Saturday, January 24, 2015

Bo (Go?)

Bo (Go?)
Sh'mot 10:1-13:16

This Torah portion is named for the command that Yahweh gives to Moshe to "go" in to Pharaoh and warn him of the next plague. However, as we can see just two verses later, this word also (and probably more correctly) means "come". If we change translations in verse one, does it change the meaning of what Yahweh is telling Moshe? Of course it does! Why else would I ask the question? Let's take a look at the connotations of the different translations.

If Yahweh is saying go in to Pharaoh, we get a picture of Moshe being sent away from Yahweh into the presence of Pharaoh. This is the equivalent of me telling my kids "Go to your room" or "Go outside and play". It's clear that I'm not going outside or to their rooms with them. They are departing from my presence. Does this sound like the way Yahweh operates? I don't think so. That would be a pretty significant violation of His promise to always be with His chosen people. It doesn't seem right that He would say "I will never leave you nor forsake you, now go away."

If Yahweh is saying come in to Pharaoh, we can visualize Yahweh leading Moshe into Pharaoh's throne room. If I say "Come to the synagogue", it is implied that we will be together. Therefore, we can translate this as Yahweh saying "Come with Me to Pharaoh". I think this is a better fit with what I know about Yahweh (granted that's not as much as I would like). So, "bo" along with me as we delve deeper into this week's parasha.

As we begin this portion, Moshe and Aharon have come to give Pharaoh another warning. Locusts! Aharon warns Pharaoh that the locusts will cover the entire land, worse than has ever been seen before. We immediately see a small, but very significant, change in the dynamics of Egyptian life. Before Pharaoh has a chance to respond, his servants begin to argue with him. Imagine, servants speaking apparently rather boldly to their "god-king". What would cause them to do the unthinkable? Remember the preceding plague? That's right, hail, the first plague to kill people. Which people would have been killed by the hail? I would suggest that few regular Egyptians were out working in the fields with livestock. It would have been the servants that had to face the danger. Who had to die. These servants who had placed their trust in Pharaoh to protect them. And now, Pharaoh is still arguing with Moshe and Aharon instead of ending the plagues. How important were the lives of servants to their king? The evidence was not favorable for Pharaoh.

These servants were witnesses to opposing attitudes from two different deities. One, their Pharaoh, was seemingly indifferent to the suffering of lowly servants. He was only strongly vocal when the plagues inconvenienced Pharaoh. The other, Yahweh, who was willing to destroy an entire nation to free and protect a bunch of slaves. The lowest of the low, the most despised in all the land. These were the people important enough to Yahweh to make His presence felt with extreme prejudice. As we read through the accounts of the plagues, we see Yahweh systematically attacking various aspects of Egyptian society. He attacks them economically, psychologically, and theologically. Now he continues the trend and attacks their faith and trust in their king. I wonder how many of the mixed multitude that left Egypt were servants.

To Pharaoh's credit, he actually listens to his servants and offers to let the Israelites go and worship Yahweh. Until he hears who is going. His reaction to the news that ALL the Israelites are leaving? "Ain't happening! Yahweh will have to be with you to get all of you out of here." Who knew that Pharaoh was a prophet? Albeit not a very enlightened one, apparently. He didn't bother to listen to his own statements. With his refusal to let them go, the plagues must go on. Here "bo" the locusts. A strong east wind brings locusts that cover the entire land, destroying all plants and trees in Egypt. We now see an amazing change in Pharaoh. He summons Moshe and admits to sinning against both Yahweh and Moshe. He actually asks for forgiveness and asks Moshe to intercede with Yahweh to remove the locusts. Humility from Pharaoh! Who'd a thunk it? Yahweh responds and removes the locusts with a strong west wind. There "bo" the locusts. But He hardens Pharaoh's heart again. His plan is not yet complete.

The penultimate plague is another no-warning plague. At Yahweh's command, Moshe lifts his staff and darkness descends on the land. There is no light anywhere in Egypt, except Goshen. The Israelites have light in all their homes. I will leave you this week to ponder the significance of the Israelites being the only source of light in a darkened world. Is there a chance for His people to be a light in a darkened world again? Must we wait, or are we expected to be that light now?

No comments:

Post a Comment