As we go through life, there are times when it seems like God is very active and involved in our day to day lives and we sense God’s love, nearness and active interest in our lives. However, if we are honest, there are other times when life seems to just move along and God doesn’t seem to be saying much or doing much on our behalf. The technical term for this awareness of God’s absence is called “the dark night of the soul.” Many growing Christians have and do experience times of God’s apparent absence in our lives.
As we read through the Bible it becomes apparent that there are times when God gets actively involved with His people. God was there in creation, making the earth, making the plants and trees, making the animals, making Adam from dirt and Eve from Adam’s rib. God was there in Eden talking openly and directly with Adam and Eve. God was there asking Cain about his brother Abel. But then we don’t hear much from God. We know that people like Enoch “walked with God”, but we’re told very little about what God is up to for hundreds of years, as the population of earth increases and also the sin of humanity increases. There is a long period of God’s apparent absence from history until the days of Noah when God appears to Noah and tells him to build the Ark because a flood is coming.
After the flood there appears to be more years of silence, until the Tower of Babel gets built and God comes down and confuses people’s language. Then there is more silence from God until he calls Abraham. And so on and so on…There are intermittent times where God is active and involved and times when God seems silent throughout the book of Genesis.
At the end of Genesis God saves Abraham’s family from famine by bringing them down to Egypt. At first, all is well as Joseph, Abraham’s great grandson is the second most powerful man in all of Egypt. But Joseph eventually dies, and he is no longer able to protect his family from the powerful Pharaoh, and eventually the descendants of Abraham are enslaved by the Egyptians. This lasts for a period of roughly 400 years. During that 400 years it seems that God is once again silent.
During that time Israel is growing from a few hundred people, to millions of people. Millions of men, woman and children living in bondage in a foreign land. Perhaps stories about God and their ancestors Abraham, Isaac and Jacob were passed along by word of mouth, but we might imagine that so many years of silence may have left the nation of Israel in a permanent Dark Night of the Soul. But then… out of the darkness and silence, Moses is born and becomes a member of the Egyptian royal family. God is at work, but he’s not quite ready to make himself fully known to Israel. Moses kills an Egyptian and flees to the wilderness and it seems that the darkness continues and the voice of God remains silent…until God appears to Moses in the burning bush and tells him to go back to Egypt.
In Exodus 10-12 the time has come for God to make himself known to His people… and to Egypt. Exodus 10:1-2 – “Then the Lord said to Moses, “Go to Pharaoh, for I have hardened his heart and the hearts of his officials so that I may perform these signs of mine among them that you may tell your children and grandchildren how I dealt harshly with the Egyptians and how I performed my signs among them, and that you may know that I am the Lord.”
Here, God tells Moses that He’s about to make his presence known in a powerful way. God’s about to show up, the darkness is ending, the silence is over. And show up He does! God shows up in a profound and powerful display of his power and might. Bear in mind, Egypt was, at the time, the most powerful empire in the whole world. Pharaoh was the most powerful person in the whole world. Pharaoh had been exerting his power in a ruthless way over God’s chosen people for hundreds of years. Lord Acton once said “Absolute power corrupts absolutely.” In the United States we live under a Constitutional system that intentionally balances power among three different branches of government- Executive, Legislative and Judicial. This is to prevent any one person from having too much or absolute power. These lessons were learned after observing thousands of years of kingdoms. Pharaohs and other absolute monarchs have historically used their power in destructive and unjust ways. And with such unmatched power comes hubris.
The Poet Percy Bysshe Shelly captures the hubris in his powerful poem Ozymandias:
I met a traveller from an antique land,
Who said—“Two vast and trunkless legs of stone
Stand in the desert. . . . Near them, on the sand,
Half sunk a shattered visage lies, whose frown,
And wrinkled lip, and sneer of cold command,
Tell that its sculptor well those passions read
Which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things,
The hand that mocked them, and the heart that fed;
And on the pedestal, these words appear:
My name is Ozymandias, King of Kings;
Look on my Works, ye Mighty, and despair!
Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal Wreck, boundless and bare
The lone and level sands stretch far away.”
Pharaoh, like Ozymandias in the poem, was filled with hubris over his unmatched power. He believed himself to be king of kings. He needed to be taught a lesson in humility by the true King of Kings. God showed up. Ten plagues later and all of Egypt was brought to their knees. Meanwhile, the people of God began to see first hand just how great and powerful their King, the true God, YHWH really was. That story has been told for thousands of years, and today, the people of Israel continue to sit down and eat bread without yeast and drink wine and remember the Passover and how powerful their God really is.
Sometimes, God seems to be silent, but make no mistake, God is still there and God is still powerful and in the end, God will show himself to be greater than all human opposition. May you know the true God.