What’s In a Name?

This week’s Torah portion is Shemot, which means “names”. It is the first of the book of Exodus. There are many things to talk about in the portion but we will start with Rashi and Pharaoh’s three advisors and see where we go from there.

At the very beginning of Exodus it tells us that the Jewish people were becoming too numerous, there were just too many babies. It was not uncommon for Jewish mothers in those days to have sextuplets. Because of the prolific baby making, there was talk of having to do something about it, needing to persecute them in some way. The Egyptians were worried about being outnumbered, about the Jewish people taking over the country. Of course this notion was absurd, as a result of what Joseph did to save Egypt and her surrounding nations from starvation and famine the Jewish people were given the choicest land, known as Goshen. So the Jews were very grateful and had no desire to take over Egypt.

There is a difference of opinion when it says “a Pharaoh arose that didn’t know Joseph” – was it a new Pharaoh who really didn’t know Joseph or the same Pharaoh who just acted out not knowing him? Nevertheless, this negativity created the beginning of a shift in attitude toward the Jews. Now the three advisors had Pharaoh’s ear and they were Bilom, Jeffer (later known as Jethro) and Job, and they were tasked with creating a strategy to address the exploding Jewish population.

Bilom had what he thought was the proactive idea to slowly ramp up oppression to tamp down procreation. The man who became known as Jethro disagreed and Job refused to take a side. Pharaoh decides to adopt Bilom’s strategy and since Jeffer is on the outs with Pharaoh anyway, he leaves and settles in Midian where he becomes the high priest and the father of Moses’ future wife.

The strategy of oppression appears innocuous at first. Now my father is in ministry, going on 40 years, and he has always taught me that you never ask people to do what you are not willing to do yourself. So, the story goes, Pharaoh came out one day with a rake, placed a brick mold around his neck and started making bricks. He invited the Jews to assist, to help. At the end of the day he asked for a count and when they gave it he told them that was how many bricks he wanted each day. Of course Pharaoh didn’t continue, but that is how he tricked the Jews into slavery.

The sages tell us that the tribe of Levi was not enslaved and was protected by God from entering into Paganism or leaving the Jewish traditions. God allowed the Levites to keep all the traditions even as the other tribes were slipping away; even stopping circumcision of the boys. It was through this tribe being kept holy and separate to Himself that the traditions of Israel and the study of Torah would continue. We learn later in the Exodus story that the Levites did not participate in the worship of the golden calf.

It is interesting to learn the back stories of some of the people that we have come to know in the Tanach, people like Job, Bilom and Jethro. This is why in Yeshivat Shuvu, Kosher Pastor and Avahat ami ministries we study the rabbinic traditions of Judaism. It is important to study with an open mind and an open heart, but also with critical thought. If something goes against the teaching of Yeshua we don’t go with that, but I have yet to find anything in my studies that does. A lot of people are a little worried or afraid of studying traditional Judaism or the rabbis or Israel but this is the way we can truly understand the bible in its original context. We see the ramped up oppression of the Jewish people in Israel reflected in our world today – anti-semitism is definitely on the rise around the planet.

If you would like to study with me, fill out an application for the Kosher Pastor program on this site, all seven courses are bundled for $500, $600 for a couple. For my African and African-American brothers and sisters please go to af.shuvu.tv for our special uri program. We still have several hundred scholarships.

To you and your families, Shalom.

Pastor Matt McKeown

Matt is the Senior Pastor at the United Brethren in Christ Church (UBIC) in Holly Hill Florida. It is his desire to see Jewish people recognize Yeshua as the Jewish Messiah and for Christians to recognize the Jewish foundation of their faith.

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