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Unlistened to Lessons of Life


It was in 1965 that I graduated from Moody Bible Institute, and a week later to the day, Charlene and I were married. Then 10 days after that I began one of those summer jobs that is typically in the biography, I suppose, of just about every college student; I became a delivery man for the Steuben Brothers' Bakery just outside of New York City. I had one week of training—by a man who had run that particular delivery route for 20 years.

How well I remember the first day I was on my own. It turned out that it was Fourth of July weekend and he, thinking that it would be as if he were running the route, ordered double of everything. So we had twice as many cakes and twice as many loaves of bread and twice as many pies and twice as many cupcakes and all of these things for me to sell on that first day at work. I arrived at the warehouse at 4:30 in the morning. It took me an hour and a half to fill the bins and shelves, and I couldn't get it in, so all of the walkway—everything— was filled with all of these bakery goods.

At 6:00 I stood behind the wheel of the truck and started it up. Oh yes, stood behind the wheel of the truck. It was a Divco truck. This is the way you drive a Divco truck: There's no accelerator on the floor; the accelerator is the knob at the end of the gearshift lever. When you turn it clockwise, you go faster, and when you turn it counterclockwise, you go slower. But the most exciting part is that you stand up, and there is one pedal: halfway down is the clutch, and the rest of the way down is the brake. I hadn't had much experience driving this particular vehicle. I stood behind the wheel, started it up, put it in low gear, and drove through the warehouse out onto Broad Street in Clifton, New Jersey.

Everything was great until I shifted into second gear and somewhat intuitively pushed the pedal all the way to the floor. The truck came to a screeching halt, and all the pies and cakes came flying to the front—all over the windshield, around the steering column, and up against the glass. There I was, stopped out there, having damaged almost all the bakery goods I was there that day to sell.

As I reflect on that gooey mess, and I must admit I have a recurrence of that sinking feeling in my heart when that happened, it seems to me my trainer had mentioned that might happen, and he said I ought to be very careful not to press the pedal all the way to the floor when shifting from one gear to another. But I didn't listen to everything he had to say. I was young. I'd just been married for ten days. I was in love, and it was summertime, and the weather was hot. It became one of those unlistened-to lessons of life.

The ancient Hebrew people also had some unlistened-to lessons in Exodus 6. In verse 9, "Moses spoke thus to the people of Israel, but they did not listen to Moses because of their broken spirit and their cruel bondage." Moses had spoken the lessons of God to these people, but they did not listen. I don't indict them for that. They were hurting, desperate people. Their hurt was so deep, their hope so far gone, their spirits so broken, and their circumstances so cruel that they did not listen to the lessons from God.

I think most of us understand that well, because there are also times in our lives when our hurt is deep and our circumstances are cruel and when our bondage is great. It may be in the wake of a divorce, or in the midst of unemployment, or on the day after receiving the difficult news of a prognosis just the opposite of that for which we had prayed. Then, when suffering in those difficult days, we listen for a word from God, and God speaks, but somehow the volume of our pain and the din of the circumstance drown out God's voice. They become for us the unlistened-to lessons of life.

It's sad, here in Exodus, that the lessons of God were not listened to, because they are powerful lessons to learn, so powerful in fact that God in his wisdom, although he had to be extraordinarily selective in what he included in the Bible, recorded it so we could listen and learn, learn these unlistened-to lessons from the Lord:

The Lord said to Moses, "Now you shall see what I will do to Pharaoh. For with a strong hand he will send them out, yea with a strong hand he will drive them out of his land." God said to Moses, "I am the Lord. I appeared to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob as God Almighty, but by my name the Lord I did not make myself known to them. I also established my covenant with them, to give them the land of Canaan, the land in which they dwell as sojourners. Moreover I have heard the groanings of the people of Israel whom the Egyptians hold in bondage, and I have remembered my covenant. Say therefore to the people of Israel, 'I am the Lord; I will bring you out from under the bondage of the Egyptians, I will deliver you from their bondage, and I will redeem you with an outstretched arm and with great acts of judgment. And I will take you for my people, and I will be your God and you shall know that I am the Lord your God who has brought you out from under the burdens of the Egyptians. And I will bring you into the land which I swore to give to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob. I will give it to you for a possession: I am the Lord.' Moses spoke thus to the people of Israel, but they did not listen to Moses because of their discouragement and their cruel bondage. (Exodus 6:1-9)

God hears the hurting

The unlistened-to lessons of Exodus 6 are well worth our listening to and learning from today. The first of them, in this fifth verse, is the lesson that God hears the hurting: "Moreover, I have heard the groanings of the people of Israel whom the Egyptians hold in bondage." Let's try to understand here what happened. The Israelites were in awful straits. For over 400 years they had been a captive people. They were downtrodden. They were abused. They were taken advantage of. And when they pleaded for some deliverance or some lifting of the burden, Pharaoh and his taskmasters only increased the load and made it worse. They were, in a sense, a classic example of innocent sufferers—people who had themselves done no wrong and were suffering anyway. So in pathetic desperation they cried out to God to lighten their load and to set them free. God heard their groanings and he set in motion the remedy for their awful dilemma, but they could not hear God listening. It was so painful, the hurt was so deep, the burden was so great, that they could not sense that God had heard them cry and pray.

But is it not that way in our own desperation? When we face the valleys of life and groan in misery and plead out to God for deliverance, does he not hear us? But is not the din of our own circumstance so great that we do not know God is listening?

A couple of years ago in Minneapolis we came on-line with the 911 emergency number. They tell us we have the state of the art in terms of the electronic equipment and the time of response when someone dials 911. All you need do is dial those numbers, and you will almost instantly be connected to a dispatcher. That dispatcher will have in front of him a read-out that will list your telephone number, your address, and the name by which that telephone number is listed at that address. Also listening in are the police, the fire department, and the paramedics. Someone might not be able to say what the problem is, or it may be a hysterical caller. It may be a woman whose husband has just suffered a heart attack and she is so out of control that all she can do is scream hysterically into the telephone. But the dispatcher doesn't need her to say anything. He knows where the call is coming from and he can send help on the way. When those numbers are hit, help is already on the way.

There come times in our lives when we in our desperation and pain run to God and dial our 911 prayers. Sometimes we're hysterical. Sometimes we don't know the words to speak. But God hears. He knows our number and he knows our name and he knows our circumstance. That help is already on the way; God has already begun to bring the remedy to us.

So it was with the people of Israel. They were too broken, they were groaning too loud, to realize that God was saying, "I have heard the groanings of the people of Israel whom the Egyptians hold in bondage, and I have remembered my covenant." "Remembered his covenant"—doesn't that sound like a strange thing for God to say? Could it be that for even a fleeting moment he had forgotten his covenant? Had he forgotten he had promised he would care for them, that he would establish them as a nation and through them he would send a Messiah who would bring salvation to all the world? Had he forgotten, and then suddenly he was reminded and remembered his covenant? Of course he did not forget.

We need to understand that the words here have been translated not only from another language but from another culture that uses emotion-type terms to describe action. We find it often in Scripture. For example, we will read in Scripture that God hated someone, or that he loves someone else. We attribute to that primarily an emotional interpretation, whereas a more accurate interpretation would be that God, in his statement of hatred, acted in an ill way, at least as that person would describe it. And in his love, he acted in a positive way. So the terms are far more descriptive of action than of emotion. So it is when we read that God remembered his covenant. It means that God then acted in accordance with his deal and he does the same for us, for we too have a new covenant with God—a covenant in which he has promised to love us and care for us and save us. When we groan out our problems and agonies and burdens, he hears and he acts in accord with the deal that he has made. He remembers his covenant

Probably our response to unlistened-to lesson Number One is greatly dependent upon our immediate circumstance. So if you are suffering this morning, it is a lesson for today's application, and if things have been going pretty well, it is probably more of an academic exercise to be jotted down in some notebook but learned and remembered for when the time of difficulty comes. God hears the hurting.

Knowing God beats going free

The second of the unlistened-to lessons in Exodus 6 is found in verses 2 and 3. The lesson is this: Knowing God beats going free. The people of Israel are groaning under the awful injustices of slavery, and God says, "I am the Lord." That almost seems to be a logical non sequitur. It appears God's answer has nothing to do with the question. But indeed it does, for what God is saying is that to know him is more important than being a slave or a free man. Knowing him is more important than pleasure or pain, than life or death. It speaks to the question of what is the greatest good of life.

When I was a boy growing up outside of New York City, I was an avid fan of the Brooklyn Dodgers. In fact, I have not yet quite forgiven them for moving west. The archenemy in my childhood was the New York Yankees. I had seen them only on television and heard them only on the radio until I was invited by my father to skip school and to go to the World Series game between the Yankees and the Dodgers. I'll tell you, it was one of the great thrills of my childhood. I remember sitting there, smelling the hot dogs and hearing the cheers of the crowd and the feel of it all. I knew those Dodgers were going to shellac those Yankees once and for all. Unfortunately the Dodgers never got on base, so my thrill was shattered. I tucked it away somewhere in my unconscious until, as an adult, I was in a conversation with one of these fellows who was a walking sports almanac. I mentioned to him when I went to my first major league game. I said, "It was such a disappointment. I was a Dodger fan and the Dodgers never got on base."

He said, "You were there? You were at the game when Don Larsen pitched the only perfect game in all of World Series history?"

I said, "Yeah, but, uh, we lost." I was so caught up in my team's defeat that I missed out on the fact that I was a witness to a far greater page of history. Those Hebrews are similar. They were so engrossed in their immediate miseries that they failed to realize the far greater good of knowing the Lord. Life's greatest good is not to be successful or famous or rich or comfortable. The greatest good of all is knowing God. Knowing God beats all else—even the difference between slavery and freedom.

Ironically, life's greatest good often comes during life's greatest griefs. The third verse tells us the words of the Lord: "I appeared to Abraham, to Isaac and to Jacob as God Almighty, but by my name the Lord I did not make myself known to them." That's quite a statement. God is saying the great patriarchs of the Old Testament—Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob—knew God but never had the opportunity to know God in the way the average Hebrew slave in Egypt knew God. They had a greater opportunity than Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Why was that? It was because Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob never knew the griefs of slavery in Egypt, and it is because of their griefs that they had the opportunity to know God in a way that neither Abraham, Isaac, nor Jacob ever knew God.

So it is with us. We must take care lest we so bemoan the troubles of our lives that we fail to realize that in the midst of those troubles and griefs, God gives to us the greatest of opportunities: to know him as those who do not go through those troubles and griefs can never know him. We dare not miss the opportunity. We dare not be so fixed on our troubles that we miss God. Rather, we must listen to the otherwise unlistened-to lesson of Exodus 6: that knowing God beats going free or anything else.

God is more than Almighty

There's a third lesson in these opening verses of Exodus 6, and it is this: God is more than Almighty. There is a fascinating shift of Hebrew names in verse 3, one that is too easily missed by us ordinary English readers. The verse goes like this: "I appeared to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob as El-Shaddai, but by my name Yahweh (Jehovah), I did not make myself known to them." The name for God, El-Shaddai, literally means "God, the Mountain One," but is most often rendered "God, the Almighty." It is the name of God for his omnipotence, for his greatness in terms of his power—the truth that he can do absolutely anything. This verse is saying that God was known to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob as the powerful God who could do absolutely anything. That's marvelous. In fact, that's the way many of us typically think of God, and at least in part, there's nothing wrong with that. When our troubles come rolling along, we look at life's difficulties and pray, "God, you are the only one capable of remedying this situation. Every human ingenuity is inadequate to address my situation but you are all-knowing and all-powerful, so you alone are the one who can make the difference." But sometimes we are reluctant to admit outwardly the whisper we have inwardly that says, God, you can do anything, but you probably won't.

But El-Shaddai revealed himself as Yahweh—I am who I am; I will be who I will be. Four times in the first eight verses of Exodus 6 he says "I am the Lord." It may seem strange if you don't understand this, but God is saying to all of their problems and pleas that the answer is himself. They say, "God, we are slaves." And he says, "I am the Lord." They say, "But God, we are miserable." And he says, "I am the Lord." "But God, how are we going to get out of here?" He says, "I am the Lord." That was not a second-rate answer. That was the best answer that possibly could be given, and that is the answer God gives us.

We say to him, "Lord, what am I going to do about my problem?" He says, "I am the Lord." You say, "But God, my job situation is absolutely impossible." He says, "I am the Lord." As parents we plead and say, "O Father, is there hope for my family? I'm torn apart over what is happening to my daughter and the way my son is going." We think he will say, "Four years from now it's going to be like this …" Instead he says, "I am the Lord." Or in desperation we say, "God, I think I'm going to die." And he says, "I am the Lord."

We offer him our problems, and he offers us himself. Do not slight or reject his answer and his offer. For Yahweh God is not only the God who says, "I am" but also the God who says, "I will." In fact, eight times in eight verses he says, "I will do to Pharaoh," "I will bring you out," "I will deliver you," "I will redeem you," "I will take you for my people," "I will be your God," "I will bring you into the land," "I will give you the land for a possession."

I have a long-time friend named Bob Allen who was a PERT engineer for Ball Brothers during the early days of the space program. One time he took me to some large rooms at the Ball Brothers facility outside of Boulder, Colorado, and I looked at some enormous charts. There must have been a hundred thousand or more different items, all with lines connecting them together. That PERT chart took Ball Brothers from the point of signing a contract with the government to orbiting the satellite above earth. Imagine the logistics of accomplishing something like that—all the parts that had to be bought, all the things that had to be designed, all the people who had to be involved, stretching years in time! At the beginning you are expected to specify the exact date when all of those things are to come together at the end. Bob prided himself that in their project they would hit that date. That's what a PERT engineer is supposed to do.

What God gave here in Exodus 6 is his PERT chart for the nation of Israel. He shows that he has every detail figured out and planned: He'll do what needs to be done. Pharaoh—does his heart need to be hardened, or does his heart need to be softened? The taskmasters, the things that have to be given to the people, silver and gold, the matzo for the night of exodus, the crossing of the sea, the miracles that have to be performed, the people who have to be convinced, the hundreds of thousands of details, the logistics to bring it all together at just the right point—that's what God did. That's what he would do. You see, he is more than El-Shaddai. He's more than mighty. He's Yahweh. He is the covenant God who has struck a relationship and will stand by his deal, his covenant. He is Yahweh God who answers our problems and our questions by saying, "I am" and "I will."

And so to those beloved suffering people of Israel, God taught these amazing, life-changing lessons: Number one, God hears the hurting; number two, knowing God beats going free; number three, God is more than almighty.


But they did not listen because of their discouragement and their cruel bondage. Let me finish with a special word to those in discouragement here today. Listen, please listen: God has not forsaken you. He has not forgotten you. He hears your hurt. Know him. He is more than almighty. In fact, he is more than El-Shaddai and more than Yahweh. He has revealed himself in yet another name, and that is the name of Jesus. And in that name, Jesus, we have the opportunity to meet and know God, to have our sins forgiven, to find in him the Person who is the answer to every question and need. And so we must listen, listen through the pain of broken spirit and cruel bondage and say yes to El-Shaddai, to Yahweh, to Jesus.

For Your Reflection

Personal growth: How has this sermon fed your own soul? ___________________________________________

Skill growth: What did this sermon teach you about how to preach? ____________________________________________________________________________

Exegesis and exposition: Highlight the paragraphs in this sermon that helped you better understand Scripture. How does the sermon model ways you could provide helpful biblical exposition for your hearers? ____________________________________________________________________________

Theological Ideas: What biblical principles in this sermon would you like to develop in a sermon? How would you adapt these ideas to reflect your own understanding of Scripture, the Christian life, and the unique message that God is putting on your heart? ____________________________________________________________________________

Outline: How would you improve on this outline by changing the wording, or by adding or subtracting points? _____________________________________________________________________

Application: What is the main application of this sermon? What is the main application of the message you sense God wants you to bring to your hearers? ____________________________________________________________________________

Illustrations: Which illustrations in this sermon would relate well with your hearers? Which cannot be used with your hearers, but they suggest illustrations that could work with your hearers? ____________________________________________________________________________

Credit: Do you plan to use the content of this sermon to a degree that obligates you to give credit? If so, when and how will you do it?

Leith Anderson is president emeritus of the National Association of Evangelicals and Baptist pastor emeritus of Wooddale Church in Eden Prairie, Minnesota.

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Sermon Outline:


I. God hears the hurting

II. Knowing God beats going free

III. God is more than Almighty