The Death of a Dream

What was Moses planning to do? Did he plan to kill every Egyptian in Egypt and hide them all in the sand? God had a better plan.

An ancient Egyptian hieroglyphic carving of captured slaves, or prisoners of war. (Image © Bigstock/BasPhoto)

Portion Summary & Scripture Reading

Regular Shabbat Readings

  • Shemot (שְׁמוֹת | Names)
  • Torah: Exodus 1:1-6:1
  • Haftarah: Isaiah 27:6-28:13, 29:22-23
  • Gospel: Matthew 2:1-12

* References are from the Hebrew Bible. Christian Bibles vary slightly when indicated with *.

Portion Outline

  • Torah
    • Exodus 1:1 | Introduction
    • Exodus 1:8 | The Israelites Are Oppressed
    • Exodus 2:1 | Birth and Youth of Moses
    • Exodus 2:11 | Moses Flees to Midian
    • Exodus 3:1 | Moses at the Burning Bush
    • Exodus 3:13 | The Divine Name Revealed
    • Exodus 4:1 | Moses' Miraculous Power
    • Exodus 4:18 | Moses Returns to Egypt
    • Exodus 5:1 | Bricks without Straw
    • Exodus 6:1 | Israel's Deliverance Assured
  • Prophets
    • Isaiah 26:1 | Judah's Song of Victory
    • Isaiah 27:1 | Israel's Redemption
    • Isaiah 28:1 | Judgment on Corrupt Rulers, Priests, and Prophets

Portion Summary

Shemot is both the title for the second book from the scroll of the Torah and the title of the first Torah portion therein. Shemot means "names." The English-speaking world calls this book Exodus. The Hebrew title for the book comes from the opening phrase of the book: "Now these are the names (shemot) of the sons of Israel who came to Egypt with Jacob" (Exodus 1:1).

The English name Exodus comes from the Septuagint (LXX), the Greek translation of the Hebrew Bible. The Greek title for the book is Exodus Aigyptou, which translates as "Departure from Egypt." The name Exodus is an abbreviated form of that title. Exodus means "departure." The book of Exodus tells the story of the children of Israel enslaved in Egypt and their miraculous redemption through the hand of Moses, the story of the giving of the Torah at Mount Sinai, the construction of the golden calf and the construction of the Tabernacle.

As we study the first week's reading from the book of Exodus, we find the children of Israel in slavery. It seems at first that the God of their forefathers has forgotten them. But God has not forgotten His promises. He remembers His promises to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob and brings a Redeemer to their children's children, for the sake of His name, with love.

When Moses was forty years old, he went out from Pharaoh's court to visit his brethren, the sons of Israel. He was appalled to see the mistreatment they endured. He realized that God had placed him in a position of power in order to help his people. Moved with compassion for his countrymen, Moses went to the defense of one man who was being beaten by an Egyptian. Moses struck the Egyptian, killed him and buried him in the sand.

He returned to the Hebrews the next day. He had a deep sense of purpose. Somehow he must help his people. He was on a mission from God. When Moses came across two Hebrew men fighting, he attempted to mediate between them. Instead they turned their resentment toward him. Clement, the disciple of Peter, says that they resented him out of a sense of envy:

Envy compelled Moses to flee from the face of Pharaoh king of Egypt, when he heard these words from his fellow countryman, "Who made you a judge or a ruler over us? Will you kill me, as you killed the Egyptian yesterday?" (1 Clement 4:10)

Yeshua taught that a prophet is without honor in his own home ( Matthew 13:57). Just as the Israelites initially rejected the authority of Moses, so too the Jewish leadership in the days of the apostles rejected the authority of Yeshua. Just as Moses disappeared, only to reappear a generation later and bring about the redemption from Egypt, so too Yeshua has been concealed and will be revealed in the last generation to bring about the final redemption.

When Moses realized that his attempts to help his people were not welcomed, nor could he trust them to conceal his secret about the Egyptian he had killed, he fled from Egypt. His noble delusions of being the redeemer of Israel all came crashing down.

"He supposed that his brethren understood that God was granting them deliverance through him, but they did not understand" (Acts 7:25).

Moses' life can be divided into three forty-year segments. At the age of forty, Moses thought he was the redeemer of Israel. He had a dream of saving his people. His dream was frustrated, and in exasperation, he gave up. He fled into the wilderness, where he became a shepherd, herding sheep for a pagan. He married a Midianite woman. His dream of redeeming Israel died in the wilderness. Only after the dream was dead and Moses was no longer trying to achieve it at all did God call him. Only then—long after the all the pride and bravado were gone—was Moses ready to be a tool in the hand of God. He spent the last forty years of his life fulfilling the dream that had been birthed in him forty years before.

This can be compared to a carpenter who hired a young apprentice. The apprentice was eager to get busy with building houses, too eager to take the time to learn the carpentry trade. "Very well," said the carpenter, "if you are so certain of yourself, go ahead and build." Halfway through the construction project, the lopsided frame he was erecting collapsed. The young apprentice turned in his tools and shamefacedly said, "I have to quit. I'm not a carpenter. I can't build anything." "Excellent," the carpenter replied. "Now you are ready to learn how to build."

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