Developing the Theme of Family through the Torah Portions. Number Thirteen.

Dr Clifford Denton.

Shemot: Exodus 1:1-6:1.

6th January 2024/Tevet 25

And the Angel of the Lord appeared to him in a flame of fire from the midst of a bush.

Exodus 3:2

Picture by Helen McNeill

400 years passed between the events at the end of Genesis and those at the beginning of Exodus. This is according to what God told Abraham: Then He said to Abram, “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”. (Genesis 15:13) Moses then became the deliverer of Israel from Egypt.

There are clear parallels between Moses and Yeshua. It is also instructive that the period between the last main biblical prophet, Malachi, and the birth of Yeshua is similarly around 400 years. As we read Exodus, therefore, we can cross reference our New Testament message with the deliverance from Egypt and consider how all this relates to us in our day. It is worth taking sufficient time to prayerfully consider these two highly important matters, which are central to our faith.

Nevertheless, we must also consider the deliverance from Egypt as an historical event in its own right. Four hundred years of seeming silence from God came to an end at God’s appointed time. As in our lives, God’s seeming silence has its own historical purpose. We have much, therefore, to consider!

To gain a perspective on the 400 years that passed between Jacob’s family going down to Egypt and the Exodus account, we can consider our own more recent history. Four hundred years ago, we would be in the early 1600s. Columbus discovered America in the 1400s, but it was not until 1620 that the Pilgrim Fathers sailed to America to establish a colony as a beginning of the nation that has developed since then. Over the following 400 years, America has expanded from a few colonists to the most powerful nation on earth. Such immense change in what seems like a short time is hard to take in, as it was with the growth of Israel over the same length of time in Egypt, and in our day too as Israel has become a nation once more during the last 70 to 80 years. James 1st was on the British throne from 1603 to 1625 and his son Charles 1st was on the throne from 1625 to 1649. This was the time of the Civil War and around forty years before the “Glorious Revolution” of 1688. To consider what has happened in the UK and the USA over these years of our history, helps us to understand how the nation of Israel grew between the times of Jacob and Moses. We are dealing with real history in our Bibles, as real as that of our own experience.

Now, let’s consider how we reflect on such history. Our history books generally give an overview of a nation as a whole, its key dates, its leaders, its population statistics, its politics, its laws, customs, industry, and global aspirations, including frequent wars that occur. It can appear rather matter of fact, and rather impersonal. History books invariably consider the interactions of nations, including modern-day globalism. Perhaps, therefore, we too might imperceptibly approach our reading of Scripture with this impersonal, factual mindset? It is all too easy to forget the importance of family, the building block of community and nation.

The Book of Exodus, which is entitled Shemot (“names”) begins with a list of the names of those few who went, as a family, down to Egypt. Yet, during the 400 years of Israel’s history, from the time that Jacob’s family of 70 people had gone to Egypt, Israel had grown into a nation of perhaps two or three million people.  Before we consider this much larger number of Israelites whom God later lead out of Egypt, we are reminded, not of a multitude of unnamed people, but of a family.

The word “nation” can be misleading because of our present-day emphasis on millions of people grouped together as one whole, rather than their common heritage as a family, and a family of families. The Hebrew words translated nation are goy and am, but these words are often better translated people linked in a biblical mindset to another much-used word: mishpacha, family. The biblical mindset is built on individuals and their families, which is why Israel is often listed through the heads of the families, such as at the beginning of the Book of Numbers. On a much smaller scale, how often do we list even our own Church fellowship by the number of people attending rather than by the families which the Church comprises.

Our portion this week covers the early stages of Israel’s deliverance from Egypt. All believers in the God of Israel and in salvation through His Son, Yeshua HaMashiach, are grafted in among this historic people. The beginning of our history of deliverance and salvation begins here as much as for any natural born Israeli. We will come to the Passover in two weeks’ time, but here begins those things that we are to remember at the yearly celebration of Passover (Pesach). Passover is celebrated in our families. It is not a grand ceremony where millions of people gather together and let off fireworks or amass together in a great crowd before “live music”: it is a personal and family remembrance of what God did for us. We might imagine being one of the families, where Pharaoh had sought to kill our newborn children and also inflicted personal hardship on the head of our home as he went to make bricks without provision of straw each day. We must personalise and interpret the history to ourselves as we also bring our own family together to recall what Yeshua has done for us.

Let us, therefore, begin the Book of Exodus in the most appropriate way and read this week’s portion through our personal involvement, and where possible with our family. A great crowd will soon be crossing the Red Sea but let us not settle for observing this crowd from afar, or feeling that with such a number we can be “lost in the crowd”, but make it our personal journey, holding our family together, just as on our journey of faith today. That, after all, is how God wants us to continue through this increasingly strange and fast changing wilderness of the world, strong, as families, father, mother, and children, along with our wider family of brothers and sisters, fathers and mothers, and other close relations, whom He seeks to bless individually and personally.