The Moses Five – Defiant Love (Part 3)

Part Three of the sermon entitled The Moses Five – Defiant Love which was originally given on Mother’s Day, May 14, 2017 at Midway Mennonite Church in Columbiana, OH.

Sermon Scripture Text: Exodus 1:15-2:10

Eventually Jochebed realizes that she can no longer keep her son hidden and safe.  She is a woman of tremendous faith, and comes up with a plan.  In verse 3 of chapter 2 we read, “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.  She is going to use the very water meant to kill her son to somehow bring about his salvation!  Jochebed is letting her baby boy go and trusting in God that he will provide safety for the boy.

Verses 4-6 introduce us to the final two women of the Moses 5, 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.

Although we meet both Miriam, the sister of Moses, and the Pharaoh’s daughter towards the end of our passage today, their part in God’s plan is no less important than the parts carried out by Shiphrah, Puah, and Jochebed.

Miriam has been tasked by her mother to follow the basket the baby is in to see what becomes of it.  We don’t know how far she had to follow the basket, but I would be willing to guess it wasn’t very far.  Jochebed would know that the Nile was considered a sacred and religious source for the royalty of Egypt to bathe in. She knew the spot where the daughter of Pharaoh would be bathing.

Having protected her son for three months, I have no doubt the spot she launched his little basket ark from was very specifically chosen.  Perhaps the spot was even given to her or Miriam in a dream.  We know that in later life Miriam would be a prophetess for her people.

The basket does reach the area where the Pharaoh’s daughter has come to bathe.  It is she who opens the basket that is floating in the water.  She immediately comes to the right conclusion that this is a Hebrew baby and immediately is moved to compassion, but she has a choice to make.

Does she obey her father’s command and throw the baby in the basket into the Nile?  She may have been debating what to do with this baby when a strange girl of 10 or 12 appears out of the reeds.

Our final verses from today’s scripture reading, verses 7-10 give us the rest of the story of the Moses 5, “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.”

This brave daughter of Jochebed shows no hesitation and has the intelligence to not betray her relationship to the baby in the basket.  Perhaps it was God’s nudging presence that propelled Miriam boldly forward up to the Pharaoh’s daughter where she brazenly offers her assistance to find a wet nurse.

The time for the Pharaoh’s daughter’s choice is at hand.  And she also chooses defiant love.  She immediately agrees, taking on the responsibility of the child.  She doesn’t stop to consider what could happen to her for disobeying her father.

Could it be that at some point in time she also, like the midwives, had been introduced to the God of Israel?  We have no way to know.  But her acceptance of the child set in motion the protection he needed to survive, as well as put into place his getting the education that would help him lead the Israelites out of Egypt and then across the desert for 40 years.

Jochebed is rewarded for her faith in God.  Not only does she get to take Moses back home with her, but she is paid to continue to care for her own son for a few more years.  She doesn’t just nurse him that day by the shores of the Nile.

During the time she is given with him, I would guess that Jochebed made sure to teach her son as much as she could about the God of Israel and his promise to Abraham.  She would be preparing him to not fall under the false teachings about Egyptian Gods.  Then she lets him go once more, giving him up to his adoptive mother and trusting his care to God.

If you enjoyed Part Three, please visit next week for the final post in this series, Part Four.  If you missed Part Two it can be found here.

The Moses Five – Defiant Love (Part 2)

Part Two of the sermon entitled The Moses Five – Defiant Love which was originally given on Mother’s Day, May 14, 2017 at Midway Mennonite Church in Columbiana, OH.

Sermon Scripture Text: Exodus 1:15-2:10 (NRSV)

Pharaoh is desperate to get this population under control before they take over everything, so he deploys plan A.  He enslaves the Hebrews and tries to basically get the population under control by working them to death.  Even with the harsh and grueling working conditions, the Hebrew people continue to grow.  Is this God’s providential hand we are seeing at work here?  When the powers of earth try to subdue his people, God continues to work behind the scenes to allow the people of God to grow.   He is building a nation out of the nomadic tribe of Israel.

Realizing Plan A has failed, Pharaoh moves on to Plan B.  This plan is a lot more devious.  If Pharaoh can’t subdue the population by working them to death, he will cut off the population before they have a chance to grow!  In verse 16 we read, “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.   The midwives are to help birth the baby, then somehow end the baby’s life should he happen to be male while they are cleaning him up after birth.  To cover this up they are to present him back to his parents as if he had not survived the birth or died as a complication of the birth.

Here is where we meet the first two of the Moses Five.  We are given their names in verse 15.  Shiphrah and Puah.  These women were not the only two midwives to the Hebrews, but they were most likely the heads of groups of midwives.

They are also most likely not Hebrews, but Egyptian women.  The text doesn’t tell us a whole lot about them. However, I think it would be safe to conclude these women are indeed Egyptian – why would the Pharaoh instruct Hebrew women to kill their own race?  He gives this order to Egyptian women because he feels he commands their loyalty.

Verse 17 tells us, “But the midwives feared God; they did not do as the king of Egypt commanded them, but they let the boys live.  Regardless of their nationality, these women make their living bringing life into the world, not taking life out of the world.  Whether Egyptian or Hebrew, these women know the God of Israel and they know that the order of Pharaoh to kill the innocent baby boys is wrong.  They knowingly choose to ignore his command.  Shiphrah and Puah know that eventually Pharaoh will most likely catch on to the fact that they are disobeying his command, but defiantly continue on with birthing Hebrew children rather than killing them.  Despite the consequences to themselves, they choose what is right and thereby choose to willingly serve God.

We are given the outcome of their choices in verses 18-21: “So the king of Egypt summoned the midwives and said to them, “Why have you done this, and allowed the boys to live?” The 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.” So God dealt well with the midwives; and the people multiplied and became very strong. And because the midwives feared God, he gave them families.

With Plan A to kill the Hebrews by working them to death a failure, and Plan B to have the midwives secretly kill off all male babies a disaster, Pharaoh now moves on to Plan C.  This is his boldest plan yet, and throws caution to the wind.  It is no longer a secret that Pharaoh wants to control the population size of the Hebrews but public knowledge.  Pharaoh calls on all of his subjects in the final verse of chapter one of the book of Exodus, Then 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.

It is in this political climate that Jochebed, the third of the Moses 5, finds herself pregnant for a third time.  She already has a daughter as well as a son who is around the age of three.  Jochebed must go through this pregnancy hearing the sounds of death patrol squads that are seeking out baby boys and tossing them to their deaths in the Nile River.  Does she hope for a girl?  Does she fear for a boy and cry out to God to protect her unborn child by making this child a girl?  The text doesn’t tell us.  Chapter two of the book of Exodus begins: 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 three months…”  What it does tell us is that the third child was indeed a boy.  And there was something special about him.

All new parents think their baby is the most precious baby ever born, but the word in the original language of the text tells us that what Jochebed sees is something more.  Somehow, she sees her child is marked for special work for God.

The word used for fine here is “tov”.  We hear that word still today in Jewish toasts of mazel tov!  Tov, which is translated as good or fine, is the same word that is used in the description of the creation in Genesis.

Filled with the defiant, protective love of a mother, and filled with trust in her God, Jochebed manages to hide her new born child for three months!  Perhaps she received some inspiration and support from the civilly disobedient midwives.  Can you imagine how hard this would be to do in such close quarters as the Hebrew slaves most likely lived in?  How do you hide or muffle the loud cries of a baby that is hungry or tired?  The scriptures don’t tell us how, just that she did.  Again, we see the hand of God in the midst of all of this bringing about HIS will.  She is willing to risk everything, her life and the lives of her family, to do what is right.

If you enjoyed Part Two, please visit next week for Part 3.  If you missed Part One it can be found here.


The Moses Five – Defiant Love (Part 1)

Part One of the sermon entitled The Moses Five – Defiant Love which was originally given on Mother’s Day, May 14, 2017 at Midway Mennonite Church in Columbiana, OH.

Sermon Scripture Text: Exodus 1:15-2:10(NRSV)

Imagine, if you can, what it must feel like to realize you are a persona non-grata where you live.  You are an alien living in a foreign land among people that consider you less than them.  You have no country to call your own.

Now, imagine you are this same person, and the citizens of the country you live in not only dislike you, but are also afraid of you and fearful of your husbands and sons.  You live in constant fear for the safety of yourself, your husband, and especially your children.

Then you find out you are pregnant again!  Something that should be cause for great joy is marred by great fear. You have little time for celebration as you are already worried about how to protect your child from the society you live in from the very first moment after giving birth.

I don’t know about you, but I would be pretty scared if I were to find myself in this situation.  I can only imagine that this must be exactly the way that Jochebed felt when she discovered she was pregnant for a third time.  Are you familiar with this name?

Jochebed’s story is found in the book of Exodus, where we are introduced to her as the mother of Moses.  She is a person of little importance, but she finds herself caught up in the story of God’s redemption for the people of Israel.  Through Jochebed’s willing obedience and faith in the God of Israel, her actions were instrumental in the protection of her son Moses.  That protection would allow for a great leader of the Exodus to reach adulthood.

But she was not alone in doing this.  It took five strong, courageous women, the Moses Five, to love, teach and raise Moses and ensure that he would survive his childhood.  A childhood that was stacked against his survival.  Women who lived lives of defiant love.

How did Jochebed and the Children of Israel find themselves in this rather scary place?  I believe we need to turn back a little in our Bibles.  Back to where it all begins with a covenant made with Abraham.

In Genesis 15 we find that God is making a promise to Abraham.   His descendants, that would start with his own child that he and Sarah will have together, will be as numerous as the stars.  But this promise is also followed by a prophecy.  In Genesis 15:12-15 we read, As the sun was going down, a deep sleep fell upon Abram, and a deep and terrifying darkness descended upon him. Then the Lord said to Abram, “Know this for certain, that your offspring shall be aliens in a land that is not theirs, and shall be slaves there, and they shall be oppressed for four hundred years; but I will bring judgment on the nation that they serve, and afterward they shall come out with great possessions. As for yourself, you shall go to your ancestors in peace; you shall be buried in a good old age.    And God is faithful to his word.  He always follows through with his promises.

I’m sure most of us are pretty familiar with the story from here.  Abraham’s son is Isaac, whose son is Jacob.  Jacob has several sons, but one of them becomes prominent and given a powerful position in the government of the Pharaoh of Egypt.

Joseph, who was betrayed by his brothers and sold into slavery, finds himself in the land of Egypt.  But God uses this for good.  In the closing chapters of Genesis, peace has been restored within the family and forgiveness extended from Joseph to his brothers. All of the house of Jacob come to Egypt to live in this foreign land with Joseph in order to escape a famine in their own country.  All is well for the descendants of Abraham…

Remember the prophecy made to Abraham?  The one about 400 years of slavery in a foreign land?  In Exodus 1:5-14 we see,

The total number of people born to Jacob was seventy. Joseph was already in Egypt. Then Joseph died, and all his brothers, and that whole generation.  But the Israelites were fruitful and prolific; they multiplied and grew exceedingly strong, so that the land was filled with them.  Now a new king arose over Egypt, who did not know Joseph. He said to his people, “Look, the Israelite people are more numerous and more powerful than we. Come, 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.” Therefore they set taskmasters over them to oppress them with forced labor. They built supply cities, Pithom and Rameses, for Pharaoh. But the more they were oppressed, the more they multiplied and spread, so that the Egyptians came to dread the Israelites. The Egyptians became ruthless in imposing tasks on the Israelites, and 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.”

While there is some debate between scholars as to whether the 400-year timeline begins with Ismael persecuting Isaac when he is five or begins with the time of Jacob and his family going to Egypt, in these passages, we see clearly the prophecy coming true.  The new Pharaoh has forgotten the favor shown to Joseph and his family.

Not only has he forgotten this, but the sheer number of Israelites are making him nervous.  The original seventy Israelites that made up the number of Jacob’s family that immigrated to Egypt has exploded to a population of several hundred thousand!

If you enjoyed Part One, please visit next week for Part Two.