Aside from Creation one of the biggest and most significant processes of change we see in the Bible is the Exodus, the birth of Israel as a nation. Israel was in slavery in Egypt and God called them out to become his chosen nation in fulfilment of his promise to Abraham.
This topic briefly reviews the first 15 or 16 chapters of Exodus up to Israel’s crossing the Red Sea. The goal is to see what we can learn from how God led 600,000 men plus women and children through this most significant process of change.
This reflection may take a little time to complete so I couldn’t really label it “Take Moment” but it’s well worth the effort to see how God brought about change.
Read Exodus chapters 1 to 16 and as you do so fire up your curiosity, look for answers to the following questions and note them down for future reference. You will probably need to read the chapters twice; once to a get an overview of what is going on and then once to take specific notes. We are after the big picture so it will be best to do this in one sitting.
As we will see later, these questions reflect some of the factors which are important in leading people through the process of change. Of course, this is exactly what God did in the Exodus and the subsequent establishment of the nation. So, unsurprisingly, there are things we can learn about change from God. Because the record of the Exodus is focussed on the important aspects of the story which are relevant to God’s plan of redemption. From the perspective of our study there is missing information, but given our understanding of human nature we can reasonably surmise some of the missing detail.
- Why was there a need for a change in Israel’s situation?
- What did God do to prepare Moses to be the agent of change?
- How did God make Moses credible as a leader of change?
- One man cannot do it all so who did Moses engage to help bring about change?
- What were the characteristics of the vision and how did Moses gain the buy-in of the people?
- Who else did the change affect and why did they need to change too?
- How was an urgency to bring about the change established?
- What obstacles to change were removed and how might they have prevented Israel from making the change?
- How were the people of Israel empowered to act to help bring about the change?
- What “wins” were achieved and what effect did they, or might they have had?
- How was the momentum maintained?
- What did God do to establish this change in the culture of Israel and why might this have been important?
In the next section of this topic we will consider these questions further, so if you prefer to complete this unaided then stop this topic here and come back to it later.
These are brief notes addressing the issues raised in the questions. As noted above, the book of Exodus was not written to be a manual on change and so some aspects of the story of change are missing. However, given that we have an understanding of how people are and can imagine the kind of things that would have had to happen, with care we can fill in some of the gaps.
The need for change
When we reflected upon Abraham at the beginning of this lesson we saw the establishment of God’s plan in his promise to make Abraham a great nation. In Exodus 2:24 we see God recalling his covenant with Abraham and that it applied to the Israelites who had been incubated in Egypt and now were being oppressed. God recognised that now was the time for the next step.
Preparing Moses, the agent of change
Reviewing Moses’ story we can see that he had a great deal of preparation for being God’s agent of change and leading Israel out of Egypt towards become a nation.
He had been brought up and educated in the court of the Pharaoh until he was “grown up” (Exodus 2:10&11). In Acts 7:23 Stephen tells us that Moses was forty years old when he fled Egypt.
After he fled Egypt for Midian, Moses became Jethro’s son-in-law and was responsible for Jethro’s flock. Jethro was obviously a significantly wealthy man and so his flock must have been large. Thus Moses would not have been the sole shepherd but would have led a reasonable number of people who took care of the flock, some would have been tasked with looking after the group. We can also presume that the families of the stock man may have travelled with them. Moses would therefore have been concerned about their welfare as well as ensuring that the flock was well looked. This would have been a nomadic life style in which Moses became expert in the wilderness. In short he was equipped to lead a body of people through the wilderness.
Moses was eighty (Exodus 7:7) when God engaged him to lead Israel, so he would have had the wisdom of years.
God specifically briefed, envisioned and equipped Moses for his mission at the burning bush (Exodus 3:2-4:6).
Building Moses credibility
Moses credibility was established in at least three ways.
Moses’ lineage (Exodus 6:14-25) and age (80 years) would have been important in the Israelites’ patriarchal society. It made him at least of equivalent rank to the elders of the people. The people listened to him.
His age and his Egyptian background and status as a member of the Court enabled him to freely gain access to the Pharaoh and speak with him on equal terms on behalf of Israel. Had that not been the case he would have been dealt with by the Egyptians. Pharaoh listened to him. (e.g. Exodus 7:10, 15, 8:1 etc.)
The powerful signs that God had given him and their execution causing the plagues underpinned his credibility. God says “See I have made you like God to Pharaoh” (Exodus 7:1).
The result of all this was that Moses was considered “to be great in the land of Egypt in the sight of the Pharaoh’s servants and in the sight of the people”. (Exodus 11:3)
Engaging others to help lead the change
Moses did not believe that he could do all that God was asking, especially when it came to speaking, and so God provided Aaron to help him (Exodus 4:10-17)
Large scale change cannot be brought about by one man, it is impossible. Moses engaged with elders (Exodus 3:16, 18; 4:28, 12:21) and recruited them to the cause. The Israelites would only have engaged in the change if the elders endorsed it and were prepared to propagate the vision amongst the people. Undoubtedly there would have been some who would adopt the vision easily, some who would need convincing and some who would reject it completely. Some would probably have nothing to do with Moses as an outsider.
The organisation and management of the people for the Passover and the actual exodus would require the elders and others to enable it to happen. Organising 600,000 men, plus women children, large herds and flocks, possessions and provisions (Exodus 12:37 & 38) would not be a trivial task and would not happen magically.
Establishing the vision
As we have just seen God had declared his vision by making his covenant with Abraham around 450 years previously. Now he conveyed it to Moses at the burning bush (Exodus 3:8) whose task included conveying it to the Israelites and the Egyptians. In this case the vision was God’s, Moses did not have to devise it.
Gaining buy-in to the vision
God made the vision compelling and used visual language and metaphors to convey ideas that would otherwise be difficult to explain. He made it concise and capturing years and years of change to come in just a few words. He conveyed the idea and the promise of a better future: “I have come down to deliver them out of the hand of the Egyptians and to bring them up out of that land to a good and broad land, a land flowing with milk and honey”…(Exodus 3:8) and that the Israelites would have favour in the sight of the Egyptians so they could plunder them without fighting (Exodus 3:21&22).
Moses gathered the elders and the people together and shared the compelling vision. The vision was made feasible by telling all the words that “God had spoken to Moses” and demonstrating the signs of power (Exodus 4:29-31), which illustrated God’s ability to bring the vision about. The people were so overwhelmed by God’s care for them and his promise to take them out from under their oppression and their affliction that they worshipped God. They became emotionally engaged.
Aaron may have been eloquent but God promised that the elders and people would listen to Moses. (Exodus 3: 18)
Overcoming complacency and establishing urgency
One of the big issues in effecting change is overcoming the inertia to keep things as they are. Once the change is in process this becomes a desire to return things to how they were. This is a natural response of people. Later on in this lesson we will see that in general a population can be grouped according to their attitude to change, and many people, for whatever reason, simply do not want change.
The book of Exodus records various occasions when the people wanted to return to Egypt. God was well aware of this challenge to the realisation of the vision. Once Egypt had been physically left behind the Israelites looked back to Egypt (16:3; Deuteronomy 1:27).
God was concerned that the Israelites would want to return to Egypt so he chose the wilderness route rather than by the Philistines (Exodus 13:17). Under threat from the Egyptian army at the Red Sea Moses reveals that while in Egypt some had declared a preference to remain under affliction in Egypt (Exodus 14:12).
The change would also affect the Egyptians in that they would lose a huge workforce and so they were not particularly interested in change either.
God built the situation up to a crisis that caused the Israelites to be ready to go and the Egyptians to be “urgent with the people to send them out of the land in haste.” (Exodus 12:32, 39).
We know from Exodus 7:13; 11:10 and Romans 9:14-18 that God hardened Pharaoh’s heart against the Israelites. We are not told precisely why, but we can be certain that God is loving and righteous, just and merciful, and so that it was necessary. What we can see is the outcome of the process of confrontations between Moses and Pharaoh through the plagues (Exodus chapters 5 and 7-13).
The Egyptians increased the burden upon the Israelites by making them find the straw they needed to make bricks, while still producing the same volumes. Thus the burden of affliction and oppression on the Israelites was increased so that they were ready and eager to go.
The final plague, the Passover (Exodus 11:1-10; 12:29-31) created a crisis in which forced the Egyptians hand, they were only too eager to expel the Israelites (Exodus 12;33). The Passover set an expectation and prepared the Israelites to go, perhaps fearful of God who worked such a terror on Egypt and who had protected them. Their complacency had been completely replaced with urgency, there was now nothing to do but leave.
A final crisis arose which forced the Israelites to take the final step, which was as irrevocable as birth, there was no going back. The Egyptians changed their minds and chased after them and we witness in Exodus the awesome and fearful events of the Red Sea crossing and the destruction of the Egyptian army. Despite the grumbling the Israelites were left with no choice but flee and end up with the sea between them and Egypt. The Angel of the Lord stood between them and the advancing Egyptians holding them at bay. The only way for Israel to go was on the dry land across the Red Sea.
It was God’s purpose not simply to free the Israelites but to do it in such a way that he was indisputably attributed with their great salvation not simply Moses, and that the people would cleave to him. The actual Exodus showed him to be their saviour (Deuteronomy 4:34 and many other references).
Removing obstacles to change
Often there are obstacles which stop even the most willing from being able to make the change. We see God dealing with some of these in the story of exodus. Most obvious is the obstruction of the Egyptians.
Other examples are:
They were also able to leave with flocks and herds (Exodus 12:38), presumably the milk provided drink and sustenance. How this came about or whose they were we are not told. Also, God made provision for food in the form of the unleavened bread from dough which they had prepared for the Passover (Exodus 12:39).
Organising this massive movement of people and flocks took organisation and Moses had engaged the elders who would have been the natural choice to manage this.
There will have been many of these which are details not recorded.
Empowering people to facilitate change
According to the oxford English Dictionary “empowerment” is when ‘authority or power is given to someone to do something’.
In the process of change people need to be empowered to do the things that are necessary to bring about that change. An example is the empowering the people to request silver, gold, jewellery and clothing from the Egyptians. (Exodus 11:2&3; 12:33)
Because of the size of the task, the elders of the people had to have been empowered to fulfil their part of the vision under Moses’ guidance otherwise it would have been impossible to move all of the Israelites and their flocks and herds. (Exodus 12:21)
Securing the change and maintaining momentum
There were victories on the way which have the effect of helping secure support and continued commitment for the change.
Each showing of one of the signs of power and the plagues demonstrated that God was at work, underwriting the vision and the plan. When Moses and Aaron first told the people and showed these signs they believed (Exodus 4:31) Although they didn’t change Pharaoh’s mind, his servants seemed to understand what was going on and their attitude would have given confidence to the Israelites. (Exodus 11:3)
The Passover brought a victory because it caused the Egyptians to expel the Israelites.
The angel of God in the Pillar held the Egyptian army at bay while the Red Sea was opened up for the Israelites to cross. This formed a significant victory which enabled the people to look back on the mighty deeds of God for the centuries to come as well as during the immediate aftermath. As did the destruction of the Egyptian army (Exodus 14).
These intermediate victories helped secure the process of change that was underway, the formation of God’s people into a nation. They heartened the people and Moses, building trust in God and demonstrating that change was feasible and realistic. They enabled the people to carry on, thus maintaining the momentum, without which the change process would have ground to halt. Later we see the momentum die away when the Israelites refuse to enter the Promised Land.
However, we must recognise that the people were fickle and frequently in the future they looked at their circumstance (small ‘r’ reality) rather than this awesome God (big ‘R’ Reality) who cared for them, forgetting what he had done.
Embedding change in the Israelite culture
Huge victories having been won, they were celebrated. We have the Song of Moses (Exodus 15) and after that Miriam led the women in celebration of the victory over Egypt and the liberation from oppression (Exodus 15 20&21).
The big actions were over but as we know, the people were fickle and found it easy to forget the changes that had been made and the promises that were still to be fulfilled. Promises which God had proven himself able to fulfil. So God sought to embed the change by instituting the Passover as a celebration of the Exodus and all that this would mean. Thus the change was embedded in the Israelites’ culture.
Shortly we will look at some principles of leading change set out by Dr John Kotter, and we will see them reflect all of the key things that God did, both directly and through Moses, to bring about this massive change. This story of the Exodus provides an excellent Biblical case study of change.
The reason why Kotter’s principles reflect this Biblical story so well is because of the common factor: people. God was dealing with real people and knew them inside out. Kotter has researched how real people react to change and what it takes to successfully establish change. Even then, Kotter recognises it is a difficult thing to do on the large scale. I think we can see that God, who chose not to impose himself on the Israelites, wanting them to responding willingly, had to deal with the same kinds of difficulties that Kotter observed.
Take a Moment:
- Reflect upon the story of the Exodus and how God brought about change.
- What are the key things that you have learned about change?
- How might you be able to apply them?