|Pomme de Terre United Methodist Church|
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|"The Birth of Moses"
| You may recall my
preaching on part of the story of Joseph two weeks ago. Well, it
had a happy ending in the final chapters of Genesis. And it would
be nice to say that they lived happily ever after.
Actually, Joseph and his brothers did, and so did their descendants, for a while.
The seventh verse of the opening chapter of Exodus tells us that “the Israelites were fruitful and prolific; they multiplied and grew exceedingly strong, so that the land was filled with them.” But circumstances are about to take a turn for the worse.
“Now a new king arose over Egypt, who did not know Joseph.”
We might say that the new king had no understanding of, no appreciation for, history. He is about to operate in a vacuum, in isolation, as if history did not exist. Sometimes I think our current political leaders tend to do that. Notice that scripture does not say that the new king had “forgotten” Joseph, only that he did not know Joseph. He is ignorant of Joseph.
“He said to his people, “Look, the Israelite people are more numerous and more powerful than we.”
Now the size of the Israelite people can be an objective observation; but what are we to make of the king’s saying that they are “more powerful”? It would seem that power would lie with the king and with the king’s family and with the race from which the king descended. So how can the Israelites be “more powerful”?
The king continues, “Come, let us deal shrewdly with them, or they will increase and, in the event of war, join our enemies and fight against us and escape from the land.”
Now, this gets complicated. And I think the king is sending some conflicting messages. On the one hand, there appears to be a fear of this more numerous, more powerful people. But on the other hand, there also appears to be the fear that, given the opportunity, this more numerous, more powerful people will LEAVE Egypt.
“Therefore they set taskmasters over them to oppress them with forced labor. They built supply cities, Pithom and Rameses, for Pharaoh.”
But I suspect that the Israelites were treated as second-class citizens and exploited before this ever happened. They were available for the king to take advantage of, which is why the king was fearful that they would leave Egypt.
“But the more they were oppressed, the more they multiplied and spread, so that the Egyptians came to dread the Israelites.”
And at this point the power of the Egyptians lay in the sword and the spear and whatever other weapons they may have had. Because they were outnumbered. They may have held official power, but they lived in fear. Maybe that’s why nations today spend more and more and more on their armies and their weapons. Because they live in fear.
“The Egyptians became ruthless in imposing tasks on the Israelites, and made their lives bitter with hard service in mortar and brick and in every kind of field labor. They were ruthless in all the tasks that they imposed on them.”
Fear has evolved into desperation. But it’s difficult to understand the mindset of the Egyptians. On the one hand, they seem to be thinking that if they work the Israelites hard enough, they will all die; but on the other hand, if the Israelites DID all die, who would do all their menial labor for them? Who would build their cities, work in their fields?
Even today, one should wonder why those in the upper-income classes look with disdain upon those in the lower-income classes. The work they do is as vital to society as any other work.
And if all the blue-collar workers were suddenly gone, some white-collar workers would suddenly be performing blue-collar tasks.
How MUCH fear and desperation was there in Egypt?
“The king of Egypt said to the Hebrew midwives, one of whom was named Shiphrah and the other Puah, “When you act as midwives to the Hebrew women, and see them on the birthstool, if it is a boy, kill him; but if it is a girl, she shall live.”
But let’s use the really ugly labels that are appropriate here: racism and genocide. Because that is what the king of Egypt is up to. But it is interesting that HE is too cowardly to exercise genocide directly. He is not using his armies, but he is using his midwives.
He is using people in professions where he is expecting them to violate their trust.
But notice also that the king of Egypt is incapable of responding to the strength of the Hebrew people. He is reduced to ordering others to kill their babies.
So how does this strategy work?
“...the midwives feared God; they did not do as the king of Egypt commanded them, but they let the boys live.”
And the king’s plan is thwarted. His cowardice has reduced him to attempting to get others to kill babies, and they thumb their noses at him. The midwives have more reverence for their God than for their king.
We might say that they feared God more than the king, but I would prefer to believe that their values were in line with that of God and not with that of the king.
“So the king of Egypt summoned the midwives and said to them, “Why have you done this, and allowed the boys to live?”
“The midwives said to Pharaoh, “Because the Hebrew women are not like the Egyptian women; for they are vigorous and give birth before the midwife comes to them.”
So, are the midwives lying or telling the truth? Have they allowed the boys to live because they feared God, or because they could not arrive in time to kill them? Or perhaps a bit of both?
The statement that they make to Pharaoh regarding the Hebrew women is not the sort of thing he wants to hear: “not like the Egyptian women; ...they are vigorous.”
This just feeds his fear: that the Hebrew nation is powerful and growing and may overwhelm the Egyptians in their own land.
Well, scripture suggests that they DID allow the boys to live because they feared God.
“So God dealt well with the midwives; and the people multiplied and became very strong. And because the midwives feared God, he gave them families.”
What a clear case of a plan backfiring! In his effort to reduce the population of the Hebrews, he succeeds it making it grow greater and stronger. Out of adversity comes strength. And the Hebrews now know very well the attitude of the Pharaoh towards them, as if the forced labor was not already bad enough. So they are probably taking every precaution to assure that their babies are born healthy.
The midwives Shiphrah an Puah probably spread the word throughout the community that pregnant mothers and babies were at risk. And what happens when one is put in a defensive position? One defends oneself!
So things have just gotten worse for the Pharaoh. I said earlier that he was clearly desperate. Well, he just became moreso.
“Then Pharaoh commanded all his people, “Every boy that is born to the Hebrews you shall throw into the Nile, but you shall let every girl live.”
No longer is Pharaoh being clandestine, covert, sneaky, prowling around seeking to use midwives to get rid of babies. No, now he has gone public. Now he is commanding EVERYBODY.
Well, this sets the stage for the birth of one of the great leaders of the Hebrew people. And I think that the timing here is important. Because an underlying message is that when the events in our lives seem the darkest, God’s power is at work to intervene.
Now, that doesn’t meant that God is going to break God’s natural laws. But it does mean that in ways we may not perceive or understand, God is providing opportunities for us to lift ourselves out of the darkness.
“Now a man from the house of Levi went and married a Levite woman. The woman conceived and bore a son; and when she saw that he was a fine baby, she hid him three months.”
I wonder how many other babies at that time were being hidden. I wonder how many other mothers were scheming and conniving in an effort to save their children. I wonder how many of the Hebrew babies actually were thrown into the Nile.
How long did this genocidal practice continue? Or maybe almost all of the Hebrews ceased to have children.
“When she could hide him no longer she got a papyrus basket for him, and plastered it with bitumen and pitch; she put the child in it and placed it among the reeds on the bank of the river. His sister stood at a distance to see what would happen to him.”
Now we know of only this one case; but maybe this was the common practice for adhering to the commandment to throw the babies into the Nile. This child has not been drowned, but he IS in the Nile. And perhaps mothers, given no alternative, placed their babies in baskets at the edge of the river and then let the river do as it may. And notice that it is the baby’s SISTER who is watching to see what will happen.
I’m sure that such an experience would be too trying, too sad, for a mother to watch.
Well, as I said, sometimes when things seem the the darkest, God intervenes.
“The daughter of Pharaoh came down to bathe at the river, while her attendants walked beside the river. She saw the basket among the reeds and sent her maid to bring it.”
Now, if she had been like Pharaoh, her instruction to her maid would have been to take the basket further out into the river, into the current, and turn it loose.
But she is not like Pharaoh, and that is going to make all the difference.
“When she opened it, she saw the child. He was crying, and she took pity on him. “This must be one of the Hebrews’ children,” she said.”
Pharaoh’s daughter KNOWS what is going on. She knows of the edict of her father, but we can also tell that she has a different attitude than he does. Pharaoh would not take pity on ANYTHING Hebrew.
But remember the baby’s sister? hanging around to see what would happen to him? Well, she’s still there.
“Then his sister said to Pharaoh’s daughter, “Shall I go and get you a nurse from the Hebrew women to nurse the child for you?” Pharaoh’s daughter said to her, “Yes.” So the girl went and called to the child’s mother.”
How convenient! We might wonder how much of this was accident and how much of it was plotted. But I doubt that Pharaoh’s daughter made a daily practice of picking up babies. And I doubt that the baby’s sister really expected anything like this to happen. She may have HOPED for some kind of miracle; but I don’t think she expected it. So when ROYALTY, of all things, has picked up the basket, the sister is going to be right on top of things to take care of her brother.
And what must the baby’s mother have thought, when the sister went to her to tell her her baby had been saved by Pharaoh’s daughter?
“Pharaoh’s daughter said to her, “Take this child and nurse it for me, and I will give you your wages.” So the woman took the child and nursed it.” Now I’m not altogether sure how this arrangement worked. Pharaoh’s daughter must have somehow provided protective custody for the baby. In any event,
“When the child grew up, she brought him to Pharaoh’s daughter, and she took him as her son. She named him Moses, “because,” she said, “I drew him out of the water.”
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