Exodus 2:1-10: Delivering the Deliverer
Exodus 2:1-10. The birth of Moses. What a story! One of the best stories in all of the Bible! Pharaoh, king of Egypt, has just decreed that all Hebrew baby boys are to be thrown into the Nile to die. He has empowered every Egyptian, not just his royal "FBI", to carry out his command. Every Hebrew baby boy is born under a death sentence.
Can you hear the grieving, the shrill crying of mothers and the heavy sobs of fathers as their new-born sons are discovered and torn from their clutching hands? Imagine the sound of the tossed babies hitting the water, the noise of a last splash to live, and the ensuing dreadful silence. Feel the unmanageable heartache of moms and dads every time they came near the Nile, the watery graveyard of their sons. Unimaginable pain and turmoil. And think of the anxiety of pregnancy - a wondering fear of whether the baby would be a girl and get to live or a boy facing certain death. The pain of labor giving way to irrepressible joy only to turn to overwhelming anguish that a river of death awaited.
Into this horror a certain mother gave birth to a son. She was determined that her boy would live. She hid him for three months – maybe she dressed him in pink all the time. When she realized that she could no longer keep him hidden, that she could no longer keep it a secret that she had given birth to a son, she did the unthinkable. She placed her son in the one place where no one would ever look for him: she put him in the very river that was supposed to be his grave, the Nile! She made a waterproof basket and set the baby in it and placed it in the reeds along the bank of the Nile. She had her daughter keep watch over it from a distance to see what would happen to the baby. I imagine that from time to time throughout the day or night, when no one was watching, she would slip down to the Nile to nurse the baby under the cover of the reeds. This mother was shrewd. She was absolutely determined that her son would live.
I don't know how much time passed, but there soon came a frightening day. It appeared that the mother's determination would not be enough to save her son. Pharaoh's daughter came to the Nile to bathe, and this day she noticed the basket in the reeds. She sent a servant to get it. The baby's sister crept closer and watched with horror as her brother was carried to Pharaoh's daughter. Pharaoh's daughter opened the basket. There lay the baby, crying up a storm. Pharaoh's daughter was moved with compassion. Her heart went out to the child. But her head told her that this was a Hebrew baby boy. Would she follow her God-given motherly instincts, or would she obey her ruthless father and empty the basket into the Nile?
The baby's sister saw the indecision. It was the moment she needed. She boldly approached Pharaoh's daughter and dared a solution: "Would you like for me to go get one of the Hebrew women to nurse the child for you?" Pharaoh's daughter answered, “Yes!” Compassion won out. The victory was so great that before the day was over Pharaoh's daughter was paying the baby's mother to nurse and care for him. Imagine your son not only being saved, but now you are being paid, out of Pharaoh's pocket, to mother him. What a turn of events, even a resurrection of sorts!
When the child was older, his mother took him and gave him to Pharaoh's daughter. No doubt it was a tough decision for the mother, but I'm sure she realized that it was the safest place her son could be – much like the Nile was his place of safety. The scripture reports that the Hebrew boy actually became a son to Pharaoh's daughter. It was she who gave him the name Moses. Can you imagine the conversation at Pharaoh's dinner table that night? "Daddy, I found this sweet baby in the Nile crying. He's a Hebrew but he's really cute. Can I keep him Daddy?" No doubt Pharaoh objected. And no doubt his daughter knew what all daughters know: a way to get their daddies to say yes. Pharaoh finally consented, for what harm could one Hebrew boy do? And thus Moses grew up in Pharaoh's palace.
We all know what became of Moses. He led Israel out of Egypt, out from under the bondage of Egyptian slavery. That is why the story of his birth is so important. A boy was not merely spared, but a whole people. The salvation of Moses was the salvation of Israel. And how was Moses, and thereby all of Israel saved? By the most unlikeliest of means, in a patriarchal world – three women: a determined mother who was also very shrewd, a daring and quick thinking sister, and a compassionate and persuasive daughter of Pharaoh. Not only did Moses owe his life to these three women, but Israel owed its liberation to them as well.
As you have read this story in Exodus 2:1-10, and as I have told the story, have you noticed that one "character" has not been mentioned? Nowhere in the text do we find God named. And yet everywhere we cannot help but think of God. We do not always know or understand how God works in the world (see Coincidence or Providence? Exodus 1:22-2:10). But it is obvious here that God is somehow at work in the actions of these three women. The story is told in very low-key terms. There are not yet astounding miracles to wow us. Those will come later. Yet the message here is that God sometimes works behind the scenes in the shrewd actions of mothers, in the love of sisters, and in the compassion of a tyrant’s daughter! Before the amazing miracles there is simply the faithfulness of ordinary people who live their lives under God.
So in a real sense, this is a story about the surprising and unimaginable faithfulness of God in the midst of ordinary human living. Yes, Israel told and retold this story for generations because the boy was Moses, their liberator and Torah giver. But they also told it because it gives hope that regardless of how bleak the present/future might be, God is able to pull a reversal and bring salvation out of despair, life out of a tomb. Yet it began, not with great deeds and awesome wonders, but with ordinary people.
So..., you determined mothers, keep being determined. God works through folks like you. And you daring sisters, keep being daring. God works through folks like you. And you compassionate daughters of Pharaoh, keep being compassionate. God works through folks like you. God is faithful to and through you!
Why did God use three women? Well, who else could God use? The men were busy making bricks for Pharaoh. Pharaoh consumed their time, energy, and imagination. They had become completely co-opted by Egyptian reality, their minds as well as their bodies being brought under Pharaoh’s rule. These women, on the other hand, imagined that it could be different, at least for one boy. God used their imagination, even responded to their imagination. I wonder if during those first three months of Moses’ hidden life if Moses’ father ever told Moses' mother that she was foolish and it was hopeless? If he did, he was so entrapped by Pharaoh’s reality that his imagination had died. But the women, determined, daring, and compassionate, were available to a different reality. And God always uses whoever (and whatever) is available.
One final point. Notice that Moses, the savior of Israel, was born into the suffering of his people, was born under the sentence of death, was placed in the Nile which was to serve as his grave, but was raised up out of the Nile to be the deliverer of his people. Remind you of anyone?
Jesus, our savior and the savior of all humanity, was born into our suffering human state, sentenced to death, crucified and buried, but was raised from the dead to be the deliverer of all humanity. I don't want to push the parallels too far. And we should be careful that we do not collapse this story into the New Testament. Yet, we can see some similarities between the stories of Moses and Jesus.
In both Moses and Jesus, God brings deliverance and salvation. The God-appointed and God-called savior enters the human plight, suffers, and is raised to new life to deliver a people. It tells us something about how God deals with humanity. God enters our human plight, takes it on, and saves from the inside out! Whatever your particular plight, know that God is faithful, that God is present, that God is taking it on, and that God is working and has worked our salvation in Christ Jesus. The Savior has met death, and He Lives! He is bringing salvation to you.