Shemot – “Names”

This week our parasha is Shemot meaning “names” and begins the book of Exodus.  Shemot is also the Hebrew title for the book.  It begins with the birth of Moses and takes us through chapter 6:1 where he has his first confrontation with Pharaoh.  In this parasha we will see the great commission the Lord gave to Moses and how we struggle with the same issues Moses had, issues of faith and learning to trust in Adonai.

Exodus begins by stating that a new pharaoh ruled in Egypt, one who had no regard for what Joseph had done for the land.   This pharaoh was intimidated by how numerous our people had become and ordered two Hebrew Midwives, Shiphrah and Puah, to kill all the newborn Jewish boys.  Because they had reverence for Adonai, they disobeyed Pharaoh’s edict and even lied to his face in order to protect these innocent children.  Because of their bravery they are remembered forever by name in the Word of God.

Pharaoh then ordered his own soldiers to kill all the newborn Israeli boys.  But one particular baby, from a family of Levites, was hidden by his mother.  When it was no longer possible to hide him, she put him in a basket and sent him down the Nile River, with his sister watching to see what would happen.  The baby was found by one of Pharaoh’s daughters and she named him Moshe meaning, “drawn out of water”.   Growing up in Pharaoh’s palace, Moses had access to the finest education in the known-world.  Egypt at this time was an advanced superpower, known and feared in the ancient world.

However this chapter in Moses’ life comes to an abrupt end when he kills an Egyptian for beating a Jewish slave.  Moses then had to flee Egypt before Pharaoh could have him put to death.  Moses ends up in Midian and marries Tzipporah, one of the daughters of Jethro, Midian’s priest.  He starts a family and shepherds his father-in-law’s flocks for forty years.  These forty years are a major contrast from his life in Egypt.  Moses has suddenly moved from a life of luxury to experiencing one of the hardest and most despised professions to an Egyptian, shepherding.  Forty years of privilege followed by forty years of hardship.  But it was all to prepare Moses for what was to come.

After these many years the third part of Moses’ life, which we will be following through the rest of the Torah, now begins.  One day while shepherding his father-in-law’s flock, he came to Mount Horeb (Sinai) and saw a bush that, while burning, was not being destroyed by the fire.  He heard the voice of God calling to him “Moses!  Moses!” This repetition of the name was a sign of endearment and he responded Hineni, “Here am I”.  Adonai told Moses to remove his sandals since he was on holy ground.  Adonai then said He had heard the cries of His people in bondage in Egypt and was going to free them and bring them to the land He promised our ancestors.  He instructed Moses to go back to Egypt and demand that Pharaoh let Adonai’s people go.  Moses was also warned that Pharaoh would refuse, but Adonai promised to be with him.  The Lord declared He was going to display His awesome power to all in Egypt.

But Moses was reluctant to go, and needed reassurance from God before he would agree.  His first objection came in the form of a question: what was he to tell the Jewish leaders if they asked for Adonai’s name?  The Lord responded by saying, “I AM WHO I AM”, a declaration of His uniqueness and independence beyond every other thing that ever has been or ever will be.  He then declared His name for all generations to be the God of our fathers, the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.  He also promised that our people would leave Egypt rich and would plunder the wealth of the Egyptians.

Moses then raised another concern: What if the Jewish leaders do not believe God really sent him?  Adonai gave him three signs by which to prove his legitimacy: turning his staff into a snake, having his hand temporarily become leprous, and turning water from the Nile River to blood on dry ground.

Moses raises a third objection that he does not speak well and this final excuse makes the Lord angry.  The Lord declares it is He who makes the mute, the deaf, the seeing, and the blind, and that He will teach Moses what to say.  This last objection really shows Moses’ human insecurities and the Lord’s response is a reminder to us that everything is in His control.  However, Moses still does not want to be the one to speak, so Adonai sends Aaron with him to confront Pharaoh.

Moses and Aaron returned to Egypt, performed the signs, announced God’s plan to rescue them, and the people bowed and worshiped the Lord.  Pharaoh, on the other hand, was not so agreeable when Moses demanded He let our people go.  After mocking Moses and Aaron, he maliciously increased the labors of our people by no longer providing straw to make bricks, yet still requiring us to meet the same quota.  This parasha ends with our people blaming Moses because instead of deliverance our suffering had increased.  Moses in turns blames God for not delivering His people and causing them more pain.  We need this parasha on a cliffhanger with the Lord promising that Pharaoh will let our people go after he experiences the power of Adonai.

Parasha Shemot introduces us to Moses, one of the greatest men of God who have ever lived.  When Moses was called by the Lord at the burning bush he was 80 years old.  He was called to leave behind the life he had created for himself as a shepherd to confront the most powerful man on Earth, the Pharaoh of Egypt.  It is easy to see why Moses was reluctant at his calling.  When Moses asks Adonai for His name, for signs, and for someone else to speak for him, we see his very real vulnerability.

This is just another reason we can be confident what we read in the Word of God is real; there is no editing out of the reluctance of Moses which would happen in a fable.

The three requests or excuses of Moses show our human need for something else besides God’s assurance to accomplish His Will, the need for something tangible.  We also can share the first reason of Moses, the need for more knowledge; maybe we feel we cannot share the Good News without extensive and exhaustive training.  We might also feel it is a matter of authority, that we need some powerful confirmation or outward approval from others to confidently do what the Lord has called us to do.  Finally, maybe we share Moses’s lack of confidence in our gifts and just wish we had the talent we see in others like Moses saw in Aaron.  Regardless of the reasons for our reluctance the Lord’s answer to Moses is the same answer He gives us: that He will be with us and will give us everything we need to accomplish His will.  Moses had everything he needed just as soon as the Lord said He would be with him! Throughout His Word the Lord promises to be with His people and Messiah Yeshua also states that He will be with us always.

Parasha Shemot also teaches us that we cannot be certain how our lives will turn out.  I highly doubt Moses expected that he would be called to lead our people out of Egypt, but we can clearly see how the skills he developed throughout his life were training for this calling.  Like Moses we also have been called to specific tasks by the Lord.  The Lord has his own plans and purposes for our lives and our community as well.  We may not know what each season of our lives will bring us but we can be confident that the Lord will never give us more than we can handle.  Whether we are younger or older than 80 the Lord has a calling for all His people.

A.W. Tozer once wrote, “True faith rests upon the character of God and asks no further proof than the moral perfections of the One who cannot lie.  It is enough that God said it”.  Parasha Shemot and the life of Moses challenge us to take seriously the promises of God.  Do you truly believe that the Lord will make you sufficient for His calling in your life or are you still offering the excuses of Moses?  May each one of us, regardless of age, experience the sufficiency of God in our lives.  May we all boldly, faithfully, and without excuse discover and follow the Lord’s callings throughout the seasons of our lives.