God’s judgement in the wilderness. Korah’s family line, however, did not die. Instead, the sons of Korah became the worship leaders of God’s people. They wrote the psalms that we read together today, and one of the sons of Korah became the prophet Samuel, who anointed King David.
And this just confirms for us, yet again, that it does not matter where we come from, what family we were born into, who we are related to: our identity can be redefined and redeemed if God decides that he is going to be related to us!
Now, at last, all the pieces are in place for the real war to begin. So make sure to come back next week for that.