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Shemot/Exodus 5:2 Who is Adonai ... I do not know Adonai and moreover, I will not let Israel go.
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Moshe and Aharon have returned to Egypt after Moshe's encounter withHaShem at the Bush. Following a fairly positive meeting with the Israelite elders, they proceed with their instructions to seek an audience with Pharaoh in order to pass on HaShem's invitation to release the Israelites from bondage in order to worship their G-d and - although the initial invitation doesn't go quite that far - return to their land, as promised to Avraham, Yitzkhak and Ya'akov. Moshe and Aharon are surprised and hurt by the negativity that they receive at the palace; after all, the Israelites made a valuable contribution to the Egyptian economy and Moshe had hoped for a more sympathetic response. Later, when the Israelites and their elders find out just how badly Pharaoh reacted to HaShem's initiative, their ire is turned against their erstwhiel redeemers in words of some bitterness.
The word is a Qal affix 1cs form of the root - to know. Sarna has noticed that this root "is a key term in the Exodus narrative, occurring over twenty times in the first fourteen chapters." He points out that the biblical idea of knowledge is often significantly different from the modern. Today, knowledge is considered to be largely an intellectual or mental activity; then it was "embedded in the emotions, so that it may encompass such qualities as contact, intimacy, concern, relatedness and mutuality." Not to know - the case in our text above - "is synonymous with dissociation, indifference, alienation and estrangement." Given Sarna's range of meanings, this allows Pharaoh's reply to range from "I do not know HaShem", "HaShem who?", "I've never heard of HaShem", "I don't have any relationship with HaShem" to "I don't take orders from HaShem" or even the deliberate "I refuse to acknowledge HaShem".
Targum Onkelos, sensitive to the level of offence or even contempt in the Hebrew text, tones down the unseemly outburst for the sake of G-d's honour. Replacing it with the rather more pedestrian, "The Name of HaShem has not been revealed to me", it also adds the phrase, "that I should accept His memra". Drazin and Wagner explain that memra is an Aramaic term equivalent to the the Greek logos and should be translated as "wisdom", "word", "command" or "teaching" as the context may require. Its principle use is to remove anthropomorphisms. However, it also has the effect of revealing the actions of G-d's Word - His spoken authority and, of course, a New Covenant name for Yeshua, the Word of G-d - and highlighting His involvement in the day-to-day governance of the world and its affairs, as Rav Sha'ul was later to demonstrate: "He is the visible image of the invisible G-d. He is supreme over all creation, because in connection with Him were created all things - in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones, lordships, rulers or authorities - they have all been created through Him and for Him. He existed before all things, and He holds everything together" (Colossians 1:15-17, CJB).
Richard Elliott Friedman explains that it is only at this point that G-d starts to become known. Whilst the narrator has told us that G-d created the world, was responsible for the flood and made promises to Avraham, up until this point He has been known personally only to a few individuals and no nations. Friedman wryly remarks that "Pharaoh's first words to Moshe are "Who is HaShem? - I don't know HaShem!". By the end of the story he knows." TheSforno splits Pharaoh's words into two parts: first, "I know not HaShem I do not know any Being that can bring another into being ex nihilo (from nothing)." Pharaoh reduces G-d to his own level; Pharaoh was supposed to be the incarnation of a god and he knew that he could not create things from nothing, so he arrogantly assumes that HaShem cannot do so either. Secondly, "And moreover I will not let Israel go. And even if this be so, that there is such a Being, I will not send forth Israel on this account." Here Pharaoh's arrogance goes up a level: "So what," the Sforno sees him saying, "what is that to me? I will do exactly as I please."
In previous generations from ours, for hundreds of years, there has been at least a general awareness of G-d in the general background of our culture. Queen Victoria was a devout Christian; many people went to church on a regular basis, even if only on a social level; the founding fathers of the USA were men of faith - and this pattern was repeated around the world. Men may have chosen not to follow G-d's standards or have relationship with Him, but - even in spite of what a more educated and enlightened age would regard as great inequality and even abuse in society - G-d was a part of the basic social fabric; He was taken for granted and if He was mentioned, everyone knew who He was. Most countries in the world have built their justice system around the Judaeo-Christian ethic, based however loosely on the Ten Commandments, and ethical principles such as honesty, charity, compassion and decency were - even if ignored or flouted by a few - widely recognised.
Today, living in a post-modern world, where everyone is right and entitled to their own beliefs, the situation is very different. Many people have no idea who G-d is; they have not even heard of G-d. Father Christmas, Sir Winston Churchill, William the Conqueror: yes; but G-d - who is He? In talking to people, it is not uncommon to encounter genuine incredulity and puzzlement at the suggestion that there is a G-d or that He has standards and expectations for peoples' behaviour and conduct. The concept of sin is at best regarded as a primitive superstition, at worst a technique for manipulation and the suppression of the individual. Pharaoh's words are being echoed increasingly on every street corner: "I have never heard of G-d!"
Rampant individualism leads many on a bizarre life of self-determination and self-expression, trying to find themselves in a world where everyone is lost. Many religious leaders emphasis personal autonomy, the right of the individual to pick and choose, to select for themselves what feels right for them out of a pot-pouri of different religious ideas and experiences. Spirituality is exploited to sell books, CDs and videos; new-age jewelry and symbols abound. Traders stand on every street corner and website, hawking their wares and proclaiming Pharaoh's words: "Even if there is a G-d, what is that to you and I? Buy this product and do as you please." The words at the end of the book of Judges are still accurate today: "In those days there was no king in Israel; everyone did what was right in his own eyes" (Judges 21:25, NASB).
Our part, as believers, is exactly the same as that of Moshe and Aharon: to be a witness both to the existence and the power of G-d. We proclaim before the Pharaohs of the world, "Let My people go!" as we share the gospel with everyone we meet. G-d works His miracles through and around us to confirm the truth of His word, as people hear about Him and come into the kingdom. The self-motivated and money-driven values of the world are exposed as valueless as we give of our time and money in volunteer projects, mercy ministries and outreach, selflessly giving without expecting any return. Not random acts of kindness but intentional and planned generosity and compassion touching hearts and lives with the grace and mercy of G-d: "the light of the knowledge of G-d's glory shining in the face of the Messiah Yeshua" (2 Corinthians 4:6, CJB). We can even see the progression through the plagues of Egypt being worked out again in our lives and times; the evidence of the lice and boils is all around us! The book of Revelation speaks of fire and hail: "The first [angel] sounded his shofar; and there came hail and fire mingled with blood, and it was thrown down upon the earth. A third of the earth was burned up, a third of the trees were burned up, and all green grass was burned up" (Revelation 8:7, CJB) as the extremes of weather become more pronounced. Even the fabric of the physical world seems to be breaking down: "the whole creation has been groaning as with the pains of childbirth" (Romans 8:22, CJB) as earthquakes, tsunamis and volcanic activity tear up the earth's crust. We can sense the darkness approaching, yet know that it will not be dark in the household of faith; we await the return of Yeshua Himself to lead us out of slavery, for Him to be proclaimed king in Jerusalem.
Further Study: Job 21:7-16; Jeremiah 44:15-19; Romans 8:19-23
Application: As we see the signs of the breakdown of society and the physical world, it is easy to become afraid and fearful; this is what the enemy wants. Instead, we should be looking and waiting, joining the creation on tip-toes, eagerly waiting for Yeshua's return. You could ask G-d to give you that sense of anticipation today.
© Jonathan Allen, 2010
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