jesus/ musings on faith, life

a good word is hard to hear. {faith, trust, and brokenness in Exodus}

it’s hard to believe anything good will come when bad things keep on happening.

So, when someone tells you that good things will come, it’s hard to believe them.

You hear all the niceties and platitudes, all the words that at one point would elicit hope and comfort–but they fall on deaf ears. You’ve heard them too many times, and have lived the opposite of those words for far too long to believe in anything

You can’t help but doubt and wonder how, amidst all the broken hardships and struggles, something good could ever happen.

It’s hard to look on the bright side when life seems hidden in the dark. 

I’ve been there, y’all. Many a time. When everything looks bleak and hopeless, those nice words meant to comfort sound insulting. Gee, thanks for telling me that despite all this crazy stuff happening that everything’s going to be alright, or that it will all work out!

Comforting, perhaps. Helpful, not so much.

Life can't be fixed with a Pinterest-worthy encouragement. Life is so much more complicated than a passerby platitude. Click To Tweet

You wonder why. You question what you’ve done wrong to get this lot in life. You pray for answers, relief, help, but when the prayers go unanswered (or answered in the way you don’t want them to), you stop saying them at all.

It’s hard to believe anything can get better when you’re broken. No matter who is saying the words, or what words or promises are said–when you’ve been broken beyond repair, it’s hard to believe anything will put the pieces back together.

The Israelites felt this way. 

Sidebar: I’m always amazed when I find that people in scripture felt my same feelings– I don’t feel so alone in my emotional-wreckness.  When I see words I’ve said or believed said and believed by the people I study and admire in my faith, I feel like someone gets it. And I feel relieved that my emotions and struggles are actually normal. /end sidebar

I’ve been reading Exodus with She Reads Truth for Lent. It’s been a GREAT study so far (their studies always are, but Lent studies are always so special to me). I’ve never studied Exodus as a whole, which is a shame– reading the story in context and in light of the Gospel has been so eye-opening. (I see so much of myself in Moses).

A verse in Exodus 6 caught my attention. In this chapter, God instructs Moses to tell the Israelites that he has remembered his covenant– that He will bring them out of their forced labor and redeem their suffering.

Verse 9 says this:

Moses told this to the Israelites but they did not listen to him because of their broken spirit and hard labor. (CSB)

Because of their broken spirits, they didn’t believe Moses. Because the hard, exhausting, back-breaking work they were being put through every day, they couldn’t imagine anything getting better.

Here are a view different versions so you can see the meaning of this phrase, broken spirit:

But when Moses delivered this message to the Israelites, they didn’t even hear him—they were that beaten down in spirit by the harsh slave conditions. (MSG)

So Moses went and told these things to the Israelites, but they turned a deaf ear to him because they were in such low spirits and exhausted from their harsh labor. (The Voice)

So Moses told the people of Israel what the Lord had said, but they refused to listen anymore. They had become too discouraged by the brutality of their slavery. (NLT)

When Moses told this to the Israelites, they were too discouraged and mistreated to believe him. (CEV)

And Moses spake so unto the children of Israel: but they hearkened not unto Moses for anguish of spirit, and for cruel bondage. (KJV)

beaten down.

low spirits.


anguished in spirit.

That’s a lot of hard, heavy, emotional (and physical) struggle, right? They were beaten down and exhausted, discouraged and anguished. They were done believing and hoping for things to be different, because after all this time? Nothing had changed. They were still oppressed, even moreso now with Moses in the picture telling them things were going to change.

How quickly hope can dissipate when things continually get worse instead of better.

This wasn’t the first time they’d heard these promises, either– Moses told of the same things the Lord had said back in Exodus 4, and then they believed him. They believed God would deliver them, and they worshiped Him for being their deliverer.

Instead of things turning around after Moses’ first announcement to the Israelites, they suffered even more. Pharaoh was angry that Moses had even suggested the idea to let his labor go, so he made the Israelites work even harder. All the while still having to produce the same amount of work, the work was now twice as hard.

So, instead of life getting better for the Israelites… it got tremendously worse. No wonder their spirits were broken– they believed, and to them, it seemed like God did the opposite of what he promised. So the next time where Moses repeated the same promise and words, they fell on deaf ears. They were hollow promises given to a broken people.

I’ve felt that in my own faith so many times– I’d pray or beg for this or that, things that are generally good and noble (like financial provision or healing from mental illness), and it just seemed like God decided not to answer those certain prayers, because things wouldn’t change (or they’d change for the worse!). How can I believe God’s going to make things better when they keep getting worse?

 They’d heard this same word once before and waited with hopeful hearts for change. But it didn’t happen. They just couldn’t handle the disappointment they’d feel if Moses and the Lord let them down again. Fool me once, shame on you, but fool me twice…

A good word is hard to hear when you hear the same ones over and over, without change. Click To Tweet

I decided to do some research on the phrase “broken spirit”– I have said many times before how I felt my spirit was broken in my own life, and wanted to know more about this phrase and what it meant to the Israelites.

In my research, I discovered the Hebrew translation of the words: kotzer ruach.

Together, the words mean “shortness of breath” or “shortness of spirit”

Not only were they short in spirit, they were short in their physical breath– how could they believe anything was going to get better when they were barely in physical health to keep going?

The commentary explained it this way: “The words signify that their labor was so continual, and their bondage so cruel and oppressive, that they had scarcely time to breathe.”

They scarcely had time to breathe. Wow. I could definitely imagine struggling to believe anything at this point– if you don’t have time to breathe, to actually survive each day, how could you muster the strength to believe in change?

Another commentary put it this way: “after their cruel disappointment, they were quite absorbed by their misery, unable and unwilling to attend to any fresh communication.”

Absorbed in their misery. Anyone else been there? *raises hand* When misery is all you know, it’s hard to focus on anything but your suffering.

A good word is hard to hear when misery surrounds you on all sides. Click To Tweet

The last commentary I read shared the Greek translation of the Hebrew words: ολιγοψυχιας, which is interpreted as “anxiety of mind.” According to my friend Google Translate, this loosely translates to “excessively cautious approach.”

Anxiety of mind. Heh. I know a thing or two or 20 about that.

The commentary also added to the description of the Hebrew translation:   The original רוח קצרchotzer ruach, denotes that shortness of breath, which is occasioned by extreme grief, anger, or fatigue. 

Grief. Anger. Fatigue. All of the things plaguing (no pun intended) the Israelites when Moses told them that God was going to deliver them.

I’ve had plenty of seasons where depression and anxiety have produced grief, anger, fatigue, and other emotions or feelings. Sometimes they even happen all at once! In those times, it’s hard to imagine life ever getting better… it’s hard when you’re so broken to see wholeness at the end of the tunnel.

No matter what people say to try to help, it doesn’t change much when there’s something broken in your brain. Not to say don’t say the kind things– but it doesn’t always make an impact in the midst of the battle.

I was intrigued by the fact that this is the only place in scripture where these words– kotzer ruach– are used together, to indicate a broken spirit. In various places, they use the words separately (Ruach is a part of one of the names of the Lord, after all), but nowhere else is this phrase used to indicate a broken spirit.

That’s how rough it was for the Israelites. No one else suffered in such a way, both physically and emotionally, throughout scripture. We see the phrase broken spirit in a few other places in scripture, but the words are translated into a different phrase– most often the phrase is figuratively used, meaning they may feel like they have a broken spirit, but it’s not the actual case.

But here, in the life of the Israelites under bondage, their spirits, their bodies, were being broken, literally— to the point where they couldn’t breathe, couldn’t focus on anything but their suffering.

Wow. I don’t think I ever realized the seriousness of their suffering. The Sunday school songs about Let My People Go didn’t teach me that.

Their intense suffering led to their disbelief, and when you dig into what that suffering looked like, it’s easy to see reasons not to believe. There have been many times my suffering has caused me to question, but my suffering looks like a cakewalk. I can’t blame them one bit for not hearing hope in Moses’ words– their suffering trumped their faith, in more ways than one.

and yet…

They still lived. In the midst of their struggle to barely breathe, they put one foot in front of the other and lived, despite the whys and the disbelief that they’d be delivered from this life they were stuck in.

It might not look like a lot of faith was happening, but there’s faith in keeping on when you’d rather give up.
There’s faith when you keep holding on, even when you aren’t sure who or what you believe anymore.

There’s faith in living life and doing the hard things every day, despite giving up hope that things would change.

The Israelites lived this kind of faith, even if they didn’t see it themselves.

When reading this scripture, and all the above translations/commentaries about it, I’ve kept coming back to the idea of trust.

The Israelites trusted the words of the Lord before. The same words, sent from the same messenger. They believed hard, and nothing came to fruition from it. At least, nothing they wanted came to fruition– their lives got worse instead of better.

When life has let you down before, it’s hard to imagine it won’t happen again.

When someone says one thing and another thing happens, it’s hard to believe another thing they say will happen as it should.

When trust gets broken, it’s hard to rebuild, especially when you still aren’t sure of the outcome, like the Israelites.

In a way, I’m reminded of The Boy Who Cried Wolf– the boy says one thing when it isn’t true, but when it IS true… it was hard to get people to believe him because he’d tricked them with the same info before. So Moses brings this message from the Lord, and it’s a false alarm– JK, I’m gonna harden the Pharaoh’s heart and he’s going to make you work twice as hard!

So when the same messenger brings the same message, the Israelites are more than skeptical– they’re frankly, completely unbelieving. Because he’d told them the same thing prior and it didn’t happen– what made them think it’d happen this time?

Trust, for me… it’s complicated. I relate so much to the Israelites at this moment, because I am so skeptical of people and their motives. I’m so weary of trusting people because I’ve been let down and forgotten and left brokenhearted when people break their promises.

And when they break their promises, they break my trust. And it’s really, really hard to earn it back.

I understand the Israelite’s being distrusting of the message Moses brings– I’ve been distrusting of too many messages to count.

When you let your assumptions and fear and discretions go and trust that the person’s going to love you back and that they mean what they say– your life opens up in a new way. When you believe what people say instead of fearing the worst, it changes you and how you approach things.

I’ve missed out on so many events, activities, or opportunities because I didn’t trust them or I was too afraid to fail or fall. I haven’t gotten to know so many people because I was afraid to let them in further than my comfort zone. I was scared to let myself go and be fully seen, even if it didn’t turn out like I wanted it to.

I think that’s how the Israelites felt, too. They were so tired, and so, so pained– physically, emotionally, and spiritually. They were scared to give any more of themselves to a thought that *might* not come true because they didn’t have much left to give. They wanted to believe in something more or better, but they’d done it once and it came back to bite them. If they did it again with the same results, they’d be pretty much dead. So they held back. Their skepticism was based off their suffering, but it was rooted in trust: they couldn’t trust the words enough on their own. So they didn’t trust them at all.

I don’t want to spend my whole life being a slave to my fear and my untrusting abilities. I want to learn what it’s like to take my broken spirit, with all its anguish and pain, and trust God with it anyway even if I’m scared that nothing will change.

I want to hear the good words and believe them with my whole self– not just a part of me that dips her toe in the water where it’s safe.

The Israelites weren’t safe where they were– Pharaoh was going to work them to death, and there was no escape or plan B.

Unless they believed Moses’s words. Unless they trusted the deliverance God promised, even if it wasn’t on their terms.

This is where faith comes in.
It takes faith to trust even when your spirit’s broken.
It takes faith to not let fear or apprehension keep you from living your life.

It took faith for Moses to keep trying– despite the Lord hardening Pharaoh’s heart, he went time after time to convince him to let his people go.

And he did.

 The route to the Lord’s deliverance wasn’t pretty, or fast, or without pain and grief. But the Lord did exactly as he promised.

Did the Israelites finally realize what they needed to do and trust Moses? They did.

 But first, they needed to stop and let themselves be broken for a bit.
That’s perfectly OK, I think. We all need time to lament and process and grieve whatever may be keeping us from listening to what the Lord has said, and believing what He has promised. We need the days where we focus on putting one foot in front of the other and carrying on, hanging on by a thread of faith.
We all need time to wander and grow and struggle in our need before we see how much we truly need to be delivered.

When we put God and his promises in a box that follows our desires and expectations, it’s easy to lose trust in His promises when they don’t happen according to our way and our time. The Israelites struggled mightily in their time of slavery, and they wanted it ended on their own terms (for good reason!). But when they trusted Him and His plan for deliverance, His promise unfolded how it needed to. It wasn’t how they wanted or when they wanted it, but the miraculous acts of God’s power brought them out of slavery.

If you’re in this broken spirit kind of place like the Israelites, or if you’ve been there before (and might be there again): it’s okay to be broken. It’s okay to grieve and feel anguished and despair when life keeps swallowing you whole. Keep putting one foot in front of the other like the Israelites did. Choose an everyday faith of being right where you are, even when you want to be somewhere else (preaching that one to myself right now). And trust. Trust with your whole self that God will deliver on the promises he’s made, even if it doesn’t look like what you expect it to.

A good word is hard to hear.

A broken spirit is a hard thing to live with.

A trust that God will deliver us from our brokenness and into the life He has for us– that is what faith is about.

Our God makes promises He keeps, even when we’re too broken to hear them and believe them today. He’ll be there when we’re ready to believe them again.

 Audrey Assad’s new album came out this week, and it’s pretty much my soundrack right now. This song especially.

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