Mishpatim

Mishpatim

Rulings

“Rules Unto Others”

Exodus 21:1-24:18
Jeremiah 34:8-22; 33:25-26


by Mark Huey
mark@outreachisrael.net

As we turn to Mishpatim this week, we are reminded that the Israelites have just received the Ten Commandments and have heard the terrifying voice of the Lord as He shook Mount Sinai. We recall that the Israelites were so frightened by the sound of God’s voice, that they requested that Moses be their exclusive intermediary to receive the further instructions about how to conduct their lives. As they trembled at a distance, the fear was so great that they thought they would die if they had to continue to hear the voice of the Almighty:

“And all the people perceived the thunder and the lightning flashes and the sound of the trumpet and the mountain smoking; and when the people saw it, they trembled and stood at a distance. Then they said to Moses, ‘Speak to us yourself and we will listen; but let not God speak to us, lest we die’” (Exodus 20:18-19).

Apparently, the presence of God was so awesome that the Ancient Israelites relinquished their individual rights to hear Him directly, by choosing Moses to be their intermediary. In this capacity, Moses received instructions about how men and women should conduct their lives with respect toward one another. At the end of Mishpatim, we see the commitment of the Israelites to keep the commandments that Moses delivered to them:

““Then he took the book of the covenant and read it in the hearing of the people; and they said, ‘All that the LORD has spoken we will do, and we will be obedient!’ So Moses took the blood and sprinkled it on the people, and said, ‘Behold the blood of the covenant, which the LORD has made with you in accordance with all these words’” (Exodus 24:7-8).

In many ways, as you read Mishpatim and its listing of rules, ordinances, and judgments—the thought comes to mind that these practical instructions are quite consistent with what we often call “the Golden Rule,” treating others as we would have them treat us (Matthew 7:12; Luke 6:31). Examining Mishpatim gives us the annual opportunity to rethink many of the basic instructions on how we should treat others, when human interaction creates inevitable conflict.

Interestingly, the first rulings that Moses focused on relate to the treatment of slaves (Exodus 21:2-11). Here, the Ancient Israelites, having just been freed from the bondage of slavery in Egypt, are given specific instructions about how to lovingly handle the relationship between a slaveholder and slave.[1] Hopefully, with memories ripe with remembrance of this condition, they will be able to relate to people confined to this humble station in life. The Holy One definitely communicated grand attributes of compassion and lovingkindness to all members of humanity, no matter what their relationship might be one to another.

A New Creature

The instructions in our parashah relate to a variety of interactions that typically occur in any society, especially given the fallen state of man. We are reminded that in spite of us being created in the image of God (Genesis 1:26-27; James 3:9), we have inherited a sin nature from Adam (Romans 5:12). Because we are fallen creatures, we require redemption. The nature that we have all inherited in Adam must be replaced by a redeemed nature only available through the salvation of the Messiah Yeshua. Once a person can understand who he or she is in Adam, confessing and repenting of sin, and dying to oneself—then and only then will you be able to receive the new nature provided as the Ruach HaKodesh or Holy Spirit takes up residence inside of you. You are finally able to be born again! You become a new creature in the Messiah, just as the Apostle Paul describes to the Corinthians:

“Therefore if anyone is in Messiah, he is a new creature; the old things passed away; behold, new things have come. Now all these things are from God, who reconciled us to Himself through Messiah and gave us the ministry of reconciliation, namely, that God was in Messiah reconciling the world to Himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and He has committed to us the word of reconciliation. Therefore, we are ambassadors for Messiah, as though God were making an appeal through us; we beg you on behalf of Messiah, be reconciled to God. He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him” (2 Corinthians 5:17-21).

To many of you this may sound very basic, but if you will recall, even the exemplary Torah teacher and Pharisee Nicodemus did not understand some of these foundational concepts. For whatever reason, Nicodemus could not comprehend the concept of being “born again,” even though he was considered a leader among his people:

“Yeshua answered and said to him, ‘Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.’ Nicodemus said to Him, ‘How can a man be born when he is old? He cannot enter a second time into his mother’s womb and be born, can he?’ Yeshua answered, ‘Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit he cannot enter into the kingdom of God. That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. Do not be amazed that I said to you, “You must be born again.” The wind blows where it wishes and you hear the sound of it, but do not know where it comes from and where it is going; so is everyone who is born of the Spirit.’ Nicodemus said to Him, ‘How can these things be?’ Yeshua answered and said to him, ‘Are you the teacher of Israel and do not understand these things?’” (John 3:9-10).

Many of us are familiar with this passage from the Gospels, and yet have we ever considered the thought that even the foundational teachings of the Torah are frequently not understood by its teachers? It has long been recognized in Biblical Studies that being “born again” or “born from above” was used in Second Temple Judaism to describe proselytes. The Talmud records, “R. Yosé says, ‘A proselyte at the moment of conversion is like a new-born baby’” (b.Yevamot 48b).[2] Yeshua the Messiah simply took the terminology “born again,” and rather than apply it to proselytes to Judaism—applied it to His followers. This might not always be obvious to some of you, so think about whether the Torah teacher you listen to on a regular basis is really familiar with its basic instructions regarding holiness and proper living.

It is critical for us to consistently turn to Moses’ Teaching in order to learn more and more about our human condition and how we should conduct ourselves. The main reason that the Torah exists is to help define sin for humanity, and regulate the behavior that the Lord expects His people to demonstrate in the world.

We must each be thankful for the opportunity to be reckoned as the sons and daughters of the Living God, via our adoption in Yeshua. But for whatever reasons, we frequently need to be reminded of our responsibilities, even after we have inherited new life in the Messiah. Paul comments about the awesomeness of Believers’ adoption into God’s family in his letter to the Romans:

“For you have not received a spirit of slavery leading to fear again, but you have received a spirit of adoption as sons by which we cry out, ‘Abba! Father!’ The Spirit Himself testifies with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, heirs also, heirs of God and fellow heirs with Messiah, if indeed we suffer with Him so that we may also be glorified with Him. For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory that is to be revealed to us. For the anxious longing of the creation waits eagerly for the revealing of the sons of God. For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of Him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself also will be set free from its slavery to corruption into the freedom of the glory of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation groans and suffers the pains of childbirth together until now. And not only this, but also we ourselves, having the first fruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves groan within ourselves, waiting eagerly for our adoption as sons, the redemption of our body” (Romans 8:15-23).

Just as Paul writes, we as Believers in Yeshua do not walk in a spirit of slavery, but instead in a spirit of adoption as children of the Most High. Hallelujah for His mercy to us! Yet, we each eagerly await the complete redemption of Creation, including our total selves at the resurrection. But, let us now turn to the Torah portion and see what our Father wants us to consider, as once again His Instruction communicates basic life principles to His sons and daughters.

Civil Laws

As you read through Mishpatim, you are reminded of some of the basic instructions about how we should treat one another when the inevitable problems of human interaction occur. We see detailed, various ordinances about personal injuries (Exodus 21:12-36), property rights (Exodus 22:1-15), sundry laws (Exodus 22:16-23:9), as well as the stipulations to keep the Sabbath (Exodus 23:10-13) and observe the three festivals of ingathering (Exodus 23:14-18). The basic yardstick of instruction is essentially “the Golden Rule.” When God’s people face challenges today, these various instructions surely articulate and inform us on how He would have conflicts resolved.

Interestingly, as you read these rulings, you will note that a tenor of fairness, equality, and compassion seems to permeate the statements. If the Spirit of God resides inside of you, then when you read these various ordinances, the Spirit should bear witness that the remedies and treatments for various violations of conduct seem perfectly equitable. Over many centuries, these very statements have been incorporated into the civil laws of societies influenced by the Judeo-Christian values established in Holy Writ. This is not to say that all of these laws are reiterated exactly, but that the essence is certainly there in our Western judicial system. (Even pagan societies that do not acknowledge the God of Israel have benefited from the Torah’s moral message.)

The difference between when these commands were originally given to Israel and today is that we live in a post-resurrection era that has made the understanding of these rulings much clearer, through the teachings of Yeshua and His Apostles. We do not stone children for striking or cursing their parents, because Yeshua has atoned for this penalty (cf. Colossians 2:14). However, when you encounter statements that speak of capital punishment, you realize how important God considers adherence to the commandment regarding how parents should be honored (Exodus 21:17).

When you couple these kinds of statements with other reiterations about: keeping the Sabbath, the appointed times, the first-born offerings, not bearing false witness, properly treating the poor, widows, orphans, speaking out about leaders, lending money, etc., you begin to realize that at times throughout your life you have probably not followed these rulings too well. You have probably broken all the rules. As a result of breaking these rules, you are therefore guilty and need to pay restitution. Some of the restitution principles are articulated in this parashah, but when you are completely honest with yourself, you begin to realize that you have probably not paid the price perfectly for your various transgressions.

The Almighty God Himself is most aware of each and every transgression we have committed. He knows the when, where, and to what degree each of us has sinned. He knows that each person is indeed bankrupt in trespasses and sins. Eventually, in spite of our various mortal attempts to keep all of these commandments, especially coupled with the remaining instructions that are seen throughout the Bible, one should hopefully come to the logical conclusion that he or she cannot possibly avoid the penalties that ultimately lead to death and eternal separation from God. If you really think through all of these things seriously, the final conclusion would be not too unlike what many cried out to the Apostles at various times: Sirs, what must I do to be saved? (Acts 16:33). An inability to keep God’s Law is to show us the need for a Savior (cf. Galatians 3:24; Romans 10:4, Grk.).

Yeshua’s Upgrade

Yeshua came to Earth and was sacrificed at Golgotha (Calvary), paying the penalty for our sins and offering a permanent atonement. But long before being executed, He spent time with His Disciples and others, trying to help them understand some of the basic principles of His Father’s Instruction. Yeshua’s teachings bring a great depth and dimension to what we are constantly learning in the Torah—some of you for the first time. Many of the things Yeshua says are almost impossible for a person who has nothing more than a natural, fleshly mind. As the Apostle Paul reminds us, a natural person is incapable of receiving things from the Spirit:

“But a natural man does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually appraised. But he who is spiritual appraises all things, yet he himself is appraised by no one. For WHO HAS KNOWN THE MIND OF THE LORD, THAT HE WILL INSTRUCT HIM [Isaiah 40:13]? But we have the mind of Messiah” (1 Corinthians 2:14-16).

Consequently, we have a great number of people throughout the ages who have attempted to understand and comment about the teachings of Yeshua and the Apostles—with many now trying to understand the Torah. Unfortunately, many have not dealt with the reality about coming to the end of themselves and being born again from above, in order to have the spiritual capacity to even understand the basic teachings of the Bible. This, you can imagine, can create a tremendous amount of confusion, as one will be most prone to misunderstand the essentials of salvation, holiness, and accomplishing God’s mission for His Creation.

When one reads the words of Yeshua, and His clarification about and/or elaboration upon the Torah principles that are seen in a reading like Mishpatim, many are befuddled. Consider the instruction that deals with the loss of an eye or a tooth (Exodus 21:24, 27). Read how Yeshua applies this in His Sermon on the Mount:

“You have heard that it was said, ‘AN EYE FOR AN EYE, AND A TOOTH FOR A TOOTH’ [Exodus 21:24; Leviticus 24:20; Deuteronomy 19:21]. But I say to you, do not resist an evil person; but whoever slaps you on your right cheek, turn the other to him also” (Matthew 5:38-39).

In Mishpatim, some commandments are given about how one is supposed to be compensated for the loss of an eye or a tooth, or whatever else has been lost. Some of these circumstances will arise due to fallen human nature. Out of anger or passion, a person might strike someone and cause an eye or a tooth to be lost, and so the Torah issues instruction on how restitution is to be made. But Yeshua remarks about the spiritual causes of such a loss. The natural inclination when injured is to injure back, but the Messiah instead directs people to receive another blow and turn the other check. If love for one’s fellow human beings is imperative, what is going to convict a person who has lost his temper and control of his emotions more? The perfect restitution for the infraction, or a response out of love that indicates how physical harm can ultimately do little damage? As Yeshua continues in this particular passage, He expresses the meaning of true love established by the Torah:

“If anyone wants to sue you and take your shirt, let him have your coat also. Whoever forces you to go one mile, go with him two. Give to him who asks of you, and do not turn away from him who wants to borrow from you. You have heard that it was said, ‘YOU SHALL LOVE YOUR NEIGHRBOR [Leviticus 19:18] and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven; for He causes His sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? If you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? Therefore you are to be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Matthew 5:40-48).

Yeshua tells those in His audience to give up shirts, walk extra miles, give freely, love their enemies, and pray for those who persecute. Why? Because then and only then will you be “sons of your Father who is in heaven.” He concludes with the stellar requirement that one is to be perfect, just as the Father in Heaven is perfect. Yeshua knows this is impossible for human beings to attain in their own strength, and yet He clearly declares it as a requirement for following Him. Following Yeshua’s teachings are virtually impossible without the Holy Spirit and His atoning work covering our lives. The status of being excellent in the Lord, much less perfect—requires total commitment, steady spiritual refinement, and consistent discipleship in maturity.

We have much to consider this week as we reflect on the ordinances and precepts that God has established for His people. May we hold fast to those rules, so just like the Israelites in the wilderness, we too can claim what the ancients claimed:

“He took the Book of the Covenant and read it in earshot of the people, and they said, ‘Everything that HASHEM has said, we will do and we will obey!’[3] Moses took the blood and threw it upon the people, and he said, ‘Behold the blood of the covenant that HASHEM sealed with you concerning all these matters’” (Exodus 24:7-8, ATS).

Today, as Believers in Yeshua, we can experience the fullness of the things that the ancients only heard about. While Moses only sprinkled animal blood on the people, the author of Hebrews testifies that the blood of Yeshua Himself inaugurates the New Covenant—where the commandments of God are to be written upon our hearts and we can have great confidence to go to the Father:

“Therefore, brethren, since we have confidence to enter the holy place by the blood of Yeshua, by a new and living way which He inaugurated for us through the veil, that is, His flesh, and since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us draw near with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water” (Hebrews 10:19-22).

We should not only have a new heart of flesh (Ezekiel 36:25-27), washed by the blood of the Messiah—but we should also have our hearts and minds made clean, eagerly able to perform God’s service. May we all be blessed in this understanding as we consider His rules, and live them out as a testimony of what He has done for us!


NOTES

[1] This is definitely a section of the Torah that can only be adequately understood when read against its Ancient Near Eastern background. For a further discussion, consult the article “Addressing the Frequently Avoided Issues Messianics Encounter in the Torah” by J.K. McKee.

[2] The Babylonian Talmud: A Translation and Commentary. MS Windows XP. Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 2005. CD-ROM.

[3] Heb. kol asher-diver ADONAI na’aseh v’nishma.

Yitro

Yitro

Jethro

“Divine Service Toward Others”

Exodus 18:1-20:23[26]
Isaiah 6:1-7:6; 9:5-6[6-7] (A); 6:1-13 (S)


by Mark Huey
mark@outreachisrael.net

This week we continue our examination of the Book of Exodus, coming to a Torah portion that includes one of the most significant sections in the entire Bible, as we witness God giving His people the Ten Commandments. After some of the initial trials of the journey into the wilderness as considered last week in B’shalach (Exodus 13:17-17:16), with a lack of water and food, and a battle with the Amalekites—in Yitro the people of Israel come to the base of Mount Sinai and receive instruction from God. Most readers understandably focus their attention upon the reception of the Ten Commandments, transcribed by the very finger of the Most High onto stone tablets (Exodus 20:1-17).

Without any doubt, the Ten Commandments are very important, because it is upon such aseret ha’devarim or Ten Words that the remainder of the Torah’s commandments are somehow based. Yet in one of the most well-known statements made by the Messiah Yeshua in the Gospels, it might be said that the very basis of the Ten Commandments themselves are the Torah’s instructions to faithfully love God and one’s neighbor:

“And He said to him, ‘“YOU SHALL LOVE THE LORD YOUR GOD WITH ALL YOUR HEART, AND WITH ALL YOUR SOUL, AND WITH ALL YOUR MIND’ [Deuteronomy 6:5]. This is the great and foremost commandment The second is like it, “YOU SHALL LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR AS YOURSELF” [Leviticus 19:18]. On these two commandments depend the whole Law and the Prophets’” (Matthew 22:37-40).

When we understand how the Ten Commandments have a tendency to point disobedient persons—not only within Ancient Israel but throughout human history—back to remembrance and obedience, the words of Yeshua make perfect sense. But rather than focus on the significant volume of material that has been accumulated on the Ten Commandments,[1] as well as the critical importance of loving God and one’s neighbor, there is another topic within Yitro which precedes the reception of the Ten Words. In the opening chapter of our parashah, Exodus 18, the character and actions for whom this reading is entitled are described. The individual named, of course, is Jethro (Yitro), the father-in-law of Moses. The ancient advice that he gave to Moses, and consequently what it means throughout the Biblical narrative and for us today, is something that we need to consider.

A society with specified rules, regulations, and statutes can implode and fall into disarray if its people fail to heed the guidelines issued for proper leadership. There are far too many historical examples of societal failures that we can reflect upon. Needless to say, Ancient Israel itself, in spite of what is issued in Yitro, did not always implement the godly instructions on whom to regard as those in authority. So as a Messianic faith community which truly desires to be in compliance with Holy Scriptures, what principles do the leadership instructions of Yitro deliver to us, who want to be successful in a time when God’s people are witnessing significant restoration?

The Big Picture

When you often study the Torah, the corresponding Haftarah selections can be used to prompt some major introspection. This week, some of the selected verses from the Book of Isaiah reminded me of the concept of Divine order. After all, the Holy One of Israel is a God of order, and it is through His order that He is going to accomplish all the things that He has providentially ordained:

“For a child will be born to us, a son will be given to us; and the government will rest on His shoulders; and His name will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Eternal Father, Prince of Peace. There will be no end to the increase of His government or of peace, on the throne of David and over his kingdom, to establish it and to uphold it with justice and righteousness from then on and forevermore. The zeal of the Lord of hosts will accomplish this” (Isaiah 9:6-7).

As you review this classic passage from Isaiah, the Prophet is looking forward to a time when the Son of God will actually be born as a human being. He will be given the awesome titles of: pele yoeitz, El gibor, avi’ad, sar-shalom, or Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Eternal Father, and Prince of Peace. These titles, in and of themselves, leave no doubt in my mind that Yeshua the Son is indeed Divine, God in the flesh.

In an interesting choice of words, the Prophet states that “the government will rest on His shoulders,” and “There will be no end to the increase of His government or of peace.” All rule and dominion will clearly rest upon Yeshua the Messiah.

When I consider the visual picture of the government of God’s Kingdom resting upon the shoulders of the Prince of Peace, I envision a scene of Yeshua in all of His glory, with the government literally resting on His shoulders. Now in order to conceptualize this, I picture the governmental structure like an upside down pyramid with its pinnacle held up by the Lord. In my mind, this represents the order of God by Yeshua serving His people. It notably includes the Messiah at the bottom, rather than at the top; He holds everything up by His supreme power.

According to the author of Hebrews, Yeshua is presently seated at the right hand of the Father, the Son being the One who sustains the Creation—certainly with this governmental structure resting securely upon Himself:

“And He is the radiance of His glory and the exact representation of His nature, and upholds all things by the word of His power. When He had made purification of sins, He sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high; having become as much better than the angels, as He has inherited a more excellent name than they” (Hebrews 1:3-4).

When I couple this mental image with the conceptual reality that Yeshua has clearly stated, “He came not to be served, but to serve and offer Himself up as a ransom for many” (Matthew 20:28), the idea of serving means to humble oneself, and often be at the bottom of the heap. But with all of these mental images of the Messiah and His dual role as the Servant-King—the One who has led by His service and ultimate sacrifice for sinful humanity—I am drawn back to our Torah portion this week, and the advice Moses received from Jethro.

Jethro’s Wisdom

We need to understand that the insertion of the episode we read with Jethro comes at a very strategic time for Moses and the Ancient Israelites. The deliverance from Egypt and the battle with the Amalekites were behind them. Jethro brought Moses his wife Zipporah and their two sons Gershom and Eliezer, to the Israelite camp (Exodus 18:1-7). Jethro heard of the great salvation acts (Exodus 18:8) and was convinced that the God of Israel was the One True God (Exodus 18:9-12). But, this highly respected elder witnessed the leadership model Moses was using, and he had the wisdom and the impetus to make some astute recommendations. As the text indicates, Moses was exhausting himself with meeting the ever-present requests of thousands, not to mention all of their unspoken demands:

“It came about the next day that Moses sat to judge the people, and the people stood about Moses from the morning until the evening. Now when Moses’ father-in-law saw all that he was doing for the people, he said, ‘What is this thing that you are doing for the people? Why do you alone sit as judge and all the people stand about you from morning until evening?’ Moses said to his father-in-law, ‘Because the people come to me to inquire of God. When they have a dispute, it comes to me, and I judge between a man and his neighbor and make known the statutes of God and His laws’” (Exodus 18:13-16).

Jethro immediately detected that Moses was wearing himself out, and that he had to do something to avoid fatigue and the impossible task of resolving all the disputes within the community of Israel. The logical advice was to develop a way to duplicate his authority, and choose capable leaders who could handle varying degrees of responsibility. Jethro’s advice was two-fold: (1) Moses was supposed to continue in his position as the intermediary between God and the people, but (2) he was to raise up those who would learn the commandments and precepts of the Lord, being able to apply them at the various levels to which they would be assigned:

“And Moses’ father-in-law said to him, ‘The thing that you are doing is not good. You will surely wear out, both yourself and these people who are with you, for the task is too heavy for you; you cannot do it alone. Now listen to me: I shall give you counsel, and God be with you. You be the people’s representative before God, and you bring the disputes to God, then teach them the statutes and the laws, and make known to them the way in which they are to walk, and the work they are to do. Furthermore, you shall select out of all the people able men who fear God, men of truth, those who hate dishonest gain; and you shall place these over them, as leaders of thousands, of hundreds, of fifties and of tens. And let them judge the people at all times; and let it be that every major dispute they will bring to you, but every minor dispute they themselves will judge. So it will be easier for you, and they will bear the burden with you. If you do this thing and God so commands you, then you will be able to endure, and all these people also will go to their place in peace.’ So Moses listened to his father-in-law, and did all that he had said” (Exodus 18:17-24).

Moses was certainly not going to give up his unique relationship with the Holy One. After all, Moses had a special call upon his life that was apparent to those who knew him. Maintaining his relationship with God was critical to continue functioning as the leader of the emerging nation, as they would be taught God’s statutes and laws. And as we know, the Lord continued to give Moses an incredible amount of revelation that is recorded throughout the Pentateuch. However, since this channel of communication needed to be maintained, it was important to delegate the work of administration to others who were qualified to handle various day-to-day administration responsibilities within the community of Israel. Jethro established the essential criteria Moses would use, for selecting those who would be capable of handling various responsibilities:

Within Exodus 18:21-22, Moses’ father-in-law Jethro advised four important attributes for the leaders who would be raised up within Ancient Israel. They were: (1) to be able or accomplished, (2) God-fearing, (3) truthful, and (4) hate dishonest gain. In many respects, these same virtuous character traits were to define the elders and deacons that Timothy and Titus were to appoint, respectively, in their administrative capacities in Ephesus (1 Timothy 3:1-12) and on Crete (Titus 1:5-9). Whether we look to our Torah portion Yitro, or Paul’s instructions within the Pastoral Epistles, I believe we will discover that servant-leaders of God’s people need to all be of impeccable personal quality, as they not only teach, guide, and mentor others—but also help to implement solutions for the problems that they face.

Able and Accomplished

When you go back and contemplate Jethro’s advice and the qualifications he articulated for the leaders within Ancient Israel, there is no doubt that subsequent generations of God’s people were informed by these early stipulations. Jethro stated that the selected leaders must be able or accomplished (Exodus 18:21a), with the text employing the word chayil, meaning “ability, efficiency, often involving moral worth” (BDB).[2] “The basic meaning of the noun is ‘strength,’ from which follow ‘army’ and ‘wealth’” (TWOT).[3] We see that those chosen need to be as dependable as one would want the army to be, defending the nation from hostile forces. This would mean that leaders must be disciplined, strong, and courageous to handle any of the challenges that might threaten Israel’s welfare.

When you consider some of the instructions issued to Timothy in Ephesus, as he served as Paul’s authorized representative to help fix the negative effects of the false teaching that had circulated, there is an amplification of what it means to be able. Within the mid-to-late First Century, the Messiah followers out in the Mediterranean basin were largely meeting in small communities that typically gathered in homes. In Ancient Ephesus, the false teaching (cf. 1 Timothy 1:4-7) had influenced some of those in leadership, and so Timothy had to see that new elders and deacons were appointed. The Apostle Paul directed his disciple Timothy to choose new leaders from among those who were mature in the faith, and who demonstrated godly character within the home:

“An overseer, then, must be above reproach, the husband of one wife, temperate, prudent, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, not addicted to wine or pugnacious, but gentle, uncontentious, free from the love of money. He must be one who manages his own household well, keeping his children under control with all dignity (but if a man does not know how to manage his own household, how will he take care of the [assembly] of God?); and not a new convert, lest he become conceited and fall into the condemnation incurred by the devil” (1 Timothy 3:2-6).

God-Fearing

Jethro told Moses that he should appoint leaders who fear God (Exodus 18:21b). Fearing the Lord is a concept witnessed throughout the Holy Scriptures, perhaps epitomized by Proverbs 18:10: “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, and the knowledge of the Holy One is understanding.” Within the Tanakh, the references one sees regarding how to fear God give readers the distinct impression that a fear of God leads to a great respect for Him, and consequently how He expects His people to live and conduct themselves. Here are two significant examples from Psalms:

“Who is the man who fears the LORD? He will instruct him in the way he should choose. His soul will abide in prosperity, and his descendants will inherit the land. The secret of the LORD is for those who fear Him, and He will make them know His covenant” (Psalm 25:12-14).

“Praise the LORD! I will give thanks to the LORD with all my heart, in the company of the upright and in the assembly. Great are the works of the LORD; they are studied by all who delight in them. Splendid and majestic is His work; and His righteousness endures forever. He has made His wonders to be remembered; the LORD is gracious and compassionate. He has given food to those who fear Him; He will remember His covenant forever. He has made known to His people the power of His works, in giving them the heritage of the nations. The works of His hands are truth and justice; all His precepts are sure. They are upheld forever and ever; they are performed in truth and uprightness. He has sent redemption to His people; He has ordained His covenant forever; holy and awesome is His name. The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom; a good understanding have all those who do His commandments; His praise endures forever” (Psalm 111:1-10).

These Psalm passages can really intensify our understanding about the kind of fear for God that leaders of His people are to demonstrate. A healthy fear of God is a true indicator that a leader not only believes that He is real and exists, but also that consequences of disobedience and disbelief are severe. A healthy fear of God is important for good leadership, because those who fail to fear God will often fall into sin. Jude reflected on this reality in his letter composed in the late First Century, because those without a fear of the Lord had entered into the Believers’ love feasts with intentions to do great harm:

“But these men revile the things which they do not understand; and the things which they know by instinct, like unreasoning animals, by these things they are destroyed. Woe to them! For they have gone the way of Cain, and for pay they have rushed headlong into the error of Balaam, and perished in the rebellion of Korah. These men are those who are hidden reefs in your love feasts when they feast with you without fear, caring for themselves; clouds without water, carried along by winds; autumn trees without fruit, doubly dead, uprooted; wild waves of the sea, casting up their own shame like foam; wandering stars, for whom the black darkness has been reserved forever” (Jude 10-13).

Discerning that a leader has a healthy and true fear of God is extremely important. By evidencing a godly fear, the leader will rely upon the Lord for His wisdom and counsel, for the difficult decisions which need to be made.

Truthful

Jethro told Moses that he should appoint leaders who respected the truth (Exodus 18:21c). In the Hebrew Scriptures, the term emet has a variety of meanings, including: “reliability, sureness,” “stability, continuance,” and “faithfulness, reliableness” (BDB).[4] The Greek Scriptures likewise reflect this, often employing pistis, meaning: “persuasion of a thing, confidence, assurance,” “good faith, trustworthiness, faithfulness, honesty,” and “an assurance, pledge of good faith, warrant, guarantee” (LS).[5] Emet is frequently translated with pistis in the Septuagint, and these meanings are all employed in the Apostolic Scriptures. Leaders are required to not only know the truth, but to be able to teach it well because they have experienced it in their lives.

Given the influence of various troublemakers on the island of Crete, the leaders Titus was to appoint needed to be able to be steadfast with the truth of the gospel:

“For the overseer must be above reproach as God’s steward, not self-willed, not quick-tempered, not addicted to wine, not pugnacious, not fond of sordid gain, but hospitable, loving what is good, sensible, just, devout, self-controlled, holding fast the faithful word[6] which is in accordance with the teaching, that he may be able both to exhort in sound doctrine and to refute those who contradict. For there are many rebellious men, empty talkers and deceivers, especially those of the circumcision, who must be silenced because they are upsetting whole families, teaching things they should not teach, for the sake of sordid gain” (Titus 1:7-11).

The emphasis on being able to “hold firmly to the trustworthy message” (NIV), of the good news of salvation in Yeshua, is evidenced in actions like being able “to encourage with sound teaching and to refute those who contradict it” (HCSB). On the island of Crete there had been various troublemakers and errorists who had circulated controversial ideas for their own self-serving purposes, which was quite problematic especially given the low estimation that Cretans had in the ancient world (Titus 1:12).

Jethro’s words would be comparable to telling the people of Israel to choose leaders who truly understood God’s Law. Moses was told, “enjoin upon them the laws and the teachings, and make known to them the way they are to go and the practices they are to follow” (Exodus 18:20, NJPS). These leaders were to clearly be trained to know the truth, and consequently discern error and lead the assembly through a proper interpretation and application of instructions when various situations would arise. By knowing the Word of God, leaders can be able to discern His will and character when crises erupt—but they should also clearly have a relationship with the Holy One Himself, being filled with His presence to guide their hearts and minds.

Hating Dishonest Gain

Jethro’s fourth requirement was that Moses should choose leaders who hated dishonest gain (Exodus 18:21d). Most frequently, we associate this with honest people who are not consumed with a love of money (cf. 1 Timothy 6:10). These are persons who are absolutely convinced that life should operate according to a system of equal weights and measures, so when it comes to judicial matters they will be absolutely sure that those accused or being subjected to review receive proper justice. The concept of treating others as you would have them treat you is inherent in their nature (cf. Matthew 7:12).

In Exodus 18:21 the Hebrew word betza is used to describe “ill-gotten gain” (NJPS) or a “bribe” (RSV). It can mean “gain made by violence, unjust gain, profit” (BDB).[7] The first time it is used in the Torah is when Joseph’s brothers sold him to the Midianite traders as a slave.[8] When we see this term used in the narrative of Yitro, is a connection being made back to this event? Certainly, able leaders in the community of Israel were not to accept bribery or any kind of “dirty money.”

The false teachers Timothy had to face in Ephesus included many who simply wanted to get rich. The Apostle Paul informs his dear friend about how love for money (philaguria) is a significant cause of evil:

“But those who want to get rich fall into temptation and a snare and many foolish and harmful desires which plunge men into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all sorts of evil, and some by longing for it have wandered away from the faith, and pierced themselves with many a pang. But flee from these things, you man of God; and pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, perseverance and gentleness” (1 Timothy 6:9-11).

Rather than pursue money, Paul instructs Timothy and the Ephesians to instead “pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, perseverance and gentleness.” These are all attributes of a leader who can be responsible for the children of God, and are also to be found in the lives of all Messiah followers who are mature and are accomplishing the Lord’s tasks in the world.[9]

Divine Service Toward Others

In this day of restoration, how important is it that we should heed the leadership qualifications advised of Jethro to Moses? As he had surveyed the assembly of the Ancient Israelites, Moses would have to discern who was capable of handling the different levels of responsibility. Some were given responsibility over thousands, and others responsibility only over hundreds, fifties, or tens (Exodus 18:21e). Each leader, however, had to be godly. The magnitude of responsibility was most likely a by-product of age and experience. Today, we need to consider these principles, and others elaborated on throughout the Holy Writ, as we look for capable, godly men and women to lead the Body of Messiah in some formal or full-time capacity.

We obviously need to be very careful regarding those who are placed in positions of leadership, especially given the many Biblical, extra-Biblical, and historical examples of abuse of religious power. If we are mindful of this, then we will be less apt to make the tragic mistakes of recognizing those who are not qualified or fit to lead.

Too often, this is a major factor given much of the contention that manifests within in the Messianic community. Too often, I have witnessed people who have—through the force of their personality—self-anointed themselves to be the leader of a group. When you really take a serious look at their personal qualifications, you realize that they have more in common with Ancient Israel’s opponents or the false teachers Timothy and Titus had to face in Ephesus and Crete—then they do Moses, the Prophets, the Apostles, but most especially the Messiah Yeshua. Unfortunately, I think we are all aware of how problematic leaders will be a constant bane in the Body of Messiah until the Lord returns.

Perhaps if we considered the substance of what is described in this week’s Torah and Haftarah readings, we could begin to minimize many of the problems inherent with poor, unqualified leadership. Moses certainly listened to the wise counsel of his father-in-law, and implemented a leadership model that has stood the test of time.

But lest we forget, as one takes on more and more responsibility within the Body of Messiah, no one “climbs” the proverbial ladder to the top—but rather descends further down to the center of the government which rests upon the shoulders of Yeshua. As you get closer to Him, the Servant of all, you realize that it is by your service to others that you descend down deeper to where all the muck of life floats. Down there, closer to Yeshua, you not only sense His presence, but you require it in order to handle the greater responsibility that you have been entrusted.

In the end, according to the Biblical model of leadership, you will get closer and closer to “the bottom,” in your service capacity as a follower of the Most High. You learn the simple axiom that through service you lead. Relying upon the Lord’s example, you learn to properly navigate through all of the “stuff” that settles down at the bottom. By walking in and being led by the Spirit of God, all of the junk does not seem to affect or influence you as much as might have previously. As you grow in faith and maturity, your leadership abilities that manifest are closer to those of the Messiah Himself. Humiliation and insults do not hurt as much as they once did, as you recognize the supreme sacrifice of the Son of God—who endured the agony of the cross so that we all might be saved (Philippians 2:8)!


NOTES

[1] Consult the author’s reflections on the Ten Commandments, compiled for the Ten Days of Awe between Yom Teruah/Rosh HaShanah and Yom Kippur, in the Messianic Fall Holiday Helper by Messianic Apologetics.

Also consult the relevant chapters on the Ten Commandments appearing in Torah In the Balance, Volume I by J.K. McKee.

[2] BDB, 299.

[3] Carl Philip Weber, “ḥayil,” in TWOT, 1:271.

[4] BDB, 54.

[5] LS, 641.

[6] Grk. pistou logou.

[7] BDB, 130.

[8] “Judah said to his brothers, ‘What profit [betza] is it for us to kill our brother and cover up his blood’?” (Genesis 37:26).

[9] For further examination on the instructions regarding leaders in 1 Timothy 3:1-12 and Titus 1:5-9, and some of the situation-specific circumstances in Ephesus and Crete, consult the article “The Message of the Pastoral Epistles” and the commentary The Pastoral Epistles for the Practical Messianic by J.K. McKee.

B’shalach

B’shalach

After he had let go

“An Ancient and Current Foe”

Exodus 13:17-17:16
Judges 4:4-5:31 (A); 5:1-31 (S)


by Mark Huey
mark@outreachisrael.net

This week’s Torah portion, B’shalach, is another excellent example of how important it is for us as Believers to really take the messages of Moses’ Teaching quite seriously. God lets the enemies of Israel harass His people in any generation. Whether it be the Ancient Amalekites who attacked Israel in the early days of the Exodus sojourn, or various evil forces that try to attack moves of the Spirit of God as we approach Yeshua’s return: the imperative is for one and all to fight!

There must be a Divine purpose in allowing promulgators of evil to persist in their desire to destroy Israel. As B’shalach concludes, we are all reminded that “The LORD will be at war with Amalek throughout the ages[1]” (Exodus 17:16, NJPS). In spite of the various human efforts for Israel to overcome its historical enemies, Amalek and his allies will presumably war against God’s chosen people until the consummation of the age. As Messianic Believers who all consider ourselves a part of Israel, recognizing this reality, we must be able to equip ourselves for the inevitable conflicts that we will encounter. Both individually and corporately, through time and circumstances, the Holy One will use challenging situations and circumstances to accomplish His sovereign will for the Creation. And so, let us all turn to Him as we face the challenges!

Knowing about the inevitability of war with Amalek comes after the Ancient Israelites have departed from Goshen, and they have witnessed the devastation of Egypt’s military in the waters of the parted sea. The power of God to defeat Israel’s enemies was such a traumatic event that to this day, the nations of the world know the story of the Hebrews’ deliverance from Egyptian bondage. The Song of the Sea in Exodus 15 conveys a message not only to Ancient Israel and Ancient Egypt, but also to the people of Ancient Canaan, as God’s chosen prepare to enter into their inheritance and the mission He has for them.

The Testing Patterns Begin

Within three days of the celebration of the victory over Pharaoh, the problems of life arise and the testing of Israel begins (Exodus 15:22). As we see throughout the Holy Scriptures, testing is a critical component of God implementing His plans for His people. We are reminded of the first major test recorded in the Torah, when the Lord appears before Abraham:

“Now it came about after these things, that God tested Abraham, and said to him, ‘Abraham!’ And he said, ‘Here I am’” (Genesis 22:1).

Centuries before the Exodus, a personal test of faith challenged Abraham, when he was commanded to take his son Isaac up to Mount Moriah and offer him as a sacrifice before God. Here at this critical juncture, after the sacrificial ram was caught in the thicket, Abraham called the place “The LORD Will Provide” (Genesis 22:14). In this seminal test, Abraham obeyed the direction of God, and the results were His provision and great blessings upon Abraham and his descendants.

The tests of life now came upon the Israelites, as they began their sojourn in freedom to the Promised Land. They had the example of Abraham’s obedience as a guide, knowing that God would provide. Now as they encountered new tests, they learned that He was also the Great Physician, most willing and able to heal. In the first test of their wilderness journey, when the waters at Marah were bitter, the people of Israel began a repetitive pattern of murmuring for sustenance. As they cried out to Moses, he turned to God for the provision and He gave him the solution:

“So the people grumbled at Moses, saying, ‘What shall we drink?’ Then he cried out to the LORD, and the LORD showed him a tree; and he threw it into the waters, and the waters became sweet. There He made for them a statute and regulation, and there He tested them. And He said, ‘If you will give earnest heed to the voice of the LORD your God, and do what is right in His sight, and give ear to His commandments, and keep all His statutes, I will put none of the diseases on you which I have put on the Egyptians; for I, the LORD, am your healer’” (Exodus 15:24-26).

The Holy One said, “for I am the Lord, who heals you’” (NIV). Here in the opening days of Israel’s freedom from the bondage of Egypt, the God of Israel expressed His willingness and desire to offer Divine deliverance from the evil challenges of life: ki ani ADONAI rofekha. In exemplary fashion, He told His people, If you will heed the Lord your God diligently, doing what is upright in His sight, giving ear to His commandments and keeping all His laws, then I will not bring upon you any of the diseases that I brought upon the Egyptians (NJPS). In other words, by demonstrating loyalty to God by obedience, He in turn would be Israel’s Healer.

From the initial stages of the journey in the wilderness, the Lord expressed Himself to be the solution to the trials of life that Ancient Israel—and eventually all of His people throughout time—will encounter. When we are tested, if we hear His voice and obey Him, then He will respond with whatever is required to remedy the situation.

Within our Torah portion, you should recognize that the pattern of murmuring became more commonplace for the Israelites, than a desire to seek God for His provision and protection from disease. Before long, as the people moved from Elim into the wilderness on the way to Mount Sinai, another test generated complaints about the lack of food from the ranks:

“Then they set out from Elim, and all the congregation of the sons of Israel came to the wilderness of Sin, which is between Elim and Sinai, on the fifteenth day of the second month after their departure from the land of Egypt. The whole congregation of the sons of Israel grumbled against Moses and Aaron in the wilderness. The sons of Israel said to them, ‘Would that we had died by the LORD’s hand in the land of Egypt, when we sat by the pots of meat, when we ate bread to the full; for you have brought us out into this wilderness to kill this whole assembly with hunger.’ Then the LORD said to Moses, ‘Behold, I will rain bread from heaven for you; and the people shall go out and gather a day’s portion every day, that I may test them, whether or not they will walk in My instruction’” (Exodus 16:1-4).

Here the Lord’s intention is clear: “By this I will test whether they will observe my Torah or not” (CJB).

Testing and Training

The lack of bread was another test to see whether the Ancient Israelites would walk in God’s ways and obey Him. Even though the people departed Egypt with various herds of cattle and sheep that could have easily been slaughtered and eaten, they continued to murmur and complain. They also had a desire for meat, so in His role as the Great Provider the Lord decided to answer their complaints (Exodus 16:8-21) by using His provisions to instruct them about the elementary issues of the Sabbath rest and obedience to Him. Using the daily appearance of manna and the need to gather on a daily basis just what one needed, He graphically showed His people the need to observe the Sabbath:

“Now on the sixth day they gathered twice as much bread, two omers for each one. When all the leaders of the congregation came and told Moses, then he said to them, ‘This is what the LORD meant: Tomorrow is a sabbath observance, a holy sabbath to the LORD. Bake what you will bake and boil what you will boil, and all that is left over put aside to be kept until morning.’ So they put it aside until morning, as Moses had ordered, and it did not become foul nor was there any worm in it. Moses said, ‘Eat it today, for today is a sabbath to the LORD; today you will not find it in the field. Six days you shall gather it, but on the seventh day, the sabbath, there will be none.’ It came about on the seventh day that some of the people went out to gather, but they found none. Then the LORD said to Moses, ‘How long do you refuse to keep My commandments and My instructions? See, the LORD has given you the sabbath; therefore He gives you bread for two days on the sixth day. Remain every man in his place; let no man go out of his place on the seventh day.’ So the people rested on the seventh day” (Exodus 16:22-30).

As the Israelites ventured out into their wilderness march, we witnessed that the experiences they encountered both tested and trained them. The tests and trials of life that we likewise experience should be regarded as times to be trained in remembering that our Heavenly Father is not only the Provider, but also the Healer. Adherence to His instructions is critical, because it is noted that those who tried to hold onto manna beyond the specified time limit not only made Moses angry, but had to see their food spoil:

“But they did not listen to Moses, and some left part of it until morning, and it bred worms and became foul; and Moses was angry with them. They gathered it morning by morning, every man as much as he should eat; but when the sun grew hot, it would melt” (Exodus 16:20-21).

Continuing, we see a third test delivered by the Lord as He provided for Israel’s vital need for water. The Israelites required water for themselves and their livestock, but they apparently had not learned from the first two tests. Instead, they now bitterly complained and murmured:

“Then all the congregation of the sons of Israel journeyed by stages from the wilderness of Sin, according to the command of the LORD, and camped at Rephidim, and there was no water for the people to drink. Therefore the people quarreled with Moses and said, ‘Give us water that we may drink.’ And Moses said to them, ‘Why do you quarrel with me? Why do you test the LORD’?” (Exodus 17:1-2).

As the murmuring and quarreling increased, Moses asked the people of Israel, “Why do you try the LORD?” (NJPS). He asked them why they had not learned from the earlier tests they experienced, and simply turn to God for His provision. Eventually, the Lord gave Moses the solution to the demand for water, but from the reading you can discern that He was not very pleased with the Israelites:

“‘Behold, I will stand before you there on the rock at Horeb; and you shall strike the rock, and water will come out of it, that the people may drink.’ And Moses did so in the sight of the elders of Israel. He named the place Massah and Meribah because of the quarrel of the sons of Israel, and because they tested the LORD, saying, ‘Is the LORD among us, or not?’” (Exodus 17:6-7).

The Hebrew terms Masah and Merivah respectively mean “proving and strife” (ISBE).[2] Both of these meanings are borne out in negative connotations regarding the failure of the Israelites to trust in God. In many respects, the people set themselves up to experience the biggest test that concludes this portion.

The Test of Amalek

As the Israelites dealt with the issues of water and testing God Himself, situated within striking distance of the camp was an archenemy of Israel: the Amalekites (cf. Exodus 17:8ff). The Amalekites, the descendants of the grandson of Esau (Genesis 36:12), were apparently—based on what we glean from additional Scripture passages[3]—in some way going to be a proverbial “thorn” in the side of Israel until the end. So now, in a weakened moment, with the water issue creating problems between Israel and the Lord, the Amalekites engaged Israel in battle. This test was most serious, perhaps even being a matter of life and death for the Israelites:

“So Moses said to Joshua, ‘Choose men for us and go out, fight against Amalek. Tomorrow I will station myself on the top of the hill with the staff of God in my hand.’ Joshua did as Moses told him, and fought against Amalek; and Moses, Aaron, and Hur went up to the top of the hill. So it came about when Moses held his hand up, that Israel prevailed, and when he let his hand down, Amalek prevailed. But Moses’ hands were heavy. Then they took a stone and put it under him, and he sat on it; and Aaron and Hur supported his hands, one on one side and one on the other. Thus his hands were steady until the sun set. So Joshua overwhelmed Amalek and his people with the edge of the sword. Then the LORD said to Moses, ‘Write this in a book as a memorial and recite it to Joshua, that I will utterly blot out the memory of Amalek from under heaven.’ Moses built an altar and named it The LORD is My Banner; and he said, ‘The LORD has sworn; the LORD will have war against Amalek from generation to generation’” (Exodus 17:9-16).

Moses knew that the attack was coming from the Amalekites, and so he commanded Joshua to assemble a force to go out and fight the enemy. Moses did not back down from the fight, but sent faithful warriors into battle. Moses also knew the absolute necessity to call upon the power of the Most High. Having personally witnessed the effects of the staff of God (matteih ha’Elohim) on the Egyptians (serpents eaten, the Nile turned to blood, the Red Sea parted, and water ushering forth from the rock at Horeb), he declared that he will station himself on a hill overlooking the battlefield, and call upon the Lord for victory.

Moses knew the power of intercession, and called upon the providing and healing power of the Holy One. But he also knew the critical need to have others involved in the fight. His faithful brother Aaron and Hur were present at his side to help bear the burden (Exodus 17:10, 12). In a very symbolic fashion, Moses raised up the staff of God to promote Israel’s prevalence on the battlefield. As long as the staff of God, representing intense intercession, was raised up high overhead, the Israelites prevailed. But when Moses weakened, due to his age and the weight of the staff, the Amalekites prevailed (Exodus 17:11-12).

As the battle waged on, the assistance of Aaron and Hur helped him to persevere until sunset. With Moses’ arms steadied, Israel achieved a victory. But we also see that the Amalekites were only defeated; Joshua only weakened Amalek. At this great test, even with the intercessory work of Moses, Aaron, and Hur focused on Joshua and the warriors of Israel, Amalek survived to become a perpetual enemy of Israel (Exodus 17:16).

Our Ancient Foe

In many respects, the Amalekites have become the ancient foe, which even until our time continues to harass and harm unsuspecting members of God’s people, who failed to apply—in their personal and spiritual battles—the many godly principles established in the wilderness on the journey to Mount Sinai. Somewhat later in the Torah, as Moses came to the end of his life, he issued the following admonition regarding the Amalekites:

“Remember what Amalek did to you along the way when you came out from Egypt, how he met you along the way and attacked among you all the stragglers at your rear when you were faint and weary; and he did not fear God. Therefore it shall come about when the LORD your God has given you rest from all your surrounding enemies, in the land which the LORD your God gives you as an inheritance to possess, you shall blot out the memory of Amalek from under heaven; you must not forget” (Deuteronomy 25:17-19).

This description of Amalek gives us a much clearer picture of just how wicked and evil the Amalekites truly were. Here, we read that Amalek liked to attack the faint and weakened stragglers along the way. Moses gave the instruction, “you shall wipe out the memory of Amalek from under the heaven” (ATS), or to not forget to utterly defeat them. Interestingly, when you look at the wider context of where this was stated, we find that it was linked to the admonition about maintaining equal weights and measures:

“You shall not have in your bag differing weights, a large and a small. You shall not have in your house differing measures, a large and a small. You shall have a full and just weight; you shall have a full and just measure, that your days may be prolonged in the land which the LORD your God gives you. For everyone who does these things, everyone who acts unjustly is an abomination to the LORD your God” (Deuteronomy 25:13-16).

Is it possible that the Holy One was trying to warn His people then, and also future generations, that when they discovered someone employing unequal weights and measures in human affairs, that perhaps one is stumbling across a “spirit of Amalek”? Regardless of the possible linkage, consider these two facts: (1) Israel will be at war with the Amalekites from generation to generation, and (2) the instruction to destroy the Amalekites has never been rescinded. Obviously, people who are physically descended from the Amalekites can be redeemed from their sins, and experience the salvation of Messiah Yeshua. The real conflict is with the force that empowered the Ancient Amalekites.

Throughout the Scriptures we witness an ongoing spiritual battle between the children of light and the children of darkness. The war against God’s people is not over, and the evil Satanic presence that once empowered the Ancient Amalekites to attack the Ancient Israelites has not disappeared. Amalek was sent to stop Israel on its way to Mount Sinai, and as the people of God were being prepared to accomplish His purposes.

How many times does the enemy come along when God starts to move? I have lost count of how many times, just in my own life, when the enemy has tried to stop the Lord’s hand. The continual conflict we face must be waged through the power of strategic, corporate intercessory prayer, just as Moses had his arms raised up. So, if we would take the account of B’shalach to more serious heart, we would be able to be far more effectively in spiritual warfare.

King Saul’s Failed Attempt

Moving forward in the history of Israel, when the people were established in the Promised Land and they received a human king, the war with Amalek was catapulted to center stage. The Israelites had cried out for a mortal king like the other nations, but it presented some serious problems. The Prophet Samuel had anointed Saul and he became the first king of Israel. But as humans have a tendency to fall short in their assignments, we can turn to the circumstances articulated in 1 Samuel 15 and learn from the mistakes made:

“Then Samuel said to Saul, ‘The LORD sent me to anoint you as king over His people, over Israel; now therefore, listen to the words of the LORD. Thus says the LORD of hosts, “I will punish Amalek for what he did to Israel, how he set himself against him on the way while he was coming up from Egypt. Now go and strike Amalek and utterly destroy all that he has, and do not spare him; but put to death both man and woman, child and infant, ox and sheep, camel and donkey.”’ Then Saul summoned the people and numbered them in Telaim, 200,000 foot soldiers and 10,000 men of Judah. Saul came to the city of Amalek and set an ambush in the valley. Saul said to the Kenites, ‘Go, depart, go down from among the Amalekites, so that I do not destroy you with them; for you showed kindness to all the sons of Israel when they came up from Egypt.’ So the Kenites departed from among the Amalekites. So Saul defeated the Amalekites, from Havilah as you go to Shur, which is east of Egypt. He captured Agag the king of the Amalekites alive, and utterly destroyed all the people with the edge of the sword. But Saul and the people spared Agag and the best of the sheep, the oxen, the fatlings, the lambs, and all that was good, and were not willing to destroy them utterly; but everything despised and worthless, that they utterly destroyed. Then the word of the LORD came to Samuel, saying, ‘I regret that I have made Saul king, for he has turned back from following Me and has not carried out My commands.’ And Samuel was distressed and cried out to the LORD all night. Samuel rose early in the morning to meet Saul; and it was told Samuel, saying, ‘Saul came to Carmel, and behold, he set up a monument for himself, then turned and proceeded on down to Gilgal.’ Samuel came to Saul, and Saul said to him, ‘Blessed are you of the LORD! I have carried out the command of the LORD.’ But Samuel said, ‘What then is this bleating of the sheep in my ears, and the lowing of the oxen which I hear?’ Saul said, ‘They have brought them from the Amalekites, for the people spared the best of the sheep and oxen, to sacrifice to the LORD your God; but the rest we have utterly destroyed.’ Then Samuel said to Saul, ‘Wait, and let me tell you what the LORD said to me last night.’ And he said to him, ‘Speak!’ Samuel said, ‘Is it not true, though you were little in your own eyes, you were made the head of the tribes of Israel? And the LORD anointed you king over Israel, and the LORD sent you on a mission, and said, “Go and utterly destroy the sinners, the Amalekites, and fight against them until they are exterminated.” Why then did you not obey the voice of the LORD, but rushed upon the spoil and did what was evil in the sight of the LORD?’ Then Saul said to Samuel, ‘I did obey the voice of the LORD, and went on the mission on which the LORD sent me, and have brought back Agag the king of Amalek, and have utterly destroyed the Amalekites. But the people took some of the spoil, sheep and oxen, the choicest of the things devoted to destruction, to sacrifice to the LORD your God at Gilgal.’ Samuel said, ‘Has the LORD as much delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices as in obeying the voice of the LORD? Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice, and to heed than the fat of rams. For rebellion is as the sin of divination, and insubordination is as iniquity and idolatry. Because you have rejected the word of the LORD, He has also rejected you from being king.’ Then Saul said to Samuel, ‘I have sinned; I have indeed transgressed the command of the LORD and your words, because I feared the people and listened to their voice. Now therefore, please pardon my sin and return with me, that I may worship the LORD.’ But Samuel said to Saul, ‘I will not return with you; for you have rejected the word of the LORD, and the LORD has rejected you from being king over Israel.’ As Samuel turned to go, Saul seized the edge of his robe, and it tore. So Samuel said to him, ‘The LORD has torn the kingdom of Israel from you today and has given it to your neighbor, who is better than you. Also the Glory of Israel will not lie or change His mind; for He is not a man that He should change His mind.’ Then he said, ‘I have sinned; but please honor me now before the elders of my people and before Israel, and go back with me, that I may worship the LORD your God.’ So Samuel went back following Saul, and Saul worshiped the LORD. Then Samuel said, ‘Bring me Agag, the king of the Amalekites.’ And Agag came to him cheerfully. And Agag said, ‘Surely the bitterness of death is past.’ But Samuel said, ‘As your sword has made women childless, so shall your mother be childless among women.’ And Samuel hewed Agag to pieces before the LORD at Gilgal. Then Samuel went to Ramah, but Saul went up to his house at Gibeah of Saul. Samuel did not see Saul again until the day of his death; for Samuel grieved over Saul. And the LORD regretted that He had made Saul king over Israel” (1 Samuel 15:1-35).

This entire chapter is a lengthy account, but it describes in great detail how God desires to deal with Amalek and the spirit of Amalek. Just like in the case of Moses, Aaron, Hur, Joshua, and the warriors of Israel, as they worked together to fight the Amalekites in the wilderness journey, 1 Samuel 15 elaborates how God wanted the Amalekites eliminated. The Prophet Samuel informed King Saul that he was to obliterate Amalek. The Holy One allowed Saul to marshal the forces to accomplish the task.

As we read the account, King Saul, in spite of his great victory, did not fully follow the instructions of the Lord. Consequently, he lost his anointing as king, and ultimately the throne itself. This often-taught passage of Scripture brings to light the imperative that “to obey is better than sacrifice” (1 Samuel 15:22). All generations which read this passage should learn that disobedience to the Word of God often has serious consequences. Here are the specific words that Samuel rebukes Saul with as God’s judgment comes forth, and Saul’s responds:

“But Samuel said: ‘Does the LORD delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices As much as in obedience to the LORD’s command? Surely, obedience is better than sacrifice, compliance than the fat of rams. For rebellion is like the sin of divination, defiance, like the iniquity of teraphim. Because you rejected the LORD’s command, He has rejected you as king.’ Saul said to Samuel, ‘I did wrong to transgress the LORD’s command and your instructions; but I was afraid of the troops and I yielded to them’” (1 Samuel 15:22-24).

We should be able to discern that Saul was simply a reflection of who his ancestors had largely been in the wilderness centuries before. In spite of the clear instruction, Saul decided to take matters into his own hands and do what he wanted to do with Agag, the king of the Amalekites (1 Samuel 15:8-9). Saul’s failure to follow the direction of Samuel was interpreted as the sin of rebellion and witchcraft, and his insubordination was considered iniquity and idolatry. These were serious charges against the king of Israel, and as a result he lost his position and dynasty.

Ultimately, the Prophet Samuel exemplified how God expected His people to deal with His enemies. Samuel fulfilled His command, and faithfully hewed him to pieces (1 Samuel 15:33). This gruesome example should encourage Believers today to take spiritual warfare very seriously. When we are battling the spirit of the Amalekites today—that demonic force which attempts to root out God’s people as they prepare to enter into their destiny, similar to how the Israelites were attacked early on as they left Egypt—the example is to show no mercy. We are to take on the full armor of God (Ephesians 6:10-20), and unreservedly fight the spirit of evil in our midst.

Let Us Remember

In B’shalach we are given some excellent instruction about how God’s people can handle the inevitable attacks of those operating in the “spirit of the Amalekites.” When the Lord starts to move, and His people are being directed according to His plan and purpose, there will typically be outside forces that almost immediately enter in and attempt to deter or stop it. Will men and women, who diligently strive to serve Him, have the fortitude and the integrity to stand up—or will they complain, be weary and tire, and give up?

In many respects, the patterns that we see in this Torah portion have plagued God’s people ever since the desert wanderings of Ancient Israel. Regardless of the tests delivered by Ancient Amalek or the spirit of Amalek or any other evil influence—it seems that the common fleshly proclivity to not obey the Lord is endemic to most. Even when we know that we have the anointing and blessings of God Himself, too many people act without possessing faith and confidence in Him.

Although attacks from the enemies of God will be with us until Yeshua returns, we have been given patterns on how to achieve positive results. Like Joshua, we can weaken or damage the perpetrators of wickedness. If we can remember that Moses declared how God is our Banner, then we can never lose:

“Moses built an altar and named it The LORD is My Banner [ADONAI nissi]” (Exodus 17:15).

It would be my prayer that as we each move through our own particular and inevitable challenges with the Adversary, we would hopefully understand the blessings of God inherent with intercessory prayer and unified direction of purpose to handle various tests. We will see that those “tests,” for whatever purposes, are indeed a sign to us that God Himself must always be our Provider, Healer, and Deliverer. Even though battles are inevitable, our ability to endure until the end is assured. For as we all know, the ultimate victory over the power of death has already been secured (2 Timothy 1:10).

We need to also remember that as we die daily to the inclinations of our flesh (cf. 1 Corinthians 15:31), God’s Spirit will guide us and instruct us in the diverse battles and incidents we wage. Today’s Messianic movement, simply in bringing together Jewish and non-Jewish Believers as one in Yeshua, possesses a great deal of spiritual potential as we approach His Second Coming. It is a definite vehicle to bring about the restoration of all Israel, and of the good news of the Kingdom fully reaching out to the world (Matthew 24:14). It should be no surprise why the testimony, of many people who have been involved in the Messianic community, is that it is somewhat “messy.”

There are worthy battles that need to be fought, as ungodly and insidious influences that can deter the Father’s objectives are present. But, the things we may encounter are nothing new to our faith. At the beginning of the Protestant Reformation, Martin Luther compiled his hymn “A Mighty Fortress is Our God,” words that many Believers have taken great encouragement from. Its first stanza declares,

A mighty fortress is our God, A bulwark never failing;
Our helper he amid the flood Of mortal ills prevailing:

For still our ancient foe Doth seek to work us woe; His craft and power are great,
And, armed with cruel hate, On earth is not his equal
.[4]

The battles against the ancient foe have been known and have been described throughout the centuries by many who have walked in the light they were given, and in the tasks they performed for the Holy One. But how much more light have we been given in these days of restoration? Should we not be that much more aware of how to battle our spiritual enemies, and of the tactics that will be employed against God’s people?

There are many ways that the enemy can deter or decelerate the restoration that our Heavenly Father has promised in His Word. The faith of many people is not in “the words of the Prophets” (Acts 15:15), but rather in various organizations, ministries, congregations, or even personalities. Would your total trust and confidence have been in King Saul, who failed Ancient Israel by not completely wiping out Amalek? Is your total trust and confidence in limited mortals today who may be leading the Messianic movement down some inappropriate paths? Many you encounter are simply limited people and will accomplish many good things for the Lord, who will surely be pleased by what they have done, even though they could have done more. Others, though, think they are working for the Lord when they clearly are not.

I thank God daily that I can turn to Him, knowing that He will never fail! I hope we all strive to stand firm in our convictions, confronting the enemy with the empowerment of the Holy Spirit, and guided by the love we are to have for one another. Let us always be on guard against the spirit of Amalek, as it will surely attempt to stop Israel from entering into its final stage of restoration in this hour.


NOTES

[1] Heb. m’dor dor.

[2] M.A. MacLeod, “Massah and Meribah,” in ISBE, 3:277.

The Greek Septuagint actually renders Massah u’Merivah as peirasmos kai loidorēsis, meaning “Temptation, and Reviling” (LXE).

[3] Deuteronomy 25:19; 1 Samuel 15:2; Psalm 83:7.

[4] The Methodist Hymnal (Nashville: Methodist Publishing House, 1966), 20.

Bo

Bo

Go

“Signs for Us”

Exodus 10:1-13:16
Jeremiah 46:13-28


by Mark Huey
mark@outreachisrael.net

This past week, the Lord has given me much to think about as I have meditated upon our Torah portion, which is most especially known for recording the Exodus of Ancient Israel from Egypt. Determining what to share can be rather difficult, as the Exodus is probably the most important event in our faith after the crucifixion and resurrection of Yeshua the Messiah. I believe that a systematic study of the Torah has the ability to help us scrutinize and mature in our individual walks of faith. The Torah portions compile the foundation for the rest of Scripture, and teach us valuable lessons that we must integrate into our relationship with God and our understanding of His plan for the ages.

In Bo, we see the final three judgments God issues upon Egypt,[1] the institution of the Passover,[2] and the departure of Israel and a mixed multitude from bondage.[3] Many diverse thoughts came to mind as I considered these things, going through the challenges of my own workweek. In retrospect, the element that best summarizes my experience this week concerns the signs that we observe and how the Lord wants us to pay attention to what He is doing.

Since the beginning of time, the Lord has used various phenomena to get the attention of the righteous, and of the world in general. These things may be physical indicators, they may be a message proclaimed, or when reading the Bible they may be grammatical forms used in the text to make an important point. Yeshua the Messiah said, “all things which are written about Me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled” (Luke 22:44). Consequently, when we examine the Torah and Haftarah readings, we need to be looking for those various “signposts” that portray His redemption. Some of these things may be clear prophecies of the Messiah to come, but others may be subtle hints or patterns that can only be seen by a careful examination of Scripture. Regardless of which is the case, some distinct “signs” were used by God in order to communicate His power and supremacy to the Egyptians:

“Then the LORD said to Moses, ‘Go to Pharaoh, for I have hardened his heart and the heart of his servants, that I may perform these signs of Mine [otai eleh] among them, and that you may tell in the hearing of your son, and of your grandson, how I made a mockery of the Egyptians and how I performed My signs [otai] among them, that you may know that I am the LORD’” (Exodus 10:1-2).

Signs (Heb. sing. ot) used by God may not always be good things, and not all signs need be specific prophecies or indicators of the Messiah to come. As we examine Bo, we find that three signs are scheduled to show both Israel and Egypt that the God of Israel is indeed the Creator and is superior to the elements. This would have been contrary to what the Egyptians believed, as they believed that the elements themselves were “gods.” Between the plague of locusts (Exodus 10:1-20), the imposition of a thick, tangible darkness (Exodus 10:21-29), and finally the slaying of the firstborn of Egypt (Exodus 11:1-10), the Pharaoh finally gets the message to let the people of Israel go. These signs indicate that God is not unwilling to judge the world when His demand of change goes unheeded. Pharaoh only capitulated to God’s demands when the plague of the firstborn was released (Exodus 12:30-41).

The most important sign seen, within Bo for certain, is the giving of the Passover. The Israelites are given a sign by God that will make them a distinct group of people set-apart from the Egyptians around them:

“Moreover, they shall take some of the blood and put it on the two doorposts and on the lintel of the houses in which they eat it. They shall eat the flesh that same night, roasted with fire, and they shall eat it with unleavened bread and bitter herbs. Do not eat any of it raw or boiled at all with water, but rather roasted with fire, both its head and its legs along with its entrails. And you shall not leave any of it over until morning, but whatever is left of it until morning, you shall burn with fire. Now you shall eat it in this manner: with your loins girded, your sandals on your feet, and your staff in your hand; and you shall eat it in haste—it is the LORD’s Passover. For I will go through the land of Egypt on that night, and will strike down all the firstborn in the land of Egypt, both man and beast; and against all the gods of Egypt I will execute judgments—I am the LORD. The blood shall be a sign for you [v’hayah ha’adam l’khem l’ot] on the houses where you live; and when I see the blood I will pass over you, and no plague will befall you to destroy you when I strike the land of Egypt. Now this day will be a memorial to you, and you shall celebrate it as a feast to the Lord; throughout your generations you are to celebrate it as a permanent ordinance” (Exodus 12:7-14).

Moses instructed the Ancient Israelites to apply the blood of the lambs upon the doorposts and doorframes of their dwellings. In so doing, the judgment that God issued upon the firstborn of Ancient Egypt does not apply to those who followed these instructions. In a summary remark that is repeated throughout the instructions of the Passover meal and Festival of Unleavened Bread, God stated that the remembrance of the Passover is a chuqat olam, meaning “an ordinance for ever” (RSV), a “perpetual ordinance” (NRSV), or a “permanent statute” (HCSB).

Within the further instruction given regarding the seven-day Festival of Unleavened Bread (Exodus 13:7-10, 16), a rather intriguing remark is made so that the Israelites will remember how God delivered them forth with His mighty hand:

“And it shall serve as a sign to you on your hand, and as a reminder on your forehead, that the law of the Lord may be in your mouth; for with a powerful hand the LORD brought you out of Egypt” (Exodus 13:9).

A verse like Exodus 13:9 has been interpreted throughout Jewish history as meaning that one must literally “bind God’s Word” on the hand and forehead. In Exodus 13:16 the further remark is made, “So it shall serve as a sign on your hand and as phylacteries on your forehead [l’ot al-yadkhah u’l’totafot bein], for with a powerful hand the LORD brought us out of Egypt.” The term totafot can mean “bands, frontlet-bands, between the eyes” (BDB),[4] and this is why up until today, Orthodox Jewish men traditionally wrap tefillin or phylacteries at specified times of prayer.[5]

The key thrust of the Exodus 13:9, 16 instruction calls for God’s people to remember that what they do with their hands and with their minds is to be focused on His work. We certainly follow this every year when we keep the Passover, as we must work with our hands to prepare the meal. At the same time, we also have to consciously think about what the Passover and Exodus mean, and what they can teach us for our lives today. As a result, the Law of God will surely be on one’s mouth or speech, as we should want to discuss what it is telling us with others we meet.

By remembering to commemorate the Passover and Festival of Unleavened Bread in their future generations, is it possible that the Ancient Israel themselves became a sign to the nations around them (cf. Exodus 15:14-15)? Was not the Exodus itself a confirmation of the covenant established with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob—a fulfillment of the Lord’s promise to Abraham about delivering his descendants from the bondage of Egyptian slavery (Exodus 12:40-41; cf. Genesis 15:13)? By the mere existence of Israel and their consistent celebration of the Passover and Festival of Unleavened Bread, they would certainly testify to the world that the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob is faithful.

Today, via the growth of the Messianic movement, many people are being exposed to the significance of the Passover. Jewish Believers who remembered the Passover as a part of their upbringing in the Synagogue are experiencing great fulfillment as they get to see the Jewish Messiah in the seder meal. Evangelical Christians are discovering the great blessings of celebrating Passover, as they likewise experience enrichment and see how the Last Supper meal Yeshua conducted with His Disciples was the Passover. People around the world are returning to the ancient paths!

This can be a very confusing reality to many who have grown up in traditional Judaism and traditional Christianity. Both have taught for centuries that the Passover and Festival of Unleavened Bread only apply to the Jewish people. Christianity has largely replaced Passover with Easter, which is supposed to commemorate the resurrection of Yeshua the Messiah. But nowhere does the Bible negate the command to celebrate the Passover, nor are we to ever somehow forget the Exodus. On the contrary, Paul’s words to the Corinthians were, “let us celebrate the feast, not with old leaven, nor with the leaven of malice and wickedness, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth” (1 Corinthians 5:8). When we commemorate the Passover as Messianic Believers today, the message that we are to communicate is that the Lord is blessing us for remembering an event that portrays what Yeshua has done for us. We have a dual blessing that Jews who only celebrate Passover for what it represents for Israel, or Christians who only remember the Messiah’s resurrection at Easter, miss out on.[6]

When you read the critical passages within our Torah portion, and apply them to your daily walk of faith, do you realize that you are to be a witnesses or sign of the work the Lord has done for us? We are to testify of His transforming power in our lives by obeying Him and by being blessed for our obedience. This includes being faithful to God among our family members, within our neighborhood, or in our work environment. All people need to see the Holy Spirit emanating from us when we keep a holiday such as Passover, so that they too can learn about the saving grace of Yeshua! The challenge with this is that some of us may have to face some criticism or rejection from our peers.

My prayer for you is that you can be a “sign” via a consistent walk of faith by following the Scriptures diligently, and representing Yeshua faithfully in a world that desperately needs Him. Yeshua the Messiah is The Sign who was crucified for our sins. As we choose to follow Him, let us in return be a sign for those many others perishing without a knowledge of His saving grace. Let us remember that Yeshua Himself was like the bronze serpent raised centuries earlier by Moses to bring salvation and deliverance for all who would believe upon Him in faith:

As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up; so that whoever believes will in Him have eternal life. For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life” (John 3:14-16; cf. Numbers 21:9).

Are you going to be a sign to others of the good news of salvation in Yeshua, the One who has provided us with final atonement for sin? What will you be doing the next time you celebrate Passover? Will you remember not only the Exodus of Ancient Israel from Egypt—but your own exodus from sin to new life in Him? Consider these things as you reflect on what Passover means to you.


NOTES

[1] Exodus 10:1-11:10.

[2] Exodus 12:1-32.

[3] Exodus 12:33-13:16.

[4] BDB, 377.

[5] Tefillin are also employed in both Conservative and Reform Judaism, with women also frequently using them. Messianic Jewish practice certainly varies, as there are men who use tefillin in their daily prayers, those who interpret these verses somewhat metaphorically, and those of both genders who use tefillin.

Our ministry does believe that there is great value within the traditional Jewish prayers issued to God throughout the day, and that the discipline of wrapping tefillin can be an edifying spiritual exercise for those who practice it. Tefillin were certainly a part of the Second Temple Judaism in which Yeshua’s ministry functioned.

[6] Consult the Messianic Spring Holiday Helper for a review of useful teaching articles and information on the significance of Passover.

V’eira

V’eira

I appeared

“The Finger of God”

Exodus 6:2-9:35
Ezekiel 28:25-29:21


by Mark Huey
mark@outreachisrael.net

In our Torah portion for this week, V’eira or “I appeared,” we continue to focus on the great deliverance that the Holy One of Israel will bring about, as He hears the cries and moans of His chosen people in bondage to Ancient Egypt. As we learned last week in Shemot, the Lord has chosen to work through various human vessels to be His agents to communicate to the world that He is a covenant-keeping God, as Moses is used to speak of His will and demands to the Pharaoh. The word given to Abraham regarding how his descendants would only be strangers in a foreign land four centuries must come to a conclusion:

“And God said to Abram, ‘Know for certain that your descendants will be strangers in a land that is not theirs, where they will be enslaved and oppressed four hundred years. But I will also judge the nation whom they will serve; and afterward they will come out with many possessions’” (Genesis 15:13-14).

The four centuries of oppression and enslavement to Ancient Israel are coming to an end, with the judgment upon Egypt and a dramatic deliverance of Israel ready to commence:

“And furthermore I have heard the groaning of the sons of Israel, because the Egyptians are holding them in bondage; and I have remembered My covenant. Say, therefore, to the sons of Israel, ‘I am the LORD, and I will bring you out from under the burdens of the Egyptians, and I will deliver you from their bondage. I will also redeem you with an outstretched arm and with great judgments. Then I will take you for My people, and I will be your God; and you shall know that I am the LORD your God, who brought you out from under the burdens of the Egyptians. And I will bring you to the land which I swore to give to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and I will give it to you for a possession; I am the LORD.’ So Moses spoke thus to the sons of Israel, but they did not listen to Moses on account of their despondency and cruel bondage” (Exodus 6:5-9).

Interestingly, we discover that as the Lord remembered His covenant and promises with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, that the oppression and bondage have been so cruel to the Israelites that the people turn a deaf ear to Moses. It is actually recorded, “they did not listen to Moses, because of their broken spirit and harsh slavery” (Exodus 6:9, ESV). Apparently, the lack of freedom and harsh treatment at the hands of the Ancient Egyptians had largely obliterated the Israelites’ hope of ever returning to the Promised Land. As we read through the narrative, Moses turned his attention to delivering the news of the soon coming plagues to Pharaoh and his court of counselors (Exodus 6:10-13).

For most of V’eira, the first seven plagues that God will issue upon Egypt are chronicled, including judgments of: blood,[1] frogs,[2] gnats,[3] insects/wild beasts,[4] death of livestock,[5] boils,[6] and hail.[7] Moses and Aaron dynamically communicated the successive judgments that the Lord issued upon the various gods of Egypt, Egyptian pride and prestige, and the Egyptian people themselves—all the while with the Pharaoh hardening his heart[8] to the requests of “Let My people go!”[9] Throughout the parashah the magnitude of the plagues and their specific objectives are detailed. But while reading and contemplating the implications of these horrific challenges for the people of Egypt, it becomes quite clear that the people of Israel were being separated out as those who have the favor and protection of the Initiator of the plagues, God Himself.

By the time the third plague arrived, that of gnats—after water was turned to blood and there had been a frog attack—the magicians of the Egyptian court were not able to imitate the plague. Earlier, they were able to turn their staffs into snakes (Exodus 7:11), turn water into blood (Exodus 7:22), and bring frogs up from the river (Exodus 8:7), but when the gnats came up from the dust of the ground, the secret arts of the sorcerers could not match the “finger of God”:

“Then the magicians said to Pharaoh, ‘This is the finger of God.’ But Pharaoh’s heart was hardened, and he did not listen to them, as the LORD had said” (Exodus 8:19).

From this point on until the actual Exodus transpires, the distinct separation of the Israelites from the Egyptians became crystal clear. The Lord was setting His people apart in order to communicate eternal principles to not only instruct them, but also the Egyptians:

“But on that day I will set apart the land of Goshen, where My people are living, so that no swarms of insects will be there, in order that you may know that I, the LORD, am in the midst of the land. And I will put a division between My people and your people. Tomorrow this sign shall occur” (Exodus 8:22-23).

Let us not think, though, that the “difference” (NKJV) which is intended between God’s people and those of Egypt is simply so—as later generations might have viewed it—the chosen can have a sense of self-pride about them. Throughout V’eira we see that God’s intention is to make His glory and power known to the whole Earth. With this comes the missional imperative that as His judgment falls, all people are to acknowledge and turn to Him for their deliverance:

  • “But on that day I will set apart the land of Goshen, where my people dwell, so that no swarms of flies shall be there; that you may know that I am the LORD in the midst of the earth” (Exodus 8:22, RSV).
  • “For this time I will send all My plagues on you and your servants and your people, so that you may know that there is no one like Me in all the earth” (Exodus 9:14).
  • “But, indeed, for this reason I have allowed you to remain, in order to show you My power and in order to proclaim My name through all the earth” (Exodus 9:16).
  • “Moses said to him, ‘As soon as I go out of the city, I will spread out my hands to the LORD; the thunder will cease and there will be hail no longer, that you may know that the earth is the LORD’s’” (Exodus 9:29).

Throughout the ordeal of plagues, the protective hand of the Almighty was ever-present and steady over the Israelites, as the Egyptians are pummeled. The “finger of God,” etzba Elohim, was raised from the Heavenly realm to point out that there is a distinct difference between those who trust in Him, and those who look to mortal rulers like the Egyptian Pharaoh for guidance. In many ways, as God judged Egypt, it was almost like He drew a line in sand to demarcate the difference between being His own and protected from His anger, versus the alternative of having to see His omnipotent power be issued against idols.

A Powerful Stylus

As I read our Torah portion, and specifically those parts regarding the different plagues issued upon Egypt, I was really struck by the concept of the finger of God. After all, this is a powerful mental image of an anthropomorphic description of our Heavenly Father. Even the unbelieving Egyptian magicians were able to discern that a Supreme Power had used His abilities to spring up gnats from out of the dust of the ground. It was something that they were unable to duplicate. Looking for other places in Scripture where “finger of God” terminology is used, a most notable location where it appears is how it is used to describe how the Lord inscribes the Decalogue, or the Ten Commandments:

  • “And when He had finished speaking with him upon Mount Sinai, He gave Moses the two tablets of the testimony, tablets of stone, written by the finger of God [ketuvim b’etzba Elohim]” (Exodus 31:18).
  • “The LORD gave me the two tablets of stone written by the finger of God [ketuvim b’etzba Elohim]; and on them were all the words which the LORD had spoken with you at the mountain from the midst of the fire on the day of the assembly” (Deuteronomy 9:10).

The finger of God transcribed the Ten Commandments, the highest principles that the human race has ever been given to follow. The powerful image of God’s hand, and by extension His finger, actually touching stone tablets and hewing out the Ten Words is a most comforting thought. After all, as the Great Shepherd guided His people away from the plagues and devastation falling upon Ancient Egypt, His hand and now finger were visible in actions of deliverance. So much more intimacy can be achieved with a finger, as opposed to just a hand!

Looking at some other times in the Torah where the finger is used, we find that it is a critical component of the examination and healing of lepers (Leviticus 14:2-57). The priests were to dip their fingers into the blood of various sacrifices in order to apply the atoning blood to the altar horns, or sprinkle it before the veil of offering (Leviticus 4). The finger is used when the sacrifice of the red heifer is used to purify the altar (Leviticus 19:2-22). Each of these things signifies an intimacy that is relegated to the finger of a human person, as the priest in each ritual serves as a proxy for God.

Yeshua’s Finger Pointing

Considering the concept of the finger of God, I was drawn to a significant place in the Gospels which employs this description. In the Gospel of Luke, Yeshua the Messiah made use of the finger of God,[10] when He was accused of casting out demons by the power of Beelzebul. After giving His Disciples some instruction about prayer (Luke 11:2-4), He then goes on to describe how giving and how merciful the Heavenly Father is when we approach Him and ask for needed things (Luke 11:5-13). In an act of great mercy, Yeshua cast out a demon from a dumb man (Luke 11:14), in the sight of those gathered to hear His words of hope.

At this point, some doubters began to resist Him with questions. The Lord is accused, “No wonder he can cast out demons. He gets his power from Satan, the prince of demons” (Luke 11:15, NLT). Insults are hurled at Yeshua, along with further challenges for Him to demonstrate additional supernatural signs (Luke 11:16). Yeshua responded to all of the naysayers with some excellent instruction about how the enemy uses division to tear down kingdoms, and by extension, people, families, fellowships, congregations, and even nations:

“But He knew their thoughts, and said to them, ‘Any kingdom divided against itself is laid waste; and a house divided against itself falls. And if Satan also is divided against himself, how shall his kingdom stand? For you say that I cast out demons by Beelzebul. And if I by Beelzebul cast out demons, by whom do your sons cast them out? Consequently they shall be your judges. But if I cast out demons by the finger of God, then the kingdom of God has come upon you. When a strong man, fully armed, guards his own homestead, his possessions are undisturbed; but when someone stronger than he attacks him and overpowers him, he takes away from him all his armor on which he had relied, and distributes his plunder. He who is not with Me is against Me; and he who does not gather with Me, scatters’” (Luke 11:17-23).

Reading these words of instruction and applying them to my own life and recent experiences, I was once again intrigued by how the study of the Torah is indeed most beneficial to consider on a consistent basis!

I thought about the concept of division and how the enemy uses all sorts of distortions to bring division, strife, and contention into our own hearts, or our families, and also various congregational assemblies. The Devil knows that if he can make an entity divide over an issue—most frequently something which can be rather small and insignificant—he has a much better chance of creating havoc, chaos, and a lack of peace. This can happen to a person who has let some unclean spirit have access to him, due to sin that has not been confessed and repented of. It can occur to families, as the enemy exploits lack of oneness and harmony in a marital relationship, or the frequent lack of honor displayed by children for fathers and mothers and/or harsh treatment of children on the part of parents. Wherever we willingly give the Adversary an opening, he is apt to take advantage of the opportunity to rob, steal, and destroy us of our joy and peace.

When it comes to groups of Messiah followers, the variety of opinions and beliefs that are often present can frequently complicate matters. Because we are all “works in progress” and humanly limited—with none of us truly having the intricacies of God fully understood—the possibilities for confusion are multiplied exponentially. This is particularly a problem when we need to be mindful of the words of Yeshua, and to utilize the sensitivity of casting out demons by the “finger of God.” Just as the finger is more useful in cleaning out the burrs caught in the wool coats of sheep, or cleaning disease or debris from the tender eyes of newborn lambs, so is the finger able to point out the errors of the human fold as we assemble together. And yet, the Book of Proverbs tells us plainly that it is the pointing of a finger which can be considered an attribute of a worthless and wicked person:

“A worthless person, a wicked man, is the one who walks with a false mouth, who winks with his eyes, who signals with his feet, who points with his fingers; who with perversity in his heart devises evil continually, who spreads strife. Therefore his calamity will come suddenly; instantly he will be broken, and there will be no healing” (Proverbs 6:12-15).

Consider this admonition, and realize that it is finger pointers who are most often the ones who cause contention. In the immediate verses following, the Lord lists some of the main things He hates:

“There are six things which the LORD hates, yes, seven which are an abomination to Him: Haughty eyes, a lying tongue, and hands that shed innocent blood, a heart that devises wicked plans, feet that run rapidly to evil, a false witness who utters lies, and one who spreads strife among brothers” (Proverbs 6:16-19).

Is it possible that in the context of describing a wicked and worthless person who is always pointing fingers, the things which are abominable to the Lord are often the negative, personal characteristics traits of the actual finger pointer? Instead of finger pointing and spreading strife and contention with the tongue, the Book of Proverbs actually gives us a much better usage for fingers. Here in a passage that has been traditionally used in Judaism to help emphasize the need to wrap tefillin or phylacteries,[11] it is suggested that instead of pointing with fingers, the faithful should bind God’s commandments upon their fingers:

“My son, keep my words, and treasure my commandments within you. Keep my commandments and live, and my teaching as the apple of your eye. Bind them on your fingers [qashreim al-etzbe’oteykha]; write them on the tablet of your heart” (Proverbs 7:1-3).

Here, God’s people are instructed to keep His words and treasure His commandments in order to live in harmony. Are these words not the very words that originate directly from the finger of God? The instruction here is to keep these His words as the “apple of your eye,” or to let God’s Law be your filter through which you observe everything that you do in life. And, if it takes one going through the regular discipline of binding tefillin on your fingers, do it so that you will be reminded to inscribe His commandments into your own heart and mind![12]

The Finger of God and His Kingdom

When Yeshua asserted, “if I cast out demons by the finger of God, then the kingdom of God has come upon you” (Luke 11:20), He did not choose His words aimlessly. He knew that evidence of the Father’s abilities and sovereignty was demonstrated by Himself as Son. Yeshua surely knew that the finger of God had been used to write the Ten Commandments on tablets of stone, and what the Book of Proverbs had to say about the misuse or abuse of one’s finger. When Yeshua declared that He exercised demons by the finger of God—and that it was appropriate evidence that the Kingdom of God had manifested itself—the Lord executed proper judgment by His use of the finger.

Yeshua’s continuing instruction remarks about the need for strong, properly equipped people of God to powerfully protect and guard their homesteads and possessions (Luke 11:18-23). These words can be understood on various spiritual and physical levels. As the followers of the Most High, it is our responsibility to remain strong and vigilant to strongly protect ourselves, our families, and our local assemblies from the wiles and distractions of the enemy. We know that in the spiritual arena that we war not against flesh and blood, but against powers and principalities in high places. The Apostle Paul directs our attention to some of the specific spiritual equipment available, to maintain our strength and overcome the world forces of darkness:

“For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the powers, against the world forces of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places. Therefore, take up the full armor of God, so that you will be able to resist in the evil day, and having done everything, to stand firm. Stand firm therefore, HAVING GIRDED YOUR LOINS WITH THE TRUTH [Isaiah 11:5], and HAVING PUT ON THE BREASTPLATE OF RIGHTEOUSNESS [Isaiah 59:17], and having shod YOUR FEET WITH THE PREPARATION OF THE GOSPEL OF PEACE [Isaiah 52:7]; in addition to all, taking up the shield of faith with which you will be able to extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. And take THE HELMET OF SALVATION [Isaiah 59:17], and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God” (Ephesians 6:12-17).

After describing how “we are not contending” (RSV) or “we do not wrestle against flesh and blood” (ESV), likened unto a kind of “battle” (HCSB), Paul describes a variety of key weapons that are to be employed against the Adversary. The Lord Himself is described as a Warrior who goes out to battle for His people. Isaiah 42:13 exclaims, “The LORD will go forth like a warrior, He will arouse His zeal like a man of war. He will utter a shout, yes, He will raise a war cry. He will prevail against His enemies.” Psalm 35:1-3 says, “Contend, O LORD, with those who contend with me; fight against those who fight against me. Take hold of buckler and shield and rise up for my help. Draw also the spear and the battle-axe to meet those who pursue me; say to my soul, ‘I am your salvation.’” Part of being an imitator of God (Ephesians 5:1) is going out and joining the fight against evil! The various elements of the armor of God are derived directly from the Tanakh:

Girded Loins and the Breastplate of Righteousness:

“But with righteousness He will judge the poor, and decide with fairness for the afflicted of the earth; and He will strike the earth with the rod of His mouth, and with the breath of His lips He will slay the wicked. Also righteousness will be the belt about His loins, and faithfulness the belt about His waist” (Isaiah 11:4-5).

“He put on righteousness like a breastplate…” (Isaiah 59:17).

Feet Shod with the Gospel of Peace

“How lovely on the mountains are the feet of him who brings good news, who announces peace and brings good news of happiness, who announces salvation, and says to Zion, ‘Your God reigns!’” (Isaiah 52:7).

Shield of Faith

“After these things the word of the LORD came to Abram in a vision, saying, ‘Do not fear, Abram, I am a shield to you; Your reward shall be very great’” (Genesis 15:1).

“For it is You who blesses the righteous man, O LORD, You surround him with favor as with a shield…As for God, His way is blameless; the word of the LORD is tried; He is a shield to all who take refuge in Him…The LORD is my strength and my shield; My heart trusts in Him, and I am helped; therefore my heart exults, and with my song I shall thank Him” (Psalm 5:12; 18:30; 28:7).

Helmet of Salvation[13]

“…a helmet of salvation on His head…” (Isaiah 59:17).[14]

The analogies of girded loins or belt for protection, a chest covering breastplate, appropriate protective shoes, a shield, a helmet, and a sword, all suggest that the struggle God’s people are to endure is interminable warfare going from battle to battle. The implied fact that the faithful soldier of God can utilize His truth, His righteousness, the gospel of peace, personal faith, the salvation experience, and the (spoken) Word of God[15] is to give him or her great comfort. But if these spiritual weapons and tools are not employed during the frequent skirmishes, then victory over the Devil and his temptations will not be achieved. Paul elaborates on this point to the Corinthians, as he notes that within the spiritual war we fight, we are to take every thought captive, and see that any speculation or lofty thing raised up against God is taken down:

“For though we walk in the flesh, we do not war according to the flesh, for the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh, but divinely powerful for the destruction of fortresses. We are destroying speculations and every lofty thing raised up against the knowledge of God, and we are taking every thought captive to the obedience of Messiah, and we are ready to punish all disobedience, whenever your obedience is complete” (2 Corinthians 10:3-6).[16]

Ephesians 6:12-17, especially with its various intertextual references from the Tanakh Scriptures, is excellent advice to men and women of God who urgently desire to have the best protection available for defending themselves from the attacks of the spiritual forces of wickedness. If we do not possess each of these protective armaments, and even offensive weapons, then we will only find ourselves in a weakened position, which will allow the enemy to harass, attack, and render us almost completely ineffective for the Lord’s service.

The Power of the Finger

So much of what people can do with their fingers, be it throughout history or even today, can involve harsh judgment, mean-spirited accusation, or just scolding or complaining. While we often think of the classic scene of someone waving the index finger at someone else, indicating displeasure over a situation, I really would be remiss if I did not at least mention how the most widespread insulting gesture used in much of Western society is directed by the middle finger, frequently with profanity spoken.

The fingers on a person’s hands do make human beings different from the animals. Fingers are most often the means by which we get to demonstrate our great abilities through writing, artwork, construction, gardening, athletic activities, and many other useful things that testify of the unique skills God has blessed each of us with. Let us not be found ever misusing our fingers!

Yeshua the Messiah issues the rather severe warning, “He who is not with Me is against Me; and he who does not gather with Me, scatters” (Luke 11:23). The objective of the Adversary is one of division, as Satan takes the opportunity to overwhelm those who do not protect themselves from his attacks and temptation. Surely, if one does not gather with the Messiah, and is accomplishing more in terms of dividing God’s people and causing discord, then you are opposed to Him and are responsible for the inadvertent scattering of His flock. This is not a place where any seekers of the Holy One should want to be! While there are surely legitimate reasons to be divided, such as casting people out of assemblies who bring in severe theological error or heresy, the great majority of things “God’s people” get divided over most often concern minutiae.

Each of us needs to be fully committed in our desire to be conformed to the image of Messiah Yeshua (Romans 8:29), with His teachings and example for living permeating every aspect of our being. His example of faithfulness unto the Father should be our heartbeat and credo. It is imperative that after you have had any demons, evil spiritual forces, or just bad influences cast out of your life by the finger of God, it is critical to let this same finger of God write His commandments onto your heart, as is promised in the New Covenant (Jeremiah 31:31-34; Ezekiel 36:25-27; cf. Hebrews 8:7-13; 10:14-18). It is not simply enough to see unclean spirits removed from one’s heart, if it is not followed by being filled and transformed by the work of the Holy Spirit. Yeshua’s definite warning is that demonic influences can return to people if there is not a change of behavior enacted:

“When the unclean spirit goes out of a man, it passes through waterless places seeking rest, and not finding any, it says, ‘I will return to my house from which I came.’ And when it comes, it finds it swept and put in order. Then it goes and takes along seven other spirits more evil than itself, and they go in and live there; and the last state of that man becomes worse than the first” (Luke 11:24-26).

Here, the unclean spirit cast out into “dry places” (KJV) looks for a house to occupy. So it returns to the habitation from which it was cast out, and discovering the place “swept and put in order,” it goes and gets seven other spirits, more evil than itself, and returns to further torment the one from whom it was cast. This is a terrible fate, but lamentably it can be the result of many who get delivered from demons, yet then do not let the Word of God change the way they live and how they are to obey God. A temporary deliverance from sin and evil influences is followed by a relapse and return to sin, and the person who was delivered allows the demon with his evil companions to re-enter. The person forgets or neglects to cry out and ask that he or she be filled up with the Ruach HaKodesh (Holy Spirit) and His truth to fill the void.

This tragic oversight is primarily a byproduct of unbelief and a lack of faith. The great irony is that although many people often witness the almost tangible deliverance power of the finger of God and get a glimpse of His Kingdom in action, they react like the Ancient Egyptians of millennia ago. They make it a practice to harden their hearts to the requirements to cry out to the God of Israel for mercy, repenting of their evil ways, and seeing the void in their hearts filled up the void with faith and love provided by God’s Spirit.

The Egyptian magicians were in awe when the finger of God brought forth gnats from the ground. They knew that the God of the Hebrews was very powerful. Yet, they did not repent and cry out to Him for salvation and deliverance, and they suffered the consequences of their pride. Months later, that same finger of God wrote the Ten Words onto tablets of stone that would frame the entire Torah, and help define the instructions for living a life that is pleasing to Him. When the Messiah Yeshua finally arrived, He helped clarify just how potent the finger of God can be, when He cast out demons, a major evidence that the Kingdom of God has manifest itself.

May we all bind our fingers with the Word of God, and pray that the finger of God has written it upon our redeemed hearts of flesh. By so doing, perhaps He will continue to extend His mercy to us, and beckon each of us closer to the work of His Kingdom, so that in short order in all of its fullness—the Kingdom will come! May we be so blessed to see even greater works demonstrated by the finger of God in the days, weeks, months, and years ahead.


NOTES

[1] Exodus 7:14-25.

[2] Exodus 8:1-15.

[3] Exodus 8:16-20.

[4] Exodus 8:21-32.

[5] Exodus 9:1-7.

[6] Exodus 9:8-17.

[7] Exodus 9:18-35.

[8] Exodus 7:13, 22; 8:15, 19, 32; 9:7, 12, 34-35.

[9] Exodus 7:16; 8:1, 20f; 9:1, 13.

[10] Grk. daktulō Theou.

[11] Exodus 13:16; Deuteronomy 6:8.

Cf. Michael V. Fox, “Proverbs,” in Adele Berlin and Marc Zvi Brettler, eds., The Jewish Study Bible (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004), 1459.

[12] For a further discussion of related topics, consult the author’s article “Unity, Despite Diversity in the Body of Messiah,” appearing in the December 2010 issue of Outreach Israel News.

[13] Cf. 1 Thessalonians 5:8.

[14] Also detailing the armor of God is Wisdom 5:17-20 in the Apocrypha:

“The Lord will take his zeal as his whole armor, and will arm all creation to repel his enemies; he will put on righteousness as a breastplate, and wear impartial justice as a helmet; he will take holiness as an invincible shield, and sharpen stern wrath for a sword, and creation will join with him to fight against the madmen.”

For a further evaluation of the armor of God, consult the commentary Ephesians for the Practical Messianic by J.K. McKee.

[15] Ephesians 6:17 employs rhēma Theou and is likely the spoken gospel message of salvation (cf. Ephesians 5:26). The principal way this is to be accomplished is obviously using the written Word of God.

[16] For some further thoughts, consult the author’s article “Waging War: Fight the Good Fight,” appearing in the August 2010 issue of Outreach Israel News.

Shemot

Shemot

Names

“Fear to Hear”

Exodus 1:1-6:1
Isaiah 27:6-28:13; 29:22-23 (A);
Jeremiah 1:2-3 (S)


by Mark Huey
mark@outreachisrael.net

This week our Torah cycle turns to the beginning of the Book of Exodus. In an attempt to link the opening verses (Exodus 1:1-7) with the previous teachings from the concluding chapters of Genesis, the narrative immediately reminds the reader of the “names” of the twelve tribes of Israel. The Hebrew word shemot, used for the Hebrew title of the entire book, means “names” in English, and we see a reminder that God has been faithful to not only preserve, but also to multiply the emerging nation of Israel while in Egypt. The English title Exodus is derived from the Greek Septuagint designation Exodos, being specifically intended to draw the attention of readers to how the Ancient Israelites will be delivered from the servitude they have been forced to experience in Egypt (Exodus 1:8-14), and then begin their rather arduous journey to the Promised Land.

Many lessons can be learned from this parashah, as the focus of attention is directed to the figure of Moses, the one chosen by God to implement His deliverance process. As I pondered this rather well-known account about the rise of Moses from the waters of the Nile to the one called to declare “Let my people go!” in the courts of Pharaoh, I was drawn to consider some of the unique characteristics that Moses embodied, in order to discern how his pattern for living was specifically applicable to modern-day Believers in our walk with Yeshua. While seeking to hear what the Spirit has to say about this week’s reading, the Lord pointed me to one of the foundational building blocks of our faith that can be summarized in this ancient proverb:

“The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom, and the knowledge of the Holy One is understanding” (Proverbs 9:10).

Following this train of thought, I began to seriously contemplate how fearing God and hearing His voice more clearly, almost goes hand in hand. From the life example of Moses we have a depiction of a humble human being, who we know from later descriptions was actually able to commune with the Creator on a “face-to-face” basis (Exodus 33:11). But as we quickly discover in the opening chapters of Exodus, Moses did not begin his life with the ability to dialogue with the Almighty with such intimacy. Instead, we notice that this communicative ability is an acquired trait, which is, in many respects, a by-product of not only his humility, but also—most profoundly—his fear of the Living God.

A Healthy Fear

The opening of Exodus informs the reader about the state of affairs for the Ancient Israelites, and we are told that the growing numbers of slaves were becoming a threat to the new Pharaoh of Egypt (Exodus 1:8), who did not know anything about Joseph (likely the result of a change in Egyptian royal dynasties).[1] While impressed into slavery, the numbers of Israel became so great that the Egyptians perceived them as a threat (Exodus 1:12), and so the Egyptian Pharaoh issued a decree that any male children born to Israelite women were to be killed (Exodus 1:15-16, 22). In many ways, this edict prefigures a similar action committed by Herod in the First Century C.E., immediately prior to the birth of Yeshua the Messiah (Matthew 2:16). But just as the life of the infant Yeshua was spared from Herod’s sordid intentions, so some 1,300 or so years earlier was Moses also protected, because the Hebrew midwives feared God:

“But the midwives feared God, and did not do as the king of Egypt had commanded them, but let the boys live. So the king of Egypt called for the midwives, and said to them, ‘Why have you done this thing, and let the boys live?’ And the midwives said to Pharaoh, ‘Because the Hebrew women are not as the Egyptian women; for they are vigorous, and they give birth before the midwife can get to them.’ So God was good to the midwives, and the people multiplied, and became very mighty. And it came about because the midwives feared God, that He established households for them” (Exodus 1:17-21).

Twice in the narrative, in defiance of the command from the Pharaoh, the Hebrew midwives were unwilling to slay the male infants of Israel. Their distinct fear of God establishes a theme seen throughout much of the Torah, and the rest of the Bible. After all, a proper fear of God is critical to offer reverence, worship, and praise to Him as our Creator, Protector, Redeemer, and Deliverer. By fearing the Lord, the Hebrew midwives did not only place Him ahead of their own safety, but in this specific case, they were unwilling to murder the male children who were added to their numbers. As a result of the midwives’ willingness to fearfully obey God rather than adhere to the Pharaoh’s demand, they were rewarded for choosing Him by the establishment of their own households and families.

Of course, as we continue through the specific details, we are soon introduced to the child Moses who was spared an untimely death and eventually adopted by one of the daughters of the Pharaoh himself (Exodus 2:1-10). We are further informed in the Apostolic Scriptures that Moses was raised in the house of Pharaoh with all of the privileges of royal living. Stephen’s defense speech before the Sanhedrin, just prior to his stoning, gives us some great insight into the early life of Moses:

“But as the time of the promise was approaching which God had assured to Abraham, the people increased and multiplied in Egypt, until there arose another king over Egypt who knew nothing about Joseph. It was he who took shrewd advantage of our race, and mistreated our fathers so that they would expose their infants and they would not survive. And it was at this time that Moses was born; and he was lovely in the sight of God; and he was nurtured three months in his father’s home. And after he had been exposed, Pharaoh’s daughter took him away, and nurtured him as her own son. And Moses was educated in all the learning of the Egyptians, and he was a man of power in words and deeds. But when he was approaching the age of forty, it entered his mind to visit his brethren, the sons of Israel. And when he saw one of them being treated unjustly, he defended him and took vengeance for the oppressed by striking down the Egyptian. And he supposed that his brethren understood that God was granting them deliverance through him; but they did not understand. And on the following day he appeared to them as they were fighting together, and he tried to reconcile them in peace, saying, ‘Men, you are brethren, why do you injure one another?’ But the one who was injuring his neighbor pushed him away, saying, ‘Who made you a ruler and judge over us? You do not mean to kill me as you killed the Egyptian yesterday, do you?’ And at this remark Moses fled, and became an alien in the land of Midian, where he became the father of two sons. And after forty years had passed, an angel appeared to him in the wilderness of Mount Sinai, in the flame of a burning thorn bush. And when Moses saw it, he began to marvel at the sight; and as he approached to look more closely, there came the voice of the Lord:  ‘I am the God of your fathers, the God of Abraham and Isaac and Jacob.’ And Moses shook with fear and would not venture to look. But the Lord said to him, ‘Take off the sandals from your feet, for the place on which you are standing is holy ground. I have certainly seen the oppression of My people in Egypt, and have heard their groans, and I have come down to deliver them; come now, and I will send you to Egypt.’ This Moses whom they disowned, saying, ‘Who made you a ruler and a judge?’ is the one whom God sent to be both a ruler and a deliverer with the help of the angel who appeared to him in the thorn bush. This man led them out, performing wonders and signs in the land of Egypt and in the Red Sea and in the wilderness for forty years” (Acts 7:17-36; cf. Exodus 2:11-15:27ff).

In this summary about Moses, many details about his life are included to enhance our understanding about him as a man, and some of the obstacles he had to overcome in order to be the one chosen by God to be Israel’s deliverer. We see that Moses was not only brought up in the house of Pharaoh, but that he was just as knowledgeable about the things of the world as his peers. Moses was reared up as an educated man (Acts 7:22-23a), which would doubtlessly be important as he would later be given the Ten Commandments and the Law by God to deliver to the Ancient Israelites. At the very least, this means that Moses was literate! He surely had the skills to oversee the written composition of the Torah.

For the first forty years of his life, we can deduce that Moses lived in exquisite surroundings (cf. Hebrews 11:25-26) and learned the knowledge that Egypt, the preeminent power of the Thirteenth Century B.C.E., could teach him. Being a member of the royal court, Moses was a very powerful man in Egypt, who had likely achieved a degree of noted success in his position as the adopted grandson of Pharaoh. The First Century Jewish historian Josephus records various extra-Biblical traditions about the Egyptian Moses making war with the Ethiopians (Antiquities of the Jews 2.238-253), among the many accounts found in ancient Jewish literature. While some of these accounts seem rather implausible, the prince Moses leading the Egyptian army to victory would be reasonable to treat with a degree of accuracy.

In various respects, we can almost see some parallels between Moses’ early life and the life of Joseph, as both were in positions of great influence in spite of their Hebrew heritage. But for some reason or another, it is Moses’ very Hebrew ancestry that got him into difficulties:

“Now it came about in those days, when Moses had grown up, that he went out to his brethren and looked on their hard labors; and he saw an Egyptian beating a Hebrew, one of his brethren. So he looked this way and that, and when he saw there was no one around, he struck down the Egyptian and hid him in the sand. He went out the next day, and behold, two Hebrews were fighting with each other; and he said to the offender, ‘Why are you striking your companion?’ But he said, ‘Who made you a prince or a judge over us? Are you intending to kill me as you killed the Egyptian?’ Then Moses was afraid and said, ‘Surely the matter has become known’” (Exodus 2:11-14; cf. Acts 7:23b-25).

Moses, at the height of his natural strength and societal position, decided to visit his own people, the Israelites, and he defended one of his fellow Hebrew brothers by striking an Egyptian dead. For some reason or another, Moses took it upon himself to be the dispenser of rash judgment upon the Egyptian. Whether it was losing control of his temper, or the full realization that he was an Israelite too, the result was murder. Something in Moses compelled him to take vengeance into his own hands. He finally knew he was a Hebrew—and apparently knew something about the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. But here with some admitted provocation, Moses took the life of another human being. The result of this altercation was not what he expected. When he approached some Israelites the following day, news of what he had done was circulating.

At forty years of age with the blood of an Egyptian on his hands, Moses began to exhibit a great fear of other people and what the Egyptians could do to him. This does not make a huge amount of sense at first, because as an Egyptian prince Moses could see to the deaths of many taskmasters and not incur any major reprimand for it. How many Egyptians themselves died building the Pyramids or the many palaces and temples for the different Pharaohs? Did the Pharaoh really care if some of his best artisans, painting or sculpting his many monuments, ever get caught in a cave in or a terrible accident and were killed? They were serving him as a god, after all. How many Egyptian officials were regularly executed because they knew secrets about Egypt’s wealth and how to access various treasure vaults? Moses seeing to the death of a taskmaster would normally have not been that big a deal in the eyes of Pharaoh.

We are informed, “When Pharaoh heard of this matter, he tried to kill Moses. But Moses fled from the presence of Pharaoh and settled in the land of Midian; and he sat down by a well” (Exodus 2:15). News had apparently gotten back to the Pharaoh that Moses was now aware of his Israelite heritage, which would of course mean that there was an imposter prince in the Egyptian royal court. At the same time, though, we see that Moses was so fearful of the Pharaoh that he chose to flee from the possible consequences of his murderous act. Moses had yet to really meet the One True God of his ancestors. He was able to flee to the land of Midian to avoid capture and death, with the remainder of our Torah portion focusing on the experiences of Moses (Exodus 2:15-4:13) as he was prepared to eventually return to Egypt and deliver his people in bondage (Exodus 4:14-6:1).

The Fear of the Lord

After spending some forty years in the desert, the Lord decided that it was time for Moses to understand that fearing Him was absolutely crucial for him to enter into his call as Israel’s deliver. For forty years Moses pastured the flocks of Jethro, his father-in-law, who was described as a priest of Midian (Exodus 3:1). The people of Midian were actually from the offspring of Abraham and Keturah (Genesis 25:2). Although we are not absolutely sure that Jethro was a worshipper of the God of Abraham during this time, as the one noted to be the “priest of Midian,”[2] it would be fair to conclude that he was at least a seeker of truth.

We know that eventually in the years ahead, Jethro definitely came to a full recognition that the God of Israel was indeed the true Creator (Exodus 18:10-12). But at this point, we are not sure just what Moses learned from his association with Jethro. We can determine that Moses honored Jethro’s position as leader of the community, for when the time to depart and return to Egypt does come, Moses asked for and received blessings from Jethro (Exodus 4:17-20). We also know that in the future, when Jethro joined Moses and the Israelites in the desert, Moses honored, respected, and even followed the wise advice of his father-in-law (Exodus 18:13-27).

For forty years Moses had been refined to be the instrument for the deliverance of the people of Israel from the bondage of Egypt. Learning the skills of a shepherd seems to be one of the best instructional tools that the Father employs in Scripture for selected vessels for His purposes. Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob were all shepherds, and as we know, King David and others used throughout the ages by God have likewise been molded by their experiences as shepherds. Yeshua referred to Himself as the Good Shepherd, in describing to His Disciples the main attribute that is to be exhibited toward one’s sheep, the people His Disciples are to serve:

“I am the good shepherd; the good shepherd lays down His life for the sheep” (John 10:11).

After forty years of shepherding, Moses had been prepared for a formal introduction to the Holy One of Israel, and no Bible reader can deny that the highlight of our Torah portion is the great theophany of the burning bush. In a very dramatic fashion—but in a manner where the humbled murderer turned shepherd could handle the light of revelation—the Almighty showed Himself in the midst of a burning bush:

“And the angel of the LORD appeared to him in a blazing fire from the midst of a bush; and he looked, and behold, the bush was burning with fire, yet the bush was not consumed. So Moses said, ‘I must turn aside now, and see this marvelous sight, why the bush is not burned up.’ When the LORD saw that he turned aside to look, God called to him from the midst of the bush, and said, ‘Moses, Moses!’ And he said, ‘Here I am.’ Then He said, ‘Do not come near here; remove your sandals from your feet, for the place on which you are standing is holy ground.’ He said also, ‘I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob. Then Moses hid his face, for he was afraid to look at God’” (Exodus 3:2-6).

The stunned Moses was perplexed by the fact that the burning bush was not being consumed. This is a very confusing reality, because all of the knowledge he had retained from his forty years in Egypt, and now his forty years of experience in the desert, could not help him comprehend this. After all, he had probably warmed himself and his sheep many a night by some of those very bushes. Now for some unknown reason, this fire did not consume the bush. Then from the midst of the bush, as Moses’ confusion was evident, a voice cries out: “Moses, Moses.”

You might be able to imagine your own reaction to a voice declaring your name twice from a burning bush. Without apparent hesitation, Moses blurted back, “Here I am,” hinneini. Consider how your own heart would be pounding as the presence of the Holy One is evident, and a voice seemingly out of nowhere calls your name twice. The voice beckoned Moses to remove his sandals, because the place where Moses was standing was to be considered admat-qodesh or “holy ground” (Exodus 3:5)—and by inference, he was a mere mortal who could not approach the Most High because of his lack of holiness. All Moses could do was get down on his face and hope that he was not consumed by His Divine presence.

From out of the same unconsumed bush the voice continues: “I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob” (Exodus 3:6). The narrative takes a break to describe how Moses was probably prostrate on the ground covering his face, being too afraid to look at God. Moses was probably trembling, being most ready to fear the Lord God Almighty in order to hear His voice with absolute clarity.

Continuing to read through Exodus ch. 3, it is very apparent that the voice of God did not stop with simply declaring that He was the God of Moses’ ancestors Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. The Lord went on to declare that He had heard the cries of His people Israel (Exodus 3:7-9), and that He had decided to use Moses as His instrument to convey His words to Pharaoh (Exodus 3:10), and ultimately to them as well (Exodus 3:18).

The More You Fear the Better You Hear

Contemplating our Torah portion, it strikes me that the Holy One of Israel had chosen a rather broken vessel in Moses, to use in delivering His people. At eighty years of age, Moses had already undergone two diametrically opposed “lives” that were permanently embedded in his memory. From the riches and power of the courts of Pharaoh, interrupted by the impetuous act of murder, to star-filled nights in the desert tending the needs of helpless sheep—Moses was uniquely prepared for the work that he was called to do. And then, in the great revelation of the burning bush encounter, the fear of God’s holiness was emphatically implanted into Moses’ being.

As I thought about this, I was prompted to consider the correlation between the degree of one’s fear of the Lord and the ability to hear His voice more clearly. After all, following this dramatic encounter with God, Moses reluctantly became the instrument through whom He would lead the Ancient Israelites to freedom, and then guide them throughout their wilderness trek. The communication between God and Moses is detailed later as though they were two people who would normally be able to speak face to face:

“And it came about, whenever Moses entered the tent, the pillar of cloud would descend and stand at the entrance of the tent; and the LORD would speak with Moses. When all the people saw the pillar of cloud standing at the entrance of the tent, all the people would arise and worship, each at the entrance of his tent. Thus the LORD used to speak to Moses face to face [panim el-panim], just as a man speaks to his friend” (Exodus 33:9-11a).

Is it possible that the burning bush experience and the dialogue Moses had with God (Exodus 3:4-4:17), had such a profound impact on Moses—that he truly feared Him like no other human has since? Is a result of a great fear of one’s Creator the ability to hear His voice more perfectly? This is something that certainly stimulates me to want to know my Heavenly Father better.

Think about your own life experiences. When are the times that you have been able to tune into the voice of the Almighty? Does it occur at times when you are in crisis or have great needs? Is it when you humble yourself and intercede for difficult circumstances? Do you remember the time that you had a significant, real life encounter with the Lord when you recognized Yeshua (Jesus) as Savior and were born again? Do you remember the time when you came to the end of yourself and cried out for mercy, in order to receive His salvation and deliverance? Do you remember hearing His comforting words as He communicated to you the assurance that you were saved, and/or delivered from oppressive spirits that might have harassed you?

How about the times you might have had a vision or a dream, or heard an audible word, from whom you truly knew was God? Can you remember this vision or dream or word with absolute clarity, almost like it was burned into your brain’s “hard drive”? If you think back to those times when the Almighty distinctly touched you, you might recall that you probably experienced a great deal of holy fear, awe, or reverence for Him. Can you see the connection between fearing Him and hearing Him?

If we consider one of the Haftarah selections that corresponds to this week’s reading, Jeremiah 1:2-3, we are directed to another individual who was uniquely chosen to be a vessel of the Most High during his life as a prophet. The call upon Jeremiah has some real similarities, which are directly parallel to Moses’ prostrated time on Mount Horeb when he covered his face:

“Now the word of the LORD came to me saying, ‘Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before you were born I consecrated you; I have appointed you a prophet to the nations. Then I said, “Alas, Lord God! Behold, I do not know how to speak, because I am a youth.” But the LORD said to me, “Do not say, ‘I am a youth,’ because everywhere I send you, you shall go, and all that I command you, you shall speak. Do not be afraid of them, for I am with you to deliver you,” declares the LORD. Then the LORD stretched out His hand and touched my mouth, and the LORD said to me, “Behold, I have put My words in your mouth”’” (Jeremiah 1:4-9).

As the calling to Jeremiah is described, it is evident that Jeremiah, just like Moses, was chosen—here from his conception—for the Divine assignment to be a prophet to His people. Jeremiah, like Moses, was also rather reluctant, because in his humility as a youth, he did not think he was capable of handling the assignment, and was a bit fearful about his mission. Fear was a good thing that probably resulted in the ability to hear God more clearly, as Jeremiah would be empowered to confidently speak forth His message. Jeremiah received confidence that via the touching of his mouth by the hand of God, that the words he would speak would be from Him.

Following Jeremiah’s life as a prophet, considering the other prophets of God, we begin to see a pattern emerge. As one truly fears the Holy One of Israel, the ability to hear His voice and then boldly proclaim His intention is augmented. Further writings include examples of the concept that the more you fear the Lord, the better you hear the Lord:

  • “Who is the man who fears the LORD? He will instruct him in the way he should choose. His soul will abide in prosperity, and his descendants will inherit the land. The secret of the LORD is for those who fear Him, and He will make them know His covenant” (Psalm 25:12-14).
  • “I know that everything God does will remain forever; there is nothing to add to it and there is nothing to take from it, for God has so worked that men should fear Him” (Ecclesiastes 3:14).
  • “The conclusion, when all has been heard, is: fear God and keep His commandments, because this applies to every person. For God will bring every act to judgment, everything which is hidden, whether it is good or evil” (Ecclesiastes 12:13-14).

Fear to Hear

Do you fear the Lord? If so, are you able to discern His voice if and when He speaks to you? If you are unsure of any of this, learn to fear and revere God with all of your heart, mind, soul, and strength. Recall figures like Moses and Jeremiah, and others throughout the ages, who knew that the Holy One of Israel is a living God who can truly show up and be with you at any time He so chooses. Remember that He is omnipotent, omnipresent, and omniscient—but most of all and that He is absolutely concerned about the intimate details of your life. By fearing Him and getting to know Him, you will undoubtedly begin to hear His voice more clearly.

Secondly, when you think about hearing His voice, make reading and meditating upon the words that we believe are absolutely His as recorded in the Bible a constant discipline. Learn to judge what you hear by the instruction of the Torah, the admonitions of the Prophets, the wisdom of the Writings, and the guidance of the Apostolic Scriptures. Meditate upon the examples of those who preceded you in faith, and learn how to emulate those who were truly able to obey the Lord when they heard Him.

Moses feared the Holy One of Israel, and he heard His voice clearly. Thankfully, what he heard has been recorded and retained for our collective edification, so that we can effectively serve Him today as well. If this does not bring you to fear the One who made you, then you might consider getting down on your face and crying out to Him for more mercy, so that your fear of Him will result in hearing Him better. Proverbs 13:12-14 offers us a critical thought:

“Hope deferred makes the heart sick, but desire fulfilled is a tree of life. The one who despises the word will be in debt to it, but the one who fears the commandment will be rewarded. The teaching of the wise is a fountain of life, to turn aside from the snares of death.”

May we all learn to fear Him, so that we may hear Him more clearly!


NOTES

[1] Consult the FAQ on the Messianic Apologetics website “Exodus, Pharaoh who did not know Joseph.”

[2] Heb. kohen Mid’yan.