Exodus 2:1-10 ~ 20100509 ~ Pastor Rodney Zedicher ~ Ephraim Church of the Bible ~ www.ephraimbible.org
5/9 Exodus 2:1-10 A Mother's Faith
In Exodus, we see God fulfilling his covenant promises to his people and bringing his creation blessings on them. He did good to them and made them fruitful and multiplied them, he made their descendants numerous and filled the land with them. He made them exceedingly strong. But in response to God's blessings, the Egyptians feared. They saw them as a threat. God's blessing does not mean that our lives will be problem free. But in the problems and in the trials, God will show himself strong. The Pharaoh feared the people of Israel, so he conspired to deal shrewdly with them in order to weaken them and reduce their population. He enslaved them and afflicted them with heavy burdens to break their spirit and make them so exhausted and weak that they wouldn't procreate. But the more they were ruthlessly oppressed, the more God blessed and the more they multiplied. So this king of the most powerful nation in the world, because he feared the Israelites, called on two Hebrew women, midwives, Shiphrah and Puah, to kill the male Israelite children. But these two women did not fear the Pharaoh. They feared God and so they disobeyed the king and helped the male children to thrive. God confounded the plans of this Egyptian monarch through the God-fearing actions of two Hebrew women. When these women were called on to give an account of why they disobeyed, they gave an answer that managed to confound the Pharaoh and insult all Egyptians, and the Pharaoh let them go. For their God-fearing actions, God blessed still more and gave even these barren midwives families of their own. So Pharaoh's plans were again thwarted and even the barren women in Israel were having children. But as God's blessing increased, so did the Pharaoh's oppression. The last verse in chapter one gives the Pharaoh's response:
And it's on that dark note that we pick up the story today. The Nile river was the source of life in Egypt. The Nile was worshiped as a god that had the power to give and take life. It brought water to the desert, and it also served as the country's sewer, washing away all the unwanted refuse. It was into this river that the Pharaoh commanded all the Egyptian people to cast every son born to the Hebrews.
How would God intervene this time? It seems he delights to do the unexpected and act in ways we would not even think of. Often God chooses surprisingly inconspicuous means of accomplishing his sovereign purposes. When Pharaoh tried to crush the Israelites with oppressive labor, God simply caused them to have more babies in the normal natural way. When Pharaoh tried to employ midwives to carry out the murder of the male children, God put the fear of him into two women so that they chose to obey God rather than the king. Instead of reducing the Israelite population, God blessed them so that they contributed to it, further foiling the Pharaoh's plan. Now, when the order comes for all of Egypt to throw the Hebrew male children into the river, God responds by causing a boy baby to be born to an insignificant Hebrew family in Egypt.
So we have an unnamed man and and unnamed woman from the tribe of Levi. Later, in Exodus 6:4 (also Num.26:59) we find the mother's name was Jochebed and the father's name was Amram, but for now it is simply a man from the house of Levi and a Levite woman. Later in the book of Exodus, we find that the tribe of Levi is chosen to be the priestly tribe, the tribe that would give spiritual and judicial leadership to the people of Israel, the tribe that proved itself loyal to YHWH. But that's reading ahead of our story. At this point in the history, what we know of the Levites is that they were a cursed tribe because of the bloodthirsty act of Levi and his brother Simeon against Shechem:
So the Levites were a cursed and disenfranchised tribe, destined to be scattered among the other tribes. We are yet to learn how God turned this curse into a blessing.
So we have this couple, Levites, who have a son under the command of Pharaoh, destined to be destroyed. They see that he is a fine child, literally 'good'. This is the same word that God used seven times in the creation narrative to declare that what he had made was good. I don't think this means that there was something uniquely special about this child in contrast to other Hebrew boys that caused his parents to try to save him. I think it is meant to remind us of God's creative acts. As God created the world and declared that it was good, so now, God is at work bringing about good in the midst of evil and darkness and hopelessness. She saw that he was good, - a good creation of God, so she hid him. We are told that this was an act of faith on the part of his parents. Faith in God rather than fear of the tyrant. Just like the midwives who feared God more than the king, now these parent's trust in God supersedes their fear of punishment and even death.
She hid him for three months. When she couldn't hide him any longer at home, she obeyed Pharaoh's command and threw him in the river. Well, here's what it says:
She technically obeyed the Pharaoh's command by casting him into the Nile, again, not because of fear but in faith. This was her next move in trusting God and protecting her child. She prepared an ark and covered it with tar and pitch. The word here translated 'basket' is [ hbt tebah tay-baw'] ark; This is the same word used in Genesis:
In fact, 26 of the 28 times this word appears in the bible it refers to Noah's boat that God instructed him to build for the preservation of life. The other two occurrences are in this passage referring to the boat this Levite mother made to preserve the life of her treasured son. In both cases the boat was covered with tar and pitch to make it waterproof. Moses is using this word 'ark' to describe this basket to cause us to make the connection between this story of preservation of life from water with the account of the flood. The passengers of both boats were spared a tragic watery fate that claimed the lives of many of their contemporaries. The passengers of both are the instruments used by God to create a new people for his own purposes.
This loving Levite mother did not send her ark out into the current of the river, but placed it among the reeds by the river bank, where it would remain in place and could be observed carefully by the older sister who was probably still young enough to play inconspicuously by the river bank, but old enough to watch out for potential danger – probably somewhere between 6 and 12 years old. The intention was most likely to keep the boy there where he had less chance of being discovered, and to come when it was safe to feed and care for him. We find out in chapter 15 that the sister's name is Miriam. The baby boy has been kept safe by his mother for three months, and now she has made preparation to continue to care for him secretly. Things are looking promising for this Hebrew family, but an unexpected turn of events could spell disaster.
This is the worst possible thing that could be expected. The tyrant's own daughter coming to bathe in the sacred Nile much too near the secret hiding place. Maybe she would not notice the basket and leave. Maybe the baby would remain quiet and not draw her attention.
The boy is discovered! And by an Egyptian! By one of the Pharaoh's own daughters. It would not be much different if the Pharaoh himself had discovered him. But this young girl who was to watch over her baby brother walked by faith and not by sight. God was in control even over what seemed like utter disaster and total failure of their careful plan. What are the odds of the enemy's own daughter coming to bathe here? How could God let this happen?
This is a turning point in the story. She had pity on him. She did not carry out her father's command. She recognized him as a Hebrew male, one who was under the condemnation of her own father, and she could have silenced his crying immediately in the water, but instead she took pity on him. The next move is courageous and daring. The baby's sister approaches the king's daughter and dares to speak. A child addresses the princess with a suggestion.
She is careful and diplomatic in the way she addresses the princess. She is offering assistance to benefit the king's daughter. It is for you, o princess, that I will call a wet nurse. She can nurse and calm the boy for you. The Pharaoh's daughter responds with one word.
Imagine for a moment this scene. Young Miriam comes running to fetch her mother. Her mother sees her coming without the baby – she has left her post. Something must have happened! “Come quickly Mama – the Pharaoh's daughter had found your baby!” Oy Vey! Panic, grief, fear... is he dead? What has happened? Why are you smiling? “Come, Mama, come. I will explain on the way.” Are you sure? Is it safe? Could it be?
The irony of this is deep. The mother of the child who had to entrust him to God on the Nile is now given back her baby boy – to nurse and care for and teach – with pay. Pay from the treasury of the Pharaoh whose decree it was to execute him. The Pharaoh who attempted to break the backs of the Israelite slaves, the Pharaoh who commanded the midwives to kill all the Hebrew baby boys, the Pharaoh who ordered all his citizens to execute all Israelite male children, is now paying this Jewish mother to nurse and train up her own baby boy! Imagine the joy and relief in this household! Imagine Amram coming home to find his boy back at home, no longer being cautiously hidden but now openly enjoyed. Imagine the wonder and amazement and worship. They certainly had asked God to protect their child. But do you think in their wildest prayers they ever would have asked that they would be paid wages by the Egyptians to care for their boy, whom these same Egyptians wanted dead?
Of course, the good news is bitter-sweet. The boy would be adopted by the Pharaoh's daughter. Jochebed had probably three to four years to nurse and train and pour love and truth and stories of their history into this young boy. She had a short time to impress him with the fear of the Lord. And as she had entrusted him to the Nile, now she had to entrust him to the Pharaoh's daughter and to the omnipotent hands of her God. It would be more than seventy-five years before they would see how God used their boy to be the instrument God used to deliver Israel from the Egyptians. They would have to pray and trust and wait.
The name 'Moses' was a somewhat common Egyptian name meaning 'son' or 'to give birth to'. It was part of the well known names Ptahmose, Tuthmosis, Ahmose, and Harmose. [Durham, p.17]. But it sounds like the Hebrew verb 'masah', to draw out. It is this connection that the princess emphasizes because she drew him out of the water. This name will become prophetic as Moses will be the one God uses to draw the nation of Israel out of Egypt and literally out of the waters.
The Pharaoh acted shrewdly in dealing with the Israelites. His plans were crafty and they seemed wise. But in his scheming, he found himself fighting against God.
The Pharaoh was wise. But he did not know God. He thought he was god.
Although God is not named in this story, we see God's sovereign hand moving all the circumstances to display his infinite wisdom and poetic justice and even his timeless sense of humor. The great Pharaoh of Egypt set himself against God's people, and therefore against God himself. And God confounded him with two Hebrew midwives, a Hebrew mother, and his own daughter. God used four humble women to frustrate the plans of the most powerful man in the world
We can take heart from this history. Whether we can see God's hand or not, God is most certainly working behind and in and through each and every circumstance that is in our lives, good and bad, ultimately to display his glory and bring good to us. We must remain humble, we must not be fearful but faithful. We must learn to trust God like Jochebed and Miriam and Shiphrah and Puah trusted God. They did not sit back and say 'God is sovereign so we will just sit back and see what he does in this situation'. Rather they said 'God is sovereign, so we will be faithful to do what we are responsible to do to the best of our ability – to care for, protect and preserve life, to train and nurture – and we will trust that our sovereign God will do what we cannot hope to do – to bring hope and life and joy and meaning out of a hopeless, senseless, desperate, deadly situation. We must simply be faithful to do what we are called to do and to trust God to bring good results.
And God saves his people. Just as God preserved Noah safe inside the ark during the judgment, and just as God kept Moses safe inside his little ark, so if we run to Jesus, we will be kept safe from the judgment to come