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Sunday, August 31, 2014

Book of Names and the Nameless

Shemot is the Hebrew title to the book we know as Exodus. “Shemot” means names, and the Hebrew title of this book comes from the opening sentence of the book. Exodus, a Greek word, means the way out.
The Jewish Study Bible says “Exodus is arguably the most important book in the Bible” (p. 102, in the introduction of Exodus). It is certainly one of the most familiar to Jew and Christian alike. I would argue it contains THe Gospel preached by Jesus.

I focus on the Hebrew title, “shemot” because of the role names play in the early chapters of Exodus. After listing the names of the sons of Jacob, Israel, the “sons of Israel” pass from the scene. Verse 7 reads “The Israelites were fertile, and prolific; they multiplied and increase very greatly, so the land was full of them.” Those verbs are used in Genesis at creation and are a reminder of God’s promise to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. The blessing, however, is viewed as a sinister and dangerous thing by the Pharaoh.
What is Pharaoh’s name? He has no name. We only know a Pharaoh emerged who did not know Joseph (lost history, forgetting, is the besetting sin of the Jewish Bible; remembering is the highest virtue, for to remember is to act on that memory). The Hebrews are oppressed (2x) and the Egyptians are ruthless (2x) and the situation is bitter and harsh—yet the worse things got the more they increased! [the war is between God's plan, life, and the Principalities and Powers which seek to destroy]
The nameless Pharaoh declares genocide, “Kill the baby boys.”

Suddenly we read two names—Shiprah and Puah—midwives who disobey the Pharaoh because they fear God (who blesses them). So the king demands that they throw the boys in the river. The two little Named women thwart the Nameless King, a world turned upside down, but other women will join in the rebellion! It would be easy, however, to overlook, a subtle message being communicated by the Word of God--He knows the name of the "no body," while the king is not named (to quote Mary, "he raises up the lowly and humbles the mighty)...

Chapter two
No names are given, just a story: A man, a Levite, marries a woman, of his clan. They have a baby. They see he is a “fine baby” (Hebrew tob; the word used by God to describe creation; Gen 1:31). He has a sister. They hide the baby until he gets too big, they put him in a small ark among reeds (ark//Noah, reeds//Sea of Reeds at exodus; connection to water death/salvation in two directions). The daughter of Pharaoh sees the baby, takes pity and saves the boy. The sister gets the mother, who is paid by the daughter of Pharaoh to care for the child. When he is of age, she takes the boy and names him Moses.  Finally, a character with a name!

Moses is an Egyptian name (cf. Ra-meses) meaning begotten. It sounds like a Hebrew word which means ‘drawn out.’This will factor into later Hebrew puns. Pharaoh is further thwarted in his plans by these three women, including his daughter.

The book of Names has no names, to this point, except two midwives and the young boy Moses. Prior to this, he had no name. Where are the names? Why the names of the midwives? I think it highlights that they are known, these two obscure women, they are known because they were faithful. They are known by God—a reminder to us when we feel obscure and unimportant.

What follows is familiar. Moses intervenes to save a Hebrew slave. The Egyptian strikes the slave, Moses strikes the Egyptian, who dies and s buried. The next day Moses intervenes between two fighting slaves. In a bitter foretaste of what he will deal with the entire time he leads Israel, the slave asks him, “Who put you in charge of me? I know what you did yesterday.”

Moses flees for his life and Pharaoh seeks to kill him (//David and King Saul). Moses ends up in Midian, where he meets his future wife at a watering hole. This story echoes Isaac and Jacob. Moses “saves” the women, something he will do for his people. He becomes a shepherd, another David reference. Then the author gives us a view from heaven.
God looks down. He sees, He hears, He knows, He remembers His covenant. (The Gospel) He comes down to meet Moses (as Abraham, Isaac, Jacob before), this time in a bush which burns but is not consumed. God speaks the sublime words of salvation: I have seen their suffering, I have heard their cries, I know, and I have come down to save. God is God of all, especially poor and needy.

I am who I am; I will be who I will be.
The God who sees, who hears, who know, who remembers
The God who comes down to save.
But for the suffering, nameless Hebrew slaves, who are sore oppressed and treated ruthlessly by the Egyptians, perhaps it feels too little, too late. Perhaps it feels like the long struggles of their life have no meaning and perhaps they feel they have no value.
It is easy to imagine people who think: no one cares about me.
This is the first message of the book of Names.
God, the one who is, knows your name.
He knows, He sees, He hears, He cares, He comes to save.
Trust Him

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