The Exodus is one of the great paradigmatic events in scripture. It is an event that was important in its own right. It was important because it marked the moment when God claimed a people. It was important because it became the basis of the law, and the covenant with Israel. It was important because it was Israel’s moment of redemption.
However, it gained even greater significance because of the emphasis that was placed on the story through the rest of scripture. Throughout the rest of scripture, God kept calling back to this moment as the moment to trust. Look, I am the God who rescued you out of Egypt, therefore: trust me, obey me, follow me. Also, this is the event that writers of scripture would point to as evidence of God’s identity. Remember, Yahweh is the one who redeemed us from slavery. Remember, Yahweh is the one who set us free. It’s almost as if “remember the Exodus,” like other phrases in history, became the rallying cry for Israel.
Yet, there was a time before the Exodus. God was active, obviously, before the Exodus. The creation was an important moment. The flood narrative was a big deal. The Covenant that starts with Abraham should not be forgotten. Yet there was still a time before the Exodus. A time in which one of the questions that was asked, especially for the people of Israel while they were in slavery, was: Can God rescue us? Can God set us free? They were crying out to God for deliverance, but they didn’t have anything to base their hope off of except a promise. Then, God did something so big, that it continues to bring hope centuries later. Remember, God rescued us from Egyptian slavery.
By the time of Jeremiah, however, it is another time of hopelessness. Just like when Israel was stuck in slavery with no hope of a future, the people have no hope. The situations were different, but the overwhelming reality was the same; there was no hope. Jeremiah is even told at the beginning of chapter sixteen; don’t marry and have children because they are just going to die. Don’t go celebrate any feasts, because there’s nothing to celebrate. Exile is coming. It is a situation of utter hopelessness. And the people have to be wondering, what will God do? How is it even possible that God could save us?
But instead of just looking back to the Exodus, God promises something even better.
Therefore, the days are surely coming, says the Lord, when it shall no longer be said, “As the Lord lives who brought the people of Israel up out of the land of Egypt,” 15 but “As the Lord lives who brought the people of Israel up out of the land of the north and out of all the lands where he had driven them.” For I will bring them back to their own land that I gave to their ancestors. (Jeremiah 16:14-15)
God says, what I’m about to do is so great it’s going to become the moment that is always talked about from this point going forward. You thought the Exodus was a big deal, what I’m about to do is so great, people won’t talk about the Exodus anymore. People will instead speak of the return from exile. I will bring them from north and south, east and west, every city they are sent off to; I will bring them back. I will redeem Israel.
Now that’s encouraging.
It’s encouraging to know that God can still do something new, big, and life transforming. It’s encouraging because so often we need the something that will be life transforming. We’ve all been in situations that seem hopeless. Some of us are in those situations now. The rest of us, if we aren’t in them now, will be in them in the near future, possibly sooner than we want. And when we are stuck in a hopeless situation, the question that we always struggle with is what’s going to happen next? How are we going to survive the struggle? How are we going to somehow make it out safely on the other side?
We may draw some strength from past events; events like the exodus, the return from exile, or even events like various moments in our own lives when we’ve seen God work. But still it’s hard.
How do we go through the difficulties of life, the moments that seem hopeless, and not give up? As we beg for deliverance, is deliverance even a possibility; could it be a reality?
Yet I wonder if this is the moment when God is going to do something big? Maybe, just maybe, God is going to do something that is beyond comprehension that becomes the moment that is talked about for the rest of time.
What we can be sure of is that God will do something? It may not be what we expect, but God has always shown up in the past, and God will always show up in the future. Maybe today is the day.
There’s always hope.