The more I study the Bible, the more I appreciate what a masterful piece of art it is, with echoes of salvation and incarnation ringing throughout both testaments. This reflection on waiting and deliverance comes to you from my recent work creating translation resources for the book of Exodus.
“The Israelites groaned because of their slavery and cried out. Their cry went up to God and
God heard their groaning.
God remembered his covenant with Abraham, with Isaac, and with Jacob.
God saw the Israelites.
God knew.” [Exod. 2:23-25]
In these three short verses God is named five times. Up until this point in Exodus the narrative has purposefully avoided ascribing activity or purpose to God (he is mentioned only in 1:17, 20, 21) in order to create a dramatic shift here. The Israelites have been forced into slave labor, enduring persecution and multiple attempts to mass murder their children. Their suffering is unbearable, but there is hope because here God becomes the active subject. For every cry of suffering from the Israelites, God responds—he hears, he remembers, he sees, he knows.
Now, an important question—does “God remembered” mean that God forgot? The verb ‘remember’ does not imply that God had somehow forgotten about the covenant he made. In this context the verb has the connotation of acting on what has been recalled or giving complete attention to something already known. This expression appears throughout the Old Testament. When God “remembers his covenant” it means he is about to act on his promise. And sure enough, a few verses later we see God’s response.
“I have seen the affliction of my people in Egypt and
I have heard their cry. Indeed,
I know their sufferings.
I have come down to deliver them from Egypt and to bring them up from that land to a good and spacious land, flowing with milk and honey…” [Exod. 3:7-8]
God asserts that he sees, hears, knows—three of the same actions as in Exod. 2:24-25. But now we get an advance in the plot. His remembering has turned to action. God has come down to deliver. He is making himself (and his plan of salvation for the Israelites in Egypt) known to Moses from the midst of a bush on fire without burning. Soon he would come down and make himself known, not just to one man but to all the Israelite people, in a cloud of glory that filled the tabernacle. And one day, he would come down and make himself known as a man that we could touch and talk to and eat with. And this time, his coming down would be salvation for the whole world.
For the next few weeks, we wait. We wait and groan, just like the ancient Israelites in Egypt before us. For this season our hearts live in tents, preparing to be set free from sin and sorrow, wondering what that day will be like when his glory is revealed. With building anticipation we wait for the celebration that God did come, wrapped in humility and humanity. God did save, not just out of physical bondage but of out spiritual separation and despair. We wait with sure hope that he sees, he hears, he knows. And he will come again. With a thrill of hope, creation’s groaning will cease and the weary world will rejoice!
“You will also know of his second glorious and truly divine manifestation to us, when he comes no longer in lowliness but in his own glory, no longer with humility but in his own magnificence, no longer to suffer but to bestow thenceforth the fruit of his own cross..”
[Athanasius, On the Incarnation]