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It’s at this point in the story that the camera zooms in, as it were. We’ve been talking about the sons of Israel who came to Egypt to start the book. We talked about the sons who faced a death sentence because of Pharaoh’s edict. At the start of chapter 2, we’re talking about one son. A baby. A baby through whom God is going to affect deliverance. A son who at the start of his life is facing death, note. If you are sitting there thinking “This reminds me of someone I know” you are quite right in thinking so.
Moses. He strides across the pages of the Torah like a giant. The man. His name is mentioned 767 times in the OT – 647 times in the Torah. Dozens of times in the NT. We’re going to be hearing a lot about him in the coming weeks. My first question is “What image comes to mind when you think of Moses?” If I say “Moses” and ask you to picture him, what do you picture? You might think of him at the burning bush. You might think of him coming down the mountain. You might think of him as Charlton Heston – I know I do. You might think of him as a leader. You might think of him as one who is powerful. He’s bringing the word of God after all.
I thought of this picture of Charlton Heston and I thought “Isn’t it funny that very often this is the same way we picture God?” Here are a couple of shots of God from the Sistine Chapel. The creation of humankind. The creation. Same kind of image isn’t it? The beard, the power. Looking pretty intimidating really. When we decided to call this series “Power and Presence” I blanched initially at the Power part. God’s power. It can have negative associations, can’t it? The word “power.” Too often we have seen power prized above all else or prized it ourselves. Too often we have seen it used to oppress, to subjugate. Too often we have seen it used for personal gain – to amass wealth, influence.
As followers of Christ, we have a different view of power though. “My grace is sufficient for you,” came the word of God to Paul, “for power is made perfect in weakness.” “God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise,” Paul wrote, “God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong.”
What is weaker than a little baby? The camera zooms right in. “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.” It’s important to remember that, just as we inhabit our own stories, there are people inhabiting these stories. A death sentence has been pronounced on every male Israelite child. An attempted genocide really. It means that this fine baby’s life is in peril. It puts a human face on the situation. I remember going to the Holocaust Museum in Jerusalem some years ago. One of the things that affected me the most was seeing school supplies that were used by children at Auschwitz. Seeing drawings that these children made in that death camp. Suns and trees and houses and all the things that little children draw and hope for.
So we have this little baby, not even three months old, whose life is in danger because of a royal edict, through whom God plans to bring deliverance. Through whom God plans to preserve life. Because this is what God does, you see. We said last week that God is in the process of re-creating. This is what God does. It’s not just that God has created, but that God is creating and that God will create. We will hear a voice one day saying “Look, I am making all things new.” To make all things new for God is to bring life. She saw that he was a fine baby. The Hebrew here is the same that is used of God in Genesis 1 – God saw that it was good. Because life is good.
And God will go to great lengths to preserve it. And he’ll use a little baby. This is what God does. He chooses the weak things of the world to shame the strong. The foolish to shame the wise. The prophet Isaiah put it like this - “Who has believed our report and to whom has the arm of the Lord (that saving arm – the mighty hand and outstretched arm we sang about) been revealed? For he grew up before him like a young plant, and like a root out of dry ground; he had no form or majesty that we should look at him, nothing in his appearance that we should desire him. He was despised and rejected by other; a man of suffering and acquainted with infirmity….”
Who would have thought?
God would have thought.
Isn’t this good news? Consider your own call, brothers and sisters, not many of you were wise by human standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth.
This is the power of which we speak. God’s power.
God is the primary actor here. Note that no one is named. We’ll come to know Moses’ mother’s name, his sister’s name. For now, though no one is named. God is the primary actor. God has only been named twice so far in the book, and won’t be named again until the end of chapter 2. His hand is all over the story though, and isn’t it ironic? The irony is rich here in this story. Someone has called it Divine Irony. God’s creative activity. God’s life bringing and life preserving activity. The river that was meant for death is turned to life. It wasn’t the men that Pharaoh needed to worry about but the women. Look at all the things that had to come together. Moses’ life preserved in that basket – the same word used for the ark in Noah’s time, speaking of the preservation of life. Pharaoh’s daughter hearing the baby’s cry. Pharaoh’s daughter having compassion on the child, agreeing to have his mother nurse him, paying for his early life out of the royal treasury, raising him in the royal court.
What does this have to say to us today? How is God bringing life in us? How is God bringing life through us? Does it seem unlikely? Maybe less so to you than to me and that’s fine. J God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise, I say, and you say “Speak for yourself.” That’s ok. I don’t mind being a fool for Christ. Seriously though do you ever look inside yourself, do you ever look around at our faith community and say “What an unlikely collection of people for God to use here?” I do and I love it. It helps me to remember our need for God. The primary actor. Look at the things we struggle with. Look at the situations that God has brought us through. Look at the things about us that make us say “How could God ever bring life to me and use me to bring life?” This is what God does. This is how God creates. God makes beautiful things out of dust. Out of dirt if you will. Trust that. Put your faith in that. I believe this. Do you believe this? Have you seen it? Talk about how you’ve seen it. In this way, I like to think of myself as a creationist. We talk about creation and get hung up on the timeline. Too often it seems we stop there, forgetting that God is creating and is at work in us, enabling us both to will and to work for his good pleasure. That God will create.
I wonder what God wants to create in and through us here? Does that question excite you? It excites me I don’t mind telling you. Believe this. Have faith in this.
This is what Moses so-far-unnamed parents do. They have faith in God’s creating/life preserving work. “By faith, Moses was hidden by his parents for three months after his birth, because they saw that the child was beautiful; and they were not afraid of the king’s edict.” They were not afraid. Perfect love casts out fear. The opposite of faith is fear. They had faith in God’s life giving power, shown as it is in things considered weak, things considered foolish.
I like that everyone so far in this story is unnamed you know. I look around and I look at myself and I like that God uses everyday people like us. We saw this very evidently through two weeks of camp here this past summer. Our Bolivia team saw it for two weeks in that country. We’re not going to get famous doing this Christ following thing. Not many of us are. We’re not going to get wide acclaim. God performed his saving life giving creating work through a woman who was a slave. God performed his saving life giving creating work through this woman’s daughter. God performed this work through the Pharaoh’s daughter, and her name is lost to history. This woman who had compassion on this child. This woman who said yes to life. This woman who took the child as her own (the same words used for how Mordecai adopted his niece Esther – the two stories of adoption in the OT which show that possessing a maternal or paternal heart is not solely a matter of biology).
God performs his saving work through everyday people like us. Can you imagine? People who for 2,000 years have held such faith as the parent of Moses in relative obscurity. Holding fast to their faith. When we looked at Philippians this summer we talked about remembering those from whom we have learned and received and heard the things of Christ. Everyday people. I fulfilled a long held goal of reading George Elliot’s Middlemarch this summer. The book ends with these words – “…for the growing good of the world is partly dependent on unhistoric acts; and that things are not so ill with you and me as they might have been, is half owing to the number who lived faithfully a hidden life, and rest in unvisited tombs.” Speaking of tombs, the monument of John Wesley in Westminster Abbey bears these words – “God buries the workman and carries on his work.” This is what we are caught up in friends, by faith.
Moses grows up. According to Stephen in Acts 7 he’s 40 years. Three episodes are detailed here about which we don’t have a lot of time to get into details. Moses sees an Egyptian overseer beating a fellow Israelite. Moses ends up killing the Egyptian. Moses sees two Israelites fighting and attempts to stop them. Unsuccessfully. They say “Who made you a ruler and judge over us?” which is something he’ll hear quite a lot of in days to come. His life once again in danger from the Pharaoh, Moses flees to Midian. When some shepherds try to steal the water just drawn by the priest of Midian’s daughters, he drives them away. This eventually sets up his whole family situation with Zipporah and little Gershom.
God has been acting unobtrusively, but God has been acting. God has created something in Moses’ heart. A thirst for justice. It’s evident in these accounts. He may not have gone about seeking justice the right way. The Israelites will not be delivered through means of human violence. God is creating in Moses, nonetheless, a thirst for justice. One writer describes it like this – “A divine dream is taking place in Moses’ soul.”
May God give us that same divine dream friends. The need for justice is all around us. The need for deliverance is all around us. It’s around Moses. “After a long time, the king of Egypt died. The Israelites groaned under their slavery and cried out. Out of the slavery, their cry for help rose up to God.” This word for “cry” out can be translated “shriek.” Their shrieks. All around us people are crying out for deliverance. We may hear them. They may be cries of quiet desperation. These cries may be within us or we may be the ones voicing them. God, deliver us. God save us. One writer describes the Israelites here as a community that “has a bold voice for hurt” and God one who “has an attentive ear for hurt”.
These cries are not in vain. Look at how the chapter ends. God heard, and God remembered. God looked, and God took notice of them (or simply “knew”).
God heard. God remembered. God looked. God knew. To hear means not simply passively hear but to respond. To remember means not simply call to mind but to deliberately take action based on what is remembered. To be present and active. To look means not simply to see but to move toward with kindness. To know means “to so share an experience with another that the other’s experience can be called one’s own.”
Friends how can we hear these things and not be reminded of how God has heard our cries, remembered us (Lord remember me when you come into your Kingdom!), looked on us and known us in Christ.
God has been unobtrusive in our story. You know God is about to get obtrusive. May we praise and thank him for his hearing, his remembering, his looking and his knowing. May we ask him to get obtrusive in and through us. May God continue to make us a people through whom he brings life and light.