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Shemot/Exodus 10:7 How long will this [one] be a snare to us? ... Do you not yet know that Egypt is destroyed?
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These quite strong words - you can almost imagine them being shouted - come from Pharaoh's courtiers, just after Moshe and Aharon have announced the Plague of Locusts and left Pharaoh's presence. Almost the minute that the Israelites have gone, the courtiers burst forth at Pharaoh, expressing their concern and shock that he is doing this. Suggesting that protocol held the advisors back while Moshe and Aharon were still with Pharaoh, theBekhor Shor comments that "they had not wanted to argue with him in front of his opponent." The last plague, the hail, had caused a sharp division in the Egyptian ranks - "Those among Pharaoh's courtiers who feared the L-RD's word brought their slaves and livestock indoors to safety; but those who paid no regard to the word of the L-RD left their slaves and livestock in the open" (Shemot 9:20-21, NJPS) - but now, the predicted locust plague causes a clear break among the court: Pharaoh continues to ignore the threat, while his staff are openly challenging Pharaoh's decisions and actions.
A number of the words in the text attract the commentators' attention, so let's look at the verse in detail. Nahum Sarna comments that the word - this - is a disrespectful reference to Moshe; not even prepared to give him his name or the title 'leader', the courtiers attempt to snub Moshe. Umberto Cassuto comments that "Pharaoh's servants, who remained in his presence after the departure of Moshe and Aharon, counselled him to adopt a conciliatory attitude. Out of respect for the king, they blamed Moshe and Aharon."1 The courtiers then refer to Moshe as a , a trap or a snare; this comes from the root , "to lay snares" and is a similar noun to , a fowler or trapper (see Psalm 124:7). RabbiHirsch asks, since "Moshe had all the time been perfectly open and frank, how then could they call him a ?" He then explains, "Had G-d sent one plague and let it endure until they let the people go, Israel would have been free long ago. But because each plague was only a partial one, ceasing at Pharaoh's request, only to recur as a new plague, Pharaoh's heart was always encouraged to fresh resistance, this can only be described as a trap."
The word is constructed from an interrogative hay - usually translated by some form of the English verbs "to be" or "to have" to convert a phrase into a question - and the adverb that can mean "not yet" or sometimes "before". It appears in Moshe's words when Pharaoh asks for the plague of hail to stop, "But I know that you and your courtiers do not yet fear the L-RD G-d" (Shemot 9:30, NJPS) and in the words starting the second account of creation, "when no shrub of the field was yet on earth and no grasses of the field had yet sprouted" (B'resheet 2:5, NJPS). Going with "not yet", Rashi explains that the two words should be translated, "do you not yet know?" and says that this means, "have you not yet realised that Egypt is lost?" Cassuto agrees, offering, "Have you not yet understood that our county will be ruined if such plagues continue to come upon it?"Saadia Gaon, on the other hand, frames the "not yet" question as a statement - "before you see Egypt destroyed" - while Ibn Ezra enlarges the question to read: "Must it be clear to you that Egypt is destroyed before you let Israel go?"
The last verb, , is the Qal affix 3fs form of the root , "to be lost" or "to perish", with derivative nouns meaning "destruction" or "ruin" (Davidson). The subject is , Egypt; a fs noun here in spite of its masculine plural ending. The affix stem is used for completed single events in the past, so the plain sense of the words is that Egypt has already been destroyed, as theRashbam explains, "by the pestilence, the hail and the other plagues." Richard Elliott Friedman comments that "they speak as if the country is already destroyed. Interpreters and translators have tried to made their statement more logical by understanding it to mean 'Egypt is lost' or 'ruined'." Others suggest that this might be an affix of certainty, "Egypt isn't yet destroyed but it's certain that's where we'll end up; we are as good as destroyed." Friedman thinks that "Pharaoh's servants are pictured as speaking with deliberate hyperbole", a deliberate over-exaggeration to catch Pharaoh's attention and make him aware of just how serious the situation is. Egypt and its people are in a fair way to disaster because of Pharaoh's stubbornness and intransigence over the the Israelite people and his refusal to acknowledge the mighty power of Israel's G-d. The longer he goes on disregarding HaShem, essentially continually challenging Him, the higher the stakes become and the more Egypt as a whole - with all its people, whether they want to be involved or not - are exposed to HaShem's rebuke and response. As Nahum Sarna dryly comments in the mouths of the courtiers: "we are courting disaster!"
King Nebuchadnezzar was warned in a dream that he would be stripped of his kingship for a season because of his arrogance and self-exaltation. "All this befell King Nebuchadnezzar. Twelve months later, as he was walking on the roof of the royal palace at Babylon, the king exclaimed, 'There is great Babylon, which I have built by my vast power to be a royal residence for the glory of my majesty!'" (Daniel 4:25-27, NJPS), so he was reduced to the state of cattle in the field, eating grass in the rain for seven years until his reason returned to him. His son, Belshazzar directly snubbed G-d, by ordering that "the gold and silver vessels that his father Nebuchadnezzar had taken out of the temple at Jerusalem to be brought so that the king and his nobles, his consorts, and his concubines could drink from them ... They drank wine and praised the gods of gold and silver, bronze, iron, wood, and stone" (5:2-4, NJPS); that very night, the king was killed and his kingdom was given to the Medes and Persians. Both of these men stood against G-d, so were humbled or reduced. When Rav Sha'ul and Barnabas went to Cyprus on their first journey to share the gospel, they found a sorcerer called Elymas who was trying to turn the governor of the island away from hearing their message. Sha'ul rebuked him, "'You son of Satan, full of fraud and evil! You enemy of everything good! Won't you ever stop making crooked the straight paths of the Lord? So now, look! The hand of the Lord is upon you; and for a while you will be blind, unable to see the sun.' Immediately mist and darkness came over Elymas; and he groped about, trying to find someone to lead him by the hand" (Acts 13:10-11, CJB), and the governor was so impressed that he made a confession of faith in Yeshua.
The question for us today has to be whether we are standing against G-d and, if so, at what cost? Are our actions, speech or choices acting as a snare for us so that we are putting our relationship with G-d at risk? Yeshua warned His disciples that, "Not everyone who says to Me, 'Lord, Lord!' will enter the Kingdom of Heaven, only those who do what My Father in heaven wants" (Matthew 7:21, CJB). He then goes on to talk about people who seem to be moving in the gifts of the Spirit, but somehow don't seem to know Yeshua; they say that they acknowledge Him, but don't have a living relationship with Him. How can this be? Yeshua describes these people as "workers of lawlessness" (v. 23, CJB) and Rav Sha'ul tells us what this means: they are "filled with all manner of unrighteousness, evil, covetousness, malice. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, maliciousness. They are gossips, slanderers, haters of G-d, insolent, haughty, boastful, inventors of evil, disobedient to parents, foolish, faithless, heartless, ruthless" (Romans 1:29-31, ESV). Surely, this list contains a number of serious sins - murder, for example - that most people do not commit, but what about the lesser items: being foolish or boastful, envying someone? I don't think there can be one of us who hasn't at one time or another engaged in several of these behaviours. And, of course, when we repent - we say 'Sorry', make reparations where appropriate and ask for forgiveness - G-d has promised to forgive those sins and remove them from our record, restoring relationship with Him.
But what if we hang on to some of these habits, or start one from scratch? What if we see someone's new cell 'phone and become jealous because ours doesn't do something that theirs does. Or perhaps we display foolishness by speaking out without thinking, hurting other people or drifting into boasting or over-exaggeration? These all put us in the position of standing against G-d, displaying behaviours and attitudes that cause a breakdown in our relationship with Him. Easily fixed, yes, but if not fixed, they build up and accumulate, causing our hearts to become hard and our ears to be deafened against His word and His people. We must act today so that we don't become like Pharaoh and see our lives and our world destroyed!
1. - Umberto Cassuto, A Commentary on the Book of Exodus Magnes Press, Jerusalem, 1983, 965-223-456-7.
Further Study: Isaiah 48:1-2; Luke 13:24-27; Titus 1:15-16
Application: Do you have a habit or choice that is setting you at odds with G-d, jeopardising your relationship with Him? Does He seem distant and cold? Then now is the time to resolve this behaviour and get it sorted out lest you find yourself fighting against G-d.
© Jonathan Allen, 2018
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