It is a basic part of the human existence that we walk through seasons in which we feel spiritually alone or forgotten by God. Tragedy strikes, and we wrestle with how God could allow this or that to happen. A longing goes unfulfilled, and we wonder if God has forgotten our plight altogether. God seems silent, distant even. Scripture is replete with stories of individuals who walk through seasons of aloneness, when God seems silent. God's redemption plan is no exception. His timing, which is always much wiser than ours, meant thousands of years of waiting between the Fall of mankind and the arrival of the Messiah. Was this passage of time happenstance, merely God waiting and watching as random events unfolded? Or was it intentional?
Picking up the story where we left off, the Israelites occupied Egyptian land provided for them through their patriarch Joseph. They grew in numbers to the point that the Egyptians became concerned. A foreign people in their land was quickly outgrowing them, and they feared for their safety and power. So Pharaoh, in a move of political and military might, enslaved the Israelites (Exodus 1:8-14). Incidentally, the more Pharaoh enslaved and oppressed the people, the more they multiplied. After a failed attempt to wipe out the newborn sons of Israel at the hands of the Hebrew midwives, Pharaoh decreed that every newborn Hebrew son be thrown into the Nile River (Ex. 1:15-22). One can hardly imagine the horrors of such a massacre.
Eventually, this wicked Pharaoh died, but the oppression of the Israelites continued. Finally, this nation, God's chosen people, decided to call upon their God.
"...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." Ex. 2:23-25 (ESV)
The progression of the verbs in this passage is striking:
Had He forgotten? Had the covenant He'd made with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob slipped His mind until then? Or was there purpose in His apparent silence?
The answer to these questions is actually found in the verses leading up to his passage, for God had already been at work. Before the people of Israel even called on God, He had raised up the man through whom He would deliver His people (Ex. 2:1-22). In a miraculous act during the time when Israelite boys were being murdered by death in the Nile River, God preserved one baby boy: Moses. Unbeknownst to the Israelites, who languished in their suffering and heartbreak, God was already working His redemption plan. Even in His apparent silence, God was working. In fact...
God heard. Though the Israelites felt abandoned and despondent, their God heard their cries of suffering and injustice. In spite of the fact that He was already at work to redeem them from their physical slavery, He still heard their cries for help and allowed it to move Him. He listened.
God remembered. God actively thought over the covenant He'd made. He gives us an example here that we should not forget. Just as a married person actively recalls his vows in order to remain committed on every level, so God remained steadfast in His commitment to the Israelites by keeping His covenant in the forefront of His mind.
God saw. He took notice of them. He observed their suffering, allowing His eyes to take in the injustices of the Egyptians toward the Israelites. God did not turn His eyes away from the depraved violence and mistreatment of His people. Instead, He involved Himself in their suffering through His senses.
And God knew. I love this last verb. Other translations say that God "took knowledge of them" (ASV), "took notice of them" (NASB), "acknowledged them" (NKJV), and "knew it was time to act" (NLT). In the fullness of all these translations, God understood the Israelites' suffering and recognized that His perfect timing for redemption was now. We can all see or hear of injustice, for it is all around us. But to know it, to recognize it and understand those who suffer, and to be moved to action, that is a very different thing indeed.
The most important verb in this progression isn't explicitly stated, but it is demonstrated as the story unfolds: God acted. God worked redemption through Moses. Even in God's immediate action, though, the Israelites were not instantly set free. It took ten plagues before Pharaoh relented and allowed the Israelites to leave (Ex. 7-12). In fact, things got worse before they got better. But Got was always in control, and He was always working to redeem His people, to the glory of His name.
What a powerful, magnificent, intimate, and caring God we serve. He is all of these things and more. He is a God who knows His plan and works to bring it about, yet He is also intimately involved with His people. Even in the darkest, loneliest, and most painful times in our lives, we can trust that God is in control and working out His plan for His glory and for our good. We can know this because we see His faithfulness in the past and trust that His character is the same today.
God's redemption story did not end with Moses, because One greater than Moses was needed to redeem humanity from the sin condition. For so many reasons, though, this part of God's redemption story speaks to us today. Let us all see the involvement of God in our lives. Let us look to Him and take comfort that He hears our cries. He remembers His covenant to us, He sees us where we are...and He knows. He knows. He knows us more fully than we even know ourselves, and He understands. He became human and experienced the same human experience we all have. He is a God like no other god. Holy, righteous, and royal, but also kind, loving, and concerned for His people.
God is purposeful in those seasons of silence, but He is always working. As genuine believers, this changes the way we live. We do not fear or shrink back, for we are servants of the Most High God. This is our confidence and our hope!
"But we are not of those who shrink back and are destroyed, but of those who have faith and preserve their souls." Hebrews 10:39