The history of the ingratitude and rebellion of the people of Israel here begins as early as their beginning; so does the history of man’s apostasy from his Maker. No sooner have we read the story of our first parents’ creation than we immediately meet with that of their rebellion; so we see here it was with Israel, a people designed to represent the body of mankind both in their dealings with God and in his with them. Here is,
I. The gracious purposes of God’s law concerning Israel in Egypt, where they were bond-slaves to Pharaoh. Be it spoken, be it written, to the immortal honour of free grace, that then and there, 1. He chose Israel to be a peculiar people to himself, though their condition was bad and their character worse, that he might have the honour of mending both. He therefore chose them, because they were the seed of the house of Jacob, the posterity of that prince with God, that he might keep the oath which he had sworn unto their fathers, Deut. 7:7, 8. 2. He made himself known to them by his name Jehovah (a new name, Exod. 6:3), when by reason of their servitude they had almost lost the knowledge of that name by which he was known to their fathers, God Almighty. Note, As the foundation of our blessedness is laid in God’s choosing us, so the first step towards it is God’s making himself known to us. And whatever distance we are at, whatever distress we are in, he that made himself known to Israel even in the land of Egypt can find us out, and follow us with the gracious discoveries and manifestations of his favour. 3. He made over himself to them as their God in covenant: I lifted up my hand unto them, saying it, and confirming it with an oath. “I am the Lord your God, to whom you are to pay your homage, and from whom and in whom you are to expect your bliss.” 4. He promised to bring them out of Egypt; and made good what he promised. He lifted up his hand, that is, he swore unto them, that he would deliver them; and, they being very unworthy, and their deliverance very unlikely, it was requisite that the promise of it should be confirmed by an oath. Or, He lifted up his hand, that is, he put forth his almighty power to do it; he did it with an outstretched arm, Ps. 136:12. 5. He assured them that he would put them in possession of the land of Canaan. He therefore brought them out of Egypt, that he might bring them into a land that he had spied out for them, a second garden of Eden, which was the glory of all lands. So he found it, the climate being temperate, the soil fruitful, the situation pleasant, and every thing agreeable (Deut. 8:7; 11:12); or, however this might be, so he made it, by setting up his sanctuary in it.
II. The reasonable commands he gave them, and the easy conditions of his covenant with them at that time. Having told them what they might expect from him, he next tells them what was all he expected from them; it was no more than this (Ezek. 20:7): “Cast you away every man his images that he uses for worship, that are the adorations, but should be the abominations, of his eyes. Let him abominate them, and put them out of his sight, and defile not yourselves with the idols of Egypt.” Of these, it seems, many of them were fond; the golden calf was one of them. It was just, and what might reasonably be expected, that, being delivered from the Egyptian slavery, they should quit the Egyptian idolatry, especially when God, at bringing them out, executed judgment upon the gods of Egypt (Num. 33:4) and thereby showed himself above them. And, whatever other idols they might have an inclination to, one would think they should have had a rooted aversion to the gods of Egypt for Egypt’s sake, which had been to them a house of bondage. Yet, it seems, they needed this caution, and it is backed with a good reason: I am the Lord your God, who neither need an assistant nor will admit a rival.
III. Their unreasonable disobedience to these commands, for which God might justly have cut them off as soon as ever they were formed into a people (Ezek. 20:8): They rebelled against God, not only refused to comply with his particular precepts, but shook off their allegiance, and in effect told him that they should be at liberty to worship what God they pleased. And even then when God came down to deliver them, and sent Moses for that purpose, yet they would not forsake the idols of Egypt, which perhaps made them speak so affectionately of the onions of Egypt (11:5), for among other things the Egyptians worshipped an onion. It was strange that all the plagues of Egypt would not prevail to cure them of their affection to the idols of Egypt. For this God said he would pour out his fury upon them, even while they were yet in the midst of the land of Egypt. Justly might he have said, “Let them die with the Egyptians.” This magnifies the riches of God’s goodness, that he was pleased to work so great a salvation for them even when he saw them ripe for ruin. Well might Moses tell them, It is not for your righteousness, Deut. 9:4, 5.
IV. The wonderful deliverance which God wrought for them, notwithstanding. Though they forfeited the favour while it was in the bestowing, and when God would have healed them then their iniquity was discovered (Hos. 7:1), yet mercy rejoiced against judgment, and God did what he designed purely for his own name’s sake, Ezek. 20:9. When nothing in us will furnish him with a reason for his favours he furnishes himself with one. God made himself known to them in the sight of the heathen when he ordered Moses publicly to say to Pharaoh, Israel is my son, my first-born, let them go, that they may serve me. Now, if he had left them to perish for their wickedness as they deserved, the Egyptians would have reflected upon him for it, and his name would have been polluted, which ought to be sanctified and shall be so. Note, The church is secured, even when it is corrupt, because God will secure his own honour.