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.