Teaching Students to Hope in God from Captivity
After months of self-enforced captivity in our homes, many of our students have begun to emerge and are returning to their normal routines. Starting a new school year is always fraught with anxiety. Have my friends forgotten about me? Have my friends changed? Have I changed? Will we all just pick back up where we left off? If students are at a new school, they may wonder, will I be accepted here?
The tectonic plates of the social world that teenagers live in are constantly shifting, and when they spend a few months a part, they must return to assess what all has shifted. This is only multiplied when you tack on a few extra months, a global pandemic, and widespread social unrest to those months apart. Such unrest can render students feeling a sense of hopelessness – hopelessly misunderstood, hopelessly alone, hopelessly sinking.
In this moment, we must point students to a hope that is deeper and wider than hopefulness they can scrounge up within themselves. Exodus 2:23-25 offers the hope that in our moments of hopelessness, God is present and acts on our behalf. This passage points us to Jesus, who is God With Us, our Advocate in heaven who lives to intercede on our behalf.
The Captivity of God’s People
The book of Exodus confronts us immediately with a bleak situation. A new king reigns in Egypt who does not remember Joseph (Ex. 1:8). Therefore, the God-blessed super-fertility of the Israelites is seen as a threat to the rule of this Pharaoh. His solution to this growing problem is to force them into slavery and to murder their male children. Where God is faithful in blessing, the Pharaoh is firm in opposing. God’s people are left oppressed, hurting, and wondering how they got here.
Into this brave new world that our students are stepping into this school year, there is an anxious anticipation and an anticipatory dread. The anticipation is grounded in the sheer excitement of returning, and the dread is found in the fear that at any moment they again be ripped away from their lives. Coupled with all of the social anxieties mentioned above, our students may find themselves in a place where anxieties are heaped upon their minds and hearts. They may wonder, where is God in this moment?
In Exodus 2:23, we read, “During those many days the king of Egypt died, and the people of Israel groaned because of their slavery and cried out for help. Their cry for rescue from slavery came up to God.” God’s Word does not dance around the pain. If our students are experiencing a tidal wave of tensions, we must not pretend that everything is fine. Instead, as we see in Exodus 2, we should teach them to cry out in the midst of pain. Asking God what has happened to his promises is not an act of faithlessness but an act of faithfulness, an act of hope. When we allow ourselves to express our pain to God – with all of the spectrum of human emotions – we are relying on him to act in accordance with who he is. We are following the example of Jesus who cried out against his anguish the words of Psalm 22:1, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” To allow ourselves to acknowledge the pain and cry out is an act of hope that God will respond, as we see in the next two verses.
God’s Response to Israel’s Captivity
As Israel cries out to God, we read, “And God heard their groaning, and God remembered his covenant with Abraham, with Isaac, and with Jacob. God saw the people of Israel – and God knew” (Ex. 2:24). There is no greater hope in our pain than seeing God’s response here.
First, God hears their groaning. When we are faithful to cry out in pain, God is faithful to hear. When Jesus cries out on the cross Psalm 22:1, he is doing so knowing that when he cries out that God, “has not hidden his face from him, but has heard, when he cried to him” (Psalm 22:24), and that in this anguish God is accomplishing great (Ps. 22:31). Our students need to know that their cries do not hit the roof of their house and stop but ascend to God in heaven.
Second, God remembers his covenant. Saying that God remembers his covenant does not necessarily entail that he had forgotten it somehow. Rather, saying God remembers his covenant actually refers to bringing something to mind in a way that is a prelude to action (Gen. 8:1). God will not allow his promises to fail. Now, all the promises of God are “yes and amen” in Christ (2 Cor. 1:20). What a wonderful hope to share with students! Will God one day deliver our students from the pain, sin, and anxieties plaguing them? In Christ, yes and amen! Will he lead our students into a flourishing life despite the decay of the world around us? In Christ, yes and amen!
Third, God saw the people of Israel and he knew. For some students – especially those in new schools or who deeply feel the trauma of losing someone or seeing people like them pointlessly killed by authorities – this moment may drive them into isolation. But the hope of Exodus 2:23-25 is that God sees their pain.
The Princess Diaries movies tell the story of a high school girl who finds out she is actually the heir to European monarchy. At her school, she is so unseen by those around her that people literally sit on her not noticing she is in the seat they are aiming for. However, when the marvelous queen of the fictional Genovia reveals her true identity, she feels affirmed and happy—not because of her newfound wealth and power, but because for the first time she is seen.
In Exodus 2:23-24, we see that God sees us, and in his seeing, he knows. This is not mere intellectual knowledge. No, God’s knowing here points to a personal, intimate knowledge of his people’s pain. This points us to the greatest hope of all.
God’s Response to Our Captivity
God’s hearing, remembering, seeing, and knowing of Israel’s plight leads to the greatest redemptive act of the Old Testament: the Exodus. God delivers his people in a powerful way. However, even grander is his deliverance of all mankind through Jesus Christ. Though we were held captive to sin and death, God intimately entered into our pain by taking on flesh in the person of Jesus. He lived a life of sorrow but never fell into sin. Ultimately, he died on the cross taking the punishment for our sin on himself. He defeated the rule of sin, and in his resurrection he defeated the rule of death in this world.
In light of this, our students do not have to continue to feel hopeless in the dark captivity they feel at their school or in this world. Rather, they may rest in the fact that they have a Savior in heaven who stands at the right hand of God and intercedes on their behalf (Rom. 8:34; Heb. 7:25). As John Murray writes, this intercession happens with “omniscient compassion” because Jesus does so as both powerful God and suffering man. He has suffered as we have and he has been tempted as we have. Therefore, as we cry out to him, we may trust that he advocates specifically to our places of need.
The hope of Exodus 2:23-25 is that God hears us, remembers his covenant, sees us, knows our pain, and acts on our behalf. This is a hope grounded in what he has done, but it is also a hope grounded in what he will do. Just as he delivered Israel out of Egypt, delivered mankind out of sin, someday he will deliver us out of this world and into his immediate presence where there will be no more crying, no more pain, and no more tears. Until that day, may we teach our students to cry out to this God, trust in this God, and hope in this God.