Passover is primarily a story of redemption, a great display of God’s grace and judgement, of His mercy and of a people’s faith, of slavery turned into freedom. And Jewish tradition tells us that we are all to place ourselves in the situation of slavery and experience the redemption of God personally. We are to see ourselves as having come out of Egypt and crossed the sea. In a word, we are to remember. YHWH instituted the festival of Passover, and all the other festivals, to help us remember something important that He has done or a lesson He wants us to learn. All the traditions; the lamb, the bitter herbs, the matzah, they all play their part in this wonderful lesson of redemption.
My focus on this parasha is going to be just that, our redemption and how it is achieved. As we look at the final plague and the release that followed we will see a pattern for our redemption. In it we will explore the difficult area of the cooperation of faith and works in our personal redemption. For this is an area that has been misunderstood for centuries and as we live out our lives as Torah-observant individuals we will be asked why we do it, why it is important, why ‘works’ have anything to do with our redemption and salvation.
Our redemption, like so many other areas of our spiritual life, is accomplished in cooperation with God. He has His part, we have ours. Let’s go back to the exodus. God had made a promise to Avraham and to Moshe that He would bring the children of Israel up out of Egypt. This is a promise made by God and Moshe knew that God had both the will and the ability to do what He said. We come to a point in the parasha where God had embarrassed and defrocked all of Egypt’s gods and broken the might of this once great country. Now it was time to bring Israel out and the plague of the firstborn was the final blow to accomplish this. God did it of His own volition and with His power in accordance with His promise. The Israelites believed He was going to do what He said, that is faith. But Israel had a part to play. They had to keep a lamb for four days, kill it, roast it and put it’s blood on the door. When the Destroying Angel saw the blood, he would ‘pass over’ that house. If there was no blood, the Angel would kill the firstborn of the household. Israel needed to obey the word of God, motivated by their faith in His promised action and His word, or they would suffer the fate of the Egyptians.
Ya'akov says “Faith without works is dead”. In the case of the exodus, faith without works would have resulted in the death of the firstborn. A individual Israelite family could have been sitting in their house that night, having a bible study, singing their hymns and believing in their deliverance with all their hearts but if there was no blood on the door, death visited their household. Our belief in God’s mercy as it is applied to our lives demands a response from us. Israel was not redeemed from slavery to God to do what they want. They, and we, are redeemed for a purpose, to be servants of the Most High. There is nothing we do to ‘earn’ our redemption, slaves have nothing to offer. So we, like the slaves, offer our very lives to the One who bought us with such a great price. Faith is an action word, God’s grace demands a response and that response validates and confirms our redemption. We are to work out our salvation with fear and trembling, we must endure to the end to be saved, we do not just say ‘Lord, Lord’, but we must do what He says. We become slaves to a new master. And the Master did not leave us in the dark as to our service or the proper display of gratitude on behalf of our salvation. Our works, our adherence to Torah, is the God ordained response of those of us that have faith and participate in the ‘Renewed Covenant’.
The climax of the Exodus is upon us. The plagues have been getting worse and worse, G-d has humbled Pharaoh again and again through Moshe. Finally, since Pharaoh has not allowed G-d’s firstborn son Israel to go, He will strike at Pharaoh’s firstborn, as well as the firstborn of all the Egyptians. Then it will have been accomplished, Pharaoh will drive them out with a mighty hand.
Moshe told Pharaoh that this would happen ‘around midnight’ (11:4). Sounds a bit imprecise for the G-d who is in the details and keeps the universe running like clockwork. The sages tell us that YHVH actually told Moshe that it would happen exactly at midnight and when Moshe went before Pharaoh, he altered the words from ‘at midnight’ to ‘around midnight’. Remember the last time someone slightly altered the words of the Almighty; Chava ate the apple!
The reason Moshe did it is valid however, and it is a lesson we all need to take to heart. The reason for the change according to the sages is “Perhaps Pharaoh’s astrologers will err in their calculation of the precise midpoint of the night and say ‘Moshe is a liar’” (Talmud Bavli, Berachot 4a). It was really a wise thing on Moshe’s part. After all, Pharaoh and his court had done everything they could to discount the miracles, to come up with a reason not to believe the message they contained and do what was required of them. They were that stubborn that Moshe needed to ensure that a supposed discrepancy between the timing of G-d and these pagan astrologers did not result in another excuse to keep the people, even after the death of so many Egyptians.
This story illustrates the amazing ability of people to find fault with one another. Pharaoh and his court were looking for any small discrepancy and thus call Moshe a liar and discredit him entirely. We have all met such people and sometimes we are those people. I was recently in a congregation and had a Jewish man stand up and tell me that I should not be encouraging Torah obedience among gentiles. He proceeded to go through his list of criteria, which he readily admits he does not even try to keep, of orthodox halacha and asked me if I observed them all. The answer was no. Orthodox halacha is not my ultimate standard, Torah is. And while not perfect, I am trying very hard to please my Father. His point was that if he could get me to admit that I failed in one respect, I should not be setting the standard of Torah before anyone else and anything else I said or taught had no credibility. He was incorrect. The truth we have stands on it’s own. We may be imperfect vessels to carry it but if we concentrate of finding the little faults we will miss what G-d is trying to tell us. We will never see the big picture of G-d’s plan because we spend way to much time with the microscope.
For all of us within this move of G-d to bring Torah and Messiah together as it should be, we need to learn this lesson when we deal with one another. We all come from different backgrounds and have different knowledge and are at different places on the road to maturity. If we sit around and emphasize the areas we disagree in, and find fault with one another, we will never build maturity as individuals or as a community. We need to be patient with one another, this is all still very new and some of us take more time to adapt than others. We have set a high standard, which is good and proper, and we need to encourage each other to reach it and not continually find fault with those who are trying but fail at times. We need to emphasize the common ground and build on that and be a blessing to one another, instead of a curse!
This parasha concludes the plagues and the struggle against Pharaoh to deliver the Israelites from slavery. Before the last and final plague, the plague that would result in the deaths of so many Egyptians, Pharaoh threatens Moshe and Aaron with death. He had seen the power of G-d, he had overseen the destruction of his country, he had just experienced a darkness unlike any other and he refuses to let Israel go. In 10:3 YHVH’s message is “Until when will you refuse to be humbled before me?” The answer of the story of the exodus is never. Pharaoh only gave up after his nation was destroyed, his son was dead and his army destroyed. Such an obstinate heart.
We may wonder about Pharaoh, but G-d approaches each of us the same way. He asks us to submit to His will, to His guidance, to the molding process that will make us like Him. We agree with varying degrees of intensity. Some of us are like Pharaoh, it takes a lot to get us to bow. Some of us are like Moshe, we just need to be convinced. And some of us are like Isaiah, saying ‘here am I, send me’. But we all need to learn to listen and submit.
Why is it so important to humble ourselves to His will? Other than the obvious, it is for our own good. So often we cause problems for ourselves through our lack of humility toward G-d and each other. An arrogant person will retaliate against another for the smallest perceived slight or insult and stew over it for years. The arrogant person attacks and intensifies a dispute. The humble person is confident in who he or she is and the insults or actions of others do not have the same effect. Their silence or soft answer defuses most situations. They do not have the built up stress that comes from holding on to hurt.
A person who is humble will seek forgiveness even when the other is more at fault while the arrogant one will seek anyone to blame and hold onto their perceived pride. A person of humility will reach out to others when he needs help without feeling like a lesser man. The arrogant person will not ask for help in order that he will not be perceived as weak. This results in unnecessary suffering on his part.
Yahushua said that the humble will inherit the land. It is people of humility, people are clear about who they are, people who understand their strengths and weaknesses, people who are continually becoming more conformed to His image, that G-d will use in building His kingdom. We should all spend some time in prayer seeking humility and clarity in our lives.
Our parasha includes a lot of talk about the firstborn and redemption. In fact, at the conclusion of our parasha, the redemption of the firstborn of man and beast is presented as a reminder of the miracle of the exodus just as pesach and unleavened bread are. The Brit Chadasha and the ministry of Y’shua is also replete with the same language of the firstborn and redemption. There is an important connection here, lessons that God wants us to learn and know.
In last weeks parasha, God says “I shall redeem you with an outstretched arm...” What does this mean? To answer that we must understand redemption. Redemption is no more than a transaction that transfers ownership. In the Torah many things can be redeemed in a variety of ways. People, animals, and land can all be redeemed through sacrifice or monetary payment. In the case of the exodus, God wanted to reassert His ownership of Israel to Pharaoh. They had been sold into slavery just as an Israelite who is poor may do. They had served much longer than seven years and now their kin (God) has come to redeem them so they may be free again.
The final plague is the killing of all the firstborn in Egypt from the son of pharaoh to the livestock of the servant. God sets forth a principle of redemption. He says that the first issue of every womb is His. Why? Because with Him lies the power of creation. As the Creator, the first time that womb creates, the creation is His. This is true everywhere, for all people and every animal we derive benefit from. It is a reminder that it is God and not our wisdom and technology that creates and fosters life. For people, we substitute. The Israelites substituted the lamb on Pesach, the Egyptians did not and God took what was rightfully His.
All this death and sacrifice is rather graphic but the spiritual and the physical are inseparable in reality. We understand the physical, we can see the sacrifices, hear the cries of Egyptian families and see the money paid to redeem land or tithes but what is the ‘spiritual’ significance of all this? How does it make sense to us today? The redemption process is there to remind us of the illusion of our ownership of self. Paul says in Roman 3:23 that we have all sinned and put ourselves far from God’s presence. We are far not in time or space but in awareness. God is never far from us but by concentrating on our self, the self that is not real and is an ever changing illusion, we remain blind to the reality of God’s presence around and within us, and our connection with Him, each other and all of creation.
Redemption is still a transaction though, even if the one who owns us is an illusion. And as descendants from Adam, God’s first creation, the firstborn, we all share in that deception and in the need of redemption. So God buys us back (Eph 1:13, 14, 4:30, Titus 2:14) with the second adam, Y’shua (Rom 3:23-25, Heb 9:12). The seal of that redemption is the Ruach which is the experience of the power and presence of the Almighty.
The ancient meaning of the Hebrew ‘redeem’ will make all this even clearer. The Hebrew word for redeem is ‘padah’; a peh (mouth/opening), a dalet (door/way) and a heh (to behold). It’s ancient meaning would thus be something like ‘the opening of the way to behold’. Behold what? The glory of God’s kingdom and person. The Ruach is the seal and sign that one has been redeemed and the ruach is the intimate connection with God Himself so one who is redeemed and belongs to Him beholds His person and glory as did Moshe, the prophets, and the Talmidim of Y’shua.
This redemption is crucial not only to us but to all creation. Romans 8:18-23 tells us that all of creation is waiting for the revelation of God’s redeemed ones. Why? So we can take our proper place as stewards of the earth and restore harmony and balance. Israel, the people and the land, were supposed to demonstrate that harmony as a redeemed nation. Creation is still waiting.
The story of the exodus is one of the best known of the Bible. Movies have been made, expression are derived from it, politicians use it’s imagery. We may ask the question, however, how accurate is the story? What really happened in Egypt? Our parasha contains some real problems, two of which are found in chapter twelve. The first is the one that says that there were six hundred thousand men along with the women, children and the mixed multitude. The second is that the length of their stay in Egypt was four hundred and thirty years. Lets look at that one first.
According to last week’s parasha the following was the genealogy of Moshe. He descended from Levi who lived 137 years. One of his sons was Kohath who lived 133 years and one of his sons was Amram, the father of Moshe who lived 137 years. Moshe was eighty when he returned to liberate the people. From the birth of Levi to Moshe’s return was 487 years right? Wrong. They will not be consecutive, they will overlap. For the sake of this chart, we will assume that each father had his first child when he was 30 and that Yosef was born ten years after Levi. These are approximation but a variance of a few years won’t change much.
Year 0 Birth of Levi
Year 10 Birth of Yosef
Year 30 Birth of Kohath
Year 40 Yosef rules
Year 60 Birth of Amram
Year 90 Birth of Moshe
Tear 120 Death of Yosef
Year 127 Death of Levi
Year 163 Death of Kohath
Year 170 Exodus
Year 197 Aram Dies
Moshe in this case, was born before the death of Yosef. This means that the Egyptians put the Israelites into slavery before the death of Yosef. The maximum time for the slaver in Egypt would have been 140 or so years, not even close to 430. The four hundred thirty years also does not agree with the prophesy given to Avraham in Gen 15:13.
Could the original seventy in Egypt become 2 to 3 million in 140 years? The three million is based on a common estimate that 600,000 men would have wives (1.2 million) and they would have about two children each (2.4 million). This apparently ignores the fact that there were no more than 5 million peopl ein Egypt at this time, a better estimate would be 3-4 million whichmean that Israel would have comprised roughly 75% of the population! In order for that to happen in four generations, each couple would have to have about 32 children (70x32x32x32=2.3 million) even though the genealogies in Exodus, Numbers and Chronicles show that the average number of children was three to five. If the number was somehow correct, the logistics of moving and supporting this number of people is phenomenal. Assuming 1000 sq. ft for a family (small for a family of 34!) three million people would cover an area of 21 square miles. The Torah says that when one has to relieve oneself, one must go ‘outside the camp’ (Deut 23:13, 14). That is a long walk just to go to the bathroom! The manna did not appear until 45 days after they left Egypt (Ex 16). That means they had to supply their own food for a month and a half for 600,000 families. If each family had a lamb a day, as they did on Pesach, they would need 27 million of them. The sheep production of the United States is only 12.5 million a year! In the arid area of the Sinai, coming by 3 million gallons of water a day isn’t likely either. And if there were 600,000 men who were ready for battle, why would a measly 600 chariots throw them into a panic?!
It appears, then, that the numbers we are dealing with here are not accurate. The story as we have understood it is not what happened, it is impossible for it to have happened that way. So what do we do? How are we to look at the Bible? One possibility is that the narrative part of the Torah is much like the Iliad and Oddessy of Homer. It is simply the stories and/or myths that provide a common history for a people, in this case, Israel. Did the writer have an ulterior motive in exaggerating the numbers? Is the text so hopefully full of errors as to make it useless as an accurate? Some have adopted some of these views. Some of you, when looking at the Bible and it’s inconsistencies, may just want to throw it out, consider it worthless because of it’s perceived inaccuracies. That would be a little extreme because the story can make sense as the text stands.
Here is what I believe is the actual story of the Exodus, based on the text and other historical accounts. After the famine and the death and burial of Ya’akov, the Hyscos invaded Egypt and seized power. Yosef, as the right hand man to the previous regime, was seen as a threat and he and his clan were reduced to slavery. The Hyscos would have had no knowledge of what Yosef had done ( a new king arose who did not know Yosef) and would have felt his clan would have been a threat to their power (Ex 1:9) had they joined with the rest of the Egyptians or others to overthrow the interlopers. The imposition of slavery during the life of Yosef make sense in light of his death. He says that ‘God will remember you...’ If they were still in a privileged position, they would not need to be ‘remembered' by God. They would have been free to take Yosef’s bones up to Macphelah for burial; as slaves this was impossible.
Moshe was born before or around the time of Yosef’s death. During the time of slavery, they had their 3-5 children which at the time of the exodus would have amounted to around 9000 people (70x5x5x5=8750) which would have been easily serviced by two midwives (Ex 1:15). After brining devastation upon the Hyscos, they escaped Egypt and went to the sea. With only 600 warriors, six hundred chariots would have meant annihilation. The key here in understanding the ‘alef’ in the text. This is often translated as ‘thousand’ which is where six hundred thousand comes from. Alef can also mean family (Judges 20:45) which means that instead of six hundred thousand it could be six hundred families and if each family included two or three generations, each family would consist of 14-15 people. This fits our understanding of the number of people in the group. With their flocks and herds, the logistics of nine thousand are much more manageable that three million.
How long were they in Egypt.. The question is when the four is added in ‘hundred and thirty’, does it belong? Could a scribe have added this in an attempt to make it match his interpretation of Genesis 15? Such things have been done to the text before. If the four is eliminated we are left with 130, which is close to the original estimate of 140. By remaining faithful to the text and common sense and throwing out the english tanslation we end up with a story that makes sense. The question is, are we willing to look at the Bible in different ways, to stop putting out ideas and cultural sesitivites into the story which only serves to distort it. If we are going to find truth, we need to open up our minds, use our common sense and be willing to change our minds so we base our faith on things that make sense and work in the real world.