Keyword:

Light from the Sidra

Va'era

Exodus 6:2-9:35. Haftarah: Ezekiel 28:25-29:21

There’s an old Peanuts cartoon in which Lucy accuses Linus of being stubborn. Linus denies the charge, maintaining he is tenacious. Stubbornness is a character flaw, while tenacity is a virtue. One cartoon character’s persistence, it seems, is another’s mule-headedness.

The capacity of some people to pursue a course of action against the odds and in the face of opposition and ridicule has resulted in everlasting glory for many explorers, scientists, soldiers and sports champions. On the other hand, the unwillingness to see sense and submit to the inevitable has ruined far more. When kings and military leaders have pursued reckless courses, it has at times resulted in the fall of empires.

The Pharaoh at the time of the Exodus was the world's most powerful figure. In Egypt itself, he was revered as a god, surrounded by a pantheon of other gods who provided protection and security for the country. It was impossible to separate state from Pharaoh, Pharaoh from religion, or religion from culture. Pharaoh, state, religion and culture were inseparable. And now an eighty year-old shepherd turns up in the court of Pharaoh, demanding that the king recognise a higher deity: Yahweh, the God of the slaves who are by now an indispensable factor in the Egyptian economy. More than that, Yahweh demands that Pharaoh let his people go to serve him.

Pharaoh’s response is that he does not know Yahweh. Who is Yahweh? Why should he, a god in his own right, serve the God of his slaves? The idea is preposterous.

Then, as now, actions speak louder than words, and Yahweh will show by a series of plagues exactly who he is. The plagues will demonstrate to Pharaoh not only who Yahweh is but also how utterly impotent he, his advisors, his court magicians and the gods of Egypt are.

The Nile was the life of Egypt. Every year, with almost clockwork regularity, the great river overflowed its banks, leaving behind a rich, black, fertile alluvium in which the following year’s crops would grow. According to Egyptian religion, the Nile was the bloodstream of the god Osiris. The god Hapi was the spirit of the river and the river was protected by Knum. In an act of outrageous irony, the God of the Israelites struck at the three river deities, transforming the Nile from the source of the country’s life into a putrefying stream of death.

In the following six plagues, Yahweh displayed his superiority over the frog-headed goddess of resurrection Heqt; over Hathor, the mother goddess, whom the Egyptians represented as a cow; over Apis, the bull of the fertility god Ptah and over Mnevis, the sacred bull of Heliopolis. The sky goddess Nut was no match for Yahweh, and neither were Isis, the goddess of life, or Seth, the protector of crops, or Imhotep, the god of medicine. Little wonder then that after the crossing of the Red Sea, the people sang: “Who is like unto Thee, O Yahweh, among the gods [of Egypt]; glorious in holiness, fearful in praises, doing wonders”.

By the time we come to the end of the weekly reading, Pharaoh remains stubbornly determined to oppose Yahweh’s demands. Before each plague, God warned Pharaoh of what was to come and gave him opportunity to repent but although Pharaoh vacillated and played for time, he never underwent a change of heart. As a consequence, the most powerful nation at that time crumbled under the hand of the God of the Israelites and under the weight of its ruler’s stupidity.

Before we judge Pharaoh too harshly, we should look into our own hearts. In what ways do we resist God? In what ways do we refuse to acknowledge his sovereignty? And in what ways do we say, by our actions if not by our words: “Who is Yahweh that I should serve him?"


© Shalom Ministries     email: comms@shalom.org.uk      site map
We do not necessarily endorse the contents of this site.