While in Exodus reading the story of Moses’ exile in Midian, I came across this passage.
23 During that long period, the king of Egypt died. The Israelites groaned in their slavery and cried out, and their cry for help because of their slavery went up to God. 24 God heard their groaning and he remembered his covenant with Abraham, with Isaac and with Jacob. 25 So God looked on the Israelites and was concerned about them.
– Exodus 8:23-25
The Israelites, comprised at the time of Jacob’s son’s and family, had moved to Egypt during a devastating drought. Jacob’s lost son Joseph had been “sent ahead” by God years before so that he could be in place in Egypt to rescue his father and brothers. The Exodus verse reminded me of the passage in Romans with the same word.
26 In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness, for we do not know how we should pray, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with inexpressible groanings.
– Romans 8:26
It’s a sufficiently common, if not oft used word, but I have learned that if the same word is used in different places, there might be a connection. My thought was that if Paul was using the word in Romans, he might be pointing back to a time when the situation was similar.
First, I love Paul’s sentence because it certainly describes how I feel when I am figuratively, or literally, “lost at sea” and I don’t even know what to pray for. My wife first introduced this verse to me when we were in one of these moments over the last few years. I have to believe that many of you have felt the same – in a situation so big that you don’t know what to even pray for. It’s one of those “Lord, do anything, because anything is better than this thing” moments.
So, the Israelites were in this exact situation. The Pharaoh that had discovered Joseph’s abilities, made him second in command, and welcomed Joseph’s father and brothers, had died. The next Pharaoh (maybe Seti I) was actively trying to kill the first born of the Hebrews (Ex 1:15) which is what led to Moses’ being adopted by his daughter. The pharaoh after that (probably Seti’s son Ramses II) exiled Moses and further enslaved the Hebrews. Moses’ selection of the word that Paul later used was an apt description of the situation – they were in an uncertain and dire situation, had no idea what to pray for, and groaned and cried out to the Lord.
Today, with the Coronavirus, it feels like a very similar situation. Nearly everyone in the industrialized world is experiencing circumstances that are uncertain at best, dire at worst. I would argue that we don’t even know what to pray for – I know that I don’t, but God does. Look at the next verse.
27 And He who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes on behalf of the saints according to God’s will.
– Romans 8:27
The wording is a little “Bibley”, so let me interpret it a little. God knows the perfect prayer that you should pray. The Holy Spirit is connected to God and to us. So, when we are “social distancing” and worried about what will happen to friends and family, but don’t even know what to pray for, God has us because the Holy Spirit will step in and pray the absolutely perfect prayer for us.
That is pretty comforting, but, guess what, there is more. A promise. A promise that not only will the Holy Spirit pray for us, but that God will hear our prayer. But, not only will He hear our prayer, He will deliver on that prayer. And, not only will He deliver on that prayer, He will deliver something good out of our situation for those that love Him.
28 And we know that all things work together for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose,
– Romans 8:28
God delivered on the groans and cries for the Israelites throughout Exodus and He will deliver for us.
Let’s get to our knees and groan and cry out.