August 24, 2008
“Now a man from the house of Levi went and married a Levite woman. The woman conceived and bore a son; and when she saw that he was a fine baby, she hid him for three months. When 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. His sister stood at a distance, to see what would happen to him.
The 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. When 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. Then 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?’ Pharaoh’s daughter said to her, ‘Yes.’ So the girl went and called the child’s mother. Pharaoh’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. When 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.’
As most of you know Andrew and Jennifer Rollins are expecting a baby, literally any moment now. Babies are nice. Everybody loves babies. But have you noticed the amount of stuff we need to take care of those little bundles of joy. Even recording the baby’s first moments has become a hi-tech business.
In an earlier day, a more primitive time, baby books were a favorite means of logging all the “firsts” that a child goes through — first day home, first favorite toy, first book, first time the child says something that can be misconstrued as “dad,” etc. Today, you take pictures or movies of the little one on a digital camera, and upload them to an Internet server, or Facebook, or Myspace, or YouTube. No books, no more. Now you have a virtual digital diary of everything baby did — the good, the bad and the ugly — from day one.
However, photos are not the only way to fawn over baby. Some parents keep a lock of hair or the baby’s hospital wristband as a memento. But, like everything else in baby-dom, things have become even bigger and better. Now, along with pictures of baby’s first squinty-eyed days of life, you can also have a cast made of baby’s footprint. You mix a pre-made, nontoxic and nonstick dough, stick baby’s foot in it, then let it dry for 24-26 hours after which you can frame it and hang it on the wall for visitors to marvel at (making sure, to remove baby’s foot from the dough first, of course).
While it’s certainly great to gather up all those memories in a book or in a footprint sculpture, we also know that it’s the stories that moms and dads tell that really leave a lasting impression on kids when they’re old enough to hear about their births. Maybe it is that story about the harrowing trip to the hospital or the way the child looked, all naked, small, and helpless.
It could be a funny story or even an anxious one as parents recall their joy and fear during the birth process. Kids want to hear those stories when they get older because in some ways it’s those stories that shape their future while their parents recall the past. A child who hears such stories knows that he or she is valued and loved. Knowing where we came from in many ways helps us know where we are going. These baby stories become the verbal footprints of that person.
So today, let us imagine the stories that Moses’ mom told him when he was old enough to hear them. Let’s go further and imagine that the mother of Moses is a very up to date 21st century mom who kept digital footprints of Moses in an online blog.
We might imagine that the first post in Moses’ online baby book would be a news article from the Cairo Chronicle about Pharaoh’s order to the midwives to kill off all the male children born to the Hebrew slaves. This Pharaoh is totally paranoid, so much so that he is willing to destroy his cheap labor force in order to preserve his hold on power. He has all these slaves to do everything he ever wanted, and what does he want? He wants to get rid of them.
Two of the Hebrew midwives, Shiphrah and Puah, realize that Pharaoh is a few bricks shy of a pyramid and defy his order to kill male Hebrew babies. They blame their failure to do that nasty work on the “vigorous” constitution of the Hebrew women, who give birth before the midwives can get there. Moses’ birth is thus made possible because some women who did not even know him decide to honor God instead of human power and paranoia (1:15-21). Shiphrah and Puah are at minor characters in the book of Exodus. We don’t think much about how God worked through them to achieve his will. In fact though, God did just that. The deliverance of a people from slavery, the whole exodus, stands or falls or the courage and faithfulness of Shiphrah and Puah. The lesson is that God uses ordinary people to do his will, people like you and me.
But let us continue with our digital blog. The next entry might be a few hieroglyphics of mom Jochebed, dad Amram and sister Miriam with the baby — etchings that look like they’d been hammered out at night or when no one else was around (by the way, we are told the names of Moses’ parents in Exodus 6:20). For three months, they kept the baby under wraps, literally under wraps. They loved him and, like all parents, they thought he was really something special, but they also knew that at some point, this has to end. They can no longer keep the growing boy a secret, so Jochebed hatches a dangerous plan to preserve the boy’s life.
Jochebed is the third strong woman that we encounter in these chapters. She will not give up her son without a final desperate attempt to save him.
So, we go on to another baby blog entry. Perhaps it is just a piece of papyrus as a reminder of the basket that Moses was put in and set adrift down the Nile. Interestingly, the same Hebrew word for this “basket” is used for “ark” in the story of Noah in Genesis (2:3; Genesis 6:14). Once again, the writer seems to be telling us, God is saving his people from the watery chaos of human corruption and taking them forward to a new life. You have to imagine Jochebed in tears as she tells this part of the story — all the fear and desperation coming to a head there at the river-bank.
Now I wonder how far it was from where Jochebed put the basket in the river to where Pharaoh’s daughter was taking a bath. I suspect that it was not far, and that this part of the river was not infested with crocodiles, else Pharaoh’s daughter would not have been there. Perhaps Jochebed knew that Pharaoh’s daughter was just down river and hoped that someone in her court would intercept the basket and keep the child. That would explain why she had Moses’ sister follow the course of the basket by walking along the riverbank, but even so, even granting all that, this was still a desperate plan with little chance of success. But given her circumstances, what else could Jochebed do? This is better than turning the baby over to the Egyptian Gestapo to be killed.
The next blog entry would be about Miriam. She was the big sister, the one who followed the basket/ark down the river. Miriam is a kid herself, but she is the fourth strong woman in this narrative. When opportunity presented itself, she seized it with both hands. She saw Pharaoh’s daughter going out into the water for her bath, finding the basket and the baby. Miriam quickly comes forward, offering to go get a wet nurse for the baby. The wet nurse is the boy’s own mother. Jochebed got her boy back for a time, but only until he was old enough to live with his adoptive mother in Pharaoh’s court (2:10).
Then there is the fifth strong woman in this passage—Pharaoh’s daughter. We do not even know her name. Perhaps we should not read too much into the fact that she was daughter of Pharaoh. Pharaohs had many wives, and many sons and daughters. The primary use of daughters was to marry them off to foreign heads of state as treaty guarantees. Centuries later, we read that Solomon had a daughter of Pharaoh as a wife. We do not know much about the status of this particular daughter of Pharaoh in Exodus, but she seems to have been a far more decent human being than her father.
She knew that the baby in the basket was a Hebrew boy and that her paranoid father had ordered all Egyptians to throw such babies into the river when they found them (1:22). Apparently, however, she thought dear old dad was out of his tree, so to speak. She was absolutely right. Anyone who would legalize murdering babies would have to be totally lunatic. Well, Pharaoh’s daughter could not do anything about the baby-murdering law, but she could do something about this baby. She decided to raise him as her own. She defied government. She defied the law. Do you see a pattern here of defiance of authority, by all these women? And Moses would learn that lesson well.
If you have seen the movie The Ten Commandments, and I have seen it at least 5 times, if you have seen the movie, you know that there is a dramatic scene where an adult Moses is finally reunited with his mother. I like the movie, but it takes some liberties with the scripture. We do not know if Moses ever talked to his birth mother again after he was taken to live in Pharaoh’s palace. She disappears from the narrative, but she did her part.
Moses was born in a time and place of unyielding tyranny. Pharaoh was supreme authority and absolute dictator. If you calculate the odds of survival of baby Moses, he does not have any chance at all. The staunch defiance of five women changed all that. Five strong women made possible the life of Moses. All this was of course in the providence of God. God acting through these women made possible the life of Moses.
The bottom line for the writer of Exodus was that here was a child who, from the get-go, was destined and prepared to leave his footprints all over the place: in the palace, in the wilderness of Sinai and among the people of God. His baby footprint would grow ever larger, eventually leading a whole nation through the trials and tribulations of desert wandering on its way to promised freedom. He would usurp the authority of a world power, lead his people for 40 years and hold them together by the force of his character. He would replace the ruthless and arbitrary rantings of insane despots with a code of law that is the foundation of our laws today. All this happened because five women refused to accept the fate that the world had laid out for this baby and took decisive and dangerous action to save him.
I should point out that when Jesus was born another homicidal manic, Herod, sometimes miscalled the “Herod the Great,” tried to kill him, and went so far as to massacre all the babies in Bethlehem, but Mary and Joseph took their baby and fled to Egypt. It is interesting that in the Exodus, Pharaoh is the lunatic dictator, but well over a 1000 years later, the lunatic dictator is king of Judea, and Egypt is a place of safety for the baby Jesus. Perhaps the lesson is that Egypt has no monopoly on evil government.
However that may be, there is an application for us in the Moses birth narrative. Notice where God is in these first two chapters of Exodus. You might say, God is not here at all. God is not mentioned as acting in these events. This is just human history, just people doing stuff. Exodus does not say that God saved baby Moses. The midwives, and his mother and his sister and Pharaoh’s daughter, they saved that baby. Where was God? God was there acting through these women.
Some people ask the same question today. Where is God? God is here, right here, acting through us. The lesson is it matters what we do. Your actions make a difference. God is in the process of achieving his kingdom through us. Make sure then that what you are doing is what God wants done in your life.
If you have questions or comments, email Tony Grant
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