There are few things that bring more happiness than the birth of a new baby. For weeks before the baby is born, the preparations are made. The parents make sure the baby will have everything it needs. They buy clothes, baby bottles, little blankets to keep the baby warm, soft, fuzzy pajamas for the baby to sleep in. After the baby is born, care is taken to make sure that the baby has everything it needs to grow into a strong and healthy child. Good parents will do everything they can to keep their baby safe.
The birth of a child is a miracle. It is the result of the uniting of male and female to create life. The birth of a child causes us to contemplate the mystery of it all and rejoice when its full impact hits us. There are special cases where the miracle is so profound that we know that God is involved. The case of the birth of Moses, which we read about in Exodus 1:8-2:10, is a good example. God worked through Moses’ mother and Pharaoh’s daughter to save Moses’ life so that He could work through Moses to save his people eighty years later.
The essence of the Christian faith is not certainty but trust, and we see that throughout this passage. There are three things that are certain in life-death, taxes and change. Change calls us to trust God. He is constant in His love and in His self-giving.
The Israelites were wise to remember this. A new Pharaoh came to power, and he did not know Joseph. He did not see the heirs of Joseph, whose shrewd policies saved Egypt in the midst of a terrible famine, and whose family came to live among the Egyptians in peace in the land of Goshen. He was afraid of the Hebrews, so he persecuted them. 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.
Unfortunately for Pharaoh, he did not know that God was on the side of the Hebrews. The Hebrews had a purpose and destiny that could not be stopped. They were part of God’s larger, more important plan-a plan that was more important than Pharaoh’s. God will have the final word, in spite of Pharaoh’s belief that he is in control. God will bring down the powerful from their thrones and lift up the lowly. This text is resonant today in our congregations, our nations and our world. Issues of race and politics, religion and politics, gender and power, the war on terror, the inequities of our global economy, mission and hospitality to the stranger and all manner of suffering and bondage threaten us and our churches.
Speaking of God, where was He? He isn’t mentioned in this story until Exodus 1:17, which speaks of the midwives’ fear of God. The story of the oppression of the Israelites was well underway. God’s first explicit action does not come until Exodus 1:20, and He remains in the background as abuse and oppression grow. It is through God’s providence that the Hebrews were fruitful and prolific, which was something God promised to Abraham and Sarah. This same source of blessing and promise of multiplication has become Pharaoh’s fear and the Hebrews’ oppression. The more God multiplies the Israelites, the more Pharaoh opposes them with abuse and death.
This passage is part of the larger story of the relationship between God and His people. The Hebrews will learn who God is, and they will learn that their identity is rooted in belonging to God. God will refer to them many times as “my people.” He will claim the, hear their cries and deliver them. In Exodus 5:2, Pharaoh will ask, “Who is God, that I should heed Him and let Israel go? I do not know the Lord, and I will not let Israel go.” Pharaoh and the Israelites will need some convincing about who this God is and to whom the Israelites belong.
The Hebrew population multiplied during their long years of ease. Conflict and oppression took them out of their comfort zone. They were willing to risk a bold Exodus for freedom. Life’s sorrows and burdens give us a perspective that nothing else will. As long as we are happy and content, we will never move along in life. We need to be detached from everything we depend on and trust so that we can depend on God.
The snatching of victory from the jaws of unlikelihood is something God does regularly. He did it through Joseph. He did it through Moses so the Israelites could have a new life. He did it through Jesus so that we who were dead to sin could have a chance for a new life.
Shiprah and Puah-possibly leaders of the guild of midwives-refused to commit infanticide, fearing the real King more than their earthly ruler. These women were likely Egyptians who came to faith in Yahweh and were included in Israel. That is, Yahweh provided households for them.
When one Is faced with committing a great evil, it is permissible (even praiseworthy) to avoid it by committing a lesser evil, especially since some sins are worse than others. In this story, genocide is worse than lying. God sustained and blessed the Hebrew midwives in their commitment. He used them to do His work. They could depend on His power-a power that no one and nothing can defeat.
The word “ark” (in this case, a floating basket) alludes to Noah and, as in his day, served here as a vessel of divine deliverance. The basket was placed 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 equivalent means “to be drawn out.” God would later use Moses to draw His people “from the water.”
Moses was saved by an individual act of kindness. Today, we must go beyond kindness to create compassionate institutions and compassionate communities. We must do everything we can to ensure the safety and flourishing of people who are at risk.
The key to getting through tough times is to trust God. We can’t just want to trust Him. Trust takes time, and that includes time with Him. Until we are ready to trust, obey and follow Him, we are not ready to be used by God, no matter how good our credentials or our intentions are.
Moses’ early life was part of the preparation for the work God had for his life. God has tasks for each of us to accomplish, and for these tasks we do not have to rely on our own strength and abilities. God has arranged things and handled all of the details so that we will be ready when He calls. Our responsibility is to trust Him rather than our own strength. We can always trust His wisdom and love to both know and do what is best.
This story may have taken place 3,500 years ago, but it’s familiar. All we have to do is look at the carnage that lies in fear’s wake. Fear brings down buildings, causes wars, and dominates legislative processes. One word about employment statistics or credit ratings sends investors fleeing and economies reeling. Fear also dominates our daily lives. How much of our energy goes into protecting, insuring and risk-managing? How often does fear dictate our parenting, our time-management, and even our churches, especially in light of the current COVID-19 pandemic? We would be well-advised to heed the words of Franklin Roosevelt when he said during the Great Depression that “the only thing we have to fear is fear itself!”
- Jeremiah, David: The Jeremiah Study Bible: New Kings James Version (Brentwood, TN: Worthy Publishing; 2013; pp. 76-77)
- Dunnam, M.D. & Ogilvie, L.J.: The Preacher’s Commentary Series, Vol. 2: Exodus (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Inc.; 1987, pp. 28-42)
- T.M. Moore, “Which Sins Are Worse?” Retrieved from firstname.lastname@example.org
- T.M. Moore, “Where is God?” Retrieved from email@example.com
- Dr. Ed Young, “Good Intentions.” retrieved from firstname.lastname@example.org
- Dr. Paul Chappell, “God Has Already Made the Arrangements.” Retrieved from email@example.com
- Thea Lunk, “Floating Moses.” Retrieved from firstname.lastname@example.org
- “Snatching Victory from the Jaws of Unlikelihood.” Retrieved from http://churchintheworld.com
- John Holbert, “Pharaoh Goes Bonkers, or the Stupidity of a Tyrant: Reflections on Exodus 1:8-2:10.” Retrieved from www.patheos.com/progressive-christian/pharaoh-goes-bonkers-john-holbert-08-18-2014.html
- Amy Merrill Willis, “Commentary on Exodus 1:8-2:10.” Retrieved from www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=972
- Rick Morley, “Fear Versus Compassion.” Retrieved from www.rickmorley.com/archives/721?utm_source=rss&utm_campaign=fear-versus-compassion-genesis-18-210
- Dennis Olson, “Commentary on Exodus 1:8-2:10.” Retrieved from www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=131
- Cameron R.B. Howard, “Commentary on Exodus 1:8-2:10.” Retrieved from www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=2169