Shemot – “Names”

This week’s parasha is Shemot, which means, “names.”  It covers Exodus: 1:1-6:1.  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, but God has greatly increased their number, so much that the Egyptians are now afraid.

Therefore, Pharaoh enslaves the Jewish people and uses them to build his 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 death of male newborns.

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 conceals 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.”

When Moses became a man, he looked upon his people and saw their hard labor and when he saw an Egyptian mistreating an Israeli, he struck him down, saving the mistreated slave.  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.

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.

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 go 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.

Here are a couple of takeaways from our passage today.

We 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.

This passage also 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.