Torah Portion B'Shalach
Exodus 13:17 - 17:16
Judges 4:4 - 5:31
This year we will be going through the Torah portion cycle with a short teachings under 30 minutes each. Included in this post are the Haftarah portion and the Echoes Through Scriptures from previous years.
In B'shalach, we will discuss the significance of the route that YHWH did not want Israel to take into the area of the Philistines. We will also look at honor and shame to see why God needed to be honored through the destruction of Pharaoh.
- Honor and Shame in the Torah Thesis by Ryan White
- Zondervan Atlas of the Bible
- Understanding the Old Testament: An Introductory Atlas to the Hebrew Bible
This is the sixteenth portion in the Haftarah cycle where we will be discussing the prophetess Deborah and commander Balak's defeat of the armies of Sisera by the hand of YHWH and the song of Deborah.
The JPS Bible Commentary: Haftarot by Michael Fishbane
- The IVP Bible Background Commentary: Old Testament by John Walton
- Honor, Patronage, Kinship and Purity by David DeSilva
In B'shalach, we will discuss how the crossing of the Sea of Reeds is a creation event. Creation is the destruction of chaos, and we were created by God to participate in the ongoing creation of this world. We will also discuss the importance of singing songs of praise to Yah!
- The Bible
Ancient Near Eastern Text by Pritchard
Death and Honor
Exodus 13:17 – 17:16
And I will strengthen the resolve of Pharaoh so that he will chase after them, and thus I will be gain honor through [the destruction of] Pharaoh and all his mighty army, and the Egyptians will know that I am YHWH. YHWH goads and entices Pharaoh, playing off of Pharaoh’s pride. Rather than leading Israel on a route that will cause them to evade Pharaoh, He instead instructs Moses to turn around and camp in an indefensible location where they will be forced to choose between Pharaoh and braving the waters of the sea. This is done intentionally in order to publicly humiliate and destroy the king of Egypt and the might of the Egyptians, who were the world power at this time. Was this fair? Should God have the ability to control and manipulate His own creation? What about Pharaoh’s choice?
Questioning of free will and whether or not God is fair in His interactions with humanity is often a target of those who mock our God. These critics often express that modern man has achieved (or at least nearly achieved) moral perfection and when the narratives in the Bible show God not lining up with modern morality codes, the God of Israel is criticized. This certainly is nothing new, Marcion attempted the same tactics in the budding congregation of believers in Yeshua, claiming that the “God of the Old Testament” was an angry and vindictive God and the “God of the New Testament” was merciful and forgiving and thus they must be two separate deities. Marcion was ultimately rejected and excommunicated from the congregation, but his ideology haunts us to this very day. What are we to do? Are we to judge God based upon our perception and our cultural values, or should we attempt to understand the culture of the ancient Near East in order to fully grasp why YHWH entraps Pharaoh in a scheme that will lead to his own death along with the deaths of thousands of his soldiers?
Our key to understanding this narrative lies within the explanation that YHWH gives Moses for why He is strengthening Pharaoh’s resolve. It is for the express purpose that YHWH will gain honor. The value of honor is not as apparent in our culture because we in the Western world live predominantly in a guilt and innocence society that is very individualistic while the world of the ancient Near East was an honor and shame society that was group-oriented. This is not an absolute distinction; we do have aspects of honor and shame and they did have aspects of guilt and innocence, but nevertheless it is an important distinction to make because it is this distinction which motivates actions and inhibits other actions in society. We often refrain from activities considered “bad” because of the sense of guilt for doing such things. In the ancient Near East, the primary motivating factor for refraining from certain activities was the fear of bringing shame to yourself, to your family, and to your nation which would cause loss of social status. Likewise, when a person, family, or nation wanted to elevate themselves in the social hierarchy, they must do something to gain honor. In a group-oriented society, one’s sense of self worth was directly related to one’s standing within their social group while in an individualistic society, a person’s worth is related to how they perceive their own actions as being either right or wrong. Since social standing in a group-oriented society is a key motivating factor, this helps us to understand certain principles associated with honor and shame.
- There is a limited supply of honor; a zero-sum economy: Because there is a social hierarchy within every group, one’s standing within the social ladder is determined by how much honor has relative to the others. In order to increase your social standing, you must gain honor and another must lose honor. This leads to a very antagonistic society where every social interaction is a potential to gain or lose honor.
- Honor is gained and lost in the public arena: One’s honor status is essentially one’s public recognition and approval. Private actions do not affect one’s social standing unless they are made public, much like the improper actions of the CEO of a company do not affect the stock value of a company unless they become known to the public.
- Shame is positively used as a means of social control: The biggest method of discouraging undesirable actions is to make them shameful. For example, in our culture a man or woman may have the desire to cheat on their spouse with someone in the heat of the moment but choose not to do so because they are afraid that if their actions become public knowledge, they will lose all their reputation with their children, their family, etc. The risk of public exposure and shame with the resulting loss of honor created motivation for people to act in a manner that was in line with the group’s honor and shame standards. We will discuss this more in later Torah portions when discussing certain laws codes in the Torah and it will become clear that many of the laws of the Torah were given in order to create an honor and shame code within ancient Israel and thus the primary deterrent for breaking the Torah was the risk of bringing shame upon oneself and upon one’s family.
- A name is a measure of one’s honor: A person’s “name” is more than just the sound by which a person or deity is called by, it is their reputation, their honor status. Throughout the Scriptures there is a huge concern for YHWH’s “name”, for example the Psalmist’s words “from the rising of the sun until its going down, the name of YHWH is to be praised.” It was Israel’s duty to publicly praise and protect the honor of YHWH’s name among the nations and Paul calls them out for failing to do so through their breaking of the Torah.
There is much more that we could discuss about an honor and shame culture, but this should suffice for an introduction to the concept. It can be said that honor was the key value which was sought after in the ancient world. This is true not only among men and nations, but also among gods. While we know that there is only one God, we must remember that honor is not something tangible, it is public opinion. Thus, because other people believed in other gods, YHWH must compete with these other supposed gods for honor in the eyes of the public. Men will serve the god whom they perceive as having the greatest honor. In order to bring the entire world into subjection to the one true God, it is imperative that YHWH be perceived as the most honorable of all the gods. This is the context behind why YHWH did not just teleport Israel out of Egypt and into the promised land; He had to systematically destroy the reputation of all the gods of Egypt so that the whole world, especially Israel, would know that He is the only God with any honor! Having defeated all the gods that the Egyptians worshipped in the 10 plagues, He still had to publicly display Himself as more powerful than the final Egyptian deity, Pharaoh himself. Thus, he lured Pharaoh into a trap and strengthened his resolve so that he would foolishly show the entire world his weakness and the true strength of the God of Israel. Pharaoh had to die a shameful death in order that the world may be brought into the recognition of YHWH. Thousands of years later, God sent forth His own son to also die a shameful death in order that the name/reputation of YHWH could be made great. However, unlike Pharaoh, Yeshua did so with a willing heart to serve God’s purposed plan. Rather than dying to show YHWH has the power to destroy, Yeshua died to show that YHWH has the power to resurrect! His resurrection made a public mockery of mankind’s claim of power over life and death; as Paul writes, “when He had disarmed the rulers and authorities, He made a public display of them, having triumphed over them through [Yeshua’s crucifixion and resurrection].” Yeshua restored the honor to YHWH that our disobedience had besmirched and in doing so, Yeshua also removed our shame!
One final thought; the Israelites cried out to YHWH before He parted the sea and effected salvation for them. It was not through their own efforts that they were saved, it was through His grace at hearing their crying out. “Salvation by grace” is not a “New Testament” concept, it is firmly rooted at the outset of the Torah, before any laws have been given. Yet what does the Bible say is the proper response to saving activity? Psalms 50:15 states, “Call to Me in the day of distress, and I will save you, and then you will honor Me.” How do we honor Him? In Exodus 15, Israel publicly sings His praises for defeating Pharaoh and his army. They also receive His Torah as an instruction set for living a lifestyle which brings honor to YHWH. There is another means which brings great honor to our King found throughout Scripture but summed up perfectly in Proverbs 14:31, “He who oppresses the poor taunts his Maker, but the one who is gracious to the needy brings honor to Him.”
Please log in to your premium account to view the audio and video content