“It is a curious but little known fact that the Israelites enslaved in Egypt for four hundred years never once asked to go free. Nowhere in the Hebrew Bible do they say to Pharaoh or Moses or God, ‘Get us out of here!’ All they say, and they say it a lot, and in a lot of different ways, is: Life is hard: we don’t like it.
This may explain why God had to put on such a big show with all those miracles and plagues. If God had simply wanted them free, God could have just made them free. But that wouldn’t have been enough. The slaves themselves had to want to go free. Only by watching all those great signs and portents might they, little by little, begin to realize for themselves that there was a power in the universe even greater than Pharaoh, a power dedicated to freeing slaves.
What had to be broken was not Pharaoh’s will, but the dullness of their own routine, the comfortable reliability of putting up with things the way they were.”
– From “Invisible Lines of Connection: Sacred Stories of the Ordinary” by Rabbi Lawrence Kushner.
How many of us are stuck in the same place, day by day, year by year – a whole lifetime of thinking that things aren’t good enough? We get by, muddle through, but deep down we are miserable. Deep down, we want to be free but we aren’t brave enough to ask for it. Maybe we don’t think we deserve to be free. Maybe we think we are stuck in this room and the only way out is the one way door of death. So we wait for it to come to us, or we rush towards it. We stay in that room not even really alive.
We don’t call out – we don’t ask for help. What we see is what we get.
After Isaac is born, things don’t go well between Hagar and Sarah. She asks Abraham, her husband and the father of both boys, to send Hagar and Ishmael out into the wilderness. This is certain death. He doesn’t want to do it, but God assures him that things will go well. God says nothing to Hagar at this point.
Genesis 21:14-21 (HCSB)
14 Early in the morning Abraham got up, took bread and a waterskin, put them on Hagar’s shoulders, and sent her and the boy away. She left and wandered in the Wilderness of Beer-sheba. 15 When the water in the skin was gone, she left the boy under one of the bushes.16 Then she went and sat down nearby, about a bowshot away, for she said, “I can’t bear to watch the boy die!” So as she sat nearby, she wept loudly. 17 God heard the voice of the boy, and the angel of God called to Hagar from heaven and said to her, “What’s wrong, Hagar? Don’t be afraid, for God has heard the voice of the boy from the place where he is. 18 Get up, help the boy up, and support him, for I will make him a great nation.” 19 Then God opened her eyes, and she saw a well of water. So she went and filled the waterskin and gave the boy a drink. 20 God was with the boy, and he grew; he settled in the wilderness and became an archer. 21 He settled in the Wilderness of Paran, and his mother got a wife for him from the land of Egypt.
God heard their cries and answered – and “opened her eyes” (see verse 19) to see a well of water in the desert. This isn’t a spring coming out of a rock. This isn’t a miracle of water in the desert that didn’t exist until just that very moment. This is a normal, everyday well that Hagar didn’t notice until God opened her eyes.
There are wells near you all the time. You just can’t see them, because you don’t ask to see them.
They say that alcoholics and drug addicts won’t benefit from treatment until they get so far down that they ask for help. This seems cruel – we don’t ask people having heart attacks if they want to go to the hospital. We just call an ambulance.
So what is the difference? We have to want to be free – but first we have to know that we are enslaved.
The best part? We have a loving Father who is ready to help us, as soon as we ask.