by Brad Hambrick
“Moses spoke thus to the people of Israel, but they did not listen to Moses, because of their broken spirit and harsh slavery.”
We might ask ourselves why this note of commentary is included in the Exodus narrative. By this point in the book of Exodus, it has already been mentioned several times that Israel was suffering immensely at the harsh hand of Pharaoh.
To answer our question, we would have to consider when the book of Exodus was written. Most likely it was written well after the actual events along with the other books of the Torah (Genesis, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy) either during the 40 years of wilderness wandering or close to the time when Israel was going to enter the Promise Land (finally).
In order to understand this particular verse, we need to understand the purpose of the Torah as a whole. Moses was writing to re-establish a national identity as God’s chosen people for a nation that had been in slavery for 400 years. They were trying to learn who they were and what it meant to be a free people under God’s reign.
Just before verse 9, God had appealed to His covenant with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob (Exodus 6:8). Israel needed to be reminded of their heritage and (more importantly) of God’s faithfulness. However, that is the whole point of verse 9; they needed to hear these things, but their hearts were too broken to embrace the message their ears received.
This passage is revelation of the understanding of God and the pastoral heart of Moses. Israel received this text long after the actual events transpired. Their current need was not to have hope in the midst of Pharaoh’s oppression (that season of their life was over), but, rather, to be prepared to trust God the next time their spirit was broken (and that would be many more times).
How you remember your story is important. Taking time to see God’s faithfulness is encouraging. However, it can be equally edifying to reflect on the times when (because of our frailty or doubt) we were unable to rest in God’s faithfulness. When we see (retrospectively) God’s faithfulness in the moments of our greatest fear and hurt, we come to realize that God will truly never leave us or forsake us (despite what our heart may say in the present or about the future).
End Note: When you read the Torah remember that it is not just a narrative with lots of laws and sermons at the end; it is also a pastoral work. Moses is writing the history of a people learning to be free after generations of oppression. Moses is walking Israel through the process of remembering who they have always been and the implications of trusting God during this monumental transition. I believe this will help you in making application of books that we too often view as “just history.”