This week’s Torah reading, Be’shalach, (Exodus 13:17 – 17:16) sees the departing children of Israel stuck between a rock and a hard place, or better yet between Pharaoh and the Sea of Reeds. Back before all this started, the descendants of Jacob did not want to follow Moses, “Moses spoke thus to the people of Israel, but they did not listen to Moses, because of their broken spirit and harsh slavery,” (Va’eira, Exodus 6:9). Now it would seem that their fears and concerns were well founded. Apparently, when confronted with tribulation, they forgot who was actually in charge of things. At HaShem’s command, Moses raised his staff, the waters parted, and Israel moved forward on dry land. When Pharaoh finally caught up, he, his army and his plans, did not fair so well; thus, causing Moses and Israel to break out into songs of praise to HaShem,
“I will sing to the LORD, for he has triumphed gloriously; the horse and his rider he has thrown into the sea. The LORD is my strength and my song, and he has become my salvation; this is my God, and I will praise him, my father’s God, and I will exalt him.” Exodus 15:1-2
Sadly, as happy as they were on the other side of the Sea, their propensity for faithlessness soon appeared and in the rest of the passage they vacillated between complaining and rejoicing over Moses’ leadership and HaShem’s provision. While not intending to meddle, this sounds too often like our own actions, ready praises when the HaShem’s provision is realized, quick to complain when things are not going according to our wishes.
Moving to the Haftarah, Judges 4:4 – 5:31, Israel is once again in trouble, of their own making. According to Judges 4:1, “they did what was evil in the sight of the LORD” which brought disciplinary action from HaShem through “Jabin king of Canaan, who reigned in Hazor,” (1:2). Just as a side note, if Israel had been completely obedient when they entered the land and destroyed all the Canaanites, Jabin may not have been an issue, (but that’s a study for another time). The Haftarah records the actions of the prophetess and judge, Deborah, who HaShem raised up on behalf of Israel. Deborah, at the prompting of HaShem, called Barak to muster his men and go up against Sisera, the general of Jabin’s army. Instead of Barak stepping up at the command of HaShem, he decided that he would not go on Deborah’s word alone, she had to come with him. Whether it was fear of Sisera or doubts of his ability to muster the needed troops, we don’t know. What we do know is that HaShem gave Israel the victory over Sisera and Jabin, but Barak did not get the recognition for being the leader and winning the battle. Instead, as Deborah prophesized, “the LORD will sell Sisera into the hand of a woman,” (Judges 4:9). While 1 Samuel 12:11 records that Barak was the instrument of deliverance, the reality was that it was Jael, in the tent, with a hammer and a tent peg that brought the mighty Sisera down. Reading the victory song in Judges 5, Barak has a passing mention in verse 15, where as Jael was singled out, “Most blessed of women be Jael, the wife of Heber the Kenite, of tent-dwelling women most blessed,” (5:24). How many times have we missed the full blessing of HaShem because we chose not to follow His directions but came up with our own plan instead?
The final line of the passage states “And the land had rest for forty years,” (5:31). Whether Deborah ruled for a literal forty is not clear. However, there is traditionally something significant about the number forty. In Noach’s day, it rained for forty days and nights, leading to a complete judgment on the earth. Moses was on the mount forty days and nights, twice, receiving the Ten Words. In the Apostolic Writings, Yeshua was in the desert forty days and nights being tested for His upcoming ministry. It is said that there is a spiritual completeness associated with the number forty. The Children of Israel journeyed in the Wilderness forty years and here under Deborah there was forty years of tranquility – thus giving the impression that at least during Deborah’s time, Israel set aside the idols of her neighbors and followed HaShem wholeheartedly. An additional note on forty years; according to the Book of the Judges, Israel experienced forty years of rest, three times – under Deborah, under Othniel, Caleb’s cousin, (3:11) and under Gideon, (8:28). Then, just as we often don’t learn from history, Israel had one more forty-year period, this time not of tranquility and rest; in 13:1 it’s recorded, “And the people of Israel again did what was evil in the sight of the LORD, so the LORD gave them into the hand of the Philistines for forty years.”
Sha’ul told the believers in Corinth, “Now these things happened to them as an example, but they were written down for our instruction, on whom the end of the ages has come,” (1 Corinthians 10:11). For our instruction, to do what pleases HaShem and not to do what displeases Him. In Deuteronomy, Moses challenged Israel to choose life… (Deuteronomy 30:19) but they didn’t always do this. The writer of the Book of Hebrews includes this encouragement, “For the Lord disciplines the one He loves, and chastises every son whom He receives,” (Hebrews 12:6). HaShem desires to give us life and good gifts, however, because of His love for us, He will discipline us as well. The choice is ours, as it is with any child, obedience, leading to life and blessing or disobedience, leading to discipline and pain – for a season.
“Therefore, choose life, that you and your offspring may live,
loving the LORD your God, obeying his voice and holding fast to him,
for he is your life and length of days…”
Deuteronomy 30:19b -20a
* Scripture readings are from the English Standard Version (ESV) 2016 edition. Copyright © 2001, 2006, 2011, 2016 by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers