Exodus 2:23-25 ~ 20100530 ~ Pastor Rodney Zedicher ~ Ephraim Church of the Bible ~ www.ephraimbible.org
5/30 Exodus 2:23-25 Prayers and Sighs and Groans and Cries
In the opening chapters of Exodus, we've been following Moses, the one God will use to deliver Israel from bondage in Egypt. We've seen the Pharaoh's direct opposition to God and his blessings and purposes. God is being faithful to his promises by seeing the Israelite population increase and multiply and grow strong. Pharaoh had made three attempts to reduce the population of the Hebrew people, and with each attempt, we've seen God thwart his grand schemes by the foolish things of the world. We've seen God make a fool of this Pharaoh by having his arch-enemy Moses rescued from his decree of extermination by the hands of his own daughter, The Pharaoh paid out of his royal treasury to have Moses' own Hebrew mother nurse and train him in the formative years of his life, then he's fed him at his table, clothed him and sheltered him under his roof, educated him in his universities, trained him with his military, but in spite of all that, Moses hangs on to his own identity as a Hebrew, and embraces his calling to save his people from their bondage. He stands up for the oppressed, but now he finds himself misunderstood, and rejected by his own people, and exiled into the wilderness as a wanted criminal. He ends up marrying into an idolatrous Midianite family, serving as a shepherd to their flocks, and naming his first son as a reminder that he didn't belong. Anywhere. He is a stranger in a strange land. Forty years pass. Shepherding another man's flocks in the wilderness. Meanwhile, back in Egypt...
This would be headline world news. The king of the most powerful nation in the world dies. This was the same Pharaoh that had ordered Moses killed.
If his death immediately preceded the return of Moses to Egypt, then he reigned for more than 40 years.
If this was the same Pharaoh who had ordered the baby boys to be thrown into the river at the time of Moses' birth, then he would have reigned for some 80 years by this time. We change presidents every four to eight years, and we expect big things from the man in office. Imagine a leader ruling for multiple decades. Children would have grown into adulthood knowing only one king. That king dying would mean the potential for change on a global scale. Policies, economies, national goals and agendas would all be up for change. This likely was a long-awaited event among the people of Israel. Just as when “there arose a new king over Egypt, who did not know Joseph (1:8)” meant a change from favored position to cruel oppressed slavery, so this change in dictators might mean a lifting of the oppression and heavy bondage on the people. Maybe this new king would change everything. Maybe he would again look favorably on the Israelites. Maybe oppression would cease. Now there is hope!
We could compare this situation with the circumstances that faced the Jews under king Uzziah. King Uzziah was a good king who had reigned for 52 years in Judah (2 Chronicles 26:3). After a 52 year rule there would be uncertainty of what would happen next. Some kings were good, but many of their kings had been evil and unjust. There was much fear and uncertainty of what the future would hold. It was at this time that Isaiah had his vision.
Although King Uzziah was dead, the Lord is still on his throne. In Egypt, the Hebrews were suffering deeply. If their hope was in a new government with a new leader, their hope was misplaced and would disappoint. Psalm 146 helps us keep our focus where it should be:
Put not your trust in princes. Do not hope in a new government. Look to the one who is worthy to be hoped in. Psalm 33 encourages us:
It appears that the children of Israel did not turn to the Lord until every other hope was extinguished. The evil king was dead. A new king had ascended the throne. But there was no deliverance as they had hoped. If anything, things got worse. Listen to the words that describe their situation: a sigh of pain or grief, slavery or bondage (twice), cried out, cried for rescue, groaning. Finally, in desperation, when there is nowhere else to turn, the people cry out to God. Actually, the text doesn't even explicitly state that the people did cry out to God. It says that they groaned and cried out for rescue and their cries came up to God.
But whether they were addressing him or not, God heard. God was listening. This is the second time God is mentioned in the book of Exodus. The first time was with individuals. The Hebrew midwives feared God and so they disobeyed the Pharaoh. And God blessed them personally. He gave them families of their own. Now we have the people of Israel – corporately – as a group – crying out for relief. Prayer is a powerful tool in the hands of the church gathered. In the book of Acts:
God hears the prayers of his people.
He invites us to pray.
So Israel prayed, and God heard.
Their cry came up to God. God heard, God remembered, God saw and God knew.
What does it mean for an omniscient God to hear? If God is everywhere present and knows the thoughts and intents of our hearts, this surely means more than simply that God registered the sound waves coming from the people. This is not Dr. Seuss' Horton Hears a Who, where if everyone makes enough noise, the sound will come through to God's ear. In Isaiah, God says:
This does not mean that God no longer registers the sounds of their prayers. He knows exactly what they are praying, but because of their unrepentant sins, God will not answer favorably. When I ask my kids to do something and they don't respond, I will often ask 'didn't you hear me?' I don't rush them off to the doctor to get their ears checked. Their ears work fine. It's a problem somewhere between the ears and the heart and the feet that causes them not to translate the audible signal into appropriate action. When it says that God heard them, the implication is that appropriate action is shortly to follow.
What does it mean for an omniscient God to remember? Surely we do not have a God with Alzheimer's that needs to be constantly reminded of things he has forgotten. Throughout the bible this word 'remembered' implies covenant application. Again, it is appropriate action in light of the promises made. Remembering is synonymous with honoring or making good on his promises.
God had made promises to these men. The book of Exodus began with the genealogy connecting the slaves in Egypt to the patriarchs to whom God made these promises. God had promised to make them into a great nation, and in the opening words of Exodus, we see that he's already done that. They have become so powerful and great that the Egyptians fear them. God had also promised
The Egyptians had dishonored Israel, and now it was time for them to feel the consequences of their actions. God had also promised them land, and it was time to bring them back into the land. God had promised to be with them and to himself bring them up out of Egypt, and it was time for him to make good on all these promises. God remembered his covenant. We can take heart that God is a God who makes good on his promises. We can also be encouraged that God can indeed forget.
Because of the cross of Jesus our Lord, God can indeed blot out our sins and remember them no more! Praise God for that!
God heard, God remembered, God saw and God knew. Like Moses, who went out to see his people, this is much more than mere observation. God is looking with compassion on their situation and preparing to do something about it. God will act in response to what he sees. God saw and God knew. Again, this does not mean that an omniscient God received new information. This implies intimacy and experience – relationship. This is what Jesus points to when he says:
Many will do things in his name and for him, but without a proper relationship with him, those things are meaningless. Jesus said:
God hears, God remembers, God sees, God knows. Our God is a God of action. And he responds to the cries of his people. But how does God respond, how does he answer? God began to answer this prayer 80 years earlier by giving a handful of women the courage to stand for what's right and disobey the Pharaoh. God began to answer this cry 80 years before when a Hebrew mother entrusted her endangered son to the Nile river in a little ark. God began to answer when the Pharaoh's own daughter drew him out of the water and had pity on him. God began to answer when he sent Moses out from the palace to his oppressed people to gain a heart of compassion for them. God began to answer even in the rejection of his people and banishment to the desert to learn rejection and alienation and humility and to learn what it means to be a shepherd. God had been working all along in preparation to answer this request of the people. We do not surprise God by our requests and send him scrambling. Jesus taught us:
We are to pray with the understanding that our Father knows what we need before we ask. This should not discourage us from praying as if prayer was meaningless. Instead it should encourage us. We can ask with confidence knowing that God has all along been putting the necessary preparations in place so that he can respond to our prayers by unleashing his power on our behalf. God delights to give good gifts to his children. And he delights to be asked.