Keyword:

Light from the Sidra

Shemot

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

Project management is a major industry. I receive frequent emails inviting me to seminars and offering me courses and books that will ensure I keep all my projects on course and complete them on time. I’ve just looked at a website that offers to do the job of managing projects, no matter how big, for me. Everything, of course depends on the resources you have and how skilled and committed those working on the projects are. But no matter how well-planned the project or how skilled the team, there are always unforeseen factors that might come into play and wreck the entire venture. As Robbie Burns observed so poetically: “The best laid schemes o’ mice an’ men gang aft agley.”

As we open the book of Exodus, it will be helpful to remind ourselves that Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus and Deuteronomy are, in a sense, one work. They trace the beginning of Project Tikkun Olam, God’s plan to heal the world and restore creation to fellowship with himself. However, in Genesis we saw that a number of spanners were thrown into the works. God created a “very good” world but through man's disobedience and fall the world was corrupted and became worse and worse until God wiped out mankind through a universal flood and started all over again with Noah. Once again, the world was corrupted and God made a fresh start with Abraham, the father of the Jewish nation.

Although God was working with flawed materials, as we open Exodus, we see that Project Tikkun Olam was apparently on track. He had promised Abraham seed without number and in verse 7 of Exodus 1,we find “the Israelites were fertile and prolific; they multiplied and increased very greatly, so that the land was filled with them” (Tanakh – The Holy Scriptures: New JPS Translation According to the Traditional Hebrew Text). These words remind us not only of God’s promise to Abraham in chapter 15 of Genesis but also of the creation blessing given to mankind in Genesis 1:27. God intended Israel to be his new humanity through whom he would heal the world through the “seed” of the woman (see Genesis 3:15).  

But, just as in Gan Eden, in Egypt there is a Satan who intends to bring God’s purposes to a grinding halt. The king of the greatest superpower of the day was a “seed” of the serpent and the first anti-Semite in history. However, God was not going to allow Pharaoh to scupper his plans by annihilating the Jewish people. If that had happened, there would have been no hope for the world because the one who was to crush the head of the serpent was to come through the people of Israel. Jacob’s blessings on his sons included the slightly enigmatic promise to Judah: “The scepter shall not depart from Judah, nor the ruler’s staff from between his feet; so that tribute shall come to him and the homage of peoples be his” (Gen 49:10). The future of the gentiles is tied up with a King coming from Judah because, according to the Jerusalem Targum  and the Targum of Onkelos, Genesis 49:10 is a prophecy of the Messiah. Therefore, if Pharaoh’s genocidal programme had succeeded, the future of the world would have gone up in smoke.

The Hebrew name for the book of Exodus is Shemot, Names. The first chapters are filled with names, the names of the tribes of Israel, the names of Moses' parents, Aaron and Miriam, and even the midwives. However, nowhere in Shemot do we learn the name of the Pharaoh (“Pharaoh” is just a title, like “King”), his daughter, his advisers, his priests or his court magicians. None of the many deities they worshiped are named. They may all have been big cheeses in the eyes of their contemporaries and may still be great in the eyes of archaeologists and historians but none of them are important enough in God’s eyes even to be named.  

The most important name we learn in these chapters is the name of God. Names mean something, and the God of Israel is “Yahweh”, the Eternal, the one who is what he is. Israel, and Egypt, are about to discover who Yahweh is, not just through his words but also through his actions.


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