The God Who Knows
A sermon on Exodus 2:23-25 by Coty Pinckney, Cameroon Baptist Theological Seminary Chapel, 2/14/02
What has caused you to cry out to God lately? Have you cried out in pain after the death of a child? Have you tried to save money to meet your obligations, but found that all those savings have disappeared through unexpected medical bills, or needs of relatives? Are you yourself suffering from an illness you can’t shake?
Or are you crying out to God for those you love who are walking in sin, who are headed to destruction? Are you crying out to God for unreached peoples, for those who presently are following in the footsteps of centuries of ancestors – people without hope in the word? Have you prayed and prayed and yet see no answer?
This morning we will consider Ex 2:23-25, three verses about God’s response to the suffering of His people. Though written 3500 years ago, these verses speak to you today if you belong to God. Your sufferings, your cries bring the same response from God today as the sufferings of the Israelites in Egypt. Whatever the content of your cries, the passage is for you.
Recall that the first chapter of Exodus tells us of the change in the situation facing the Israelites in Egypt during the centuries after the death of Joseph. As God prospers them, they grow in number to such an extent that the new rulers of Egypt see them as a threat. So Pharaoh issues three commands in this chapter:
· To enslave the Israelites, setting ruthless taskmasters over them
· For the midwives to kill all their baby boys at the time of birth
· After that fails, to throw all baby boys into the Nile
Although the Israelites continue to grow in number despite this oppression, they are suffering greatly. This brings us to today’s text:
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.
Recall that the Israelites have now been In Egypt almost 400 years. There is no biblical record of any prophet speaking to the people during this time. There is no record of any writings handed down from Abraham to subsequent generations about God’s dealings with the patriarchs. While certainly there is an oral tradition, stories of their forefathers that are told from parents to children, the days of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and Joseph must seem far away. Think of your own ancestors of 400 years ago – in the year 1602. How much do you know about them?
So here are the Israelites: slaves to a king who hates them, who is trying to wipe them out as a people by killing all their baby boys. They still cry out to God – through the generations they have been taught to do that.
But: Is God there? Is He aware of what is going on with His people? Does He care? Does He remember?
These are the same questions we ask in our times of trouble. Their cries are our cries.
How does the book of Exodus answer these questions? Let us read verses 24 and 25:
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
These two brief verses answer these questions in a profound way. The Israelites are asking, “Is God there? Does God hear?” In the Hebrew, the author uses only 15 words in these verses, but repeats the word “God” four times. Each time “God” is used as the subject of a verb, putting strong emphasis on the Lord Himself. The four two-word phrases constitute our outline this morning:
Let us consider each of these important clauses in turn:
While the Israelites certainly wondered whether or not God was hearing, He did hear their groanings. And He always hears our cries. The one who instructs us, “He who has ears, let him hear!” surely hears Himself. As the Psalmist says,
When the righteous cry for help, the LORD hears. (34:17)
Not only does God hear, but He also remembers his covenant, his promise to Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and their descendants. Indeed, at the time of the formal establishment of the covenant with Abraham, God tells him about this very time when his descendants will cry out in Egypt:
Then the LORD said to him, "Know for certain that your descendants will be strangers in a country not their own, and they will be enslaved and mistreated four hundred years. 14 But I will punish the nation they serve as slaves, and afterward they will come out with great possessions. (Gen 15:13,14)
The time in Egypt was not an unexpected occurrence to God; He was not caught off guard by their sojourn. God had planned it centuries previously – and had also promised their deliverance. This prophesied deliverance was certain to come to pass.
More generally, God has promised each of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob that He will bless all the nations through their offspring (Gen 12:3, 26:4, 28:14). Given these promises, God had to remember, He could not forget His people in Egypt.
And what about us? Has He not also said to us
this gospel of the kingdom will be proclaimed throughout the whole world as a testimony to all nations (Matt 24:14)
The fulfillment of the blessing of all nations through the offspring of Abraham is still future – and God will indeed fulfill that promise. We can know with certainty that God remembers this promise – and that He will use His church to bring it about.
In chapter 49 of Isaiah, the prophet portrays the fears of the exiled Israelites that God has forgotten them:
But Zion said, "The LORD has forsaken me; my Lord has forgotten me."
But God replies:
Can a woman forget her nursing child, that she should have no compassion on the son of her womb? Even these may forget, yet I will not forget you. Behold, I have engraved you on the palms of my hands (Isaiah 49:14-16a)
If we are God’s people, our names are right on God’s palms, directly in front of His face, never to be forgotten. God forget? He can never do so. God always remembers His promises; He is always faithful to His people. As Paul tells us,
For no matter how many promises God has made, they are "Yes" in Christ. (2 Cor 1:20)
God sees the Israelites! He sees all that happens to them – the slavery under which they suffer, the murder of their children – even the worse oppression which is coming.
The enemies of God – especially Satan himself – always try to get God’s people to think that God does not see. The Psalmist quotes such enemies in 94:7:
"The LORD does not see; the God of Jacob does not perceive."
8 Understand, O dullest of the people! Fools, when will you be wise? 9 He who planted the ear, does he not hear? He who formed the eye, does he not see?
God always sees.
The final clause is the most important – and also the hardest to translate. English translators have struggled with this phrase, and have rendered it many different ways.
The NIV has “was concerned about them”, the NAU “took notice of them,” the KJV “had respect unto them.” But all of these translations include considerable interpretation. The Hebrew is quite simple: it says “God knew.” The ESV chooses this simplest – yet ambiguous – translation.
In this context, what is it that God knows? What does the author of Exodus mean by this phrase? The NIV, NAU, and KJV translators evidently think the primary idea is that God knows the problems of the Israelites and is concerned about them. Surely this is part of the meaning, as is brought out a few verses later in 3:7. This verse is in many ways parallel to 2:24-25, using three of the four Hebrew verbs we consider today:
Then the LORD said, "I have surely seen the affliction of my people who are in Egypt and have heard their cry because of their taskmasters. I know their sufferings (Ex 3:7 ESV, emphasis added)
“I know their sufferings.” God knows their pain, their sorrow, their loss. And He cares.
But in this context the expression “God knew” means much more. Think: What else does God know that is relevant to the Israelites’ situation? What else does God know that is relevant to your own situation? Let me bring out 4 items in addition to their suffering that God knows:
1) God knows their present weakness. He knows that they can do nothing to help themselves. He knows that unless He acts, they are lost. As the Psalmist says,
For he knows our frame; he remembers that we are dust. (103:14)
Or as Jesus said to his disciples, “Apart from me you can do nothing.” (John 15:5)
2) God knows their future failures and sins. Remember how rebel-lious these very Israelites become. God will begin to put His plan into effect – and they will attack his servants for making matters worse (5:21). God rescues them with a series of great miracles – and yet as soon as they see the Egyptian army approaching, they wish they were back in slavery (14:11-12). After God rescues them once more through the Red Sea, they begin to thirst and hunger, so they grumble against God (16:1-7, 17:1-3). God takes them to Sinai and speaks the Ten Commandments to them, and the people respond, “All the words that the LORD has spoken we will do" (24:3). But just a few days later the people make an idol, a golden calf, and worship it. God Himself calls them a stiff-necked people, and is prepared to destroy them (32:1-10).
And those are only their failures that are recorded in the book of Exodus. We could continue to relate the history of the Israelites through the succeeding centuries and record event after event where they disregarded and disobeyed the God who loved them and brought them out of Egypt by His grace.
Did God make a mistake in choosing them? Did God think they would be better than they were? By no means! Our God “declares the end from the beginning” (Is 46:10), and He knows our hearts. He knows our future acts and decisions, including all our sins – yet He still calls us by name to Himself.
So God knew all the future failures of the Israelites, but nevertheless chose them to be His people. So do not be disheartened by your own weakness and remaining sinfulness. If you are truly God’s child, you will overcome by the blood of the Lamb (Rev 12:11), the very same blood that cleanses you from all sin, and you will be transformed into His likeness.
3) God knows the power of the enemy. Whether that power is a physical disease or an oppressive state, whether it is a human enemy or Satan himself, God knows its strength. He knows all of Satan’s plans and ploys, and all the tricks and deceitfulness of every human enemy. He knows what they will do tomorrow – how the disease will advance, whom the army will attack, how the thieves plan to rob, whom Satan will try to throw down. As the author of Hebrews puts it:
And no creature is hidden from his sight, but all are naked and exposed to the eyes of him to whom we must give account. (4:13)
God sees and knows not only their actions but also their hearts. He knows their power – and He limits it.
4) Finally, God knows His plans for the Israelites. Think of the situation of these people: God already had rescued Moses from death in the Nile; He already had placed Moses in the household of Pharaoh so that he would learn all that was necessary to play his future role; He already had placed in Moses’ heart a desire to save his people from the Egyptians. Soon, He would appear to Moses in the burning bush, display His power over all the Egyptian gods through the plagues, and rescue His people from slavery. God knew all these plans.
Just so in your own life. As the Lord says through Jeremiah,
For I know the plans I have for you, declares the LORD, plans for wholeness and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope. (29:11)
And God always brings about His plans. He declares, “My counsel shall stand, and I will accomplish all my purpose.” (Is 46:10)
Recall also the end of Psalm 1: “The LORD knows the way of the righteous.” Surely this means, in part, that the Lord watches over the way of the righteous, as the NIV translates it. He guards our ways, protects us from the evil one, guides us in His paths. But this verse also relates to God’s plans for us: He knows the way He will lead us, how He will take us from our present situation all the way until we stand perfect before His glorious throne. He knows His plans for His people; just as with the Israelites in Egypt, He has already put into place those elements necessary to bring us to Himself, and He will see to it that we are brought safely to His heavenly kingdom, through whatever persecutions, failures, and Red Seas we have to cross.
So what are your sorrows? What are your pains? Why are you crying out to God? Whatever your sorrows, whatever your pains, whatever your cries, know this:
Your God Hears! Every word you cry out, even your unspoken thoughts, God hears.
Your God Remembers! All the promises of God are Yes in Christ Jesus. And He is faithful to all those promises – including the promise to work all things, all things, together for the good of those who love Him.
Your God Sees! He sees what is behind and what is ahead, all the threats, all the dangers.
Your God Knows! He knows you: Your sins, your failures, your weaknesses; He knows your enemies, and the trials they will put in your path; most of all, He knows His plans for you; He knows the path by which He will lead you, and how He will work all these trials together for your good and His glory.
Preached at Cameroon Baptist Theological Seminary Chapel, Ndu, Cameroon, 2/14/02.
Copyright © 2002, Thomas C. Pinckney. You may copy this text for distribution to others, but only in its entirety for circulation freely without charge. All such copies of this text must contain this copyright notice. You may also use brief excerpts in sermons, reviews, or articles. Other than these exceptions, this text may not be copied in part, edited, revised, copied for resale or incorporated in any products offered for sale, without the written permission of Thomas C. Pinckney, firstname.lastname@example.org, c/o Community Bible Church, 160 Bridges Rd, Williamstown, MA 01267, USA.