‘Then the Lord said, “I have observed the misery of my people in Egypt, and have heard them crying out because of their oppressors. I know about their sufferings, and I have come down to rescue them from the power of the Egyptians and to bring them from that land to a good and spacious land, a land flowing with milk and honey – the territory of the Canaanites, Hethites, Amorites, Perizzites, Hivites, and Jebusites. So because the Israelites’ cry for help has come to me, and I have also seen the way the Egyptians are oppressing them, therefore, go. I am sending you to Pharaoh so that you may lead my people, the Israelites, out of Egypt.'” (CSB – Read the chapter)
It is sometimes a difficult business knowing when to step in and when to stay out of the way. This is true in all sorts of different areas of life. It is especially true when it comes to the people we love most. Sometimes a person needs to go through a season of challenge and hardship because of what they will gain by overcoming it. There’s probably a sermon on parenting in there waiting to be preached, but we’ll have to tackle that another time. Still, though, when someone you love is crying out for help, your natural instinct is to be compassionate and help them. When this happens, you are reflecting the heart of God. Let’s talk about this through the lens of the next part of Moses’ story.
God doesn’t like for His people to hurt. Nothing stirs Him to compassion quite so much as His people’s crying out from the midst of their misery for relief and help. We see that all over the Scriptures. But this is particularly true across the Old Testament once Israel was established as a nation. They wandered off the path of righteousness God had showed them in the beginning, and found themselves facing the consequences of their faithlessness over and over and over again. Time after time, though, when they came to their senses and cried out to their God for help, He came and rescued them. Even when they were experiencing the just judgment of God for their sinfulness, when they cried out for relief and mercy, God gave it to them again and again.
The people of Israel here had been crying out for relief from the oppression of the Egyptians. After getting Moses’ attention with the burning bush that wasn’t actually burning, the very first thing God says to him is that He is aware of the suffering of the people of Israel. Not only is He aware of it, but He is preparing to do something about it. He is going to bring them out of Egypt, out of their slavery, and give them a spacious and bountiful land to call their own. And, Moses is the guy He is sending to accomplish this incredible task.
Yet put yourself in Moses’ sandals for just a second. To a certain extent, this had to feel a little bit to him like too little too late. God was feeling compassionate toward the people of Israel? Great, Moses had already been there forty years earlier. God was going to do something about their misery? Welcome to the party, Pal. Moses had tried to do something about their misery forty years earlier and that’s why he was here tending sheep in the middle of nowhere. Where was God when he was trying to do this very thing all those years ago? What on earth was God thinking in telling him of all people to go lead the Israelites out of Egypt. He had been there, done that, burned the t-shirt, and now he had moved on to other things. He had tried and failed rather miserably. What was the point of retreading an old track?
The objections Moses was rather naturally going to raise to all of this are something we’ll spend the next few days examining together, Lord willing. But this tension around God’s seeming to have waited a very long time before deciding to get off His throne and come help the people of Israel isn’t one that was only challenging for Moses. It is a challenging idea for us too. If God had really heard their cries, why was He only moving now to do something about it? Surely the people had been crying out before. Surely they had been crying out for a very long time. Their oppression had begun before Moses was born. They had been crying out for more than a generation. And God was just now doing something about it? Where had He been before? Was He only just now hearing their cries? Had He ignored them before? Did it take their cries that long to reach His ears? Why the long delay? One of the sayings that came out of the Civil Rights movement was that justice delayed is justice denied. How could the God who is just as a core component of His character have waited so long to bring justice on the Egyptians for their oppression of the people He was calling His own?
These are tough questions. They are tough because even though there are answers to them, the emotions involved make those answers difficult to accept. When we are in trouble, we want someone to help us. We want them to help us right now. And we don’t want to hear anything about how this challenge is something better for us to face than avoid so that we can learn some lesson or another. So, when we cry out to God, we want Him to move then to relieve whatever burden we are bearing. If He doesn’t, our quick conclusion is either that He doesn’t care, that He isn’t powerful enough to deal with it, or that He’s just not there in the first place. It only rarely enters into our mind that He really does love us, but is waiting for the right time to act on our behalf. We certainly don’t want to entertain the notion that the trouble might be the fault of sin on our part and that we need to repent first before we should expect His help to come. Even less so do we want to consider that He is helping us through it by mitigating the worst of the pain so that we only experience a small amount of it. We don’t want any of it!
And yet, our not wanting to hear any of those things doesn’t mean they aren’t true. And if we aren’t going to be willing to accept the truth, we’re really sticking ourselves in a hole out of which there is no climbing unless and until we are willing to change our tune a bit. The truth is that God does care. He cares deeply. He loves abundantly. He is quick to compassion and mercy. He simply acts on a scale and a timeline that doesn’t always (or often) line up with ours. Sometimes a bit more perspective (which, admittedly, we may not get in this life, requiring us to trust in Him and His revealed character) will help us see that things aren’t nearly so bad as we perceive them to be.
Consider Israel’s story here. We often assume that Israel had been crying out for relief from their oppression for hundreds of years. But this may or may not be the case. They may have been in Egypt for roughly 400 years, but that doesn’t mean they were slaves for all of it. In fact, they may not have even been slaves for most of it. We know it had been at least a generation (which certainly isn’t a good thing by any stretch of the imagination), but how much more than that we simply don’t know.
There are two other factors we need to consider here. The first is that God honors our ability to make meaningful and consequential choices. He does this both in terms of the impact of those choices on us, but also on the people around us. In this case, the Egyptians had made the choice to enslave the Israelites. He allowed them to make that choice knowing that He was ultimately going to judge it and bring good out of it by redeeming the Israelites’ suffering that it would cause.
Now, we can question His decision to allow that choice on Egypt’s part, but we had better do so carefully. If we start trying to construct a standard by which God prevents the free choices of some people but not those of others, we are treading on decidedly dangerous ground. The trouble is that we usually want Him to subvert the choices of other people, but not our choices. Yet by what twist of logic should our choices be exempt from this? Don’t we also make choices that occasionally hurt other people? If we are going to have Him start removing the freedom of some people, we are setting ourselves on a slippery slope that will quickly slide us down the hill to no one having any measure of freedom at all. We don’t actually want that. Thankfully, He has the wisdom to not give us what we ask for.
The second thing to consider is this: When God works, He almost always works through people. This means waiting for them to get into the right position at the right time. It means allowing them to develop to the point that they are ready to do what He calls them to do. It means patiently enduring through their failures and setbacks. In short: it means a lot of waiting. It all takes longer than we want it to take. In the end, though, His approach reveals and increases His greatness and glory more fully than if He simply did everything Himself.
God may not move when we want Him to move. He may not move in the way we want Him to move. But He does move. He does act. He does respond to our suffering with compassion and help. And in the end, His ways will always be better than anything we might have done on our own. Moses’ initial attempt at doing something about Israel’s misery started with murder. It could only have gotten worse from there. God’s way led to freedom for the nation, judgment for Egypt, and a path that led to His revealing more of Himself to the world in part through the law, and eventually much more fully in Christ. When we trust in His timing in our own lives, things will go more smoothly for us. Let’s commit to that and see what comes of it.
2 thoughts on “Digging in Deeper: Exodus 3:7-10”
Great analysis. I’ve often wondered why it took 400 years for God to act. Never thought of it in those terms. I’m wondering after all the meaning, complaints and golden calf worshipping from the freed Israelites if God had wished he had waited 800 years. Lol.
One of the things the Scriptures do so well that we often don’t think about is justify and prove the justness of God’s against sin. Human history since has further made the case. On our own, we turn to sin every single time and we always will until He finally comes to put a stop to it once and for all. We do not ever achieve any moral improvement on our own. We really are worthy of nothing but judgment. It has only and ever been through the church being the church that any kind of positive social progress has been made.