Sunday, May 21, 2017

Hope in the Midst of Hardship (Exodus 1-2)


“Preach to hurting people, and you will never lack an audience.” That is what one of my preaching professors told me over twenty years ago. As a young man barely over 21, relatively new in the Christian faith, I didn’t know much about the Bible or much about life. So, it sounded to me like bad advice – I mean who would want to hear messages about comfort and overcoming suffering all the time? Well, what I have learned in the ensuing years is that suffering is always relevant because we are always suffering. You might say, “Well, not me, I’m not suffering!” Just hang in there. You will get your turn, I assure you. And even when we are not suffering personally, people we love are suffering, and we suffer with them. But not only have I learned that suffering is always a relevant subject to preach about, I have also discovered that one cannot preach the Bible faithfully without regularly dealing with the subject of suffering and apart from having a sound theology of suffering. The subject does not arise “here and there,” or “on occasion” in Scripture. I can hardly find a page of the Bible that doesn’t deal, in some way, with suffering. So it has taken me a long time, but I have finally learned that the old professor was right. Preach to hurting people – because that’s the only people there are in the world – and you will never lack an audience – because the subject is relevant to everyone at all times.

When we begin to read the book of Exodus, it does not take us long to discover that the Israelites were suffering in Egypt. Of course, few (if any) of us will ever experience the magnitude of suffering that they did. The circumstances and intensity of suffering vary from person to person, even if the experience of it is generally universal. But what is unchanging from person to person and circumstance to circumstance is the source of genuine hope in the midst of our hardships. So, when we read these words in Exodus and see how God was bringing hope to His people in the midst of hardships, we have every reason to believe that this same God is still bringing hope to His people in the midst of our hardships as well. So, let us look at our text and discover several truths about hope in the midst of hardship that are evident in our text and applicable to our experience in the world today.

I. God’s people are not immune to suffering (1:1-14).

In school we all learned rules of grammar and syntax. One of them was to never end a sentence with a preposition. For some reason, someone just decided that ending a sentence with a preposition was something up with which they would not put. And another rule – well, I just broke it – is that we should never begin a sentence with a conjunction. Now, I have finally found a way around this rule, but it isn’t easy. If you will take three semesters or more of Hebrew, and become proficient in handling the Hebrew Bible, you can show your teacher that the Scriptures which God inspired contain many sentences that begin with a conjunction, and some entire books of the Bible begin with a Hebrew conjunction. Exodus is one of them. If we were to be excessively literal in our translation of the Hebrew here, we would begin verse one something like this: “And these are the names of the sons of Israel who went to Egypt with Jacob.” There are a variety of rules of Hebrew syntax which explain the use of this conjunction at the beginning of this book, but the most basic reason it is there is that this is a continuation of the story of the book of Genesis.

The first seven verses are all almost exact quotations of verses in Genesis. The names are the same, only the setting has changed. Having just completed a quick survey of the book of Genesis, we are familiar with these people and how they came to be in Egypt. You will recall that they were not there for the same reason that they would later be in exile in Babylon. In that case, they were deported to Babylon as a punishment for their sin. In this case, they are refugees in Egypt to escape a devastating famine. They came at the invitation of Joseph, who had become prime minister of Egypt, and his invitation was ratified by the Pharaoh himself. Moreover, upon departing for Egypt, Jacob received a divine affirmation from God that Egypt was exactly where He wanted His people to be for this season (Gen 46:2-4). He had also revealed to Abraham in Genesis 15 that the people of God’s covenant would be strangers in a land that is not theirs for a period of four hundred years. So, in their coming to Egypt, the descendants of Israel were merely being obedient to the will of God.

There are some who hold a theology not unlike that of Job’s friends, who say that if someone is suffering, it must always be the result of disobedience and a manifestation of divine displeasure. In some cases, you can connect the dots between disobedience and suffering, but not all. It was not true for the Israelites in Egypt, and it may not be true in our lives when we suffer. In many cases, even when we are obedient, as the Israelites had been in coming to Egypt, we are still subject to suffering and hardship.

Not only does obedience not insulate us from the potential of suffering, neither does the blessing of God. In verse 7, we read that “the sons of Israel were fruitful and increased greatly, and multiplied, and became exceedingly mighty, so that the land was filled with them.” One commentator says, “Moses packed into the verse about every possible way of saying that the Israelites rapidly increased in number.”[1] They came into the land as a family of 70 members. They would leave Egypt as a nation of approximately 600,000 men, not counting women and children (Ex 12:37). Conservative estimates would put the total population at two to three million. To what can we attribute this amazing boom to Israel’s population? It was the blessing of God.

When we look back at the creation of humanity, we find that God “blessed them; and God said to them, ‘Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth and subdue it’” (Gen 1:28). So, one of the blessings God gave humanity in the beginning was the privilege and responsibility of procreation. Not only this, but more specifically, God had promised to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, that He would bless them by giving them descendants who would be as innumerable as the sand of the seashore or the stars in the sky. God was faithful to His word, and the blessing flowed immensely. But God’s blessings do not protect us against the experience of suffering. No matter how richly God has blessed you, you are still subject to the same hardships of life as any person living in a sin-corrupted body in this sin-corrupted world.

In fact, we should expect God’s blessings to coincide with suffering because “in a fallen world, the blessings of God are often so in conflict with the prevailing corrupt values of this world’s culture that they function as a threat to those who are not aligned with God’s will.”[2] We need look no further than the earthly life and experience of Jesus Christ to see the supreme manifestation of this truth. No human being was ever more obedient or more blessed than He was; and yet no human ever suffered so much as He did.

So, in spite of God’s people’s obedience and His blessing on their lives, the Israelites found themselves suddenly outside of the good graces of Egypt’s power structure and the object of their animosity. It came about as a result of a regime change. Verse 8 says, “Now a new king arose over Egypt who did not know Joseph.” In light of all that Joseph had done to rescue the Egyptians for perishing in the days of famine, it seems very unlikely that anyone could ascend to the throne without having some familiarity with his name or legacy. Rather, we must understand this to mean that the new king chose to neither to remember nor act upon any commitments made to Joseph and his descendants by the preceding regime. While it is difficult to reconcile the biblical chronology with that of Egyptian history, we can be fairly certain that this regime change corresponds in some way with the transfer of power in Egypt either to or from the dynasty of the so-called Hyksos kings. The Hyksos were a family of foreign peoples from the Near East who had infiltrated Egypt and seized power. Some have suggested that the new Pharaoh who knew not Joseph was the founder of the Hyksos dynasty, while others suggest that the new Pharaoh marked the end of the Hyksos dynasty and a return to native Egyptian rule. In either case, it would not be surprising for the leader of the new regime to be suspicious of such a vast number of foreign people living in the land.

The population of Israel, which was the direct result of the obedience and blessing of God’s people, was a threat to the new Pharaoh’s sense of national security. He reasoned that if an uprising or invasion were to occur, the Israelites may align with the rival power and overthrow him. The phrase in verse 10, “and depart from the land,” is an unfortunate mistranslation of the Hebrew. If the fears of this Pharaoh are well-founded, then the departure of this multitude would be music to his ears. But, in every other occurrence of this Hebrew phrase in the Old Testament, the idea is of something rising up to overtake a land. So, Pharaoh devised a plan to “deal wisely” with them and control the growth of their population. This plan involved subjecting them to the harsh conditions of brutal slavery. Their hardships are stated in a succession of terms of increasingly intense vocabulary: “afflict them with hard labor” (v10); “compelled … to labor rigorously” (v13); “made their lives bitter with hard labor”; “labors which they rigorously imposed on them” (v14).

The Israelites were forced to make bricks and carry out the grandiose building projects of the Pharaoh, in addition to performing backbreaking agricultural labor. The idea must have surely been that such affliction would make the strong and healthy Israelites weak and sickly, and take the lives of those who were already frail and infirm. Additionally, such deployments of labor would mean that men were removed from their homes for long seasons of time, and when they returned, they would be too physically fatigued to procreate with their wives. But the plan backfired. Verse 12 says, “the more they afflicted them, the more they multiplied and spread out, so that they were in dread of the sons of Israel.” The Egyptians could not understand why these foreigners were so hard to stamp out of existence!

But we know why. Their growth was a result of their obedience to God and God’s blessing on them. It did not make them immune to suffering, but neither did their suffering hinder God’s power to bless them and continue to prosper them, even as He had done for Joseph in the midst of all the sufferings he unjustly endured. And so we may confidently apply this truth to ourselves today. Let no one tell you that each and every instance of suffering in your life is a result of your disobedience to God, or the withholding of His blessing from your life. No, in fact, your obedience and His blessing does not prevent you from suffering and may even precipitate your suffering. But in the midst of it, hope can be found in knowing that your suffering need not hinder you from continuing in obedience to Him, and it need not prevent Him from blessing you in spite of your suffering.

Permit me to make one more point of application specifically for us as American Evangelicals in the twenty-first century. The Israelites had for several generations enjoyed a sense of cultural favor and were admired by the rulers and citizenship of Egypt, just as American Christians were for a long time since the founding of our nation. But winds of change blow across cultures sometimes slowly and sometimes swiftly. Those who were held in high regard by former administrations may suddenly find themselves the objects of fear, suspicion, and hatred. In America, it did not happen with the ascension of a Pharaoh who knew not Joseph, but with a tidal shift in popular perception that began around the turn of the twentieth century and accelerated through that millennia. We must not be surprised by these changes. In fact, cultural prominence and influence has been something that the people of God have rarely enjoyed anywhere at any time in the world. When it has been found, it has been temporary and fleeting. So, we may never again see the day when Bible-believing American Christians represent a “moral majority,” but we must never forsake our role as a “missional minority.” In spite of the antagonism and animosity of Pharaohs who know not Joseph and the cultures they represent, we must continue in obedience to God and under His blessing to be His people and do His will.  Our once culturally favored status never protected us or prevented us from experiencing hardships and sufferings; but neither must the hardships and sufferings of the people of God stand in the way of our obedience to Him or His blessing on us.

 Now, we must move on to the second truth pertaining to hope in the midst of hardship.

II. God alone is worthy of our greatest fear and trust (1:15-2:10).

“If, at first, you don’t succeed, try again.” That’s the advice many of us were given as we were growing up. I prefer the one that says, “If at first you don’t succeed, skydiving is not for you.” Pharaoh’s plan to curtail the growth and expansion of the Israelites had not succeeded, but he did not give up the effort. He intensified it by implementing a plan of selective genocide.

The plan began with subtle secrecy. Pharaoh conferred with two Hebrew midwives about the implementation of it. It is highly unlikely that these were the only Hebrew midwives, but probably they were the “senior” or “supervising” midwives. He gave them the plan in verse 16. When the midwives were assisting in the delivery of a Hebrew birth, once they could determine that the child was male, he should be killed. The midwives had a strategic advantage in carrying out this plan. At various points in the delivery process or immediately thereafter, they could strangle or suffocate a child without the mother even noticing what happened. Why only the male children? Did not Pharaoh need them as laborers in the building of his empire? No matter how much he may need more laborers, his greater need was for fewer potential fighting men who may seek to overthrow him. In time, with dwindling numbers of Hebrew males, the surviving females could just be absorbed through marriage into Egyptian culture and society and the Hebrew nation would dwindle to nothing. Now, we are not told specifically, but we must assume that there was some leverage applied to these midwives – a “do this, or else.” It seems hard to believe that Pharaoh would expect these women whose entire lives had been dedicated to the preserving of life to callously take innocent lives unless they were compelled to do so by a great fear.

Now, these women did have a great fear – but their greatest fear was not of Pharaoh. Verse 17 informs us: “But the midwives feared God, and did not do as the king of Egypt had commanded them.” They surely feared the king, but they feared the King of kings all the more, and preferred obedience to Him over obedience to Pharaoh. In a culture of death, they stood for life in reverence to a God of unrivaled authority. And God did not fail them. Because they feared Him, He “was good” to them, and He blessed them with households of their own (vv20-21). The idea there in verse 21 is that it seems that midwives were often those who had no children or families of their own. These two were likely beyond the age of marriage and childbirth, but God honored their fear and faithfulness to Him by granting them what they had helped so many others enjoy at the risk of their own safety and personal sacrifice. Moreover, God caused their names to be recorded in Holy Scripture as a memorial to these two heroic women: Shiprah and Puah (meaning, Beauty and Splendor). What was the Pharaoh’s name? It would answer a great number of questions of historical interest and curiosity if we knew. But, we are not told. We are, however, told the names of these two women, that their legacy of fearing the Lord would never be forgotten.

Now, let me interject something here that shouldn’t be passed over. When Pharaoh found out that the midwives were not killing the male babies, he confronted them and asked them why they had disobeyed him. Verse 19 says that their response was, “Because the Hebrew women are not as the Egyptian women; for they are vigorous and give birth before the midwife can get to them.” And so much ink has been spilled on the problem of God blessing these women for telling a lie. Now, let me ask you, does the Bible say that they lied? Does the Bible say that they exaggerated the truth for a greater good? It does not. So when we assume that they lied, we impugn not only their character, but also God’s. Now, I will admit, just because they did not lie, it does not mean that the necessarily told everything they knew. All they said was that the Hebrew women gave birth before the midwives could get to them. Because Pharaoh’s plan was secret and subtle at this stage, it had to be carried out in that brief window of time when the midwife could kill the baby without the mother’s notice and call it a stillbirth. Now, it is entirely possible that these midwives, upon getting word that they were needed at a Hebrew home, may have taken their sweet time in arriving so as to miss the opportunity to carry out Pharaoh’s evil wishes. And it is also possible that in saying that the Hebrew women were “vigorous,” the idea is that they were more involved and attentive in the birthing process. The Egyptian women perhaps sedated themselves and remained somewhat aloof in the birth process. But perhaps the Hebrew women were very attentive and ready to have the baby handed off to them as soon as he emerged from the womb. In any case, the point to be made is that the Bible does not say that God blessed a lie or honored some well-intentioned sin for a greater good. From what we are told, we have no reason to believe that they told Pharaoh the truth – even if not the whole truth – and for their bold fear of God, they were honored and blessed.

In Puah and Shiprah we see that God is worthy of our greatest fear. But in another heroic woman, we find that He is worthy of our greatest trust. With the subtle plot of the midwives foiled, Pharaoh intensified the pogrom once more. This time, in 1:21, he ordered everyone in the nation to join in the savagery. If you see a Hebrew infant male, cast him into the Nile. Why the Nile? The Nile not only brought water into Egypt, it carried waste out of Egypt. It was at one and the same time a water line and a sewer line. There would be no mess to clean up, no evidence of the crime. Between the swift current and the insatiable crocodiles, those little Hebrew babies would be carried away in no time. But also, the Nile was personified as a deity in the Egyptian pantheon. It was the god who gives life and takes it away. So, casting the babies into the Nile becomes a sort of perverted act of pagan sacrifice and worship, with the idea being that if the Nile takes the baby, then the baby deserved to die; and if the baby didn’t deserve to die, then the Nile would spit it back out.

Now, into this burgeoning holocaust of infant lives was born a “beautiful” boy (2:2) to a yet to be named set of Jewish Levite parents. The word rendered “beautiful” has a broad range of meaning. Suffice to say that this mother saw something special in her child, and though she knew what the law of the land required, she trusted God to protect this child. For three months, she did her best to protect him herself – hiding herself away with him during those months when babies sleep more than they are awake and when their cries can be quickly silenced with a feeding. But the day came soon enough when her efforts to hide the boy would no longer suffice. She had done all she could do to protect the boy, but now she had to demonstrate how much she trusted the Lord to do what she could not. So she got a wicker “basket” – the Hebrew word is used in one other place in Scripture: this is the same word translated as “ark” in the contexts about Noah’s flood. It is a floating vessel designed to preserve life. Into that makeshift ark, she placed this boy and put it into the river, not that the pagan deities may have their whims and ways with him, but that the Sovereign God who measures the waters in the hollow of His hand (Isa 40:12) may accomplish His will through this act of trust.
A big sister follows closely behind, watching as the basket winds along the river, coming to rest at the very spot where the daughter of Pharaoh had gone for a ritual bath. And she had a characteristic that her father lacked: “Pity.” When she heard the cries and saw the child, she knew at once he was one of the Hebrew babies. How did she know? Undoubtedly because he had borne the mark of the covenant – circumcision – since the eighth day of his life. A life that her father had wished to kill, she was now prepared to save. But would that mean that Moses would grow up outside of the blessings of God’s covenant and know nothing of the God of his people? God could be trusted for that too. At the suggestion of the baby’s older sister, his own mother was recruited to nurse the child until the age of his weaning. And in those formative years, his true identity was grounded in the religious and cultural heritage of Israel. Upon being weaned, he became the adopted grandchild of the Pharaoh who had wanted him dead. But not before first becoming a part of the covenant community of God through the influence of his godly parents. It was God who spared the boy’s life, but it was his mother’s great and complete trust in God which provided the opportunity.

God alone is worthy of our complete fear and trust. Are you afraid of the threats of those who wish to harm you, who wish to do ill to you or to manipulate you to do evil to others? Are you afraid of the consequences of disobeying the laws of the land, or of falling out of step with the cadence of this godless culture? All of those fears have their place, but their rightful place is in subjection to the ultimate and overriding fear of the Lord. And when matters get beyond your ability to control them, when the outcomes of your circumstances exceed your power to influence to them, you can have confidence in knowing that God is able to be trusted. Just as this mother put her baby in the river, you can cast all your cares on the Lord and trust that He will carry it along. Fear Him above all else; trust Him above all else. Because He alone is worthy. That is an essential truth for having hope in the midst of hardship.

Now thirdly …

III. God’s will must be done God’s way (2:11-22).

Here is a statement that can be overheard in the hallways of church buildings on a pretty regular basis: “You know, there is this problem, and SOMEBODY ought to do something about it!” You have heard it. You may have said it. I have said it, but I try not to say it anymore. I have learned that there is a reason some people seem oblivious to the needs and problems which are so obvious to us at times. It is because God allows those to see the need whom He is raising up to meet the need. So my philosophy is not, “Find a need someone else can meet,” but rather, “See a need, meet a need.” How do I know I am the person to meet that need? One factor is that God has given you an awareness of the need. That awareness is evidence of His calling and purpose for you to meet the need.

Israel desperately needed a deliverer. Many of them didn’t even realize it yet. Many of them, we will find out later, didn’t even want it. But Moses was in a unique position. Having been rooted in the Hebrew culture, and having access with the halls of Egyptian power, he could see that a deliverer was needed. But Moses didn’t say, “You know someone ought to do something about this.” Moses saw the need, and realized that he was God’s appointed agent to meet that need. When Stephen spoke of Moses in Acts 7, he said, “(W)hen he was approaching the age of 40, it entered his mind to visit his brethren … (a)nd he supposed that his brethren understood that God was granting them deliverance through him” (Ac 7:23, 25). The idea that he was to be the deliverer of his kinsmen entered his mind because God put it there. He was dead right about what God was calling him to do. But he was dead wrong in how he went about the task initially.

Moses went out to observe the conditions of his fellow Israelites, and he observed one of them being severely abused by an Egyptian. Being convinced that he was God’s appointed deliverer, he set about to God’s will, but he did not do it God’s way. He killed the Egyptian and quickly buried him in a shallow, sandy grave. He must have felt a sense of satisfaction and accomplishment about this, because the next day, when he came upon two Hebrews fighting with each other, he assumed they would welcome his interference. They did not. In fact, they said, “Who made you a prince or judge over us? Are you intending to kill me as you killed the Egyptian?” The secret was out, and rather than causing the Israelites to look to him as God’s appointed deliverer, they saw him as a vigilante street-fighter and wanted nothing to do with him. His attempt to God’s work in his own way rather than God’s way disqualified him as a leader in the eyes of his people and actually interposed a delay in the accomplishing of God’s will.

We have to wonder if Moses thought he could deliver the Israelites by knocking off the Egyptians one by one. Not only would that take forever, it was out of step with God’s greater purposes. Though God’s purposes may have been delayed by Moses’ impetuosity, it was not derailed. Pharoah sought to take the life of Moses, but God would not have that. He got Moses out of Egypt so that he might get Egypt out of Moses. He led Moses to the wilderness of Midian where Moses could learn a different way of leading than by brute force. He would learn to be a sherpherd-servant, and would learn the desert ways, that he might be able to lead and sustain the people of God when the time came for God’s will to be done God’s way and at God’s appointed time.

Moses’ instincts were right, but his methods were wrong. By the time he got to Midian, God was already shaping him into a vessel fit for use. Again he saw injustice taking place. Some roughneck shepherds were driving some defenseless women and their flocks away from the well, and again Moses intervened. But this time he did it with a different spirit. He didn’t strike them down, he simply “stood up” to them. That is what Moses would need to do in Egypt. If there was to be any striking down, God could handle that without Moses’ help. Moses’ job would be to stand up to Pharaoh and let the Lord fight for him and for his people.

Next, Moses “helped them and watered their flock.” Later, he would spend 40 years shepherding God’s people through these same desert sands, helping them and watering them like a flock of sheep as a shepherd-servant. He still looked the part of an Egyptian, but God was transforming him from the inside out into a man he could use to do His will His way. And as a result of this transformation, God gave Moses a home away from home there in the desert – a new family, and a son of his own whose name represented Moses’ newfound identity: “I have been a sojourner in a foreign land”.

Proverbs 14:12 says, “There is a way which seems right to a man, but its end is the way of death.” When we are in the midst of hardship, rather than finding our hope in the Lord and His ways, we often try to manufacture hope for ourselves by acting in our own power and according to our own nature. This always ends in destruction and disaster, just as it did for Moses. Hope would come for the people of God in their hardship, but first, God’s chosen deliverer had to learn to do God’s will God’s way. And so it must be for us. In the midst of our hardships, when we resort to “common sense” thinking, “do it yourself” tactics, or “bootstrap” theology, we short-circuit God’s plan to bring about hope His way in His time. Our culture has instilled in us some bad ideas and bad habits, just as Egypt had instilled in Moses. God has to take those ideas and habits out to the desert and transform us. And when He has prepared us to do His will, we will do it His way, in His time.

Now finally, the last truth in our passage related to hope in the midst of hardship is this all-important one.

IV. Our hope is not in changing circumstances, but in an unchanging God (2:23-25).

Verse 23 says that “it came about in the course of those many days that the king of Egypt died.” Was this the hope for which the people of God had been longing? Would there now arise a new Pharaoh who did remember Joseph and his descendants and who would lift the burden of oppression from their necks? That would have been nice, but it is not what happened. Any sighs of relief from the Israelites were soon drowned out by renewed sighs of anguish “because of the bondage.”

Every four years or so in America, we start to hear the trumpets give an uncertain sound of change coming. And many American Christians mistakenly look toward Washington, D. C., expecting the Kingdom of God to come flying in on Air Force One to take up residence in the White House. And disappointment invariably results. In the same way, there are many who feel that their burdens would be lifted if only they had a different job, a different spouse, a different set of circumstances. But any positive difference that these changing circumstances may stimulate are fleeting and temporary at best. Hope, real hope, hope that can secure us and uplift us from the depths of personal hardship, can never be found in changing circumstances. It can only be found as we look to the unchanging God.

So it was, in the wake of the Pharaoh’s death, with the reality dawning on the Israelites that their burden had not been lifted, that they did what we all must do. “They cried out, and their cry for help because of their bondage rose up to God.” Hear me carefully here: Prayer is essential. But prayer is not ultimate. Our hope is not in our prayers, but in the God to whom we pray. We do not pray because prayer works. Prayer works because we pray to a God who works on our behalf. And we see here in the closing verses of Chapter 2 that God did four things in response to the prayers of His people to bring them hope.

God heard their groaning. Their prayers had an audience with the most high. Hope wasn’t found in the throne of Pharaoh but in the throne of grace, and the One who sits on that throne had heard them.

God remembered His covenant with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. It doesn’t mean that He ever forgot it, but that the time had come for Him to act upon that covenant. Sometimes the greatest truths can be found in the most unlikely places, and the greatest definition I have ever found of the word “Covenant” comes from Sally Lloyd-Jones’ children’s bible, The Jesus Story Book Bible. She says that “covenant” refers to “a never stopping, never giving up, unbreaking, always and forever love.”[3] That kind of love is the bedrock on which the covenant promises of God are anchored. And just as God acted upon that promise to His people in response to their prayers, we can bring God’s promises found in Scripture back to Him in prayer and know that He remembers His own Word and will act upon it.

God heard, God remembered His covenant, and God saw the sons of Israel. No matter where you are or what you are going through, hope is found in never losing sight of this: He has never lost sight of you. God sees you. He sees what you are going through. You are not alone, you are not forgotten. He sees you and looks upon you in His love. No one else may see the depths of your suffering but God sees it, He knows it, He hears you in it, and He will fulfill His promises to you in spite of it.

And that leaves the fourth action of God: He “took notice of them.” If I could put it more plainly: He cares for you. It would be of precious little comfort to know that God hears, remembers or sees us in our hardship if it were not for the fact that He cares for us. But because we know that He cares for us, we can have hope in our hardship, knowing that this good God who is all-powerful and all-knowing, whom we fear and trust above all else, and who is able to transform our circumstances around us and us in the midst of them, actually cares for us and is going to act on our behalf to accomplish His purposes for our good and for His glory.

After all, when we cried out to Him from the bondage of our sin, did He not hear us and remember His promise to save? Did He not look upon us and demonstrate His care for us in placing our sins upon the Lord Jesus as He died on the cross? And if we can trust Him to handle this matter of ultimate, infinite, and eternal gravity on our behalf, can we not trust Him with all else that we endure as well? “What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who is against us? He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him over for us all, how will He not also with Him freely give us all things?” (Rom 8:31-32).

This is hope in the midst of hardship: to know that we are not immune to suffering, but neither are we hindered by it from obedience or prevented from living in the blessing of God; to fear and trust the Lord above all else in this world knowing that He will honor that fear and trust by His grace and good providence; to be transformed in order to do God’s will in His own way and in His own time; to know that hope is found in Him alone and not in the changing circumstances of life; for He has proven Himself to us through Jesus Christ our Lord.  

[1] Douglas Stuart, Exodus (New American Commentary, vol. 2; Nashville: Broadman & Holman, 2006), 61.
[2] Stuart, 60.
[3] Sally Lloyd-Jones, The Jesus Story Book Bible (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2007), 36.

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