For the week of January 13, 2007 / 23 Tevet 5767
Torah: Shemot / Exodus 1:1 - 6:1
Haftarah: Isaiah 27:6 - 28:13; 29:22,23
And now the cry of the Israelites has reached me, and I have seen the way the Egyptians are oppressing them. So now, go. I am sending you to Pharaoh to bring my people the Israelites out of Egypt. (Shemot / Exodus 3:9,10)
Believing in an all-powerful, all-knowing, loving God creates some difficult philosophical questions. Perhaps the most common of such questions has to do with how such a God could allow evil in the world. Perhaps, the answer to that question has something to do with God's giving human beings choice. How free is our ability to choose may be debatable, but clearly, as far as the Scriptures are concerned - we are not remote-controlled robots. Otherwise we could not be held responsible for our actions.
It seems to me, though, that some of us have been crippled by some of the philosophical musings over the relationship between God's sovereignty and our involvement in the outworking of history. In an attempt to adequately honor God's rule over the universe, some have been led to believe that all of life has been unalterablely predetermined by God. This way of thinking can tend to lead towards fatalism. Fatalism is the belief that the events of life have been so predetermined that there is nothing we can really do about it.
While the Bible clearly teaches that God rules over the universe and human history, it never sees life through a fatalistic lens. We never encounter a "what will be, will be" type attitude in the pages of Scripture. Far from it! Over and over again we read of God's expectation that people would interact with life's circumstances in such a way as to make a positive difference.
There is no sense of fatalism in the story of God's deliverance of the people of Israel from Egypt. At first Egypt was a place of security and prosperity for them. But when a king arose who feared that they may one day help in the overthrowing of his rule, he severely oppressed them. We don't know exactly how long this terrible period lasted since the text doesn't tell us the precise timing of the beginning of the oppression. It had to be more than 80 years, since that's how old Moses was when he confronted Pharaoh and the oppression began prior to his birth. It could have been well over 300 years if it began not too long after the first generation living in Egypt died. However long the oppression lasted, it was a terrible time. Many Israelites lived their entire lives in bondage.
Then one day, according to the passage I quoted at the start, God began the process of their deliverance. According to his own words, God was concerned about their suffering. In response to their cries, he decided to do something about it.
We can ask why did he not act earlier or even why did he allow this to happen at all. A fatalistic perspective would conclude that, for some unknown reason, the long time of suffering was necessary until the time came for their deliverance. But that's not the story as we have it. God heard their cries and acted accordingly. There is no impression given that there was some sort of cosmic manipulation of events. By telling us that God was moved by his people's suffering, we see a very personal and relational outworking of what happened.
God doesn't expect us to always accept circumstances the way they are just because they are the way they are. The Israelites were never told to accept their bondage. Faith in God according to the Scriptures is never a resignation toward the status quo. Rather we are called by God to look to him to establish his will on earth. This is a process that he calls us to be part of both through prayer and through action.
When Yeshua provided his followers with his great model prayer, he included the words, "your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven" (Matthew 6:10). If we are to pray that God's kingdom should come and his will be done, then it is most reasonable to assume that his kingdom is not present as it should be, nor is his will being adequately done on earth.
Whenever we encounter life on earth not being sufficiently up to God's standard, we can assume that God wants change. How that change will come about is one thing, but just because things are the way they are does not mean we are supposed to accept them in the name of God's sovereignty. In fact it is his sovereignty that should lead us to seek him for that change.
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