It is with thoughts of this defining story of a captive, groaning Israel now placed squarely in the midst of Paul’s words here that we now read “Not only this, but we ourselves also, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we eagerly await our adoption, the redemption of our bodies” (8:23). God redeemed Israel from their slavery and delivered them into a land of promise, flowing with milk and honey, and so too is He going to do the same for His renewed Israel who call Jesus “King.” We know this to be true because the Spirit has convinced us of the truth of the firstfruits of that redemption, that being Jesus, raised physically and bodily into a world that was now forever changed, His physical body now a spiritual body because it is animated by the power of heaven. God redeemed Jesus’ body from its bondage to death, delivering it, renewed, remade, and re-created from the grave, and that same Spirit is now at work, renewing, remaking, and re-creating anywhere and everywhere a person engages in an activity that declares a belief in the Gospel of Jesus and the kingdom that said belief and Gospel entails. Israel’s small portion of good land was merely a signpost of the good land that would be the restored creation.
Like Israel out of Egypt, “in hope we were saved” (8:24a). It is hope because we can only catch glimpses of it, in the midst of the ongoing bondage that is to be observed all around us. Yes, this family of God is very much like Israel in Egypt, who groaned in hopeful expectation; and to this end, Paul writes “Now hope that is seen is not hope, because who hopes for what he sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, we eagerly wait for it with endurance” (8:24b-25). Israel hoped and God acted. We hope and God acts. We will continue to hope and we will continue to see God acting, through us, as those actions, which may entail suffering and shame, continually point us towards the consummation of all things and the glorious advent of the kingdom of God on earth.
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 being made repeatedly in Paul’s communications 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.