Text: Selections from Exodus 1-14
Four hundred thirty years passed between Jacob’s arrival in Egypt and Moses’ encounter with God in a bush that burned but was not consumed in Exodus 3. The intervening years were hard on the children of Israel. Joseph’s work to save Egypt – and the surrounding world – from famine was forgotten, like we have forgotten those who lived, worked, and struggled in 1582. The Hebrews became a source of labor for the Egyptians, making the bricks for the many building projects Egypt was conducting in those days. In time, their status as laborers descended to that of slaves to Pharaoh.
And in the midst of their hard labors, the people of Israel had to ask: where was God? Four long centuries and more had past, and all the evidence suggested that God had forgotten his chosen people. The people had had too many years of hardship and neglect. They must have long ago given up hope that there was ever a God that spoke to their forefathers. And if there had been, they imagined that His interests had long ago been given to other parts of the world. He no longer showed any signs of caring for them.
Joseph was 17 when he was given the many-colored robe by his father. He was 30 when Pharaoh made him second in command over Egypt. All of Joseph’s hardships lasted no longer than thirteen years. We talked last week about the difficulty of waiting for God during our afflictions. Joseph endured thirteen years. But now the Israelites had waited for four hundred years. Entire generations had come and gone in Egypt with no sign of the hand of God in their midst.
Like those Israelites, we are terrible at waiting. We far too quickly succumb to the notion that God has forgotten or otherwise neglected us, and that simply is not true. But Satan is cunning at driving our fears, stoking our doubts, leading us to seek out other assurances, other sources and places of strength and destiny, though there are none to be found.
Have you ever felt like God had forgotten or forsaken you? Have you ever felt not that his hand was against you, but that his hand was simply not present in any way? Have you ever felt the absence of God in your life? For we who depend on the Spirit for our assurance of salvation and our daily breath, the absence is frightening. Jesus felt it on the cross and cried out in the words of Psalm 22, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” St. John of the Cross endured a dry spell in his relationship with God and described it in a work he entitled, “The Dark Night of the Soul.” It is strange how tangible, how real, how forceful such an absence is.
That absence is what Israel was feeling when we pick up their story at the beginning of Exodus. Finally, after Moses had fled and the Pharaoh who wanted him killed had himself died, things begin to change. At the end of Exodus 2, starting in the second half of verse 23, we read, “And the sons of Israel sighed because of the bondage, and they cried out.” What do we do when even the hope of hope has failed us? We cry out in desperation. We sigh in depression and despair. And that is where the whole of Israel found themselves.
But I stopped reading before coming to the end of that verse. The Word of God continues, “And their cry for help because of their bondage rose up to God. So God heard their groaning; and God remembered His covenant with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. God saw the sons of Israel, and God took notice of them.” Now, you might think from this that it implies that God really had forgotten them. That somehow the noise of Israel’s cries finally woke God out of His stupor and He, all of a sudden, finally saw just what was going on with them.
This is not the case at all. God was aware of his people the whole time. In fact, he told Abraham what would happen to the people when God first entered into the covenant He remembers here at the end of Exodus 2. In Genesis 15:13, Scripture reads, “God said to Abram, ‘Know for certain that your descendants will be strangers in a land that is not theirs, where they will be enslaved and oppressed four hundred years.” Now, do you think God was surprised or neglectful of His chosen people? Of course not. God was not unaware of their plight. On the contrary, it is now that the fullness of time had come for them. God had succeeded in his work of making a nation of them, just as God had promised Jacob to do when Jacob was encouraged to go on Egypt to be with Joseph in Genesis 46:3.
Here’s the thing we need to remember in the midst of our waiting, however long it may be. God knows. He knows! He is aware. He has not left us, fled us, or abandoned us. He remains with us, even if we do not see Him, hear Him, or feel His presence. God is as aware of us as He was aware of the descendants of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob in that corner of Egypt. When God was talking to Moses from the burning bush, God said to him starting in Exodus 3:7, “The LORD said, ‘I have surely seen the affliction of My people who are in Egypt, and have given heed to their cry because of their taskmasters, for I am aware of their sufferings.’” God is aware. God knows. God understands. God sees. God is present. Israel was not abandoned. Neither are you abandoned.
God knows us. God knows our situations. He knows our plights. He knows our struggles. He knows our afflictions. He is aware of our sufferings.
Listen now starting in verse 8 of Exodus 3, “’So I have come down to deliver them from the power of the Egyptian, and to bring them up from that land flowing with milk and honey, to the place of the Canaanite and the Hittite and the Amorite and the Perizzite and the Hivite and the Jebusite. Now, behold, the cry of the sons of Israel has come to Me; furthermore, I have seen the oppression with which the Egyptians are oppressing them. Therefore, come now, and I will send you to Pharaoh, so that you may bring My people, the sons of Israel, out of Egypt.’”
God knows what’s going on. And then, God acts. He does things. He provides. He delivers. The next ten chapters of Exodus are God’s great work of delivering the people of Israel from their oppression in Egypt. He proves himself to the elders of Israel through Moses and Aaron, and then through the unleashing of the ten plagues, He finally forces Pharaoh to let God’s people go. But then God’s work continues on to the triumphant victory over all of Egypt’s chariots – the greatest armed forces of their time – in the crossing of the Red Sea. As Moses tells the people in 14:14, “The LORD will fight for you while you keep silent.”
God knows what’s going on. And when the fullness of time – whatever that time is – when the fullness of time is finally finished and complete, God takes action. He keeps his promises. He remains present. He stays with His people. He keeps up His end of the covenant. He does just the things He is supposed to do at the precise, perfect timing for their accomplishment.
In the midst of the waiting, however long it gets, remember these two things: God knows, and He is going to act. Guaranteed.
But there is one more piece to the puzzle I want us to keep in mind and consider. And it is how we answer this question: why wait? Why hold out? What makes a certain “fullness” of time more perfect than any other time?
In answer, let me read three passages from the events of the Exodus. First is Exodus 4:31, where Moses and Aaron first come back to the people and tell them for the first time that God is ready to do something and to deliver them. The Bible records, “So the people believed; and when they heard that the LORD was concerned about the sons of Israel and that He had seen their affliction, then they bowed low and worshiped.”
Later, when God sends him for what will be his last appearance before Pharaoh, God tells Moses in Exodus 10:1-2, “Then the LORD said to Moses, ‘Go to Pharaoh, for I have hardened his heart and the heart of his servants, that I may perform these signs of Mine among them, and that you may tell in the hearing of your son, and of your grandson, how I made a mockery of the Egyptians and how I performed My signs among them, that you may know that I am the LORD.’” Let me repeat that last phrase, “That you may know that I am the LORD.”
And then, awash in the great victory of their safe crossing of and the Egyptian army’s demise in the Red Sea, a final description of all that had taken place in Exodus 14:30-31. “Thus the LORD saved Israel that day from the hand of the Egyptians, and Israel saw the Egyptians dead on the seashore. When Israel saw the great power which the LORD had used against the Egyptians, the people feared the LORD, and they believed in the LORD and in His servant Moses.”
What’s the point of the wait? The point of the wait is the point of everything: that God may declare Himself to His people and to the world. That the world may know the LORD, may see His power, and in the end may believe in Him, follow Him, obey Him, love Him, and worship Him. If God can use your life story to accomplish this in the world, even for just one person, He will do so. This is why the wait is worthwhile.
The greatest wait we have now is our wait for the glorious return of our risen Lord in His triumphant kingdom. But in our wait, let us busy ourselves in doing God’s work of making His Name known, of making His grace known, of making His salvation known. This is the point of our 2,000 plus year wait.
God knows what’s going on. He is fully aware of everything all of His people endure. He will act on our behalf. He will keep His promises. He will come again. 2,000 years is not yet enough time. There are yet more people who need to know God. There are yet more who need to be invited to the wedding feast of the Lamb. There are yet more names to be added to the Lamb’s Book of Life. There are yet more tribes and more tongues whose voices need to be heard in that chorus around God’s throne.
And this is worth the wait.
But let us not wait hopelessly. Let us not wait dejectedly. Let us not wait as if in defeat. We are not defeated. The Red Sea is nothing in comparison to the victory God has won for us already. Let us wait actively and productively, doing whatever it is our hands are able to do and find to do. Let us proclaim God and proclaim His kingdom until that final hour when the fullness of time arrives.
What are you doing with your wait? What do you think God is doing with it? There is only one thing.