I was asked to deliver a devotional at Tuesday morning bible study. A few women who also read the blog asked that I could post the text of it here for future reference. Here is the text as I wrote, not exactly as I delivered it, of course.
23 During those many days the king of Egypt died, and the people of Israel groaned because of their slavery and cried out for help. Their cry for rescue from slavery came up to God. 24 And God heard their groaning, and God remembered his covenant with Abraham, with Isaac, and with Jacob. 25 God saw the people of Israel—and God knew.
We’ve been potty training at my house and as those of you who have been through that trial by water know, part of potty training is training the child, and part of it is training the parents. If I could count them, I would be embarrassed to tell you the number of times my son has been saying something urgently in my ear and I have ignored him until the moment his talking turned to tears and a puddle appeared on the floor. Suddenly I hear his crying, remember that we are supposed to be potty training, see the puddle and know.
For far too much of my life, that is the way I have seen this passage. There is Israel languishing in slavery for hundreds of years, until they can’t take it anymore and their prayers turn to cries and suddenly God remembers that he’s supposed to have a special relationship with these folks.
I will never forget the moment in 2008 when my theology suddenly jumped onto the covenantal track. Jonathan and I were reading through the passages in Genesis in which God articulates his covenant, and this passage jumped out of the word of God and hit me between the eyes:
“. . . Then the LORD said to Abram, “Know for certain that your offspring will be sojourners in a land that is not theirs and will be servants there, and they will be afflicted for four hundred years. But I will bring judgment on the nation that they serve, and afterward they shall come out with great possessions. As for you, you shall go to your fathers in peace; you shall be buried in a good old age. And they shall come back here in the fourth generation, for the iniquity of the Amorites is not yet complete.”. . . “ (Genesis 15:13-16 ESV)
Not only had the Lord not been caught off guard by the Israelite oppression in Egypt, He had planned it, and been gracious enough to give them forewarning. I suddenly realized that I thought the Bible was a collection of stories detailing humanity’s continual derailing of God’s plan, sending him back to the drawing board again and again until he is only left with the worst case scenario of sacrificing His son. Instead, scripture is the single story of God implementing his only plan to redeem His people.
If that is the case, then how do we read this passage? What does it mean when it says that God heard, God remembered, God saw and God knew? What was God doing for His people then, and what does it mean for His people now?
“And God heard their groaning.”
This is not just a case of the sound washing over him until he eventually caught the general idea of it. The Lord listened to His people. Matthew Henry words it this way, “He took notice of their complaints.” Proverbs 15:29 makes the following promise: “The LORD is far from the wicked, but he hears the prayer of the righteous.” This is echoed in 1 Peter 3:12, “For the eyes of the Lord are on the righteous, and his ears are open to their prayer. But the face of the Lord is against those who do evil.” Isn’t that a beautiful word picture? His ears are open to our prayers. The Lord’s ears were open to the nation of Israel, in the midst of their struggles.
“. . . and God remembered his covenant with Abraham, with Isaac, and with Jacob.”
So often in scripture the Lord is said to remember. He remembers Noah when he is in the ark, surrounded by creatures and floating on unending water. He remembers Rachel and Hannah when he opens their wombs and grants them children. He doesn’t remember in the sense that he had forgotten. He does so like a loving parent is ever remembering their children. Standing here, I have not forgotten that I have three children in different places in this building, but if I let myself begin to tell you stories about them we could be here all day as I remembered them.
In Genesis 9, after the Lord has destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah, we are told that the Lord saved Lot, because he remembered Abraham. The same is true for the people of Israel in Egypt. God heard them and remembered his promises to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. The Lord didn’t hear the people of Israel because of anything they did, or said, or because they had in some way earned the right to be heard through 400 years of suffering. The Lord heard them because they were his covenant people.
“God saw the people of Israel . . .”
Have you ever walked into a room full of people and felt completely invisible? It is the most lonely feeling in the world to feel as if no one is seeing you. When Hagar was cast out of Abraham’s household and sent into the wilderness she must have felt that way, because when God comes to her and gives her hope and a blessing, she calls Him “a God of seeing” or the God who sees. This is the same God who sees the people of Israel in their distress.
When God completed each day of creation he saw that it was good. He examined his handiwork, detail by detail and declared it to be precisely as he had intended it to be. This is the same seeing. The Lord sees the people of Israel, not an enslaved sub-culture, not a downtrodden group in need of some temporary assistance. He sees his covenant people through which the entire world will be blessed.
“. . . and God knew.”
When Jesus spoke of the final judgment, he spoke of all of humanity being divided into two groups. To the second of these groups he will eventually say, “Depart from me. I never knew you.” He will not say, “I don’t like what I know of you,” or, “I knew your works and rejected you.” He will say, “I never knew you.” It is an eternal matter to be known by God.
When God sees you, does he know you? Are you known by God? If so, you can pour out your groaning to him and he will hear it. Are you known by God? If so, he will remember the covenant promises and include you within them. Are you known by God? If so he will see you as he intended you to be, found in his Son, clothed in Jesus’ righteousness and with all the privileges and ranks of a full son of God.
When God heard the people of Israel and remembered his covenant and saw them, he knew them as his own. The rest of the story of the Exodus hinges on this phrase. If he did not know them, he would not have sent them a deliverer to bring them out of Egypt. If he did not know them, he would not have led them by the cloud and the fire. If he did not know them he would not have given them his law, or preserved a land for their occupation. God knew then and we through scripture have full confidence that God hears, remembers, sees and knows today.