Summary: It is incredibly encouraging to realize that God hears and reacts to everything we experience. We are not alone!
I don’t know if the television station was local to Chicago or one of the national news networks, but I can’t forget what I saw. It wasn’t my television. I was just walking by, but I can’t get the image out of my mind. A large moose had fallen through thin ice and was freezing to death because its lower two-thirds was in the icy water below the surface of the ice. It took wildlife experts and more to haul the animal out of its predicament before it could have any hope of survival. And, of course, the animal was making pathetic noises that were quite audible, even over the jabbering talking head of the newscaster.
How could you not have seen the plight of that moose and heard those sounds and not have instigated a rescue as soon as possible with all the resources at your disposal? I know it would have been impossible for me and I simply can’t imagine anyone sitting around complacently viewing the poor moose and watching it die.
At the same time as I was aware of this “big news story,” God was showing me something important in the Bible. I’ve preached on Exodus 2 before and I’ve preached on Exodus 3 and the call of Moses a lot. In fact, I love doing a monologue of Moses’ call as though it’s an exaggerated Jimmy Stewart playing Moses. After all, we think of the Jimmy Stewart stammer and Moses said that he wasn’t eloquent, right? But this week, I was touched by something else in this passage. I was affected by God’s awareness of human suffering. In much the same way that seeing that poor moose’s plight inspired wildlife experts into action, I was almost overwhelmed to see what triggered God’s redemptive action through Moses.
[Read the text.]
The Hebrew text of verse 23 has the idea of something happening in the fullness of time (more literally, “And it happened in the greatness of days”) such that the Pharaoh (“King of Egypt”) died. But instead of things getting better, things must have gotten worse even though they changed. The people “groaned” in their servitude and they “cried out for help.” The Hebrew verb used here is pronounced “tsuh-ahkh” and it can mean “send out a call to arms” as in II Samuel 19:29 or 20:4 or as a call for help in Hosea 8:2. In its noun form, it is used for a powerful play on words in Isaiah 5:7 where it says that God looked for justice (pronounced “mish-paht”) and found bloodshed (“mish-pahkh”) and expected righteousness [or “just dealings”] (pronounced “tsuh-dheh-kah”) but heard a cry for help (“tsuh-ak-ah”).
Then, the verse uses another word for “cry for help” to say that their cries of help from their servitude went up to their God. Of course, the interesting thing here is that we have God identified by the generic divine name, much like some people say, “Oh, God!” today without having any personal relationship with God. Of course, Israel had some relationship with God by virtue of the covenant with their ancestors, but we realize that they don’t have the benefit of God’s personal name until God reveals Himself to Moses in Chapter 3.
So, I want you to get the full picture here. The events leading to Israel’s deliverance happened after time had passed. God allowed the situation to degenerate until the people themselves wanted help, until the people themselves realized that this kind of bondage, oppression, and servitude was not intended to be their destiny. Mere social change, substituting one leader for another, was not adequate to bring about their liberation. A change in circumstances may seem like a solution, but in this case (as in most cases) the change of circumstances was not enough to relieve Israel from her distress.
The truth is, even for modern believers, mere social change or a change in circumstances isn’t going to set us free from the things that weigh us down or cause us to suffer. But there is good news and that good news is found in verse 24. “And God heard their groans…” Now, I take great hope in this phrase because it doesn’t seem to indicate that God merely heard their crying out for help, though I am certain that God heard that, but God heard the emotional outcry of their condition. God heard how they felt. And though the text gets even better in this regard, I find that tremendously comforting to me because it suggests that when I hurt, when I’m victimized, when I’m wronged, when I’m persecuted, when I’m treated unfairly, and when I’m in physical or psychological agony, God hears and understands my hurt.
It goes on to say: “And God heard their groans and God remembered HIS covenant with their fathers—with Abraham (Great Father), with Isaac (“He Laughed” or I like to say, “God’s Last Laugh”), and with Jacob (“Heel Grabber”).” Not only does God know how we feel when we feel wronged or hurt, but God is cognizant of our relationship with Him. There is a tie. God doesn’t merely point us to another cosmic department and say that it isn’t His job. God takes responsibility for our situation and God makes sure that we are brought into a relationship with Him that can address our future in a positive way. God has a purpose for us and it isn’t to be continually mired in oppression and futility. God may allow us to suffer, even as He allowed Himself to suffer in the incarnate Christ, but that suffering will have purpose. It won’t be futile.