Our Pain and God’s Purpose
“And he said unto his people, Behold, the people of the children of Israel are more and mightier than we: Come on, let us deal wisely with them; lest they multiply, and it come to pass, that, when there falleth out any war, they join also unto our enemies, and fight against us, and so get them up out of the land. Therefore they did set over them taskmasters to afflict them with their burdens. And they built for Pharaoh treasure cities, Pithom and Raamses. But the more they afflicted them, the more they multiplied and grew. And they were grieved because of the children of Israel. And the Egyptians made the children of Israel to serve with rigour: And they made their lives bitter with hard bondage, in morter, and in brick, and in all manner of service in the field: all their service, wherein they made them serve, was with rigour.” (Exodus 1:9-14)
After coming into the land of Egypt, the children of Israel enjoyed, for about thirty years, a time of great abundance and prosperity. I say that this time of peace and prosperity lasted about thirty years because the Lord God told Abraham that the Egyptians would “afflict them four hundred years” (Gen. 15:13; Acts 7:6). Yet, we are told in Exodus 12:40 that “the sojourning of the children of Israel, who dwelt in Egypt” was “four hundred and thirty years.” So their time in Egypt was 430 years; and 400 of those years were years of bondage and affliction, pain and suffering, toil and bitterness as strangers in a hostile land. About 30 years after they first came into Egypt, “there arose a new king over Egypt, which knew not Joseph” (v. 8), and Israel’s woes began. We read about them in verses 9-14.
God promised his blessings upon the children of Israel. In his covenant with Abraham he swore that he was going to drive out their enemies and give them the land of Canaan, making them possessors of that land flowing with milk and honey. And all of this was to be done as a typical picture of the redemption and salvation of God’s elect by Christ.
In light of that fact, in light of the fact that God had revealed his purpose of goodness and grace to the chosen people, I cannot help asking some questions. — Why did God send Israel into Egypt? — Why did he leave them there for 430 years? — Why did he allow the Egyptians to treat them with barbaric cruelty for 400 years? — Why did the Lord cause his people to suffer so much pain for so long, before fulfilling his promise and bringing them out by the mighty hand of his grace?
Find the answer to those questions, and you will get some understanding of God’s wise and adorable providence. You will be able to see and see clearly that the pains we experience in this world by God’s providence and grace are pains brought upon us by God’s eternal purpose of grace toward us in Christ, by the purpose of him who “worketh all things after the counsel of his own will that we should be to the praise of his glory, who first trusted in Christ.” I have searched the Scriptures and have found six answers to those questions.
1. God brought all of Israel into Egypt by one man, because he had purposed and promised to bring them out of Egypt by one man, to the praise of his glory.
How did the chosen seed, the covenant children of Abraham get into the mess they were in in Egypt? The answer is plainly stated in Exodus 1:1. “Now these are the names of the children of Israel, which came into Egypt; every man and his household came with Jacob.”
“Every man and his household came with Jacob.” They came into this land of bondage and sorrow with their father Jacob. He was the one who brought them there. Note that in this place the Holy Spirit uses his name “Jacob,” not “Israel.” Every time he does so throughout the Scriptures, there is a reason. “Jacob” speaks of the natural man, fallen and sinful. It means “supplanter.” “Israel” speaks of the spiritual man. It is the new name God gave Jacob, the new name given to all the sons of Jacob in free and sovereign grace in Christ. “Israel” means “God prevails.” Israel is a prince with God. The children of “God prevails” were brought into Egyptian bondage by one sinful man. The spiritual significance is obvious. — You and I were brought into the place of spiritual bondage and death with our father Adam. “Wherefore, as by one man sin entered into the world, and death by sin; and so death passed upon all men, for that all have sinned” (Rom. 5:12).
And this was not accidental. Israel was brought into Egyptian bondage because God had purposed and promised, long before any of those who came into bondage were ever born, that he would bring them out by a mighty deliverer, in justice and grace to the praise of his glory. God’s promise to Abraham was, “That nation whom they shall serve will I judge: and afterward shall they come out with great substance” (Gen. 15:14). All this was connected with a sacrifice required, provided, and accepted by God (Gen. 15:8-11), and a covenant made with Abraham (Gen. 15:17-21).
So it has been with us. The sin and fall of Adam, and of all the human race in him, was no accident. It came to pass because God our Father, before ever the world was made, purposed to save his people by another Representative Man, by another Substitute, even his own dear Son, the Lord Jesus Christ, the Lamb of God, the Sacrifice he required, provided, and accepted, with whom he made for us an everlasting covenant, ordered in all things and sure, “to the praise of the glory of his grace, wherein he hath made us accepted in the Beloved” (Rom. 5:12-21).
The only reason Egypt existed was that that nation might provide a place for God to show his grace to Israel. The only reason God raised up Pharaoh was to display his sovereign power and goodness in saving his people (Rom. 9:13-18). So it is with the entire world. The world is the cradle God created to receive his children, the house he created to provide for their carnal needs, the stage he created to display his wisdom, goodness, grace and glory in saving his people by his Son, for the praise of his glory.
2. God brought Israel into bondage in Egypt to show his great displeasure against sin.
The thing that Joseph’s brethren did in selling him into bondage was precisely according to God’s purpose. But the holy Lord God shows us repeatedly that though he uses the evil devices of men to accomplish his purpose (Ps. 76:10), he neither forces the wicked to do evil, nor approves of the evil done. Every man is responsible for his wicked works, and must suffer the consequences of them, either personally or in Christ, the sinner’s Substitute.
Joseph’s brethren sold him into bondage because they intended to do him evil; but God used it to perform good (Gen. 50:20). David murdered Uriah and took his wife, and his deeds displeased the Lord; but God used his evil deeds to bring his Son into the world. It was through David and Bathsheba that Christ came into the world. The Jews delivered our Savior up to be crucified, performing their own wicked wills; but the Lord God used their deeds of wickedness to accomplish his purpose of grace in redeeming our souls (Acts 2:23).
3. The Lord God brought Israel into Egyptian bondage for 400 years, because he had told Abraham he would not fulfill his promise to give Israel the land of Canaan, that he would not destroy the Amorites, until they had filled their iniquity.
“But in the fourth generation they shall come hither again: for the iniquity of the Amorites is not yet full.” (Gen. 15:16)
God had told Abraham that his seed should sojourn in a strange land for four hundred years, but in the fourth generation they would come out and take possession of Canaan, because only then would the iniquity of the Amorites be filled up. The time for God to deal with the Amorites in judgment was not fully ripe, their iniquities had not reached the bound God had appointed, until Israel had been in bondage for 400 years.
Divine judgment is always just. That is a fact set before us throughout the Scriptures. God would not destroy the Amorites (vessels of wrath) in his wrath until they were “fitted for destruction” by their wickedness. The Spirit of God would not allow the Gospel to be preached to the Gentiles until the Jews had filled up their sins (1 Thess. 2:16). And the Lord Jesus says to the reprobate, as he did to the Pharisees of his day, “Fill ye up the measure of your fathers” (Matt. 23:32).
“Whatever the actings of men in wickedness and high-handed rebellion, they are made subservient to the establishment of the Divine counsels of grace and love...Even the wrath of man is yoked to the chariot wheel of God’s decrees”
4. Israel was brought down to Egypt and remained in that land of darkness, bondage, and bitterness for 430 years, because the Lord God was preparing for himself a people.
The Lord God gave the land to the chosen nation back in Genesis 15. But Abraham had no children to possess it. And the land of Canaan was a huge, rich land. It would take a huge nation to possess it. So the Lord God gave Abraham a son, and through his son seventy more sons. And during the next 430 years he gave him millions of sons and made them willing and ready to take possession of Canaan at the appointed time.
So it is with us. All the boundless blessings of grace and glory were given to us in Christ before the world began (Eph. 1:3-6). The New Jerusalem is a huge city to be inhabited and possessed by a multitude that no man can number. And it is written of our Lord Jesus Christ, “A seed shall serve him; it shall be accounted to the Lord for a generation” (Ps. 22:30). Our God is here preparing for himself a people. And when the number of his elect has been fulfilled, deliverance will come! He is not slack concerning his promise. He is not willing that any of his chosen perish; and they shall not perish (2 Pet. 3:9). Our God is preparing his people for their prepared place. He prepares his elect to possess heavenly glory by redemption, by regeneration, and by the resurrection.
5. The Lord God left Israel in Egypt for 430 years so that he might display his sovereign goodness and grace in delivering them.
The deliverance of Israel from Egyptian bondage typified and foreshadowed the redemption of sinners by Christ. The land of Egypt vividly portrays the place and the state of God’s people in this world. Here we are, by nature, in a place and state of darkness, rebellion, and death, in total opposition to God. But as God stepped into that place and brought Israel out, so he steps into this world and delivers the objects of his love, snatching us as brands from the burning, “to the praise of the glory of his grace.”
6. And the Lord God left Israel toiling in bondage in Egypt, to suffer hatred, oppression, and bitterness to teach us something about our trials in this world.
Their bitter experiences in Egypt and their many trials in the wilderness were designed by God to make them long for the land that flowed with milk and honey, and to make that fair and happy land more glorious and them more thankful, once they took possession of it. Therefore, the Lord God graciously, wisely, and with deliberate measure used the malice of Pharaoh and the Egyptians to make his people “serve with rigor. And they made their lives bitter with hard bondage.”
When the appointed time of love has come, when the Lord God will deliver chosen, redeemed sinners from the kingdom of this world and translate them into the kingdom of his dear Son, he begins his work of grace by making their lives bitter. By providence and by grace, he graciously, sweetly forces them and makes them willing in the day of his power to come to Christ, trusting him. Our God knows how to bring sinners down, that he may lift them up (Ps. 107:1-43; Lam. 3:1-32).
After saving us by his grace, the believer continually lives in this world; and the longer we live in this body of flesh, the more we find this to be a land of bondage and bitterness from which we long to be free. And that is precisely the intention of our God in sending them (2 Cor. 4:17).
Whenever I begin to think my burden is too heavy, that my pains are too many, that my trials are too great, and that my sorrows are too much to bear, I try to remember that these are but my “light afflictions.” They are “light afflictions,” when I recall what my blessed Savior endured to save me (Lam. 1:12). They are “light afflictions,” when I remember what I deserve! They are “light afflictions,” when I think about the things others have suffered and are suffering. And they are “light afflictions,” when I realize the glory awaiting me (1 Pet. 1:3-9).
Unto us are given “exceeding great and precious promises,” and these are the promises of God who cannot lie. “Why art thou cast down, O my soul? Why art thou disquieted in me? Hope thou in God!” Rest, then, my soul, with implicit confidence on the sure Word, forever settled in heaven, of the Lord God, my Savior! “For I reckon that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us” (Rom. 8:18).
How happy we should be to give thanks to our God for every pain, as well as for every pleasing thing, because both are performed by our God, according to his good purpose of grace; and by these things he is working for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory than we have ever imagined.