Keyword:

Light from the Sidra

Beshalach

Exodus 13:17-17:16.Haftarah: Judges 4:4-5:31

Three thousand years before Shakespeare’s King Lear, God experienced “How sharper than a serpent's tooth it is to have a thankless child.”

Jewish people today may sing Dayeinu at the Passover Seder but the generation that came out of Egypt felt no such sense of gratitude. After experiencing God’s preservation from the plagues that fell on Egypt, his protection from the death of the firstborn and after witnessing the obliteration of cream of Egypt’s military at the Red Sea, the Israelites began to moan. In Exodus 15:24, Israel complained because of the bitter waters of Marah, and in 16:3 they grumbled because they had no food.

Once again, we are confronted by the honesty of the Hebrew Bible. What other religious document reveals the moral weaknesses and failings of its own people and, in particular, some of its greatest men. Living, as we do, in a secular age, we find the concept of miracles difficult. However, lest we be tempted to think the account of the miracles of the first fourteen chapters of Exodus and the account of the manna in the wilderness difficult to swallow (no pun intended) let’s not forget that these stories are inextricably mixed with accounts of unbelief and rebellion of the part of the very people for whom the miracles were performed.

If the writer of Exodus was composing a fictional account of the miraculous origin of the Jewish nation hundreds of years after the supposed events had taken place, is it not conceivable that he would have painted a more flattering picture of the response of the people to the words of God?

If you have been to Israel in recent years you couldn’t have failed to notice the adverts announcing King Moshiach and the coming Redemption. The organisation behind the ads believes that when Israel is worthy, Redemption will come. The outstanding lesson of the book of Shemot is that redemption of Israel took place before the Torah was delivered to the people at Sinai and at a time when Israel was anything but worthy. The people grumbled and murmured against God and against Moses, and they broke the Sabbath. They had to learn the lesson that grace always comes before Torah. Obedience to the Torah is a response to God’s grace, not the other way around.

The Haftarah is the account of the defeat of Sisera. Israel was suffering because they had done “what was offensive to the LORD” (Judges 4:1 Tanakh – The Holy Scriptures: The New JPS Translation According to the Traditional Hebrew Text). Their salvation comes because they call out to their God, not because they were worthy of his deliverance.

Redemption is not a reward but a rescue. Moshiach comes not because Israel is worthy but to save Israel from its unworthiness. To suppose it could be otherwise is like nonsensical, like imagining lifeguards are situated at pools and on beaches to rescue people who have taught themselves to swim!

Jewish people today are as much in slavery as they were in Egypt (this applies to the goyim also). We are all slaves to the Yetzer haRa, our evil inclination. Just as Redemption came through the unlikely source of Moses, grace, redemption and salvation are freely available through Jesus. However, just as the Israelites rejected Moses, so they reject their greatest Deliverer: “He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him. But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God” (Gospel according to John 1:11f).


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