Week of Jan. 26

An Ever-Present God and His Ever-Watchful People

Read: Exodus 1-2; Psalm 88; Luke 21

“Now there arose a new king over Egypt, who did not know Joseph. And he said to his people, ‘Behold, the people of Israel are too many and too mighty for us. Come, let us deal shrewdly with them, lest they multiply, and, if war breaks out, they join our enemies and fight against us and escape from the land.’”
Exodus 1:8-10, ESV


“Let my people go,” rings in my ears to this day as I recall Charlton Heston portraying Moses in the 1956 film epic, “The Ten Commandments.” Most of us will be familiar with the Bible book of Exodus and the miraculous stories of God’s deliverance of Israel from Egyptian slavery. We enjoy reading the narrative accounts of the birth of Moses, the travails of Israel under Egyptian bondage, the plagues and Passover, Israel’s deliverance through the Red Sea, as well as the giving of the law at Sinai. However, we rarely dig deeper into the theology of the book and its direct meaning for our contemporary lives. Let’s consider today how Exodus may strengthen our understanding of God’s purposes through our trials.

A Biblical Lens

Scholars have taken various approaches to the book of Exodus from a geographic to content to theological orientation. The latter may be divided into two main themes that include the physical (1:1-15:27) and the spiritual (16:1-40:38). The main focus of such an approach makes Yahweh’s (God’s) presence the central motif in the book. I think that it is important for us to consider that God is very real and present even in our hardships and trials!

Indeed, God’s nearness through difficulties helps to frame the circumstances that Israel encountered during their Egyptian sojourn (1:1-13:16). Two covenant partners, God and Israel, walked through a formative period of preparation until the covenant was ratified at Sinai. Make no mistake, we must recognize that God, the “I AM,” is always there for his people and he acts on their behalf (cf. HCBC). Are you still with me? I hope so because our own corporate history with God is an important part of our pilgrimage in this life.

I also believe that this book helps us to navigate turbulent political and ideological shifts in any nation’s history (1:8, “did not know Joseph”). Joseph likely rose to power during the Hyksos pharaohs, outsiders who had invaded and conquered Egypt (NAC). They were ousted and a period ensued where all foreigners received little sympathy. This shift gave rise, in my terms, to a pervasive nationalistic spirit in Egypt. The pharaoh in Moses’ day held little sympathy for Israel and certainly did not feel obligated to honor any agreement that the former regime had with Joseph.

Notice, too, that politics and economics may reflect one level of hardship, but there also was the dehumanization and subsequent oppression of foreign peoples, including Israel, that occurred (1:8, “the people,” i.e. “nation,” as a whole). Political, economic, and national policies toward foreigners were divisive then and remain so today (cf. Exodus 1:15-17). A recent hot-button moral issue provides us with a launch point for ethical reflection.

A Moral Crossroad

The governor of the State of Texas recently announced that the civil entity would no longer consent to welcome refugees, which made us the first government to opt out of our nation’s federal resettlement program. The announcement was not popular, even within his own political party, but he made it clear that the influx of refugees and the ongoing immigration crisis on the state’s southern border had raised numerous migration issues (cf. Exodus 1:9, “too mighty and too numerous”). One of those concerns was economic because the cost to the state of providing goods and services to refugees is pricey. I hasten to write that I do not presume for one moment to understand all that went into the governor’s decision; however, it does give us an occasion to recall our own sufferings and consider how we may seek to minister to outsiders.

This event differs from our biblical passage in some ways, for example, Israel was already in Egypt and our governor was referring to people who our Federal government wishes to settle in our state. Nevertheless, there is an underlying moral issue for us to consider. It grows out of God's expectation that mistreated Israel would treat other foreigners well, based, in part, upon their own years of suffering. Let's examine our own history for a moment.

Baptist history records the political, economic, and dehumanizing hardships and oppression that our early Christian forefathers and foremothers encountered (cf. 17th century, King James I, and political oppression of those groups that did not conform to the Church of England; cf. also religious persecution in 17th century New England; McBeth, The Baptist Heritage). Baptists and Quakers not only felt God’s mighty presence in and deliverance from their trials, but it shaped their future response toward others who suffered various forms of persecution (e.g. passionate support of religious liberty of all, not just Baptists). God’s people are to be people who understand and take up the plight of the oppressed as their own (cf. James 1:27, “orphans and widows”). Friends, helping the helpless is in our spiritual DNA. Let's look back to Israel for a moment.

Israel would be deeply impacted by their Egyptian sojourn, and they would be called by God to be a priestly people who had known hardship and who worked to relieve others of their oppression (cf. Exodus 19:6; Leviticus 19:18; 27:19; Deuteronomy 10:19; Ezekiel 47:22). The early Christian church, which was often persecuted, took up the same mantle, as the New Testament teaches (Acts 10:34; cf. 1 Peter 1:1, “strangers and aliens,” 2:9-10, “royal priesthood”).

So, ours is a redemptive theology and history that has been forged in the fires of hardship and oppression. We all may encounter people from distant lands who are struggling here at the present to make their way in our land or who may be resettled here in the coming future. Surely, we may identify with the challenges they often face, and offer a helping hand in the name of Christ. Let’s always seek to be used of God to bring deliverance to those who are burdened.

For Your Journaling

1. Write down ways that the current immigration issue has caused you to recall God’s presence in your own time of hardship. Thank God for walking with you through the trial.

2. How will you seek to be the heart and hands of Christ to the foreign student at school, or employee on the job, and even guest in your church?

May all your paths be straight,
Larry C. Ashlock