SHEMOT / NAMES
HafTorah Isaiah 27:6-28:13
Brit Chadasha Acts 7:17-35
This Torah portion begins a new book, the second book of the Torah called Shemot which translates as ‘Names’. This parsha begins with the names of the sons of Jacob who went to Egypt, ‘Now Joseph and all his brothers and all that generation died, 7 but the Israelites were exceedingly fruitful; they multiplied greatly, increased in numbers and became so numerous that the land was filled with them. 8 Then a new king, to whom Joseph meant nothing, came to power in Egypt. 9 “Look,” he said to his people, “the Israelites have become far too numerous for us. 10 Come, we must deal shrewdly with them or they will become even more numerous and, if war breaks out, will join our enemies, fight against us and leave the country. 11 So they put slave masters over them to oppress them with forced labor, and they built Pithom and Rameses as store cities for Pharaoh. 12 But the more they were oppressed, the more they multiplied and spread; so the Egyptians came to dread the Israelites.’
Enter in Moshe. He is saved from death, rescued from water, raised in the Egyptian household, and eventually flees to Midian where Zipporah is given to him to be his wife. The end of Exodus 2 reveals the greatness of Elohim and the beginning of the journey of Moshe: ‘During that long period, the king of Egypt died. The Israelites groaned in their slavery and cried out, and their cry for help because of their slavery went up to God. 24 God heard their groaning and He remembered His covenant with Abraham, with Isaac and with Jacob. 25 So God looked on the Israelites and was concerned about them.’
In Exodus 3 Moshe encounters God. In this chapter God makes the declaration of who He is – and interestingly, Moshe questions who he himself is. These are scenes that are indicative of God and Moshe, Elohim and man, the Creator and the created.
Moshe asks God two questions. His second question is in Exodus 3:13 when he encounters God at the burning bush, basically he asks of God ‘who are you?’ “Moses said to God, “Suppose I go to the Israelites and say to them, ‘The God of your fathers has sent me to you,’ and they ask me, ‘What is his name?’ Then what shall I tell them?” God’s reply is: Ehyeh asher ehyeh, wrongly translated in almost every Christian Bible as something like “I am that I am”. But that limits God. Ehyeh asher ehyeh has a much deeper connotation. It means ‘I will be what, where, or how I will be’.
However, Moshe’s first question in Exodus 3:11 was ‘ Mi anochi, “Who am I?” God answered the second question yet He never directly answered Moshe’s first question. Instead, God reveals His plan, ‘And God said, “I will be with you. And this will be the sign to you that it is I who have sent you: When you have brought the people out of Egypt, you will worship God on this mountain.” Exodus 3:12.
Maybe Moshe is indirectly asking and answering himself. In the Tanakh as a whole, the people who turn out to be the most worthy are the ones who question themselves of completing the task that God sets them to do. The prophet Isaiah, when given his mission in Isaiah 6:5 said, ‘I am a man of unclean lips’. In Jeremiah 1:6 Jeremiah said, ‘I cannot speak, for I am a child’. The greatest king of Israel, David, echoed Moses’ words, ‘Who am I?’ in 2 Samuel 7:18. And we all know the events of Jonah, sent on the mission to Ninevah and tried to run away only to be swallowed by a fish who then delivered him onto the shores of Ninevah.
These men of the Bible are not mythical Greek figures or people that sensed and designed their own great destiny, determined to achieve fame. They did not go to expensive universities nor do they have an ego sense of superiority and self-greatness. They were people who doubted their own abilities. There were times when they felt like giving up, even reaching such points of despair that they prayed to die. But they became vessels of God as He appointed them. There was work to be done – God told them so – and they did it. It is almost as if a sense of weakness is a sign of greatness. So God never answered Moses’ question, “Why me?”
We see this echoed in the words of Yeshua in the sermon of reversal in Matthew chapter 5.
“Blessed are the poor in spirit,
For theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
4 Blessed are those who mourn,
For they shall be comforted.
5 Blessed are the meek,
For they shall inherit the earth.
6 Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness,
For they shall be filled.
7 Blessed are the merciful,
For they shall obtain mercy.
8 Blessed are the pure in heart,
For they shall see God.
9 Blessed are the peacemakers,
For they shall be called sons of God.
10 Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake,
For theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
11 Blessed are you when they revile and persecute you, and say all kinds of evil against you falsely for My sake. 12 Rejoice and be exceedingly glad, for great is your reward in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.’