Exodus 1.8-2.10 – The Birth of Moses
Everyone loves a good story! Bible writers understood the importance of stories too. From beginning to end the Bible is full of stories of great men and women who do heroic feats in God’s name by God’s direction and with God’s power. More than 40% of the Old Testament is made up of stories – all sorts of narratives.
Our story today transitions us from the life stories of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and Jacob’s beloved son Joseph to a new era in the Israelites history under new leadership. Between last Sunday’s text and today – Jacob has come to settle in the land of Goshen in Egypt because of the great famine that swept across the Ancient Near East.
Joseph is 2nd in command of all Egypt by the Pharaoh himself. And, Joseph lived in the land of Egypt with much success until his death at the age of 110 years. And, that’s were we are today. Joseph has died, and the Israelites have multiplied so much so that they have become problematic for the new leadership in Egypt.
There is much archeological evidence that supports our Biblical history in the land of Egypt, but scholars often disagree on many details. It is believed that the Pharaoh at the time of Joseph’s arrival in Egypt most likely was a leader from the Hyksos, a people of Semitic descent who invaded Egypt and settled in the Nile Delta region around 1640 BC. These Semitic Kings would have connected with Joseph because of their family heritage. The Semites were descendents of Noah’s son Shem. The Semites may have shown favor to the Israelites because of their known kinship relationships through Abraham (Gen. 11).
Over the expanse of time it took for a whole generation of people to die, a new ruler emerged in Egypt, a ruler who did not know Joseph – most like Rameses II. This new ruler feared the people in the land. Because of this great fear, Pharaoh caused the Israelites to work in labor camps and forced work gangs. They were forced to do cruel labor as slaves in Egypt for 400 years. It was Pharaoh’s hope to reduce their numbers, and to further reduce the threat of an Israelite uprising against Egypt. When forced-labor did not work to suppress the Israelites, Pharaoh enslaved the people with much cruelty.
When forced labor and slavery failed to contain the Israelites, Pharaoh devised another way of exterminating the Israelites. And, the way he chose to do this was through infanticide at the time of birth. Infanticide is the practice of killing unwanted children in order to control the population of a people group, usually this happened right after birth or within a year of birth.
When this effort was not effective because the midwives were merciful to the Israelite women, Pharaoh devised a second strategy. The midwives had told Pharaoh that the women give birth too quickly, and they were not able to kill the baby boys at the time of their arrival. So Pharaoh commanded all the people to throw every baby boy into the River Nile. That left a strong presence of women in the culture, which Pharaoh did not find threatening to his government.
And hidden away in the cultural context is a warrior God who is in conflict with Pharaoh, a man who sees himself as a god over Egypt. The King of Egypt desires to control the population, yet key females take covert action against unjust laws of enforced abortion and genocide as an acceptable means of population control. Also, hidden away in the cultural context is the life source of the River Nile for the people in the region. The River Nile provided fertile land for the people of Egypt. There were several gods represented at the River Nile. The river god named Hapi controlled the fertility of the land, the god Sobek represented by the crocodile symbolized Pharaoh’s power, and the hippopotamus represented protection in childbirth as well as rebirth. It is easy to see why Pharaoh chooses to throw the children into the River Nile when you understand the underlying belief system.
The first two chapters of Exodus is a birth narrative not unlike many of the other birth narratives in the Bible. We see birth stories highlighted across the pages of Biblical history culminating in the birth of Jesus, and his forerunner John the Baptist.
But here in our text this birth narrative is about the son of a Levite family, Amram and Jochebed. God entered human history through the birth of baby boy named Moses who had two siblings an older brother Aaron and his sister Miriam. Moses was born into this world to a woman who was not afraid of standing up for her child. Women are not named in patriarchal societies without good cause. And, these women are named with great significance to Moses. And, God saved Moses through the hands of women who were the most unlikely assistants to God’s unexpected plan.
The paranoia of an Egyptian King threatened this baby boy’s life and his mother Jochebed took matters into her own hands to save his life. With her own hands she made a basket of reeds and covered the basket with tar. The Hebrew word used here for basket is actually the same word used for ark – like Noah’s ark. This word inspires us to remember Noah’s voyage in the ark – a voyage away from sin and death. Perhaps the symbolism here is the most important part of the story of Moses’ birth. God saved one baby boy to save a nation from sin and death.
Jochebed, Moses’ mother, nurses her baby boy for 3-months, defying all the odds of being caught and killed for keeping her infant son. Jochebed makes the basket of reeds or the “ark” for the infant and places the child on the Nile River.
Jochebed sends her daughter Miriam to follow the child down the Nile to safety, and intervenes to ensure the child was nursed properly by his mother when the child is discovered at the river’s edge. And, it is the Pharaoh’s daughter who adopts the baby Moses as her very own, naming him Moses saying “I pulled him out of the water.”
Names are really important in the Bible and this is no exception. Here we see Pharaoh’s daughter standing against her father’s mandate by to keeping an Israelite baby boy alive. Perhaps Moses’ name has more behind it than meets the eye. Scholars have suggested Moses may have been named after an Egyptian King Tuthmosis III (1504BC – 1450BC) who came to power as a child and whose mother took over leadership while she was alive, and served as the first woman leader in Egypt at the time. We really can’t take the meaning of Moses name too far but it does imply that Pharaoh’s daughter may have aspired to rule in Egypt.
Could you imagine creating a makeshift basket and putting a 3-month-old baby inside, then placing him in the water to sail down the river?
The River Nile is an important feature in our story as it served as the life force of the Egyptian community. The oldest civilizations began here at the rivers edge. Floods came to the River Nile every year from June to September and the desert flat lands were replenished for farming. Because the population continues to grow, Pharaoh needs a supernatural intervention. Pharaoh understands that his human power had little influence over the suppressing the Israelites or subverting their birthing process. It is easy to imagine how throwing babies into the River Nile to the crocodiles and the hippopotamus might be an act of worship to Egyptian gods.
Moses has been rescued from death and has been placed in the care of Pharaoh’s daughter for her to raise him in Egyptian culture and protocol. The bible is silent on what Moses’ childhood was like, but we have research that can help us put it together. Wesleyan Old Testament Scholar Sandra Richter suggests that Moses would have been trained by the Egyptians to read, write and to administrate. Moses most likely would have been at least bi-lingual, trained in the arts of war and diplomacy, and easily able to interrelate with royalty. Moses would have developed exceptional leadership skills
However, the Bible does offer us some details on Moses life.
- Moses became the son of Pharaoh’s daughter (Exodus 2.10), whom Jewish Scholars say her name was Bithya.
- Moses was learned in all the wisdom of the Egyptians, and was mighty in his words and in deeds (Acts 7.22).
- The first 40 years of his life were spent in Egypt.
- Moses spent the next 40 years working as a shepherd for his father-in-law Jethro, a Midianite priest.
- Moses married Jethro’s daughter, Zipporah, and together they had two sons.
- When Moses was 80 years old, God sent him back to Egypt to free the Israelites from slavery. God gave Moses specific directions on what to do and say, and Moses obeyed God (Exodus 7.7).
- By faith Moses refused to be called the son of Pharaoh’s daughter choosing instead to suffer with his own people, God’s people (Hebrews 11.24-26).
- Moses lived to be 120 years old (Deuteronomy 34.7), and became the meekest man on earth (Numbers 12.3).
A key part of Moses’ testimony to us is his writings. Moses wrote the first five books of the Old Testament, which the Jewish people have called The Torah. At length these writings express Moses life story – his birth, marriage, call to vocation, work as a leader and lawgiver, his relationship with his family and friends, his religious experiences, and his death. His life stories witness to the struggles of God’s people as a developing nation, and their developing faith relationship with their God. Moses becomes a heroic figure to the Israelites, but he also becomes a reminder to them of their need to be covenant-keepers, and not complainers.
Moses life story teaches us to look at genocide, ethnic cleansing, and other atrocities in our society from a grass-roots viewpoint. God called the women in this story to heroic interventions, and he calls all of us to seek out ways to right social wrongs in our world. A good example of Christian intervention is the lay movement in France 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 Jewish 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.
In fact the word genocide was created during WWII as a result of the violent crimes against Abraham’s descendents. Genocide was not even in a dictionary until the 1940s. However, the behavior of killing groups of people because of perceived threats to nations, politically or economically, has occurred since the beginning of time. In the midst of injustice from time to time people will arise like these women to covertly challenge the unjust laws.
Le-Chambon is a city whose people joined together to covertly challenge the injustices of genocide in WWII to save the lives of many Jewish children. For four years Christians worked together to smuggle children 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 evil political climates like the one in Egypt and during WWII rise up from time to time. Power and fear can motivate a leader to kill, especially children. Over the course of the last 25 years these kinds of behaviors continue to go unchecked in the Middle East and Europe. Last year Syria used a chemical weapon to kill some 1400 people near Damascus. My friends served as missionaries in this area, and were forced to leave because of the mounting tensions.
In 2013 North Korean leader Kim Jonh Un executed his own girlfriend along side other pop-performers who were allegedly breaking laws. For their perceived disloyalty under Un’s leadership three generations of a family, including children, are sent to perform hard labor with starvation and brutality. I have a friend whose family is stuck in North Korea, and the situation is dire. Families desire reunification, but it is impossible, which makes underground movements important to their survival.
Going back a bit further in 1994 we remember the genocide in Rwanda. In only a few days thousands of Hutu and Tutsi men, women, and children were massacred. I have a friend who is a Catholic priest that served in Rwanda during the holocaust. He worked to provide comfort to victims, and leadership to those who needed to evacuate the country by risking his own life.
And, in the 1990s a man named Milosevic removed 90% of the Albanian population from their homes in Kosovo, which resulted in violence toward women and children, and many mass graves. I once was a neighbor to a family who fled from this event, but left family behind.
And, this morning when you turn on your TV, open the newspaper or search on the Internet it’s easy to find stories of violence across the Middle East not unlike our story today… The religious cleansing of Iraq and the dispute in the Gaza strip are hot discussions in the news these days. And, we have a responsibility not to turn a blind eye to the atroscities around us. Truly, Moses’ life story offers us insights into how you and I might deal with atrocities today. Everyday decisions lead us to right living… and we have a responsibility to God, ourselves, and our neighbors to make good choices.
- We must decide to be faithful, obedient, covenant-keepers, commandment followers, community worshipers, lovers of holiness, and believers who live our faith fully integrated in everything we do.
- We can use Moses’ writings teach us timeless ethical, moral, and theological principles to incorporate into our daily lives. Moses’ life story teaches us to be faithful in our living, and obedient to God in our doing.
- Our faith heritage calls us to do social justice just like these women did in this story. The midwives refused to kill the babies. Jochebed refused to let her baby die in the waters of the Nile River. Miriam was obedient to her mother’s instruction to help her baby brother survive. And, even Pharaoh’s own daughter chose to disobey a royal decree to save the life of the baby boy Moses. Many small decisions came to bear upon the saving of Moses’ life.
- And, every small decision you and I make impacts the lives of those around us.
- Be wise in your choices! Choose life! Choose the good! Do social justice!