Va’ara | And I appeared
The title of this weeks Torah Portion is Va'era meaning "And I appeared". This phrase is found in Exodus 6:2 "I am the LORD and I appeared to Abraham". My prayer is that, through the text, through your prayer, and through your life, He also would appear to you.
This Torah reading goes on to show God promising that He will free the Israelites from their bondage to Egypt. And He does. He sets them free after a very dramatic ordeal of petitions, plagues, and miracles.
These verses in chapter six are near and dear to the hearts of many people. It remains central to many hearts because this is the centerpiece of the liturgy for the Passover Seder. The whole fabric of the traditional Passover feast is woven together by these grand and inspiring statements made by God in verses 6 - 8, “I will bring you out… I will free you… I will redeem you… I will take you…” Fathers, mothers, scholars, rabbi’s, and many more in between have been raising a glass to these statements every year for hundreds of years! But instead of focusing on those statements today my heart was drawn to another phrase.
In verse five God said to Moses, "Moreover, I have heard the groaning of the Israelites."
It means a lot to me to know that God hears. All of my life I’ve been reading the Bible, listening to sermons, and contemplating things that God has said. But does He hear? It often has felt one-sided, like I was being talked at, or spoken to. Not for nothing, that’s the way the Bible is set up and that’s the way church gatherings generally are. And listening is a good thing. Whether it’s text or sermon you are meant to hear it, listen, and take it to heart. But does God hear people? Well apparently, yes. God does hear people. “Go tell the children of Israel I have heard God has always cared about what people say." After all, it’s on the second page of the Bible. Genesis 2:19 God brings the animals to the man “to see what He would name them, and whatever he called them that was its name.” God just wanted to see what the man would say! God made mankind to be like Him, and when God speaks things happen. When God speaks it matters. Likewise, when we speak things happen as well, and God hears. Remember what Jesus said, “Ask, seek and knock!” Keep speaking because God hears.
He hears their groans.
God not only hears but He hears groans. I have heard their groans. This reminds me of the story of Cain and Able when God said to Cain, “The voice of your brother’s blood cry’s out to me from the ground…” Isn’t it encouraging to know that even from the very beginning with Able, God has been listening to the deep painful groans of humanity? We all know struggle and hurt, but especially how hard it is to articulate our feelings in those moments. The overwhelming feeling of loss, the pit of helplessness in our stomach that forms in the light of injustice. This feeling is more than mere words… it’s not about words. It’s a groan. This is lament, grief, and frustration all wrapped together, and that stuff can’t be flattened out into words. Words would betray just how deep the pain goes. How flimsy and frail are the best articulations of traumatic feelings!? Groans aren’t trivial. And just because these feelings aren’t able to be placed into tidy neat boxes that doesn’t mean they are lost on God. God hears the groan! God affirms our groan! Reminds me of Romans 8:26b says, “For we do not know how to pray as we should but the Spirit Himself intercedes for us with groans too deep for words.”
God hears the groans of the Israelites.
God not only hears, and not only hears groans but groans even from the Israelite slave… the nobody. Someone once told me if God is infinitely big He’s also infinitely small. There is no prayer or person too small to be heard by God. Maybe that’s one of the reasons why, from our reading last week, all the random names are kept in Exodus. Names that we sometimes get exhausted from reading. God hears the groans of the nobody… Think about it, this text would read a lot different if it said “God heard the groans of the king of the slaves!” But how encouraging, in contrast, to read “God heard the groan of the Israelite slave…” Slaves have no voice. Slaves have no say. But God hears even them.
So may you be all the more free to speak up my friends. Because God is the same yesterday, today, and forever.
And God hears.
He hears the small whispers of our hearts as well as the echoing groans of our soul, and God doesn’t play favorites.
He listens to even us.