Comforting truths from the book of Exodus:
It was A. W. Tozer who famously said in the opening of The Knowledge of the Holy: “What comes into our minds when we think about God is the most important thing about us. The history of mankind will probably show that no people has ever risen above its religion, and man’s spiritual history will positively demonstrate that no religion has ever been greater than its idea of God. Worship is pure or base as the worshiper entertains high or low thoughts of God.”
Or as John Calvin also famously put it in the opening line of his Institutes of the Christian Religion: “Nearly all the wisdom which we possess, that is to say, true and sound wisdom, consists of two parts: the knowledge of God and of ourselves.”
A faulty view of God will have a very real impact on how we live our lives. It is imperative that the Christian spares no expense in time and effort in getting to know the God that we serve. And that involves reading and studying Scripture on a daily basis.
Yet sadly far too many believers do not do this. Or at best, they confine themselves to the New Testament, perhaps dabbling in the Psalms from time to time. But ALL of Scripture is profitable said Paul (2 Timothy 3:16-17), so all of it must be perused and meditated on. Who God is and what he is like is the topic of lifelong study for the Christian.
There are of course various attributes and aspects of God – and they all fit in a harmonious whole. Yes God is holy and just and will not leave the guilty unpunished, but he is also a God of compassion and grace. The story of the Exodus brings this all together: God had mercy on his people while he brought judgment on the Egyptians.
As I am once again reading through the book of Exodus, I have noticed that early there is much said about God – and especially about his deep concern for his people. Consider these four texts from the first six chapters:
“During those many days the king of Egypt died, and the people of Israel groaned because of their slavery and cried out for help. Their cry for rescue from slavery came up to God. And God heard their groaning, and God remembered his covenant with Abraham, with Isaac, and with Jacob. God saw the people of Israel—and God knew.” (Exodus 2:23-25)
“Then the Lord said, ‘I have surely seen the affliction of my people who are in Egypt and have heard their cry because of their taskmasters. I know their sufferings, and 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, to the place of the Canaanites, the Hittites, the Amorites, the Perizzites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites. And now, behold, the cry of the people of Israel has come to me, and I have also seen the oppression with which the Egyptians oppress them’.” (Exodus 3:7-9)
“Aaron spoke all the words that the Lord had spoken to Moses and did the signs in the sight of the people. And the people believed; and when they heard that the Lord had visited the people of Israel and that he had seen their affliction, they bowed their heads and worshiped.” (Exodus 4:30-31)
“I have heard the groaning of the people of Israel whom the Egyptians hold as slaves, and I have remembered my covenant. Say therefore to the people of Israel, ‘I am the Lord, and I will bring you out from under the burdens of the Egyptians, and I will deliver you from slavery to them, and I will redeem you with an outstretched arm and with great acts of judgment’.” (Exodus 6:5-6)
See the repeated themes here? God sees, knows and cares about our situation, especially our affliction, our suffering, our oppression, and our groans. And he acts. For those not fully aware of the story, let me give a brief background. In the closing chapters of Genesis we read about how the Israelites came to be in Egypt, and how God miraculously preserved them and blessed them there.
But now, some 400 years later, they were under oppressive and tyrannical rule. But God was not unaware of their hardships and suffering. The same holds true for us. He sees our tears, He hears our groans. He takes note of our trials and tribulations. And he acts.
His timing may not always be our timing, but God always does bring help and deliverance, one way or another. How long the Israelites were precisely in this awful condition is not fully clear (perhaps some 80 years is what we can infer), but the time had come for God to intervene, and he raised up Moses to help in that deliverance.
Commenting on the Ex. 2 passage, Philip Graham Ryken says this:
God knew his people. He knew all about them. The word suggests intimate, personal acquaintance with all the particulars of their suffering. The God of the covenant, the God who sees, hears, and remembers, is the God who knows our situation in all its desperate need. He is a God who is worth praying to. He already knows all about our situation because he sees everything that happens. He hears all our prayers—even when they are little more than groanings. He remembers that we belong to him by the covenant of grace in Jesus Christ. Then he answers our prayers—not always in the way that we hope or even in the way that we expect, but always in a way that brings him glory.
Or as Terence Fretheim comments:
God is here depicted as one who is intimately involved in the suffering of the people. God has so entered into their suffering as to have deeply felt what they are having to endure. God has chosen not to remain safe and secure in some heavenly abode, untouched by the sorrows of the world. God is not portrayed here as a typical monarch dealing with the issues through subordinates or at some distance. God does not look at the suffering from the outside as through a window; God knows it from the inside.
Bear in mind how all this is not just ancient history, but eternal truths that apply to your life and my life, even today. Douglas Stuart says this:
God was initiating the process of deliverance, and the circumstances of both Moses and Israel were about to change. Implicitly, the theological issue here is not whether or how people suffer; the issue is: does suffering go unnoticed? If it does not – and indeed the one doing the noticing is the true, omnipotent, and loving covenant God – his people can properly surmise that their suffering may well be part of a plan, that it is a suffering with a distinct beginning and end, a hardship understood by and watched over by a sovereign who will not let it continue without good purpose and result.
And as mentioned, God’s timing is an essential element in all this. God does act, but he acts according to his own purposes and wisdom. Alec Motyer makes these comments about this:
Effective and potent though prayer is, events are still held within the framework of God’s timetable. This is why it says that he remembered his covenant with Abraham, with Isaac and with Jacob (24). The example of the long-dead patriarchs is a call to patience and to waiting. God works to his own time-scale, and he expects his people to wait for him and to wait with him. We who know the end of the Exodus story could well ask why it was forty years before Moses came back. To this perfectly natural and understandable question no answer is given (cf. Acts 1:6-7). The Lord expects his believing people to wait for him with patience.
We all experience hardships and trials. And often our suffering is the result of injustice and oppression. We cry out for deliverance but it never seems to arrive. It will of course. But it will come when our all-loving and all-wise Father God knows it is best to arrive.
In the meantime we keep praying, keep hoping, and keep trusting. God sees, he hears, he remembers. And he acts. So hang in there saints.