Few biblical passages depict the severity and gentleness of YHWH more poignantly than the Exodus narrative of Israel’s escape from Egypt.
The day of their flight, after all, follows upon the night when YHWH’s avenging angel stole the life from every first-born of Egypt, from the palace to the dungeon. In a carefully calibrated escalation of sternness that leaves no protagonist untouched and unmoved, YHWH meticulously prepares the moment when Israel will escape extermination and find both future and liberty in one noisy dash.
At the end of 430 years, on that very day, all the hosts of the Lord went out from the land of Egypt. It was a night of watching by the Lord, to bring them out of the land of Egypt; so this same night is a night of watching kept to the Lord by all the people of Israel throughout their generations. (Exodus 12:41–42 ESV)
Ah, these nights of watching.
These times of trouble when we may die or we may live, and no one knows the outcome.
Will our dreams become reality, or will they simply perish in a silent, unnoticed disappearing act? Is this the end, or is this a beginning?
Nothing for us to do, then, in nights like this but watch.
It is comforting to know that at least this once, back in Egypt’s imperium, YHWH too stayed up all night watching. Nothing was going to escape his grip, no malevolence would derail his purpose. No hideous strength would touch the apple of his eye this night. His Israelites would have their new day, no matter the impeding powers.
People still celebrate YHWH’s night of watching with their own. We call it Passover, with its bitter herbs and its swallow of wine and its evening-gathered families and its memory of a night that will not be forgotten. ‘This night’, a child intones to his convened, listening, remembering family, ‘is like no other’.
Yet we may hope, at least, that YHWH has other nights of watching, when our lives and our hopes and our future will not be swallowed up in the dark by calamity as we wait, powerlessly, for morning.
Watch, YHWH. We need you to watch. Please stay up late with us—for us—as this new night falls.