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. And God heard their groaning, and God remembered his covenant with Abraham, with Isaac, and with Jacob. God saw the people of Israel—and God knew.
It’s been almost three years now since I resigned from my full-time teaching job at a small Southern Baptist college in Louisiana. I never intended to move to Louisiana, and once I was there I never thought I would leave. All that changed when the school’s president—a man I considered a friend and mentor—threatened to fire me and sue me should I publicly comment on a recent chapel sermon in which a dean told the women in the audience to “mow your lawn” and referred to sexually active women as “crackhouses.”
I’ve mentioned this part of my life before at Written for Us, and I don’t intend to rehash it all here. But in the weeks and months (and now years) after resigning from the job I thought I’d retire from, I’ve scrutinized the events in every which way. Should I have said this instead of that? What could I have done differently to produce a different outcome? Was I wrong to raise a ruckus? Why in the world would a bunch of leaders at a Christian school dig in their heels over something so blatantly, obnoxiously wrong? And, most pressingly, why didn’t God intervene? I must have had the same conversation with my wife a thousand times, and I’ve told myself a hundred times what you might be thinking right now: “Move on, Russ. Let it go.”
But I still have that nagging thought—why didn’t it go differently? I don’t know. I may never know.
Over those weeks and months and years since my boss looked at me and asked if I’d ever heard of Haman’s gallows, my heart has returned again and again to these verses from Exodus. I know I’m neither an Israelite nor a slave in Egypt, but I agree with Paul that these Scriptures were written for us, and Exodus 2 in particular has been helpful in processing this episode of my life.
You know the story so far—God’s people arrived in Egypt a few hundred years prior. Joseph, Jacob’s beloved son, had been sold into slavery (by his own brothers!), forcibly removed from his homeland, falsely accused of sexual assault, thrown into prison, and forgotten there until finally—finally!—God brought him out of prison and elevated him to the second-highest position in the Egyptian empire.
When Joseph had the chance to take revenge on his brothers, he instead welcomed them into his kingdom and uttered that famous statement: “You meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today. So do not fear; I will provide for you and your little ones” (Gen 50:20–21 ESV).
Joseph kept his word, but “there arose a new king over Egypt, who did not know Joseph” (Exod 1:8 ESV). This new king was no friend of the Israelites, and he “ruthlessly made them work as slaves” (Exod 1:14 ESV) and even ordered the Hebrew midwives to kill all male infants. The Israelites had no real recourse. They couldn’t appeal to Pharaoh’s boss, and they were shepherds (and now brickmakers), not battle-hardened warriors, so what hope did they have against Pharaoh’s standing army?
So Israel did the only thing they could do: “the people of Israel groaned because of their slavery and cried out for help.” Just before this cry for help we learn that Moses killed an Egyptian and hit the road; the passage after the cry for help is the burning bush where God appears to Moses and initiates his mission to answer Israel’s cry.
Maybe God answered Israel’s cry immediately, but I don’t think he did.
Exodus doesn’t tell us how much time passes between these events, but in Acts 7 Stephen fills in some details. According to Stephen’s speech, Moses kills the Egyptian when he’s about forty years old. Then about forty years later, when Moses is eighty, God appears to him and commissions him to lead Israel out of Egypt.
Thus, about forty years separate the two events that sandwich Israel’s cry for help. When we read the passage—“Their cry for rescue from slavery came up to God. And God heard their groaning, and God remembered his covenant with Abraham, with Isaac, and with Jacob. God saw the people of Israel—and God knew”—we generally assume a quick sequence of events. But we really don’t know how much time lagged between Israel’s cries and God’s action.
Maybe God answered Israel’s cry immediately, but I don’t think he did. And it’s that series of decades there in the middle that has comforted me so much when wrestling over how things turned out in Louisiana. Like Israel, I cried out for help, for justice, for some relief. But it didn’t (and still doesn’t) seem like the Lord answered me, at least not in the way I hoped he would. I left, the leadership is still at the school, the dean was promoted to VP, and the show has gone on like nothing ever happened.
To be sure, life is better where I am now. I’m healthier. My family is healthier. I’m even staring at the mountains as I write this. But I still have that nagging thought—why didn’t it go differently? I don’t know. I may never know. Maybe there’s something similar that you’ve wrestled with and struggled to see God’s love and justice in. If so, cling with me to these verses in Exodus. God may not answer your cry today or next week or even in your lifetime. But he is not ignorant. God hears, God sees, God remembers, and God knows.