The Book of Genesis ends by recounting how Joseph and his brothers, the twelve sons of Israel, settled in the land of Egypt. Driven from their homeland because of famine, Joseph’s brothers found food, safety, and refuge in the foreign country. According to the opening verses of Exodus, the Israelites were “fruitful and prolific,” and “grew exceedingly strong, so that the land was filled with them.” This population explosion in Egypt led to a state-sponsored systematic oppression of the Israelite people. Enslaved by the new king of Egypt, the Israelites were forced to labor under harsh conditions. They longed for a better life.
The story recounted in Exodus begins and ends with an exodus. Joseph’s brothers exit the land of Canaan to find protection in the land of Egypt. Several generations later, the descendants exit Egypt to live as free people, away from the control of an oppressive government.
This is an ancient story, yet history tends to repeat itself. Today, we hear of a refugee crisis in Europe as thousands of men, women, and children flee from violence and oppression. These people are seeking a better life, safety, and the chance to thrive. The journey they take is fraught with peril, just as it was for our Israelite ancestors. For many of these people, the journey from Syria to Hungary is nearly equivalent to getting from Beaufort to Denver, CO. By foot over rough terrain, shepherded by shady smugglers, or in flimsy boats on rough water, these people risk everything to enjoy a little taste of freedom and the chance to prosper.
In Exodus, God calls Moses and says to him, “I have observed the misery of my people who are in Egypt; I have heard their cry on account of their taskmasters. Indeed, I know their sufferings, and I have come down to deliver them from the Egyptians” (Exo. 3:7-8a). The land God will lead them to is not their land. They will end up fighting for it, and sharing it with people who are different than them. There are tensions as cultures clash. But God is with them.
God is with refugees still. Wherever they are from, and wherever they are going, God is with them. God hears their cries and knows their sufferings. Chances are, God has provided for you in times when you have needed safety and protection. God calls us to remember those times as we pray for refugees around the world.