By Joseph Ametepe
"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).
In Exodus 6:6-8, God personally made the greatest promise ever found in the Old Testament to Moses. Moses was specifically charged by God to declare this promise to the oppressed sons of Israel. It was a promise full action. It was a promise signed and sealed by Yahweh, the sovereign of the universe, the self-existing God, the self-sufficient Lord of all. It was a promise in which God committed Himself to taking concrete and decisive action on behalf of His people. Indeed, it was an unconditional promise to Israel with seven "I will" statements. "I will bring you out from under the burdens of the Egyptians." "I will deliver you from their bondage." "I willalso redeem you with an outstretched arm and with great judgments." "I will take you for My people." "I will be your God." "I will bring you to the land which I swore to give to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob." "I will give it to you for a possession." What a promise so full of action and commitment on the part of God! He promised here to rescue and redeem His people. He promised to bring His people from a place of bondage to a place of blessing. He promised to bring them out from their affliction to a place of abundance. He promised to be their personal God, and they, His own chosen and set apart people. One would have thought that hearing of such a great and glorious promise would result in shouts of jubilation and joy in the camp of Israel. But that was not the case. There were no shouts of joy and jubilation. There was no celebration. There were no songs of praise among the Israelites. There was only discouragement. Despondency took hold of the hearts of the people of Israel. As a result, they could not eagerly embrace God's glorious promise to them. In fact, at this point, they didn't expect God's promise to make any difference in their difficult lives. As far as they were concerned, the promise was meaningless, worthless, useless, and out of touch to reality. Israel's experience in this situation teaches us an important spiritual lesson: Distressing circumstances and prolonged suffering often limit God's people from laying hold of God's promises. In other words, tough and trying times in the lives of believers often make it difficult for them to take God at His word.
In obedience to God's clear and concise command to him, Moses communicated the promise to the sons of Israel. That's what God expects from His servant-leaders and all believers. He expects complete obedience from us. Moses was obedient. But if he thought his obedience to God would to lead to jubilation and a laying hold of God's promise by the sons of Israel, he was greatly mistaken. The response Moses got upon faithfully declaring God's promise to God's people could be described in these terms: "long faces, closed ears, silent lips, and discouraged hearts." No one fed off the promise to respond positively. There was no positive energy in the camp. There was no excitement among the people about taking God at His word. There was no talk of laying hold of God to fulfill His promise. There was no special praise and worship gathering to celebrate the promise of rescue and redemption from Egyptian bondage and oppression. There were no "Hallelujah songs" from the lips of the sons of Israel. Instead, there was a feeling of hopelessness, depression, discouragement, and despondency.
Please notice that the Bible says, "So Moses spoke thus to the sons of Israel, but they did not listen." Notice the conjunction "but." It clearly indicates that Israel's response upon hearing the promise was not consistent with God's expectation. God expected them to take Him at His word. God expected them to trust His word to them in their tough and trying time. God expected them to turn their eyes from their distressing predicament and fix them fully upon Him. But they didn't. Isn't that the way it is with us also? When the going gets tough for us, we find it difficult to take God at His word. We fail to turn our eyes fully on God. We falter in these tough times to trust God's word to us. Trustworthiness of God's word is undermined. His rich and great promises to us seem worthless, useless, meaningless and out of touch to reality in times of prolonged hardship. This was where Israel found themselves thousands of years ago. This is where we also find ourselves when hard times and hardships persist in our lives. In such times, we find ourselves not at all enthused about God's promises, let alone lay hold of them with the tenacity and determination of Jacob, who said to God, "I will not let You go unless You bless me" (Genesis 32:26).
Israel, we are told "did not listen." The Hebrew word translated "listen" is shama. This is one of the most important verbs in the Hebrew Old Testament. It appears 1,160 times. Its main idea is perceiving a message or sensing a sound. It also means "to hear intelligently (with attention and obedience)", "to give undivided listening attention," "to lend an ear to," to understand what one has heard," "to give heed," or "to obey." Israel did not give undivided attention to what they heard from the mouth of Moses. They did not hear intelligently with attention and desire to obey God. They didn't perceive the message. It went into one ear and out of the other without getting down into their hearts. Why? The Bible clearly and concisely tells us why. It says it was because of "their despondency and cruel bondage." The Hebrew word translated "despondency" (Hebrew: qoser) literally means "shortness of spirit." It also means "discouragement." You see, the prolonged suffering had taken not only a physical toll on Israel, but also a spiritual toll. As they suffered cruelty and oppression at the hands of Pharaoh, their confidence in God and His promise plunged to a new low. Instead of focusing on God, they were focusing on their circumstances. It's true, these were tough times for Israel. Yes, these were hard times for God's people in Egypt. Indeed, their bondage was cruel. God knew that. That was exactly why He gave them this remarkable promise to redirect their focus on Him. Please listen, the more you focus on your circumstances rather than on God, the more you will experience "shortness of spirit" in your hardships. The more despondency and discouragement will take hold of your heart. The more your trust in God will sink to new lows. And the more difficult it will become for you to lay hold of His promise to you. In fact, it's Satan great delight to see God's believing people in a discouraged and despairing state. Why? Because he knows that when believers are discouraged or depressed, he can easily take advantage of them. He knows it's easy for God's people to doubt God's goodness when they are discouraged. He leaves no stone unturned to create distrust in believers who are depressed. In our despondent state, he doesn't relent from whispering into our ears: "You see, God doesn't love you after all. If He did, you'd not have continued suffering for this long." Furthermore, our chief enemy will exploit us in our discouraged state to create confusion and chaos in our minds. His goal is simple: to rob us of the privilege of rising above our circumstances and reaching out to receive what God has promised us in His grace.
Now the question is: how does the believer in Jesus rise above his distressing circumstances and diligently lay hold of God's great and gracious promises to him? Only by the work of the Holy Spirit can God's believing people rise above their circumstances to lay hold of God's promises. No matter how distressing, discouraging, depressing, despairing, and despondent your circumstances are, if you are a genuine born-again believer, God has blessed you with His Holy Spirit. He is with you and in you. He has power to help you soar high above your circumstances. This is the work Israel needed in their lives at this crucial time. In His grace, God accomplished this work in their lives. They were able to rise above their despondency and take hold of God's promises to them. In fact, before they left Egypt, they took God at His word by asking their Egyptian neighbors for articles of silver and gold and for clothing and plundered Egypt just as God promised them (see Exodus 3:22 and 12:35).
It was a long and weary battle. But God gave victory to His despondent people. What He did for them thousands of years ago, He is willing and more than able to do for you and me, who believe in His Son Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of our sins. After all, He is the same yesterday, and today, and forever. Today, turn your eyes upon Jesus in total reliance on the Holy Spirit! Take Jesus at His word! Trust Jesus to do what He has promised you! Tell Jesus that no matter how long it takes to bring about the fulfillment of His promise in your life, you will choose not to give in to discouragement and depression, only and always in His strength. For His word says, "I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me!" (Philippians 4:13)