On Sunday, we did not have time to look closely at the first verse in our text, so I’d like to do that here. Have you ever heard people explain their sin by pointing to ways that others have sinned against them? I would venture to say that most of us have done that. “I did what I did because of what that person did to me.” It’s far easier to justify our sin by pointing to stimuli outside of ourselves than to consider that our hearts are naturally bent toward sin.
It is frequently the case that our sin is precipitated in some measure by an influence outside of ourselves. Others wrong us all the time. However, that does not mean that our sin in response is automatic or justified.
Consider how Exodus 6:9 explains Israel’s refusal to listen to Moses:
Moses spoke thus to the people of Israel, but they did not listen to Moses, because of their broken spirit and harsh slavery.
Moses spoke the words commanded by Yahweh in vv6-8 to the effect that He would save them from the Egyptians and take them to be His people. That they did not “listen to Moses” indicates that they did not believe the word of the Lord, which is a sinful response. The text explains this by the phrase “because of their broken spirit and harsh slavery.”
At first blush, it appears that the explanation is completely external to the Israelites. In other words, they failed to believe strictly because of how the Egyptians had beaten them down. But there are actually two causes mentioned and they are not the same thing. The text cites their ‘broken spirit’ and their ‘harsh slavery.’ The harsh slavery is an external influence, but their broken spirit refers to their own hardened hearts.
The word translated “broken” is more literally “shortness”. If we look at other places this phrase is used – “shortness of spirit” – we get the idea that it is more of a heart issue than just that they are beaten down. For example, in Job 21:4 this phrase is used and it carries the idea of impatience. That verse would very literally be, “why should not my spirit be short?” But most translations have something like, “why shouldn’t I be impatient?” The phrase is also used in Prov 14:29 where it is contrasted with being slow to anger, which would also indicate that it carries the idea of impatience or quickness to anger.
So in Exodus 6, one reason given for the people not listening to Moses is that they are quick to anger or impatient. They cannot endure difficulty. It’s a heart issue. It is that heart issue reacting to the external issue – their harsh slavery – that leads them to not listen to Moses, i.e. not believe God. They don’t believe God because they are impatient/quick to anger in the face of their harsh slavery.
When we sin, it’s usually going to be a wrong heart response to an external stimulus. Can we then point to the external stimulus to explain our sin? Not ultimately. It was our heart that responded sinfully. And if we are believers, we could have responded differently. Christ was sinned against constantly in His earthly life and yet He never sinned in response.
A huge lesson that we learn by watching the Israelites respond sinfully over and over is that they had a heart problem (Deut 29:4; Isa 29:13). One of the blessings of the gospel is that Christ addresses that heart problem by removing the old heart of stone and replacing it with a heart of flesh (Eze 11:19, 36:26). As believers, we must recognize both our freedom from the old self, and our tendency to revert back to the old self unnecessarily (Rom 6:1-14). By the grace of Christ, we are able, moment by moment, to respond in godly ways to ungodly treatment.
The key is to be reminded daily of the truth of who we are in Christ – new creations raised to walk in newness of life (2 Cor 5:17; Rom 6:4), and to habitually engage in fellowship with Him through the Word, prayer, and meaningful interaction with the saints.