Va’era (And I Appeared)
Exodus 6:2–9:35; Ezekiel 28:25–29:21; Matthew 12:1–14
“I will bring you out from under the yoke of the Egyptians. I will free you from being slaves to them, and I will redeem you with an outstretched arm and with mighty acts of judgment. I will take you as my own people, and I will be your God.… I will bring you to the land I swore with uplifted hand to give to Abraham, to Isaac and to Jacob. I will give it to you as a possession.” (Exodus 6:6–8)
In last week’s Torah study, Shemot, the Israelites bowed and worshiped God when Moses and Aaron told them that God had seen their oppression and remembered His covenant (brit) with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.
Pharaoh, however, did not happily receive the news that God had remembered His people, and he commanded that they gather their own supplies to make bricks, while demanding that they be just as productive as they had been before.
The Jewish foremen were now incensed against Moses and blamed him for Pharaoh’s punishing regime.
This week, God tells Moses that after He is finished dealing with Pharaoh, Pharaoh will force the Israelites to leave Egypt.
But when Moses tells the people that God is about to redeem them with “an outstretched arm and great judgments,” they are so discouraged by the increase in forced labor that they do not listen to him.
“They wouldn’t listen to him, because they were so discouraged, and their slavery was cruel.” (Exodus 6:9)
Although God has heard the groaning of the children of Israel and is in the process of taking action to deliver them, the Israelites have difficulty receiving the message, even though they had initially received it with joy.
Like the children of Israel, some of us may be in desperate situations. We may have initially received the promise that nothing is impossible with God with hope and confidence that He will move on our behalf to deliver us from hard circumstances.
But when we continue to experience those circumstances after receiving the promise, and even find our situation actually worsening, we might feel abandoned as we call to God day and night for relief.
We might become so discouraged that we no longer want to hear of God’s deliverance.
At times like these, we should remember that although God sent Moses to deliver the Israelites, they did not see the results immediately. It took time.
Our perception of time is often at odds with God’s eternal perspective: “A thousand years in Thy sight are but as yesterday.” (Psalm 90:4)
We often want to see immediate results, and are impatient when God employs a process.
God created circumstances that brought about a deliverance so great that no one could deny His “outstretched arm and great judgments” were responsible for the changes in the Israelites’ status.
In this Parasha, the Egyptians witness God moving on behalf of the Israelites with the first seven of 10 plagues, all of which are also judgments against their gods:
1. Dam (דָם / blood), judgment against Hapi, the god of the Nile (Exodus 7:14–24)
2. Tzefardea (צְּפַרְדֵּעַ / frogs), judgment against Heket, the goddess of fertility (Exodus 7:25–8:15)
3. Kinim (כִּנִּים / lice), judgment against Ged, the god of the Earth (Exodus 8:16–19)
4. Arov (עָרוֹב / flies or wild animals), judgment against Khepri, god of creation/ lord of the flies (Exodus 8:20–32)
5. Dever (דֶּבֶר / pestilence), judgment against Apis, god of animals (Exodus 9:1–7)
6. Sh’chin (שְׁחִין / boils), judgment against Isis, the goddess of healing, nature, and peace (Exodus 9:8–12)
7. Barad (בָּרָד / hail), judgment against Nut, goddess of the sky (Exodus 9:13–35)
Despite all the miracles that Moses performs and the plagues that befall Egypt, Pharaoh’s heart remains hard, and he refuses to let God’s people go, just as God had forewarned Moses:
“I will harden Pharaoh’s heart, and though I multiply My signs and wonders in Egypt, he will not listen to you. Then I will lay My hand on Egypt and with mighty acts of judgment I will bring out My divisions, My people the Israelites.” (Exodus 7:3–5)
In Exodus 3:7, God revealed to Moses that He had seen the circumstances of the Israelites and heard their cries for help:
“I have indeed seen the misery of My people in Egypt. I have heard them crying out because of their slave drivers, and I am concerned about their suffering.”
Like the Psalmist, we might cry out in our desperation, “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me? Why are You so far from helping Me, and from the words of My groaning? O My God, I cry in the daytime, but You do not hear; And in the night season, and am not silent.” (Psalm 22:1–2)
These were the very words that Yeshua (Jesus) cried out to His Father on the Roman execution stake: “Eli, Eli, Lamah sabachthani?” (My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?)
There is nothing faithless in crying out to God when we are being oppressed or in a dire situation. Rather, it is fitting to do so, because only He has the power to deliver us.
All We Like Sheep
God is a merciful and compassionate Father; He sees our suffering and hears us cry out because of our afflictions. He also responds appropriately.
“For He has not despised nor abhorred the affliction of the afflicted; nor has He hidden His face from Him; But when He cried to Him, He heard.” (Psalm 22:24)
Likewise, Yeshua, who perfectly reflects the character of our Heavenly Father, is also filled with compassion for hurting people. When He looked on the children of Israel, He saw them as sheep without a shepherd. He did not despise them for this; He was touched deeply by their distress and moved to compassion.
“Seeing the people, He felt compassion for them, because they were distressed and dispirited like sheep without a shepherd.” (Matthew 9:36)
Sheep are timid creatures with little means of self-defense. They are so easily panicked that if one sheep is startled by a mouse and begins to flee, the others join in the rush to escape danger.
Yeshua saw this helplessness in the Jewish People and sent out His disciples to be the laborers that bring the sheep back to the fold.
In the end, however, it is not only the Jewish People who are like sheep. All of humanity is like this, even those who seem to have everything. In fact, sometimes people who have everything are the most distressed, dispirited, and empty.
We all need the Good Shepherd.
Haftarah Va’era (Prophetic Portion)
“Son of man, set your face against Pharaoh king of Egypt and prophesy against him and against all Egypt.” (Ezekiel 29:2)
In both Parasha Va’era and Haftarah Va’era, God confronts the Pharaoh of Egypt with judgment through a prophet who delivers a message of redemption for Israel.
“I am against you, Pharaoh king of Egypt, you great monster lying among your streams.” (Ezekiel 29:3)
Although God’s judgment falls on Egypt in both the Parasha and the Haftarah, He is not only concerned for the Israelites; His actions on behalf of Israel are also designed to cause the Egyptians to know Him:
“Then I will lay My hand on Egypt and with mighty acts of judgment I will bring out My divisions, My people the Israelites. And the Egyptians will know that I am the Lord when I stretch out My hand against Egypt and bring the Israelites out of it.” (Exodus 7:4–5)
“And all the inhabitants of Egypt shall know that I am the Lord.” (Ezekiel 29:6)
God’s judgments are always redemptive. He wants the Jewish People and the Nations to know Him.
Both the Parasha and the Haftarah concern God bringing His people home to the Holy Land.
In the Haftarah, God promises to once again gather the children of Israel from where they have been scattered and languishing in exile into their own land.
“When I gather the people of Israel from the nations where they have been scattered, I will be proved holy through them in the sight of the nations. Then they will live in their own land, which I gave to my servant Jacob.” (Ezekiel 28:25)
Perhaps, the most astonishing thing about this prophetic word is that God is actually bringing it to pass in our very day!
From the north, the south, the east, and the west, God’s people are returning to the Land of Israel from every direction.
But God is not satisfied with just returning His People to the Land that He promised them.
His intention is that all Israel will dwell securely in the Land and know Him:
“They will live there in safety and will build houses and plant vineyards; they will live in safety when I inflict punishment on all their neighbors who maligned them. Then they will know that I am the Lord their God.” (Ezekiel 28:26)
This prophecy has not been fulfilled in its fullness. We are building houses and planting vineyards in the Land, but terrorists continue to scheme and conspire to shed the innocent blood of the children of Jacob.
We do not yet live in safety and security.
Today, the international community seems bent on giving the Holy Land to those who try to claim the Land as their own.
The Lord will execute judgment on those who endeavor to do so.
It took 10 terrible plagues before Pharaoh was willing to let God’s people go! Egypt was nearly destroyed in order to bring the children of Israel out of exile and into their own land.
These plagues were not random natural disasters, but were God’s judgment upon each of the false gods of Egypt. With each plague, God demonstrated His supreme power so that they would know that He, YHVH, is the One True God.
What’s more, these plagues also resemble the end-time plagues that will be poured out upon the earth.
The book of Revelation describes how water will be again turned to blood (first plague in Egypt) and hail will rain down upon the earth (seventh plague in Egypt):
“The first angel sounded his trumpet, and there came hail and fire mixed with blood, and it was hurled down on the earth. A third of the earth was burned up, a third of the trees were burned up, and all the green grass was burned up…. A third of the sea turned into blood.” (Revelation 8:7–8)
And like the eighth and ninth plagues, there will also be plagues of locusts (Revelation 9:3) and deep darkness (Revelation 8:12).
However, just as Pharaoh failed to repent due to the hardness of his heart, even after severe judgments, so will the people who are not destroyed in these end-time plagues fail to turn from their sins:
“The rest of mankind, those who were not killed by these plagues, even then did not turn from what they had made with their own hands… Nor did they turn from their murdering, their misuse of drugs in connection with the occult, their sexual immorality or their stealing.” (Revelation 8:20–21)