In my devotional reading this week a verse captured my attention. The Biblical text was from Exodus 6. The verse that spoke to me was verse 9. The devotional writer did not emphasize that verse at all in her writing. But I was intrigued by these words, “So Moses spoke thus to the sons of Israel, but they did not listen to Moses on account of their despondency and cruel bondage.” Exodus 6:9, NAS.
Moses was relaying a message of hope and deliverance to the people of Israel. God has instructed Moses to let the people know he has heard their pleas for deliverance. God will do what is necessary for Pharaoh to let them go. God will lead them to the land of their fathers and give to them the land of Canaan. God will make a covenant with them just as God made promises to their ancestors, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.
But, the Scripture is clear. They were simply not able to listen to this message of redemption that Moses shared. Why? Because they were despondent, crushed by the cruel and relentless enslavement at the hands of their Egyptian masters. Sometimes, you can be so low and bruised and wounded and sad you simply can’t hear a message that offers hope and release.
As pastor of a predominantly white and affluent congregation I know that many struggle to understand the issues of the Black Lives Matter movement and take issue with looting, violence, and protests against the police. I know many believe that young black men and women have opportunity. They would encourage them to take advantage of educational opportunities, to do their best to succeed, to set high goals and be persistent in pursuing them, to make good moral choices and the path to a good and satisfying life can be theirs. They can point to examples of those who have done just that and found success and fulfillment.
Over the years I have been blessed with the opportunity to give many a pre-game talk with our local high school athletes. I have made long, lasting friendships with many of them. Indeed my message to them is often similar to what I outlined above – do your best, strive for excellence, make good choices, and find a way to succeed. Many have appreciated the encouragement and many have become extraordinary adults.
But, I recognize that sometimes the most positive message of encouragement simply cannot be heard when a person has been put down, discouraged, abused, hurt, and wounded long enough. If you haven’t walked in those shoes it is difficult to impossible to understand. It is easy to question why they do not listen to and heed good advice and counsel. It is easy to be critical of their anger and resentment, and to question their motives and actions. But, it is all right there in the wonderful story of liberation in Exodus, they did not listen to Moses on account of their despondency and cruel bondage.
God was not going to get much help from the Israelites in their own deliverance. They were too beaten down to rise up in strength and confront their oppressor. No, to set the people free God had to go head to head with the abusive power of Pharaoh. Ten plagues might get his attention and finally get him to relent, even if just for a moment.
I am committed to listening, to making every effort to understand those who have become despondent over their cruel bondage. I have been blessed to live a life where I have never been oppressed, never been the victim of prejudice, cruelty and exclusion. But, if someone else has a different experience, I need to try and listen and understand. And, I need to understand that they may not be ready for my quick solutions that can lead them to a better life. I need to do all I can to understand their hurt, their despondency. The real question is: why aren’t we all listening to one another?