Torah Commentary | Exodus

Portion: Torah Portion No. 46
Torah: Exodus 1:1–2:25
Haftarah: Isaiah 27:6–13
Apostolic: Rom 6:1–2; Heb 11:23

Whom the Father Loves, He Chastens

By Tim Hegg

Shemot begins the story of the slavery of Jacob and his family under the oppressive hands of their enemies. Interestingly, the midrash begins its discussion on Shemot by quoting Prov. 13:24,

He who spares his rod hates his son, but he who loves him disciplines him diligently.

The question lingering in the minds of the Sages is prompted by how this book begins—with a vav, וְאֵלֶּה שְׁמוֹת, “and these are the names.” That means that it is directly connected with B’reishit (Gen­esis) and in fact, in Gen 46:8 these exact words are written:

and these are the names of the sons of Israel who came from Egypt….

But in Gen 46:8 the travelling to Egypt is seen as a blessing in that a welcomed reception awaited Jacob and his sons, the best of the land was given to them, and their lives were maintained under the gracious hand of Joseph. Here, however, the words open the narrative of how the sons of Is­rael, coming to Egypt, are oppressed, their lives taken, and they are forced to live under the tyranny of the Egyptians. Why the change? Why blessing on one hand and apparent cursing on the other? The Sages answered this question with the quote, “whom the Father loves He chastens.” The slavery of Egypt was the chastening of the Lord to bring His beloved first born to the full realization of what redemption is, and what it costs.

Our parashah links more than the literary units of B’reishit and Shemot (Genesis and Exodus). It also begins the necessary connection between the covenant made with Abraham and the one made with the nation at Sinai—the Abrahamic and the Mosaic covenants. At the end of this section we read:

So God heard their groaning; and God remembered His covenant with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. And God saw the sons of Israel, and God took notice of them (literally, and God knew). (2:25-26)

When used in the context of a covenant, the words “re­mem­ber” and “know” are often technical terms, where “remember” means remaining faithful to the stipulations of the covenant, and “know” emphasizes the relationship between the covenant partners. The final phrase in the Hebrew of v. 26 is just two words: וַיֵּדַע אֱלֹהִים, “and God knew.” The English translation “and God took notice of them” is an attempt to make sense of what God knew, since no object is present in the sentence. But the word “know” should be un­der­stood as a covenant term paired with “remember,” and meaning “to be loyal to the covenant,” emphasizing the relationship that the covenant produces. If we understand these final words of our section to be “and God knew them (i.e., Israel),” it paints the picture of a faithful husband expressing fidelity to the covenant of marriage, demonstrated through loving and intimate relationship.

In fact, the first act of the Egyptians noted in the book is that the Pharaoh who arose “did not know Joseph” (åÇéÌÈ÷Èí îÆìÆêÀÎçÈãÈùÑ òÇìÎîÄöÀøÈéÄí àÂùÑÆø ìÉàÎéÈãÇò àÆúÎéåÉñÅó). In context, this must mean that the Pharaoh was unwilling to maintain the covenant that the former Pharaohs had made with Joseph and his family. To “not know Joseph” does not mean he was unaware of Joseph—Egyptians were big on history! It means that the current Pharaoh did not intend to honor the covenants made with Joseph and his family.

This sets the stage, then, for the whole book: God as Israel’s husband will demonstrate His faithfulness to the covenant and will redeem her at great cost in order to restore her to Himself, and to maintain the faithful relations of marriage that the covenant de­mands.

In fact, the very first issue raised in the Exodus narrative is that of children—offspring, the gift of marital relations. Moses, the baby, is the prime example of thousands of other babies who become the focus of the opening story. Like the creation narrative in which the earth teams with life, Israel is described this way:

But the sons of Israel were fruitful and increased greatly, and multiplied, and became ex­ceedingly mighty, so that the land was filled with them. (1:7)

What this English translation hides is that “increased greatly” is the Hebrew וַיִּשְׁרְצוּ, the same word used in Genesis 1:20, “and let the waters swarm….Like the life that filled the earth at creation, so Israel has increased to fill Egypt. God has been faithful to bless Israel, and the proof is that He has given her many, many children.

In contrast, the desire of Egypt, (God’s enemy in this story) is to find a way to destroy the children by whom Israel is blessed. In­ter­estingly, Egypt follows the same strategy as modern America. First, go to the medical people and instruct them to kill the children. When this failed, they commanded the people themselves to kill the chil­dren (throwing them in the Nile). When both of these measures failed, there was nothing left but to attempt to kill them through slavery and finally militarily (though by the time Pharaoh gives this final command the Is­ra­el­ites are already on their way out of Egypt.) Un­for­tu­nately, in America the first two meas­ures have “worked.” According to recently gathered statistics, 1.3 million children are murdered each year in the United States at the hands of doctors with the con­sent of mothers or fathers. If ever there will be a return to God in America, this is a sin for which there will need to be genuine repentance. Of course, there has al­ready been genu­ine re­pentance in the hearts of some individuals, and this has brought God’s healing mercies into their lives. But as a nation, this horrific sin con­tin­ues to hang over us as a plague ravaging our spir­itual life because it undermines the very sanctity of life which is foundational for any Godly society.

It is most interesting to note once again in our parashah that the value of children is first maintained by the “health care pro­fessionals” of the story. The midwives are the first major heroes in the story. But they are so because of their focus. Indeed, the Hebrew text sets this up nicely in the narrative by a possible play on the words “see” and “fear.” In 1:16 Phar­aoh pro­claims to the midwives,

When you are helping the He­brew women to give birth and see them (וּרְאִיתֶן) upon the birthstool, if it is a son, then you shall put him to death; but if it is a daughter, then she shall live.

The very next phrase has “וַתִּירֶאןָ הַמְיַלְּדֹת אֶת־הָאֱלֹהִים, “but the mid­wives feared God….” In Hebrew, “see” (ראה) and “fear” (ירא) often look alike in their various forms. Indeed, the MT writes the word “fear” here without the normal final ה so that it looks even more like the word “see.”

The point is this: a great deal rests upon our focus—what we look at—Whom we fear. Pharaoh wanted the mid-wives to con­cen­trate upon the birth itself. In contrast, the midwives focused upon God. It is interesting to me to note historically how often God has used women to effect significant revivals and spiritual awakenings as well as to main­tain mo­rality and stability within His people. Through­out the history of Israel women have played a significant (even if at times a somewhat unapplauded) role in both the physical as well as the spiritual maintenance of the nation. The same has been true in our own country. And one can point to pivotal events in the life of God’s people in which women have played the key roles. It is not surprising, then, that in the Torah movement of our day the women are often ahead of the men in pursuing God with a willingness to obey the Torah and teach their children to do the same. But as is always the case, unless obedience to God is the priority of the men as well, the Torah movement in our times will languish and ultimately have less than a full impact.

Some have suggested that the midwives were less than honest in their report to Pharaoh. Of course, in the matter of saving life it is permitted to hide the truth, and even to speak a falsehood, for the saving of life takes precedence. But there is another way to un­der­stand 1:19: the midwives simply did not make an effort to attend the births at the early stages of labor. God was merciful to the Israelite women and caused their births to come quickly and easily (af­ter all, the text does state that God was the One who caused the number of Israel to multiply). By the time the midwives arrived, the child had already been born. Pharaoh’s plan was that the midwives would kill the child and make it appear that the death was the result of the birthing process.

The manner in which Pharaoh made life miserable for Israel is also interesting and has historical as well a modern parallels. Goshen had been given to Joseph and his family. Thus, the first thing Phar­aoh does is remove ownership of property which brings poverty. Without ownership of property, the Israelites became servants to the Egyptians upon whom they were dependent for food and life’s ne­cessities. The second step in Pharaoh’s plan was economic: he re­quired more work for the same benefits. Finally, he made it im­possi­ble to obtain the necessary things for life because he required of the Israelites more work than they could perform (making bricks as well as gathering the raw materials to make them). As such, he di­min­ished them to indentured slaves.

But all of this only sets up the story to bring us to the con­clusion of our parashah: the purposes and activities of God. While we may glean many important lessons from the story of Israel’s en­slavement in Egypt, the overarching emphasis of the narrative is God’s activity in redeeming His people. This in itself is a reminder to us that in the midst of all of life’s events, the person and work of God Himself is to be our primary focus.

2:24-25 contain four verbs that highlight God’s activity at the beginning of our story. But the Hebrew is very interesting in its emphasis upon these four verbs, because it adds אֱלֹהִים to each of the verbs, where we might normally expect it only at the beginning of the phrases. “God heard … God remembered … God saw … God knew.” What might we learn from these?

God heard – The word “to hear” has become a well known word in the Torah community because we so often recite the Shema, “Hear O Israel….” We have become well aware of the fact that the He­brew idiom “to hear the voice” (שָׁמַע בְּקוֹל) means “to obey.” When we therefore see the verb “hear” applied to God it arrests our attention. What does it mean that God “heard their groaning”? It means much more than merely “paying attention.” It means first that God is attentive to the needs of His people. How often it is easy to presume that somehow our cares and troubles are so insignificant when compared to God’s greatness that He cannot be bothered with them. But the fact is that He is always attentive to the needs of His people. He is fully aware of our groanings and our calling out to Him. In fact, one of the often repeated motifs throughout the Psalms is the “cry/an­swer” motif. When the weak cry out to God, He answers them. When the Psalmist cries to God for help, He answers him. Granted, the answers are not always what is expected, but they are always what is best. So do not be afraid to call out to God, to express to Him the deepest cares and woes of your soul. He hears.

God remembered – God remembered the promises—the covenant He made with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. God is a cov­enant keeping God, and He never goes back on any of His promises. This you can count on. More often than not, when we have become despondent and are becoming weaker and weaker in our faith it is because we have failed to focus on and rehearse the promises of God.

By focusing on the promises of God I mean to emphasize the need to know them. All too often the people of God languish in weak faith because they are not aware of God’s promises—they have never studied and understood the rich promises of the Scriptures, given to God’s people for their safety, security, and comfort.

But secondly, we often fail to rehearse His promises. Mu­sicians know that rehearsals are important, and if one intends to per­form to close perfection, then rehearsals are essential. It is not the purpose of rehearsals to learn the instrument: this must be done in advance. Rehearsals rather have as their goal the owning of the mu­sic by the musician. Rehearsals take the notes from the page and make them the possession of the musician. The music becomes one’s own, so that one might express through the music the inner thoughts and emotions of the individual performer. Of course, in ensemble each individual collectively adds his or her musical expression to the whole, so that the group collectively expresses in the music even more than the composer could have ever written.

The same is true of rehearsing the promises: we need to make them our own. Take the promises of God and realize that they are for you—they belong to you. And then find in them the expression of your own love to God and to your neighbor.

God saw – Nothing is more evident in this verb than God’s on-going, careful and kind providence for His children. “God saw the children of Israel”—this means that He was engaged in their lives, attentive to their needs and their future. He had a plan for them, a plan He in­tended to accomplish. The same is true regarding all of His children—the Father’s eye is upon us. He has plans for good and for blessing. And we may trust Him for that.

God knew – This final activity of God in response to His chosen ones is, of course, the goal to which the others move: intimate re­la­tionship with those He redeems. In the course of our studies and lives; in the day to day out-working of our various tasks and efforts, it is easy to forget that the ultimate goal of the ages is that God should have close and enduring communion with His people. God wants that with each of us, but He draws us by the welcoming fragrance of His love, and the delights of His smile. May we find in Him the companion Who defines the essence of friendship at every level!

As we enter into this second book of Moses, we rehearse, once again, the great Torah lesson of God’s faithfulness and His intention to redeem His people. All of subsequent Scripture will use the exodus story as the paradigm for God’s method of redemption. As we study through this great story, may we revel in the accomplished redemption won for us in our own exodus from slavery.

 

For He rescued us from the domain of darkness,

and transferred us to the kingdom of His beloved Son,

in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.

Colossians 1:13–14

B’reisheet

בְּרֵאשִׁית

In the beginning

Genesis 1:1-6:8

Commentary

In the beginning God…
Dependency
Acceptable Worship
List of Generations

Tim Hegg

President / Instructor

Tim graduated from Cedarville University in 1973 with a Bachelor’s Degree in Music and Bible, with a minor in Philosophy. He entered Northwest Baptist Seminary (Tacoma, WA) in 1973, completing his M.Div. (summa cum laude) in 1976. He completed his Th.M. (summa cum laude) in 1978, also from NWBS. His Master’s Thesis was titled: “The Abrahamic Covenant and the Covenant of Grant in the Ancient Near East”. Tim taught Biblical Hebrew and Hebrew Exegesis for three years as an adjunct faculty member at Corban University School of Ministry when the school was located in Tacoma. Corban University School of Ministry is now in Salem, OR. Tim is a member of the Evangelical Theological Society and the Society of Biblical Literature, and has contributed papers at the annual meetings of both societies. Since 1990, Tim has served as one of the Overseers at Beit Hallel in Tacoma, WA. He and his wife, Paulette, have four children, nine grandchildren, and three great-grandchildren.