Like an insidious poison seeping through veins, oppression didn’t just rest on the skin of the Israelite slaves—it infiltrated their spirits, paralyzing hearts and sterilizing hopes. After 400 years, when deliverance finally dawned on the horizon in the form of Moses, God’s people learned that freedom is more than simply fleeing oppressors. It’s a journey into the unknown.
To get the most out of this study, read Exodus 11-17. But first, ask the Holy Spirit to guide you into the truth available in these chapters. Give yourself permission to ask questions that may not have answers. Wonder aloud, imagine the scene, and take note of anything that surprises, confuses, or even offends you. Above all, trust the Lord. He’s the best teacher.
Key Passage: Exodus 13:1-22; Exodus 14:1-31
Back in Genesis 15, God told Abraham that his descendants would be “enslaved and oppressed four hundred years” in a foreign land, but afterward they would “come out with many possessions” (Gen. 15:13-14). In the book of Exodus, we find the fulfillment of that prophecy (Ex. 12:23-36) and details of the Israelites’ supernatural rescue. But even after their stunning liberation, there are many lessons for the former slaves to learn on the road to liberty and nationhood.
Freedom is not free, nor is it a “one and done” experience. It’s a process of choosing to trust God to lead us into unknown territory, a journey that may cost us our comfort and security.
In Exodus 6:2-3, God informs Moses that not even the patriarchs knew Him as Yahweh. Why do you think God chose this moment in the Israelites’ timeline to reveal His name?
Consider the situation from the Israelites’ perspective: They’ve been enslaved for centuries and assume that God has ignored their cries for deliverance. And now He shows up on the scene, telling them they should flee from their oppressors and make their home in a foreign land across the desert. If you were in that same situation, would you easily trust God? With that in mind, read Exodus 10:1-2. How was the Lord building trust with His people?
Think about your own history with God—times He showed up for you in miraculous ways, big or small. How does having a collection of past testimonies impact the way you trust Him now? What stories can you pass on to future generations to inspire hope in God’s faithfulness?
Continuing the Story
Trust is built incrementally, and often in unexpected ways.
Trust is built incrementally, and often in unexpected ways. God was about to lead the people to Pi-hahiroth (Ex. 14:1-2), a dead-end that appeared to mean certain annihilation by Pharaoh’s pursuing army. However, the Israelites would not only be miraculously rescued there, but they would also see their enemies destroyed supernaturally.
In Exodus 13:17, Moses notes that the path God chose for the Israelites was not the most efficient, but it was the most strategic. Remembering that later in Scripture the Lord identifies Himself as Israel’s shepherd, how would you say this verse reveals the tender way He accommodates our limited capacity to face conflict?
Note that God routes them away from potential conflict even though Ex. 13:18 specifically states the “Israelites went up out of Egypt ready for battle” (NIV). Why do you think He had them prepare for combat?
Though the Israelites’ bodies have been liberated from slavery, the mindset of oppression lingers in their actions and attitudes.
Look at Exodus 14:10-12, Exodus 16:1-3, and Exodus 17:1-3. In terms of their reaction to adversity, how would you describe the Israelites’ pattern of behavior?
Keep in mind that by the time the Israelites face each of these hardships, they already have a history with God that is burgeoning with deliverance, miracles, and supernatural intervention on their behalf. Why, then, do you think trusting Him is still so challenging for them?
Reread Exodus 14:10-12 and Exodus 16:3. Why do you suppose the tension of the present situation leads the former slaves to romanticize their past in Egypt? Have you ever found yourself turning to nostalgia and fantasy when the present feels too difficult to face?
Consider that if the Israelites had returned to Egypt, it’s very likely they would have experienced even harsher oppression in retaliation for their rebellion. How does knowing this inform your perspective on the capacity of nostalgia to distort reality and any related danger?
In what ways does pressing into freedom require courage? Trust? Perseverance? Consider what freedom would look like without structure. How does law relate to liberty?
The Israelites have a history with God that is burgeoning with deliverance, miracles, and supernatural intervention on their behalf.
REMEMBER Freedom obeys.
Over the next several weeks, use this section to review the study and consider how its message applies to your life.
Galatians 5:22-23 defines the fruit of the Spirit as love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control—all qualities we long to have in increasing amounts. Or are they? On closer analysis, chances are that self-control is everyone’s least favorite of the bunch. Frankly, it sounds like the opposite of freedom, a laborious and boring exercise in saying “no” all the time. But in reality, self-control is the expression of the very freedom that accompanies the Spirit’s presence in our lives (2 Corinthians 3:17).
Freedom is a process of choosing to trust God to lead us into unknown territory, a journey that may cost us our comfort and security.
What thoughts come into your mind when you think about self-control? What’s the opposite of self-control, and how would you describe it? Think about circumstances or aspects of your life that felt outside your control. When you were dealing with those situations, did you feel free? How would surrendering to God have changed your experience?
As you reflect, consider the apostle Paul’s words in Romans 6:16-18. How does he understand freedom in terms of slavery to either one master or another? Note that there are only two options and both involve obedience to an outside entity: sin or righteousness.
Self-control as spiritual fruit can seem at odds with Paul’s picture of bonded service to a master. How do you reconcile that freedom expresses itself both as independence (self-control) and submission (slave to Christ)? In what ways do these seemingly opposed ideas actually rely on each other?
Remember that freedom isn’t about living without a master. Rather, it involves willing submission to the One whose goal is our increasing independence from the bondage of abuse, insecurity, addiction, and sin.
Illustration by Adam Cruft