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Va'era - January 2, 2022 - Torah Portion

Torah Portion for Sunday 2nd January called Va’era meaning “And He appeared” Exodus 6:2–9:35 Prophetic Portion is Ezekiel 28:25 – 29:21 "The gathering of Israel in their own land”; New Testament reading is from Romans 9:14-33 speaking of Pharaoh, “I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy.”

In a Nutshell , God reveals Himself to Moses. Employing the “four expressions of redemption,” bring out the Children of Israel from Egypt, deliver and save them from their enslavement, redeem them, and take them to Himself as His own chosen people at “Mount Sinai”; He will then bring them into the land He promised to the Patriarchs as their eternal heritage.

The four expressions of redemption (represented at the Passover Seder by the Four Cups of wine) relate to the four aspects of their liberation from Egypt:

1) “I will bring them out” 2) “I will save them” 3) “I will redeem them” 4) “I will take them to Myself as a nation, and I will be their God”— the election as God’s chosen people at Mount Sinai.

This is God’s blueprint for our Salvation.

The purpose of the Exodus, and our election too, as the Bride of Christ. It is written “You did not choose Me but I chose you… “you were not My people but I have called you My people” I will save you, I will redeem you and take you to Myself.

Our Communion with Jesus – the cup of the New Covenant in His blood is rooted in the Exodus.

Moses and Aaron repeatedly come before Pharaoh to demand in the name of God, “Let My people go, so that they may serve Me in the wilderness.” Pharaoh repeatedly refuses. Aaron’s staff turns into a snake and swallows the magic sticks of the Egyptian sorcerers. God then sends a series of plagues upon the Egyptians.

The waters of the Nile turn to blood; swarms of frogs overrun the land; lice infest all men and beasts. Hordes of wild animals invade the cities; a pestilence kills the domestic animals; painful boils afflict the Egyptians. For the seventh plague, fire and ice combine to descend from the skies as a devastating hail. Still, “the heart of Pharaoh was hardened and he would not let the children of Israel go, as God had said to Moses.”

The Torah portion opens with the words “God also said to Moses, “I am the LORD. 3 I appeared to Abraham, to Isaac and to Jacob as El Shaddai God Almighty,[a] but by my name The LORD[b] I did not make myself fully known to them.

“I appeared to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob as El Shaddai …. That means that God is enough and God is saying to us over this season of Covid, “Enough is enough”!! I’m bringing you out…. It goes on “but by my name the “LORD” that is YHVH” I did not make myself known to them. YHVH as our friend from Pakistan taught us means “Behold the hand: Behold the nail”. “Yod” represents the outstretched hand of God and the “vav” is the nail. Yes “The one who is, and was, and is to come” (Revelation 4:8) This three fold name of the Lord of Hosts encompasses all possible states of being, indicating that Jesus is Lord over all the earth.

The Exodus is perhaps the most fundamental event of Jewish history. It is commemorated every year during Passover, it is mentioned at the very first of the 10 commandments Exodus 20 and reads, “And God spoke all these words:

2 “I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery.

3 “You shall have no other gods before[a] Me”.

The Exodus is recalled every Sabbath (Deuteronomy 5:12-15 “Keep the Sabbath and keep it holy”). The major festivals of Pentecost, and Tabernacles derive from it. Indeed, nearly every commandment of the Torah and the sacrificial system can be traced back to the story of the Exodus.

Most importantly, the Exodus prefigures and exemplifies the work of redemption given through the sacrificial life of Yeshua Messiah, Jesus Messiah, the true King of the Jews and the Lamb of God.

It speaks of our spiritual redemption by Jesus from the bondage of sin and death and it gives us encouragement in this season of Covid restrictions and lockdowns that God has heard the cries of His children and is preparing “The Road Out” The Exodus, for us to redeem us from tyrannical governments, bondage, fear and injustice.

The Egyptians worshipped a multiplicity of gods, most of whom represented forces of nature. By their “secret arts” the magicians believed that they could control these forces of weather, sickness, disease and death – does that sound familiar to us today. Controlling people with fear, sickness, death and forces of weather!

But God!

The plagues were not merely intended to punish Pharaoh and his people for their mistreatment of the Israelites, but also to show them the powerlessness of the gods in which they believed. I quote “On that same night I will pass through Egypt and strike down every firstborn of both people and animals, and I will bring judgment on all the gods of Egypt. I (alone) am the LORD”. (Ex. 12:12). This explains the first and last of the ten plagues to the killing of the firstborn.

The first involved the Nile. The Nile was worshipped as the source of fertility in an otherwise desert region. The sun was seen as the greatest of the gods, Ra, whose child Pharaoh was considered to be. “Rameses” “Son of Ra”. The ninth was the plague of darkness. Darkness meant the eclipse of the sun, showing that even the greatest of the Egyptian gods could do nothing in the face of the true God.

The key to the first two plagues, both of which refer back to the beginning of Egyptian persecution of the Israelites: the killing of male children at birth, first through the midwives then by throwing them into the Nile to drown. (though, thanks to the Hebrew midwives, Shifra and Puah, this plan was foiled).

That is why, in the first plague, the river waters turn to blood. The significance of the second, frogs, would have been immediately apparent to the Egyptians. “Heqt”, the frog-goddess, represented the midwives who assisted women in labour. Both plagues are coded messages meaning: “If you use the river and midwives that are associated with “bringing forth life” to “bringing about death”, those same forces will turn against you.”

An immensely significant message is taking shape: Reality has an ethical structure. If used for evil ends, the powers of nature will turn against man, so that what he does will be done to him in turn. “As ye sow so shall ye reap” it goes both ways!

Plagues, for Egyptians, are forms of magic, not miracles. To Pharaoh’s magicians, Moses and Aaron are people like themselves who practice “secret arts”. So, they replicate them: they show that they too can turn water into blood and generate a horde of frogs. The irony here is very close to the surface.

So intent are the Egyptian magicians on proving that they can do whatever Moses and Aaron can do, that they entirely fail to realize that far from making matters better for the Egyptians, they are making them worse: more blood, more frogs.

This brings us to the third plague, lice. One of the purposes of this plague is to produce an effect which the magicians cannot replicate. They try. They fail. Immediately they conclude, “This is the finger of God.”

This is the first appearance in the Torah of an idea, surprisingly persistent in religious thinking even today that a miracle is something for which we cannot yet find a scientific explanation.

Science is natural; religion is supernatural. An “Act of God” is something we cannot account for rationally. What magicians (or technocrats) cannot reproduce must be the result of Divine intervention. This leads inevitably to the conclusion that religion and science are opposed. The more we can explain scientifically or control technologically the weather and wellbeing of a nation, the less need faith. As the scope of science expands, the place of God progressively diminishes to the vanishing point until we do not need God at all!

The United Nations in their opening paragraph of their report on climate change in Glasgow in 2021 said, “Around the world storms, floods and wildfires are intensifying. Air pollution sadly affects the health of tens of millions of people and unpredictable weather causes untold damage to homes and livelihoods too. But while the impacts of climate change are devastating, advances in tackling it are leading to cleaner air, creating good jobs, restoring nature. (They thought they could control it then and they think they can control the weather today).

Climate change, they say, is the greatest risk facing us all.

What the Bible is intimating is that this is a pagan mode of thought, not a God one. The Egyptians admitted that Moses and Aaron were genuine prophets when they performed wonders beyond the scope of their own magic. But this is not why we believe in God.

The primary way in which we encounter God is not through miracles but through His Word and through the revelation: yes! through the Bible. That is how crucial it is to us because it brings us under the sovereignty of God.

A world without God is the greatest risk facing us all!

God is in the events, which seem to defy nature and science, that we call miracles but He is also in nature itself. Science does not displace God: it reveals Him, in ever more intricate and wondrous ways, the design within nature itself. Far from diminishing our religious sense, science, rightly understood, should enlarge it, teaching us to see “How great are Your works, O God; You have made them all with wisdom.” Above all, God is to be found in the voice heard at Sinai, teaching us how to construct a society that will be the opposite of Egypt: in which the few do not enslave the many, nor are strangers mistreated.

Pharaohs like Ramses II demonstrated their godlike status by creating monumental architecture: the great temples, palaces, and pyramids whose immensity seemed to indicate divine grandeur. They thought they could control the sun and the River Nile and the weather but discovered that they could not even produce a lice. God mocks them by revealing His presence in the tiniest of creatures – the lice – “This must be the finger of God”, they said in Exodus 8:19.

The Egyptians believed that because they controlled the forces of nature, they were the masters of human destiny but they couldn’t produce lice – so they were wrong - and God laughs!

Psalm 2 reads, 1-4 “Why do the nations conspire, and the peoples plot in vain? The kings of the earth take their stand and the rulers gather together against the Lord and against His Anointed One. “Let us break their chains”, they say “and throw off their fetters”. The One enthroned in the heavens laughs and the Lord scoffs at them…10: “Therefore, you kings be wise; be warned you rulers of the earth. Serve the Lord with fear and rejoice with trembling. Kiss the Son, lest He be angry and you are destroyed in your way, for His wrath can flare up in a moment. Blessed are those who take refuge in Him."

We too are on the road out of our Egypt. This is our Exodus moment for 2022. Free from lockdowns and free from viruses and germ warfare. The cry of the Church is “Let My People go to worship God” and “If the Son shall set you free, you are free indeed”. (John 8:36)

Shabbat Shalom Miriam

Notes from Rabbi Sacks Notes from Hebrew4Christians on Exodus “Va’era”. Notes from G20 Meeting in Glasgow UK on Global Warming

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