Ministry Resources

Where Was God When Tragedy Happened?

Author: Dr. Craig Keener

Sometimes in the midst of history, injustice seems to prevail. In light of a longer view, and especially an eternal view, however, justice will win out. This becomes evident over the span of a generation in the ensuing context of our present passage.

Before Pharaoh decided to oppress Israelites, they multiplied and became very strong (Exodus 1:7). This was why the king decided to enslave them to begin with (Exodus 1:8-11). But as he afflicted them, they multiplied still more (Exodus 1:12)! So the king’s next strategy was to kill newborn Israelite males secretly, leaving any possible blame in the event of discovery on the Hebrew midwives (1:15-16). Yet this stratagem, too, failed (Exodus 1:17-19), and the refrain continues: the people multiplied and became very strong (Exodus 1:20).

Finally Pharaoh now decides to take action more directly. The Hebrew midwives had not killed Israelite babies at birth, so Pharaoh ordered his own people to kill newborn Israelite males (Exodus 1:22). (Aaron was three years older than Moses, and would not be among the children affected by the king’s decree; see Exodus 7:7.)

Ironically and unknown to Pharaoh, however, his own daughter would undermine his decree out of compassion for a Hebrew baby (Exodus 2:6-10)—Israel’s future deliverer. God does not always prevent tragedy—but he does ensure his plan for the future of his people and for ultimate justice.

Indeed, Exodus resounds with the recognition that God, while not always stopping human wickedness, does not look the other way: Consider how God would return against the next generation of Egyptians what Pharaoh had done. Pharaoh drowned Israel’s babies in the Nile (Exodus 1:22); the first plague would turn the Nile to blood (Exodus 7:20). Pharaoh drowned Israel’s babies in the Nile (Exodus 1:22); the last plague would strike Egypt’s firstborn children (Exodus 12:29). Pharaoh drowned Israel’s babies in the Nile (Exodus 1:22); God would drown Egypt’s army in a sea of reeds (Exodus 14:28). Though long delayed, justice would come. As we often say in the African-American church, “God doesn’t always come when you want Him to, but He’s always right on time.”

(For other posts on Exodus, see

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