Parashat Va’eira (And I Appeared)
Shemot (Exodus) 6:2–9:35
Haftarah: Ezekiel 28:25–29:21
Something in this week’s Parashah caught my attention. I call it “God’s first act of wonder before Pharaoh”:
Now the LORD spoke to Moses and Aaron, saying, “When Pharaoh speaks to you, saying, ‘Work a wonder (miracle),’ then you shall say to Aaron, ‘Take your staff and throw it down before Pharaoh, so that it may turn into a crocodile.’” So Moses and Aaron came to Pharaoh, and so they did, just as the LORD had commanded; and Aaron threw his staff down before Pharaoh and his servants, and it turned into a crocodile. Then Pharaoh also called for the wise men and the sorcerers, and they too, the soothsayer priests of Egypt, did the same with their secret arts.For each one threw down his staff, and they turned into crocodiles. But Aaron’s staff swallowed their staffs. Yet Pharaoh’s heart was hardened, and he did not listen to them, just as the LORD had said.
I would like to point out that I translated one word in the above verses differently than all the English translations. They translate the Hebrew word “תַנִּין” (taneen) to “serpent” where the actual word in Hebrew is “crocodile”. There are a few possible reasons for this, the primary one being that they confused Moses’ rod, which indeed turned into a snake (Exodus 4:3 and 7:15), with Aaron’s rod, which in my understanding turned into a crocodile.
What can we gain in reading the verses this way? Aside from the fact that the literal translation of the word in Hebrew is “crocodile”, if we recall that this was God’s first act of wonder in front of Pharaoh, then God must be doing something very specific. In Egyptian mythology, there was an ancient Egyptian deity called “Sobek”. Sobek was associated with the Nile crocodile and looked either like a human with a crocodile head or as an actual crocodile. Sobek was also linked to pharoah’s power, fertility, and military strength. By having Aaron’s crocodile eat the Egyptian magicians’ crocodile, God was clearly demonstrating His power over everything — including the Egyptian gods.
In our Haftarah portion, we read:
On the twelfth day of the tenth month of the tenth year, the word of Adonai came to me: “Human being, turn your face against Pharaoh king of Egypt; prophesy against him and against all Egypt; speak out; and say that Adonai ELOHIM says: ‘I am against you, Pharaoh king of Egypt, you big crocodile lying in the streams of the Nile! You say, “My Nile is mine; I made it for myself.” But I will put hooks in your jaws and make your Nile fish stick to your scales. Yes, I will bring you up from your Nile, with all your Nile fish sticking to your scales, and leave you in the desert, you and all your Nile fish. You will fall in the open field and not be gathered or buried; but I will give you as food to wild animals and birds. Then all who live in Egypt will know that I am ADONAI, because they have been a support made of straw for the house of Israel.”
Ezekiel 29:1-6 (Complete Jewish Bible)
As we read from the Haftarah, here once again, we see the connection between the Nile, the crocodile, and God’s judgment. Just as in the time of Moses, we see that Israel relied on Egypt and its king, who was considered a type of a god (as reflected in the Egyptian deity, Sobek). Ezekiel prophesied that God’s judgment would come upon Egypt once again because of two main reasons. The first one is, once again, to show that He is indeed the one and only true God. The second reason is that God desires us to lean on and trust in Him alone, and not in any false gods.
Ezekiel describes Egypt as a “a support made of straw for the house of Israel”. The “support made of straw” can be also translated as a "staff made of reed" which is a key symbol in this verse, because it refers to something that can be easily broken. The word “staff” used here in the Hebrew is “מִשְׁעֶנֶת” “Mishenet”, which means something to lean on. But it is used in a symbolic sense, meaning the way that Israel leaned or depended on Egypt was unstable because it could be easily broken. Why? Because it was not God Himself that Israel leaned on. Ezekiel also writes that Egypt, in all of its greatness, would become “a lowly kingdom” (Ezekiel 29:14).
What can we take from these two Scripture portions? I believe God wants us to lean on Him alone, to trust only in Him, and to seek Him above all others. He is the way, the truth, and the life. Why would we seek wisdom from or trust in any other source? Be encouraged that you have everything you need in Him!
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