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.