Like the birth of America so many centuries later, the birth of Israel as a nation once hung by the slenderest of threads.
We have our Founding Fathers, they had their forefathers: Abraham, Issac and Jacob. The nation of Israel was more than a country, it was a people, a family group. But what held it together and kept it distinct through a long time where they had no autonomy, no clear religious identity, no homeland to call their own, and they literally lived as slaves of the contemporary Superpower of the (known) world?
These downtrodden people lived that way for centuries. But still they were a people, holding to hope that someone would come to redeem them and lead them to a promised home in a land they had never seen.
And it was all because of a fairly short divine promise given to Abraham in the fifteenth chapter of Genesis.
He had been called away from the land of his birth, separated from his nephew, Lot, had some adventures and misadventures along the way and then, the same God who called him out of Ur had something new to say to him.
Then the Lord said to Abram, “Know for certain that your offspring will be sojourners in a land that is not theirs and will be servants there, and they will be afflicted for four hundred years. But I will bring judgment on the nation that they serve, and afterward they shall come out with great possessions. As for you, you shall go to your fathers in peace; you shall be buried in a good old age. And they shall come back here in the fourth generation, for the iniquity of the Amorites is not yet complete.”
When the sun had gone down and it was dark, behold, a smoking fire pot and a flaming torch passed between these pieces. On that day the Lord made a covenant with Abram, saying, “To your offspring I give this land, from the river of Egypt to the great river, the river Euphrates, the land of the Kenites, the Kenizzites, the Kadmonites, the Hittites, the Perizzites, the Rephaim, the Amorites, the Canaanites, the Girgashites and the Jebusites.”
Know for CERTAIN … sojourners, afflicted, four hundred years. It seems a strange way to begin a promise, doesn’t it? And then it goes into the redemption, the rescue and the restoration of his people, and their elevation into nationhood.
Some time later, Joseph, who had himself been sold into slavery, but elevated into leadership gave a deathbed instruction that his bones should be carried back to the land of his fathers and be laid to rest there when the time came for God to fulfill that promise.
Time passed, the people grew in number, and they became enslaved, just like that promise said they would.
Put yourself in their shoes for a minute. They didn’t have a Bible, yet. They didn’t yet have any of the formalized religious instruction or traditions telling them how God would have them properly worship Him. There were no cultural centers, no houses of worship to meet in. We don’t even know if they had any songs they clung to.
They all had Abraham, Issac and Jacob in common, and one promise of good things to come, no matter how bad they may seem at the moment.
The promise given to Abraham was a long time before Joseph and his brothers ever left for Egypt. So the total time between that initial promise and the eventual Exodus is closer to 600 years than 400.
They hung on to that one promise of hope, passed down by oral tradition, for about 600 years, and the only tangible evidence of that promise being real at all was the preserved body of Joseph, who had asked that his bones be carried back to the promised land when God fulfills his promise.
Six hundred years ago, there wasn’t any United States of America. Six Hundred Years ago, Columbus hadn’t yet set sail, he wasn’t quite born yet.
Six hundred years ago is long before Shakespeare, the Enlightenment or the Reformation. It takes us back to the days of Chaucer, Henry IV and the Hundred Years’ War.
Can you imagine one family being given a promise in the days of Chaucer and it being passed down from generation to generation in the kinds of hardship the Israelites endured, to be still waiting — and hoping!– for its fulfillment today?
But they hoped, and Moses DID come, and they DID become a nation!
What should that tell us — the Christian beneficiaries of Abraham’s hope about the faithfulness and the promises of an Eternal, Immortal, Omnipotent God?
What should that tell us — Christians who count ourselves His People — about the reliability of his promises?
What should that tell us — who have his Word bound up in a book — when He told us by his own lips that HE would build His Church, and the Gates of Hell should not overcome it?
Was there ever a promise that it would be easy? Nope.
Was there ever a promise that our generation would see the final victory? Nope.
But are WE an important link in the chain that will lead to that final victory, just like each generation of Hebrews in Egyptian bondage knew that the 400 years weren’t yet up, but that their descendants would one day see the Promise God had made them with their own eyes.