Shemot/Exodus 12:30 And Pharaoh arose at night, he and all his servants and all Egypt
The verb - from the root - when used by itself (i.e. not followed by another verb, in which case it usually denotes purpose) most often means to rise up from a sitting or lying position.Rashi comments: "Pharaoh arose: from his bed" to show that this was rising from sleep, not simply that he stood up at some point during the hours of darkness. Moreover, he did not just get up to use the bathroom; the Mekhilta explains that "in the night" shows that this is not according to the customs of kings, since kings don't usually arise before the third hour, 9am! Neither was he woken by his family or servants; the Mekhilta says: "the passage 'he and all his servants and all the Egyptians' tells us that it was Pharaoh who went around to the houses of all his servants and to the houses of all the Egyptians and aroused every one from his place." This was a major event of great significance, that Pharaoh suddenly had to wake up and experience - it was not something that the Egyptians just found out about the next morning when they woke up as usual.
Once again, theBaal HaTurim points to a Masoretic note that tells us something important about the text. The note, attached to verse 29, tells us that the Hebrew phrase - at midnight - is used only three times in the Hebrew Bible; here and in two other places. In the story of Ruth and Boaz, it occurs during the night when Ruth has gone down to the threshing floor and slept at Boaz's feet: "In the middle of the night the man was startled and turned over, and - there was a woman lying at his feet!" (Ruth 3:8, CJB). When Boaz wakes, the Tur suggests, he is startled or frightened; so when the Egyptians awoke, they were greatly frightened. The phrase's other use is during the story of Samson, where the text records: "And Samson lay till midnight, and arose at midnight, and took the doors of the gate of the city, and the two posts, and went away with them, bar and all, and put them upon his shoulders, and carried them up to the top of an hill that is before Hebron" (Judges 16:3, NASB). From here, the Tur comments, "this indicates that G-d performs miracles for the righteous at midnight."
What seems clear here is that Pharaoh and the Egyptians didn't take G-d seriously. Even after the nine previous miracles, culminating in the "darkness over the land of Egypt, even a darkness which may be felt" (Exodus 10:21, NASB), still Egypt didn't believe that G-d could and would act again in order to free His people from slavery, to validate His command and to fulfill His word. They were not ready, they didn't think it would happen, they had simply lost the plot and taken their eye off the ball so that when G-d did act, they were taken aback by both the timing and the sheer scale of G-d's next move: the death of all the firstborn as G-d had said: "all the first-born in the land of Egypt shall die" (Exodus 11:5, NASB).
Yeshua uses another image - that of a surprise burglary - to extend the idea of being ready for G-d to act: "would let his house be broken into if he knew when the thief was coming" (Luke 12:39, CJB). No-one goes out for the evening, knowing that a burglar is going to burgle their house before they return. It is necessary to take sensible precautions; the police post public notices in car-parks where there has been a lot of car break-ins and theft, to warn people not to leave valuables in their cars and to make sure that they lock the cars properly.
Rav Sha'ul picks up the same image when he writes to the early believers about the day of the L-rd's return: "For you yourselves know full well that the day of the L-rd will come just like a thief in the night" (1 Thessalonians 5:2, NASB) and Peter echoes him: "However, the Day of the L-rd will come 'like a thief.' On that Day the heavens will disappear with a roar, the elements will melt and disintegrate, and the earth and everything in it will be burned up" (2 Peter 3:10, CJB). As Yeshua Himself said, we don't know the exact moment of His return and to many people it will come just like a thief: a totally unexpected and unwanted interruption in their daily routines. So why do Sha'ul and Peter make such a point of telling the early believers this? If we don't and aren't supposed to know when the Day of the L-rd is, why is it so important?
There are two things here that we need to consider. The first is the surprise factor and the unexpected but certain nature of the event. Yeshua told the story of a slave who had been left in charge of the master's household, to look after everyone else until the master's return. The slave must keep attending to his duties and not abuse his position because "the master of that slave will come on a day when he does not expect him and at an hour which he does not know" (Matthew 24:50, NASB). The master will reward the slave according to how well he has obeyed the master's instructions and kept his trust. The master will return; there is no question about that - the only open issue is exactly when. Of one thing we can be certain: each day that passes is another day less until Yeshua does return. Many feel that it cannot be much longer, that the signs of the times are now pointing to a date that is sooner rather than later, but Yeshua is quite explicit that even for believers there will be an element of surprise.
The second factor that we need to keep in mind is the time at which redemption will happen. Our people were redeemed from Egypt in the middle of the night; Boaz pledged to act on Ruth's behalf in the middle of the night; Samson was enabled to perform miracles in the middle of the night. The night is the period of darkness, when the light is least present, and represents the spiritual state of the world. The book of Revelation paints quite graphic and frightening pictures of the way that life on earth will deteriorate in the last few minutes (relatively speaking) before the Day of the L-rd, when He will appear to rescue us from the darkness and crush the powers of evil finally and for ever. As we see various issues becoming more noticeable in our day: the promotion of the homosexual and pro-choice agendas, the widening of the gap between rich and poor, the exploitation of minorities and persecution of the household of faith, these should all alert us to the closeness of the L-rd's return. There is, of course, a large harvest yet to be gathered for the kingdom of G-d and much work that can be done, but we should recognise that it is nearly time to close the door!
Speaking nearly 600 years before Yeshua came, the prophet Isaiah spoke out with an expression of the peoples' frustrations and anxieties during the times of the kings: "Oh, that Thou wouldst rend the heavens and come down, that the mountains might quake at Thy presence -- as fire kindles the brushwood, as fire causes water to boil -- to make Thy name known to Thine adversaries, that the nations may tremble at Thy presence! When Thou didst awesome things which we did not expect, Thou didst come down, the mountains quaked at Thy presence. For from of old they have not heard nor perceived by ear, neither has the eye seen a G-d besides Thee, who acts in behalf of the one who waits for Him" (Isaiah 64:1-4, NASB). When G-d acted, it surprised the people who - within their lifetimes, or in the generations past - had no expectation or understanding of G-d who acts on behalf of His people, who are waiting for Him. No matter what has happened in recent time, we are now approaching days that are "just like the days of Noah. For as in those days which were before the flood they were eating and drinking, they were marrying and giving in marriage, until the day that Noah entered the ark, and they did not understand until the flood came and took them all away; so shall the coming of the Son of Man be. Then there shall be two men in the field; one will be taken, and one will be left" (Matthew 24:37-40, NASB). Make sure you aren't left behind!
Further Study: Zechariah 12:10-11; Habakkuk 2:3-6
Application: Do you believe that the Day of the L-rd is going to happen? Do you sense the urgency to prepare and be ready so that you are not taken by surprise? What can you do to increase your own level of expectation and raise hope in those around you?
© Jonathan Allen, 2008
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