For the week of January 16, 2021 / 3 Shevat 5781
Torah: Shemot/Exodus 6:2 – 9:35
Haftarah: Ezekiel 28:25-29:21
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Say therefore to the people of Israel, “I am the LORD, and I will bring you out from under the burdens of the Egyptians, and I will deliver you from slavery to them, and I will redeem you with an outstretched arm and with great acts of judgment.” (Shemot/Exodus 6:6)
This week’s parsha (Torah reading portion) contains seven of the ten disasters (usually called “plagues”) with which God struck the Egyptians due to Pharaoh’s refusal to allow the people of Israel to leave Egypt. This is the first time we read of God’s intervening on behalf of his people in such a tangible and powerful way. This could have all been avoided had Pharaoh responded favorably to God’s demand delivered by Moses and Aaron.
At the end of last week’s parsha, we find Moses praying to God following his first audience with Pharaoh. Before presenting to Pharaoh, Moses was well-received by the elders of Israel as he shared with them the details of his mission. Pharaoh, on the other hand, did not respond so favorably. Not only did he turn down Moses’ request, he instead made Israel’s already oppressive burden much more difficult. This resulted in Israel’s elders turning on Moses, blaming him for their increased suffering.
Think of how devastated Moses must have been. God allowed his expectations to rise astronomically. Having encountered God at the burning bush and equipped with signs to convince Israel’s leaders, it worked! His people were onboard. Everything was going according to plan, God’s plan, or so he thought. Then came his really big moment. It was time to confront the evil power. The result was disastrous.
It’s discouraging enough when we try something and it doesn’t work. It’s another thing when everything’s going well and then it falls apart. Perhaps it’s because by that time the personal investment is greater; much more to lose. The precipice is higher; a lot further to fall. Remember Moses didn’t want this job in the first place. So, the fact the initial stage was successful helped to alleviate his misgivings, until the situation he was called to resolve went from bad to worse.
Moses’ prayer is an expression of exasperation, if not outright despair: “O Lord, why have you done evil to this people? Why did you ever send me? For since I came to Pharaoh to speak in your name, he has done evil to this people, and you have not delivered your people at all” (Shemot/Exodus 5:22-23). Some may be offended by such a prayer, telling God off for the worsening situation. But God isn’t offended. Far from it! It’s as if he was waiting for this moment as he tells Moses: “Now you shall see what I will do to Pharaoh; for with a strong hand he will send them out, and with a strong hand he will drive them out of his land.” (Shemot/Exodus 6:1). From God’s perspective Pharaoh has played into his hand. Not only will Israel be rescued from slavery, but the world will see a demonstration of God’s power on behalf of Israel like nothing anyone’s seen before.
I doubt Moses expected such an answer, but his prayer opened his heart to hear it. He was discouraged and upset like most people would have been. But unlike most people, he didn’t shut down or run away. He prayed. And God answered. Even though God got him into this mess, he didn’t give up on God. He may have given God a piece of his mind, but at least he kept communication open. This in turn allowed him to be where he needed to be, so he could receive instructions for the next step. The problem got bigger; God’s solution would be bigger still.
There are many challenging aspects to the current COVID crisis. But let’s remember, as far as God is concerned, the greater the problem, the greater the solution. I am convinced that there are great things in store for those who don’t give up and are willing to hear what God wants to say to us. This isn’t something some expert is going to figure out. It’s something that only God can give to hearts that are genuinely open to him.
Scriptures taken from the English Standard Version