Too Much Religion, Too Little Faith

The children of Israel are out of Egypt, free at last from Egypt and from slavery This Shabbat the Torah reading is from Exodus 13:17 – 17:16. This reading includes some of the most important moments in the Biblical history. The crossing of the (Red) Sea of Reeds, and the Song of Moses.

The first time that the Lord sends the manna from Heaven to feed the Hebrew slaves freed miraculously from slavery. From the prophets, the Haftarah, is from Judges 4:4-5:31. This Torah reading is the second most important victory song in the Bible – the Song of Deborah that is in this Shabbat’s reading of the Haftarah.

From the New Testament we are reading from the Gospel of John 6:15-71, and 1 Corinthians 10:1-5. All these readings are dealing with the major Hebrew/Jewish pathos, we have an enemy that wants to delete us from history, we pray to God and He saves us!

The Torah portion is called in Hebrew Beshalach. The translation of Beshalach in English is “He let them go!” This phrase is interesting in Exodus 13:17-18:

“Then it came to pass, when Pharaoh had let the people go, that God did not lead them by way of the land of the Philistines, although that was near; for God said, ‘Lest perhaps the people change their minds when they see war, and return to Egypt.’ So God led the people around by way of the wilderness of the Red Sea. And the children of Israel went up in orderly ranks out of the land of Egypt.” – Exodus 13:17,18 [NKJV]

Directly the Torah reveals to us that the leader of the people of Israel is not really Moses it is God, who decided that they will not go the short way, the way through by the shore of the Mediterranean Sea, the way of the Philistines. The text also gives us the rational why God didn’t lead the children of Israel through this shorter way: God feared that if the children of Israel would take the quicker/shorter road, a road that was full of Egyptian military fortresses and then the Philistines, who were very aggressive and good soldiers, the children of Israel would want to return to Egypt.

We learn from this text that God was concerned with the stamina and commitment of the children of Israel, and took precautions to protect the children of Israel from turning back and returning to Egypt, back to slavery. This is an interesting test case from which we can learn some very interesting principles that the Creator of this world applies contrary to common logic in human eyes:

  1. You just left Egypt after a couple of hundred years of slavery. You are free at last! You want to get away from the Egyptians that are chasing you, and do it as quick as possible. The last thing that you would expect from the God who loves you is to send you on a wild goose chase and in place of an 11-days trip from Egypt to the Land of Canaan, God makes you tarry and walk and survive in one of the world’s harshest deserts for 40 years of wandering.
  2. Knowing that your God, the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, your forefathers, is all-powerful and having seen His power over Egypt with ten plagues, your expectations could be for God to just wipe out the Egyptian army and lead you as quickly and in as short a time as possible to the land promised to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob… one of our problems is that we are very narrow-sighted and have a narrow perspective and a very selfish orientation.

Our problem is that when we speak of “having faith in God” we really mean that we have faith in the doctrines of God. This is true for most religious people, whether Jews, Christians, Muslims, Buddhist, or whatever, most religious people have this problem.

We believe the doctrines of God and the dogmas of our churches and synagogues! Our religious traditions are like a mask covering our face, but that mask is not over our mouth and nose, the mask is over our eyes.

This mask over our eyes is the mask of too much religion and too little faith and a personal relationship with the almighty God who created this world from A to Z. We all need to find a direct way for establishing a personal relationship with the almighty God of Israel.

You might ask me: How does one do this? How does a person establish such a relationship with God?

My answer comes from the words of Jeremiah the prophet:

“Thus says the Lord: ‘Cursed is the man who trusts in man And makes flesh his strength, Whose heart departs from the Lord. For he shall be like a shrub in the desert, And shall not see when good comes, But shall inhabit the parched places in the wilderness, In a salt land which is not inhabited. Blessed is the man who trusts in the Lord, And whose hope is the Lord. For he shall be like a tree planted by the waters, Which spreads out its roots by the river, And will not fear when heat comes; But its leaf will be green, And will not be anxious in the year of drought, Nor will cease from yielding fruit. The heart is deceitful above all things, And desperately wicked; Who can know it?’” – Jeremiah 17:5-9 [NKJV]

When the Lord tells Jeremiah the prophet not to trust in man or to let his heart depart from God, He, the Almighty, is including all men, from pastors and popes and preachers and pastors, to bishops and rabbis of all kinds, sizes, colors, or gender preferences. Only when we first trust only the Creator (and His word, from Genesis to Revelation), the one who is father of us all, all mankind, than we can start to give some limited trust to those fellows who claim to be God’s representatives down here on Earth.

Jeremiah states it clearly that even our own hearts are not to be trusted. This is because some of our greatest deception originates in our own hearts, that are full of selfish ambitions and a false confidence that we are smart and very talented.

The lessons that I learn from this approach that the Lord took with the children of Israel is that God always knows what is best for us! Doing thing the quickest way is not always the wisest choice. Sometimes something slow-cooked tastes much better than something instant and quickly ready to eat.

The second lesson to learn from this text is that trusting God even when we think that His advice and instruction is not logical is still the wisest thing to do!

The third lesson that I learn from this text is that the only way to have a real and true relationship with the Almighty is to spend time with Him. This may sound hard or impossible to do, but in actuality it is as apostle Paul told the Athenians:

“…so that they should seek the Lord, in the hope that they might grope for Him and find Him, though He is not far from each one of us…” – Acts 17:27 [NKJV]

We all have the Word of God, both the written, in a book, Word of God and also the living word of God – Yeshua, available to us. Spending time with the written Word of God and meditating on Him and on His word, with the desire and intention to not only be hearers of the Word but with a sincere desire to keep the Word, will bring us to a very tangible relationship with the Creator Himself through the Holy Spirit that filled us when we died with Yeshua in the water of our purification (baptism) and were raised into new life.

It is this trusting in God that gave Moses the faith to put his feet into the waters of the Red Sea, and to lift up his wooden staff that caused the waters to withdraw and allowed the children of Israel to cross over on dry land.

The song of Moses is also very very important not only for the generation that crossed the Red Sea over dry land, but for me and for all of us. It is even more important because we need to know this song and learn it by heart in the Hebrew language, so that when we stand in front of the eternal throne and the Lamb of God is seated on it and all that big throng of humanity will start singing they will be singing The Song of Moses.

Here is the text:

“And I saw something like a sea of glass mingled with fire, and those who have the victory over the beast, over his image and over his mark and over the number of his name, standing on the sea of glass, having harps of God. They sing the song of Moses, the servant of God, and the song of the Lamb, saying: ‘Great and marvelous are Your works, Lord God Almighty! Just and true are Your ways, O King of the saints! Who shall not fear You, O Lord, and glorify Your name? For You alone are holy. For all nations shall come and worship before You, For Your judgments have been manifested.’” – Revelation 15:2-4 [NKJV]

The Song of Moses and the Song of Deborah (Judges 5-6) are two of the epic songs that describe the very important shadowy space in our relationship with the divine hand of God as it is revealed down here in our earthly sphere on this firm land called Earth. Here is what I learned from the Song of Moses (Exodus chapter 15) from my elementary school days, when Dr. Sarah Japheth was my teacher.

  1. God did it all! His hand was glorious over His enemy (Egypt). He was the warrior who sunk the Egyptian chariots in the Sea and they went down like a rock into the depths together with their horses. Israel had no part in the battle. They stood on the other side of the sea and just observed how their enemy drowned in the waters of the Red Sea.
  2. The enemy had big plans to destroy God’s children. The Egyptians were well prepared and ready for battle, but they didn’t have an army nor did they have chariots. God’s hand was raised and the sea washed out the Egyptian enemy like a flushing toilet into the abyss.
  3. God had prepared a place for His children, the children of Israel a place, a sanctuary, on His holy mountain, even before they crossed the sea on dry land.

God’s package was fully organized and packaged down to the last detail so that the redeemed of the Lord would arrive at God’s sanctuary singing His praises. The book of Revelation in the New Testament is patterned after the Passover story after the song of Moses and it is a celebration of God’s victory over evil and the evil one’s soldiers/angels.

The next big story in our Torah portion this Shabbat is the way that the Lord reacted to the children of Israel’s unreasonable complaints and murmurings, wanting bread. God is not angry with the children of Israel. In fact, He provides Israel with bread from Heaven for the full length of their 40 years of wandering in the Sinai desert, one of the harshest deserts in the world. I would get really angry if the people that I served were ungrateful and not appreciative for what I did for them.

In place of giving into their complaints, God gives them a super answer. God gives them their daily bread from heaven, without their having to plow the land, or sow seed, and without having to harvest… even without baking the bread.

Direct from Heaven daily, fresh and free of labor or cost – a divine gift of bread. Sustenance that every Sabbath demonstrated was not normal bread. The manna would not last more than 24 hours, but the manna that was collected on Friday morning lasted for two days, Friday and Saturday.

The last event that we read in this portion of the Torah is the first time that God leads Moses to strike the rock in order to get water and provide for the complaints of the children of Israel, for their request for water. This is a very important story and most people who criticize Moses for striking the rock in the book of Numbers don’t really remember or connect the two events.

Here is the text that is of great importance for the understanding of Paul’s writings in 1 Corinthians chapter 10:

“So Moses cried out to the Lord, saying, ‘What shall I do with this people? They are almost ready to stone me!’ And the Lord said to Moses, ‘Go on before the people, and take with you some of the elders of Israel. Also take in your hand your rod with which you struck the river, and go. Behold, I will stand before you there on the rock in Horeb; and you shall strike the rock, and water will come out of it, that the people may drink.’ And Moses did so in the sight of the elders of Israel. So he called the name of the place Massah and Meribah, because of the contention of the children of Israel, and because they tempted the Lord, saying, ‘Is the Lord among us or not?’” – Exodus 17:4-7 [NKJV]

Please note that this is not the same case like in the book of Numbers. Note that here God says to Moses, “Behold, I will stand before you there on the rock in Horeb; and you shall strike the rock, and water will come out of it, that the people may drink.”

It is this incident at the waters of Meribah that caused the apostle Paul to say that the rock that was struck in the wilderness followed the children of Israel from the beginning of their journey to the end of their journey and that rock that was struck was Yeshua the Messiah. This same teaching is found in the rabbinical Jewish Midrash and it is a plausible explanation of the reason as to why Moses struck the rock in the second case in the book of Numbers.

Please read the Parasha Beshalach and read the text of the Haftarah from Judges chapter 4-5, and read from the New Testament John chapter 6:15-71, and 1 Corinthians 10.

This article originally appeared on Netivyah and is reposted with permission.