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.