For the week of January 17, 2004 / 23 Tevet 5764
Torah: Shemot / Exodus 1:1 - 6:1
Haftarah: Isaiah 27:6 - 28:13; 29:22,23
Originally published the week of January 5, 2002 / 21 Tevet 5762

What Language Does God Speak?

Very well then, with foreign lips and strange tongues God will speak to this people (Isaiah 28:11).

God chose Israel in order to make himself known to all peoples of the world. Israel began with Abraham, Isaac, his son, and Jacob, his grandson. Though their natural lineage came out of the peoples of Mesopotamia, through migration and segregation their descendants developed into a distinct people group. One key element of that distinction is that they developed their own unique language.

Language is a very personal thing. The language of a people represents both a heritage and a legacy. When people lose their language they risk losing their identity.

For the people of Israel, Hebrew was the vehicle through which God spoke to them. When we speak Hebrew today, we hear the sounds of God's own voice when he declared the Ten Commandments at Sinai. Our understanding of ourselves as a community and our special covenantal relationship with God are intimately connected to our language.

So for Isaiah to prophesy that God himself would speak through "foreign lips and strange tongues" is scandalous. Until that time whenever God spoke to the people it was through Hebrew. Messages of God were always given to the community from within. But now Isaiah is implying that the message would come from foreigners speaking a foreign language.

Many of us have a difficult time receiving words from God through a foreign source. When this happens our cultural structures seem challenged, and we fear the loss of our distinctives. These things need not occur. It depends both on how the messages are being given and how they are received.

We should not think that when outsiders come with a message from God that they are undermining who we are as a people. Of course it doesn't help when the messengers themselves think that way. When people from the outside of a community bring God-given messages, it would be much better if they would do so in humility.

But however a message is delivered, we should not judge it upon the background of the messenger, but on the basis of its content. Those of us of from a Jewish background would miss out on so much if we would insist that our God can only speak through those from within our own community.

What might be difficult for the people of Israel is actually a challenge to most people. We tend to have a hard time receiving God's word from outsiders. Yet it appears that it is God who has chosen to speak to us at times in this way. We would do well to listen.

Or perhaps you are the outsider through whom God wishes to speak. Don't let our hesitancy to listen, prevent you from speaking.

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