“After a long time, the king of Egypt died. The Israelites groaned because of their difficult labor, they cried out, and their cry for help because of the difficult labor ascended to God. God heard their groaning, and God remembered his covenant with Abraham, with Isaac, and with Jacob. God saw the Israelites, and God knew.” (Read the chapter)
Have you ever been in a season when it seemed like some awful situation was never going to end? I remember a period of a few months a number of years ago when one of us was sick constantly. It felt like we were never going to all be healthy at the same time again. Perhaps compared with your situation, that sounds like a vacation. When we are walking along the bottom of a deep valley, it is easy for hope to dim to the point we start to believe we’ll never walk in the light again. Take heart. This next part of the story reminds us that is not ever really the case.
God always knew things were going to go like this. Way back in Genesis He had told Abraham that though his descendants were going to inherit the land he was living in, they were going to go through a tough period first. This happened in Genesis 15. God came and renewed His covenant with Abraham in what was a stunning display of faithfulness. Covenant making was a thing back then that made sense to people, but what God did here went way beyond what anyone could have imagined Him doing.
Specifically, He told Abraham, “Your offspring will be resident aliens for four hundred years in a land that does not belong to them and will be enslaved and oppressed. However, I will judge the nation they serve, and afterward they will go out with many possessions.” Four hundred years they would be in Egypt, during which for some amount of time they would be slaves. That sounds awful, sure, but the point is that the whole thing didn’t surprise God. He knew and already had plans to deal with the nation who would choose to do this to His people, and to reward His people for their longsuffering faithfulness by allowing them to essentially plunder their oppressors on their way out the door (which He did).
Then it happened. The people went to Egypt under good circumstances, but eventually a new king came to power who didn’t know about Joseph or what he did to save the nation from famine. He grew fearful the Hebrews would unite with the former rulers with whom they shared a genetic heritage if things ever went south, so rather than kicking them out, he enslaved them to provide his kingdom with an enormous source of free labor. We don’t know how long the people suffered under this terrible weight, but eventually they started to cry out for relief. They wondered if perhaps God had forgotten them.
But He hadn’t.
He had heard their cries. He remembered His promise to Abraham (which means He kicked off His plans to fulfill it and not that He literally forgot about it; God doesn’t forget), and set His plans in motion. The thing is, though, God’s plans unfold through you and me. He works His grand designs through people. This is utterly incredible to consider, but what it means more than anything else for our purposes at the moment is that they sometimes take a long time to unfold. At least, they can seem that way to us who are so temporally constrained in this life.
God’s plans to bring relief to Israel started in earnest when Moses was born and rescued from Pharaoh’s murderous grasp. Yet what could he do for Israel as a baby? Nothing, of course. He had to grow up first. Even then, though, he grew up in the palace. He may have had the ear of Pharaoh, but that didn’t mean he could lead God’s people anywhere. They neither knew him nor trusted him. And, in what should have been a surprise to exactly no one, his first attempt to do so went rather badly.
Yet when do you think this first major point of transition occurred? It was when Moses was about forty. And at that point, he still wasn’t ready to lead as God wanted him. He had to be pruned and grown first. This took another nearly forty years. In other words, once God had really started to take some meaningful steps in the direction of bringing relief to His people, it was another 80 years before things really kicked into high gear. For a God who was eternal that may feel like the blink of an eye, but for us that’s a whole lifetime. It sure seems like He had indeed forgotten them.
But He hadn’t.
He hadn’t, and there are two things here that point to the intimacy of God’s ongoing concern for them. Moses, writing later, tells us that God saw Israel and that He knew. He saw and He knew. Think for just a minute and you’ll quickly see why this was such a big deal.
In our wisest moments, we know that seasons of pain and frustration and even agony aren’t generally going to stop with a snap. This is especially true when the cause of our misfortune is someone else’s actions and the whole situation is out of our hands. In these kinds of moments one of the most encouraging things is to know that at the very least someone else knows what’s going on. To be known and seen is one of the deepest cries of our heart, especially in seasons of pain. That reminds us we aren’t alone and forgotten. We can endure much knowing just those two things.
Okay, but isn’t God…well…God? Shouldn’t He of all people be able to stop our troubles with a snap? Yes, being God, He has that power. But being God, He also has the wisdom to not use it very often. If He were to come and start eliminating our seasons of pain at the moment of our choosing rather than in the time He in His perfect wisdom knew was ultimately best, He would have to short circuit the ability to make meaningful and consequential choices of everyone involved, including us. And if He were to do that, He would take away our ability to love Him as well as one another since real love requires the ability to make meaningful and consequential choices.
Instead, God does something that is actually better (even though it doesn’t seem like it in the moment). He works through the free choices of free people to gradually redeem our brokenness and bring good out of it; to bring good in, through, and for us. He uses the experiences to give us the opportunity to grow in our ability to trust in Him and reflect His character through our lives more fully. He makes us more fit for eternal life in His kingdom through it, whatever “it” happens to be. This takes longer and often feels a lot messier in process, but the outcome will be even better than we could possibly imagine sitting in the midst of our pain.
So, no, God didn’t forget Israel even though He took a lot longer to bring them the relief they desired than they would have preferred. And because He is the just God of life who is operating on the scale of eternity, even where His patience results in the unjust loss of life here and now, He is still able to redeem even that when the time comes. God saw and He knew.
In the same way, God hasn’t forgotten you in whatever your season of pain happens to be. He sees and He knows and He is working to bring the Gospel relief you are longing to experience. It very well may take longer than you’d like, but He is working toward something even better than your temporary relief before another season of pain arrives which is simply a function of living in a world broken by sin. He is making you fit for His eternal kingdom, a kingdom in which the trouble you endure with longsuffering here and now will seem like such a short blip that it will be hard to remember in light of the eternal glory of the life you then enjoy.
Because of this, when things get hard, keep your eyes on Him. Keep trusting in Him. Keep pursuing the path of Christ. Keep loving others. Although the race of life feels longer than you ever expected it would, keep on running toward His kingdom. All your efforts in the direction of His kingdom will be rewarded. None of them are in vain.