As previously discussed, at the close of Genesis, Joseph told his brothers he was about to die as well as God’s promise that He would bring their people out of the land of Goshen in Egypt in which they would be sojourning. This is where the introduction to Exodus begins.
Then Joseph died, and all his brothers and all that generation. But the people of Israel were fruitful and increased greatly; they multiplied and grew exceedingly strong, so that the land was filled with them. Now there arose a new king over Egypt, who did not know Joseph. And he said to his people, “Behold, the people of Israel are too many and too mighty for us. Come, let us deal shrewdly with them, lest they multiply, and, if war breaks out, they join our enemies and fight against us and escape from the land.” Therefore, they set taskmasters over them to afflict them with heavy burdens. They built for Pharaoh store cities, Pithom and Raamses. [Notice it never says they built the pyramids.]Exodus 1:6-11
When God’s people are in abundance, the rest of the world sees it as problematic. God promised Abraham He would multiply his offspring greatly, and now that this is happening in Egypt, the Pharaoh sees it as a problem. Their numbers are so great that he fears they will join the enemies of Egypt in case they go to war in the future. His solution to this supposed problem is to enslave them.
The multitude of God’s people is still a problem for the world today. Consider this: God’s promise to Abraham that He would multiply his offspring and make him into a great nation did not stop in the Old Testament. Neither is it the State of Israel as it is today. Rather, God’s promise to Abraham continues in Christ’s body, the church (Romans 11; 1 Corinthians 12:12-27). This is problematic to the world for a couple reasons: (1) unbelievers hate Christ and, therefore, His disciples and would be more than pleased that we cease to exist; and (2) the world would rather do what’s right in their own eyes, but Christians, utilising the Word of God, demand a higher moral standard of living (e.g., don’t kill your unborn babies, which the enemies of God absolutely loathe).
There are millions of Christians in the world living as a nuisance amidst God’s enemies. God promised Abraham He would make his offspring so numerous that nobody would be able to count them just as no one can count the grains of sand or the stars in the sky (Genesis 22:17; 26:4). While there are educated estimations, no one really knows how many Christians there are in the world; we cannot be counted.
This should be a comfort to us. In our post-Constantinian age, there is a lot of anxiety that the church is going to die, especially our church body, the Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod. It is no secret that the LCMS is literally an ageing and dying church body—most of our members are elderly and dying. Yet I have three words of encouragement I always repeat.
The first is what I say most from the words of Christ Himself, “And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build My church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it” (Matthew 16:18). If not even the gates of Hell can prevail against Christ’s church, what can mere mortal men do?
Second, at both my undergrad and seminary training, I focused my electives on church history. If I were to write a dissertation, my thesis would be this: Throughout her entire history during both times of peace and times of turmoil from both internal and external conflicts, the church survives each age of man because God is faithful to His people. It’s important to know your history—your ethnic history, your family’s history (both medical and historical), and your country’s history, lest we forget the lessons of the past and don’t know how to deal with our problems in the present. In the same way, it is important to know the church’s history, which not many people know.
Thus, as a result, many Christians think the problems our church is facing today are somehow new to the church. But as we always paraphrase from Qoheleth (“the Preacher” in Hebrew) in Ecclesiastes, there is nothing new under the sun. The problems our church is facing today—old age, decreasing numbers, antagonism, persecution—are not unique to our times. There is nothing unprecedented about these challenges. Christ’s church has undergone these same problems in the past and she survived, not because of any fancy, modern programmes we might come up with but solely because of Christ’s faithfulness to His church.
This brings me to my final encouragement, which is what I already talked about above: God’s promise to Abraham to multiply his offspring and make him into a great nation didn’t stop in the Old Testament and is not the State of Israel today, but rather is Christ’s church. God’s promise is still ongoing. God does not know failure; He is completely unfamiliar with the concept. Thus, while the multitude of God’s people is always a threat to the world, she will nevertheless prevail because she has God on her side. Nations have tried destroying God’s people ever since Israel’s inception, and they have always failed spectacularly. Even when God’s people have been dispersed numerous times, He has always brought them back together.
Therefore, let us end with St. Paul’s encouraging words. Read his Spirit-inspired words carefully. Don’t rush through them.
Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? As it is written, “For Your sake we are being killed all the day long; we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.” No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.Romans 8:35-39
Theology Terms Used
- Post-Constantinianism: a term that describes the period of the church after Emperor Constantine, particularly the age that is antagonistic toward the church (Constantine highly favoured the church, as he was the first Roman Emperor to legalise Christianity).