Exodus 3:7–10; 12:12–13, 29–31; 14:5–6, 13–14, 21, 26comment (0)
June 13, 2013
By Jeffery M. Leonard
Related Scripture: Exodus 3:7–10; 12:12–13, 29–31; 14:5–6, 13–14, 21, 26
Bible Studies for Life
Assistant Professor of Religion, Samford University
God Delivers His People
Exodus 3:7–10; 12:12–13, 29–31; 14:5–6, 13–14, 21, 26
God Cares (3:7–10)
The cast of characters in Exodus 1–2 was tailor-made for one of Cecil B. DeMille’s cinematic gems. Pharaoh and his daughter, Moses and Miriam, the Israelites and their taskmasters, all of these play their part in the events of these chapters. One character, though, remains conspicuously absent from the scene: God. As Jacob’s family spirals from welcomed guests to hated slaves, Jacob’s God is said to have done little more than give families to the midwives who refused Pharaoh’s terrible charge. In this moment of crisis, God seems curiously estranged from His people.
God’s people seem equally estranged from Him. As Pharaoh first enslaves and then attacks the Israelites, we read no word of prayer, no plea for help to God. The midwives again are said to have feared God, but nothing more is said about the Israelites’ devotion to God. Jacob’s descendants have grown in number as they have sojourned in Egypt, but they have also grown distant from the God who brought them there.
All of this will change in the final verses of Exodus 2. There, the text says, “The Israelites groaned because of their slavery, and they cried out, and their cry for help because of their slavery rose up to God.” Note that the text does not actually say the Israelites prayed for help. It says merely that they groaned. They cried out, and that cry finally reached the ears of Israel’s God. The four verbs that follow form the heart of the exodus story: God heard their groaning. God remembered His covenant. God looked upon the Israelites. God knew.
This last verb is especially meaningful. The sense of the Hebrew yada‘ (to know) runs much deeper than merely knowing facts or even being acquainted with another person. It is the word used as a euphemism for sexual relations in phrases such as “Adam knew his wife, and she conceived.” It is a word that expresses intimacy and in this context gives the reader the sense that God Himself has experienced the pain of His children’s suffering. From this moment, the exodus was an accomplished fact. Neither Moses’ objections nor Pharaoh’s resistance would hinder God’s determination to free His people. As He says in Exodus 3, “I have seen the misery of my people in Egypt. I have heard them crying out because of their slave drivers, and I am concerned about their suffering. So I have come down to rescue them.”
God Judges (12:12–13, 29–31)
Standing in the way of deliverance was Pharaoh. When God announced His determination to free His people, Moses naturally assumed their release would happen immediately. With divinely inspired boldness, he strides into Pharaoh’s throne room in Exodus 5 and declares, “Let my people go.” He appears unprepared for Pharaoh’s negative response: “Who is the Lord that I should obey Him and let Israel go? I do not know the Lord and I will not let Israel go.” When Pharaoh refuses, Moses is reduced to begging, “Please let us go.”
After God has struck Egypt with plague after devastating plague, this situation will be reversed. Now Moses declares in hot anger that it is Pharaoh and his officials who will bow before him (Ex. 11:8). And when the firstborn are struck, it is Pharaoh who plaintively begs Moses, “Bless me,” as he gives the Israelites their freedom (Ex. 12:32).
God Delivers (14:5–6, 13–14, 21, 26)
The exodus itself is hurried and quiet. It is only once the people have been delivered through the sea that they can finally pause and reflect on their freedom. Preserved in the celebration of Passover, this act of deliverance would become a perennial subject for reflection. Reaching beyond that one band of freed people in that one moment in time, the exodus would be remembered as an act of liberation for all of God’s people for all time. Some three millennia later, when a child at a Passover meal asks the Four Questions, the faithful still say, “Avadim hayinu,” “We were slaves,” and “va-yotsi’enu,” “but he delivered us.”