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B'Midbar/Numbers 20:16 And we cried out to the L-rd and He heard our voice and He sent a messenger and He brought us out from Egypt.
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These words come in the middle of the message that Moshe sends to the king and people of Edom, the descendants of Esau, when the people are approaching the Land of Israel and would like to pass through the territory of Edom - on the King's Highway, a well-known caravan route from Damascus to Egypt that passed south to the east of the Jordan and the Dead Sea before turning west across what is now the Sinai Peninsula - rather than go around. This and the previous verse explain why Israel - who was, in the days of Avraham, Yitz'khak and Ya'acov, north-west of Edom, in the Land - is now approaching Edom from the south-west: they have been in Egypt, but are now free and returning to the Land. Egypt was perhaps the most significant of the regional super-powers and Israel's release from captivity byHaShem was a signal demonstration of His power and a testimony of Israel's chosenness and purpose to the nations of the world.
There are four phrases or stages in the text above. The first one - , "and we cried out to HaShem" - uses the root , "to cry out" especially, as Davidson tells us, for help. It reflects the time when the Israelites were still in slavery, making bricks in Egypt: "the people of Isra'el still groaned under the yoke of slavery, and they cried out, and their cry for rescue from slavery came up to G-d" (Shemot 2:23, CJB). To whom else should they cry? Jewish tradition tells us that they had already tried the Egyptians and the Egyptian gods, but to no avail. As HaShem told Moshe to tell the Israelites, He is "the G-d of your fathers, the G-d of Avraham, of Yitz'khak, and of Ya'akov" (3:16, ESV). He is the covenant-keeping G-d who had promised to bring them back to the Land of the fathers. The first step in release had to be that our people cried out to G-d, that they focussed on Him and directed their cries solely to Him.Targum Onkelos changes "cried to" to the post-pentateuchal "prayed", thus diminishing the intensity of the personal relationship between the people and G-d.
The second phrase - , "and He heard our voice" - uses the verb , "to listen or hear". Frequently in the Torah, Israel is urged to "listen to G-d's voice" and it almost used as a synonym for "obey G-d's voice". Is that why HaShem responded to the people and released them - that He was in some way obliged to obey their call for freedom? On the contrary, HaShem tells Moshe, "Moreover, I have heard the groaning of the people of Isra'el, whom the Egyptians are keeping in slavery; and I have remembered My covenant" (6:5, CJB). While HaShem was obligated, it was not to obey Israel; He was obligated to keep His covenant. He had given promises to Avraham, "Know for certain that your descendants will be strangers in a land that is not theirs, where they will be enslaved and oppressed four hundred years. But I will also judge the nation whom they will serve; and afterward they will come out with many possessions" (B'resheet 15:13-14, NASB) and Ya'akov: "I will go down with you to Egypt, and I will also surely bring you up again" (46:4, NASB). Now He needed to deliver on those promises to be consistent with His own character.
The third phrase - , "and He sent a messenger" - receives two quite different translations: ours (also JPS) and the more frequent "and He sent an angel" (NIV, ESV, NRSV, NASB, etc.). Even the Jewish world is divided: pointing to the same word used just two verses earlier "Moshe sent messengers to the king of Edom" (B'Midbar 20:14)),Rambam and Rashi insist that this refers to Moshe, the human messenger or emissary that HaShem sent to the Israelites to lead them out of Egypt. Ibn Ezra says that this word refers to a heavenly angel. Targum Onkelos cannot quite make up its mind, switching the plural 'messengers' in verse 14 to the Aramaic word for messengers because it is plain that Moshe didn't send angels to the king of Edom, but retaining the ambiguous in verse 16! Speaking through Joshua, HaShem Himself seems quite clear on the matter "And I sent Moshe and Aharon, and I plagued Egypt with what I did in the midst of it, and afterward I brought you out" (Joshua 24:5, ESV). Whoever is in view here, it is clear that HaShem didn't just hear the cries of the Israelites and remember His covenant, He acted; He made something happen - He sent an agent to represent Him on the ground, to Pharaoh and to the Israelites, and to lead the people.
Finally, the fourth phrase - , "and He brought us out from Egypt" - tells us the conclusion of what happened. HaShem didn't just send someone to comfort the Israelites in their afflictions, to stroke their backs while they carried on making bricks, to mop their fevered brow as they toiled in the mud-pits in the heat of the day, He sent supernatural plagues to show His glory and force Egypt to let Israel go. Notice that the subject of the verbs has not changed, it is still HaShem; though mightily used by HaShem and at His instructions taking a huge role in leadership, it was not Moshe who brought our people out of Egypt - it was G-d who alone had the power to make it happen.
We have then a four-stage process described in the text: The Israelites cried out to HaShem, Hashem heard their cries and remembered His covenant, HaShem acted by sending something new into the situation. Only then, in the fourth stage, does He bring the people out of Egypt and bring about our redemption.
We can see the same process at work in the history of the world. G-d heard the cries of His creation, for example, "the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now" (Romans 8:22, ESV); He remembered the covenant and the promises that He had made - "I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel" (B'resheet 3:15, ESV), "When the bow is in the clouds, I will see it and remember the everlasting covenant between God and every living creature of all flesh that is on the earth" (9:16, ESV) and "I will bless those who bless you, and him who dishonors you I will curse, and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed" (12:3, ESV) - and notice that although given to individuals, these promises affect all of mankind; and G-d sent His Son "When the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son" (Galatians 4:4, ESV), something new and dramatic, unexpected in many ways, yet typical of G-d: "Therefore I told you these things long ago; before they happened I announced them to you so that you could not say, 'My idols did them; my wooden image and metal god ordained them'" (Isaiah 48:5, NASB). This completely changed the game, so that He might "bring many sons to glory" (Hebrews 2:10) and "gather together into one the children of G-d who are scattered abroad" (John 11:52, NASB). Now, He invites those who will to hear Yeshua's words: "The time has come, G-d's Kingdom is near! Turn to G-d from your sins and believe the Good News!" (Mark 1:15, CJB).
Then again, the same four steps repeat themselves - in miniature, as it were - in our own lives. We are in times of bondage1 and we cry out to G-d; Rav Sha'ul was clearly in a vibrant and powerful relationship with G-d, being used in the preaching of the Gospel, yet at times cried out "Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death?" (Romans 7:24, ESV). G-d hears our cry and because of Yeshua's promises - "I am with you always, to the end of the age" (Matthew 28:20, ESV0 and "I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you" (John 14:18, ESV) - He sends His Spirit, "the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in My name, He will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you" (John 14:26, ESV). Notice that although the King James Version translates the role of the Spirit as "The Comforter", He is not there to pat us on the shoulder and pass the tissues, but to stir us into action, to raise up our faith and call us to step out in His freedom. Taught by Him, "you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free" (John 8:32, CJB). The Ruach is the game-changer who the Father sends into our situations and reminds us who Yeshua is and that we belong to Him. The Ruach gives us the "weapons of our warfare" with "divine power to destroy strongholds", to "destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Messiah" (2 Corinthians 10:4-5, ESV).
These four steps or stages are available for each of us, every day. They bring us into the kingdom of G-d; they keep us in the kingdom of G-d and they will see us stand firm until the fullness of that kingdom is manifest in our midst when Yeshua returns.
1. - Remember that the Hebrew name for Egypt - Mitzrayim - means bondage.
Further Study: Shemot 3:2-6; Romans 8:22-25
What stage are you at in your journey? Have you cried out to G-d and do
you know that He has heard you? Are you still waiting for someone to come
or has He taken you by the hand and brought you out of bondage? Wherever
you are, it is time to move forward again today!
© Jonathan Allen, 2014
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© Jonathan Allen, 2014
Your turn - what do you think of the ideas in this drash ?Like most print and online magazines, we reserve the right to edit or publish only those comments we feel are edifying in tone and content.