The first Star Wars movie came out the year I was born. Though I never saw these movies in their original releases in the movie theaters, these movies helped define my childhood. I owned the action figures and played with them constantly. When I ventured away to more traditional toys, Star Wars came with me—my Barbie was named Leia and Ken was named Luke. There are too many iconic moments in these films to count, but I always remember Princess Leia’s rescue scene with mirth.
When I imagined a princess, I was not expecting the feisty, gun-toting, smart-mouthed warrior who resists torture to protect her people. She doesn’t hesitate to criticize her would-be rescuers either. When Luke and Hans Solo appear to have no real plan for escape, she mutters, “This is some rescue!” and continues to berate them for their lack of foresight. Despite her misgivings, they are able to get away though it is a difficult process.
An Unusual Plan
Her words remind me of another rescue plan that seemed absurd. In this scene, we go back in time to an ancient culture and a people also enslaved by a ruthless master. In our story, however, there is no resistance movement apart from one complicated man with a vision from God. Moses isn’t feisty and armed with wit and weapons like Princess Leia–instead, he is a man who states his own inability to even speak. Nevertheless, he is chosen for the mission of a lifetime–God is rescuing His people,
When Moses comes back to Egypt, he had been gone forty years and the Israelite people had been in bondage over 400 years. Moses had two difficult audiences to win over–a prideful Pharaoh and a beleaguered people with no hope. Initially, with the help of his brother Aaron and God’s miraculous works, the people believed “that the Lord had visited the people of Israel and that He had seen their affliction, they bowed their heads and worshiped” (Exodus 4:31 ESV). But when Moses and Aaron finally approach Pharoah and make their demands (this time only for three days of worship), Pharoah is angry. He increases the burden of their work by making them gather their own straw while still maintaining the same quota of bricks.
A Costly Plan
When the people of Israel realize this, they are angry at Moses. They say, “The Lord look on you and judge, because you have made us stink in the sight of Pharaoh and his servants, and have put a sword in their hand to kill us” (Exodus 5:21 ESV). Though they had been initially confident in the rescue, they now saw a death sentence. They probably wondered what kind of rescue resulted in greater hardship. God wasn’t done yet though.
We know from Scripture that it takes ten destructive plagues culminating in the death of the firstborns before Pharaoh is willing to let them go. Within these texts are the ominous lines that God hardened the Pharaoh’s heart, making the increasingly intense plagues necessary. It is only when Pharaoh himself experiences the decree that was enforced upon the Israelites (the death of their male child) that he is broken enough.
Finally, the Israelites get to experience a moment of triumph–they march out of their prison, taking with them the spoils of the Egyptians who freely offer them. However, this triumph is short-lived as the Pharaoh changes his mind and pursues them. Once again, the Israelites find their rescue plan taking a turn they did not anticipate. Once again, they turn to Moses and say, “Is it because there are no graves in Egypt that you have taken us away to die in the wilderness? What have you done to us in bringing us out of Egypt? Is not this what we said in Egypt: ‘Leave us alone that we may serve the Egyptians’?” (Exodus 14: 11-12 ESV). Though God miraculously intervenes and they are free to move towards the Promised Land, this will not be the last time they question Moses.
Their rescue did not go the way they wanted.
A Continuing Plan
We can relate, can’t we? It’s easy this side of history to judge the Israelites and to think they were ungrateful, but, in living my own rescue story, I find myself relating to their angry and fearful sides. We want rescues to be dramatic, but we want them to be smooth and pain-free with as little participation in the hard work as possible.
We know from history that rescues are actually horrifically difficult and ugly. When Allied forces liberated countries under the Nazi regime, the battles were bloody and costly. Even after the war was done, the rebuilding of an entire continent was overwhelming. No, the Israelites story is not unique in its difficulty, but it is unique in the direct supervision of God.
For those of us in the midst of our own incarceration–whether that is addiction, difficult relationships, depression or something else–we might be tempted to ask God what kind of rescue is this. We know of the work done on the Cross–the war has been won! Yet why is the process of being made whole so difficult? Or why doesn’t God resolve our problems in a different way, one that hurts less? We, like the Israelites, might want to run back to the place of our slavery just to stop the pain.
The Israelites initial imaginations of freedom most likely included a ceasing from the back-breaking labor they were forced to do every day. They probably had no vision for a land all of their own. They couldn’t have foreseen the glory of David and Solomon’s reigns. They had no clue at all about the larger redemptive purpose God had of the seed of the Messiah being birthed from their people. God’s plan was too big for them to comprehend, too beautiful to imagine.
It is the same today. Wherever you are and whatever battle you face, it is a part of a great rescue plan that is still being enacted for the glory of God. It will be hard and confusing and chaotic, but the end result, which we cannot see in full, will be worth much more than our present sufferings could ever equal. In the meantime, we do not pretend like it doesn’t hurt, but we learn to live within the pain and choose to trust the plan.
C.S. Lewis in his book The Problem of Pain notes “when pain is to be born, a little courage helps more than much knowledge, a little human sympathy more than much courage, and the least tincture of the love of God more than all.” I pray we have all three!