I’ve been revisiting the story of Moses bringing his people out of Egypt again. You know—burning bush—Pharaoh, plagues, lambs, all that MGM stuff.

After God gives Moses a woodshed moment at the bush, Moses makes his way back to Egypt to free his people. A little reluctant and frightened at first, he is then met with excitement. Finally, a savior has come to free them!

And then, Pharaoh digs in the talons deeper and makes life even more unbearable than it already was, which was pretty stinkin’ unbearable. Thus, the next time, Moses finds a less than enthusiastic crowd.

Exodus 6.6-9 “Therefore, say to the Israelites: ‘I am the Lord, and I will bring you out from under the yoke of the Egyptians. I will free you from being slaves to them, and I will redeem you with an outstretched arm and with mighty acts of judgment. I will take you as my own people, and I will be your God. Then you will know that I am the Lord your God, who brought you out from under the yoke of the Egyptians. And I will bring you to the land I swore with uplifted hand to give to Abraham, to Isaac and to Jacob. I will give it to you as a possession. I am the Lord.’

Moses reported this to the Israelites, but they did not listen to him “because of their discouragement and harsh labor.”

Did you catch that last part? They did not listen to Moses because of their discouragement. Other versions translate it their “broken spirit and how hard they were made to work,” and “they had become too discouraged by the brutality of their slavery.”

This last line struck me when I read it this time. I could not get away from it. I don’t think I’d ever noticed it before, or, at least, I’d never paid attention. They believed—but they got too discouraged, too broken, because of the cruelty with which they were treated.

Make no mistake, that was Pharaoh’s intent. He planned that. When he authorized the increase in brick making with no materials to do it, he knew the result. The people would be too worn down by one more setback to dare to dream or try.

It’s the same story as when Moses was born. Evil is predictable. It bets on the fact that oppression and dehumanization will discourage others to the point of quitting.

Sometimes, it wins.

Other times, it doesn’t.

We’ve heard this story hundreds of times, and all of those times I recall, we’ve heard how the Israelites behaved horribly. They were unfaithful, reckless, foolish folks who didn’t believe and didn’t obey. I’ve never once heard this verse spoken of.

They did not listen to Moses because of their discouragement.

These are a people filled with trauma. They’ve suffered terrible degradation, dehumanization, oppression, and marginalization. For generations, they have no experience of freedom and no ability to govern or lead themselves.

The normal human response from and to trauma is exactly what we see—fear, confusion, comfort with the devil they know, inability to see that things are going to get better after they get worse, and anger at the person responsible for that worse part.

The gut-wrenching beauty here is that God knows this. He understands that they feel too broken to believe. So he continues to free them, bringing them out, showing them his power, and fulfilling his promises, regardless of how they feel or act.

He does this because that is who he is.

God is bent on good for his people—and he will not be stopped. He loves them through their trauma and brings them to the other side of the Red Sea, and beyond.

The story reminds me of another stretch in Scripture that’s rather notorious for its imagery. It’s a Psalm sung during the exile of Israel, much later.

By the rivers of Babylon,
There we sat down and wept,
When we remembered Zion.

Upon the willows in the midst of it
We hung our harps.

For there our captors demanded of us songs,
And our tormentors mirth, saying,
“Sing us one of the songs of Zion.”

How can we sing the Lord’s song
In a foreign land?

If I forget you, O Jerusalem,
May my right hand forget her skill.

May my tongue cling to the roof of my mouth
If I do not remember you,
If I do not exalt Jerusalem
Above my chief joy.

Remember, O Lord, against the sons of Edom
The day of Jerusalem,
Who said, “Raze it, raze it
To its very foundation.”

O daughter of Babylon, you devastated one,
How blessed will be the one who repays you
With the recompense with which you have repaid us.

How blessed will be the one
who seizes and dashes your little ones
Against the rock. (Psalm 137)

It’s one of my favorite songs in Godspell, beautiful and haunting. But the songwriter doesn’t use those last lines—the horrific ones about murdering babies. They’re not exactly lyrical.

The Babylonian exile was not a nice “pack up your things and get going” on a vacay. It was not Sound of Music. It was everything you know that modern tribal warfare is, and these people are not merely homesick. They are demoralized, exhausted, mourning loved ones, hopeless, dehumanized, humiliated. They’ve been beaten, raped, killed, and brutally taken from their homes.

This song speaks their emotion, and these are their honest, anguished words. It’s strikingly similar to how the Israelites felt in Egypt.

It is not surprising there was intense anger.

It is surprising that made it into the scriptures.

And I think this tells us something about God.

It tells us that he hears, sees, and knows his peoples’ pain, and he does not turn away from their expression of it.

Yes, it’s wrong. Yes, it’s terrible imagery.

Yes, forgiveness and refusal to take revenge is God’s way for us.

Yes, it would have been wrong for an Israelite to actually dash a baby against a rock, and there would be no excuse.

But somewhere in here, we get the realization that God knows we grieve and hurt and fear, and he lets us do that.

That’s what going on in Egypt as well.

They’re grieving. Exhausted. Hopeless. They wanted to believe, but it was just too much. In the middle of that, God sees and hears and remembers and loves.

He guides them out when they cannot see a way out.

God hears us in our grief and does not demand a right response.

And I think that’s what going on for some people right now, as we wind down on 2020.

We’re okay. But we’re fortunate.

Many with mental health issues or addictions are hopeless.

Many who are alone are scared.

Those who have lost people are mourning.

And God sees and hears and knows.

Sometimes, we as humans want others to hurry up with their hurt, grief, etc. We want to rush forward and erase all that was this year. Many people will try for a do-over, a forgetting, an obliterating of all that pain so that we can put it in the past.

But God doesn’t do that.

He sits with us.

He waits.

He holds us up until we can walk on our own.

He weeps with us at our discouragement and hears our hurt.

We need to be willing to sit with pain, too. Ours or that of others. To sit with people or our own souls and hear them and give them permission to hurt. It could be the first best thing we do in the aftermath of 2020.

God hears us in our grief and does not demand a right response.

Why? Because

  • He knows fear—My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from Me; yet not as I will, but as You will.”
  • He knows uncertainty—“Will you leave me, too?”
  • He knows loss—he’s been betrayed so many times
  • He knows grief—“My soul is deeply grieved, to the point of death; remain here and keep watch with Me.”
  • He knows loneliness—“My God why have you forsaken me?”

“Surely our griefs He Himself bore,
And our sorrows He carried.”

God hears us in our grief and does not demand a right response.

God does bring the Israelites out. He relieves their despondency, discouragement, brokenness.

As he does the same for us.

Because the parting of the Red Sea is just ahead.

And so is the empty tomb.

 

Photo credit: Jill Richardson