Exodus 1.8-2.10 – The Story of Baby Moses. This sermon was prepared for a preaching seminar at United Theological Seminary, 2013.
Man has a plan to trouble the emerging nation of the Hebrews, but God made a promise to sustain the Hebrew nation. Pharaoh plays god and worship’s his own identity in this passage. There are many pharaoh archetypes in history that challenge the peace in communities. In this story God saves his people and births a nation. God promises Abraham a big family with relatives as numerous as the stars in the sky. Many years’ later Abraham’s relatives are so numerous that the King of Egypt becomes fearful. God is fulfilling his promise to make the Hebrew people a nation, but a man plans to trouble the Hebrew nation.
Trouble in the Story: A man has a plan, a nation is troubled.
There is a lot of trouble brewing in the story and soon the King of Egypt’s fear becomes contagious. He begins to talk negatively about the Hebrew people (xenophobia), and spread his fear to the whole community. The King is so fearful that he begins a national practice of enslaving and abusing the Hebrew people. As if forced labor and abuse were not enough to control his fear, the King then declares a law to enforce abortion. And when abortion did not calm his irrational fear, the King decrees a mandate of genocide – the killing of each and every Hebrew baby boy. The King was so fearful of the Hebrew people that he may have contextualized the killing of these innocent children as a religious act invoking the Ancient Near Eastern Late Bronze Age [1570-1200BC] gods for help.
The New King had a big fear of a people not his own. By this time in history the King in Egypt does not know Joseph or his saving acts, and the power of his God. Instead he designs a plan to delete the children, particularly the boys, erase them from the face of the earth. So the King makes a plan of instilling his big fear into the very fabric of the Egyptian community. The King created his own made up story of how the Israelites would team up with another country to take over Egypt. This drama created a disgust and dread of the Hebrew people across the whole nation. The more the Egyptians exploited the Israelites, the more they grew, and the more the Egyptians became alarmed. The Egyptians worked the Israelites relentlessly.
When the King of Egypt orders the abortion of the baby boys, the midwives – Shiphrah and Puah – let baby boys live. The King demanded that the midwives kill the baby boys at the moment of their delivery. These two young women revered God and did not kill the children. These two were summoned before the King as if being tried in a court of law with a shrewd answer, “they give birth before we arrive.” The narrator tells us that God blesses the midwives for their righteous behavior and rewards them with a family of their own. When the King of Egypt orders the annihilation of the Hebrew baby boys, he also chose to let the baby girls live. It seems as though the King of Egypt did not feel threatened by the works of women. But in our text, young women become the heroines.
GRACE IN THE TEXT: God made a promise, a nation is saved.
There is grace in the text hidden in the actions of young women. God made a promise to Abraham to make his people into a great nation. The Levi family tree grows a son named Moses. The young women rise up against the fear-filled leadership. Pharaoh’s daughter ironically saves the Hebrew nation. We find out a few chapters later that Moses birth mother is Jochebed and his birth father Amram. These two have three children that are named: Aaron, Miriam, and Moses. The first two children are saved from death, but Moses is born in a near-death situation. After giving birth to her child, Jochebed takes note of his good health and hides him for three months. Three months pass and all the while she is nursing and caring for her handsome son. When she is no longer able to hide her child, she gathers up her courage and makes a papyrus basket coated in pitch and tar. I can just imagine Miriam and her mother choosing just the right reeds weaving them together for the strongest support for her big boy. I can see them now by candlelight hiding their task away from the eyes of the whole world, not wanting anyone to know. If I let my imagination get away with me, I can hear Amram telling the story of the River Nile gods for in the Egyptian culture there were many gods and goddesses that took forms from the river. The crocodile and the hippopotamus were creates of the river that many feared and who became like gods to them. I imagine this night was a sleepless night for Jochebed who kept watch over her children. As morning came the plan was set in motion and the perfect time was chosen for this young son to be placed on his little ark to float along the rivers edge. Young Miriam watched and followed the basket until it reached a safe haven. As Miriam watched from a distance the basket reached its final destination – the household of Pharaoh, the King of Egypt. At the waters edge the daughter of Pharaoh bathed herself, and while bathing she discovers the ark. As the child rested among the reeds Pharaoh’s daughter, her attendants, and her female slave rescue the crying child drawing him up from the waters edge to safety in her arms. Probably hungry and wet, the King’s daughter is sad for the little child, noting it must be one of the Hebrew baby boys that her father had decreed death in this very river.
Young Miriam makes her way quickly to the daughter’s side suggesting that she could have the Hebrew women care for the child. Young Miriam hurries away in her bare feet running along the edge of the River Nile mud slapping up against her backside as she hurried to her mother. Meanwhile, I can just imagine the whispering among the attendants about what the King’s daughter might do next, and their surprise when she hatches her plan. When young Miriam returns with the child’s mother, Jochebed, the King’s daughter gives her instructions. “Take this baby and nurse him for me, and I will pay you,” she said. I can imagine Jochebed experiencing joy and dismay all at the same time! The joy of having her son returned to her without harm, and dismay at the thought of his growing up and entering Pharaoh’s household as a potential leader.
Stephen, a disciple of Jesus and the first Christian martyr, offers us a brief snippet of how the Jewish community understood Moses’ experience in Pharaoh’s household. Stephen retells the story in the Jewish religious community, “As the time drew near for God to fulfill his promise to Abraham, the number of our people in Egypt had greatly increased. Then ‘a new king, to whom Joseph meant nothing, came to power in Egypt.’ He dealt treacherously with our people and oppressed our ancestors by forcing them to throw out their newborn babies so that they would die. At that time Moses was born, and he was no ordinary child. For three months he was cared for in his parents’ home. When he was placed outside, Pharaoh’s daughter took him and brought him up as her own son. Moses was educated in all the wisdom of the Egyptians and was powerful in speech and action.” (Acts 7.17-22)
So Jochebed gathered Moses up in her arms and headed back to her living quarters to nurse him and love him …until he was grown. Moses entered Pharaoh’s household, and he became a son to the King’s daughter. She names this adopted baby boy Moses, saying, “I drew him out of the water.” This final statement of our story has so much to say to us. The King’s daughter embrace this child as her own, and she claims ownership for this heroic act that goes against her father’s decree to kill the Hebrew baby boys. This young woman is covertly standing against her father’s leadership of her nation. Moses may have been named after King Tuthmosis III (1504BC – 1450BC) came to power as a child and whose mother took over leadership while she was alive. He was known as a might warrior king. This is a fitting naming for Moses because he is the agent for the might warrior God who leads the Hebrew people.
As Moses is drawn from the water his near-death experience ends and his feet are set upon a path to fulfill God’s promise. As we leave our story we know that Moses is safe in the hands of God who continues to save the Hebrews through miraculous ways to make Abraham’s children into a nation. A child is born, rescued from dangers waters, and covertly placed in the King’s household. A nation hangs in the balance, but God made a promise.
Trouble in the Nations: A man has a plan, but God made a promise.
The political climate across the nations today is not unlike the Pharaoh’s of Egypt in Moses’ day. There are many pharaoh archetypes in the nations that kill for political gain. Power and fear motivate us all, but some respond with people respond in a frightening fashion. If the Egyptian King were alive today, he would make the headlines on the evening news. The headline might read “Appalling! Egyptian King Kills Babies.” And, we would debate our action as a nation whether or not we should be at war with Egypt.
In Syria today there’s a man who has plan and his name is Bashar al-Assad, and he has been governing Syria for 13 years. It is believed that this leader recently used chemical weapons to kill some 1400 people near Damascus. It is believed that he has used chemical weapons some 10 times over the last ten years to control his people. The headlines tonight on CNN might be “Heart-wrenching! Chemical warfare kills families and many children.” And, there might even be a four-panel discussion about how we should debate our involvement in Syria’s national conflict.
In North Korea the man with the plan is Kim Jonh Un. He executed his girlfriend Saturday, August 31st, with other pop-performers who were allegedly breaking laws. The victims were killed in front of loved ones who were then hauled off to prison camps. For the perceived disloyalty of just one relative, three generations of a family, including children, are sent to perform hard labor with starvation and brutality. He has threatened the world with nuclear weapons, and the world continues to hold talks about what is appropriate action toward this country. The headlines tonight on NBC might be “Shocking! North Korea continues its irrational approach to government.” And, there might be a United Nations investigation or human rights watch noted.
Serbian forces lead by a man named Milosevic removed 90% of the Albanian population from their homes in Kosovo. Later reports noted more than 11,000 people were killed in 529 reported mass grave and killing sites with over 6,000 Kosovar Albanians bodies burned or destroyed throughout the conflict. Rape was an encouraged atrocity of war. The population of Albanians was stripped of their identity, and those who were sympathizers were killed as well. The fight for land included Croatia and Bosnia where Serbs were forced out in the 1990s. The headline on ABC might be “Intolerable! Serbian Fear Survival of a Nation.”
Hutu radicals among the Rwandan political elite held the entire Tutsi population responsible for the country’s social, economic, and political distress. In the weeks following April 6, 1994, as many as 800,000 men, women, and children died in the Rwandan genocide. Most were Tutsi, yet thousands of Hutu were killed because they opposed the genocide. The headline on Fox might be “Unbelievable! Hatred and Fear causes national catastrophe.”
In 1979 China’s leader Deng Zhaoping applied the One Child Policy that limited families to one child. There are ways to get around the law. Some families have a child live with other family members until they can forge certificates that make the second child a twin. Twins are legal. Some families are allowed two children. Here in the story there is a saving of one child, but not all the children. The headline on CBS might read “Incredulous Family Planning!” Although many men have plans, God made a promise. God’s promise is to see his people, his nation fulfill its destiny. God’s plan for Abraham’s descendents continues today.
Grace in the Nations: The Community of Le-Chambon, France saves Jews during WWII.
When the Jewish people were targeted for ethnic cleansing during World War II the people of Le-Chambon took note. Lead by their pastor they preserved the lives of many people. Le-Chambon is a city in France whose people joined together to secretly save Jewish families, especially the children. For four years Christians worked together to smuggle Jewish people to safety in Switzerland. Just like the women in the Exodus story, the people of Le-Chambon worked to save a targeted people group. God inspired a people to live righteously. The Nazi’s had a plan, but God made a promise and he used the people of Le-Chambon to work his purposes.
As I mentioned earlier there are many men who have plans, and many people like you and I who need to take action to stand against injustice. In our text it was fear that drove this leader to killing babies – forced abortion and genocide. If you read the headlines, you will discover that killing is not an uncommon response when people live in fear. Through this passage we see how children are mistreated unto death, and the young women secretly work to save babies. And, we discovered that God’s promise was being fulfilled in spite of the horrible killing of innocent newborn babies. I wonder how you and I will respond now that we know we should take initiative when injustice comes near. And, we can remember together that man has a plan, but God made a promise – and God keeps his promise, always!