For the week of April 9, 2011 / 5 Nisan 5771
Torah: Vayikra / Leviticus 14:1 - 15:33
Haftarah: 1 Melachim / 2 Kings 7:3-20

What Do You Hear?

For the Lord had made the army of the Syrians hear the sound of chariots and of horses, the sound of a great army... (2 Melachim / 2 Kings 7:6; ESV)

We live in a day of information. In fact, I am probably correct in saying that we are inundated with more information than any other time in history. We are the object of more data, more opinions, and more claims than any generation that has ever lived.

Here in Canada, we are currently in the midst of a federal election campaign. We are being bombarded by all sorts of promises, criticisms, and commentary all vying for our attention. I have the impression that for many if not most Canadians, the political rhetoric, especially at election time, is nothing but empty showmanship designed to manipulate the public to garner votes and financial contributions.

Political game playing is just one example of the disconnect between information delivery and what we actually hear. Information experts understand this. They know that people don't necessarily hear what is being said. So they design the packaging and presentation of information to evoke a desired response regardless of the actual information content. That is why to communicate effectively, how we present something is just as important as what we say.

This week's Haftarah reveals another aspect of the dynamics of information delivery. In this story Samaria, the capital city of the Northern Kingdom of Israel, was in famine due to being under siege by the Syrian army. Four Israelite men, who had leprosy, decided they had nothing to lose by surrendering to the Syrians. But when they arrived at the Syrian camp, it was deserted. What had happened was that God caused the Syrians to hear what sounded like the coming of a great army. They freaked out thinking that Israel had hired other nations to come to their aid. So they abandoned camp and fled.

Now, I cannot say that this sort of thing happens all the time. But even one example of God causing people to hear something that wasn't really there in order to evoke a desired response should make us pause with regard to how we react to what we hear. Besides the communication issues of such things as hidden agendas, rumors, misconceptions, and outright lies that skew the accuracy of what we hear, once we realize that the God of the Universe may also be involved in information delivery, we need to be very careful about how we hear.

Note how the Syrian army didn't hear voices telling them that they were under attack. They only heard what sounded like an army. The reason why they believed they were under attack was because they were the enemies of Israel and God. If Israel would have heard the same sound, they likely would have believed that an army was coming to their aid instead.

How we hear what we hear is not primarily derived from the information itself, but from our understanding of our relationship with God. When we know that we are in good standing with him, that he loves us, and that he is always out for our good, then that becomes the filter through which we hear everything. We will no longer be victims of those who wish to manipulate us by their words. We will have patience for other people's inability to communicate effectively. We will not be alarmed by news of terrible atrocities in the world. And when we hear rumblings from God himself, we will know that he coming not to attack us, but to our aid.

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