Exodus Chapter 1:8 – 2:10
8Now a new king arose over Egypt, who did not know Joseph. 9He said to his people, “Look, the Israelite people are more numerous and more powerful than we. 10Come, let us deal shrewdly with them, or they will increase and, in the event of war, join our enemies and fight against us and escape from the land.” 11Therefore they set taskmasters over them to oppress them with forced labor. They built supply cities, Pithom and Rameses, for Pharaoh. 12But the more they were oppressed, the more they multiplied and spread, so that the Egyptians came to dread the Israelites. 13The Egyptians became ruthless in imposing tasks on the Israelites, 14and made their lives bitter with hard service in mortar and brick and in every kind of field labor. They were ruthless in all the tasks that they imposed on them. 15The king of Egypt said to the Hebrew midwives, one of whom was named Shiphrah and the other Puah, 16“When you act as midwives to the Hebrew women, and see them on the birthstool, if it is a boy, kill him; but if it is a girl, she shall live.” 17But the midwives feared God; they did not do as the king of Egypt commanded them, but they let the boys live. 18So the king of Egypt summoned the midwives and said to them, “Why have you done this, and allowed the boys to live?” 19The midwives said to Pharaoh, “Because the Hebrew women are not like the Egyptian women; for they are vigorous and give birth before the midwife comes to them.”20So God dealt well with the midwives; and the people multiplied and became very strong. 21And because the midwives feared God, he gave them families. 22Then Pharaoh commanded all his people, “Every boy that is born to the Hebrews you shall throw into the Nile, but you shall let every girl live.” 2Now a man from the house of Levi went and married a Levite woman.2The woman conceived and bore a son; and when she saw that he was a fine baby, she hid him three months. 3When she could hide him no longer she got a papyrus basket for him, and plastered it with bitumen and pitch; she put the child in it and placed it among the reeds on the bank of the river. 4His sister stood at a distance, to see what would happen to him. 5The daughter of Pharaoh came down to bathe at the river, while her attendants walked beside the river. She saw the basket among the reeds and sent her maid to bring it. 6When she opened it, she saw the child. He was crying, and she took pity on him, “This must be one of the Hebrews’ children,” she said. 7Then his sister said to Pharaoh’s daughter, “Shall I go and get you a nurse from the Hebrew women to nurse the child for you?”8Pharaoh’s daughter said to her, “Yes.” So the girl went and called the child’s mother. 9Pharaoh’s daughter said to her, “Take this child and nurse it for me, and I will give you your wages.” So the woman took the child and nursed it. 10When the child grew up, she brought him to Pharaoh’s daughter, and she took him as her son. She named him Moses, “because,” she said, “I drew him out of the water.”
A Homily by Mother Beth
This week we make our way into the Book of Exodus. Exodus is the second book of the Old Testament or the Hebrew Scriptures – Exodus means a mass departure of people. And although last week’s focus was clearly about Joseph and how God used him to save his own people and the people of Egypt, this week we are confronted with a Pharaoh/King who has forgotten Joseph.
So what happens when the cultural memory shifts? What happens when people forget certain norms of behavior? Look around the world today and you will see that we have all lived through these shifts. And sometimes we even comment on the changes around us saying things like, “There was a time when you would never see anyone do that in public” or “There was a time when a woman would not go to church without a hat.” We have all observed some of these changes and the longer you live the more things seem to change.
I mention this as a reminder that we are now in a time when going to church is something that is not in people’s cultural memory. There has come a time when people do not have any personal memory of what it means to attend church. What does that mean?
Well what did it mean for the King to have no memory of Joseph? It meant that he had no indebtedness to the children of Israel. It meant that he had no reason to be on good behavior towards those who came from Joseph’s family line. (From the call of Abraham, when God first told him he would make of him a great nation, to the deliverance of his seed out of Egypt, it was 430 years, during the first 215 of which they were increased but to seventy, but, in the latter half, those seventy multiplied to 600,000 fighting men.)
In terms of what this means for the church today – no matter how great the church events of the past or the glory of the former Church, there will always come along cultural change that does not remember the former glories of the Church or of Christians.
We cannot live off the events or accomplishments or the spiritual awakenings of the past, we must continue to move forward – we must continue to be lead by God into new areas and keep telling the story of who God is to every new generation and to every change in cultural memory.
When the new king looked around and noticed how numerous the Israelites were, he grew worried that if he did not control their population then they would easily be able to overpower him and take control of Egypt. So the king plots what we have seen all too often over the course of history – he plots a genocide – or the killing of a whole people and orders that the midwives work on his behalf. He suggests that as the baby is being born if it is a male child the midwives should kill it and if it is a female child they are allowed to let it live.
The irony of this chapter is that it is full of strong women and somehow the king thinks that he will be safe from harm and uprising if he kills the male children and lets the females live!?
So we have these two midwives – Shiphrah and Puah – who take it upon themselves to violate the king’s command. They decide that they cannot kill these innocent children so they tell the king that the women of Israel are so quick in labour that the babies are born before they get there. The midwives have a healthier fear of God then they do of the king. And so the king’s plan to obliterate the Israelites is thwarted and Moses is born.
Proverbs Chapter 9 verse 10 says, “The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom, And the knowledge of the Holy One is understanding.” And Psalm 111:10 says, “The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom; all who follow his precepts have good understanding. To him belongs eternal praise.”
And so in verses 20 and 21 of Exodus 1 we hear, 20So God dealt well with the midwives; and the people multiplied and became very strong. 21And because the midwives feared God, he gave them families.
But there is still fear that male babies will be hurt if they are discovered so one mother builds a boat – an ark – and places her baby in it and floats it in the Nile River. The baby’s sister waits by the side of the river to see what will become of him.
The daughter of Pharaoh comes down to the river to bathe and sees the ark and sends her maid to get the boat and see what is inside. The baby cries and the Pharaoh’s daughter takes pity on him – she recognizes that this is a Hebrew child and so she rescues him – defying her own father.
The little girl then asks if Pharaoh’s daughter needs a nurse for the baby and proceeds to get her mother to be the nurse for her own brother.
All of these women doing what they know to do and in so doing defying the order of the king. The midwives, the mother, the Pharaoh’s daughter, the big sister – each given an opportunity to be part of a bigger plan that God is working.
This week I was reminded of the story of Ashley Smith, an Atlanta woman, who was held hostage by a gunman in 2005. She recorded the events of her ordeal in the book entitled, ”Unlikely Angel”. Ashley was was a young widow and single mother struggling with addictions that is why she considered herself “Unlikely” to be an angel. But Ashley managed to stay calm while she was held hostage and she convinced the fugitive to let her read aloud a book she had been reading. That book was “The Purpose Drive Life” by Pastor Rick Warren. Ashley spoke to the fugitive about purpose in life and managed to convince him to leave her apartment. When he left Ashley called the police to report the fugitive’s location and he was arrested.
Ashley did not expect to be used by God to have such an impact on Atlanta that day but God enabled her to do something that turned into a heroic event.
As we hear the Old Testament readings over the next weeks, we will watch and be reminded of the great exodus of Israel led by the servant Moses. Each of these women that we read about today in Exodus 1 had a part to play in God’s bigger plan. What if I told you that something that you do today could help fulfill some part of God’s plan? Would you believe it? Is it possible that in faithfully going about your business and living your life you could impact the future in a big way?
I am sure that those midwives did not know that their faithfulness would lead to the deliverance of Israel. I am sure that Miriam – the big sister watching at the riverbank – was unaware of how important her presence was that day at the seashore. I am certain that Pharaoh’s daughter had no clue that in rescuing that helpless baby she was securing the deliverance of the very people that her father was determined to destroy.
Often I think we assume that we are “unlikely” to be used by God – that our lives and the things that we are doing are too small to have a significant impact. The truth is that God’s plan involves many people and although we readily recognize the “Joseph” or the “Moses” of the story – they could not be who God calls them to be without the faithfulness of many others. God knows not just Joseph or the Moses but the name of each and every one. He sees the Shiphrah and Puah, the Miriam, the Pharaoh’s daughter and Moses’ mother. God has a plan and a purpose for each one. Be encouraged. God calls you to be a part of His plan for this world too. Amen.