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Shemot/Exodus 3:18 And they will listen to your voice
These words come towards the end ofHaShem's instructions to Moshe at the Bush. Moshe has been told to gather the elders of Israel (v. 16) and share HaShem's message - "I have certainly visited you ..." (KJV) - with them. Moshe, of course, needs encouragement to overcome his fear and reluctance at this time, but given HaShem's certainty in the next two verses that Pharoah will need his arm more than well twisted to let the people go, how can HaShem be so certain that the people and the elders will listen to what Moshe has to say to them, or is this just propaganda to give Moshe some confidence?
One of the earliest commentaries we have is Shemot Rabbah (formally codified around 900-1000 CE), where the rabbis explain that there was a tradition that was passed from Ya'akov to his sons about a double promise. Moshe is said to have asked HaShem why the people would listen to him, and He replied, "'They have a tradition from Joseph that with this watchword will I redeem them; go and tell them this sign.' Why this double expression ? 'Tell them that I will do what I promised to Ya'acov their father.' What did He promise him? 'And I will also surely bring you up again' (B'resheet 46:4). And so Ya'acov promised his sons: But G-d will be with you, and bring you back into the land of your fathers (48:21). Straightaway, 'they shall listen to your voice.' Why? Because of this tradition of deliverance which they possessed, that any redeemer that came and used twice the expression of to visit, was known to be a true deliverer" (Shemot Rabbah 3:8).
Rashi has obviously heard this story, but perhaps in a slightly different form, since he phrases it this way with different proof-text verses: "They will listen to you on their own. Because you will speak to them using this wording, they will listen to your voice, as this sign has been passed on to them from Ya'akov and Yosef, that by this wording they will be redeemed. Ya'akov said to them, 'And G-d will indeed take account of you' (B'resheet 50:24) [although Yosef actually says this, he is understood to be repeating what he heard from his father]. Yosef said to them, 'G-d will indeed take care of you' (50:25)." The Ramban adds that when they received the tradition, they also learned that it would be safe to believe the speaker because G-d knew that no man would come and deceive them.
TheBaal HaTurim suggests that HaShem's words imply that "you will not have to speak much; for the people will hearken immediately." The verb - the Qal 3mp affix form of the root , to hear or to listen, in a vav-reversive construction, so rendered in the future tense: and they will hear - has a marginal note in the Masoretic Text: , used as the number '2'. The Tur explains that this word "appears just twice in the Torah: here and 'But Moshe said to the L-RD, "When the Egyptians, from whose midst You brought up this people in Your might, hear the news' (B'Midbar 14:13, ESV). This implies that when Moshe spoke, all Egypt heard him (also drawing on y. Pesachim 5:5)." He adds that the second word of the phrase, - to your voice - also has a similar masoretic note, meaning "this word appears twice in the Torah: here and 'And if they are not convinced by both these signs and still do not heed you' (Shemot 4:9, ESV), which intimates that even though Moshe spoke in a low voice, nevertheless, his voice was heard throughout Egypt." This then was a (presumably supernatural) quality of Moshe's voice: whether shouting or whispering, it carried throughout the land of Egypt, so that all the Israelites would recognise his authority. Targum Onkelos changes the Hebrew verb "to hear" to the Aramaic verb "to accept", to indicate that the people accepted what Moshe said, rather than just heard the words he spoke.
The prophet Ezekiel was given a difficult task. Like Isaiah before him who was told to "Go, and tell this people: 'Keep on listening, but do not perceive; keep on looking, but do not understand.' Render the hearts of this people insensitive, their ears dull, and their eyes dim, lest they see with their eyes, hear with their ears, understand with their hearts, and return and be healed" (Isaiah 6:9-10, NASB), Ezekiel is sent to a people who will not hear: "Then He said to me, "Son of man, go to the house of Israel and speak with My words to them. For you are not being sent to a people of unintelligible speech or difficult language, but to the house of Israel, nor to many peoples of unintelligible speech or difficult language, whose words you cannot understand" (Ezekiel 3:4-6a, NASB). This should have been easy - Ezekiel knew the language well, it was his native language; he understood the words and so would those with whom he shared or to whom he spoke. His audience were not unintelligent, but fully thinking people - so why was the task so difficult? HaShem goes on, "I have sent you to them who should listen to you; yet the house of Israel will not be willing to listen to you, since they are not willing to listen to Me. Surely the whole house of Israel is stubborn and obstinate" (v. 6b-7, NASB). The people cannot listen because they will not listen. They would not listen to G-d's words in the past, through the other prophets, because they chose not to hear, receive or accept what He said. Now, Ezekiel's words will fall on similarly deaf ears; stubborn ears that as soon as they hear whose words are being spoken will switch off and refuse to accept what is being said. The people should hear, they need to hear, there is no physical, linguistic, semantic or philological reason why they can't hear, but they will refuse to hear the word of G-d.
Yeshua sent his disciples out ahead of Him to proclaim the kingdom of G-d and to heal people in the towns and villages throughout the Galil. Who wouldn't want to hear the good news that G-d was still interested in His ancient people and that healing was freely available to anyone who would ask and come forward? Yeshua Himself had already been doing this for some months, while living at Capernaum on the shores of the Kinneret; He told wonderful stories that captured everyone's heart and imagination and healed all those who came to Him (Luke 4:40). As He sent His disciples out to spread the news even further, He set some basic rules for them: "Whatever house you enter, stay there, and take your leave from there. And as for those who do not receive you, as you go out from that city, shake off the dust from your feet as a testimony against them" (Luke 9:4-5, NASB). Itinerant teachers and rabbis worked this way - during the summer months, at least: arrive at the next town, find a home where they could stay for a few days and use that home as their base while teaching and ministering in the town; the house-owner would provide board and lodging and receive the teacher's blessing as well as first-hand opportunities to talk and learn. But Yeshua warned the disciples that there would be some villages where they were simply not welcome; no-one would host them or want to hear the message they brought, no matter how good it was - and it was, very! Then they were to shake the dust of their feet at the village and move on to the next. These things would happen. These things do happen. Now. Today. Right here and right now, in this place. My place, your place, any place.
On the other hand, many people welcomed the disciples and many miracles were done as people were healed, heard the good news and repented, accepted G-d's invitation to enter (or re-enter) His kingdom. The disciples returned with good reports of what they had done; Yeshua rejoiced: "In that same hour He rejoiced in the Holy Spirit and said, 'I thank You, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that You have hidden these things from the wise and understanding and revealed them to little children; yes, Father, for such was Your gracious will'" (Luke 10:21, ESV). Open and aching hearts wanted to hear the good news, were waiting for an opportunity to connect (or re-connect) with the G-d they always knew was out there but didn't know how to reach. Physical and spiritual healing took place as sickness and demonic forces gave way before the kingdom of G-d; lives were turned round and restored as people heard about and made room for the G-d who loved them. These things happened. These things do happen. Now. Today. Right here and right now, in this place. My place, your place, any place.
It just needs someone to ask, someone to go and someone to hear. Yeshua is still asking - will you go? Will you take the risk of some people not wanting to hear for the sake of those who need to hear and whose lives will be changed by the good news that you can share, the healing that you can help to bring and the love that you can demonstrate? There are lots of people who will hear and whose lives are crying out for some sign from G-d, to know that someone cares and that their life has a purpose, that they might know Him and serve Him. That's all it takes and they are all around us, every day. Will you hear the truth and authority in the words of Scripture - "And they will listen to your voice" - and be prepared to act upon G-d's call? Change a life and open the door to the kingdom of heaven for someone today!
Further Study: Shemot 4:29-31; Matthew 4:23-25
Application: Are you prepared to take G-d at His word and spread the news of the kingdom of G-d wherever He leads you? Will you speak for G-d and rely on His promise that "they will listen to your voice" and then leave the rest up to Him?
07:25 04Jan15 Timothy Butlin: That is a great promise to take into 2015 - my place, your place, any place - and a great challenge to pray into and be expectant about. May the Lord give us all grace to live with this anticipation that when we walk with Him others will listen to His voice through us.
© Jonathan Allen, 2015
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