Often we wonder why God does not seem to be answering our prayers. But I learned an important insight from older members in some African-American churches that I was a part of: “God may not come when you want him to, but he’s always right on time.”
As Israel cried out for deliverance in Exodus 2:23, they may have wondered why deliverance took so long. They could not know the irony that God had already been preparing a deliverer even when Pharaoh was killing their children. Moses’ survival foreshadows his future role as deliverer in Exodus 2:3. Moses’s mother rescued him from Pharaoh by putting him in something like a basket. The Hebrew term used to describe this basket is only found elsewhere in the Bible describing Noah’s ark. Moses’ mother then placed the basket among the reeds. The Hebrew term used to describe the reeds is later used in connection with the place where God brought his people through the sea. The narrative looks back to Noah and God’s rescue of a remnant to perpetuate all humanity as well as look forward to Israel’s deliverance at the Red Sea.
Surprisingly, God chooses to use Moses as an outsider rather than when he was a prince of Egypt. The narrative prepares us for that outsider role not only by leaving the Pharaoh unnamed, but by subverting his evil purposes by comparatively less powerful women. These women include the named Hebrew midwives who protected children (Exodus 1:15-21), Moses’ mother and sister who rescued him (2:2-4), one of Pharaoh’s own daughters (2:5-10), and in a sense even Zipporah and the other female Midianites who were Moses’ first contacts in Midian.
Flawed Expectations & Key Parallels
Israel’s expectations of a deliverer may have been shaped by how God raised up Joseph generations before. But God does not always do things the same way. Here we can see some contrasts between Joseph and Moses:
• Whereas Joseph’s brothers sold him into slavery, Moses’ sister helped him escape slavery
• Whereas Midianites sold Joseph into Egypt, Midianites welcomed Moses when he fled Egypt
• Whereas Joseph became like a “father” to Pharaoh (Genesis 45:8), Moses became a son of one of Pharaoh’s daughters
• Whereas God exalted Joseph from slavery to rule Egypt, Moses abandoned his royal position on behalf of slaves
• Whereas Joseph made Egypt Pharaoh’s servants (Genesis 47:19), God uses Moses to free Pharaoh’s slaves
• Whereas God used Joseph to deliver Egypt economically, God used plagues through Moses to devastate Egypt economically
• Whereas God used Joseph to bring Israel to Egypt, God used Moses to return them to Canaan
Nevertheless, there are important parallels between these figures. For example:
• Joseph married the daughter of an Egyptian priest; Moses, fleeing Egypt, married the daughter of a Midianite priest
• Both Joseph and Moses gave their first son names recalling that they were staying in a foreign land
Both these factors underline a deeper parallel: both deliverers were initially rejected by their own people. Joseph’s brothers sold him into slavery while one of Moses’ fellow Israelites complained, “Who made you ruler and judge over us?” (Exodus 2:14). Many prophets and deliverers, and ultimately the Lord himself, faced the same resistance.
God did not act in the way His people would have expected. As a result, they did not initially recognize the one who would be their deliverer. In fact, many even complained about Moses’ leadership during their forty years in the wilderness. Sometimes we don’t recognize that God is at work even when it is right in front of our eyes because he is not working in the way we expect.
Nevertheless, God’s deliverance did come, and it sent a clear message when it did. Israel had suffered for a generation in bondage, but God’s purposes are often worked out over the long run. We are sometimes too close to our own sufferings in the present that we cannot see beyond them. Because of this, we often miss the larger picture of God’s faithful work over time.
Yet how much clearer could the message finally be? Pharaoh drowned Israel’s babies in the Nile; the first plague later turned the Nile to blood. Pharaoh drowned Israel’s babies in the Nile; the last plague struck Egypt’s firstborn. Pharaoh drowned Israel’s babies in the Nile; God drowned Pharaoh’s army in the sea.
Those wise, older believers I met in African-American churches were right about how God works in the long run: “God may not come when you want him to, but he’s always right on time.”