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How Long?

In every era of humanity since the beginning of time, followers of God find themselves in circumstances that fall far, far short of the promises He gave them. Last week, we took a peek into Abraham’s life. Peter beautifully illustrated how God’s call beckons us to Him, and we are given the promise of His presence, help and very life. What do we do then when seasons of darkness overshadow the light of the hope of His promises? God promised to bless Abraham’s life and family to bless others, but in Scripture, the story quickly careens into despair again casting shadows of the Fall back upon the family God has set apart to bless. Languishing. This is where the people of God find themselves today. They are in slavery in Egypt and they are languishing. What once was full of God’s provision and blessing quickly turns to oppression and agony as the nations look upon the blessings given to Israel by God with eyes of contempt and jealousy. Let’s take a deeper look and see how this happens.

We are several generations past Abraham and God’s call on his life. The people of God found themselves in Egypt (see Genesis 37-50 for more details on that story), and they are an abundant people—which was actually part of God’s original promise to Abraham. However, there is a new king in town and he is threatened by the sojourning nation’s prosperity on their land. The collective oppression of Israel in Egypt was political in nature. They were afraid that if Israel became too strong, they would join Egypt’s enemies against them.

Therefore they set taskmasters over them to afflict them with heavy burdens [...] But the more they were oppressed, the more they multiplied and the more they spread abroad. And the Egyptians were in dread of the people of Israel. -Exodus 1:11-12

The story further describes ruthless treatment and massive infanticide. I want you to see the birthplace of these atrocities. It was in the fear of their number. It was in the fear of their resources. It was in their fear of losing power. It was in their fear of losing their abundance. Oppression is driven by belief in the lie that there isn’t enough. Not enough resources. Not enough room for additional powers. Not enough room at the table to receive another. This is deeply against the heart of God. I would argue that it is man’s fear of not enough more so than his evil that drives atrocities. When we view others as a threat to our own power, comfort, resources, time, etc, we find ways to diminish and devalue them.

It is from this place of darkness and despair, How Long was born. It is written from the perspective of the oppressed remembering the promises of God, but currently wallowing in the darkness. Because of God’s promises, though, there is always hope in the darkness:

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. -Exodus 2:23-25

How Long

A heart of fire, burns deep inside

You hold your anger, when mine aches to chide

Drowned in darkness, wave upon wave

No shred of hope, alone in this grave

How long, O Lord, will you hold their cries?

How long, O Lord, will you walk beside?

My hands outspread, my heart laid bare

Hear my groaning, hear my prayer

Break apart, this fallow ground

For the time has come: seek and be found

How long, O Lord, will I hear their cries?

How long, O Lord, will I stand idly by?

To awaken and move, or sleep and be still

Let me drink of your well, and from your waters fill

As I soak in your passions, and learn at your feet

Be ready to move, for my Lord I seek

How long, O Lord, till you wipe our eyes!

How long, O Lord, till you walk beside

Not long, O Lord; for you attend our cries!

Not long, O Lord, and you will satisfy

A heart of fire, burns deep inside

Where darkness dwells, your light will shine

Not all of us experience the same degree of oppression that Israel did in Egypt; though many people do. This is a repeating theme all over Scripture though in that biblical authors describe humanity’s war against our sin nature as slavery. Jews literally had this conversation with Jesus thousands of years after their ancestors were enslaved in Egypt:

They answered him, “We are offspring of Abraham and have never been enslaved to anyone. How is it that you say, ‘You will become free’?” Jesus answered them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, everyone who practices sin is a slave to sin.” -John 8:33-34

We are currently waging a war against our chains. God has promised us freedom from sin, in Christ, but we are stuck in the here and not yet. I have walked with Jesus since I was 5 years old, and yet each day I discover more and more the depths of sin within me. I see a selfish motive here. I lose my temper so quickly. I feel righteous anger lash out in an unrighteous way. Paul comments on this very reality in his letter to the church at Rome:

"I have discovered this principle of life—that when I want to do what is right, I inevitably do what is wrong. I love God’s law with all my heart. But there is another power within me that is at war with my mind. This power makes me a slave to the sin that is still within me. Oh, what a miserable person I am! Who will free me from this life that is dominated by sin and death? Thank God! The answer is in Jesus Christ our Lord. So you see how it is: In my mind I really want to obey God’s law, but because of my sinful nature I am a slave to sin.” -Romans 7:21-25 NLT

So as I wrestle with sin—clinging to the promises that God will one day deliver me from this body of death and to His glory—I cry out to Him, how long?

There’s another angle to this story also. And it’s deeply personal in nature. I am a white, upper-middle-class woman, in the US in the 21st century. If that alone doesn’t announce my privilege, then I’m not sure what will. Yet I live in a world filled with brokenness, oppression, and hatred. I have been spared so much pain from this place of comfort, peace and power.

How long, O Lord, will I hear their cries?

How long, O Lord, will I stand idly by?

But God. The most beautiful stories in Scripture come after a “but God.” God has opened my eyes to suffering. He has given me resources and capability. Will I horde this goodness to myself, or will I give my very life to address the needs around me? This was Moses in our story. He was spared murder as an infant at the hands of two audacious Egyptian midwives hell-bent on defying their king. Moses found himself among a family of privilege—the son of Pharaoh’s daughter. He wasn’t deaf to the cries of his people though. He saw their pain and felt anguish on their behalf. He took justice into his own hands and ultimately murdered one of their oppressors. This action drove him away, through the desert, and to the meeting place with God. God heard the groans of His people, and spared Moses’ life for their deliverance. God wanted Moses to trust His promises, and His power, to deliver His people.

I’ve seen this in myself. I don’t want my ears dulled to the cries of the hurting. But I think we often do what Moses did. We see the injustices—in our world and in ourselves—and we throw our attempts at justice at them. More self-help books, more discipline, adding our voice to the cacophony of noise. We murder with our words and our hatred toward the “other.” I think we can glean from Moses’ story. God’s deliverance was coming. It was coming powerfully, and in an unexpected way. It would come through the hands of a broken, humbled Moses who had an encounter with God in the wilderness. We can trust the God who cast the stars into the heavens and has the hairs of my head numbered to hear the cries of the oppressed—by world powers and by the nature of sin—to have the way of deliverance ahead. In the meantime, we cry out. We lament. We move at His call.

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