What is the Purpose of God’s Signs?
The first two verses of Parashat Bo say, “Then YHVH said to Moses, ‘Go to Pharaoh for I have hardened his heart and the hearts of his servants so that I may display My signs among them and so that you may recount to your child and your child’s child how I dealt severely with the Egyptians and how I displayed my signs among them so that you may know that I am YHVH.’” Here God was telling Moses and Aaron and all future generations that everyone would come to know who אֱלֹהֵ֣י הָֽעִבְרִ֔יםElohei HaIvrim, the God of the Hebrews is and how He works in our lives. Why is it, that time and again, God needs to remind us about who He is, what He has done and of His promises to us? And then I remembered Proverbs, 26:11 and 12, “Like a dog that returns to its vomit, a fool does the same foolish things again and again. People who think they are wise when they are not, are worse than fools.”
We might think that Moses, having had a first-hand, audible experience with the Creator, might have fully understood how God worked and who He was! But God, as YHVH, was just beginning to reveal His power and attributes to Moses and Aaron. They represented the Israelites and the Egyptians represented the rest of the world. Through many signs and wonders, all would come to learn about the power of God of the Hebrews and that gives me hope for the future.
What is the purpose of these signs?
The rainbow is a sign from God that He would never again destroy the earth with a flood. The Shabbat is a sign of His very existence. How else would we know that there are only seven days in a week? Here in Exodus, each plague served as a sign that the gods of the Egyptians held no power over Elohei HaIvrim, the God of the Hebrews, the God of creation. The sign of the blood on the doorposts in Exodus 12: 13, “And the blood on the houses where you are staying shall be a sign for you: when I see the blood I will “fasachti – protect ” you so that no plague will destroy you when I strike the land of Egypt.” Fasachti פָסַחְתִּ֖י has been poorly translated as pass over. In Leviticus 21:18 we read Ish… fiséach פִסֵּחַ …אִישׁ, meaning a man who is “lame”, he cannot move by himself. When God would see the blood on the door, He would be immobile, guarding the door from the Destroyer. Those who trusted Him were saved. One more sign in Exodus 13:9: “And this shall serve you as a sign on your hand and as a reminder on your forehead — so that the Torah of יהוה may be in your mouth—that with a mighty hand, יהוה freed you from Egypt.” This is a metaphor that we are to dedicate our hands and our heads to the service of the Almighty God. Signs in the Torah help us to “know” God and ultimately trust Him. The issue always boils down to those who trust in God and those who don’t.
Why is it that, after all these signs to Pharaoh, to the Egyptians, to the Hebrews and to Moses and Aaron, they still had trouble trusting that God would do all that He said He would?
Trust is not natural in us. It takes time and an act of the will to build it. Pharaoh used his will to harden his heart against trusting in anything but himself. To him the plagues were not signs of God’s power, they were simply a magician’s trick. That’s all he knew. When archaeologists and historians today explain that these plagues were simply acts of nature, they too like Pharaoh are hardening their hearts and stimulating others to do the same.
Pharaoh was convinced that he was the mighty and powerful god of Egypt. How could a God of slaves be more powerful than him? How many people today, rich or poor, weak or powerful, are like Pharaoh? The more stubborn Pharaoh made himself, the more God allowed his heart to be hardened so that he could no longer see the damage he was doing to his people, to his family, to the point of him losing his firstborn son and ultimately his army. Thus he destroyed everything around him and was brought to his knees.
Pharaoh refused to take responsibility for the lives of his subjects; he was blinded by his selfishness. Do we have a choice when it comes to areas of our lives in which we have become too stubborn causing those around us, as well as ourselves, to suffer? Can we truly change our minds, our paradigms, or are we doomed to follow Pharaoh’s example?
We speak of needing a touch from God or having an “epiphany” before we can change, but Pharaoh didn’t have those. Didn’t Moses say to Pharaoh, “How long will you refuse to humble yourself before me?” From these words, it seems that he had the ability to humble himself, to change his mind and his attitude. So do we, but it’s easier to remain as we are. It takes hard work to change our status quo and consciously or unconsciously, we prefer to blame others… “Look at what they did to me; it’s not my fault I am the way that I am, it’s theirs.”
When I was studying to be a hypnotherapist, I learned much about the human mind, and about our unconscious behavior. I saw the process of how we make choices. There are always payoffs for what we choose to do. We can unconsciously make ourselves sick so that we don’t have to do something that we don’t want to do. I constantly challenged my thought processes and still do. A simple example was when someone said to me, “ You can’t eat only one chip”, I said to myself, “Why not? Who said so? “ I went and took one chip and put the bag away. No one was controlling me but myself. Of course, it’s not always easy because it all depends on our willingness to make the effort to change and with the added help of God, it becomes so much easier.
Moshe had a role to fulfill as leader of his people and it wouldn’t be easy. My people are stubborn people; and called stiff-necked, which is why it took us forty years to reach the Promised Land instead of eleven days. Stubborn means being obstinate and difficult to lead. Ask yourself, am I stubborn, not good at taking directives? In health matters? In the kitchen? At work? Am I someone who once I make up my mind, I am closed to all other possibilities? Or am I flexible, open to learning, to be told things about myself that I may not want to hear? Listen to what Psalms 32: 8 -10 says: “Let me enlighten you and show you which way to go; let me offer counsel; my eye is on you. Don’t be like a senseless horse or mule whose movement is curbed by bit and bridle. Far be it from you! Many are the torments of the wicked, but the one who trusts in the LORD shall be surrounded by favor.”
Isn’t it fantastic to know that we are surrounded by God’s favor, especially in the midst of our daily struggles on this journey through life? Our people living in Goshen were surrounded by God’s favor, even though they were probably so frightened as they watched the world around them being destroyed. We too watch as the world around us is falling deeper into madness and chaos, but we can choose a different path, one in which we know that God’s favor is with us. I feel that so often, in so many little ways. Someone asked me if God can speak to us in a voice that can be heard. Of course, He can. It may not be an audible voice like it was at Mount Sinai, but He speaks to each of us in ways that we can understand. And even when our behavior falls short for a while or we lose our way, we only have to say, LORD help me and He shows up.
Whenever the storms of life hit us hard, we can and must choose to trust Him. Tell Him out loud, “I trust you, my God. Help me in my unbelief.” He doesn’t need to hear it; we do. Our prophet Jeremiah in 17:8 said, Blessed are those who trust in the LORD. They will be like a tree planted by the water that sends out its roots by the stream. It does not fear when heat comes; its leaves are always green. It has no worries in a year of drought and never fails to bear fruit.” The Torah is Living Water. We can choose to drink it daily or not. Don’t allow anyone to take away your living water. Reach out when you feel like you’re drowning. There will always be someone to pull you out.
Many people of the world today are like Pharaoh. They have hardened their hearts against the God of Israel and His people. Some stand with us, but the majority are silent, especially in the wake of the latest terrorist attacks upon the people of Israel. Like the ancient Israelites who needed to see the power of their God at work, the modern Israelites need to see that without God we are nothing. We can do little without the God who formed us. The more that people harden their hearts against the God of creation, the more plagues and disasters will come upon this world. Exodus 11:3 is so important: Yiten Adonai et Chen ha am וַיִּתֵּ֧ן יְהֹוָ֛ה אֶת־חֵ֥ן הָעָ֖ם בְּעֵינֵ֣י מִצְרָ֑יִם – “The LORD gave grace to the Egyptians toward the people. Moreover, Moses himself was much esteemed in the land of Egypt, among Pharaoh’s servants and among the people.” Allevai, May it be so!
In Exodus 12:7, God told Moses …”but not a dog shall snarl at any of the Israelites, at human or beast so that you may know that YHVH makes a distinction between Egypt and Israel.” Here the name of any nation can be substituted for Egypt. Israel is a distinct nation and no one can harm us unless God allows it. It is God who turns the heart of our enemy toward us or against us. When He is with us, no one can harm us. When He turns His face from us, we lose His protective covering. So what can we do? Let us be careful not to harden our hearts to the point that God permanently hardens them. Let us read the Torah for ourselves and live by the light of its principles and do as our great rabbi and prophet Yeshua told us, “Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven.” (Mattityahu 5:14–16.) Without this our words mean nothing. Let us stop adding and subtracting from God’s Words, as He told us. Exodus 12:2 says, “This month shall mark for you the beginning of the months; it shall be the first of the months of the year for you.” Pesach is our new year; not Yom Teruah, or as it has been named, Rosh Hashanah. Everything needs to be measured by the written Torah. And above all, let us not be afraid for He will never forsake us. Let’s keep repeating these words and put our faith into action to build our trust in Him, Elohei HaIvrim.