Monday, January 07, 2013

TorahBytes: Remedy for Despair (Va-Era/Rosh Hodesh)

Moses spoke thus to the people of Israel, but they did not listen to Moses, because of their broken spirit and harsh slavery. (Shemot / Exodus 6:9; ESV)

The people of Israel were on the brink of deliverance. After long years of oppressive bondage, a new chapter of freedom was about to begin. Soon to be enriched by the bountiful provision of their one-time masters, they would witness God's miraculous power and his very presence in their midst to protect and to guide them. They would hear his voice, receive his Torah, and acquire the land promised to their forefathers four centuries earlier.

God sent Moses to bring them this good news, but they would not hear it. They could not hear it. All those years of suffering created an impenetrable barrier around their hearts. What actually happened was that when Moses and his brother Aaron first spoke to the community's elders about God's deliverance, they responded positively. But then when Moses and Aaron brought to Pharaoh king of Egypt, God's demand of release, he made things even harder for them.

Note the sequence: years of oppression, words of hope, things get worse. That's enough to discourage anyone. But let's take a step back for a second. Israel was in a very bad situation. They were under complete control by a most powerful nation, whose economy depended on their servitude. It isn't reasonable to assume that Pharaoh would have reacted in any other way. His power was being threatened. His economy undermined. Any leader in his situation would have likely done the same thing. That things would have to get worse before they got better should be expected.

But expected or not, when we are in a dismal, painful situation like this, it is difficult to see the bigger picture. Moses didn't see it either. He didn't respond to Pharaoh's reaction, by saying, "Oh yeah? Just watch what God is going to do!" Instead he said to God, "Why have you done evil to this people? Why did you ever send me?  For since I came to Pharaoh to speak in your name, he has done evil to this people, and you have not delivered your people at all” (Shemot / Exodus 5:22, 23; ESV). It was then that God told Moses, "Now you shall see what I will do to Pharaoh; for with a strong hand he will send them out, and with a strong hand he will drive them out of his land” (Shemot / Exodus 6:1; ESV).

So who could blame the people for having a hard time receiving this message. Nothing had gone right for them for as long as they could remember and now some guy comes in God's name demanding their release, and things get worse, not better. As we read at the beginning, their spirits had been broken. They no longer had the capacity to hope.

But God came through. He wasn't put off by the people's despair. He had come to deliver them, and deliver them he did. Through awesome acts of power, he pulverized Israel's oppressors and brought his people out in victory.

While nowhere near on the same scale, my experience of God is similar to this. I was in an oppressive, hopeless emotional state when I first heard about Yeshua. God swooped into my life that day, and, in spite of myself, rescued me. Because of this experience I have had a tendency to allow myself to fall back into a pit of despair, wanting God to do it again. But I don't think this is what he wants. Instead I need to learn from both my experience and stories like the one we are discussing to see that no matter how difficult or discouraging life may get, God is always able to see us through. Yes, sometimes our spirits break, and God understands that, but at some point, we need to learn to trust him no matter how bad it gets.

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