HOPE CHAPEL - Sunday, May 9, 2021
Teaching Series - “Our Family Tree–Through the Bible in 2021"
Weekly Topic - “A Baby Is Born” – Mother’s Day
Text – Exodus 1-2:10
Have you ever noticed how many stories of babies there are in the Bible? [Isaac, Jacob and Esau, Perez and Zerah, Moses, Samson, Obed, Samuel, Joash, John the Baptist, Jesus… to name but a few] And in each story, we also hear the intersecting stories of women—mothers, sisters, aunts and others who showed courage, faith and sacrifice. If the biblical accounts were strictly works recorded by men, babies would be in large part excluded. Our stories from history often highlight brave men who excelled in military glory, leadership and sacrifice. God does not judge our significance on the same criteria the world uses—not our age, gender, race or social status—so His-story looks quite different. Today, being that it’s Mother’s Day and that we have landed on a story of one of the Bible’s most famous babies, it is good for us to remember that God can use anyone and everyone when it comes to working out his plan for the world. And when it comes to God’s plans, we should take note that he has been known to do the completely unexpected! Just as in our story today…
Today, we are beginning our walk through the book of Exodus. Last week, we finished the book of Genesis with Jacob and his family having relocated to Egypt. The book of Exodus picks up their story and introduces another main character of the Bible, Moses, some 350 years later.
INCREASINGLY DESPERATE SITUATION – Exodus 1:1-22
“These are the names of the sons of Israel (that is, Jacob) who moved to Egypt with their father, each with his family: 2 Reuben, Simeon, Levi, Judah, 3 Issachar, Zebulun, Benjamin, 4 Dan, Naphtali, Gad, and Asher. 5 In all, Jacob had seventy descendants in Egypt, including Joseph, who was already there. 6 In time, Joseph and all of his brothers died, ending that entire generation. 7 But their descendants, the Israelites, had many children and grandchildren. In fact, they multiplied so greatly that they became extremely powerful and filled the land.
8 Eventually, a new king came to power in Egypt who knew nothing about Joseph or what he had done. 9 He said to his people, ‘Look, the people of Israel now outnumber us and are stronger than we are. 10 We must make a plan to keep them from growing even more. If we don’t, and if war breaks out, they will join our enemies and fight against us. Then they will escape from the country.’ 11 So the Egyptians made the Israelites their slaves. They appointed brutal slave drivers over them, hoping to wear them down with crushing labor. They forced them to build the cities of Pithom and Rameses as supply centers for the king. 12 But the more the Egyptians oppressed them, the more the Israelites multiplied and spread, and the more alarmed the Egyptians became. 13 So the Egyptians worked the people of Israel without mercy. 14 They made their lives bitter, forcing them to mix mortar and make bricks and do all the work in the fields. They were ruthless in all their demands.
15 Then Pharaoh, the king of Egypt, gave this order to the Hebrew midwives, Shiphrah and Puah: 16 ‘When you help the Hebrew women as they give birth, watch as they deliver. If the baby is a boy, kill him; if it is a girl, let her live.’ 17 But because the midwives feared God, they refused to obey the king’s orders. They allowed the boys to live, too. 18 So the king of Egypt called for the midwives. ‘Why have you done this?’ he demanded. ‘Why have you allowed the boys to live?’ 19The midwives replied, ‘The Hebrew women are not like the Egyptian women. They are more vigorous and have their babies so quickly that we cannot get there in time.’ 20 So God was good to the midwives, and the Israelites continued to multiply, growing more and more powerful. 21 And because the midwives feared God, he gave them families of their own
22 Then Pharaoh gave this order to all his people: ‘Throw every newborn Hebrew boy into the Nile River. But you may let the girls live.’”
The Egyptians forgot their own history and saw the expanding population of the Hebrews as inherently threatening; underlying this fear was their own prejudice toward the Hebrews in the forms of discrimination, racism and classism. They kept written records just as we do, but the fact they ‘forgot’ all about Joseph shouldn’t surprise us. The events we read about occurred roughly 350 years after the Jacob’s family had moved to Egypt.
Before we’re tempted to judge Pharaoh too harshly for not knowing about Joseph and all he did for Egypt, I have a little activity for us. How well do we know the history of the Christian Church over the course of the past 350 years?
· 1611—Publication of the King James Bible
· 1652—George Fox founds Society of Friends (“Quakers”), gathering 50,000 followers in just eight years…all without social media!
· 1678—Jailed Baptist preacher John Bunyan writes Pilgrim’s Progress—next to the Bible, the most-popular English-language book of all time.
· 1735—George Whitefield is converted and soon begins dramatic open-air evangelism in the U.S. and England within Calvinism.
· 1738—John and Charles Wesley Experience Conversions - They were ordained ministers and missionaries; their changed lives gave rise to a worldwide movement, Methodism.
· 1807—William Wilberforce’s efforts lead to the abolition of the British slave trade.
· 1845—Phoebe Palmer writes The Way of Holiness, spurring the Holiness movement, while strengthening women’s ministries and encouraging the Prayer Meeting Revival.
· 1878—William and Catherine Booth found the Salvation Army, soon a worldwide thrust for social and spiritual salvation.
If we don’t know these facts about significant events that happened in the Christian Church, we dare not judge Pharaoh and the Egyptians for having forgotten the work that Joseph did on their behalf.
One thing is clear. The Egyptian Pharaoh was desperate to hang onto power. He saw the growing numbers of Hebrews as threatening to overwhelm his own people; if they made an alliance with an enemy nation, Egypt would be hopelessly outnumbered. The sophisticated Egyptians were repelled at the idea that they would ever have to share power with these low-class farmers—the Hebrews were shepherds, which we know from Joseph’s story was an occupation the Egyptians despised. Wouldn’t you say that this story contains elements that sound strikingly familiar to some of our current day attitudes?
However, at the same time, part of Pharaoh’s motivation was to see them remain in the country. Despite the Egyptians disdain for shepherds, they saw the benefit of the labour and commerce provided through the Hebrews. Pharaoh didn’t want to see them go, as it was beneficial to the whole country that they remain; he just didn’t want to see them become an overpowering force. Pharaoh and the people of Egypt grew increasingly desperate to avert what they perceived to be a threat and so attempted to regain control by enslaving the Hebrews.
How did the Hebrews respond? I can’t imagine they passively gave up their freedom, but as a society they specialized in growing crops and animal husbandry; they may have found themselves defenseless against the military prowess of their Egyptian hosts. However, the harsher the treatment they were forced to endure, the more they appeared to prosper. So, when enslaving the people and treating them ever more harshly didn’t produce the desired results, Pharaoh resorts to a partial genocide—the killing of all the baby boys.
First, he instructs the Hebrew midwives to kill the baby boys at birth; but they refuse. He then orders all of his subjects to do the deed—all Hebrew baby boys are to be killed with only the baby girls being permitted to live. The Jewish people would understandably be growing increasingly desperate under slavery and the threat to their very lives and the lives of their children.
How could this be part of God’s plans? You may recall that God had already told Abraham many years earlier that his descendants would be as numerous as the stars; however, they would also find themselves enslaved for a time, but that God would rescue them and bring them into the land God was promising them as their inheritance. Prior to being enslaved, I suspect the people had become comfortable. Their Egyptian enslavement would act as a powerful motivator to leave their adopted country.
But, what God does next doesn’t make any sense at all!
DO OR DIE – Exodus 2:1-10
“About this time, a man and woman from the tribe of Levi got married. 2 The woman became pregnant and gave birth to a son. She saw that he was a special baby and kept him hidden for three months. 3 But when she could no longer hide him, she got a basket made of papyrus reeds and waterproofed it with tar and pitch. She put the baby in the basket and laid it among the reeds along the bank of the Nile River. 4 The baby’s sister then stood at a distance, watching to see what would happen to him.
5 Soon Pharaoh’s daughter came down to bathe in the river, and her attendants walked along the riverbank. When the princess saw the basket among the reeds, she sent her maid to get it for her. 6 When the princess opened it, she saw the baby. The little boy was crying, and she felt sorry for him. “This must be one of the Hebrew children,” she said.
7 Then the baby’s sister approached the princess. “Should I go and find one of the Hebrew women to nurse the baby for you?” she asked. 8 ‘Yes, do!’ the princess replied. So the girl went and called the baby’s mother.
9 ‘Take this baby and nurse him for me,’ the princess told the baby’s mother. ‘I will pay you for your help.’ So the woman took her baby home and nursed him. 10 Later, when the boy was older, his mother brought him back to Pharaoh’s daughter, who adopted him as her own son. The princess named him Moses, for she explained, ‘I lifted him out of the water.’”
What a terrible time for God to bless any Hebrew family with a baby boy! What sense does it make to have a child born into a time when there is literally a death warrant on his head? It doesn’t make sense to us, but it made God-sense and was part of his greater plan that would take an additional eighty years to see accomplished. This little boy, would one day be tasked by God, to lead the Hebrews out of Egypt; however, at the time of his birth, had God revealed it to anyone, the suggestion would have been met with unbelief. It would have seemed entirely impossible.
In the meantime, what to do with this small one? How can a mother go about protecting her son from the orders of a malevolent king? At three months old, it becomes apparent that the family cannot keep his existence a secret any longer. If you’ve ever tried to keep a baby happy and entertained, you understand the struggle it would have been as he got older. The baby’s mother enacts a desperate plan in a bid to save her son. They are forced to make a gamble—if he is put in the river where the Egyptian royal women are known to come and bathe, someone may find his small basket and have compassion…or order his immediate drowning. But, if his mother tries to keep him hid herself, it will only be a matter of time before he is found and murdered. She has no real option. Keeping him will ensure his death; if one of the Egyptian royal household takes pity, he might stand a chance. The safest place for her son is with the enemy!
So, a special basket is prepared, made water-tight, and placed in the river with the baby inside. Some of you may be familiar with Dreamwork’s depiction of this scene--the basket is pushed off into open water by his tearful mother; at points we see it caught up in a fishing net only to fall back into the water, fought over by hungry hippopotamuses and crocodiles, being tossed around in an angry river, nearly crushed by shipping vessels…until it finally floats into a peaceful estuary. This is where the queen has come, fishes out the basket and after removing the lid is met by a smiling baby who coos at her; she disappears into the palace with Moses in her arms, never to mingle with the Hebrews from whom he came until much later as an adult.
This fanciful edge-of-your-seat depiction misses the mark in many respects, not the least being the mother’s very careful planning. If she must give him up, she wants to give him the best possible chance at survival she knows how. The section of the river she places her baby in is shallow water, among the reeds, near to where she knows the royals come to bathe…and she sets her daughter, Miriam to watch over the basket. Could it be that she was not actually looking for anyone to find him, but rather was hoping she could use the river to hide him? We don’t know what exactly she was hoping for, but we do know what happens next.
The Pharaoh’s daughter comes down to the river to bathe with some of her attendants and she notices the basket in the shallows. She has it brought to her and is met by a baby’s cries and she feels sorry for him. The baby’s sister, jumps out of hiding and offers to find a wet-nurse for the princess. It appears that the princess chooses this moment to conspire against her father. Was it any ‘coincidence’ that a little Hebrew girl was watching over the basket? Or that she offered to find the baby a nurse? Highly unlikely. Surely, too, she knew her father’s edict, yet she finds herself unwilling to comply with his demands, even though she recognizes this baby is one of the children of the Hebrews. Her compassion for this crying infant, regardless of race, caused her to act in direct disobedience to her own father.
And God, who had blessed this family with the birth of a baby boy, rewards this mother with the salvation of her son. She will be permitted to continue to raise Moses until he is weaned…and be paid to do it—the first historical record of a mother getting paid to work at home! And even though she will have to eventually give him over to the care of Pharaoh’s daughter, she is now assured that he will live when so many others are dying, sheltered under the protection of Egyptian royalty from even the Pharaoh’s dire threats and mistreatment.
God’s poor choice of timing, from our perspective, caused a desperate mother to devise a plan and take a risk that would not have been required of her at another time. God knew that the future leader of the Israelites was going to need protection and specialized training, so had him raised in Pharaoh’s palace—safe from harm, learning to lead, never being beaten down by the trauma of slavery. And apparently, Pharaoh tolerated his daughter’s decision; after all, what harm could one little boy bring to the entire nation?
The desperation of a mother, the pity of a princess and the courage of a little sister, all worked together to fulfill God’s plan to one day use this little one, Moses, to accomplish what Pharaoh feared and had tried so hard to prevent—that the Hebrews would leave Egypt.
What can we take from this biblical narrative?
· What the Egyptians did to the Hebrews bears some resemblance to apartheid in South Africa, the reserve system for First Nations in Canada, the powerplays being currently exercised in many countries around our globe and other instances where one group of people has attempted to assert wholesale control over another group. Just as we are horrified by this partial genocide by Egypt of the Hebrews in the biblical record, we must condemn and work against all underlying forms of discrimination that have the potential to lead to great atrocity in our own day. Pharaoh’s mindset still exists.
· Even when it appears otherwise, God is the master of perfect timing.
· God’s plan is always best—it may not be easy and we may never understand all the ‘whys.’ Moses’ mother would not have lived long enough to see her son at the head of the Hebrews, leading them out of Egypt. But we can trust the One who is working in the background bringing about the greatest good in our world that has been thoroughly corrupted by sin.
· God’s plan is never stopped—he can use everyone and every situation to bring about the fulfillment of his will. What might be impossible for us, is not for God.
· God uses some of the most unlikely people to accomplish his plans—in this case a desperate mother, a disobedient princess, a little girl and even a murderous king.
Sunday, May 16, 2021- “Leadership Development” (Exodus 2:11-4) - ONLINE Only
Pastor Jane Peck, Hope Chapel
(Collingwood EMCC Church)
"Learning and Living the Way of Jesus!"
First licensed for pastoral ministry in 1994, Pastor Jane Peck has served in camp and church ministries in three denominations, five provinces and in a variety of roles. Her most recent position is that of Pastor at Hope Chapel which she began in 2020. She is excited to see what God can and will do in the days to come!