Keyword:

Light from the Sidra

Shemot

Exodus 1:1-6:1; Isaiah 27:6 - 28:13, 29:22-23

What’s in a name?

In the Bible names mean something, and throughout the book of Genesis people are given names by God and have their names changed by him in order to reflect their character and their place in his purposes.

Abram, the “exalted father” becomes Abraham, the “father of a multitude” to rival the stars of heaven. Sarai, “my princess” becomes Sarah, “the Princess” of all. After wrestling and overcoming the Angel of the Lord, Jacob the “supplanter” is renamed Israel, the “Prince with God”.

Opening the book of Exodus we are confronted by shemot, names. But, as we read on, one name will stand out above all others, the name of God – Yahweh.

The biblical narrative flows seamlessly from Genesis to Exodus. God has been true to his covenant with Abraham. Abraham still has a “seed”, a seed that is increasing. As God had said when he established his covenant with him in Genesis 15, Abraham’s descendants are now “strangers in a land that is not theirs”. He is still the God of Israel’s fathers (3:6) and he will keep his word which he established by covenant (6:2-8).


A greater God

But the promises of God are under threat. Israel is still not in the land God promised to them. Not only that, the king they serve has embarked on a programme of ethnic cleansing in order to protect Egypt’s interests. Pharaoh also regards Israel as his property when, in reality, the descendants of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob are the people of God. So long as they remain under the taskmasters of Egypt and in servitude to Pharaoh, the children of Jacob are under the rule of gods other than the LORD. It is time for God to intervene.

Just as God raised up Joseph as a saviour in a time of famine, he now raises up a deliverer in the person of Moses. Someone has summed up the life of Moses in this way: forty years as a somebody, forty years as a nobody and forty years learning that God can make a somebody out of a nobody. God did not call Moses when he was skilled in the wisdom of Egypt. At the age of forty Moses attempted to save his people by his own hand, killing an Egyptian taskmaster. The result was that he spent the next forty years as a humble shepherd in the back of beyond. After he had lost all confidence in his own abilities, when he felt utterly powerless and unable to even speak, God called him.


A greater Name

The call of Moses was accompanied by a new revelation of the name of God. If Moses was to confront the most powerful man on earth he needed to know the Name – the character – of the God who was calling him. Biblical scholar C.J.H. Wright says, “In the process of this great story of deliverance, God acquires a new name alongside this fresh dimension of his character: ‘Yahweh’, the God who acts out of faithfulness to his promise, in liberating justice for the oppressed. The exodus thus becomes the primary model of what redemption means in the Bible, and gives substance to what an Israelite would have meant by calling God ‘Redeemer’.”

God revealed himself as YHWH – “I am”, “I am who I am”, “I will be what I will be” – the eternal, unchangeable, covenant-keeping God whose ways are always consistent with his holy character. God never acts unpredictably. We are surprised by the way God works because we do not know him sufficiently. If we knew him as he is – YHWH – nothing he did would surprise us. It would still amaze us, but it would not surprise us.

Biblical scholar Mark Strom comments, “The Lord staked the meaning of his name, and therefore his reputation, on what he was about to do. So forever after the name suggested the idea of the Lord who brought Israel out of Egypt, the Lord who is totally different to every other god”.


A greater Exodus

Centuries later the prophets of Israel would look back to the exodus from Egypt as the prototype and model of God’s way of redemption and salvation. For prophets like Isaiah and Jeremiah the exodus was the fundamental motif to describe the redemption that Messiah would achieve for Israel.

In our Haftarah God promises that he will once again punish Israel’s oppressors. But, as we read on, in Isaiah 28 the redeemed people have become proud and idle with no knowledge of God. The prophets and priests in Ephraim stagger around in a drunken stupor and the people are like little children ignorant of the most elementary principles of God’s word.

Israel needs to be redeemed all over again, not from a foreign oppressor but from themselves, from their own sins so the entire nation will one day “sanctify the Holy One of Jacob, and shall stand in awe of the God of Israel.”


A greater Moses

It is a mistake to imagine that the era of redemption is only about the material well being of Israel and the world. The prophets envisaged a redemption that would overshadow the exodus from Egypt in its magnitude, a redemption that would get to the heart of the matter, that would deal with what is really wrong with Israel and the nations – sin and rebellion. Such deliverance could come only by a saviour who was greater than Moses himself.

More than 1500 years after Moses, God raised up a shepherd for his people Israel. A saviour who grew up in obscurity but became loved and revered throughout the world. But just as Israel rejected Moses and rebelled against his leadership, so the nation refused the true Messiah.

Jesus of Nazareth was born at a time when a tyrant was prepared to put Israelite children to death in order to ensure his own security. Jesus spent time as an exile in Egypt only to lead his people into a far greater land of promise. The Letter to the Colossians in the New Testament describes the new exodus in this way, “[God] has delivered us from the power of darkness [as Israel was delivered from the dark power of Pharaoh] and translated us into the kingdom of the Son of his love [as Israel was taken into the Promised Land], in whom we have redemption through his blood [as Israel was redeemed through the blood of the Passover lamb], the forgiveness of sins”.


Pause for Thought:
  • How well do you know God and how familiar are you with his ways?

  • Are you enslaved by any habit, any person, any vice, any thing?

  • Have you found true freedom through the Messiah so that you can “sanctify the Holy One of Jacob”?

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