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Shemot/Exodus 6:28 And it was on the day the L-rd spoke to Moshe in the land of Egypt.
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Our text for this week is the whole verse from the Hebrew Bible. Those familiar with the pointing of Hebrew texts will notice that this verse is very unusual: it has no atnakh or zakef katan accents. The atnakh is the major dividing accent in just about every verse in the Hebrew Masoretic text. While not always positioned in the middle of the verse by word count, it breaks the verse in two by sense. The zakef katan accent acts as the second level break, and either of the two 'halves' of the verse may be further split into two or more pieces. The majority of verses in the Hebrew Bible have at least one zakef katan, particularly outside the Psalms. Yet this verse, coming from narrative text in the Torah has neither one nor the other. This causes the mediaeval commentatorRashi to say that, "This incomplete verse is linked to the verse that follows it." And in that, he is followed by all the major English translations who without exception take a paragraph break immediately before this verse and use it as a prefix for a stream of conversation that - how oddly! - then runs straight over the chapter division into chapter seven, after only three verses of content.
TheMasoretic Text itself takes a different view. Nahum Sarna points out that even though "this division contradicts the syntax which requires that the clause be attached to the next sentence ... in some Hebrew texts the letter samech follows this verse and signifies the closing of a section." This verse is clearly shown as the last verse (although the word 'sentence' would be more appropriate for Hebrew texts which predate the chapter and verse numbering by many years) in the second aliyah of this parasha, which is usually given to a Levite if there is one present in the synagogue. The current reader stops at this point, says the blessing for the end of a Torah reading and sits down, to be replaced by the reader for the third aliyah, who comes up to the platform, makes the blessing for reading the Torah and commences reading from the next verse. There could hardly be a more pointed interruption in the week's reading of the Torah. Why does tradition break the reading at this point?
Nachmanides justifies this by explaining that "it is possible to explain that the verse refers to the text above [i.e. verses 2-9 in the chapter, before the genealogy list]. Scripture is explaining that the communications came to Moshe, and that the command to bring Israel out was to both himself and Aharon. This is why Scripture closed the chapter [of the genealogy] with this verse." Having interrupted the narrative flow with a necessary piece of genealogy - to affirm the position and status of Moshe and Aharon - the narrative restarts by referring back to what had been saying just before the break. Today this is a common technique used many by television and media anchor men when the program content restarts after a commercial break. The Sforno makes this explicit: "When G-d spoke to Moshe and told him to speak to Pharaoh (verse 11) and Moshe responded that Pharaoh would not listen to him." Brevard Childs agrees: "In order to pick up the broken thread the author, following a common Old Testament practice, recapitulates a bit of his story."1
The key importance of this verse, however, is not the precise timing of exactly when HaShem spoke to Moshe. It is that HaShem did speak to Moshe. Moshe hasn't been winging all the interactions with the Israelite tribal leaders and then with Pharaoh on the basis of the one conversation with HaShem at Mt. Sinai. As we will see as the narrative proceeds through the plagues and the final release from Egypt, G-d is constantly there, telling Moshe what to do, what to say and how to position himself and the Israelites in relation to Pharaoh and the Egyptians. In fact, if anything, the conversations were likely to have been even more extensive than the narrator relates for us in the Torah. We have four gospels covering a three year period. We can tell by comparing the gospels that the four authors record many similar or even identical conversations, but also many that are unique to just one gospel. What we have is a very sparse record of the life of Yeshua and His twelve disciples, let alone all the others who followed Him. John tells us that "Yeshua performed many other miracles which have not been recorded in this book" (John 20:30, CJB), so each gospel writer has been a hard editor, keeping and preserving only what he thought were the most important actions and conversations.
Two of the most enigmatic statements in the whole Bible are penned by Luke; the first is, "starting with Moshe and all the prophets, [Yeshua] explained to them the things that can be found throughout the Tanakh concerning Himself" (Luke 24:27, CJB). That's a conversation many scholars would have loved to overhear. We know it happened, but its content has not been preserved for us. The second comes in the book of Acts: "During a period of forty days they saw [Yeshua], and He spoke with them about the Kingdom of God" (Acts 1:3, CJB). Yes; and ... what did He say? The eleven were all there, more than at some of the events that are recorded - such as the Transfiguration or the raising of Jairus' daughter - but there is not so much as a word of what Yeshua actually said at that time. The disciples may have used their recollections of these conversations in their later teaching once, filled and empowered by the Spirit, they went out to share the gospel with the whole (known) world and beyond. But we don't know what they are. Some of the early church letters contain what are called logia, sayings, that Yeshua is reported to have said that are not in the gospels. Where did Clement, Ignatius, Polycarp and the others get these from? They had them from the eye-witness accounts of the first disciples who were there and passed on their memories, but we cannot receive them as canonical because they are not formally a part of the Bible text itself.
We can see the communications between Yeshua and Father G-d at work in several places in the gospels. He stayed up all night to pray, "In these days He went out to the mountain to pray, and all night He continued in prayer to G-d" (Luke 6:12, ESV), He knew in His Spirit what was going on around Him, "the scribes and the Pharisees watched Him ... but He knew their thoughts" (6:7-8, ESV), and yet there are other occasions - such as the raising of the widow of Nain's son - when we hear nothing about prayer or the Spirit moving Yeshua to do something. Yet it must have happened, because Yeshua Himself described the limits within which He was able to act: "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). In other words, the record must be both incomplete - we don't have everything - and sufficient: we have what we need.
G-d can speak to us anywhere and everywhere. He spoke to Elijah at Mt. Horeb; He spoke to Ezekiel in Babylon; He spoke to other prophets all over Israel and beyond; He spoke to Jonah in the belly of a whale in the depths of the Mediterranean Sea. Paul's vision about the man from Macedonia came while he was at Troas in Asia Minor. Yeshua performed a miracle of exorcism for a Canaanite woman in the "district of Tyre and Sidon" (Matthew 15:21, ESV) where He was not supposed to be doing any miracles as it was outside the Land. G-d called Jeremiah to various places in and around Jerusalem - for example, "Go down to the potter's house, and there I will let you hear My words" (Jeremiah 18:2, ESV) - where He would then speak to him and instruct him about what he was to say to the people.
Yet today, we have fairly fixed ideas about where and when G-d can speak, if He does at all. He can speak through the Bible, of course; we may accept Him speaking through sermons or bible commentaries, perhaps at prayer meetings or - if we accept and move in the gifts of the Spirit - through a word of prophecy or a word of knowledge. But these are occasional and we are inclined to 'test' them very thoroughly; in some cases because we are reluctant to accept that G-d would actually speak to us or want to direct us at that level or with that immediacy. It seems very strange and would arouse significant resistance in some, to hear G-d telling us to do something now, in real time, without checking it out, just because He has said so. Many would find that both profoundly disturbing and very unsettling. And G-d knows that, so rarely pushes people who would feel that far out of their comfort zones. Others want to hear G-d speak today and long to feel His word in their hearts so that they may obey Him, but are limited by their expectations of how and when He will do that.
So, assuming that we do want to hear G-d speaking to us, do we give Him the room and time to speak anywhere? Have we asked Him to speak to us and given Him permission to do that where and whenever He wants? If He did speak, would we recognise Him or dismiss it because G-d couldn't possibly be speaking there or then? How can we make more room for G-d to speak and be aware of Him speaking even if unexpected? Moshe heard from G-d even in Egypt; G-d told Jeremiah that "I have sent you all My servants the prophets, daily rising early and sending them" (Jeremiah 7:25, NASB). G-d wants to communicate with His people each and every day. That means you and me; us. Let's make ourselves available!
1. - Brevard Childs, The Book of Exodus: A Critical, Theological Commentary, The Old Testament Library, (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2004), page 117.
Further Study: Matthew 9:2-7; Hebrews 3:7-10
Application: How can you make space and time for G-d to speak to you, as the Scriptures say, "when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise up" (D'varim 6:7). You need to take the initiative and ask; then wait and be amazed at what you hear!
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© Jonathan Allen, 2019
Comment - 11:56 31Dec18 Ruth Harvey: Thank you for this weeks commentary. It was very timely. I think that for many in the Western church that God only speaks at certain times and circumstances. We have a lady in our church who asks the Lord for the day and goes out when He says and has some incredible experiences of meeting people in need. So she prays for them wherever they are. I confess I struggle as I am a butterfly brain and then think God will only speak when I spend a long time sitting and waiting. Whilst, as you said, we do need to give time to God and listen to Him, it was encouraging to read that God can speak at any time and in any place. It is just giving time to develop our relationship so we know His voice whenever it comes.
Comment - 13:41 01Jan19 Jeremy: The voice of G-d. He has spoken to me three times with an audible voice. When anyone reads a book they do so using their inner voice which is in fact their own voice as they hear it. G-d spoke to me in a calm, quiet voice, a voice of gentle authority. I paid attention because I knew that it wasn't mine. I came to faith by hearing His voice, following His wisdom and seeing the result. I was between a rock and a hard place with a problem at work, I was becoming desperate. I called on His name and asked for His help. He replied immediately with this calm voice of authority. My Father in law said that it wasn't the voice of G-d but of the Holy Spirit. Yes I know what he was intimating but its complex, we believe in the Trinity and I love the explanation of the Trinity in the Athanasian creed. Conversation between us and our creator is all part of relationship. How kind and loving He is to allow the close intimacy of a relationship.
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