Have you ever noticed that some people are threatened by the prosperity and success of other people? If you’re looking for a good example of this, you don’t have to look any further than the passage from Exodus 1:8-2:10.
The Israelites experienced safety, security, sanctuary and success in Egypt. Their prosperity was a threat to the new king, and he set out to subdue them, make them slaves and remove them as a threat. What the Israelites did not know or had forgotten until the new king arrived was that they were in bondage and became comfortable and complacent in a place that was not their true home.
It was only after the new king came to power that the Israelites found out where they were and later who they were and where they were meant to be. The new king was the occasion for the heartache, misery, destruction and death that also gave birth to a Moses who started the struggle of liberation and who took the first step toward the sea and through the wilderness and toward the river on the other side of which they will meet themselves.
The essence of our faith is not certainty, but trial. Kings who don’t “know Joseph” are always rising in the world. Change is certain. It calls us to trust the Lord of the covenant with Abraham. He is constant in His love and in His self-giving during change, even though He may seem to be silent. When God does act, it is depicted in ironic ways. It was through God’s providence that the Israelites were fruitful and prolific, something that He promised to Abraham and Sarah. This same blessing became the source of Pharaoh’s fear and the Hebrews’ oppression. The more God multiplied the Israelites, the more Pharaoh opposed them with abuse and death.
We are often in situations where “a king who did not know Joseph” comes to power. Death leaves us without a father, mother, sibling, husband, wife, child or friend. That means a whole new way of doing things. Divorce can leave people feeling devastated or defeated. The diagnosis of a terminal illness can leave us without the ability to talk about it or express our fears. Change can bring despair, defeat and devastation, but there is another alternative-trust God.
The population of Israelites multiplied during long years of ease. Three unsuccessful methods were used to limit the exploding population growth of the Hebrews:
- Working the Hebrews to exhaustion.
- Commanding the Hebrew midwives to commit infanticide.
- Selective annihilation, with baby boys being cast into the River Nile while baby girls were spared.
The oppression by the new Pharaoh stirred them out of their comfort zone and made them willing to leave Egypt. Sometimes we need to be removed from everything we trust so we can depend on God. As long as we are happy where we are, we won’t long for God
In the history of the church, when has it made its greatest number of adherents? When its pulpits were filled with eloquent preachers and the aisles crowded with fashion and wealth? No. It happened when the church was driven to the dens and caves of the earth and its members were persecuted and described as outcasts. Christians who are suffering hardships that are as great or greater that the hardships suffered by the Israelites at the time of the passage of Exodus must not lose sight of the awesomeness of the God of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and Moses. God allows impossible situations to develop our faith
Shiprah and Puah-possibly leaders of the guild of midwives-refused to obey Pharaoh’s orders, fearing the real King more than their earthly ruler. These women were likely Egyptians who came to faith in God and were included in Israel. The midwives were willing to let go of what they trusted so they could serve and obey God. They were willing to risk their lives to disobey Pharaoh. When governments at any level and by any means try to require us to disobey God’s Law, they have overstepped their bounds and must not be obeyed on the specific point of issue.
When we make a commitment to obey God, the world may be against us, but God will sustain us in that commitment. The midwives depended on God’s power-a power that nothing can prevail against. When we fear God more than we fear anything else, God can do great things through us. God blessed the midwives for their courageous actions. He always blesses wholehearted obedience.
The call to obey God means walking with Him not by sight, but by faith. We do this by spending time alone with God and asking three questions
- What have I done during the past months that will make a difference in my life or the life of someone else?
2. If I died tonight, what would those who know me best remember most about me?
3. If I knew I was going to die soon, what would I want to do in the time I have left?
Being preoccupied with death is morbid, but to take death seriously is a mark of wisdom and faith. Life is precious, and something that is ours forever is never precious. What we do between living today and dying tomorrow is the big question. We have a choice.
For Moses’ parents to hide him for three months until he was in safe hands was an act of faith lauded in Hebrews 11:23. Moses’ mother did what she had to do to save Moses’ life. At this time in Israel’s history, hope and despair were in conflict. Israel was oppressed and pessimistic. At that moment in time, God’s providence took human shape. Moses was born. Moses’ mother made an ark and put Moses in it. Pharaoh’s daughter saw Moses, had compassion and adopted him as her own son. She unknowingly hired Moses’ own mother to take care of him. The midwives defied Pharaoh, and Moses’ mother also defied Pharaoh by determining that her son would live. From the moment Moses was born, the struggle between good and evil surrounded him.
The word “ark” (in this case, a floating basket) refers to Noah and, as in his day, served as a vessel of divine deliverance. The basket was placed securely among the reeds by the bank of the Nile where the current was slight, so it would not wash out to sea. It was also placed where the women of the palace would see it when they came to dip in the waters of the Nile as part of their religious ritual.
The daughter of Pharaoh knew immediately that this child was a Hebrew because he was circumcised. Her adoption of Moses as her son, along with the selection of Moses’ own mother as his wet nurse, are two ways that God preserved the infant. The word “Moses” in Egyptian most likely means “born,” but the Hebrew meaning is “to be drawn out.” God would later use him to draw His people from the water. Moses typified Christ as a prophet, advocate, intercessor and leader or king while, in relation to God, he is in contrast with Christ. Moses was a faithful servant over God’s house. Christ was a Son over His own house.
God was the primary actor in this scenario. That’s why Moses’ parents and siblings weren’t named in this passage from Exodus. It emphasized God’s role. All other players were anonymous, but that doesn’t mean that they were unimportant. They had roles to play, and that gives us hope. No matter how anonymous we may feel, we are part of God’s covenant and plan of redemption. We never know how God may use our obedience and faithfulness for His purposes. My own ministry is an example. God has used it to fulfill His plan by spreading the Good News to people in this community and beyond.
When we face challenges that judge our faint faith yet stir us to life in the confidence that God is there for us, what can we do? We can rely completely on God. We can trust God and wait on Him to do His work.
When Pharaoh’s daughter saw Moses, she showed compassion. Compassion comes from identifying with another person. It enables us to see things as Pharaoh’s daughter saw them and feel things as she felt them. God seeks to bring all of us to this place just as He brought Pharaoh’s daughter to this place.
The story of the midwives’ courage and Moses’ infancy is part of the broader story of the relationship between God and Israel that is presented in the book of Exodus. Israel will learn who God is, and they will learn that their identity is rooted in belonging to God. As we will see in the story of Moses and the burning bush, God will reveal His name to Moses and declare that God is the God of Moses’ ancestors: Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.
This story has a lesson for us. We are to place our lives in God’s hands, but at the same time we must do all we can to prepare ourselves for the battle between good and evil, even though the final victory will rest with God. Wisdom tells us to do all we can within our strength, then trust God to do what we can’t do, to accomplish what we can’t accomplish. Faith and careful planning go hand in hand. They always have.
- Jeremiah, David: The Jeremiah Study Bible, New King James Version (Brentwood, TN: Worthy Publishing; 2013, pp. 71-72)
- Schofield’s Notes. Part of Wordsearch 11 Bible software package.
- Dunnam, M.D. & Ogilvie, L.J.: The Preacher’s Commentary Series, Vol. 2: Exodus (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Inc.; 1987; pp. 27-42)
- MacArthur, J.F. Jr.: The MacArthur Study Bible: New American Standard Bible (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Publishers; 2006)
- Stanley, C.F.: The Charles F. Stanley Life Principles Bible: New King James Version (Nashville, TN: Nelson Bibles; 2005)
- T.M. Moore, “Whom to Fear.” Retrieved from www.ailbe.org
- Richard Niell Donovan, “Exegesis for Exodus 1:8-2:10.” Retrieved from www.lectionary.org
- Charles R. Swindoll, “Have Faith, Have a Plan.” Retrieved from www.insightforliving.com
- The Rev. Dr. William L. Dols, “An Invitation to Find Ourselves.” Retrieved from www.day1.org
- Amy Merrill Willis, “Commentary on Exodus 1:8-2:10.” Retrieved from www.workingpreacher.org
- Cameron R.B. Howard, “Commentary on Exodus 1:8-2:10.” Retrieved from www.workingpreacher.org