Friday, November 19, 2004

Exodus 2:23 - 25

Originally a devotion for teachers at the school where I work.

This is one of my favorite passages in the Old Testament. This may seem strange at first but I see a lot in this passage. I find the concepts of prayer, and GodÂ’s response to my prayer to be so clearly detailed that I found this passage to be one I can meditate on for weeks. In this meditation I am going to talk about my prayers of sinfulness, my prayers of genuine need and GodÂ’s response to my prayers. I am also going to think about GodÂ’s response to nations and the effect our prayers have upon nations as well as individuals in those nations.

“The Israelites groaned in their slavery and cried out, and their cry for help because of their slavery went up to God.” Exodus 2:23

The first thing that is noticeable here is that there is the universal appeal for justice from oppression in this passage. I am not a slave but I do groan about my everyday life. Sometimes I have a good reason for this like when my feet hurt because of torn ligaments or when I am late for work because of traffic at 6:15am in morning. How often am I oppressed by pain or circumstances beyond my control? Other times, however; I grumble and complain because I am a sinful human who way down deep thinks the world should recognize my genius and not require anything else of me than to live in wealth and luxury.

This may in fact be closer to the truth about the Hebrews situation. Historians tell us that the people who built the cities and monuments of ancient Egypt were better fed, better-housed and received better health care than the population at large. While it may very well be true that the Egyptian master’s abused the Hebrew’s it is also true that most ancient civilizations routinely abused ALL of their citizens. A group of foreign nationals living in an ancient empire would have been particularly attractive target. Anyway, I am not sure that the vast majority of ancient people’s were not really slaves. I am not sure that the word “freedom” had very much meaning in the ancient world. Even the episode involving the midwives and killing the male babies is not so extreme by ancient standards. In fact, if judged by the Assyrians or the Hittites the Egyptians were behaving in a positively enlightened manner.

All of this is beside the point. It is clear that the Ancient Egyptians perverted the sense of justice inherent in all humans; as such their state was corrupt. The issue is not whether the Israelites were better or worse off than their contemporaries in Ancient Egypt. The issue is that the Israelites felt abandoned, betrayed, set upon and perceived that God was their only hope for deliverance.

Would it have been better if the Israelites had realized this earlier? Yes! Should they have been constantly petitioning God throughout the 400 years they were in Egypt? You bet! Did they? We do not know if they prayed for deliverance before this time or not. Apparently they did not. But is not this how we often behave? Am I not guilty of waiting until I have tied my life in a knot so tight that only God can untie it before I ask God for help?

How much groaning could I forgo if I simply placed my everyday in GodÂ’s hands? What is really great here is not that the Israelites are better or worse than I am but that God never tires waiting for me to cry out to him. When I finally come to God He is never to busy, miffed, angry, far away, tired or weak to help. Oh, that I would cry out to God more often in earnest faith. Not just when I am in trouble. It is a measure of my innate sinfulness that I find it hard to trust in God during the good or easy times.

“God heard their groaning and God remembered His covenant with Abraham, with Isaac and with Jacob. So God looked on the Israelites and God was concerned about them.” Exodus 2: 24 - 25

There are four phrases here that really stand out.
1. “God heard” What a comfort that God hears! I do not read Hebrew but it is apparent here that the word used in this passage means that in hearing God was more than simply being aware of a noise somewhere as I am aware of the barking dog down the street. It seems that the way the word is used it means that God really listened to the prayers of the Israelites. He took time to find out what they had to say. He did not simply become aware that the Israelites were praying. God paid attention to them.

How wonderful that God pays attention to us. How wonderful that God is interested in what we have to say. How wonderful, in whatever way, that God hears us. That he wants to hear from us. The obvious question then is do I want to hear from Him? Do I want God to really listen to what I have to say? What do my prayers sound like in GodÂ’ ears? Am I comfortable with my prayers in either quality or quantity?

2. “God remembered” How wonderful that God remembers us. He remembers his promises to us. He remembers what he promised to do for us. More than that God remembers the prayers our parents, grandparents and even great, great, great grand parents made for us. In this case we have no evidence that the prayers of Abraham, Isaac or Jacob for their children were meant to be carried so many generations into the future God applied those prayers here more than four hundred years later. God remembered the faith and prayers of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob in the past for their children and applied those prayers to their captive descendants, twenty- five generations later, the Israelites.

A better way to phrase this might be to say that God never forgets either His promises to us or, just as importantly, the prayers of previous generations of faithful saints on our behalf. This fact should give us quite a pause. God never forgets our prayers! He remembers what we ask for and we can see that he will protect, rescue and be concerned about the children of our childrenÂ’s children and even their children. We can know that God will remember our prayers and not make them wasted breath. This is true even if we never live to see those prayers answered. How far into the future will God carry our prayers and how many generations will our prayers today redeem? How will God answer my prayers for my nation today in the future?

3. “God looked” God gives us His attention. He not only listened he looked. He saw, observed watched. God looks at us! He looks at us both as a corporate or national sense and as individuals. More than that, God looked not only at the Israelites but also at the Egyptians!

Nations are important to God. Look at the Old Testament prophets. How much of what they said was directed at nations, peoples and kingdoms rather than individuals? God was/is evidently interested in the welfare of not only ancient Israel but also every nation. Our culture, our civilization, our national identities are important to God. The Israelites were being abused as a nation by the authority and under color of the nation in which they lived. An oppressive and authoritarian government was systematically destroying the Israelites cultural identity and denying them the right to live peacefully in the land that had been legally given to them. God was concerned about these things, both the destruction of Israel and illegal action of the nation. God took action to not only save the Israelites but to chastise the Egyptians and reminded both nations that He is the final king and judge on Earth!

If God was concerned about these things at that time it is safe to say that He still is today. Too often we forget that our government, our culture, our national identity is something given to us by God to institute His law on Earth. This is not an insignificant thing. When nations or peoples refuse to enforce the laws of God even at even the most basic level then God has, or so the Bible tells us, judged them and replaced them. It may be that God is patient. It may be that He does not want to judge. It is true that there are limits beyond which His patience and limits cannot be stretched.

Leaders who do not maintain honest, just and responsible administrations sit under the wrath of God. I do not find it a simple coincidence that the two basic areas that God demonstrated His power against the Egyptians were their religion (The plagues) and their military (drowned in the Red Sea) Egypt was a Theocracy. Pharaoh was worshiped as a god. The state supported an official religion. Each of the plagues was directed against a specific Egyptian god and the drowning of the army was no different. The drowning of Pharaoh and his army in the Red Sea was the final condemnation of not only a false religion but also of a corrupt government that had failed to up hold justice and fairness and law.

God looked at the Pharaoh and measured him by his own standard, found him wanting and refused to let him cross the sea as a righteous man as Egyptian religions said he must do after death. If you know anything about ancient Egyptian religion you see what happened here. Pharaoh was shown to be a false god. He did not meet even the requirements for salvation prescribed by even his own false religion. The Israelites crossed the Red Sea because God found them righteous. Pharaoh drowned because of his sin. Hallelujah! Is it not wonderful that while more patient than we God will judge the unrighteous nations and individuals of Earth! God demands that we live righteous lives and that our governments uphold his laws. When nations do not up hold the justice of God on Earth we have the right to petition God for justice and God will, in His time give us justice! Amen!

4. “God was concerned” Obviously, I have dealt with this at length already. God was and is concerned about many aspects of our life. However, I believe that sometimes we need to restate the obvious. God is concerned about us. He was concerned enough to send Moses. He was concerned enough to part the Red Sea. He was concerned enough to destroy the Egyptian army and expose the Egyptian religion as fraudulent. He was concerned enough to provide the Israelites with water, manna, and quail. He was concerned about the situation on Earth and did something about it. Because God is concerned I do not have to be! Years ago I heard a sermon by a man named Buddy Cave. He was the pastor of a small church that my family attended. He made a statement that I have remembered all these years. In a sermon on prayer he said: “If you are concerned about something it is big enough to give it to God in Prayer. God is concerned with all our needs. And, if you are concerned about then God is concerned about it. And, if God is concerned about then you don’t need to be concerned about it. Because if God is concerned about your problems you have all the help you need.” Amen! How wonderful to know that God is concerned with my needs. What comfort is found in knowing that God is concerned that I live in a nation that executes justice on Earth! What a tremendous thing to realize that the concern of God means that God will take action on those concerns.

What a great passage.

Until Next Time
Your Biblical Interpreting blogger

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