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Shemot/Exodus 7:6 And Moshe and Aharon did; as the L-rd commanded them, so they did.
This verse comes at the end of a section starting with a shortened genealogy of Moshe and Aharon. The section is an important statement of exactly who Moshe and Aharon were, the commission they had been given byHaShem and what they had consequently been commanded to do. From the point of view of a reader or a listener - remembering that we are dealing with oral tradition and performance techniques here - this provides a bridge from the end of chapter five to chapter 7:8 onwards. At the former, Moshe and Aharon's first visit to Pharaoh to demand the release of the Israelites had made things worse for G-d's people by Pharaoh making them collect all their own straw while not reducing the quota of bricks to be made; at the latter, the narrative starts the account of the miracles and plagues culminating in the release of Israel from the Egyptian slavery. The bridge sets the scene so that the narrative builds on real people, people who are known, who have history and a known place in society; they are not rabble-rousers or outsiders simply trying to cause trouble.
This is an important statement about these two men at this stage in the grand story arc of the Exodus narrative. It identifies them both as those who did and as the leaders who were commanded to do. Moshe and Aharon were men under authority and so could exercise great authority; they did what they were told, so would be in a position to tell others what to do. Walter Brueggemann says that this "suggests an important literary device that we shall see repeatedly in the structure of the book of Exodus. The whole of the paragraph is put together as 'command and obedience' ... In spite of his doubts and misgivings, Moshe is fully obedient to Yahweh."1 The text makes it clear that Moshe did have concerns. Only a few verses earlier, the narrator tells us that "Moshe appealed to the L-RD, saying, 'See, I am of impeded speech; how then should Pharaoh heed me!'" (Shemot 6:30, NJPS) Moshe and HaShem had already been through this out in the desert at the Bush, when HaShem told him, "Who gives man speech? Who makes him dumb or deaf, seeing or blind? Is it not I, the L-RD? Now go, and I will be with you as you speak and will instruct you what to say" (4:11-12, NJPS) and then agreed to send Aharon with him to speak for him, but it is still weighing on Moshe's mind. That doesn't however, stop him from getting on with the job: "It is the same Aharon and Moshe to whom the L-RD said, 'Bring forth the Israelites from the land of Egypt, troop by troop.' It was they who spoke to Pharaoh king of Egypt to free the Israelites from the Egyptians; these are the same Moshe and Aharon" (6:26-27, NJPS). Terence Fretheim observes, somewhat dryly, that "From the narrator's perspective, this shows a more conclusive positive response on Moshe's part to the divine commission than was the case before."2
Most of the commentators seem to agree. Deferring the detail, Umberto Cassuto comments that, "the particulars of their actions will be recounted at length in the next section, but at this stage the Bible tells that exactly as they were enjoined, so they did."3Chizkuni points to the cost involved in this obedience, "even though it meant taking their lives in their hands", while the Sforno explains exactly how they did it: "Every directive (given to them) was observed in accordance with the commandment and its order, i.e., Moshe first spoke as the messenger of G-d, the Blessed One, after which Aharon interpreted." He emphasises that "they neither added nor detracted." This example of unswerving obedience underpins what Moshe will later tell the next generation twice as they are about to enter the Land: "You shall not add anything to what I command you or take anything away from it, but keep the commandments of the L-RD your G-d that I enjoin upon you" (D'varim 4:2, NJPS) and "Be careful to observe only that which I enjoin upon you: neither add to it nor take away from it" (13:1, NJPS).
Moshe and Aharon stand in sharp contrast with other biblical characters. When questioned by the serpent in the Garden, "Did G-d really say: You shall not eat of any tree of the garden?" (B'resheet 3:1, NJPS), Eve's response embroidered on G-d's commands. He said, "As for the tree of knowledge of good and bad, you must not eat of it; for as soon as you eat of it, you shall die" (2:7, NJPS), while she said: "It is only about fruit of the tree in the middle of the garden that G-d said: 'You shall not eat of it or touch it, lest you die'" (3:3, NJPS). Where did the 'touching' come from? Likewise, King Saul was commissioned to take the armies of Israel against the Amalekites, "Now go, attack Amalek, and proscribe all that belongs to him. Spare no one, but kill alike men and women, infants and sucklings, oxen and sheep, camels and asses!" (1 Samuel 15:3, NJPS), but after fighting almost all the way to Egypt and destroying their armies and cities, we read that Saul "He proscribed all the people, putting them to the sword; but Saul and the troops spared Agag and the best of the sheep, the oxen, the second-born, the lambs, and all else that was of value. They would not proscribe them; they proscribed only what was cheap and worthless" (vv. 8-9, NJPS). When challenged by the prophet Samuel about the bleating of sheep and lowing of cattle that he could hear, Saul tried to bluff, saying, "They were brought from the Amalekites, for the troops spared the choicest of the sheep and oxen for sacrificing to the L-RD your G-d. And we proscribed the rest" (v. 15, NJPS). G-d was not fooled by Saul's false protestations.
Not doing what G-d has said and then trying to pass off what we have been told as something else, or doing one thing in public and another in private continues right through history until our day, of course. The book of Acts reports the case of Ananias and Sapphira who, following others in the early church, sold land in order to contribute to the needs of the congregation. However, they retained part of the funds for themselves, while claiming in public that they had given them all. Peter's challenge to Ananias, "While it remained unsold, did it not remain your own? And after it was sold, was it not at your disposal? Why is it that you have contrived this deed in your heart? You have not lied to men but to G-d" (Acts 5:4, ESV), shows clearly what happened. Ananias fell down dead! His wife, Sapphira, then repeated the lie - "Peter said to her, 'Tell me whether you sold the land for so much.' And she said, 'Yes, for so much'" (v. 8, ESV) - to receive a similar challenge: "How is it that you have agreed together to test the Spirit of the L-rd?" (v. 9, ESV) before she too fell down and died. Despite human appearances, G-d knew all along exactly what was happening and revealed it to Peter so that an appropriate example might be set among the believers: "great fear came upon the whole church and upon all who heard of these things" (v. 11, ESV).
Yeshua, on the other hand, is very clear about what He is doing. He tells the Jewish leaders that "the Son can do nothing of His own accord, but only what He sees the Father doing. For whatever the Father does, that the Son does likewise" (John 5:19, ESV). Yeshua always follows the leading and prompting of the Ruach, who conveys the will of the Father. A little later, speaking of the time after the crucifixion, was even more clear: "When you have lifted up the Son of Man, then you will know that I am He, and that I do nothing on My own authority, but speak just as the Father taught Me" (8:28, ESV). Yeshua says that He is totally under the authority of the Father; he does only what is right and pleasing to the Father, that He has been told to do. Confirmation of this comes from an unexpected source: a Roman centurion. Yeshua was in Capernaum and the centurion came to Him to ask that He heal his servant, lying ill at home. "Yes," Yeshua answered, "I will come and heal him" (Matthew 8:7, ESV). "No, no," the centurion responded, "I don't deserver You visit my home. All You need to do is say the word and the healing will happen." Then comes this amazing statement: "For I too am a man under authority, with soldiers under me. And I say to one, 'Go,' and he goes, and to another, 'Come,' and he comes, and to my servant, 'Do this,' and he does it" (v. 9, ESV).
Matthew records Yeshua's favourable astonishment at the centurion's faith, that Yeshua did indeed say the word and that the servant was healed. But if we stop there, we miss the key point. The centurion recognises that Yeshua has authority because He is under authority; He acts not on His own, but as the Father tells Him - He is exercising the Father's authority, G-d's authority. The centurion can identify authority because he sees it all around him in the way the Roman army works and the authority that has been delegated to him. He knows full well that the command he has over his men depends entirely on the authority of the Roman army - and ultimately Caesar - behind him. The centurion's authority completely stops the minute he stops doing what he is told, does something else, or varies his orders. He looks at Yeshua, at the the things He is doing and saying and knows that Yeshua could not do and say those things unless G-d were completely behind Him, and that Yeshua is fully obedient and in the centre of the Father's will. What an amazing insight the centurion was given!
We are in a similar place today as Yeshua was: we are under His authority and have been granted permission to exercise that authority in His name and at His command. We are people under authority. As Rav Sha'ul writes, "You are not your own, for you were bought with a price" (1 Corinthians 6:19-20, ESV). We belong to G-d. We have the same source of instruction and revelation as Yeshua, the Holy Spirit: "When the Spirit of truth comes, He will guide you into all the truth, for He will not speak on His own authority, but whatever He hears He will speak, and He will declare to you the things that are to come" (John 16:13, ESV). Even the Ruach is under G-d's authority and, like Yeshua, perfectly obeys and echoes G-d's heart and instructions. Our permission to exercise Yeshua's authority - just like Yeshua, Moshe and Aharon, is entirely contingent upon our obedience to our instructions. We must do what we are told, speak the words we hear the Spirit speaking to us, without alteration or amplification. That way is not only the way of blessing for ourselves and those around us, but the way that Yeshua will be honoured and the Father glorified.
1. - Walter Brueggemann, "Exodus", in The New Interpreter's Bible Commentary Vol I, edited by Leander E. Keck, (Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press, 2015), page 328.
2. - Terence E. Fretheim, Exodus, Interpretation, (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2010), page 96.
3. - Umberto Cassuto, A Commentary on the Book of Exodus, (Magnes Press, Jerusalem, 1983), page 90.
Further Study: B'resheet 22:17-18; John 15:10; Romans 14:4-6
Application: Have you heard the Spirit speaking to you recently and, if so, have you done what He said? If not, then you're not likely to hear from Him again - apart from a calling for repentance and obedience - until you do. Check in today and make sure you are hearing and doing correctly.
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© Jonathan Allen, 2020
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