As we come into Passover and the Feast of Unleavened Bread, and from the sermons and teachings that have been brought by wonderful brothers and sisters in the Lord, I think that G-d is in the process of calling his people out of Egypt. I wanted to think that I was a little more ahead on that journey than maybe traditional Christianity, but G-d asked me a question during my little puffed-up-with-pride episode –
You may have left Egypt, but are you still carrying Egypt inside of you?
Sometimes I really hate it when He asks questions…
What is Egypt? How is it symbolized? For the most part, in leaven. While leaven had been around for a while, it was the Egyptians who perfected the art of bread making and brewing beer. In fact, they became renowned world-wide as brewers. Everyone in Egypt drank beer for nutritional value, but it was also used in almost every major festival of Egyptian culture – especially those festivals dedicated to the gods of Egypt.
Beer – leaven – was the nectar of the gods.
So let’s look back to the Middle Kingdom when G-d providentially provided for his people when they had not even gotten off the ground yet. All we had were 12 brothers who would become the heads of the 12 tribes of Israel. They had sold their brother Joseph into slavery and Adonai used that action to ensure the continuation of a people and a promise that was just coming into existence.
When Jacob’s family moved to Egypt at the request of Joseph so that they would not starve during the years of famine, it was to be a temporary arrangement. They were to be sojourners, not inhabitants.
They weren’t supposed to stay.
G-d placed them in Egypt to keep them alive. He didn’t intend that they live there. He had a land for them, and it wasn’t Egypt.
But in those seven years, Jacob and his sons and his sons’ families became comfortable in this country and this culture. It was a land that held everything. They didn’t lack for any physical need or desire. When it came down to it, staying in Egypt was a whole lot more pleasant than conquering a land and fighting for a promise.
The Hebrews settled in the Hawara province, what we know today as the archeological dig site of Avaris. (This site is hotly contested by traditional scholarship, but based on the work of David Rohl, after viewing the documentary Patterns of Evidence: The Exodus, and after my own research, I have come to the conclusion that the earlier date of the Exodus is actually the proper one and Avaris is the site of the Hebrew settlement.)
Jacob lived another 17 years after coming to Egypt. During this time, the Hebrew people acquired a lot of possessions and multiplied like crazy. I get it… Jacob was old. Maybe the kids didn’t want to move him again. Maybe they wanted to let him remain in the land with the son he thought he had lost. Okay, fine… but he made his sons promise that, when he died, they would not bury him in Egypt, that he wanted to be buried in Canaan with his forefathers. After 17 years in Egypt, when Jacob dies, he family and the Egyptians mourn his death for 70 days. In fact, there was a great procession of family and Egyptians that escorted the body of Jacob to his final resting place at the cave of Machpelah.
Please notice… Jacob’s sons and family returned his body to Canaan – to the land HaShem had promised his people. But Jacob’s sons and his sons’ families didn’t stay in the land.
They went back to Egypt.
Joseph, I understand. He was second in command in Egypt, but Pharaoh was not about to let the blessing that Joseph represented go. But the other eleven? They were as responsible for the promise as their forefathers. They were in essence telling G-d, “Thanks, but no thanks. Egypt works really well for us. We’re good.”
Now can you imagine the eye rolling that G-d was doing at this point? But it wasn’t unexpected or unanticipated. HaShem knew what they were going to do before these children were even a sparkle in Jacob’s eye. In fact, HaShem foretold this to Abram (before Abram was renamed) in Genesis 15:13-14. He knew what they were going to do because, not only is He omnipotent, He knows that as human beings, we inherently choose the path of least resistance.
So, after Joseph dies, and pharaohs come and go, as we know, there came to the throne a pharaoh that did not know Joseph and looked at the burgeoning Hebrew population of Avaris as a threat to his dynasty.
The excavation layers of Avaris note something interesting. There are two classes of Semites, or Asiatics as they’re called, in the area. We have one earlier group of Semites that were “Egyptianized” and one later group that was not. This later group of Semites were Hyksos or Canaanites/Amorites who eventually set up a 200 year rule in Egypt. These foreigners took over Egypt when she was at her lowest point (which may have had something to do with the land being devastated, armies non-existent, male population numbers significantly decreased…?).
But look at the earlier group and what archeologist David Rohl comments about them… they were “Egyptianized.” This group had obviously taken on the culture and characteristics of the Egyptians. Much like the Alexandrian Jews became Hellenized and almost no different from the surrounding Greek culture of that time, so too did the descendants of Jacob take on the culture and mores of Egypt.
So much so that Moses had to get a name from G-d so that he could tell the Hebrews who had sent him.
One interesting thing is the name Yahweh gives first – eyeh asher eyeh – I am/will be what I am/will be. It’s not at all what an Egyptianized Moses would have expected. I think that before Yahweh gave Moses the name He would be remembered by, He had to let Moses know that no Egyptian incantation could hold Him or manipulate him. You see, in ancient Egypt, if you, as a priest, knew the secret name of a god, you could manipulate him (or her). Moses, having been raised Egyptian, would have understood this. And in his role, Moses was being sent as G-d before pharaoh. He had a redeemer/priest role to play.
I think there was an understanding, an awareness taking place at that burning bush, and it was about truth and who the supreme Creator really is. It’s only then that G-d gives Moses His name to be remembered through all generations. And look what happens -- at the first meeting, Moses gives pharaoh G-d’s name. No secrets, no rituals. There were no incantations could affect this G-d.
The sad fact is, the Hebrews barely remembered HaShem. That’s what living in Egypt does – it dulls the spiritual senses. We forget what we know or ought to know. We lose our send of identity.
And no simple “G-d sent me, pack your stuff and let’s go” was going to suffice for the entanglement the Hebrews found themselves in with Egypt. They were slaves. They couldn’t leave. That's what the leaven of Egypt does -- it tangles you up until release isn't possible.
HaShem had to make it so physically and mentally uncomfortable for the Hebrews to stay in Egypt (and pharaoh and the Egyptians!) that they didn’t hesitate to scram when the time came.
You see, Yahweh will do whatever He has to in order to ensure that His people survive. And He will make his point in whatever way He needs to.
So why the 10 plagues? And why these particular ones? There are a number of different speculations about the meaning of the plagues. We do know that our G-d is a G-d of order and doesn’t do anything arbitrarily. He didn’t just jerk 10 plagues out of the ether and decide, “Yep, that’ll do.”
This could make a whole sermon or teaching series of its own, so I’m not going in depth into all the different opinions on this. What we had were a people who needed to know who their G-d was and that He was supreme over all – including pharaoh. So briefly, here are three possibilities as to the “why” of things.
Some people think that each of the plagues corresponds with a god of Egypt. The only problem is that Egypt had over 1,000 gods that they worshipped, and many of them overlapped in their perceived responsibilities. Also, some of the gods were not in the pantheon at the time of Moses. However, I think that this is a partial contributing factor to the reasoning behind the plagues, but I don’t think that HaShem targeted specific gods but rather targeted a class of gods. I see the plagues as an attack on the entire religious system of gods and the deification of nature by the Egyptians.
It has been suggested that the plagues corresponded with creation, but in reverse. The 10 plagues were a deconstruction of the 10 divine utterances of creation found in Genesis. (“And G-d said” was used to introduce His creative acts 10 times.) He was breaking down the Egyptian cosmos because He was going to create a new one for Israel. In essence, Yahweh was returning the world to its chaotic state – formless and void. I believe this was also part of the reasoning behind the plagues. Yahweh had to destroy all semblance of Egypt in order to encourage His people to leave their bondage. When we get too comfortable in our worldly systems, HaShem has a way of mixing things up to move us down the path toward repentance and redemption.
The last reason that I also ascribe to is that this was a cosmic battle between the Supreme G-d and the gods of Egypt. At the Tower of Babel, when G-d scattered the people into 70 nations, He gave the nations over to 70 principalities. He kept one people for Himself. The gods of Egypt were personified in pharaoh. He was considered to be the son of Ra who was the supreme god of creation and giver of life. Through the ceremony that coronated a pharaoh, the Egyptians believed the essence of Ra inhabited him. In addition, he sat on the throne of Geb who was the highest of the created gods and considered king of all kings on the earth. To sit on Geb’s throne meant pharaoh had absolute earthly power. In other words, pharaoh incorporated all spiritual and earthly power and there was none above him. Except Yahweh… and through His servant Moses, Yahweh was going to show pharaoh just how little power he and his gods actually had.
We know how the story ends. The Hebrews left, the Egyptians gave them all their gold and silver and possessions, and Moses began leading them to the promised land. We have Red Sea moments and the final, total destruction of pharaoh and his armies. We have sweet water provided from bitter waters. We have manna and quail provided when food was non-existence.
Just like Lot’s wife, they continued to turn back and yearn for what they had left behind, even though the place was death to them. Even though they had left Egypt, Egypt still lived on inside of them. This was no more apparent than in their constant mumblings and complaints against HaShem and Moses, whining that they wished they’d been left in Egypt, and which culminated in the idolatry of the golden calf.
We can be that way too, and more often than we’d probably like to admit.
Discipleship is hard.
Egypt is easy.
Rabbi Yitzhak Shapira in his newest book The Hidden Mashiach in Haggadat Peasach says that the month of Nisan is often referred to as the month of redemption. The first two letters of Nisan in Hebrew (nun and samekh) give us the word for miracle (nis). But they are also the letters for the word nas which means to flee, to escape. In essence, the month of Nisan is the month of redemption, when G-d performed miracle after miracle to enable His people to escape their bondage.
Rabbi Shapira says that when we really focus on this feast, we realize that it is a feast of renewal that gives us strength to leave Egypt. The word Nisan strongly correlates to the Hebrew word nisayon or trial. This time is a time of trial, as we prepare ourselves for a “heavenly reality that is to be clothed in our physical lives.” In Exodus 12:2, the month of Nisan is defined as rosh chadashim or “chief of all months.” This expression is rooted in the word chadash or “renewed.”
So in this chief of all months, we work to remove the Egypt within us through the denial of leaven in our food, which corresponds to the leaven in our lives. We flee the bondage of Egypt through the miracle of redemption and renewal that Yahweh has provided for us in Messiah Yeshua. This isn’t just a story of our forefathers, it’s the story of our own generation. We are partakers of the same covenant that started in Egypt and concluded at Mt. Sinai. Rabbi Shapira says that retelling the story of the Exodus allows us to prepare for the final Exodus in the days of Messiah.
I think we can see the slippery tendrils of bondage that we have been living under more and more. We have lived in such a material world that has appealed to all our senses and has dulled our need to cast off many of these things. We look at shelves that are emptier and emptier by the day, and we see we have allowed ourselves to rely on a system that is breaking down. We may even panic and buy and buy and buy because we don’t know if stuff will be there tomorrow. Our money is worth less and less, and the very fuel that allows us to go places, heat, cool and light our homes, the fuel that allows us to cook and eat – it’s becoming prohibitively expensive, especially for people on a limited income. People are choosing whether to eat or buy their medications. A house is beginning to be a pipe dream for many. We won’t even speak about the degradation of our morality as a society, and how many of those who call themselves followers of Yeshua buy into this “new” morality – which is nothing more than the old immorality.
I have had to look long and hard at myself as I mourn a world and country that no longer exists, if it ever did. Like the Hebrews, I yearn for the past at times, for the luxuries and benefits of living in a prosperous society. But whatever happens now and in the future is necessary to prepare us for our own Exodus, our own redemption, our own renewal. G-d is going to shake the heavens and the earth until pharaoh understands that Yahweh is the supreme G-d, until the people who are Egypt beg us to leave and take whatever we want with us.
As we prepare for the Feast of Unleavened Bread, we need to look at the Exodus as though we are the participants. We need to look for the leaven in our lives, for what we’re in bondage to, and prepare to break those chains. We need to commit ourselves to HaShem and leave the things of this world behind, a world that is increasingly hostile to us and looking for ways to punish us for not surrendering to their gods of political correctness, diversity, and tolerance. Just as the Hebrews were increasingly persecuted before Moses led them out, so we, too, will find ourselves increasingly persecuted before the return of Messiah.
From John Parsons, Hebrew4Christians: “Passover is all about the victory of God over the powers of darkness for the sake of our deliverance (יְשׁוּעָה). Shelach et ammi: 'Let my people go!' Indeed, the month of Nisan is called Chodesh ha-yeshuah (חדֶשׁ הַיְשׁוּעָה), the 'month of the salvation,' both in terms of remembering the physical deliverance from the political powers of Egypt, but more profoundly in terms of our spiritual deliverance given at Zion/Moriah through the Messiah. Chodesh ha-yeshuah can also be read as chadash ha-yeshuah, 'the new (חָדָשׁ) salvation,' suggesting the new covenant power we are given in the Messiah. We wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against hidden powers of darkness that seek to enslave us as Pharaoh did of old (Eph. 6:12)."
But in this spirit of removing the leaven of Egypt from our lives, let’s not pray for our relief from oppression in order to return to a life of ease and luxury. But as one brother stated about his time with the Vietnamese brethren, let’s pray instead for the salvation of our country and the outpouring of the Holy Spirit to a people who need the living G-d.
Again, from Hebrew4Christians’ John Parsons: “In light of the conditions of this present evil world, we cry out for the Messiah to return now! We want His deliverance, just as He delivered the Jews from ancient Egypt with great signs and wonders. Most politicians, by definition, exhibit the Pharaoh-like lust to control and exploit people. They are called 'the lords of the darkness of this world' (Eph. 6:12). This is the nature of the corruption of those who crave power over others... Today, so many people live in fear because they believe the propaganda of the 'princes of this age.' We must always keep in mind that reality centers on the LORD God of Israel, not in appearances and the rhetoric of political or media figures. Melo khol ha’aretz kevodo: מְלא כָל־הָאָרֶץ כְּבוֹדו, 'the whole earth is filled with His glory' (Isa. 6:3). And the LORD God of Israel cares about people’s liberation from deception and tyranny. The story of the Exodus is His everlasting rebuke to all the world’s dictators and should cause every politician to soberly assess their fate... The time is coming when His judgment will fall upon all the 'kings of the earth who take counsel against the LORD and against His Anointed One' (Psalm 2:2)."
The Talmud says: "In each and every generation a person must view himself as though he personally left Egypt, as it is stated: 'And you shall tell your son on that day, saying: It is because of this which the Lord did for me when I came forth out of Egypt' (Exodus 13:8). In every generation, each person must say: 'This which the Lord did for me,' and not: This which the Lord did for my forefathers. Therefore we are obligated to thank, praise, glorify, extol, exalt, honor, bless, revere, and laud the One who performed for our forefathers and for us all these miracles: He took us out from slavery to freedom, from sorrow to joy, from mourning to a Festival, from darkness to a great light, and from enslavement to redemption. And we will say before Him: Halleluyah."
I would leave you with this verse. “But thanks be to God who gives us the victory through our Lord Yeshua the Messiah (1 Cor. 15:57). We are overcomers because we already have the victory in Messiah. Getting rid of the leaven of the heart and mind is difficult, but it's not impossible to accomplish. HaShem is calling His children to return to the truth, to the rightful path of worship and devotion that His followers must have if they are to survive the Exodus that is coming -- because it is an Exodus far worse than any seen before.
But our G-d goes before us and after us, and the pharaoh of this world is no match for Him.