The Shuvah Project #16 — Epiphany

New to The Shuvah Project? Find out what it is and why it’s necessary.

I will take you as My people, and I will be your power. You will know that I am YHWH your power, who delivered you from under the burdens of the Egyptians.

-Exodus 6:7

Section One (Parsha Debrief):

This week’s parsha contained: God revealing a new name, a genealogy, staffs and serpents, the Nile turning to blood, frogs, gnats?, swarms, dying livestock, boils, and a very interesting type of hail.

All this action to seemingly no avail… Pharaoh does not let the Israelites go.

In the Midweek Reading Guide, we questioned God’s Exodus game plan. Specifically, why 10 plagues? After the short recap of our Torah portion above, it seems even more relevant to ask what God was after… because the first 7 plagues did not achieve liberation. If God is God, are seven mishaps acceptable (see footnote #1)?

Before we dig in, Aleph Beta gets the credit for the Torah portion insights. Both Rabbis David Fohrman and Beth Lesch did the hard work of extrapolating on midrash and other ancient Rabbinic commentary.

Now, lets get to it! If you read the Text this week, it seems to suggest the focus is more than a path to Israelite liberation.

For one, the Torah portion starts with God talking about a new identity — YHWH (Exodus 6:2-3). The notion, and likely importance, of God’s new name continues from there…

Israel’s liberation from Egypt is tied to them knowing “I am YHWH your God (Exodus 6:7).” Moreover, the Text seems intent to tell us the whole point of Moses and Aaron’s back-and-forth with Pharaoh is:

The Egyptians will know that I am YHWH.

– Exodus 7:5

So that [Pharaoh] may know there is no one like YHWH our God.

– Exodus 8:10

This way you (Pharaoh) will know that I, YHWH, am in the land.

– Exodus 8:22

Then Pharaoh will know there is no one like Me in all the earth.

– Exodus 9:14

If we haven’t gotten the gist, the Text clears up any confusion; saying, “I have let you live for this purpose: to show you (Pharaoh) My power and to make My name known in all the earth (Exodus 9:16).”

The Text seems to tell us what God is after… that the world may know YHWH. But, how do the plagues factor in? How do the plagues help achieve this education… enlightenment… Epiphany?

plagues

Have you ever laid the plagues out like above? It’s eye opening.

For instance, Pharaoh starts to get interested in what’s going on after the second plague. He’s interested in knowing if Moses’ God can remove the frogs. Moses senses what’s going on and lets Pharaoh choose when. Why? To prove YHWH controls time.

The pagan priests (i.e. sorcerers) recognize YHWH by the end of the third plague. But, Pharaoh is still skeptical. 

With the 4th plague, God adds spatial (i.e. geographical) precision to temporal precision. It’s here Pharaoh opens up to the idea of worship/sacrifice in the wilderness. The 5th plague really gets Pharaoh on edge… Pharaoh only seems to care about whether a single one of the Israelite livestock died

When fire and ice mingled in the 7th plague Pharaoh seems to have his Epiphany. He recognizes YHWH, a god he never knew among his pantheon of pagan gods. Why? 

Well, 7 plagues back-to-back can do something no single miracle can… they chip away at any attempt to explain away the Creator God, YHWH.

You see, the power of plagues increase to where the pagan priests can no longer replicate them and they end up recognizing YHWH themselves. The precision of the plagues increase to the point Pharaoh seems obsessed with the notion that a god could really control time and place. Also, each plague represents separate powers of different pagan gods (e.g. the god of the Nile). It becomes harder and harder for Pharaoh to reason that all these different gods are angry with Egypt and forming alliances. Alliances aren’t really a thing among the pagan gods, they’re kinda selfish.

The 7th plague is the nail in the coffin so to speak. If one through six weren’t enough evidence for Pharaoh — like only the one true Creator God can do — YHWH has fire mingle with ice. It’s icy hail with fire inside. One things for sure, the fire god and the ice god are unlikely allies.

After witnessing this miracle, thee power is known.

There is a Creator God, YHWH. Case made, at least briefly, through signs and wonders! (continued to next week)

Section Two (Connection to NT + haftarah):

Wouldn’t you know it, the connected Luke Text (Luke 4:31-37) discusses a sign and wonder of God… one that people can witness. In fact, this is the first time the author of Luke reveals one of Jesus’ miracles. Which may or may not be the first miracle ever performed by Jesus (see footnote #2). 

The plagues are miracles, the Text says as much. In Exodus 7:3, the Hebrew for signs and for wonders are often translated as miracles.

Moreover, our Luke Text is keen to point out people were astonished by Jesus’ authority and power. Authority and power? Sounds a whole lot like the precision and power conversation regrading the purpose of the plagues.

Come on! The connections!

As a result of the sign and wonder performed by Jesus, the author of Luke tells the reader/listener that, news about Him began to go out to every place (Luke 4:37). As if, to ensure we don’t miss YHWH is making the Creator God known to all the earth (Exodus 9:16).

What’s more, the circumstances in the Luke Text are similar to that of the Torah portion. That is, in Egypt the Israelites had undergone ~400 years of radio silence. Here, in the Luke Text, the Jewish people were coming out of the silent years in which God was not speaking through the prophets. Then, Jesus (i.e. God in flesh) bursts onto the scene. In Exodus, YHWH bursts onto the scene in Egypt. YHWH shows up in the Exodus story to a people needing signs and wonders.

Section Three (missing the mark):

Sometimes God’s people need to see and experience signs and wonders. Sometimes telling people to just have faith is a platitude. Maybe that’s why the start of our parsha goes like this:

Then God spoke to Moses, telling him, “I am YHWH. I appeared to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob as God Almighty (i.e. El Shaddai), but I did not reveal My name YHWH to them.

– Exodus 6:2-3

Here’s the deal, a whole host of ancient Rabbis (e.g. Rashi, Chizkuni, Ibn Ezra, and Ramban) and present-day Rabbis (e.g. Haim Sabato, David Forhman, and Beth Lesch) are riveted by the declaration of two names in Exodus 6:3. They ask why God is making a distinction between two names; especially, here and now? Moreover, they recognize it’s not even true. The Text has Abram (Genesis 14:22), Isaac (Genesis 27:7), and Jacob (Genesis 27:20) all using יְהֹוָה (i.e. the Creator God name).

Beth Lesch in a short, free video and short, free blog post sheds new light on the reason for the two names in Exodus 6:3. She unpacked deep connections in the Text that God hoped we’d be aware of — I wasn’t.

In a nutshell, while Abram, Isaac, and Jacob knew of YHWH, they didn’t really experience YHWH… they experienced El Shaddai.

What’s the difference?

Well, the first time El Shaddai shows up is a good place to start:

I am El Shaddai; walk before me and be perfect.

– Genesis 17:1

El Shaddai is the God we walk in front of… Jacob references this God, the one his fathers walked before, as a shepherd (Genesis 48:15).

Shepherds lead from behind! You see, I never made this connection even though I lectured on low-stress livestock handling. The image below was used in one of my lectures.

cattle flight zone

 

Essentially, to get livestock, like cattle and sheep to move forward the handler or shepherd stays to the rear of the animal. It is their presence alone that generates movement. It’s a fundamental principle — cattle and sheep want to avoid pressure. But, if the handler is outside the flight zone (i.e. the animal’s personal space), cattle won’t be bothered to move. That’s brilliant imagery of God. El Shaddai shepherds, but at the perfect distance, never too far behind.

YHWH — the aspect of God that Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob never experienced — is a God of signs and wonders we can see in front of us. YHWH is the God we need after extended radio silence. YHWH is the God of the Exodus. 

Section Four (real-world applications):

There are some people I know that desperately need the God of signs and wonders in 2019, my wife and I included. We’ve walked well, even in the midst of radio silence. But, we are calling out to see the miracles.

Based on the Text conversation above, those in need have the freedom to pray for YHWH to show up in their lives and others this year.

May 2019 be the year of signs and wonders.

And, even if we don’t get to witness signs and wonders this year… may each of us do our best to remember the one true Creator God is constantly in our flight zone.

 


Next Week’s Readings: Exodus 10:1-13:16; Luke 4:38-44

  1. While this question is relevant to the discussion at hand, it will become more clear next week whether the mishaps were actually mistakes or if God in fact preserves humanity’s free will. Fun to ponder!
  2. If John’s account is held as the chronological standard, it lists the miracles. The first of which to appear in John’s account, as noted in my translation’s subtitle, is turning water into wine. This does not dismiss what the author of Luke is doing; in fact, this aids the case that the Luke Text is not about chronology at all. Rather, the author is piecing together the Jesus story-line to match up with the Jewish lectionary. 


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