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Parasha Shemot (Names): The Proper Name of God

Shemot (Names)
Exodus 1:1–6:1; Isaiah 27:6–28:13; 29:22–23; Jeremiah 1:1–2:3; 1 Corinthians 14:18–25 

“These are the names [shemot] of the sons of Israel who went to Egypt with Jacob, each with his family.”  (Exodus 1:1)

teenager-Western (Wailing) Wall-Jerusalem

A young Jewish teenager prays at the Western (Wailing) Wall in Jerusalem

Last week, the reading of Bereshit (Genesis), the first of the five books of Moses, concluded with the death of both Jacob and his son, Joseph.  This week, we begin studying the second book—Shemot (Names), which is called Exodus in English Bibles.

This second book of Moses was originally called Sefer Yetziat Mitzrayim (The Book of the Departure from Egypt).  It then came to be known as Shemot from its opening phrase, Ve-eleh shemot (and these are the names).

The English name for Shemot—Exodus (The Departure)—comes from the Greek term ‘exodos’ and is derived from the Septuagint, the ancient Greek translation of the Hebrew Scriptures (300–200 or perhaps 150 BC).

This book describes the formation of the people of Israel as a nation, their enslavement in Egypt and their deliverance from bondage.

Western Wall-crowd

Crowds at the Western (Wailing) Wall in Jerusalem

Israel Becomes a Great People

“And because the midwives feared God, he gave them families of their own.”  (Exodus 1:21)

Israel had come to Egypt (Mitzrayim) as a temporary measure to avoid the famine in the land of Canaan.  Nevertheless, their settling in Egypt eventually led to their enslavement.

Although, the sons of Israel (Jacob) had come into Egypt as a sum total of 70 people, God blessed them, and they grew into such a multitude that Pharaoh viewed them as a potential threat and therefore, forced them into hard labor.

In order to suppress their numbers, Pharaoh commanded that all Hebrew baby boys be killed at birth.

Since the pharaoh of Egypt gave a command that violated God’s commandments, the Hebrew midwives disobeyed the Pharaoh’s command. 

Because the midwives feared God more than they feared man, God rewarded them.  (Exodus 1:17–21)

When killing all the Jewish boys at birth did not work, the Pharaoh resorted to drowning them.

“Then Pharaoh gave this order to all his people:  ‘Every Hebrew boy that is born you must throw into the Nile, but let every girl live.’”  (Exodus 1:22)

Pharaoh and the Midwives-Tissot

Pharaoh and the Midwives, by James Tissot

The Case for Godly Disobedience

While we are commanded to obey those in authority over us, we are not to do so if it means disobeying God’s laws.

In the past, when the commands of an ungodly and evil government meant disobeying God, many Jewish martyrs chose death over a life of disobedience to God. 

We must never allow loyalty to our government to reign supreme over our loyalty to the King of the Universe.  

We can learn a lesson from Church history.

During the Holocaust, the allegiance of the silent majority of the Roman Catholic and Protestant Church was to Hitler.

Rather than confront the Nazis and defend the Jewish People, many Church leaders deliberately chose to avoid conflict with Hitler’s regime.  Through many outrageous tacit and overt acts of compliance, the Church was unfaithful to God and treacherous to His Jewish people.

Children-Concentration Camp

Among the many unspeakable atrocities that happened to the Jewish People under Hitler’s regime, the Jewish people had their possessions taken from them; they were starved and forced into hard labor in prison camps; and they were rounded up and killed.  Great numbers of the Church approved and/ or remained silent.

May the Church never make this same error again under the rule of the coming anti-Messiah.  Our primary allegiance must remain with God, though it takes courage and standing against a tide of evil.

“The Lord is my light and my salvation—whom shall I fear?  The Lord is the stronghold of my life—of whom shall I be afraid.”  (Psalms 27:1)

God promises to bless those who bless Israel and to curse those who curse her (Genesis 12:3).  What the nations do to Israel, God will return upon them likewise.

If we look at the end of the Egyptian regime that oppressed Israel, God drowned the Egyptian males just as the Egyptians drowned the Jewish baby boys.

“Israel is My firstborn son, and I told you, ‘Let My son go, so he may worship Me.’  But you refused to let him go; so I will kill your firstborn son.”  (Exodus 4:22–23)

While the consequences of hurting Israel, God’s firstborn, are beyond burdensome, the rewards of blessing Israel are cause for great rejoicing.

Hagbah-Sefer-Torah-Western Wall

Lifting of the Torah (Hagbah) at the Western (Wailing) Wall in Jerusalem: The Torah scroll is lifted for all to see the Torah script, either at the end or the beginning of the reading, depending on the tradition of the community.

The Faith of One Mother, and the Intervention of God

“Now a man of the tribe of Levi married a Levite woman, and she became pregnant and gave birth to a son.  When she saw that he was a fine child, she hid him for three months.”  (Exodus 2:1–2)

One male infant in Egypt was spared the terrible fate of being drowned in the Nile because of the faith and resourcefulness of his mother, not to mention the supernatural intervention of God.

When Moshe (Moses) was born, he was hidden by his mother for three months.

When his mother could no longer hide him, she put him in an ark constructed of bulrushes and set him afloat in the river while his sister watched from a distance.  (Exodus 2:3)

This is the second of only two times that this Hebrew word for ark (tevah) is used in the Tanakh, the first being the ark that Noah built to save himself and his family from the flood.  (See Genesis 6:14)

Moses Rescued from the Nile River-Nicolas Poussin

Moses Rescued from the Nile River, by Nicolas Poussin

Pharaoh’s daughter found the baby Moshe (Moses) and had compassion on him, even though she knew he was a Hebrew.

She called him Moshe because he was drawn (mashach) from the waters.  (Exodus 2:10)  

While mashach is not the exact word used in this Scripture, the name Moshe comes from the root of the word for draw or pull, which is mashach.

Moses’ own Jewish mother was called to nurse him until he grew older.  She then turned Moses over to the Pharaoh’s daughter who took him as her own son.

“When the child grew older, she took him to Pharaoh’s daughter and he became her son.”  (Exodus 2:10)

sailboats-Nile River-Egypt

Nile River in Egypt

Moshe: The Development of a Leader

“One day, after Moses had grown up, he went out to where his own people were and watched them at their hard labor.”  (Exodus 2:11)

God allowed Moses, the future redeemer (go’el) of Israel, to be instilled in his early childhood with the knowledge of God from his Jewish mother, but arranged that he would not grow up among his Jewish People, lest he adopt their slave-victim mentality.

Instead, Moses was raised in an Egyptian palace as royalty.  Despite this, he felt compelled to help his brethren and administer justice against the Egyptian oppression of his people.

When Moses reached manhood, he witnessed an Egyptian striking an Israelite, and he killed the Egyptian.

Rather than receiving thanks for his help, Moses was taunted and accused for the first, but not the last, time by his own brethren:  “Who made you ruler and judge over us?”  (Exodus 2:14)

When Pharaoh heard that Moses had killed an Egyptian, he tried to have him killed, so Moses fled from Egypt into the wilderness in fear for his life.

Temple-Rameses II

Temple of Rameses II:  As the Israelites grew in number, the Egyptians began to fear them, so they forced them into labor to build Pithom and Rameses as supply cities for Pharaoh.

Preparing Moses to Shepherd Israel

“Their cry for help because of their slavery went up to God.  God heard their groaning, and He remembered His covenant with Abraham, with Isaac and with Jacob.  So God looked on the Israelites and was concerned about them.”  (Exodus 2:23–25)

Though Moses felt the call of God on his life in Egypt to deliver his people, he was not ready to fulfill that commission.  All his years in Pharaoh’s courts had not prepared him.

To prepare for what was to come, he first needed to spend 40 years tending flocks in Midyan (Midian).

There in the wilderness, Moses found favor with Jethro, a Midianite Priest, and married his daughter Zipporah.

Moses had a son whom he named Gershom, a Hebrew name that comprises the word ‘Ger,’ meaning ‘stranger,’ and ‘Sham,’ meaning ‘there.’

We understand from this that Moses hadn’t forgotten his people.  He felt like a stranger in a strange land.  (Exodus 2:21–22)

Despite the sense of loss and alienation that Moses experienced, God was preparing him to deliver the children of Israel from their bondage in Egypt.

prayer-Western Wailing Wall-Jerusalem

An Orthodox Jewish man prays at the Kotel (Western Wall) in Jerusalem.  The box on his forehead and the strap wound on his hand are tefillin (phylacteries).  Inside the box is a parchment with verses of Scripture.

 Responding to the Call

“Moses saw that though the bush was on fire it did not burn up.  So Moses thought, ‘I will go over and see this strange sight of why the bush does not burn up.’”  (Exodus 3:2–3)

Finally, after 40 years shepherding his father-in-law’s flocks, from the midst of a burning bush, Moses hears the call of God to go back to Egypt to deliver the Israelites from their cruel bondage.

The lesson we can learn from this, John, is that people of destiny can spend years in a humble position before God calls them to service.  God sometimes tests us in small things before exalting us to greater ones.  We need to have patience with God’s timing and wait in hopeful expectation.

Here at the burning bush, the Lord identified Himself to Moses, not as a new or foreign God that Moses did not know, but as the God of his fathers.

“I am the God of your father, the God of Avraham (Abraham), the God of Yitzhak (Isaac) and the God of Yaacov (Jacob).”  (Exodus 3:6)

God confirmed to Moses that the Israelites are His people and that He had heard their cry for help.

“And now the cry of the Israelites has reached me, and I have seen the way the Egyptians are oppressing them.  So now, go.  I am sending you to Pharaoh to bring my people the Israelites out of Egypt.”  (Exodus 3:9–10)

Moses Speaks to Pharaoh-James Tissot

Moses Speaks to Pharaoh, by James Tissot

In any sane person’s estimation, delivering Israel from Egypt would take a powerful army.  Moses must have been thinking that and had to have been astonished that God was sending just one man—him—to convince Pharaoh to let God’s people go.

After spending so many years in the wilderness, he had been broken and humbled.  His honest reaction was ‘who am I to do this great thing?’

“Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh and bring the Israelites out of Egypt?”  (Exodus 3:11)

Many of us also look at our own inadequacy and doubt that God would possibly want to use us.

What’s the only thing we really need?  God’s assurance that He will be with us!

“And God said, ‘I will be with you.’”  (Exodus 3:12)

praying-Western (Wailing) Wall

Praying at the Western (Wailing) Wall

He Who Was, and Is, and Is to Come

“Say to the Israelites, YHVH, the God of your fathers… has sent me to you.”  (Exodus 3:15)

Moses knew that he couldn’t go to the Israelites under his own authority.  He had learned this painful lesson 40 years earlier.  This time, he had to be sent by divine authority.

Moses, therefore, asked God for His actual name so he would have an answer if the Israelites tested him to see if he was really acting on God’s behalf (Exodus 3:1314).

The Hebrew words that the Lord provided for His name are Ehye Asher Ehye.  What is commonly translated in English as I am who I am, or just I Am, actually means I shall be that I shall be.  (Exodus 3:14)

God’s answer reveals the wisdom of Moses’ question.  God wants Israel to know Him and is therefore, careful in providing the answer.

Tetragrammaton-Four Letters

The Tetragrammaton (Four Letters), is considered the sacred and proper name of God and therefore, not spoken aloud.  When it is encountered during the reading of the Torah, Adonai (Lord) is substituted.  In some Bible translations, it is transliterated Yehovah or Yahweh.

 God also provides another name and instructs Moses to assure the children of Israel that YHVH—from the four Hebrew letters yud, hey, vav, hey which make up God’s sacred name—is sending him.  (Exodus 3:15)  [In most English Bibles, the word LORD is inserted where YHVH occurs.]

This name is derived from the Hebrew root word to be.

By this, God proclaimed His eternal nature:  He is the God who was, who is, and who forever will be!

The angels continually profess this glorious mystery around the throne of God:  “Kadosh, kadosh, kadosh (holy holy, holy) is the Lord God Almighty, who was and is and is to come.”  (Revelation 4:8)

In calling himself ‘I will be,’ God declared that He is without beginning or end.  He is outside of time and can step into our past, present and future to meet the need of the moment.

prayer requests-tefillin- tallit-Western (Wailing) Wall

Jewish man praying at the Western (Wailing) Wall wearing tefillin (black straps with Scripture) and a tallit (prayer shawl).  The papers stuffed between the enormous stones are prayer requests left by other visitors.

The True Nature of God

Although it may seem at times that God stands far off and hides himself in times of trouble, this is only our faulty, time-bound perception.  The truth is that God is faithful to keep His promises to His covenant children in His perfect way and time.

We can see from this Parasha that God loves freedom and hates injustice, tyranny, oppression and bondage of all kinds.

He desires to deliver us so that we may live free—free of sin, of guilt, of shame, and of all oppression.

And in a similar way that He sent one man, Moses, to deliver His people, He sent Yeshua (Jesus) to deliver all who would be His people.

Yeshua proclaimed His mission of healing and liberation in Nazareth, while visiting the synagogue one Shabbat.

As He read the Haftarah (prophetic portion), He proclaimed:

“The Spirit of the Lord is on Me, because He has anointed Me to proclaim good news to the poor.  He has sent Me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners, and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”  (Isaiah 61:12; Luke 4:16–19)

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