Torah Portion: Sh’mot (Names) Exodus 1:1-6:1
HafTorah: Isaiah 27:6-28:13; 29:22-23, Jeremiah 1:1-2:3
This beginning portion of the second book of Moses carries the name of “Names.” It begins by listing the names of all the people who went down into Egypt. These few grew into a great and mighty people who after passing through the furnace of Egypt, were ready to accept G-d’s promise of the Land.
Interestingly as its name implies, this portion contains several references to names. I would like to look at these in some detail. In fact, both of my questions this week had to do with identity. In this time of history names were extremely important. A person’s name was chosen with the thought it told the world something about the person. It had some meaning that could be seen in the person’s life.
First, I want us to look at a question Moses asks G-d in response to G-d’s call to him to return to Egypt and lead the people out of slavery. Moses responded to G-d’s call by asking, “Who am I?” Exodus 3:11. Now this question isn’t necessarily about his name but about who is he really. Moses asks basically two things: Am I worthy of such a mission? Will Pharaoh listen to me and how could I possibly succeed in this call?
G-d answers his first issue by saying, “Because I will be with you,” I’ll be your voice. I will walk along with you. The second question by Moses, “Am I worthy?” G-d leaves this question unanswered. Moses will come to this on his own. Moses echoes the words of Isaiah, “I am a man of unclean lips.” Isaiah 6:5 and Jeremiah 1:16, “I am a child.” None of these saw themselves as worthy of what G-d asked. However all of them had the faith to step out, to take those steps to allow G-d’s will to be done in their lives. They were not seeking greatness, a big ministry, or wealth. No, they just did what G-d asked with trembling.
Also, Moses may have been having an identity crisis. Who am I??? Egyptian? When he arrived in Midian they thought him to be an Egyptian. Ex. 2:19. He carried a name with Egyptian meaning. Also he had spent 40 years in Midian tending sheep, married a Midianite woman, had children and I expect was content to live out his life there.
He may have been Jewish by birth but he had been uninvolved for most of his life. The one time he had become involved ended badly. So why did he accept G-d’s call? His first son was named Gershom, meaning “I am a stranger in a foreign land.” In his heart he knew, he knew he was a son of Abraham. So he accepted G-d’s call. How about us? Is G-d asking us this question, “Who are you?” Are you just a worker, a parent, a husband, a wife? All this things are important but at our foundation we are children of the King and this should be our real identity. When He calls we answer. Maybe a little frightened but we should never lose sight of who we are and what that requires of us.
Now to the second name issue. Moses says in Exodus 3:14, “What is your name?” G-d answers how? “I shall be as I shall be, “ This is future tense. You want to know Me, you will have to wait to fully know Me. Don’t we all ask this question from time to time, “Who are You?” When we face those issues for which there seems to be no answer, war, famine, sickness, senseless violence, family problems and we cry out why? Where were you? Who are You?
So G-d starts out here with Moses, “You cannot fully comprehend Me now or My ways, not today and not tomorrow, but one day everything will make sense. Everything will be understood. But not now.”
So we live by faith. Romans 1:16-17, Habakkuk 2:4, Hebrews 10:38. Our faith tells us we will not live by what we see and hear but we live by faith. G-d knows more than we and we trust Him completely, even in the dark places. And one day, we will understand.