“Moses spoke thus to the people of Israel, but they did not listen to Moses, because of their broken spirit and harsh slavery.” Exodus 6:9
I came across these words in my Bible reading this week. I hadn’t noticed them before as I read the Exodus story. But, as I came across them this time, it brought a lot of sense in my personal life as well as my ministry. These words take place in the beginning of the story of the exodus of God’s people from Egypt. They had resettled in Egypt several generations before to escape famine. Their forefathers experienced Egypt as a place of God’s provision. However, God’s ultimate purpose for his people was Canaan, not Egypt. What was initially a very favorable situation eventually became a place of bondage as the subsequent kings of Egypt made the Hebrews slaves. They were in a place that was not really their home and were powerless to change their circumstances. They cried to the Lord again and again to deliver them. God answered their prayers by sending them Moses.
Moses was a reluctant leader. He didn’t feel he had the power to command Pharaoh. However, God gave him the promise of His word, backed by powerful signs, to show Moses that he was God’s instrument and that he would be sustained by God’s power. Now, if you and I were writing this story, it would probably go like this: “Moses went to Pharaoh and commanded him to let God’s people go. Pharaoh resisted and mocked Moses for his brashness. Then, Moses did a miraculous sign and Pharaoh repented and gladly let God’s people go so that they went to Canaan and lived happily ever after.” That’s the storylines we tend to write. However, God had a bigger purpose. God would use the stubbornness of Pharaoh’s heart and the harshness of His people’s circumstances to demonstrate the power of His redemption. He wanted to demonstrate not only to the Hebrews, but for generations to come, that God’s redemptive power can break any bond and overcome any challenge.
Pharaoh’s initial response to the word of God was not only stubborn resistance, but increasing rebellion. So, he made the work of the Hebrew slaves harder. He made them continue to make their load of bricks, but without providing the straw necessary to do so. As a result, they cried out to Pharaoh and complained to Moses. They said ,”The Lord look on you and judge, because you have made us stink in the sight of Pharaoh and his servants, and have put a sword in their hand to kill us.” (Exodus 5:21). God responded to Moses by reaffirming his plans for deliverance. He told Moses to say, “I am the Lord, and I will bring you out from under the burdens of the Egyptians, and I will deliver you from slavery to them, and I will redeem you with an outstretched arm and with great acts of judgment.” (Ex 6:6).
Nevertheless, as verse 9 above shows us, as Moses spoke these words, the people didn’t listen. But, notice why they didn’t listen: “because of their broken spirit and harsh slavery.” The years of hard bondage and enslavement they had experienced had brought them to a point where they could hear the word of the Lord, yet refuse to believe it. Even though they had prayed to hear these exact words for generations. Isn’t that just like us? We will pray to God for something only to allow the present reality of our situation to blind us to the ways God is working or to deafen us to the voice of God. We go to church and hear God’s word preached, but it falls on deaf ears because we are too preoccupied with our present situation to hear and receive God’s promise. We become faithless because we expect instant gratification in our prayers. When the situation doesn’t resolve itself quick and painlessly, we fall into doubt about God’s goodness towards us, His love for us, or His sovereign plan over our lives. I think God puts these verses in the story of Exodus and uses the increasing peril of their bondage to show you and me that when we are in the crucible of belief that we need to remember the promises of His word instead of the reality of our situation. I think we can see a few lessons from these verses.
First, a broken spirit and the realities of our enslavement can deafen us to the voice of God. How many times have you gone to church and silently prayed for God to change your situation? But, even as you speak those words, you have another voice inside that says, “It won’t do any good. Nothing ever changes for me.” This is the burden of a broken spirit. Sometimes our present pain shouts so loud that it drowns out all other voices, including the voice of God. However, even in that situation, you need to remember that our God is not silent. He is speaking. He has revealed to you already in the pages of His word that He is a gracious God, a redeeming God, and a God who is sovereign over each and every situation. I heard someone once quote “Never doubt in the dark what God told you in the light.” That’s such a good word. Spurgeon said it this way, “I would sooner walk in the dark and hold hard to a promise of my God, than trust in the light of the brightest day that ever dawned.” So, when you broken spirit wants to reject God’s clearly revealed word, remember the story of the exodus and that God promised his deliverance and God always delivers on His promise.
Second, God can our broken spirits as a canvas on which his redemption shines even brighter. While the Hebrews did not listen to Moses because their spirits were broken, God didn’t allow their lack of receiving the promise stop His plan. It is true for many of us that we will not be ready to receive God’s word until our personal spirits are completely broken. The great irony of the early chapters of the Exodus is that the very thing the Hebrews had prayed for had finally come, yet they were not yet ready to trust and believe. As we eventually see, God would use the increasing difficulty of their situation and the hardening of Pharaoh’s heart to demonstrate his power through a series of ten debilitating plagues. God showed his great power in the desperateness of their circumstances. He would do the same when their backs were up against the Red Sea with Pharaoh’s army bearing down. When we are tempted to give up hope, that’s when the God of hope shines brightest. So, no matter what is going on right now, know that God uses our brokenness to bring Him glory. Remember Psalm 34:18, “The Lord is near to the brokenhearted and saves the crushed in spirit.” Remember Isaiah 42:3, “a bruised reed he will not break, and a faintly burning wick he will not quench; he will faithfully bring forth justice.” Remember Psalm 51:17, “The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.”
Finally remember that God’s promise of deliverance doesn’t usually come with immediate relief. God will often use the increasing difficulties of our circumstances to test our faith in His word and our dependence on Him and not ourselves. When God promises deliverance, he doesn’t always say it will be quick and easy. As a matter of fact, it is often slow, messy, and painful. That’s because chains of bondage and enslavement are not always easily broken. We live in an instant gratification society where we expect the promises of God to be fulfilled like the circumstances in our favorite TV drama – “Please wrap it up nice and neatly, and all in one hour.” Our christianized property culture is prone to see challenges, pain, and difficulty as a sign of our personal unbelief and a hindrance to God’s promise. However, God didn’t need the Hebrews immediate belief to prove His deliverance. God used their unbelief to reaffirm His word and remind them that all redemption is completely due to his power and not our faith or faithfulness. So, if you cry out to God and your situation gets worse, not better, don’t doubt God’s goodness or that He is hearing you. Instead, dive deeper into His word and see that He is a God who always delivers according to his power and for his glory. Don’t see your chains as a sign of God’s displeasure over you. Instead, like Paul, see them as tools for the gospel.
Whatever is going on in your life right now, don’t let the reality of a broken spirit or a painful enslavement cause you to not listen to the word of God. If God has promised it, your redemption is coming soon.