God, our Creator and Savior, is scandalous by modern standards. In our day, we accuse our leaders of various crimes, asking “What did he know, and when did he know it?” In Exodus, we find God working through midwives who feared Him in chapter 1, but then we find this curious statement at the end of chapter 2:
Now it came about in the course of those many days that the king of Egypt died. And the sons of Israel sighed because of the bondage, and they cried out; and their cry for help because of their bondage rose up to God. So God heard their groaning; and God remembered His covenant with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. God saw the sons of Israel, and God took notice of them.Exodus 2:23-25 NASB
The drama of this passage has been obscured by most translators throughout history. If it were to be rewritten in a more literal style, it would read as follows (same words above, but without any additional text):
Now it came about in the course of those many days that the king of Egypt died. And the sons of Israel sighed because of the bondage, and they cried out; and their cry for help because of their bondage rose up to God. So God heard their groaning; and God remembered His covenant with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. God saw the sons of Israel, and God knew.
Perhaps it’s a small thing, but the last phrase is typically changed to include what God knew. Only the English Standard Version seems content to not have to interpret that phrase. Think through those phrases: God heard, God remembered, God saw, and God knew. It gives me chills to recite them. It is in response to the groaning and crying out of His people, and something begins to move, to happen, to change. Something massive, and impossible to impede or divert, has started to change the course of the lives of an entire people. I suppose, technically, two peoples.
Why do we feel the need to complete the phrase, and guess what it was that God knew? Isn’t it somewhat scandalous that the Creator and God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob only remembers His covenant after the king dies? Why not before? Why didn’t He know before? Perhaps, the problem isn’t in our understanding of God, but rather, our understanding of the verb, “to know”. Look up the word used here.
It’s the basic Hebrew word for knowing something. It encompasses knowledge from experience, intimacy (including physical intimacy), conventional learning, and common knowledge. The writer here didn’t differentiate. God knew. He heard their groaning, remembered His covenant, saw the sons of Israel, and He knew. It’s supposed to sound peculiar. I think the writer is drawing all of the meaning of “to know” into this description of Yahweh’s character.
When we cry out to our Master, do we believe that He hears us? Sometimes it may seem like we have a hard time getting His attention. It may seem like He doesn’t hear, doesn’t remember, doesn’t see, and doesn’t know. From this passage, that seems what has happened to the sons of Israel while they were enslaved under the king of Egypt. But, that’s not the only option here.
All the verbs for God hearing, remembering, seeing, and knowing are completed action. The timing of the king’s death suggests that these actions were completed after the king died, but is that necessarily true? The king dies after Moses is born, after he tries to help his brothers, and after he escapes into the wilderness. It seems the wheels of God’s work are already turning, so what does this passage tell us about God’s character?
What I learn from it is that my Master already hears, remembers, sees, and knows. I may cry out today, but He has already heard my cry. I may plea for Him to remember His promises to me, but He already has. I may try to get His attention so He will see me, but He already has seen me. And the most important thing I desire of my Master is for Him to know me. And He already does.
God knew. On the most intimate, visceral, complete, and thorough level of all that word means, God already knows me. And He knows you. Do you cry out to Him? Does He seem to be ignoring you, your plight, circumstances, not hearing your prayers, nor remembering His promises to you, not seeing you, and doesn’t seem to know what’s going on in your life? Trust me, God knows, and has known. Before you cried out, before His promises, before your circumstances, God knew.
Paul claims he has learned the secret of being content in every circumstance. That’s a lot easier to learn when we are convinced that our Savior knows. So, cry out to our Master, remember His promises, and remember that He has always known.
Scripture quotations taken from the NASB. Copyright by The Lockman Foundation