It’s just that we’re always waiting for something. Our various lives are filled with numerous personal trials and difficulties. We endure, hoping that God will at long last come through. In the meantime, nothing seems to change. Yes, I number myself among the frustrated.
At the macro level, there’s the building up of the church. The end of the age. The rapture. The second coming of Christ. “Patience,” we tell each other. “More patience.”
As Christians, we’re supposed to believe God is always right on time. Meanwhile, nothing much can soothe the subtle disenchantment of God apparently running late.
During one famous time-lapse, the entire nation of Israel got into dire straits of bitterness, suffering, slavery, and governmental persecution. It went on for four hundred years.1
Four centuries. That’s about twice as long as America has even existed. A lot of people lived and died within that stretch of time without ever seeing freedom. Then the exodus happened. From a distance, it looks like a classic case of bad timing.
Why the lag?
God did volunteer a partial explanation. Be thankful. If He hadn’t said anything, we wouldn’t have a clue as to what He was doing during those four hundred years. Or what He does during any alleged delay at any point in time.
When God foretold the exodus to Abraham, He said that Israel would “come back here in the fourth generation, for the iniquity of the Amorites is not yet complete.”2 These ancient people, the Amorites, had sunk into serious moral disintegration. The more time they had to get straight, the worse their free fall became. The sickening, final state of their evil will only be fully known in the judgment of the next age. During those four hundred years, God waited for the maggot to grow into the pupa that became a loathsome fly. Then He swatted it through the later conquest of Israel.
But there’s more to the picture of those four hundred years. God’s chosen people themselves needed something. How long does it take a nation to get tired of pleasure and security? How long before they start really wanting the things of God? It all depends on how deeply those people love the world and the things in it. How blind are they to their sinful condition? How numb are they to God’s promises? How self-sufficient are they? How much has their faith become mere folk-tales? How much do they see Egypt as their real home? It took a long time to manifest and dry out those sentiments. Apparently four centuries.
The issue of timing also happens on the personal level. It took forty years for Moses the Egyptian to become Moses the deliverer of God’s people. No doubt at the end of those decades he was the same person. His name wasn’t Clarence. It was still Moses. But he was different.
The Moses of Exodus chapter 2 had exhibited the classic immaturity of a person ready to stampede into ministry and make a mess of it. He was angry (to the point of killing an Egyptian). He was self-confident, supposing that people should know he would be their deliverer3 (after all, he was trained in all the words and wisdom of the Egyptians). He was judgmental (by assuming he was eminently qualified to settle disputes between his brothers).4
Moses had a passionate zeal for Israel. The raw material for his fire came from his education, position, words, and deeds. Yet all it took was one setback to burn him out— persecution from Pharaoh and rejection from his own people. Just like that, it was over. As Paul later said in 1 Corinthians 3:12-15, human things of wood, hay, and stubble all burn up when tried by fire.
For forty years Moses sat benched, working a little job at the backside of the desert. No drama. But when he was eighty, he saw a bush on fire. The glory of God was in it and for the first time, he saw something that wouldn’t, that couldn’t burn out. A voice from inside it: “Moses, Moses.” And history for all time was about to change.
The man’s youth had been spent. He’d lost his proud strut, his superior social placement, his self-confidence, and his anger. All of the combustible materials had disappeared. God was about to work.
It took time for the evil of men to fully manifest. It took time for people of God to want Him. It took time for the servant of God to mature.
Exactly the right amount of time.
1Genesis 15:13, Acts 7:6
2 Gen. 15:16
Photo credit: Ryan McGuire