• The BaptistWay lesson for March 15 focuses on Exodus 5:1-2; 6:1-8; 7:1-5, 14-18; 8:1-3, 16, 20-21; 9:1-4, 8-9, 13-18, 25-26; 10:3-11, 21-22, 28-29; 11:1-5.
So often, power can get in the way of listening. Whether it is a union accusing a corporation of not listening to its demands, protestors accusing a government of not listening to its people, or a child accusing parents of not listening to wants and whines, power gets in the way of listening.
Pharaoh was the most powerful figure in Egypt. He held the power of life and death over not only his own people, but also the burgeoning Hebrew population within Egypt’s borders. When Moses and Aaron, two Hebrew men claiming to speak for a God Pharaoh didn’t know (5:1-2), challenged Pharaoh’s power by calling for the release of the Israelites, Pharaoh’s power prevented him from listening to the two Hebrew men.
While Pharaoh may have been the most powerful human figure in Egypt, he certainly wasn’t the most powerful figure in the story. That honor goes to the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, who called Moses and sent him and Aaron to effect the freedom of God’s people. Through increasingly severe plagues, God demonstrated sole power and authority over Pharaoh. God’s power, however, did not get in the way of God listening.
The Hebrew word shema means “hear,” and one lexicon notes shema is used to describe God as “he who hears.” The broader connotation of this hearing includes listening. Not only does God hear, God listens, as we learned last week.
Action is the test of listening.
When Moses asked God, “If the Israelites will not listen to me, why would Pharaoh listen to me” (6:12, 30), the form of shema that appears—shmou—is rendered “listen” and signifies “obey.” Moses wanted to know what would happen if the Israelites and Pharaoh didn’t do what Moses told them God told them to do—Moses still was afraid of himself; he still lacked confidence.
In response to Moses’ concern, God didn’t back down but once again told Moses what to do and what to say. By continuing to use Moses, God seemed to indicate his power would be unmistakable, his “power (would be made) known in weakness” (2 Corinthians 12:9). In this case, God used Moses’ weakness.
In Kingdom, Grace, Judgment: Paradox, Outrage, and Vindication in the Parables of Jesus, Robert Farrar Capon says something interesting about God’s power being made known through weakness. Capon differentiates between God’s left-handed power and God’s right-handed power, between weak power and strong power. Left-handed power is patient and gracious while right-handed power is forceful and mighty.
Although we have come to expect God to use right-handed power, usually in miraculous ways and usually by our command, God more often uses left-handed power and, in Jesus, calls us to do the same. In dealing with Pharaoh, God employed right-handed power, as the plagues demonstrate. Yet God employed right-handed power in a left-handed way by giving Pharaoh ample opportunity to listen.
Unfortunately, Pharaoh would not listen. In fact, Pharaoh was so set on maintaining power over people that he refused to listen. However, even though Pharaoh neither knew nor feared the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, he would come to know God through his refusal to listen (11:9).
Obedience is a response to power and the test of listening.
How do we know when our children are listening? When they do what we tell them to do, of course—or, in the new school of parenting, when they do what we ask them to do. Our children’s response to us reveals the difference between hearing and listening. Hearing is the physical and biochemical process of sound waves received by the ears. Listening is the behavioral response that follows that process. Hearing is involuntary. Listening is volitional.
The story of the 10 plagues can be seen as a type of call and response initiated by God. God called to Pharaoh, giving him the opportunity to listen and to respond in obedience. Pharaoh hardened his heart and refused to bend to God. He refused to bend to God’s left-handed power. God called again, and again Pharaoh hardened in response. Again God called, and again Pharaoh heard the words and closed his heart. And again and again and again.
God began gently, turning a stick into a snake. When Pharaoh was unimpressed, God did not pour on the “shock and awe.” God had a measured response. God slowly turned up the heat. God turned water to blood and then sent frogs, gnats, flies, sickness on the livestock, boils, hail, locusts and darkness, each in turn. Still, Pharaoh refused to listen. Finally, God sent death, and with that, Pharaoh was broken. Pharaoh could only accede defeat.
God still calls out to us. God still mercifully uses left-handed power. Will we listen?