Help is on the way

Jimmy the headgehog sat listening raptly to the pastor's sermon. The lion behind the pulpit spoke passionately about obeying the prompting of the Holy Spirit. Jimmy nodded. He wanted to serve God's will, only what could he do? He was only a hedgehog and possessed no special skills. Still, he vowed in his heart to the Lord that he would do whatever the Spirit told him to.
Later that day, Jimmy was compelled to drive to the grocery store. He did not understand why, but he did as God bid. Once there, he was compelled to buy a jug of milk. Though confused as to why he was doing this, Jimmy obeyed. As he was heading home, his attention turned to a house, though he did not see any reason it should be. The Spirit nudged him to go up to the house, ring the bell, and give the milk to the person inside. Feeling like a fool, the hedgehog did exactly that. He rang the doorbell, and when a large cat answered the door, he held up the jug of milk and said "this is for you."
The cat's eyes welled with tears. "How did you know?" he asked. "I can't tell you what this means to us. We have run out of money, there is no food in the house, and we have been praying desperately for some milk to feed the baby!"
This is a true story.

Have you ever been praying for something and wondered if God was even listening to you because there seemed to be no response? Ever wonder "have I done something wrong? Is that why God won't help me?" How many worried months have you spent waiting for help that seems never to come, even though you are certain you've gven God no reason to ignore you? Guess what. You're not alone.

It was 400 years since Joseph had first come to Egypt and saved the nation from a famine. Israel had been living in Egypt, in the area of Goshen, peacefully farming and herding sheep and cattle, being good neighbors and keeping out of trouble. It is also worth noting that these are the only people who did not work for Pharoh. During the famine, everyone but Pharoh's priests was forced to sell themselves into slavery to Pharoh to pay for the food they bought once their money ran out. Egyptian law was not like Hebrew law. (which technically did not exist yet) A man's descendants remained in the same caste as him. Thus, (almost) all Egyptians were slaves and all Hebrews were free. Yet all of this was turned upside-down one day when somewhere within those 400 years, the pharoh at the time feared a Hebrew uprising and forced Israel into slavery.

While it is true that God permitted slavery, He set up certain rules. It was supposed to be a consetual arrangement and the master was supposed to take care of the slave's needs. The slave was then to be released in the year of jubilee with everything he would need to stay on his feet. What the pharoh did is closer to the abominable practice common in the American south in our early years. It was detestable in God's sight.

So why did God allow the Israelites to suffer for so long? His people had done nothing wrong. They were far more sinned against than sinning, to borrow a phrase from Anne McCaffrey. They prayed and cried out day after day for deliverance from their oppressors, yet for many, many years, God did not answer. At least it seemed that way. What was he waiting for?

There is a story which springs to mind about Thor. I do not usually like to talk about pagan gods in a flattering manner, but this story illustrates the point quite nicely. A goblin mage had siezed control of an asteroid and was sending it toward Valhalla. He would destroy it if Odin did not relinquish his throne. Meanwhile, a ship lost at sea during a storm was begging for a sign to show them the way home. Thor offered to fight the goblin, but Odin told him instead to gather a sack full of fine food. The goblin was sure that he would be destroying Valhalla, but Thor informed him that he could have destroyed the asteroid at any time. He had not because Odin bade him to stay his hand until that precise moment. When Thor destroyed the asteroid, the flash of light served as a beacon to the sailors, who arrived safely home and found a feast waiting, left there by Odin himself.

In the matter of the enslavement of Israel, God wanted to do much more than simply deliver his people out of a terrible situation. The timing and circumstances had to be just right in order to accomplish everything that was planned. Through the exodus, God would demonstrate His power and love to the world.

Enter Moses. Born at just the right time, when Hebrew children were under the threat of death from the pharoh, Moses was kept hidden until he could be hidden no longer. His mother, Jochabed, placed him in a basket and set him adrift on the river, trusting him to God's care. God took the basket to the place where the princess was bathing. She drew him out of the water and called him "Moses", meaning "drawn out".

This name takes on a special signifcance when applied to our extended metaphor of the river of history. Moses was not special. He was an ordinary levite boy born to an ordinary levite couple. Even the levites were not special at that time. But God chose him out of all the children of Israel to become something special. Moses would become the first ruler of Israel, second only to God Himself. He would be the deliverer who saved his people from slavery. He would be the representation of God to the people of the entire Earth, not just during the exodus, but for all time. To this day, we celebrate the things that Moses accomplished in the name of God.

But to come to the point where all of this could be accomplished, Moses had to be three things. He had to be a Hebrew, he had to be Egyptian royalty, and he had to be familiar with Midian. Now the reason why he had to be a Hebrew is obvious. It would take a Hebrew to rescue the Hebrews, to become their leader, and to follow through, spending the rest of his life shepherding them until they reached the promised land. He had to be familiar with Midian because that was where Israel would be going, where Saudi Arabia is today. But why Egyptian royalty?

Never in human history has God performed a series of miracles like those of the exodus. Oh, He has performed some great ones. The flood, for instance, was a single, devastating miracle. The miracles of Jesus were wondrous, bringing the dead to life, making the blind see and providing for every kind of need. The miracles of the Holy Spirit are often less flashy, but nonetheless life-changing, including the speaking of languages never learned, words of knowledge and using compulsion to meet needs, as in our opening story. But before there is mercy, there must be law. Before God spares us His wrath, we have to know just what it is we're being spared from. God planned to really open up the floodgates and pour out his power so that the world would understand the He alone is God. He alone is all-powerful, just, righteous, holy, and compassionate to those who humble themselves and call on His name. For that, he needed an adversary truly worthy of his wrath. Enter Ramses. (I don't know for sure that this was his name. Some documents call him Achmose, but Ramses is traditional, so we'll call him Ramses.) The pharohs who had come before Ramses were hard-heatred, but none of them were like him, and that was exactly how God wanted it. It would take very little to keep Ramses fighting God and acting as the canvas on which Yaweh could paint a picture of justice.

We should be clear here- God did not make Ramses do anything. God hardened the man's heart, when it was needed, which it often wasn't, but the decisions which Ramses made were purely his own. And I wonder if God really had to do anything active to him anyway. What Ramses did is to behave exactly the way a man behaves when everything that God is has been removed. It is conceivable that all God had to do to harden Pharoh's heart was keep quiet.

But getting back to the question, Ramses was a terrible man, and a terrible man was what God needed. The deliverer would have to speak to this man who had the power to take away the life of anyone in Egypt and deliver God's ultimatums, knowing full well that he would not listen. That person would have to be close enough to Pharoh to enter and leave the palace at will without great threat from Pharoh himself. Not that God could not have protected Moses, but if he were just another Hebrew, he would never have been allowed audience with Ramses.

Moses was raised as an Egyptian prince. We don't know whether he knew he was a hebrew, but if he didn't, he found out, and his heart was with his people. Moses murdered an Egyptian taskmaster for beating a Hebrew. When he discovered that his crime was known, he fled to Midian and lived there for forty years, until his encounter with the burning bush. He got married and made a living herding sheep. Altogether, it was eighty years before God summoned Moses back to Egypt. Now there's a long wait. During that time, many Hebrews died, finding their liberation only by entry into paradise. No doubt, they wondered why God had not answered their prayers, never knowing about the delivered whom God had been preparing for eighty long years, to bring him into play at exactly the right moment.

So when you think that God is not listening to your prayers and you don't know why, remember the Hebrews, waiting so many years for their deliverer. They didn't know it, but help was on the way. It may well be that while you can't see anything just yet, your prayers have moved God to act in a powerful way that will leave you stunned when it all finally becomes visible.

Today's reading: Exodus 2:1-10
2:1 Now a man of the house of Levi married a Levite woman,
2 and she became pregnant and gave birth to a son. When she saw that he was a fine child, she hid him for three months.
3 But when she could hide him no longer, she got a papyrus basket for him and coated it with tar and pitch. Then she placed the child in it and put it among the reeds along the bank of the Nile.
4 His sister stood at a distance to see what would happen to him.
5 Then Pharaoh's daughter went down to the Nile to bathe, and her attendants were walking along the river bank. She saw the basket among the reeds and sent her slave girl to get it.
6 She opened it and saw the baby. He was crying, and she felt sorry for him. "This is one of the Hebrew babies," she said.
7 Then his sister asked Pharaoh's daughter, "Shall I go and get one of the Hebrew women to nurse the baby for you?"
8 "Yes, go," she answered. And the girl went and got the baby's mother.
9 Pharaoh's daughter said to her, "Take this baby and nurse him for me, and I will pay you." So the woman took the baby and nursed him.
10 When the child grew older, she took him to Pharaoh's daughter and he became her son. She named him Moses, saying, "I drew him out of the water."