Summary: Racism grows out of the fears of the oppressors and attacks the leaders of those they fear. But God draws out of the waters that were intended to drown those whom He will use to lead His people to victory.
The River Nile. The great river of Egypt, a historic stream that rises in the heart of Africa and flows northward for hundreds and hundreds of miles, bringing life to Egypt. Langston Hughes says, "I’ve known rivers; I’ve known rivers ancient as the world and older than the flow of human blood in human veins. My soul has grown deep like the rivers. I looked upon the Nile and raised the pyramids above it. I’ve known rivers; ancient, dusky rivers. My soul has grown deep like the rivers.”
Something happened on the banks of the River Nile well over three thousand years ago. Something terrible, and something wonderful, all wrapped up together. Let’s listen to the story in the Book of Exodus.
Exodus 1: 8-2:10
God grant that today our souls may grow deep like the rivers.
Turn to the Letter to the Romans, Chapter 8, verse 28. Let’s read it together and then let’s recite it, let’s memorize it.
"We know that all things work together for good for those who love God, who are called according to His purpose.”
One of the ironies of history is that the same systems which oppress people also provide the opportunity for their redemption. The same set of hatreds and prejudices and hardships which put people down and make life so burdensome … that very set of circumstances also has within it the possibility of giving birth to greatness. The difference is a God who is at work in all things for good, a God who calls those who love Him according to His purpose.
For example, would you agree that war is oppressive? The militarism of the twentieth century has taken countless lives and worked enormous hardships on literally millions of families around the world. Nobody in his right mind can say a good thing for warfare. War is an oppressive system.
But because this nation had to prepare a defense to protect ourselves in such a world, because we thought we had to spend billions upon billions of dollars to defend ourselves, and put money and energy into military research, we ended up with lots of creative things we would not otherwise have. I think of everything from satellite communications to interstate highways to countless medical advances.
You computer whizzes win know that only just a few months ago they buried in Arlington cemetery a woman nicknamed "Amazing Grace". She was at the time of her retirement the oldest officer on duty and the highest-ranking woman in the armed services. She invented COBOL, one of the most important computer languages you work with. And she invented it originally for military applications, but it ended up revolutionizing the emerging computer industry.
Out of something that came into being as a necessary part of defending ourselves against the oppression of warfare, we got a gift. The difference is made by the God who is at work in all things for good, the God who calls those who love Him to serve his purposes.
In fact, this God has always reached down among those oppressed so hard they could not stand, and has found Himself there a leader, a freedom-fighter. The very system that held people back, when God got involved in it, would always give birth to somebody who would lead the people to freedom.
That’s what you will discover standing on the banks of the River Nile, way down in Egypt land.
Gather at the River Nile a few generations after the children of Israel came to live there, and we will see where oppression comes from. Oppression comes from the fear and dread in the hearts of those who would be oppressors … the fear and dread that somebody else is getting too strong. If you want a quick and easy formula to explain race hatred, class hatred, then here it is, thirty-three hundred years ago, on the banks of the River Nile:
You see, the only reason anyone wants to oppress somebody else is to take something that he has. There is something that the intended victim has that is desirable, and so somebody else wants it and chooses to take it. Now you know that history: you know that economics, greed was at the root of the slave system. Whether it was the rival chieftain who captured other West Africans in the first place, or whether it was the slave ship owner, or the purchaser, or whoever it was... a whole lot of people made a whole bunch of money out of trading in human flesh.
Just remember that it never would have worked if they had not seen qualities which were valuable. There would not have been any point in forcing into servitude people who had no skills, no culture, no value. Oppression begins because the oppressor sees value in. the victim, but then becomes afraid that his victims will become stronger than he is. And so though slavery was abolished, the same sick mentality, the fear of some created ghettos and segregation and a whole host of ways to deny the power of African-Americans.