Torah Commentary | Exodus

Portion: Torah Portion No. 51
Torah: Exodus 8:20[Hebrew 8:16]–9:35
Haftarah: Isaiah 34:11–35:4
Apostolic: Hebrew 12:14–17

Serving the Almighty: His View vs. Man’s View

By Tim Hegg

Nothing stands out more in our Torah text this week than the repeated emphasis upon God as the One Who makes distinctions. We read of the 4th, 5th, 6th, and 7th plagues (מַגֵּפָה, magephah, 9:14; נֶגַע, nega’, 11:1; נֶגֶף, negeph, 12:13 – all terms used to describe the plagues) waged against Egypt, and each time the text makes it clear that while the plague fell upon every level of Egyptian society (from Pharoah on down), not one Israelite was touched by the destructive “finger” of God.

But the first example of how God makes a distinction comes at the very beginning of the parashah. He had given explicit in­structions to Moses and through him to Pharaoh: send forth My people that they may worship Me (ùÑÈìÈç òÇîÌÄé åÀéÇòÇáãËðÄé). The “sending forth” (which is much more forceful than the common English “let My peo­ple go”) is necessary before there can be the kind of worship or serv­ice God demands and desires.

Pharaoh had a different idea. Note 8:21[English 8:25]: “Phar­aoh called for Moses and Aaron and said, “Go, sacrifice to your God within the land.” (åÀéÌÄ÷ÀøÈà ôÇøÀòÉä àÆìÎîùÑÆä åÌìÀàÇäÂøÉï åÇéÌÉàîÆø ìÀëåÌ æÄáÀçåÌ ìÅàìÉäÅéëÆí áÌÈàÈøÆõ). Actually, this text can be read two ways, since áÌÈàÈøÆõ can just as well mean “in the Land (of Israel)” as “in the land (of Egypt).” That Pharoah meant that Israel should worship HaShem without leaving Egypt is obvious, but the veiled reference to the Promised Land is intriguing.

Moses’ answer is very interesting and the standard English trans­lations (NASB, NIV, NRSV) miss the point. It is not that the lamb was considered by the Egyptians an abomination, but this word is used in the Hebrew text (since it was written to Hebrews) to describe all pagan sacrifices and idolatry (cf. Deut 7:25-26). The Egyptians con­sid­ered the lamb sacred and would never have used it as a sac­ri­fice. Thus when Moses says “Behold if (translating äÅï as a ques­tioning particle, cf. Ibn Ezra) we sacrifice the abomination of the Egyp­tians…,” he is referring to the lamb as a sacred object in the Egyp­tians’ eyes–one of their many gods. Moses most likely used a different term when actually speaking to Pharaoh, but when relating the story (which would be read by Hebrews) used the term “abomi­nation” to refer to the lamb as “sacred” in an idolatrous way. The Stone Chumash thus gives the proper sense: “be­hold, if we were to slaugh­ter the deity of Egypt in their sight, will they not stone us?”

Here we gain insight into God’s definition of worship. It in­volves, at its core, a clear distinction between the Creator and the creation. Paul recognizes that all idolators have this in common: they worship the creation rather than the Creator:

They exchanged the truth of God for a lie, and worshiped and served created things rather than the Creator — who is forever praised. Amen. (Romans 1:25)

All paganism begins with the creation rather than the Creator. That is, paganism considers what can be seen as all important, while God’s worship begins with what cannot be seen as absolutely nec­essary to understand properly what can be seen. In other words, from God’s perspective, faith is a prerequisite for genuine worship.

And without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him. (Hebrews 11:6 )

But there is another important insight we receive by looking closely at how Pharaoh defines worship. His suggestion that Mo­ses and the Is­ra­el­ites could just as well offer sacrifices in the land of Egypt rather than going into the wilderness reveals the fact that for Pharaoh worship was a means to an end rather than the end itself. For Pharaoh (and all false religion) worship is a way of pleasing the gods, of getting them on your side, of gaining for yourself from the gods what otherwise you could never have. In many cases, worship of the pagan gods is “tricking” them into acting on behalf of the worshiper.

In contrast to this, worship as God describes it is purely an act of love for Him and not an attempt to gain something from Him or cause Him to do some­thing He otherwise might not. Thus for Pharaoh, to follow God’s pre­scriptions for worship was not that necessary. If it was sac­ri­fice He wanted, then give it to Him, but do it in the most expedient way—no need to travel three days journey—just do it here and now.

And here is the crux of the matter: Pharaoh, like all who follow falsehood, do not take seriously the word of God. The Almighty had commu­ni­cated to Moses that Israel was to travel out of the land of Egypt and worship Him via sacrifice in the wilderness. Moses told Pharaoh this, but Pharoah considered it unimportant. “Do the cer­emony, but there is no need to do it exactly as God says. Modi­fi­cations don’t matter—do it my way.”

So why did it matter? Could the Israelites have genuinely worshiped God in the land of Egypt? Could they have offered acceptable sacrifice to HaShem without going into the wilderness as He had instructed them to?

The answer is, of course, “no.” They could not have offered acceptable sacrifice in Egypt. And the reason is because God had told them to do some­thing different than that. Acceptable worship to the One true God can only be accomplished in the context of obedience. The worship God desires cannot be given in the realm of disobedience.

Moses knew this. When he says “it is not proper to do so” (לֹא נָכוֹן לָעֲשׂוֹת כֵּן) he shows us that he had taken God’s word seriously. It was not merely that to do this would have raised the hackles of the Egyptians, but more that God had prescribed a different way. Of course Israel would not always take this position. Accepting the ways of the pagan nations and incorporating these into their worship would be­come the on-going bane of the nation’s existence.

But why was it necessary for Israel to leave Egypt before she could offer acceptable sacrifice? Because an eternal picture was wrapped up in her leaving: redemption and deliverance must proceed acceptable worship. Only the redeemed can worship Him as He de­sires, because only the re­deemed have come to the full realization that God, and God alone, can save. Worship in the context of re­demption is worship that considers the Creator to be blessed forever, sepa­rate and above the creation. And only people who have been genu­inely redeemed are in a position to worship God out of their love for Him and not to gain something for themselves.

There’s another way to say this: only the redeemed are able to worship God in the context of covenant. God had already told Moses that the sign He would give to prove Himself was that the people would worship at the mountain where He had revealed Himself in the burning bush (Ex 3:12). The covenant that would function as Israel’s ketubbah (marriage contract) could only be given after they were redeemed from Egypt, not before. God would take Israel as His wife, and in so doing He would separate her unto Himself. Symbolically she could not remain in Egypt and still be His wife. She would have to be sanctified, made holy, set apart, in order to be His chosen be­loved. Worship would be the result of her redemption, not the cause of it.

Thus the remaining plagues, as enumerated in our parashah, have as one of the primary functions the separating of Israel as a distinct people from the Egyptians: “I shall make a distinction between My people and your people…” (8:19 [English 8:23]).

Note carefully as well that sacrifice is the key activity asso­ciated with worship. The command to Pharaoh is: “Send forth my peo­ple that they may worship (עָבַד, ‘avad) Me.” And this worship is defined as offering sacrifice. Why sacrifice? Because redemption is accom­plished via sacrifice. This is the key of the Pesach event: blood on the doorposts (which symbolize one’s entire life) is the redemptive symbol distinguishing the Israelites from the Egyptians.

Pharaoh saw sacrifice as a means of placating the gods. It could thus be done whenever and wherever. God reveals that sacrifice is the means of redemption and must therefore be done according to His sched­ule and done His way.

But when the time had fully come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the Torah, to redeem those under the Torah, that we might receive the full rights of sons. (Gal 4:4-5)

Indeed, in the progressive revelation explaining God’s way of re­demption, sac­ri­fice would be prescribed as acceptable only when done in connection with the Mishkan (Tabernacle), and finally only at the Heichal (Tem­ple). These institutions would be the revelation of how God would dwell among His peo­ple—how He would effect full and complete redemption. It is the natu­ral tendency to be­lieve that redemption and worship can be had apart from sacrifice. Our sinful nature arrogantly thinks that we have some­thing God counts as wor­thy—of attracting His forgiveness. But faith rec­og­nizes that redemption must be won by Someone other than ourselves. The symbolism of the pure and spotless lamb proclaimed this time and time again, and the sac­ri­fi­cial system made it clear to all who had faith to accept it, that God for­gives on the basis of sacrifice, that is, the sacrifice of Messiah. It is in Him that God’s people find their ultimate distinction—their true holiness.



In the beginning

Genesis 1:1-6:8


In the beginning God…
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.