Advent Meets Exodus- a Devotion (2/4)
“Born thy people to deliver…born to set thy people free.” These words sung of Jesus in Charles Wesley’s well-known Christmas hymn could as easily be sung of another baby, the one whose birth brightens the otherwise dismal opening to the book of Exodus. There we find the chosen people of God suffering as slaves at the hands of a Pharaoh who knew not their forefather Joseph, nor their Father God.
Their story is our story. We may not know their slavery, but we know their suffering and their groaning. As another familiar carol reminds, “Long lay the world in sin and error pining.” But for those in Egypt, and for us, there is yet “a thrill of hope…a new and glorious morn.” A Savior is born.
Exodus 2 brings the most welcome announcement: “The woman conceived and bore a son.” (Ex. 2:2) But our soul only feels the worth of this event against the backdrop of Pharaoh’s edict, recorded two verses earlier: “Every son that is born to the Hebrews you shall cast into the Nile…” (1:22) One chapter ends with the command to toss the newborn sons of Israel in the Nile, the next opens with the birth of a son who would be placed – not tossed – carefully in a basket in the Nile. The Hebrew woman’s makeshift ark was not for his demise, but his deliverance.
To readers of the closing chapters of Genesis, the story unfolds in a very familiar way: a Hebrew boy in Egypt – destined for certain death, spared by God’s good providence, and ultimately placed in the household of Pharaoh. So, the birth of Moses is the arrival of God’s chosen deliverer, albeit an unlikely one. Israel’s apparent rescuer – the one called to lead God’s people from death to life – has taken the life of another. Not only a murderer, he’s now also fleeing from both Pharaoh and his own people, having drawn the ire of both. Could this man possibly be the deliverer God was raising up?
As the curtain opens on the story of Exodus – the great departure – Moses is the only one departing, and it raises the question: has God Himself departed, thus abandoning His people and His promises? We must confess our ability to relate to the people of Israel. All too often we question God’s timing, His presence, His faithfulness, even if only in the privacy of our hearts.
When the lights go down on Exodus 2 we see the people of God doing the only thing they can do: “the people of Israel groaned because of their slavery and cried out for help,” (2:23). Then, in the very next sentence, a glimpse behind the curtain: “their cry for rescue from slavery came up to God…God heard… God remembered His covenant…God saw His people…and God knew.” (2:24-25) After hundreds of years, the desperate prayers and pleas of God’s people have intersected with His movement toward them. His answer had already come: “The woman conceived and bore a son.”
The story of Israel in Exodus is not at all distant or unfamiliar. Even as Israel was trapped in bondage to a wicked master in a pagan land facing inevitable death, all of humanity is trapped in bondage to sin, facing the inevitable wages of our sin, death. Until the fullness of time, when God’s Deliverer would come, born of a woman, born to “save His people from their sins.” (Mt. 1:21) This time an angel brings the good news: “For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.” (Luke 2:11)
Unlike Moses, this Deliverer was not at all reluctant, nor ill-equipped. He was ready and willing to lay down His perfect life as a substitute for us, so that we might be set free. In Exodus, the cries of God's people had already been answered with the cries of a baby, and the deliverance that followed would result in cries of agony throughout all Egypt. Centuries later, deliverance would come once for all, again with the cries of a baby, but followed this time by a single cry from the cross: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Mt. 27:46) This Deliverer would not be spared; He would bear the full weight of the Father’s wrath in our place. The blood of the true Passover Lamb would be spilled out so that by it we might be delivered from death to life. In the words of Wesley’s carol, He would “from our fears and sins release us,” not to find rest from the cruel labor of Egypt, but in order that we might find “find our rest in Thee.”
This is the story of our exodus. And it serves for us as the definitive proof that God does not stand far off from our suffering, nor turn a deaf ear to our groaning. He has heard and He has intervened. Indeed, He has drawn near. God the Son took on human flesh, He is Immanuel, God with us. Our Deliverer has come. How will He not also graciously give us all things?
When Moses returned to Egypt, Israel knew their deliverer had arrived: “The people believed; and when they heard that the LORD had visited the people of Israel and that he had seen their affliction, they bowed their heads and worshiped.” (Ex. 4:31)
Having seen our Deliverer, we too bow in worship. The original words of Placide Cappeau's O Holy Night resonate deeply in the hearts of the redeemed:
The Redeemer has broken all shackles
The earth is free and heaven is open
He sees a brother where there was once but a slave;
Love unites those who restrain the sword.
Who will tell Him our gratitude?
It is for us all that He was born, that He suffered and died.
People, stand up, sing your deliverance!
Christmas! Christmas! Let us sing the Redeemer!
Indeed, let all that is within us praise His holy name!