Messianic Education Trust
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(Ex 13:17 - 17:16)

Shemot/Exodus 14:16   Lift up your staff! Stretch out your hand over the sea and divide it!


The What Is ...

The Mekhilta: The earliest known halakhic midrash or commentary on (parts of) the book of Exodus; formally named for Rabbi Ishmael and therefore set around 100-135CE, it was redacted some years after his time; quoted many times in the Bavli Talmud as "Rabbi Ishmael taught ..."
Mekhilta de Rabbi Ishmael explains that ten miracles were performed for Israel at the sea. "The sea was broken through and made like a vault, it was divided into two parts, dry land was formed in it, it became a sort of clay, it crumbled into pieces, it turned into rocks, it was cut into several parts, it was piled up into stacks, it formed a sort of heap, the salt water was turned into sweet water, the sea congealed on both sides and became like glass crystal." All this occurred when Moshe lifted his staff and stretched his hand out over the water. Rabbi Who Is ...

Hirsch: Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch (1808-1888 CE), German rabbi, author and educator; staunch opponent of the Reform movement in Germany and one of the fathers of Orthodox Judaism
Hirsch confirms the importance of the staff: "not I alone (says G-d), have to be active, the people too must do their part by faith and courage, you (Moshe) as My messenger, by proving the event to be an act of G-d by its occurrence at the waving of your staff." The immediate connection between the waving of the staff and the parting of the sea is what proves it to be a miracle.

A number of the commentators relate this miracle to other water miracles in the Hebrew Scriptures. The Who Is ...

Sforno: Rabbi Ovadiah Sforno (1470-1550 CE), Italian rabbi, philosopher and physician; born in Cesena, he went to Rome to study medicine; left in 1525 and after some years of travel, settled in Bologna where he founded a yeshiva which he conducted until his death
Sforno compares it to Elijah: "'stretch out your hand' that the waters shall divide to one side and the other, as for Elijah 'Thereupon Elijah took his mantle and, rolling it up, he struck the water; it divided to the right and left, so that the two of them crossed over on dry land' (2 Kings 2:8, JPS". The Who Is ...

Ba'al HaTurim: Rabbi Yaakov ben Asher (1269-1343 CE), born in Cologne, Germany; lived for 40 years in and around Toledo, Spain; died en route to Israel; his commentary to the Chumash is based upon an abridgement of the Ramban, including Rashi, Rashbam and Ibn Ezra; it includes many references to gematria and textual novelties
Baal HaTurim points out that the word - a Hif'il imperative ms from the root , meaning to lift up, to raise, to set up or erect - has a masoretic note - 3, indicating that "it only occurs three times in the Hebrew Scriptures: 'raise your staff' (here); 'Raise your voice like a ram's horn!' (Isaiah 58:1, JPS), which teaches that [here, too, as the sea] The Name ...

HaShem: literally, Hebrew for 'The Name' - an allusion used to avoid pronouncing the Tetragrammaton, the so-called 'ineffable' name of G–d
HaShem frightened and confounded the Egyptians with tremendous noises; and '"Pick it up," he said' (2 Kings 6:7, JPS) when Elisha caused an iron axehead to float. Drazin and Wagner, in their commentary on Targum Onkelos, comment that, "Targum Pseudo-Jonathan contains a description of the rod: that it was large and heavy and was created at the beginning of creation. On it were inscribed the ineffable name, the plagues in Egypt, the patriarchs, the matriarchs and the tribes of Israel."

Unlike the narrative of Joshua taking the people across the River Jordan, when the waters did not part until the feet of the leading priest was actually in the water, Who Is ...

Abraham Ibn Ezra: (1089-1167 CE), born in Tudela, Spain; died in the South of France after wandering all around the shores of the Mediterranean and England; a philosopher, astronomer, doctor, poet and linguist; wrote a Hebrew grammar and a commentary on the Bible
Ibn Ezra explains that here, "G-d tells Moshe to split the sea before they begin to move forward, for He did not tell Moshe to strike the sea, merely to hold his hand over it. We know that it was not the rod that split the sea; that was merely a signal." The biblical text confirms that a few verses later: "Moshe held out his arm over the sea and the L-RD drove back the sea with a strong east wind all that night, and turned the sea into dry ground. The waters were split" (Shemot 14:21, JPS). Nahum Sarna agrees: "Moshe is not instructed to strike the sea. Verse 21 tells us that the action of Moshe with his rod is the signal for the strong wind to blow back the waters. Isaiah makes it clear that it is G-d who 'divided the waters before them to make Himself a name for all time, who led them through the deeps so that they did not stumble' (Isaiah 63:12-13, JPS)".

Whatever the precise order and function of stretching out the hand or lifting or waiving the staff, it is clear that this was only a declarative gesture carried out before the people as a sign of faith. Just as Aharon had lifted up his staff and struck the waters of the Nile at the start of the plagues (Shemot 7:20) and the water turned to blood, and Moshe and Aharon continued to raise or gesture with their staffs or their hands to start most of the remaining plagues, this was a sign of authority and command. The signs were made by Moshe and Aharon, some in front of Pharaoh, some away from Pharaoh, and required faith on their part that as they waved or stretched their hand, HaShem would make the action happen. So it is here beside the Sea of Suf. Pharaoh's army have caught up with the fleeing Israelites and are shortly to be held off by the pillar of cloud and fire, but are now pressing in to recapture the Israelites and prevent their further escape. Feeling the pressure and fear of the people, Moshe tells them, "Fear not, stand firm, and see the salvation of the L-RD, which He will work for you today. For the Egyptians whom you see today, you shall never see again. The L-RD will fight for you, and you have only to be silent" (Shemot 14:13-14, ESV). In the middle of his crowd control rhetoric, Moshe hears HaShem tell him to stop wasting time with any more words and make this gesture of command with his staff and stretch his hand out across the water. Moshe pauses and, although the biblical text does not record this, we can imagine him double checking: "L-rd, was that really You? Do I have to wave my staff in front of all these people? Is it really going to happen?"

Now let's turn to an amazing statement made by Yeshua: "Truly I say to you, whoever says to this mountain, 'Be taken up and cast into the sea,' and does not doubt in his heart, but believes that what he says is going to happen, it shall be granted him" (Mark 11:23, NASB). This happens on the road round the Mount of Olives, from Bethany to Jerusalem, one morning in Yeshua's last week as He and the disciples are coming into the city for a day of teaching in the Temple. There are two variants of the story; one in Matthew 21 and one in Mark 11. Mark has Yeshua looking for some breakfast on a fig tree and, finding none, curse the fig tree; everyone then waits until the next morning to find the fig tree withered up on their way into the city again. Matthew collapses the story into one day: the fig tree withers as soon as it is cursed. In either case, however, the disciples - although they have seen much bigger miracles (such as Yeshua walking on the Sea of Galilee, Lazarus being raised from the dead, the feeding of the five thousand) - do their "O my! Look what He just did!" routine and Yeshua simply tells them to have faith in God (v. 22) and then makes this remarkable statement. In the absence of mountains being moved around every day, generations of the established church have been trying to play it down ever since: Yeshua was only talking about that specific mountain [pick any one from: the Mount of Olives, Mt. Scopus, the Temple mount, one of the other mountains around Jerusalem, etc.]; Yeshua was only talking to the apostles; or miracles were only for the apostolic era.

However, Yeshua then goes on to broaden the context of His statement: "Therefore I say to you, all things for which you pray and ask, believe that you have received them, and they shall be granted you" (v.24, NASB). It's not just about mountains, a specific mountain or even specific people, it is about people and it is about faith. Just as Moshe had to have and exercise faith in order to hear from G-d, carry out His instructions and take a public stand to see the miracle happen, so we have to listen carefully, make sure that we have heard correctly and then be prepared to put our reputations and our lives on the line to see the miracle happen in our day. Moshe could be fairly confident of lifting his staff because he had already done that a lot recently and G-d had always come through; one more wasn't really a problem. What was parting the sea compared to getting the people out of Egypt in the first place? In our case, where we don't walk in a series of major sign miracles, this is more difficult. We must always check what we think G-d has said against His word and against our motives. G-d is gracious - He doesn't ask Moshe to do this from cold, but prepared him through a series of steps: seeing the burning bush, the staff that turns into a snake, the leprous hand, then the ten plagues. We can expect Him to lead us too at the level we can manage, as He grows and stretches our faith and expectations.

Finally, however, the moment will come and we will hear G-d say, "Raise up your staff, stretch out your hand" and we will have to act on our faith. Know that when that time comes, you will be ready. Our spirits will hear G-d's Spirit: "Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous! Do not tremble or be dismayed, for the L-RD your G-d is with you wherever you go" (Joshua 1:9, NASB).

Further Study: Mark 16:15-18; 2 Samuel 7:22-24

Application: Do you feel ready to step out and perform miracles for G-d? Ask G-d to enroll you in His training course today and get ready to see mountains move as G-d reveals the kingdom through you!

16Feb13 02:25 Ruth: Thank you for the encouragement which comes during a time of discouragement in a church where the "younger people" have a "different perspective" on Israel. Stand and see the salvation of Adonai.

© Jonathan Allen, 2013



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