They Cried and Groaned, and God Heard Them

Photo of a scrabble board forming the words VERBS

God’s Deliverance Verbs for Your Verbs – The Meaning of Exodus 2:23-25

Now it happened in the process of time that the king of Egypt died. Then the children of Israel groaned because of the bondage, and they cried out; and their cry came up to God because of the bondage. So God heard their groaning, and God remembered His covenant with Abraham, with Isaac, and with Jacob. And God looked upon the children of Israel, and God acknowledged them. (Exodus 2:23–25 NKJV)

Do you ever feel as if life’s stresses are too much for you to bear? Have you ever wanted to quit due to stress from your job, family, finances, or church? 

I’m talking about those times when you feel helpless and all you can do is cry, whimper, or quiver. Does this sound familiar?

I’ve got some good news for you: God has a “verb” solution for every one of your suffering verbs.

In this post, we’ll look at the meaning of Exodus 2:23-25 and how God responds to His people’s cries and groans. We’ll look at human suffering verbs as well as divine verb responses for ours.

But then you ask, “What do you mean by God has a “verb” solution for every one of your  suffering verbs?” 

Let me explain.

Do you remember the story of Joseph and his family? 

Permit me to refresh your memory a little.

Join me on a journey through time to Egypt. And here we find a group of nomads scurrying through the desert’s sand dunes.

The pack is led by Jacob, the group’s oldest member. His eleven sons are following close behind. They’re all heading to Egypt because Joseph invited them. We read:

Hurry and go up to my father and say to him, ‘Thus says your son Joseph, God has made me lord of all Egypt. Come down to me; do not tarry. You shall dwell in the land of Goshen, and you shall be near me, you and your children and your children's children, and your flocks, your herds, and all that you have. (Genesis 45:9-10 ESV)

The Elevation of the Children of Israel

Joseph had already made all of the necessary preparations for his family’s arrival.

From then on, they would reside in Goshen, Egypt’s most fertile and productive region in the eastern delta.

Goshen was a highly productive area for raising crops and livestock. This ensured that both humans and animals had ample food and water. 

The settled life was significantly better than the nomadic life they had known in the past.

The population of God’s people continued to grow even after the death of Joseph and his brothers. 

This population growth can be attributed to their improved standard of living. The Bible states:

Now Joseph and all his brothers and all that generation died, but the Israelites were exceedingly fruitful; they multiplied greatly, increased in numbers and became so numerous that the land was filled with them. (Exodus 1:6-7 NIV)

However, it was God’s favor and not better living conditions that allowed them to thrive. God’s blessing was the reason for their abundance and rapid population growth.

Joseph was aware of the favorable conditions at Goshen. He purposefully used his position to benefit his family by allocating the most fertile land to them.

The native Egyptians took cognizance of the preferential treatment given to the visitors. The Egyptians were dissatisfied, but there was little they could do while Joseph was in power.

The Demotion of the Children of Israel

After Joseph’s death, however, a new pharaoh ascended to power, and the situation quickly changed.

The new pharaoh was probably aware of Joseph’s apparent favoritism toward his family. He was determined to obliterate Joseph’s legacy in the annals of his country. The Bible records:

Now there arose a new king over Egypt, who did not know Joseph. (Exodus 1:8 NKJV)

According to the Bible, the new pharaoh “did not know Joseph.” 

How could he not have known Joseph? Given that it was through Joseph’s efforts that a national famine disaster was averted.

Joseph’s intervention during the seven years of famine could only be forgotten through selective amnesia. 

The king purposefully chose to forget Joseph.

With the ascension of the new Pharaoh to the throne, the children of Israel’s preferential status under Joseph’s premiership came to an end. 

The new Pharaoh began to terrorize the children of Israel.

Under the new Pharaoh, their status as a privileged class was reduced to servitude. 

People who had previously lived relatively comfortable lives were suddenly forced to work as slaves in appalling conditions. 

As a result of their new slave status, the children of Israel suffered severe physical and psychological trauma. 

The Israelites became easy targets for their oppressors’ anger, stigma, and shame.

They were overworked and given insufficient food rations in an effort to break their will. The Bible records:

And they made their lives bitter with hard bondage—in mortar, in brick, and in all manner of service in the field. All their service in which they made them serve was with rigor. (Exodus 1:14 NKJV)

They had no time to rest, day or night, and many of them died due to the violence they endured.

They were subjected to mind control techniques in order to tame their will and seize control of their lives. 

Their confidence and self-esteem were damaged by these mind control techniques.

The hardships were so severe that the children of Israel collectively cried out to God for deliverance after the death of the Pharaoh. We read:

“...Then the children of Israel groaned because of the bondage, and they cried out; and their cry came up to God because of the bondage.” (Exodus 2:23b NKJV)

Pharaoh’s Death

In the passage of time, the cold and ruthless Pharaoh died. We read:

“Now it happened in the process of time that the king of Egypt died…” (Exodus 2:23a NKJV) 

It was his turn to go “the way of all flesh.” Death is inevitable and has no regard for a king or a subject.

The oppressors and tyrants also meet their demise. Those who inflict pain and suffering on others will also perish one day.

The people of God cried out to God for help shortly after the death of the despotic pharaoh. The Bible records: 

Now it happened in the process of time that the king of Egypt died. Then the children of Israel groaned because of the bondage, and they cried out; and their cry came up to God because of the bondage. So God heard their groaning, and God remembered His covenant with Abraham, with Isaac, and with Jacob. And God looked upon the children of Israel, and God acknowledged them. (Exodus 2:23–25 NKJV)

In Exodus 2:23–25, the Bible uses two verbal expressions to describe the sufferings of the children of Israel at the hands of their Egyptian masters. These are:

  • “Groaned”
  • “Cried out” 

Let us look at these two expressions first before moving on to the rest of the passage.

“Then the children of Israel groaned because of the bondage, and they cried out”

After the reigning Pharaoh died, the oppressed Israelites started to have some hope that their situation would change.

However, despite the death of Pharaoh and the ascent of a new one, the situation of the children of Israel remained unchanged.

In reality, the new Pharaoh enacted harsher, more oppressive policies. 

As a result of this harsh treatment, the children of Israel groaned and cried out to God like never before. 

The oppressor increased his efforts, and the oppressed increased their prayers to God.

In Exodus 2:23, Moses uses the Hebrew word “neaqah” to describe the intensity of the Israelites’ “groanings.”

The Hebrew word “neaqah” means to groan, whimper, cry, or make the sound a mortally wounded person makes as he dies (Ezekiel 30:24).

What then does it mean that the children of Israel “groaned” and “cried out”  to God? It means their anguish was so intense that it could be compared to the moaning and crying of a mortally wounded man. Their agony was so severe that they cried out to God like never before. 

The pressure was so intense that, “They cried out for help, and their cry rose up to God” (Exodus 2:23). 

Moses later composed a song (Psalm 107:6) to commemorate their cry for help and deliverance. We read:

“Then they cried out to the Lord in their trouble, and he delivered them from their distress.” (Psalm 107:6 NIV)

The Divine response to their cries was immediate.

God’s Response to the Cries and Groaning of the Children of Israel

God was moved with pity for them and swung to action.

In Exodus 2:24-25, the divine response to Israel’s cries and groans is described in four ways:

  • “God heard their groaning” 
  • “God remembered His covenant” 
  • “God looked upon the children of Israel”
  • “God acknowledged them” 

Next, let’s consider what Moses meant when he said that God “heard,” “remembered,” “saw,” and “acknowledged” the sufferings of the Israelites. 

What exactly do these phrases mean? Do these phrases suggest that God has poor vision, hearing, and memory? 

All of these questions have the same answer: God has infinite sight, hearing, and memory. 

It’s just that, due to the limitations of our human languages, we sometimes attribute human characteristics to God. In theology, this is known as anthropomorphism.

What is anthropomorphism? Anthropomorphism is the practice of attributing human characteristics to God. It is a way of describing divine activities in terms that humans can understand. 

Anthropomorphism is also a means of communicating God’s love, tenderness, displeasure, and other godly attributes in human terms. 

For example, biblical authors frequently use terms such as “grieving,” “repenting,” “remembering,” and others to describe God’s actions. All these are anthropomorphic descriptions.

Now, let’s examine the meaning of each of the four expressions in Exodus 2:24-25.

1. “God heard their groaning”

What does it mean “God heard their groaning”? It means that God heard, paid attention to, was interested in, and took note of the children of Israel’s sufferings.

Here is an explanation of what we mean by the above statement.

The Hebrew word for “heard” is shâma, which means “to listen with attention or interest.”

In other words, God was drawn to the sufferings of the children of Israel. God was touched by their cries and suffering.

2. “God remembered His covenant” 

What does the phrase, “God remembered His covenant” mean? It means God recalled – in the sense of acting on, upholding, and fulfilling – His covenant with the patriarchs.

The following is an explanation of what we mean by the statement above.

The Hebrew word for “remembered” is zakar and it refers to both the act of recalling and acting on what has been remembered. It is a recollection accompanied by actions.

Zakar can also mean to grant a request, to be kind, to protect, and to deliver.

In this case, Yahweh not only remembered His covenant with the patriarchs, but also swung into action to deliver His people from Egyptian slavery. Yahweh’s action came in form of the ten plagues that left Egypt shaken.

Does this imply that God forgets? No, it does not imply that God forgets. This is still anthropomorphism as we discussed earlier in this article.

The thrust of the word “remember” here is that God considered and  followed through on His promise to deliver His people from slavery.

3. “God looked upon the children of Israel”

What does it mean that, “God looked upon the children of Israel”? It means that God took note of the sufferings of the children of Israel with a view of freeing them from the Egyptian bondage. 

The Hebrew word for “look” is rā’â, which means “to pay attention to” or “to look at favorably.”

It follows then that, God “looked favorably” on the plight of the children of Israel. And the result of God’s “favorable look” was deliverance from slavery.

4. “God acknowledged them” 

What does it mean that, “God acknowledged them”? It means God took cognizant of the cruelty inflicted on His people and acted decisively on their behalf. 

The Hebrew word for “acknowledge” or “respect”  is yāḏa,ʿ which means to recognize in order to intervene.

As a result, God recognized His people’s sufferings and chose to intervene and liberate them from Egyptian servitude.

The Implications of the Four Phrases

The four phrases we just discussed all center on the idea that God chose to act forcefully to deliver his people from slavery.

The time had come for God to intervene once and for all to free His people from slavery in His own time and in His own way.

Exodus 2:23-25 marked the beginning of Yahweh’s display of power and miraculous actions to deliver His people from slavery. 

According to Moses, this manifestation of God’s power in the form of plagues was deliverance “with a mighty hand.”

So the LORD brought us out of Egypt with a mighty hand and with an outstretched arm, with great terror and with signs and wonders. (Deuteronomy 26:8 NKJV).

It was time for God to fulfill His promise to Abraham of delivering his descendants after 400 years of slavery (Genesis 15:13). 

It had been a long wait for the people of God, but deliverance was finally knocking.

In his homily, James Edwin Orr describes God’s timing as follows:

The hour of help. It was long delayed. Till tyranny had done its worst. Till the last hope of help from man had disappeared. Improvement may have been looked for at the death of the king. It came at last. When the bondage had served its ends. When the people, in despair of man, were crying to God. When it did come —the man was found ready who was to bring it. God was found faithful to His promise. — James Edwin Orr’s Homily

In Exodus chapter three, Moses reiterates that God was acting in response to His people’s affliction and cries. 

Then the Lord said, “I have surely seen the affliction of my people who are in Egypt and have heard their cry because of their taskmasters. I know their sufferings, and I have come down to deliver them out of the hand of the Egyptians and to bring them up out of that land to a good and broad land, a land flowing with milk and honey, to the place of the Canaanites, the Hittites, the Amorites, the Perizzites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites. And now, behold, the cry of the people of Israel has come to me, and I have also seen the oppression with which the Egyptians oppress them. (Exodus 3:7-9 ESV)

Only God could deliver the children of Israel “from the Egyptians’ hands” and lead them to the promised land.

God’s Deliverance Verbs for Your Suffering Verbs

The verbs used to describe Israel’s plea for God’s intervention are “groan” and “cry out.” 

God’s deliverance verbs for Israel, on the other hand, are four in number: “heard,” “remembered,” “looked,” and “acknowledged.” That’s two verbs for the price of one.

The implication is that God has multiple deliverance verbs for each of your suffering verbs. 

In other words, God’s willingness to deliver us from our pain and suffering is overwhelming. 

The apostle Paul describes the readiness of God to deliver His people in these words:

Now to Him who is able to do exceedingly abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to the power that works in us, (Ephesians 3:20 NKJV)

God is willing to deliver us from all forms of slavery “exceedingly abundantly.” He is willing to free us from the shackles of addiction and habit that bind us.

Lessons from Exodus 2:23-25

What spiritual lessons do we learn from God’s deliverance verbs in Exodus 2:23-25?  This Exodus story contains numerous lessons for us in this day and age. Among these lessons are the following:

1. It Is Unwise to Show Open Favoritism

It is unwise for those in positions of responsibility or power to prioritize their loved ones and friends over everyone else.

Joseph gave his family the most fertile area of Egypt, much to the chagrin of the Egyptians.

Such favoritism runs the risk of causing unimaginable suffering to those who were once favored if a new “pharaoh” or leadership emerges with a vengeful spirit.

Therefore, in all of our interactions and dealings with other people, we must always act impartially and fairly.

2. Oppressive Systems Won’t Last Forever

The despotic pharaoh ruled for a long time died. He had caused so much pain and death to so many people, but his time came and he died.

This shows that the oppressive human systems and rulers have their end too. 

So, if you live in an oppressive country or under oppressive leadership, remember that dictators don’t live forever. Their day of reckoning is also approaching.

3. God Honors His Timelines

God promised Abraham that He would deliver his descendants after four centuries, which He did.

The wait was long, but God eventually delivered on His promise and freed them from slavery.

The lesson for us is to trust God’s timing. We should not give up or grow weary of waiting for answers to our prayers. The truth is that we have no idea how close God is to responding to them.

4. God Hears the Cries of His People

The children of Israel’s cries triggered and set the stage for God to personally intervene and secure the deliverance of them.

God’s ears are always open to the cries, groans, and whimpers of His people.

God’s hearing is not passive, but active, and it is accompanied by deliverance actions.

5. Deliverance Is Always a Divine Act

Salvation, like creation, is an act of God. The liberation of Israel from servitude was a divine plan from the beginning to the end.

It is God who initiated the release of the children of Israel from the power that held them captive.

Similarly, salvation is and always will be a divine initiative. We are saved not because we deserve it, but because of God’s mercy and grace. Salvation is God’s gift to the human race.

As a result, bring your suffering verbs to God, and He will intervene with His deliverance verbs.

Always remember to:

Wait for the LORD; be strong and take heart and wait for the LORD. (Psalm 27:14 NIV)
The Lord is good to those who wait for Him, To the soul who seeks Him. It is good that one should hope and wait quietly For the salvation of the Lord. (Lamentations 3:25-26 NKJV)

Wait on the Lord.

Won’t you?

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You can read other devotionals here:

Be Strong and Do Not Give Up – Meaning of 2 Chronicles 15:7

Turn Us Again, O God–The Message of Psalm 80:3

Lord, Make Me a Fortified City, an Iron Pillar, and a Bronze Wall