As we move on to verse twenty-six of chapter eight, we see that Paul continues the theme that is at work, which is the enfolding of all peoples within the defining narrative of the covenant people of God. He writes “In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness, for we do not know how we should pray, but the Spirit Himself intercedes for us with inexpressible groaning” (8:26). The context for this statement is still Israel’s groaning under Egyptian bondage. The context for this is still the crying out of verse fifteen, the bondage of decay of verse twenty-one, the groaning of creation expressed in verse twenty-two, and the inward groaning of verse twenty-three. As we saw in verse twenty-five, and in the hoping for what cannot be seen, Israel hoped for what it could not see when in Egypt. According to the story, known by Paul and by which Israel defined itself, Israel had the hope of a promise that had been made to Abraham. In the fifteenth chapter of Genesis we read “Then the Lord said to Abram, ‘Know for certain that your descendants will be strangers in a foreign country. They will be enslaved and oppressed for four hundred years. But I will execute judgment on the nation that they will serve. Afterward they will come out with many possessions” (15:14).
With the point having been repeatedly made during the course of our study that the Gentile peoples have been enfolded into the story of Israel, in a need to embrace that narrative as their own that they may understand the ministry of Jesus and the actions, intentions, and desires of the Creator God as they go about the business of participating in the kingdom of God that had been announced, enacted, and advanced in the life, death, and Resurrection of Jesus; and with that enfolding necessarily reaching beyond Israel as a unique people and stretching back to Abraham as Gentiles join the worldwide covenant family that was promised to Abraham (of which the nation of Israel was a foretaste, much like Israel’s promised land, hearkening back to the unsullied world and the garden of Eden, was to be a glimpse of the restored creation to come), it is necessary to include this particular portion of the Abraham story, as it is gives shape to the groaning of Israel in Egypt. Though the labor of their bondage may have seemed futile, there was a hope, based on a promise, and they were able to entrust that God was at work.
Fusing the story of Israel’s groaning with what Paul’s words, and making what seems like appropriate parallel analogies to the end of the effort of seeing the united, worldwide covenant family of God and its shared story as they live in this world with an understanding shaped by God’s kingdom purposes, and asserting without hesitation that Paul has the Exodus account in mind as he pens these words, we can say that Israel did not know how to pray. In the midst of their bondage, which could most certainly be referred to as their “weakness,” they groaned. By way of reminder, “the Israelites groaned because of their slave labor,” their futile subjection, and “They cried out, and their desperate cry went up to God. God heard their groaning, God remembered His covenant” (Exodus 2:23b-24a). They had a promise.
We can look back on that promise as something of a promise of resurrection. When we look back upon the whole of the story, we see that it was most certainly a promise of restoration to the place of God’s intention for them. With that promise, and with the story of Israel, as structured, presuming a knowledge of that promise, Israel groaned. The promise was not articulated. Exodus does not report a calling out to God to remind Him of their promise to Him. It is more than possible that there were many members of the nation that had no specific awareness or knowledge of the God of Abraham, and that did not acknowledge the Creator God of Abraham that was about to act to make them His covenant people (His children, His firstborn) through an act of veritable resurrection. However, in the midst of bondage and futility, there was a groaning, and Scripture tells us that God acted on behalf of His people, in remembrance of His covenant, because of that groaning. The same Spirit that “intercedes for us with inexpressible groaning,” is the same Spirit of the same God that interceded on behalf of Israel with inexpressible groaning.
Reinforcing his point, Paul then writes “He who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes on behalf of the saints according to God’s will” (8:27). What was God’s will for Israel? It was liberation from subjection into the glorious plan and role that God had for His covenant family, as they were to become a light to the nations---blessing all peoples. What is God’s will for the covenant family that has been and is being brought together by belief in Jesus? It is the same as Israel---to be light to the nations. Continuing the analogy, Paul has said that “our present sufferings,” like Israel’s suffering in Egypt, “cannot even be compared to the glory that will be revealed to us” (8:18b). In fact, this glorious future of the children of God who cry out to Him, extends to the new promised land (the whole creation), which “eagerly waits for the revelation of the sons of God” (8:19). Israel’s promised land also awaited the revelation and arrival of the nation that God called His firstborn son.