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Parasha Va’era (And I Appeared): When the Promises of God Look Empty

Va’era (And I Appeared)
Exodus 6:2–9:35; Ezekiel 28:25–29:21; Romans 9:14–33

“I will now restore the fortunes of Jacob and will have compassion on all the people of Israel, and I will be zealous for my holy name.”  (Ezekiel 39:25)

Last week in Parasha Shemot (Names), Moses was called by God to deliver the children of Israel out of bondage in Egypt and discovered the proper name of God—YHVH, which is usually translated LORD in English Bibles, and also Jehovah or Yahweh as scholars try to add vowel sounds to these consonants.

This name appears over 6,800 times in the Tanakh (Old Testament)!

sacred name of God-Tetragrammaton-Four Letters

The sacred name of God (approximate center of photo), often referred to as the Tetragrammaton (Four Letters), comprises four Hebrew letters: yud, hey, vav, and hey (Hebrew is read right to left).

This week’s Torah portion opens with God identifying Himself as the God of the Hebrew Patriarchs after Moses complained to God that trying to free the Israelites has brought them trouble.  In this context, He underlines to Moshe (Moses) His holy name and the fact that until then, He had not made Himself fully known.

I am the LORD (Ani YHVH).  I appeared to Abraham, to Isaac and to Jacob as God Almighty (El Shaddai), but by my name the LORD (YHVH) I did not make myself fully known to them.”  (Exodus 6:2–3)

Torah scroll-silver Sephardic-Sephardic Torah Tik

Adorning the Torah scroll—the precious Word of God:  Sterling silver Sephardic Torah cases, also known as a Sephardic Torah Tik or Sefer Torah Tik, are handcrafted of heavy-gauge sterling silver over a solid, yet lightweight wood base.

Today, most Jewish people do not utter the name of God out of reverence for His holiness and fear of transgressing the command forbidding using God’s name in vain.

Instead, the term HaShem (The Name) or Adonai (Lord) is substituted.

Still, God desires that His people know Him intimately by His proper name, and His word promises that they will.

“I will make My holy name known in the midst of My people Israel….”  (Ezekiel 39:7)

“No longer will a man teach his neighbor, or a man his brother, saying, ‘Know the LORD,’ because they will all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, declares the LORD.  For I will forgive their wickedness and will remember their sins no more.”  (Jeremiah 31:34)

Reading-Torah-Wailing Wall

Reading from the Torah at the Western (Wailing) Wall in Jerusalem.

Knowing God by His Name

“I appeared to Abraham, to Isaac and to Jacob as God Almighty (El Shaddai)….”  (Exodus 6:2–3)

El Shaddai (God the All Sufficient) is an interesting name of God, since it relates to the Hebrew word for a woman’s breast.  This name reveals the maternal quality of God’s character as nurturer, comforter, sustainer, and source of life-giving nourishment.

Up to this point in the history of His People, God had cared for and nurtured Israel as a mother.

When God brought His people out of Egypt, He was in effect, birthing a new nation of holy people—a royal priesthood.

But, He also now was revealing Himself to Moses and to the children of Israel as their Father—protector, provider, deliverer, and redeemer.

The Seventh Plague-John Martin

The Seventh Plague, by John Martin:  The plague of hail and fire, found in Exodus 9:13-35, is one of the judgments that God brought against Pharaoh to convince him to let His people go.

El Gibor (Mighty God)

“And He will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.”  (Isaiah 9:6)

God is called El Shaddai (Almighty/ All Sufficient God) and also El Gibor (Mighty God).

He displayed His might and power when He overcame Pharaoh and delivered the children of Israel from Egypt.

Often, we find ourselves in situations that make us realize that we need His powerful intervention, as well.  We need to know Him as a Father (Abba in Hebrew) and feel comfortable crying out to Him, “Abba!”

God wants to father us—not as our earthly fathers who in their imperfect humanity failed or disappointed us have fathered us—but as our perfect Heavenly Father who will never leave us nor forsake us.

God is good, and all He does is for our good.

As covenant people of the God of Abraham, we can reclaim God’s authentic name and its accompanying power as part of our divine inheritance.

“I will teach them My power and might (g’vurati, from the same Hebrew root as gibor).  Then they will know that My name is the LORD.”  (Jeremiah 16:21)

Dome of the Rock-Jerusalem

The Western (Wailing) Wall and the Temple Mount, on which now sits the Muslim Dome of the Rock, are a rich source of archaeological evidence that supports the Bible’s narrative.

Establishing the Covenant

“I also established My Covenant with them to give them the land of Canaan, where they lived as aliens.”  (Exodus 6:4)

God re-affirms in this Parasha the unconditional covenant He made with the people of Israel to give them the land in which we now live.

God’s faithfulness to His people is bound up with this Land.  He is a covenant-keeping God who confirms, “My Covenant I will not break.”  (Psalm 89:34, see also Numbers 23:19 and Deuteronomy 7:9)

As people who belong to the God of Abraham, we need to stand firm on Israel’s Biblical right to this Promised Land, seeing the issues in the Middle East from a Biblical perspective, through God’s eyes and not what the newspapers report.


Today Israel is a tiny sliver of land amid a sea of hostile neighbors.  Still, God’s plan of redemption is nonetheless in effect, and He will save Israel.

Renewing the Promise of Redemption

“Therefore, say to the Israelites:  ‘I am the Lord, and 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.”  (Exodus 6:6–7)

In this week’s Parasha, God renews His promises of redemption to His Covenant People, Israel.

In Exodus 6:6–8, He makes the following five redemptive promises to them:

  1. I WILL bring you out (hotzeiti) from under the yoke of the Egyptians;
  2. I WILL free you (hitzalti) from being slaves to them;
  3. I WILL redeem you (goalti) with an outstretched arm and with mighty acts of judgment;
  4. I WILL take you (lakachti) as my own people, and I will be your God; and
  5. I WILL bring you (haveiti) 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.
Jewish boy-flag-Israel

A Jewish boy holds the flag of the State of Israel.

When the Promises Look Empty

“…they did not listen to him because of their discouragement and harsh labor.”  (Exodus 6:9)

Even though God promised redemption to His People in Egypt, for awhile those promises looked like empty words to the Israelites.

We see that through Moses, God repeatedly demanded that Pharaoh let the Israelite slaves go free, and Pharaoh repeatedly refused.

Even though it sometimes looked liked he might cooperate, he actually made their lives harder in response to God’s demands.

woodcut-Bible in Pictures-1860-Carolsfeld

Pharaoh afflicted the people of Israel with hard work (woodcut from The Bible in Pictures, 1860).

So much harder, in fact, that the Israelites’ anguish grew so deep that they would no longer receive God’s promise of redemption through Moses.

Nevertheless, God’s plan for freeing Israel was at no time in danger of failing to come to pass.

God intervened to rescue His helpless, suffering people from slavery, bondage and oppression.

“But you, God, see the trouble of the afflicted; You consider their grief and take it in hand.  The victims commit themselves to You; You are the helper of the fatherless.”  (Psalm 10:14)

women-pray-Wailing Wall

Women praying at the Western (Wailing) Wall in Jerusalem

The Dark Before the Dawn

There may be times when, after receiving the wonderful promises of God in our hearts, our situation seems to worsen rather than improve.

The enemy may try to discourage and dishearten, but he can only delay God’s promises from coming to pass in our lives.  God will bring His plans and purposes to pass.

Each one of us was helpless and suffering, enslaved to sin and the powers of darkness.  Just like the Israelites in Egypt, we could not redeem ourselves.

Nevertheless, just as God sent Moses to redeem Israel from slavery, He has sent a redeemer to save us from spiritual bondage to sin.  This redeemer is Yeshua HaMashiach (Jesus the Messiah).

His arm is not too short to save us from any situation in which we might find ourselves today.

It’s wonderful to know that even when we are helpless and seemingly at the mercy of those who are too strong and powerful for us, God will intervene to deliver us when we continue to call out to Him in faith.

“Sing to the LORD a new song, for He has done marvelous things; His right hand and His holy arm have worked salvation for Him.”  (Psalm 98:1)

damage-Scud missile-Ramat Gan-Gulf War-1991

Damage to a building from an Iraqi Scud missile in Ramat Gan, Israel during the Gulf War in 1991.

We also know that God is as faithful to redeem Israel today as He was in the days of Moses!

It is evident to all that Israel is surrounded by hostile Arab enemies.

Inside Israel, terrorists from Arab cities come into Jewish communities to kill Israeli Jews.  Outside Israel, on our northern border, we have Lebanon and Syria, and Jordan on the east.

In the south is Egypt, from which rockets and weapons are smuggled into the Gaza Strip through tunnels.

Next to our direct neighbors is Iraq, which has sent Scud missiles into our cities.  And today, Iran has been equipping Gaza with missiles, and it has been developing its own nuclear capabilities that could at any time be unleashed against us.

Imagine if the city in which you lived had rockets pointed at it and had to be on guard 24/7 against terrorist attacks.

Though we are surrounded by enemies, however, we know that the LORD sees all and is watching over us, just as He did when we were enslaved in Egypt and answered our cries for salvation.

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