The Challenge of Motherhood - Exodus 1:1-2:10
This morning we begin a new study. We turn to the second book of the Bible, the book of Exodus. Exodus is the story of how God built a nation. In the book of Exodus we see God at work. We see the way he dealt with people and the means He used to teach them about who He is and how to relate to Him. We are not going to try to move verse through by through Exodus because we would get bogged down in all the laws and regulations. Please understand, it is not that a study of the laws and the regulations for the tabernacle wouldn't be valuable . . .it is difficult material to preach. We'll look at some of these issues but primarily we are going to look at God's particular dealings with His people. So, hang on and let's get acquainted with some of our forefathers in the faith.
It is appropriate that we begin our study of Exodus on Mother's Day because the first two chapters focus on three mothers:Shiphrah and Puah who were two Jewish midwives, and Jochebed and her husband Amram, the parents of Moses. These individuals found themselves, like we often do, between "a rock and a hard place". They were faced with difficult choices in life and the choices they made make them good examples to follow. But we are getting ahead of ourselves in our story.
BACKGROUND TO THE STORY
Exodus picks up a number of years after Genesis ends. At the end of the book of Genesis the Hebrews had moved to Egypt and the land of Goshen. They were honored guests of Pharaoh because they were the family of Joseph who was revered for his integrity and had risen to the place of second in command. Joseph and his brothers died off but the Hebrews continued to experience blessing and growth in Egypt. We don't know how many years pass before,
a new king, who did not know about Joseph, came to power in Egypt. "Look," he said to his people, "the Israelites have become much too numerous for us. 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." [Exodus 1:8-10]
This new King is threatened by the Israelites. It is not that there were more Israelites than there were Egyptians . . . it is that there were too many Israelites. The King felt that this group of people was a problem, they had too much influence and if that influence was used in the wrong way, the Israelites could be used against the Egyptians.
Does this sound like Hitler? Even in our own country, there was a time when people didn't want to give women or people of other races the right to vote. Why? Because they were afraid of the power that those folks could wield. So, this Pharaoh is not as unique as you might think in his feelings.
Pharaoh has a plan. He will enslave the Israelites. Perhaps he thought this way the Israelites would be where he could see them and control them. Maybe he thought it would cause them to lose their spirit. Maybe he figured they would be too tired to have and take care of their children. Maybe he thought the hardship would make them hate being Jews. And maybe Pharaoh was just a bully picking on a target of his own choosing.
But the result was not what Pharaoh expected. We are told that "the more they were oppressed, the more they multiplied and spread." So Pharoah turned up the heat. The oppressor would now become the murderer. Pharaoh commanded the midwives of Israel to kill every boy child. The boys were considered to be the workers and the warriors. And if the women married Egyptians (since there would be no Israeliets) this would eventually dilute and then obliterate the Israelite race. This is where we meet our first ladies, Shiphrah and Puah.
THEY DID WHAT WAS RIGHT NO MATTER WHAT
Shiphrah and Puah are commanded to kill the Hebrew boys at birth. When they were delivering a baby they were asked to make sure the boy babies didn't live. I don't know how they were supposed to do this. Basically these women who had given their lives to bringing life into the world were now being asked to act as executioners.
Can you imagine the position these women were in? They loved placing these newborns in the arms of their mothers. They didn't have children themselves so each child they delivered was chance to vicariously experience the thrill of motherhood. Every time a delivery went bad and a child died, these women felt the depth of parental pain.
Shiphrah and Puah refused to play a part in the execution of these children. They kept doing what was right even though they knew they risked the wrath of Pharaoh. And when Pharaoh called them in to report on why they had been disobedient they responded, "These Hebrew women were giving birth before the midwives could get to the home to help. Were they telling the truth? No, they weren't. We are told, "because the midwives feared God, they refused to obey the king and allowed the boys to live, too." (1:17)
Should the women have told Pharaoh the truth? Probably. They probably should have stood up to Pharaoh and said, "Look, what you have asked us to do is wrong and we simply won't do it." Lying isn't right. But don't let their failure to tell the truth keep you from seeing the courage these woman had. They trusted God enough to do what was right. They engaged in what we would call "civil disobedience". They refused to obey a law that was wrong even though they knew it could cost them.
In the 60's there were many blacks who engaged in civil disobedience. They refused to obey laws that discriminated against them simply because of the color of their skin. Some of them were arrested and then when the were released they continued in their civil disobedience. Why? Because prejudice is wrong. It didn't matter what the laws said, the laws were wrong.
Do you remember the story from Acts 5? The Apostles were ministering to the people as Jesus had told them to do. They were healing folks, casting out demons, and proclaiming the good news of the gospel. They were arrested and thrown in jail. They had a miraculous release from jail and went right back to preaching the gospel! When they are called before the Chief Priest and the Sanhedrin the Chief Priest attacked them saying, "Didn't we tell you to stop preaching about Jesus?" Peter did not deny the instructions that were given. He said simply, "We must obey God rather than men." Then Peter promptly started to present the gospel to the High Priest!
This is what Shiphrah and Puah were doing, they were obeying God rather than men. And they stand as a shining example to us. We must function by God's standards of right and wrong even if it means we take a stand against civil authority and have to pay the consequences. Let me give you some examples
the German Christians who sheltered Jews during WWII
Those who joined the blacks in demonstrating for Civil Rights
Medical personnel who refuse to take part in an abortion, infanticide or euthanasia even though it may cost them their job
Christians who meet for worship in countries where this is forbidden by law
Teachers who read from their Bible during their free time in spite of what the Administration says
Students who choose to pray at their functions even though they may get in trouble
Workers who gently share their faith at work (not allowing it to affect their work) even though some may get mad.
Those who speak up for one who is being bullied or oppressed even if it may result in them getting bullied as well.
Anytime we obey God rather than a law (written or unwritten) that is unjust or wrong, we engage in civil disobedience. If we don't stand up for what is right and godly, society will never notice the wrongness of what is taking place. Someone has said, all that is needed for the a society to destroy itself is for godly men and women to do nothing.
Shiphrah and Puah stood up for the truth. And they were rewarded for their efforts. These women who had given their lives to bringing families of the joy of children now were granted children of their own. They who had spent their lives holding others' baby's now held their own. God honored their obedience, and He'll honor yours. You may face worldly consequences but ultimately God will applaud and honor your faithfulness.
THEY TRUSTED GOD'S PROVIDENCE WHEN THEY DID NOT UNDERSTAND
Unfortunately, the stand of Shiphrah and Puah was not the end of the story. Pharaoh was not convicted of his sin . . . he simply became more ruthless. He commanded the Egyptians to thrown every Hebrew boy baby into the Nile River. In other words, he gave his permission for mob action. If the midwives would not cooperate he would give anyone the authority to kill a Hebrew baby! (Are you starting to dislike this guy?)
And this takes us to our second story, the story of Jochebed and her husband Amram. This couple was married during this time of slavery. At the time of Pharaoh's order they already had two children (Miriam and Aaron) and Jochebed was pregnant. If their baby was a boy, he was destined for the river.
Jochebed delivered. She and her husband hid the baby for as long as they could. For three months they hid their child. What a horrible situation to be in. At a time when most people are handing out cigars, shaking hands and assaulting everyone they see with baby pictures, this couple has to act like nothing out of the ordinary has happened. They couldn't hang diapers out on the clothes line. They couldn't buy baby food at the grocery store. And they had to somehow keep Moses quiet.
After three months Moses was getting too big to hide. So they take an incredible risk. In an effort to save their child they put him in a water tight basket and place him among the reeds along the edge of the river (this way the baby wouldn't float away or be exposed to the elements.)
I don't know where Jochebed and her husband Amram came up with the idea. It seems odd that they would hide their baby in the very river where babies were being drowned. You would think you would have headed in a different direction. Did they know about the bathing habits of Pharaoh's daughter? Did they receive some kind of message from God? Was it just some desperate plan? I don't know. The text doesn't tell us.
It seems apparent to me that no one was quite sure what would happen to baby Moses. Miriam, the older sister of Moses was hiding in the bushes watching to see what would happen. When the daughter of Pharaoh heard the "helpless cries" her heart went out to the baby. When Miriam saw that the daughter of Pharaoh, who probably realized that the baby was hungry but had nothing to offer, was favorable to her brother she ran up to the woman and asked if she wanted a Hebrew woman to help nurse the baby. Obviously, Pharaoh's daughter could not feed the baby. And there were probably several Hebrew women who had their babies taken from them. Of course, Miriam went and got Jochebed. And Pharaoh's daughter PAID the Mother of Moses to take care of Moses until the day that he could become the son of Pharaoh's daughter.
What I want you to see is the great faith the parents of Moses had. The writer to the Hebrews writes,
It was by faith that Moses’ parents hid him for three months. They saw that God had given them an unusual child, and they were not afraid of what the king might do. (Hebrews 11:23)
These people did not know what to make of their situation. Surely they thought God was indifferent and at best, silent. They didn't know why God did not keep Pharaoh from his Villainous schemes. They didn't know why some of their friends had lost their children. In the midst of these uncertain times this couple dared to trust God. And God was faithful. They set Moses in the river with the confidence that God would do what is right. Their son would live or die and they would bless the Lord either way.
These people showed confidence in God's providence, or His ability to rule the world and the circumstances for His good purpose. And they were not disappointed. As a result of their faith in God's providence,
Moses was returned to his parents
He was given the best education possible as the Grandson of Pharaoh
He was given military and administrative training that would be invaluable in the desert
And all of this was financed by Pharaoh!
Only God could do something like this! God had a plan. Of course, this is so much easier to see from our perspective. I'm sure it wasn't so clear for Jochebed and Amram. And I'm sure it wasn't so clear for the parents who lost their children to the river. In the tough times of life it is a struggle to see God's hand in it all. Let me give you some examples,
the much anticipated child is stillborn
a family member dies suddenly "before their time"
the relationship you thought would bring joy brings heartache instead
the investment you looked to for retirement income falls flat and you are left with nothing
a fire destroys your home
a child turns their back on the family
In these times we are called upon to trust God's character even though we don't understand the circumstances. We are called to believe rather than despair. In the difficult times of life the child of God has to cling to the belief that God is working and He knows what He is doing.
Are you facing one of those times in your life?
you have to let your child head off to college or leaving home through marriage
it's time to bring your "too young" child to that first day of school
you have to send your child off to face a difficult situation you wish you could shield them from.
you are called to face that first day in a new environment
you are scheduled for surgery
you are facing retirement
you have been given a job outside of your comfort zone.
The list could go on and on. Jochebed and Amram learned what we need to learn: God can be trusted. The Lord loves us. What He does, he does for a reason. Don't forget, Jochebed and Amram probably didn't see what God was doing in their lifetime. They probably died while he was still in the home of Pharaoh. They never saw their son lead the children of Israel out of Egypt. They never saw God use him to form a nation. At least, they didn't see it on this side of the grave. Perhaps they watched and cheered with wonder and gratitude as they saw God's plan from heaven.
The same may be true in your life. You may not see it in this life. You may not understand what God is doing and you may wonder IF He is doing anything. But someday, someday, if you trust Him, you will see His faithfulness. Do not draw conclusions before the end of the story.
THEY TAUGHT THE TRUTH WHEN THEY HAD OPPORTUNITY
There is one more thing I need to point out before we move on. Look at chapter two verse
11 "Many years later, when Moses had grown up, he went out to visit his people, the Israelites, and he saw how hard they were forced to work."
Let me paint you the picture. Moses is hide by his parents for three months and then the daughter of Pharaoh pays Moses mom to nurse Moses. This may have gone on for a couple of years. But then Moses is given to Pharaoh's daughter and he is raised as an heir to the throne. He is educated as an Egyptian, and trained as a monarch. Got the picture? Now let me read those words over verse 11 again. "Many years later, when Moses had grown up, he went out to visit his people, the Israelites, and he saw how hard they were forced to work.
After all these years Moses considered himself a Jew and not an Egyptian. How could this be? I think there is only one reasonable answer: Jochebed used the time she had to teach Moses about his heritage and his God. I suspect that Jochebed told Moses about his forefather: Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. I'm sure she told him about Joseph. And most of all she told them about the God who called them to follow Him. Moses never forgot those early lessons.
What if Jochebed hadn't taken advantage of the opportunity she had? What would have happened if she decided that she would rather let Moses "decide for himself"? What would have happened if Jochebed had decided Moses was too young to learn the things of God? What would have happened if Jochebed had chosen instead to tell Moses only about purple dinosaurs and big yellow birds and sat him in front of a box for entertainment all day long.
Jochebed reminds us that if we don't give our children their value system they will get it from the world. If we don't teach them about the Lord early they won't know to seek Him later. If we don't help our children know that they are created in God's image early, they may feel worthless when they grow up. Those early years are character building years . . . don't miss them! Parents must talk to their kids about their beliefs . . .and they need to start NOW. We must take advantage of the opportunity we have because we don't know how many of those opportunities are left.
Who do you identify with the most in this story? Are you like Shiphrah and Puah. Are you in a position where you are being pushed to do what you know is wrong? Are you willing to take a stand. Will you follow the example of these brave women and do what is right, no matter what?
Maybe you identify with Jochebed and Amram. Maybe you are in a situation that feels completely out of control. You've done everything you can think to do for months but now . . . but now you seem out of options. Friend, could it be that it is now time to trust God It's time to entrust yourself to God's care and then watch what happens. At first it may seem that God has disappointed you. At first it may seem that God doesn't care or isn't listening but wait! Trust His providence. His wisdom is sure even if it is sometimes hard to understand.
Finally, on this Mother's Day maybe you have been reminded of the importance of sharing your faith with your children. Maybe it is time to start reading your young child stories from the Bible. Maybe it is time make Sunday School a part of your Sunday. Maybe it is time to get some good Bible videos to share with your children.
Some of you are feeling the sting of regret. You look back and you know that you missed a great opportunity. Maybe you missed the opportunity because you didn't know the truth yourself. Maybe you were too busy doing other things. Don't despair. If you still have the opportunity start now. It will take longer (there is much more to overcome) and your words will have to be backed up by a life of discipleship. But change can take place. Over time God can change your child's heart . . .just like He changed yours.