Keyword:

Light from the Sidra

Va'era

Exodus 6:2 - 9:33

Have you ever wondered why God bothered with the long, drawn out process of sending ten plagues on Egypt? Could He not have just struck all the Egyptians dead and set Israel free in a moment?

In this Sidra there are words from the Almighty which say, “Yes, I could have done it that way”. In 9:13-16 God says to Pharaoh:

And the LORD said unto Moses: ‘Rise up early in the morning, and stand before Pharaoh, and say unto him: Thus saith the LORD, the God of the Hebrews: Let My people go, that they may serve Me. For I will this time send all My plagues upon thy person, and upon thy servants, and upon thy people; that thou mayest know that there is none like Me in all the earth. Surely now I had put forth My hand, and smitten thee and thy people with pestilence, and thou hadst been cut off from the earth. But in very deed for this cause have I made thee to stand, to show thee My power, and that My name may be declared throughout all the earth.

So the reason God redeemed his people the way he did was to show Egypt and the whole world something about himself his power and his name. The plagues also served a purpose for Israel that they might know he was their God (and they were his people), as we read in chapter 6:6-7, “I will redeem you with an outstretched arm, and with great judgments; and I will take you to me for a people, and I will be to you a God; and ye shall know that I am the LORD your God, who brought you out from under the burdens of the Egyptians”.

Let’s think of those three things: God’s power, his name and his people.

The Egyptians certainly saw God’s power. A single plague that killed them all in a moment might have been explained as a freak event. Ten plagues that occurred when Moses commanded them to were obviously no coincidence. What was clear to the Egyptiansparticularly to their magicianswas that this was the “finger of God”. And how thick his finger was! How great was his power! The earth’s greatest nation was reduced to poverty and desolation in a matter of weeks by God’s control over his own forces of nature. Even in the days of Samuel, the Philistines were still talking about the “mighty things” God did in Egypt, and it caused them to fear the God of Israel.

The Egyptians also saw something of God’s Name. At the start of this Sidra we have the difficult passage in which the Almighty says he would be known by his name the LORD. What God meant when he revealed his “Name” to Moses can be seen in what follows in 6:6-8, where God speaks of remembering his covenant and bringing Israel out of Egypt to the land of promise. By his Name he makes himself known as the one who is able to keep his promises. Up until then it may not have seemed that God was able to redeem them. Israel had been enslaved for hundreds of years with no land of their own. But now the LORD would deliver them and so be seen as the one who was well able to keep his promises when he sovereignly chose to do so.

Israel was also deeply affected by the plagues of Egypt. They too saw the LORD’s great power. And the preservation of Goshen, the land where they lived, from the worst of the plagues was proof to Israel that they were the people of The LORD. Their redemption made that fact absolutely plain!

But now another question arises. How could God be sure that his method of judging Egypt would work, seeing that the outcome hung on Pharaoh’s reaction to them—that he would harden his heart? According to the traditional teachings of the rabbis, Pharaoh was quite free to act other than he did. For example, Rabbi J. Jacobs uses W.E. Henley’s famous poem Invictus to sum up Judaism’s belief:

It matters not how straight the gate,

How charged with punishments the scroll,

I am the master of my fate:

I am the captain of my soul.

If Pharaoh was the master of his fate then he might not have hardened his heart. He could have released Israel after the first plague and therefore God’s determination to show his power would have been thwarted. But the whole point of the Almighty making His Name known was to show that he was able to deliver precisely as and when he chose, according to his promises. Did he not say to Moses at the burning bush, “When thou goest back into Egypt, see that thou do before Pharaoh all the wonders which I have put in thy hand; but I will harden his heart, and he will not let the people go” . (Exodus 4:21)

This teaches us that we are not so free as we think we are. Our hearts are not morally neutral free to choose good or evil. God knows that our basic preference is for evil, even though we know the good we should do. He knows that, if left to ourselves, we prefer sin and tend to grow harder in it. That is what happened to Pharaoh. God left him to himself, and he grew stubborn: that was how God hardened the king of Egypt’s heart. Because of the state of Pharaoh’s heart, God knew it was inevitable, if he gave him no help, that he would grow hard in sin.

It seems to me that the teaching of the rabbis about our freedom is far too optimistic. We are not morally free to choose good or evil but, rather, our hearts are under the power of sin. If we are honest with ourselves we can see this in our own lives. What should we do, then? We should cry to the Almighty to “circumcise our heart”. That is what Yeshua, Jesus, taught a member of the Sanhedrin called Nicodemus, “You must be born again”.

Have you been born again? Call on the LORD today to work such a miracle in your heart.


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