When our lives become more comfortable, it’s easy to forget the hardship faced by others, whether through persecution, hunger, injustice or other needs. But God does not forget.
Moses’s life became peaceful in Midian (2:16-22), despite the scars his heart undoubtedly carried from the past. His people, however, continued to suffer in Egypt, a matter that the author’s inspired perspective directs us to in Exod 2:23-25. Just as Joseph’s exaltation in Genesis 41 did not relieve him of God’s plan to protect Joseph’s entire family (Gen 42—50), Moses’s new life has not caused God to forget God’s plan for Moses’s people.
Moses adopted his new way of life, but back in Egypt, even Pharaoh’s death did not relieve the Israelites. Pharaoh’s policy of repression remained in place for his successor. After all, oppressors who profit economically from oppression do not like to give it up. Probably the policy of directly killing male infants did not endure for many years, but if it did it may have raised a generation with less strength than ever to seek freedom by means of revolt. (Still, Israel has many men in Num 11:21. Because Israelite men could marry multiple wives and could continue to procreate into old age, children would continue being born. Since Pharaoh found the free work force profitable, and such a force required continuing free labor, Pharaoh presumably would have lifted the ban on male babies once the fear of Israel’s strength subsided.)
In any case, the Israelites’ suffering was deep. We are not told how much they had been crying to God before; it seems unlikely that their worship of other deities or deity images started only after they left Egypt (cf. Exod 32:4). The narrator does not even specify here that it was to God that their cry arose (cf. similar language of the Philistines in 1 Sam 5:10, 12; cf. Israelites in 1 Sam 4:13), although presumably many of them did (cf. Judg 3:9, 15; 6:6-7; 10:10). Samuel, however, later explains that the Lord heard when Israel cried out to him (1 Sam 12:8), just as they did in the time of Deborah (12:10).
God did not ignore his people’s suffering. He “heard” their groaning (2:24; 6:5) and “saw” them (2:25), and “remembered his covenant with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob” (2:24). Here we are invited back to the narratives of God’s dealings with the patriarchs in Gen 12—35; God had not forgotten his people, and the promised time to liberate them from bondage, with many possessions (Gen 15:13-14), had come. May we have the wisdom to cry out to the Lord in times of hardship—and even in times when we are not suffering. We need the Lord, and the sooner that we recognize that, the sooner our cries will reach his ears.
Like Moses, our lives go on. After enduring hardship, we may need a time of recovery before having to face it again. But God does not forget the sufferings of others, and in the end, neither dare we. Remember Proverbs 24:11-12: “Rescue those being led away to death; hold back those staggering toward slaughter. If you say, ‘But we knew nothing about this,’ does not he who weighs the heart perceive it? Does not he who guards your life know it? Will he not repay everyone according to what they have done?” (NIV).