What this week’s portion from Exodus shares most with its companion text in Isaiah is that they both show us that the greatest hope, often to our surprise, can be found in the midst of the greatest pain.
Both protagonists in these stories are living through very different episodes of their people’s pain, yet they (and we) can only marvel at how signs of hope appear to them and play out so fully.
In Moses’ case, the people had just begun to suffer the worst burdens of enslavement in Egypt. Having exposed himself to certain danger, Moses is forced to flee to the mountains. There, seemingly alone, he experiences a miracle. A bush burns with fire but is not consumed.
God appears to Moses from within the bush. The Divine Force had heard the cry of the people and was ready, with Moses’ leadership, to rescue the people and bring them to the Land of Promise.
Though initially insecure and uncertain, as we surely would be, Moses begins to see and hold on to an extraordinary dream, and then sets out on a path to its fulfillment.
In pain and alone, Moses sees from God the way out of servitude in the narrow straits to a place of profound direction and love, and on to redemptive fulfillment.
Are there signs in our lives, too, that could lead us from pain and exile? Would we see them if they were there? Recall Moses had to decide to look, or else he may not have seen. “So Moses said, “Let me turn now and see this great spectacle why does the thorn bush not burn up?” “The Lord saw that he turned to see,” and THEN called to him.
Is there such a response to my cry, your cry? Like Moses, let us turn and see.
Isaiah lived in a different time. The people had made it to the Land of Promise centuries earlier. But now they had become terribly wayward, living contrary to the very direction and love that had been the basis for their rescue from Egypt.
Isaiah’s heaviest burden was that he could foresee the great pain of the people that was yet to come, in the exile that was yet to be.
Our text is full of his most frightening descriptions of what was in store for the people. Yet, interspersed in these awful accounts of the next days’ storms are visions of a hopeful, exceptionally beautiful day that lies beyond.
“Days are coming when Jacob will take root; Israel will bud and flourish and fill the face of the earth with fruit.”
“It shall be on that day…that…God, Master of Legions, will be the crown of delight and a diadem of glory for the remnant…,and a spirit of judgment for he who sits in judgment, and a source of strength for those who return from war to the gate.”
Moses and Isaiah feel poignant pain in the verses we read. There’s no denying it, no whitewash of it, just as there is no glossing over ours.
Yet, their testimony tells us that beyond the pain, there is hope. There are signs of pathways, however we come to see them. There is the One who always hears our cry and responds with hope, though at times we do not always understand. And there is the greatest hope ahead – a day of nearness and love, and a day of peace and ultimate redemption.