Friday, January 25, 2013

Groaning (part 1 of 2)

During that long period of time the king of Egypt died, and the Israelites groaned because of the slave labor.  They cried out, and their desperate cry because of their slave labor went up to God. – Exodus 2:23  (NET)

This king of Egypt was the king mentioned in the first chapter of Exodus.  It is said that he “did not know about Joseph” (1:8a), and “put foremen over the Israelites to oppress them with hard labor” (1:11a).  This king “made the Israelites serve rigorously…by hard service with mortar and bricks and by all kinds of service in the fields” (1:13, 14b).  This could almost be read as something of an echo of the “fall” of the Genesis narrative, when hard and rigorous labor was introduced to the original covenant-and-divine-image-bearers. 

It was in the midst of this subjection to a foreign power that the Israelites were said to have groaned and cried out, with that cry going up to their God.  It is said that their“God heard their groaning, God remembered His covenant with Abraham, with Isaac, and with Jacob” (2:24).  This is part of the story that is told in association with the Passover.  Passover, of course, is the yearly remembrance of the deliverance of the Creator God’s people from their oppression in Egypt.  It is a celebration of the end of exile, and of the beginnings of exodus wrought at the hands of their God.  Though the story culminates in redemption and rescue and the destruction of their enemies, the story begins with the groaning of the people and progresses through God’s miraculous intervention on behalf of His people.

As a reader of Scripture considers the entirety of the Scriptural narrative, recognizing that the thinking of the New Testament writers was shaped not only by the Christ-event, but also by the story of Israel , this use of “groan” and “groaning” is quite interesting.  It is a tremendously evocative word, as it conjures up a depth of emotion that is reserved for describing truly great suffering.  We find “groan” used most descriptively and usefully in the New Testament, in the eighth chapter of the Apostle Paul’s letter to the Romans, with Paul employing these words in what would appear to be a clear connection to the story of the Exodus. 

If we are paying close enough attention, and if we are reading the text properly and with a mindset shaped by the long-running covenantal narrative, we can find the Apostle Paul using the language and imagery that would be associated with ideas correlated to exodus throughout his writings.  With this, Paul seems to be following quite comfortably in line with the prophets of Israel that came before him, as reference to the exodus from Egypt, along with imagery designed to evoke thoughts of exodus, is regularly used throughout the works that comprise the Hebrew canon.    

So how do we find these words used in Romans?  Paul uses them in relation to the creation---the natural world.  He begins by writing, “For the creation eagerly waits for the revelation of the sons of God” (8:19).  This reminds us that the creation itself is an important concern of the God of Scripture, and that salvation is not limited to people alone.  It is with these words that we can begin tying this to the Exodus account, in that there had been a prophecy that Israel would sojourn in Egypt for a set number of years. 

Much like the people of Israel in the first century knew that the time was drawing near for God to act on behalf of His people through His Messiah (owing to the 490 year term that was associated with the prophecy of Daniel), God’s people in Egypt knew that the time was drawing near for their long sojourn in Egypt to come to an end.  They merely awaited a deliverer to lead them out from their place and state of subjugation, awaiting such with eagerness.  

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