Numbers are important in the Scripture. Just like every word has meaning, so too does every number. In this week’s Torah portion (Exodus 1:1-6:1) one reads,
“And it came about that every soul that comes from the loins of Jacob seventy souls and Joseph was in Egypt.” Exodus 1:5
The basic message of this verse is that seventy people were born to Jacob. Seventy is an important number. The number seven relates to “holiness” and “sanctification”, while the number ten manifests the idea of “completion” or “entirety”. Hence, the descendants of Jacob had been sanctified with a holy purpose, i.e. there was a call on the people of Israel. This had been made clear throughout the book of Genesis and now, despite the fact that Joseph was in Egypt and his family had come down to dwell there, the purpose of the calling had not been set aside. Even after Joseph and all his brothers had died off, the generation who followed were fruitful, very strong, and numerous. In other words, things were going very good for them in Egypt.
We have all heard the saying, “If it’s not broken, don’t fix it”. This appeared to be the philosophy that fruitful, mighty and abundant Hebrews were living by, and therefore they gave no thought to leaving the “good life” in Egypt. The term “Hebrews” is derived from a word which means “those from the other side”. This was the designation that the people were known by in Egypt (See Exodus 1:15, 19). Even though their place was not in Egypt, they were seemingly content to remain there, as many generations had passed.
It is important to learn a simple principle: material blessings do not necessarily mean that you are where the Lord wants you to be or doing the things He wants you to be doing. The persecution that the Hebrews suffered at the hands of the Egyptians had a purpose behind it: to drive them out of Egypt and to the purposes of God which could only be fulfilled in the Land of Israel. Does this mean that the Egyptians were actually behaving according to God’s will? Absolutely not!
The Hebrews had the opportunity to depart from Egypt for a couple of centuries, but utilized their free will to remain in Egypt rather than responding to the call upon them. The Egyptians should not be viewed as obedient vessels of God. Rather, it was the Lord Who utilized their sin to accomplish His purpose. Does this mean that God’s will is furthered by sin? Absolutely not! God’s will is furthered by obedience; but realize this: man’s sin is not going to thwart the Lord’s ultimate plan and He is free to turn sin into something that works for good (See Romans 8:28). Even when Pharaoh and the Egyptians knew that God wanted His people to depart from Egypt, the fact that they did not agree shows the rebelliousness of their hearts.
The Lord’s plan would have been better served by Joseph not being sold into slavery and everyone obeying Him, but when that does not occur, it is not a threat to the Sovereignty of God. The Lord is able to overcome our disobedience and accomplish His purposes with a later generation. The point is this: the good that is contained in the will of God will be realized by His people. What is to be determined is whether you and I are going to be recipients of this good. Here again, the answer to this question is not a surprise to Him, for there was never a time that God did not know who would be in His Kingdom and who would not. This fact does not mean, however, that the Lord forces some decision upon an individual. The fact that God knows something will take place in the year 2022 and He knew this in eternity past, does not mean that He must cause this thing to happen. The perfect knowledge of God of all things does not mandate Him to be the cause of all things.
Here is an example of this on a much inferior level. Because I know my wife well, I can anticipate what she will like and select a gift that will bring joy to her. The better I know her, the more likely I can select something that she will like. The Lord has PERFECT KNOWLEDGE OF ALL THINGS. He always had perfect knowledge of each human, meaning that John Doe did not have to be born before God knew him perfectly. The fact that the Lord knows John perfectly means that in every circumstance in which John Doe finds himself, God knows exactly what John will do. The Lord does not have to cause John or force him to do something for God to be absolutely correct in knowing what John will do.
If the Lord wants to utilize John Doe’s sin to bring about something good, this does not mean God wanted John to sin nor did He cause him (God forbid) to sin. It would have been more expedient and better for John to obey. But here again, man’s sinful actions will not ultimately cause the will of God to fail, but a man’s sin can cause this same man to miss out on being part of God’s will.
I hope that this short article will give you much to think about on this Shabbat.