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 a 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.
Having made the analogy firm, connecting the experience of those in Christ (and the to-be-redeemed creation) to that of Israel in Egypt, replete with groaning that God hears, we find that we have been well-prepared to comprehend verse twenty-eight. Just before doing that however, because we are going to cover a quite popular and well-worm verse that is often treated in isolation and therefore lacking all context, we enhance the credibility and legitimacy of our opinion by quickly retracing verses twenty through twenty-three of chapter eight.
So by way of review, Paul has written that “the creation was subjected to futility---not willingly but because of God who subjected it,” which could be tentatively said of Israel in Egypt because of the knowledge of God’s promise to Abraham, “in hope that the creation itself will also be set free from the bondage of decay into the glorious freedom of God’s children.” Any talk of God’s children is an indication that the story of Israel as the covenant people of God, historically, as summed up in Jesus, and as continued by those that believe in Jesus, looms large in the background. “For we know that the whole creation,” like Israel, “groans and suffers together until now.”