Haven’t posted in a while. It’s a crazy season, both nationally and personally, and I hold to the Thumper-rule: “If you can’t say something nice… don’t say nothing at all.” OK, I try to hold to that rule.
Today, I can say something that, if not “nice”, should at least be encouraging.
My Bible reading this morning included the first two chapters of Exodus. The Cliff Notes version:
Chapter 1: A whole lot of time passes between the death of Joseph and the birth of Moses (We’ll leave the specific amount of time to another discussion). During that time, a new Pharaoh took over, and decided that the Israelites who were welcomed during Joseph’s time, had become too numerous, and were now a threat to the Egyptians. The Pharaoh declared first that they would be treated harshly as slaves, and when that didn’t decrease their numbers, he decreed that every male baby should be killed at birth.
Chapter 2: This chapter only covers 80 years, and if you’ve watched the Charlton Heston movie, you know this story: Moses is born to an Israelite slave couple. His mom hides him for 3 months, then decides she can’t hide him anymore, puts him in a basket in the river, where his sister watches while Pharaoh’s daughter discovers the baby. Pharaoh’s daughter gives baby Moses back to his mom to nurse him. When he’s older, she takes young Moses into Pharaoh’s house and raises him as her own son. Fast-forward to 40-year-old Moses, a member of Pharaoh’s household, who also knows that he’s of Hebrew descent, goes for a walk in the brick yard, sees an Egyptian beating a Hebrew slave, and kills the Egyptian, hides the body, and apparently is not found out. The next day, when he interrupts two Hebrew slaves fighting each other, they get mad at him, he suddenly becomes paranoid that he’s going to be found out for the murder, and runs away into the desert to the land of Midian. There he marries the daughter of a shepherd, and spends the next 40 years unremarkably watching sheep for his father in law. The last three verses of the chapter tell us that Pharaoh dies, and the Israelites cry out to God about their oppression in Egypt. God hears their cries, and remembers his promise to Abraham to make Israel a great nation.
I’ve read this account countless times, and seen Charlton Heston act it out several more. What stood out to me today was the last verse of Chapter 2, and particularly the last three words. Today I was reading from the English Standard Version (ESV), and it translates Exodus 2:25 as, “God saw the people of Israel—and God knew.”
“and God knew.” That’s interesting. I couldn’t recall ever reading that before. I pulled out “old faithful,” my worn NIV (84 version) and read the verse, where those translators converted verse 25 to the English, “So God looked on the Israelites and was concerned about them.” That sounded a lot more familiar! In fact, I had looked at that verse many times, and thought, “What a primitive understanding of God.”
It always seemed as if the writer is giving the impression that God forgot about his promise to Abraham, and the fact that his chosen people, Abraham’s descendants, were being beaten as slaves for over 80 years, and then one day he said, “Oh, I wonder how they’re doing? I seem to hear them carrying on about something. I should check on them. They may be having some sort of difficulty.”
Now, I hold to a view of God as all-knowing, all-powerful, and present everywhere at the same time, so I am certain that he hadn’t become unaware of the plight of the Israelites. I just chalked the peculiar language up to the fact that the writer of Exodus didn’t really have as complete an understanding of God as us modern folks do (that’s a joke, by the way).
“and God knew.” OK, now my curiosity was piqued. I needed to know more. It turns out the Hebrew word translated by the ESV as “knew” and by the NIV as “was concerned about them” is yada. This is a complex Hebrew word that has a lot of variation of meanings in the 944 times it is used in the Old Testament. Without going into all of the variations, it is safe to say that both translations are accurate interpretations of what the word could mean. Being “concerned about them” fits within the various meanings of yada, but “know” hits the primary meaning.
“and God knew.” As a parent, this resonated with me. As we watch our children mature, we sometimes see them experience something for the first time, and we understand their experience better than they do. Often, we understand what they’re going to experience before they get there. Imagine a teenager in their first romantic relationship. They are “in love,” but parents know… There is going to be infatuation; sickeningly-sweet, life-long commitment; and eventually the devastation that elicits sobs of, “I can’t live without him (or her)!”
“and God knew.” As that parent, we can’t intervene, we can’t stop the process, we can’t lessen the pain. We can warn, we can cajole, we can make crazy threats and buy “Dads Against Daughters Dating” t-shirts, but no matter how much we would like to spare them (and us) of the experience, we have to let it play out. But we know. We let the scenario play out, standing back, but watching intently, knowing that there will be a time when the lovelorn child cries out to us in anguish, and we are ready to step in and comfort.
“and God knew.” God hadn’t lost track of the Israelites. He hadn’t become distracted, and suddenly realized he’d left them alone. He knew. He was there, ready, waiting for them to cry out.
“and God knew.” Not only was he waiting, but he was prepared! Read Exodus 2, or at least my summary above, again. How plausible is this story? A Levite couple (the family that priests come from) hide a baby. The king’s daughter finds it, and says, “Hey, Dad! I found a baby today while I was taking a bath. It was one of the Hebrew babies you are trying to kill. Right after I found it, there was a girl standing there who said she could find a slave woman to nurse it for me, so I gave the baby back to her. When he’s weaned, I am going to bring him here and I’ll raise him like he was my own baby, ‘K?”
Then, when the 40-year-old Hebrew/Pharaoh man kills somebody, he runs away into the desert and hides in another country for 40 years. So a guy with a top-flight education, military training and leadership experience sits on a brown mountain for 40 years watching sheep do sheep-stuff, until one day when God randomly finds this perfect candidate to take on Pharaoh and lead hundreds of thousands of slaves to freedom from the world’s greatest power. That’s only plausible if there is an unseen power directing the events.
“and God knew.” In Jeremiah 1:5, God tells the prophet Jeremiah, “Before I formed you in the womb, I knew (yada) you; and before you were born I consecrated you; I appointed you a prophet to the nations.” God had given Jeremiah a purpose before he gave him a heartbeat. Exodus 2 is a story that God authored before “In the beginning…” I am always hesitant to try to determine or explain God’s purposes, but if we look at Exodus 2, it would appear that God needed to get the Israelites miserable enough in their current situation that they’d be willing to go through the hardship, fear, and unknown of leaving Egypt for a “promised land” that they’d only heard stories about. And while they were getting good and miserable, God needed to raise up a leader, train him, and then shield him from the misery until the time was right.
“and God knew.” There is a lot of turmoil in our world, our nation, our cities, and even in our own homes right now. My wife and I are facing an exciting, but terrifyingly uncertain future as we prepare to move across the continent to a city we’ve never lived in, to start a church in a place that doesn’t perceive a whole lot of use for Christians or God. Oh, and the cost of living is higher, starting a church isn’t real lucrative, and my retirement savings is depleted after 3 years of being a volunteer (that’s Hebrew for unpaid) pastor. Things are looking pretty chaotic, unorganized, and… impossible. Some of my friends are facing uncertainties much greater than mine. They’ve lost their health, livelihood, or even their spouse, or father, way too soon. There’s no way this can work! In their more honest moments, they might even tell you that they might not want it to work. It’d be easier to just quit. And if you take the time to sit in their place for a minute, you can see how they think that.
“and God knew.” God didn’t take away the Israelites misery. In fact, he used it to move them. He was standing close by, watching, waiting for their cry, and at just the right moment he sent the leader he had begun preparing (on earth) 80 years prior. Truth is, if you consider how quickly the Israelites were ready to abandon the Exodus and return to slavery in Egypt, he probably should have let them get a little more miserable before sending Moses. But he knew.
And he still does. The Israelites never got all the answers, and their suffering didn’t magically go away. In some ways, life got harder once they were freed from slavery. But God was with them, watching over them, knowing them, throughout their time in slavery, their time of testing in the desert; always watching, acting at just the right moment.
“and God knows.” Wherever you are today, whatever you are enduring, or fearing, or mourning, he still knows.