Our will together with G-d’s will brings change
Va’era (I Appeared) Exodus/Sh’mot 6:2-9:35
Tonight we are studying a Torah portion that has so much to say about our life in this world. I want to start with the verse I asked each of you to look at and see where G-d takes us. Our verse in Exodus 8:18 says, “And I will set apart in that day the land of Goshen, in which My people dwell, that no swarms of flies shall be there, to the end that you may know that I am the L-rd in the midst of the earth.”
Moshe delivered these words of G-d to Pharaoh as he went out to the water early in the morning. So, not only was Egypt subjected to this annoying and damaging disruption of normal life but, to make it even worse, the Israelites were set apart. They were not bothered by the flies. Even the Hebrew text made the point clear to Pharaoh in case he missed it. The word at the very beginning of the verse, hifleti, means to be treated differently. So G-d was saying to Pharaoh the Israelites were to be separated out from Egypt and would not be subject to this plague. What point was G-d making to Pharaoh?
In the world at that time, people understood that gods where localized. Each country had its own gods to whom they prayed and looked to for help and deliverance. When in the land of another country your home town god was of no help, being geographically restricted. You would have to pray to the local gods. So in this verse, Exodus 8:18, G-d was showing Pharaoh and his people that this belief was based on a lie. G-d and only G-d was the true power. He was not like the local gods. He was not restricted by geography. This was a major adjustment for Pharaoh to grasp. Remember, earlier when Moshe and Aaron went to him initially, Pharaoh told then he knew of no such G-d as HaShem and therefore he was not threatened by Him.
G-d was making a point to Pharaoh and to us. He is L-rd of the whole earth. Nothing restricts Him. This is an important point for us to remember in our day as well. Never think we are hidden from the Father. We do not have the ability to hide our actions or our thoughts from Him. He knows our hearts and our deeds. Pharaoh was about to learn this important lesson. G-d is intimately connected to the life of His people. Pharaoh was subjected to this truth over and over through the plagues.
G-d loves us and is with us wherever we are. He repeatedly made this point in this portion. No matter how difficult things seem to be He is there with His people. Here in this portion the words, “Ani HaShem” appeared at least ten times. Never lose sight of this truth, no matter where you are He is there with you.
Through this entire portion and the next one as well, we see Pharaoh refuse to accept this fact even when his advisors told him in Exodus 10:7 to let the people go so they might serve the L-rd their G-d. Why could he not grasp the truth of the situation? I know we have talked about this before. In Exodus 7:3 we read where G-d hardened Pharaoh’s heart. We immediately think how can this be? Then there is no free will and Pharaoh was being used like a puppet on a string!
Let’s consider a possible explanation that has great importance to us today. At the beginning of this saga, up through the first five plagues, scripture says that Pharaoh hardened his heart. Then we see the phrase G-d hardened his heart. Let’s look at moral issues that may help us understand what scripture is telling us here. Sir Walter Scott famously wrote these words, “Oh what a tangled web we weave, when first we practice to deceive.” I remember saying these words in the past. Suppose in some significant occasion you tell a lie. People who know you believe the lie. However, as you talk to people you find yourself having to tell other lies to cover the initial lie. We fall under the control of our own words. We gradually lose our freedom without even noticing how far we have strayed from the truth.
Another example, a young man attends a party and uses an illegal drug just to relax and be more sociable. At that point it would be easy for him to refuse that drug the second time around but he doesn’t. He goes with what everyone else is doing. Before long his waking hours are spent thinking about when he can have that drug again. At this point the drug is ruling his life and he has given away his free will. Satan desires to give us opportunities to hand over our free will to him.
In Genesis 4:7 we see G-d speaking to Cain, “If you do right will you not be accepted? But if you do not do what is right sin is crouching at your door, it desires you, but you must rule over it.” We find ourselves often in such a place. G-d’s desire is that we choose right by our own free will. Pharaoh did not choose right. He repeatedly sinned until he could no longer choose right. His heart had become hard by his own repeated choices. In the enslaving of others he became enslaved himself and could not choose right. Freedom, true freedom, is using our free will to do the right and good thing because that is who we are in Messiah.
To end tonight I want to take just a moment to speak about the time we are in. Today is the beginning of the secular new year. When this time comes each year we hear people talking about making new year resolutions. I thought it would be good to talk about the Hebrew word for year. That word is shana. It can mean the second, a duplicate, or to repeat. So we could look at this new year as a repeat, a cycle of winter, spring, summer and fall. So it is just another cycle of time.
However the word shana can also mean, to change. This is what I think we all need to focus on. This coming year is an opportunity to change, a time of new beginnings. We can see it as an opportunity to change how we live out our days. We have a choice to use each day to walk in the power of doing His will and not our own. Live on earth but do it in the power of heaven. Walk in the newness of life letting go of the old and embracing the newness of the Father.
Isaiah 43:19, Romans 6:4 and II Corinthians 5:17
Bless each of you this day, month, year.