Shemot – “Names”

This week’s parasha is entitled Shemot, which means, “names.”  It covers Exodus, Chapter 1:1 to Chapter 6:1.  Exodus, the name for this book in your Bible, comes from a Greek word, which is composed of two parts, “ek,” which means “out,” and “hodos,” which means “road.”  The Hebrew title for this Parasha comes from the first verse, which begins, “these are the names of the sons of Israel…,” and indeed, this book will follow what happens to the descendants of Jacob.

We find in Chapter 1, that the descendants of Israel have remained in Egypt, where they moved when Joseph sent for Jacob and the rest of the family.  The number that initially came to Egypt was about 100, but God has greatly increased their number, so much that the Egyptians are now afraid of the Israelites that are in the land.  Part of the reason for this is that the Israelites have been confined to the area of Goshen, due to the fact that the Egyptians considered themselves superior to other races and did not want the Israelis to live amongst them.  Although, initially, Pharaoh and the Egyptians are grateful to Joseph for his leadership in helping Egypt survive the famine and welcomed Jacob and his family, as the years passed and the numbers of Israelis increased, the Egyptians started to fear the Jewish people.  Part of this was due to the Hittite kingdom in the north and the fear that if they invaded Egypt, the Israelis would join the Hittites and fight against Egypt.

Therefore, Pharaoh enslaves the Jewish people and uses them to build cities.  However, the hard labor does nothing to decrease the birthrate and the Jewish people continue to be blessed with children.  As a next step, Pharaoh orders the Egyptian midwives to kill the sons of the Hebrews when they are born.  However, these midwives fear God and do not follow Pharoah’s decree.  Therefore, as a further step, Pharaoh commands his people, most likely his army to search out and cast all newborn Israeli boys into the Nile, thus ratcheting up the effort to control the male population.

In Chapter 2, we read about the birth of Moses, who is a descendant of the tribe of Levi.  Due to the decree to kill all newborn boys, his mother, Jochebed, hides him for 3 months.  After that time, and realizing she can no longer hide him, she puts him in a wicker basket and hides him among the reeds on the bank of the Nile.  There, he is found by a daughter of Pharaoh, who pulls him out of the water and gives him the name, Moses, which means “to draw out.”  You might wonder why Pharaoh’s daughter might adopt a Hebrew, but in verse 2, we read that Moses was very beautiful, so perhaps Pharaoh’s daughter adopted him because of this.

Later in the Chapter, we read that when Moses became a man, he looked upon his people and saw their hard labor and when he saw an Egyptian mistreating and Israeli, he struck him down, saving the mistreated slave.  We see that although he was raised in Pharaoh’s household, he identified with his own people.  There could be several reasons for this:  Pharaoh’s daughter sought a nursemaid from among the Israelis and Moses’ true mother ended up being that nursemaid, so perhaps Moses learned about his people from his birth mother.  Or, due to the fact that Pharaoh’s daughter was compassionate about saving Moses, perhaps she informed him of his family background.

At any rate, the killing of the Egyptian forces Moses to flee Egypt due to the wrath of Pharaoh himself and Moses flees to Midian.  There, at the end of Chapter 2 Moses meets the daughters of Reuel, whom he helps to water the flock of their father, and as a result, is invited to live with them and eventually marries Zipporah, one of the daughters.

Thus begins a 40 year period where Moses, once raised in the household of Pharaoh, himself, is reduced to living the life of a humble shepherd.  These 40 years very likely helped mold Moses into the humble servant of God that he was to become.  Towards the end of this period, Moses is pasturing the flock at a far-away location, which also shows the trust that Reuel had for Moses, since the flock was the whole livelihood of the family.  Moses comes to Mt. Horeb, which is called the mountain of God in 3:1.  There, Moses encounters the Angel of the Lord in the burning bush and is given the mission to, “bring My people, the sons of Israel, out of Egypt.”  The eternal God has not forgotten, nor forsaken, His promise to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob regarding the perpetuity of His relationship with His people.

One might wonder, what Moses was doing so far from his home in pasturing the flock in such a faraway location.  Indeed, was Moses searching for something?  Did he feel the call to draw closer to God?  On Mt. Horeb, Moses encounters a burning bush, and years later as He leads the people again to this very mountain to receive the commandments of God, the whole mountain will be covered in fire and God’s glory.

Although God has clearly given him the task to go into Egypt and bring out the Israeli nation, three times in Chapter 4, Moses tries to put this responsibility on someone else.  First Moses tells God that he is afraid that the people will not listen to him.  Next he tells God that he is not eloquent, in other words, not a good speaker.  And finally, even though God has told him that He will show the people a sign through Moses and that He will give him the words to say, Moses, just comes right out and tells God to send someone else.

Brothers and sisters, if this great man of God had doubts about doing something for God, and it was God who was telling him directly that He would be with him, it is certainly understandable that we too can have some doubts about taking on a challenge to do God’s work in this world.  However, these are the times that, although the challenges might be great, we must let go and let God.  Let the example of Moses encourage us to take on those challenges, even if we worry about being able to accomplish the goal.  Nothing can be achieved if we don’t even try.

Finally, God tells Moses that he can take Aaron with him to be his mouthpiece.  This might seem like a great help to Moses, but actually, there are times when Aaron becomes more of a burden for Moses rather than a help.

Moses and Aaron indeed to into Egypt and the people do believe them and are thankful for the concern that the Lord has for their affliction.  Unfortunately, the people’s belief in their God will be the start of an unfortunately cycle that will continue for the next 40 or so years:  Believing in God and then quickly falling away, again believing in God, and then falling away.  This cycle repeats itself and reminds us how the difficulties of this world can so easily quench the fires of our faith.

Well, there is no beating around the bush, so to speak.  In Chapter 5, Moses and Aaron go directly to Pharaoh and request that the people be allowed to celebrate a feast at a location 3 days travel away.

Pharaoh refuses to agree with this request since it will take the people away from their labors.  Pharaoh backs up his refusal by ordering his taskmasters to not give the people any straw to make bricks, demand the same quota of bricks as if they had straw.  Pharaoh’s plan is to make the Israelis work so hard that that they have no time to think about going away.

The parasha draws to a close with the people complaining to Moses and Aaron about Pharaoh’s harsh treatment of them and then Moses complaining to God about this extra work on the people and why Moses was even sent in the first place.  It is not the most uplifting of parasha endings.

So, what can we learn from this parasha.

One thing we can learn is that in life, hardships can come about in degrees.  It is not necessarily the immediate catastrophe that overwhelms us, but the slow piling on of difficulty after difficulty.  The Israelis are living in Goshen in relative peace when they are taken into slavery.  Then, after a while, the midwives are instructed to kill the newborn boys.  Then, the Egyptian people, the army, is given instruction to kill the newborn boys.  Our lives can be like this as well.  The car breaks down.  When money is used to pay for that, after a time, another major expense comes up.  In trying to pay for that, a job is lost thereby eliminating a source of income.  The problems seem to compound.

We can learn from this passage that certainly, the events of slavery, the killing of firstborn sons and the increasing hardships of slavery were quite difficult, but through these struggles, the Jewish people were freed from slavery and returned to the Promised Land.

We can also learn that God molds us throughout our lives.  The stages of Moses’ life remind us of this.  The first stage of Moses’ life was in comfort and luxury in Pharaoh’s palace, the second was as a humble shepherd, and the third stage, which begins to take place at the end of today’s parasha, will be as God’s chosen servant and leader of the Jewish nation.

Finally, this passage reminds us of God’s great redemption.  God looked down upon the suffering of His people in slavery in Egypt and He remembered.  God will free His people out of Egypt, and this becomes one of the greatest events in all of Scripture, but this redemption of the Jewish people out of Egypt will be a physical redemption.  It will be a foreshadowing, a picture, of a greater redemption, a spiritual redemption that will take place approximately 1,500 years later, on Passover, the holiday that will be established to commemorate this great physical redemption  out of Egypt.  On that day, the Son of God, Yeshua, who was sent by God into this world to free mankind from bondage, from enslavement to the sins of this world, will die on a Cross in Jerusalem and shed His blood, so that all of us who believe in Him can be freed from our Egypts of slavery to sin and be joined to Messiah, and live forever with Him.