SCRIPTURE • Exodus 1:8-2:10 (NIV)
8 Then a new king, to whom Joseph meant nothing, came to power in Egypt.
9 “Look,” he said to his people, “the Israelites have become far too numerous for us. 10 Come, we must deal shrewdly with them or they will become even more numerous and, if war breaks out, will join our enemies, fight against us and leave the country.”
11 So they put slave masters over them to oppress them with forced labor, and they built Pithom and Rameses as store cities for Pharaoh. 12 But the more they were oppressed, the more they multiplied and spread; so the Egyptians came to dread the Israelites 13 and worked them ruthlessly. 14 They made their lives bitter with harsh labor in brick and mortar and with all kinds of work in the fields; in all their harsh labor the Egyptians worked them ruthlessly.
15 The king of Egypt said to the Hebrew midwives, whose names were Shiphrah and Puah, 16 “When you are helping the Hebrew women during childbirth on the delivery stool, if you see that the baby is a boy, kill him; but if it is a girl, let her live.” 17 The midwives, however, feared God and did not do what the king of Egypt had told them to do; they let the boys live.
18 Then the king of Egypt summoned the midwives and asked them, “Why have you done this? Why have you let the boys live?”
19 The midwives answered Pharaoh, “Hebrew women are not like Egyptian women; they are vigorous and give birth before the midwives arrive.”
20 So God was kind to the midwives and the people increased and became even more numerous. 21 And because the midwives feared God, he gave them families of their own.
22 Then Pharaoh gave this order to all his people: “Every Hebrew boy that is born you must throw into the Nile, but let every girl live.”
2:1 Now a man of the tribe of Levi married a Levite woman, 2 and she became pregnant and gave birth to a son. When she saw that he was a fine child, she hid him for three months. 3 But when she could hide him no longer, she got a papyrus basket for him and coated it with tar and pitch. Then she placed the child in it and put it among the reeds along the bank of the Nile. 4 His sister stood at a distance to see what would happen to him.
5 Then Pharaoh’s daughter went down to the Nile to bathe, and her attendants were walking along the riverbank. She saw the basket among the reeds and sent her female slave to get it. 6 She opened it and saw the baby. He was crying, and she felt sorry for him. “This is one of the Hebrew babies,” she said.
7 Then his sister asked Pharaoh’s daughter, “Shall I go and get one of the Hebrew women to nurse the baby for you?”
8 “Yes, go,” she answered. So the girl went and got the baby’s mother. 9 Pharaoh’s daughter said to her, “Take this baby and nurse him for me, and I will pay you.” So the woman took the baby and nursed him. 10 When the child grew older, she took him to Pharaoh’s daughter and he became her son. She named him Moses, saying, “I drew him out of the water.”
How do we follow up our sermon series on Revelation?
As I have wondered what we should study together, Exodus came to mind. In a kind of surfac-ey, not all that deep, way, it is kind of cool that in Exodus the Israelites are worshiping outside in a tent and we have been worshiping outside for most of the summer.
Really, the biggest reason why I want to study Exodus with you all is the stories. So many of my favorite Bible stories come from Exodus. Those brave and faithful Israelite women who subvert Pharaoh’s insecure and fearful attempts to control the Israelite’s population. Moses floating down the river in a little basket. The burning bush. Moses, when he hears God wants him to lead Israel our of slavery to freedom, asking God to, “Please send someone else.” Crossing the Red Sea. Manna. The Ten Commandments. The golden calf. There are so many stories in Exodus that are jam packed with meaning. The constant complaining and forgetting. Moses’ frustration. Sometimes these important stories are even kind of funny.
For me, stories are the most fun parts of the Bible to study and preach. Other parts of the Bible assume we are familiar with these stories from Exodus. If we know Exodus we have a good shot at making sense of other parts of the Bible. Exodus helps us to have a better picture of God’s heart … God’s intentions for the world … Exodus even helps us better understand Jesus and what he means for the world … often in the Gospels Jesus is presented as a new Moses leading God’s people on a new Exodus.
For the Israelites, Exodus was a formative story. Exodus shaped their identity. It helped them remember who they were and what they were supposed to be doing. It reminded them that as a people they had a purpose … they were part of something bigger than themselves … and even the littlest things they do with faithfulness and reverence for God matter and can make a difference. That last point is emphasized by all the unlikely heroes we meet through out the story. Shiphrah and Puah. Moses mom and sister. Pharaoh’s daughter. Even Moses himself … these people aren’t people with power … they are regular people who act faithfully and align themselves with God’s purposes.
Exodus picks up where Genesis stops.
The end of Genesis focuses on Joseph and his family.
Joseph was another unlikely hero. He was the youngest brother in his family but Joseph’s father loved Joseph more than any of his other sons. This constant favoritism bugged Joseph’s brothers. Joseph’s arrogance bugged his brothers. His weird dreams bugged his brothers. Finally, the brothers had enough and decided to get rid of Joseph once and for all. They planned to throw Joseph into a cistern … they would leave him stuck down there with no food or water and tell their dad wild animals killed Joseph. Through a roller coaster series of events (Joseph experienced some incredibly high moments and some crushingly low moments) Jospeh winds up in Egypt advising Pharaoh. Jospeh winds up saving Egypt, his own family, and at the end of all this telling his brothers “what they intended for evil, God used for good.”
Even though Joseph saved Egypt and his family, the Israelites, were welcomed guests, the new Pharaoh didn’t know Joseph, and thought the Israelites, were a dangerous nuisance.
Pharaoh didn’t like the Israelites.
He seems afraid of them. He scapegoats them. He warns Egypt there are lots of Israelites … “They have become numerous and if there was a war, they might fight against the us and leave.” There is a significant population of Israelites living in Egypt and that is threatening to Pharaoh.
I think there are some connections to Genesis here that show us the Israelites are really doing what they are supposed to be doing. In Genesis 1, God gave humanity a blessing — “Be fruitful and multiply … fill the earth and subdue it.” In Genesis 12 God promised Abraham his family, Israel, would be a great nation. Later, in Genesis 15, God made a covenant with Abraham, assuring that his “offspring would be as numerous at the stars in the sky.” The Israelites are growing. They are filling the earth and Pharaoh is threatened by them and decides to stand in the way of God’s will. But, for Pharaoh or really for anyone, standing in the way of God’s will isn’t a good place to be.
Pharaoh decided to make Israel’s life miserable.
He “crushed them with hard labor.” He was ruthless and oppressive … he made their lives incredibly difficult. He forced them to build cities for him. But there is something counter-intuitive happening here. The harder Pharaoh works to crush the Israelites, the more he demands of them, the more Israelites there were. “The more they were oppressed, the more they multiplied and spread.”
Pharaoh had a plan involving Israel’s midwives.
They just had to follow instructions and the problem would be solved. Pharaoh wanted the midwives to kill all the baby boys. Pharaoh was working against God’s purposes … he was “dealing death.” The midwives were bringing life into the world, ironically, Pharaoh wants these women to take life. It is also ironic that here, Pharaoh, doesn’t see the girl babies as a threat, but as we follow the story, we see that Pharaoh will be threatened by these women.
It is such a great picture.
Big, powerful, Pharaoh versus the Hebrew midwives, Shiphrah and Puah. (It is probably a bad sign for Pharaoh that we know their names, but not his.)
The midwives couldn’t follow Pharaoh’s orders. They couldn’t kill the boys. They let the boys live. They were faithful and reverent to God. They were on the side of life … they couldn’t become “dealers of death.”
Moses’ mother and sister also had a plan to outwit Pharaoh.
They would “follow the rules in a subversive way.” They would put the baby into the river, but they did it in a way that would attempt to save his life. They put the baby in a little basket that would float down the river.
Yes, they would put the boy into the river.
No, they would not follow Pharaoh’s intention.
The littlest … the powerless … the overlooked outwit Pharaoh.
In irony, after Pharaoh’s daughter finds Moses, Moses’ own mother is asked to be the one who nurses him. How great is it that Moses’ own mother, the one who would want most to feed and nurture Moses, gets to be the one who feeds and care for Moses? She even gets paid to take care of her own son?
In these first few chapters, Exodus introduces a really important value of our faith. God doesn’t necessarily work with the biggest, strongest, most popular, most powerful, or even the most qualified. God works with people who are willing to be used by God and who faithfully honor God before anyone or anything else. God has a habit of working with and through the littlest, the least, and the lost, to work toward God’s purposes.
Pharaoh is loud and demanding but ultimately, he isn’t in charge. God is in charge. God is choosing to stand up to Pharaoh’s demands by including the people we might least expect in the mission. In Exodus, people acting in faithful ways … people seeking to honor and respect God … the people we might least expect … are making a difference in the lives of God’s people and in the world.
Exodus teaches us that God does big things through regular people living in faithful ways.
It’s like what the Apostle Paul wrote to the church in First Corinthians,
1:26 Look at your situation when you were called, brothers and sisters! By ordinary human standards not many were wise, not many were powerful, not many were from the upper class. 27 But God chose what the world considers foolish to shame the wise. God chose what the world considers weak to shame the strong. 28 And God chose what the world considers low-class and low-life—what is considered to be nothing—to reduce what is considered to be something to nothing.
The faithful things you do, big or small, the love you offer, matters.