Hundreds of years before these words were spoken to Moses, God promised Abraham, the ancestor of Moses and the Hebrew people, ‘“I will make you a great nation”’(Genesis 12:2) and ‘“I will give this land to your offspring”’(Genesis 12:7). The land spoken of was the ‘promised land’ – the land of Israel to be, a promise repeated to Abraham’s son Isaac and grandson Jacob (also named Israel). Yet God qualified His message to Abraham, ‘“your offspring will live as foreigners in a land that is not theirs, and will serve… four hundred years… Afterward they will come out…”’(Genesis 15:13-14).
Jacob and his family (the Israelites) had gone into Egypt, multiplied in number, and descended into slavery. Moses was born into that situation. Yet his story starts with hints that God was moving providentially in his life events. However, at this point he was tending flocks in the obscurity of the Sinai desert, alienated from his people, who were still enslaved in Egypt. Then suddenly, and quite unexpectedly, one day he noticed a burning bush. On going over to investigate, an ‘angel’(Exodus 3:2), who appears to have been a manifestation of God Himself, made this monumental announcement.
The first thing to note is that God cares. He ‘“heard their cry”’ and knew ‘“their sorrows”’. Alongside that, however, it’s important to realise that God’s timing is not our timing: ‘one day is with the Lord as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day. The Lord is not slow concerning His promise, as some count slowness’(2 Peter 3:8-9). It’s easy to become impatient whilst suffering, when like the Israelites we’re crying out for deliverance. It’s easy under such circumstances to give up on God and His promises, or lose hope; but that’s a big mistake. He will speak to us and act in His good time, sometimes in unexpected places, at unexpected times, suddenly – out of the blue (or bush!).
It’s important to listen though. Listening to God for Moses involved noticing a burning bush and going over to investigate. For us it can and might involve messages through physical signs, nature and the like. More often, however, it will involve noticing and going over to investigate the burning bush of His word, which is ‘God-breathed’(2 Timothy 3:16), written by the likes of Moses and the other authors of scripture, who were ‘moved by the Holy Spirit’(2 Peter 1:21). As we prayerfully meditate on this ‘word of God’, which ‘is living and active’(Hebrews 4:12), the fire of His Holy Spirit will speak to us, if we are patient, and apply it to our souls, ‘that we might know the things… freely given to us by God’(1 Corinthians 2:12).
So we should trust that God cares and is listening to our cries, trust the promises in His word, and wait, patiently, for answers, guidance and good plan to emerge. Even then, we shouldn’t necessarily expect a smooth path. Initially things seemed to get worse for the Israelites as Pharaoh made their tasks harder in response to Moses’ requests. Moses cried out, ‘“Lord,… since I came to Pharaoh to speak in your name, he has brought trouble on this people”’(Exodus 5:22-23).
It might take generations for our prayers and labour in the Lord to come to fruition. Certainly it will take the decades of a lifetime for us to mature and bear maximum fruit under God’s good timing and patient hand. We as individuals, and the history of the world, are long term projects!
Full fruition however, for both the Hebrews and us – since Christians ‘are Abraham’s offspring and heirs according to promise’(Galatians 3:29) – will come not in the promised land of Israel, but what it stands for throughout scripture, as the patriarchs realised, ‘a better country, that is, a heavenly one’(Hebrews 11:16). And as Paul realised, even if a hostile world throws its worst at us, we will immediately be transported into our ultimate promised land of ‘His heavenly Kingdom’(2 Timothy 4:18, cf. 6-8).
In the meantime, after coming out of ‘Egypt’(Hebrews 11:26) through our Red ‘sea’(1 Corinthians 10:2) of baptism, yet still in the desert of this world, we must learn to depend on the manna from God to sustain us, ‘every word that proceeds out of Yahweh’s mouth’(Deuteronomy 8:3).