Several years ago, a friend of mine became very ill. Her family was unable to come and be with her, so her boss made a commitment to remain by her side during her last days, which were spent in the hospital. Her boss faithfully watched over her, making sure she had everything she needed and just being present with her to hold her hand, read Scripture to her, and share her journey into the presence of Jesus. This is the picture that comes to my mind when I hear the word “vigil.”
In Exodus 12:42, the Israelites have just made a hurried escape from Egypt after 430 years there, having been enslaved and oppressed for many of those years. The Lord has brought them out of Egypt by his powerful hand, showing his superiority over Pharaoh and the gods of Egypt. On the night that they make their escape, this verse describes the Lord as keeping vigil over Israel: That was for the Lord a night of vigil, to bring them out of the land of Egypt? (NRSV). This night was a dangerous and frightening time for Israel. They were setting out into the unknown, leaving a place that had been their home, albeit a challenging one, for over 400 years. And even though Pharaoh had sent them out, he was not happy with them and the threat of repercussions was a real one.
In the midst of this daunting situation, the Lord is watching over and guarding his people attentively and alertly. He is overseeing their journey, protecting Israel, and keeping them safe. He is deeply invested in these people and intensely vigilant over them. The Lord’s eyes never leave them on this night; his attention and care are unwavering. He is completely and absolutely present with them as he redeems them out of Egypt.
What an amazing picture of the way in which the Lord loves and cherishes his people. His eye is constantly upon us as we are on our journeys of redemption as well. He watches over us with great care, protecting us from harm and keeping us on the right path. He is constantly aware of what is before us and what is behind us, all the while walking right beside us. As we move into new territory on our journeys that is unfamiliar and uncomfortable, even frightening and dangerous, his loving attention never wavers. As he led Israel out of a place of oppression and persecution by his mighty hand, so he leads us out of places of hardship and enslavement into a place of freedom and deliverance.
Exodus 12:42 also notes that as a response to the Lord’s vigilant protection and care on the night of the escape from Egypt, the children of Israel are in turn to be vigilant about remembering what the Lord did for them on that night. And that memory is to be a constant one that lasts throughout their generations. We, too, must consistently and regularly pause in recognition, gratitude, and celebration of the Lord’s vigilance on our behalf. For it is only in acknowledging and trusting the Lord’s vigilance that he empowers us to move forward in his presence on our own journeys, with all the accompanying perils and adversity.
As my friend’s boss remained faithfully by her side taking care of her needs and being powerfully and intimately present with her, so the Lord is with us. And he lovingly invites us to recognize his vigilance on our behalf and journey confidently forward, secure under his devoted and unwavering watchful eye.