Beth Elohim Messianic Synagogue
Parashah #13: Sh’mot (Names) (Ex.) 1:1-6:1
Haftarah: Yirmeyahu (Jer.) 1:1-2:3 (S)
B’rit Chadashah: Mattityahu (Matt.) 22:23-33; 41-46
Mark 12:18-27; 35-37; Luke 20:27-44; Acts 3:12-15;
5:27-32; 7:17-36; 22:12-16; 24:14-16
This year we are going to examine the life of Moshe, his questions of G-d, and the implications his background has for us as we live as foreigners in a foreign land on this earth just as he did.
We start with the events after his birth before he had any free choice in his life’s work. We read of G-d’s provision for us at the deepest levels of our being. We read in Exodus 2:7-10: At this point, his sister [Moshe’s who was a daughter of a Levite] said to Pharaoh’s daughter.’ Would you like me to go and find you one of the Hebrew women to nurse the baby for you?’ Pharaoh’s daughter answered, ‘Yes, go.’ So, the girl went and called the baby’s own mother. Pharaoh’s daughter told her, ‘Take this child away, and nurse it for me, and I will pay you for doing it.’ So, the woman took the child and nursed it. Then, when the child had grown some, she brought him to Pharaoh’s daughter, and she began to raise him as her son. She called him Moshe [pulled out], explaining, ‘Because I pulled him out of the water.” Moshe was a Levite by birth, the tribe associated with the most intimate Temple service to YHVH. His mother was blessed to be able to nurse him. His name means “pulled out.” He was not only pulled out of the water, but as history revealed, he was pulled out of his Egyptian raising and separated for G-d’s service. Think for a moment of how G-d orchestrated these events so early on in Moshe’s life. Man could not have intervened with such perfect timing and designed such circumstances.
G-d not only orchestrated external circumstances but instilled an inherent love for His [and Moshe’s] own people in his soul. For Moshe’s first documented act as a young man was the murder of an Egyptian who struck one of his kinsmen. Moshe did not identify with the Egyptians although raised by them. Next, he tries to settle a fight between two of his own people who reject his authority (Ex. 2:14). Similarly, there was no love lost between Pharaoh and Moshe because Pharaoh was going to have Moshe killed. Moshe quickly realized he was now a man without a country. This realization is expressed in the name of his first son” Gershon” meaning “I have been a foreigner in a foreign land.” (Ex. 2:22). Note this child is named by Moshe and not Zipporah meaning “bird.” The “heh” at the end of her name designates G-d’s presence in her life.
Next, we note that Moshe is a shepherd now and no longer Egyptian royalty. He has been humbled through the aforementioned events and now has experience caring for sheep as does our Great Shepherd. Again, G-d was moulding and refining Moshe for His preordained purpose in life (Ex. 3:1). Not only is Moshe a shepherd, but he also cares for the sheep of his father-in-law which implies additional responsibilities. Suddenly, out in the field all alone Moshe notices a burning bush not being consumed. This represents G-d’s sustaining the physical world through His pervasive and constant presence and chesed (unmerited kindness). G-d calls him from the middle of the bush and Moshe does not hesitate to answer, “Here I am!” (Hine ni!). That we would answer YHVH/Yahshua as quickly when we are called! Then the doubt sets in. Moshe begins questioning G-d saying, “Who am I, that I should go to Pharaoh and lead the people of Israel out of Egypt?” (Ex. 3:11) The next question is also a comment as if Moshe needs to inform G-d of something which He is yet unaware. “But I’m certain they won’t believe me, and they won’t listen to what I say, because they’ll say, ‘Adonai did not appear to you” (Ex. 4:1). He continues his complaints saying he is a poor speaker (Ex. 4:10) and finally begs G-d to just send someone else (Ex. 4:13). G-d is patient at first and uses 39 verses (note the number 39) (Ex. 3:1-4:17) to persuade Moshe to accept the mission. His anger finally blazes, and He allows Moshe to take Aaron as his companion and mouthpiece. Note the restraint G-d exercises even in his anger. We must consider this when we continue to miss learning opportunities and transgress against G-d and others, then thank G-d for His loving kindness in dealing with us and giving us another chance.
G-d answers all of Moshe’s questions except the first “Who am I?” Perhaps Moshe answered this question himself through his humility. In the Tanakh, the people who turn out to be the worthiest are those who deny their worthiness to any degree. Isaiah, when given his mission said, “I am a man of unclean lips” (Is. 6:5). Jeremiah said, “I cannot speak, for I am a child” (Jer. 1:6). King David echoed Moshe’s words, “Who am I? (2 Sam. 7:18). Jonah tried to run away and hide. No, the Bible greats given the mission to inform, warn, and encourage G-d’s people were not figures from Greek mythology. They were not people possessed with a sense of destiny and greatness. They were people who doubted their own abilities. They openly stated their fears and even a desire to give up in some cases. Moshe, Elijah, Jeremiah, and Jonah reached such points of despair they prayed to die. However, G-d sustained, encouraged, and strengthened them for His purpose. Sometimes G-d had to admonish His servants to the point of becoming angry or placing them in the belly of a fish of such a size that would win any tournament. There was work to be done and G-d made His choices. In an abstract way, we may conclude that G-d answered Moshe’s question by not answering it. We must also understand this pattern of using humans with all our flaws to accomplish His will continues today. This is humbling as we stop to consider this is why we are allowed to live another day. G-d is not finished with us yet. We still have lessons to learn and work to do for His glory.
We alluded to another perspective of the question “Who am I?” Moshe was brought up as an Egyptian in the royal palace. He looked, acted, and dressed like an Egyptian. When he rescued Yitro’s daughters from the rebel shepherds, they went back to their father “An Egyptian saved us” (Ex. 2:19). Moshe was an Egyptian prince. He was also a Midianite. He fled to Midyan after he became aware of Pharaoh’s plans to kill him and he married a Midianite woman. He was content to live in Midyan quietly as a shepherd for his father-in-law’s flocks. He did not stand before Pharaoh as G-d’s servant until the ripe old age of 80 (Ex 7:7). He spent most of his life in Midyan, far away from the Israelites on one hand and the Egyptians on the other. It should not be surprising then, that Moshe may have felt uninvolved with G-d’s plan to deliver His people Israel. He had not grown up as an Israelite. He had good reason to believe the Israelites would not acknowledge him as one of them. How could he possibly be their leader? Furthermore, how could he expect Pharaoh to listen to him when he was raised as Pharaoh’s son? Any signs or wonders of which Moshe was familiar could be conjured up by Pharaoh’s magicians. When he did try to intervene for his kinsmen, he was not welcomed. So, what drew Moshe to his mission? The clue is in a verse we addressed early in this lesson. Moshe accepted because his soul was that of an Israelite. He inherently knew in his heart and mind that he was a stranger in a strange land as evidenced by the name of his son, Gershon, who Moshe named and not Tzipporah. Although he may have felt comfortable in Midian, he knew it was not his home. Imagine yourself in your home. You may feel perfectly comfortable in your physical home in your physical geographic location. But when you are called out by G-d for His purpose, you start to have questions. You no longer feel “at home” on this earth, in your geographic location, in your home. You feel homesick for a place you’ve never been or seen. You truly feel yourself a stranger in a strange land.
Another clue to Moshe’s developing G-dly spirit driving his soul is evident in Exodus 2:11 “When Moshe was grown, he began to go out to his own people, and he saw their hard labour.” This was a transforming moment, not unlike that of Ruth the Moabite who told her mother-in-law Naomi, “Your people will be my people and your G-d my G-d “(Ruth 1:16). Ruth was not Jewish by birth. Moshe was not Jewish by upbringing. But both knew that they, when they saw suffering and identified with the sufferer, they could not walk away.
Maimonides, who defines this as “separating yourself from the community” (poresh mi-darkhei ha-tsibbur, Hilkhot Teshuva 3; 11), says that this is one of the sins for which we can be denied a share in the world to come. This is what the Haggadah means when it says of the wicked son that “because he excludes himself from the collective, he denies a fundamental principle of faith.” What fundamental principle of faith? Faith in the collective fate and destiny of Israelites, many of which are biological Jews.
Who are you? If you are called out by G-d and respond, you will come to know the answer. When G-d calls us to His service, we will not be able to walk away, even if G-d finds it necessary to “encourage” us to accept our mission. When we are called out by G-d and respond, we become who we are because G-d’s people are who they are; a collective community with an individual and collective mission to glorify G-d. This is not a “forced” submission to G-d by any means. Remember that many are called but few are chosen (Matt. 24:14-16). There are many who were and are called by G-d and ignore the calling. But there those who just need a little prompting and encouragement because they possess a deep internal love for G-d that they have just not yet realized or developed. Such was Moshe’s situation. G-d knows who is going to respond to His call and he will work with that individual until His will is accomplished in that life.
Haftarah: Isaiah 27:6-28:13; 29:22-23.
This week’s haftorah parallels the week’s Torah reading on many levels. One of the parallels is the message of Redemption conveyed by Isaiah — “and you shall be gathered one by one, O children of Israel” — that is reminiscent of the message of Redemption that G‑d spoke to Moses at the burning bush; a message that Moses then communicated to Pharaoh.
The haftarah vacillates between Isaiah’s prophecies concerning the future redemption, and his admonitions concerning the Jews’ drunken and G‑dless behavior. Isaiah starts on a positive note: “In the coming days, Jacob will take root, Israel will bud and blossom, filling the face of the earth…” He mentions G‑d’s mercy for His nation and the measure-for-measure punishment He meted out upon the Egyptians who persecuted them. And regarding the future redemption: “And you shall be gathered one by one, O children of Israel. And it shall come to pass on that day, that a great shofar shall be sounded, and those lost in the land of Assyria and those exiled in the land of Egypt shall come and they shall prostrate themselves before the Lord on the holy mount in Jerusalem.”
The prophet then proceeds to berate the drunkenness of the Ten Tribes, warning them of the punishment that awaits them. “With the feet, they shall be trampled, the crown of the pride of the drunkards of Ephraim…”
The haftarah ends on a positive note: “Now Jacob shall not longer be ashamed, and now his face shall not pale. For, when he sees his children, the work of My hands, in his midst, who shall sanctify My name . . . and the God of Israel they shall revere.” Note the interplay between the names “Jacob” and “Israel.”
B’rit Chadashah Hebrews 11: 23-26 (11: 1)
Trusting is being confident of what we hope for, convinced about things we do not see. (It was for this that Scripture attested the merit of the people of old) Trusting or faith; (Greek pistis).
Being confident, Greek upostasis (literally, “that which stands under”), what gives present reality to what we hope for. In contrast to the rest of the chapter, which analyzes various “heroes of faith” chronicled in the Tanakh, this verse sets forth a basic function of trusting, namely, that by trusting we understand or, as the 11th-century Christian theologian Anselm put it, Credo ut intelligam (“I believe in order to understand”). Those who refuse to take the first steps necessary (action)to trust in G-d cannot understand the most basic truths: the benevolent consequences of faith are not only emotional but affect (action verb) the realm of the mind. This step was demonstrated by Moshe’s decision to intervene (action verb) for his kinsmen and Ruth’s choice to leave (action verb) her comfort zone for the unknown life in a land unfamiliar to her with Naomi as a Jew. Sometimes we are allowed to take “baby Steps” as we build our faith and trust in G-d such as learning not to eat rare steaks, shellfish, or pork. But sometimes we are tested in ways that require a leap of faith and trust that may mean martyrdom or other types of persecution such as going before Pharaoh as Moshe; going before the king without his invitation as did Esther; speaking before the people of Israel warning them of G-d’s judgement as did the Prophets, and Daniel’s refusal to bow before a foreign king. There are numerous others, their accounts written in G-d’s Torah to show us that just as G-d was with them through such testings, He is with those who love Him today.
23 By trusting, the parents of Moshe hid (action verb) him for three months after he was born, because they saw that he was a beautiful child, and they weren’t afraid of the king’s decree.
24 By trusting, Moshe, after he had grown up, refused to be called the son of Pharaoh’s daughter. 25 He chose being mistreated (action verb) along with G-d’s people rather than enjoying the passing pleasures of sin. 26 He had come to regard abuse suffered (action verb) on behalf of the Messiah as greater riches than the treasures of Egypt, for he kept his eyes fixed on the reward.
This parashah devotes more space to Moshe than to any of the other heroes of faith except Avraham. Thirty-nine verses are written to convey the interaction between Moshe and G-d (Yahshua) as the voice came from the middle of the bush signifying the middle pillar of the G-dhead (Yahshua). (Look up the significance of 39 for a Biblical pearl of knowledge!)
Verse 23 The parents of Moshe, Amram and Yoch’eved (Exodus 6:20), hid him by placing him in a basket to float in the Nile, so that he wouldn’t be killed according to Pharaoh’s decree. In answer to their faith in the G-d of Israel, Pharaoh’s daughter found him there and raised him as her own son, even employing the child’s own mother to nurse him (Exodus 2:1-10).
24-26 Moshe had every possible advantage Egypt could offer. Jewish tradition maintains that as the adopted child of Pharaoh’s daughter he may even have been in line for the throne. But he also had knowledge of G-d’s revelation and of his own identity as an Israelite and chose being mistreated along with G-d’s people rather than enjoying the perquisites of his position, until finally (Exodus 2:11-15) he was forced to flee for his life.
26 He had come to regard abuse suffered on behalf of the Messiah. Moshe did not know of Yahshua, even though Yahshua is alluded to as the One speaking from the middle of the burning bush. There is also a lack of evidence that he had specific knowledge of a coming Messiah, Saviour or Son of G-d, although he did refer to a Star that would come out of Jacob (Numbers 24:17-19) and to a future prophet like himself (Deuteronomy 18:15, 18-19). But Yochanan 5:46 says that Moshe nevertheless wrote about Yahshua. One may fairly say that Moshe suffered on behalf of all G-d’s promises, both those known to him at the time and that G-d would make in the future; and, after the fact, it is clear that this implies his suffering abuse on behalf of the Messiah. Sha’ul, in many ways the Moshe of his day, suffered similarly. He kept his eyes fixed on the reward, which was “not seen” (v. 1). May we do the same.
Rabbi Tamah Davis-Hart