Dr Clifford Denton.
Va’era: Exodus 6:2-9:35.
13th January 2024/Sh’vat 3
So he lifted up the rod and struck the waters that were in the river. (Exodus 7:20)
Picture by Helen McNeill
To gain perspective on the momentous days when Israel was in Egypt, let’s continue to consider what it was like for individual families.
The days when Abraham, Isaac and Jacob lived, were long past. Yet there was a lasting memory through all those 400 years of the covenant promise given to Abraham: And I will establish My covenant between Me and you and your descendants after you in their generations, for an everlasting covenant, to be God to you and your descendants after you. (Genesis 17:7) Much else, however, may have faded in memory. Just as Pharaoh was not aware of the time when Joseph was the saviour of Egypt, so too, many of the Israelites may have forgotten another promise that God made to Abraham: Know certainly that your descendants will be strangers in a land that is not theirs, and will serve them, and they will afflict them four hundred years. And also, the nation whom they serve I will judge; afterward they shall come out with great possessions. (Genesis 15:13-14)
The Israelites did not lose their identity during the 400 years in Egypt, yet they settled down, and established their homes and a way of life. Each new day a family would arise from its rest and set about the tasks at hand. Food would be needed for the family. Whatever recreation was available in the culture of the day would be followed. Children would need to grow up and learn how to live in this foreign land. Inevitably some compromise to the culture of Egypt would take place and there would be some intermarriage with Egyptians. Total assimilation did not take place, but 400 years is a long time. Almost imperceptibly the culture of Egypt would be a major influence in the family life of the Israelites.
When Moses and Aaron were sent by God to the Israelites to announce the coming deliverance, they were met with lukewarmness. First there was an acceptance of the message: And Aaron spoke all the words which the Lord had spoken to Moses. Then he did the signs in the sight of the people. So, the people believed; and when they heard that the Lord had visited the children of Israel and that He had looked on their affliction, then they bowed their heads and worshiped. (Exodus 4:30-31) But when hard labour was imposed on the Children of Israel, they were no longer enthusiastic with what Moses and Aaron promised: Then, as they came out from Pharaoh, they met Moses and Aaron who stood there to meet them. And they said to them, “Let the Lord look on you and judge, because you have made us abhorrent in the sight of Pharaoh and in the sight of his servants, to put a sword in their hand to kill us.” (Exodus 4:20-21) We can imagine the conversations in each family home. First, the excitement at a promised deliverance from Egypt, then the doubts when life became hard. However, we human beings can react so much to the circumstances of our daily life and soon forget the bigger picture.
Then followed the great judgments from God to shock the Egyptians and bring encouragement to Israel. Sometimes this is what it takes for God to fulfil His promises. There were other instances of this in the history of the world: the casting out of Adam and Eve from the Garden of Eden, the great judgment of the Flood, the judgement on Sodom and Gomorrah and the years of plenty and famine at the time of Joseph. Now came these devastating judgments when the God of Israel confronted the gods of Egypt, signified by each of the plagues.
Israel was given a new four-point promise that would become the basis of their remembrance each year at Passover when the four cups of wine are taken:
‘I am the Lord; I will bring you out from under the burdens of the Egyptians,
I will rescue you from their bondage,
and I will redeem you with an outstretched arm and with great judgments.
I will take you as My people, and I will be your God.
Then you shall know that I am the Lord your God who brings you out from under the burdens of the Egyptians. And I will bring you into the land which I swore to give to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob; and I will give it to you as a heritage: I am the Lord.’ (Exodus 6:6-8) (sometimes considered a fifth promise)
Indeed, the celebration of Passover (Pesach) has kept Israel’s remembrance of release from Egyptian slavery alive for many centuries and also their eternal hope. Yet always time diminishes one’s focus and close walk with God, if not for all, for the majority. The day by day needs and circumstances of life can bring a short term survival focus more than a patient enduring close walk with God. We find a reflection of what happened with Moses in the way the Israelites first accepted Yeshua’s message and then backed off leading to His crucifixion. First there was a great welcome as He came into Jerusalem from the Mount of Olives, and then a cry to crucify Him when He did not seem to fit the expectation of Messiah by a large number of Israelites.
But what about us? We too wake up to each new day with all the modern-day concerns of our families. The world around is increasingly alien to God’s covenant purposes. How much does the culture of the world impinge on our walk as disciples of Yeshua and how much is accommodated in the lives of our children and in our homes?
The Christian world, especially in the history of Britain, has known great revivals – the great working of God to transform our nation. Yet the memory of these fades with time, just as the great workings of God throughout all history fade into a theological framework not strongly alive in our everyday lives.
In these difficult days, we must surely hold fast to our faith at a deep level especially in our families where children are in our care, needing to know the workings of God throughout history and His promises for the future.
The Book of Revelation is of great relevance, pointing to a time, perhaps not far away, when pressures will mount all around as the control of a world government which can be likened to Egypt, Assyria, Babylon, Greece or Rome will seek to enslave us. As believers in Yeshua, we must not become lukewarm under pressure to conform and so assimilate with this world. We must prepare our families for a time when judgments will come upon the earth which can be likened to the judgments on Egypt.
God has extended His hand to all who will turn to Him through Yeshua, but the time will come when woes fall instead, on those who harden their hearts and will not turn whatever God does. Just as Pharaoh hardened his heart to God at the time of Moses, so multitudes will harden their hearts despite all God has done: But the rest of mankind, who were not killed by these plagues, did not repent of the works of their hands, that they should not worship demons, and idols of gold, silver, brass, stone, and wood, which can neither see nor hear nor walk. And they did not repent of their murders or their sorceries or their sexual immorality or their thefts. (Revelation 9:20-21)
We are living in days when we must take in every lesson from Scripture and focus clearly on God’s covenant purposes and prepare our families for the days ahead. Times of hardship are times of testing when we must renew our strength, not looking short-sightedly at our daily needs, assimilating with a world that denies the God of Israel, but look above the circumstances around us to discern the times more broadly and deeply. In particular we have an important purpose to fulfil for the children in our care.