Exodus 1: The Birth of Moses

1.  I love this story. When I say “story” I don’t mean to say it is fiction. No, it simply means it is the truth written in a particular form that makes it even more memorable for us. We all love the story form. It gets beneath our radar. Neuroscientists even say that our brain is wired to respond to stories because they have a pattern that is easy to grasp. So it is with this story.

Other than Samson and Jesus, we do not have such an account about the birth of a Biblical figure. Without a doubt, this is the most important birth story in the Old Testament. It is, in a sense, the birth of the Old Testament savior. Without Moses there would not be a Jewish nation. There was a Jewish people because of Abraham but not a Jewish nation with a founding document – the Ten Commandments. There was a family but not a nation.

We have stories true and false about some of our founders – like Washington and the cherry tree or throwing the dollar across the Potomac – but nothing like this. There is no other figure as central to Jewish history as Moses and everything about him is a part of his role.

2.  There are four things this morning I want to look at and the first is how the author blends the fear and foolishness of Pharaoh together. There is fear because of his power and his edict to destroy every male child but the real point is how clever the Jewish women and midwives are. He is powerful but stupid. He is capable of making them slaves but it is out of fear of their abilities. How often this is true in history – especially with the Jewish people. Their traditions are filled with stories about outwitting tyrants – think about Esther. Tyrants are real but temporary and, in the end, foils for God.

All of us have Pharaoh’s in our lives. It may be someone on the outside who appears to have power over us. In that case, we want to hold on to what is at risk for as long as we can and there is always a good reason to “hide the baby” and not let go. After all, we are protecting something precious. As well, it may be a Pharaoh on the inside who is fearful of others and the threat of their aligning with our enemies. We are always on guard against people who intimidate us or are unfamiliar to us or we assume everyone not a slave to our ideas must be an enemy.

3.  The second thing is the lack of names for any of the main characters.

Pharaoh has no name. He has a generic title but no personal identity. He is a symbol but not a person.

Moses’ mother and father have no names. We know they are from the tribe of Levi and that she is the sister of her husband’s father. That means the father of Moses married his aunt but we’ll not go into that this morning.

The sister of Moses has no name.

The servants have no names

The Princess has no name.

The baby has no name. After three months his mother has not named him.

It’s not the same as everyone being anonymous. It is more like everyone at this point in the story being shadow figures or props on the stage. The real focus of the entire story is, really, the naming of Moses. It’s the only name that matters. Everyone else is there to lead us to that.

Eventually, we do discover the names of his parents but not until much later in Exodus. And, like many names in Scripture, they have a particular meaning. The mother’s name is Jochabed which means “the glory of God” and Amram which means “an exalted people.” In a sense, their names are fulfilled through their son – even while for a time they remain nameless and off to the side.
I think about that with my own children. I’ve thought about that when I taught kids. Many times our role for a time is to be nameless and unnoticed but then later we find out that our purpose is fulfilled through their lives in ways we could not predict. Sometimes we, like Moses’ parents, are only revealed later in their lives and we have to fight the temptation to claim credit or to want recognition. God is a God of generations and it is not our purpose to always be looking for significance in our lifetime. What we do may not receive any recognition but at some point our purpose will be fulfilled. Our “names” like Jochabed and Amram will be part of a much larger story.

4.  There is probably no more familiar image in Scripture than the basket in which they put Moses. You can even sing “Itsy Bitsy Moses” to the tune of Itsy Bitsy Spider:

Into a tiny basket, the baby Moses went,
Placed into the Nile, and to the palace sent.
“Hush little baby, the Lord will be your guide,
And no one will ever harm you,
for God is by your side.”

But for me, what is interesting is the pattern of the word for baskets throughout Scripture. The same word is used four times:

First, for the ark of Noah.

Second, here in the story of Moses.

Third, the ark of the covenant.

Fourth, in the story of Jesus feeding the 5,000 after the death of John.

Fifth, for the way in which Paul was rescued from certain death in Damascus.

And, there is a consistent theme each time we see an ark or a basket. They come at the end of something and a new beginning.

Look at the account of Noah and what do you see? The end of one world and the beginning of another.

Look at the account of Moses. The end of bondage and the beginning of a new nation.

Look at the ark of the covenant. The end of the gods of Egypt and the beginning of the presence of God.

Look at the account of feeding the 5,000. The end of the ministry of John the Baptist and the beginning of a new chapter in the ministry of Jesus.

Look at the account of Paul in Damascus. The end of his life as a persecutor and the beginning of his ministry to the Gentile world.

God’s basket cases are reserved for special times. Whenever you see a basket you know something unusual is happening.

5.  But, what I find to be most remarkable in this story is his mother. She knew even at three months old that he was no ordinary baby. We read that in Acts 7:20. “At that time Moses was born, and he was no ordinary child. For three months he was cared for in his father’s house.”

How did they know that? There was no appearance of an angel like there was for Samson’s parents, Mary, or John the Baptist’s parents. There was absolutely no indication there was anything extraordinary about this child and yet I have to believe that his mother knew it. She knew he was not ordinary.

And that is what makes what she did even more powerful for me. She turned loose of what was most precious to her at the time when the child needed her the most. She did not abandon him. She did not abdicate but she carefully built a boat and released him.

I think God somehow showed her what holding on would mean but maybe He didn’t. Maybe it was a total act of faith on her part with no assurance at all. There was no word from the Lord like Abraham. It was absolute faith and belief that God’s ultimate purpose for her child was more at risk by her keeping him than letting him go. What if she had held on? He would have certainly died. But what an irony in that she releases what is most threatening to Pharaoh into his own household through his daughter.

But look how the child comes back to her. There would be no way to engineer such a thing. But the difference is important. She is now the child’s nurse but not his mother. She has to give up any claim to the child that was hers by right in order for the child to live. And she does. Not only that but she gives him up twice – once at three months and then again when he is older.

6.  Of course, there is more to this than a history of Moses, isn’t there? This story has been a guide to me for years because I can see myself in both Pharaoh and the mother! But, think about these few things this morning:

a. Are there Pharaoh’s in your life that are making you hold on to something and thinking “This cannot live without me.”

It may be a child or a relationship. It may be an organization for which you feel responsibility. It may be a dream. I don’t know what it is but there is a time to release what is most precious and yet is most vulnerable.

b. Are you feeling nameless?

I think “making a name for ourselves” is one of our greatest temptations. In Genesis 11 we read that the people built the Tower of Babel because they wanted to make a name for themselves. Instead, perhaps we should be growing into what our names are. I know that sounds vague but even though I disagree with many of the ideas taught by Bill Gothard, I do think it’s useful to sometimes consider our own names. For instance, my name is William Fred and it means “Peaceful ruler and protector.” I like that but I don’t always live up to it.

c. Are you ready for a basket this morning?

To make a way to let go of what you think needs hiding.

To make an ending and a new beginning.

To say good-bye to your role.

To put something in the boat and push it out.

To let go of what has a purpose larger than you understand at the moment.

7.  I used to make light of the hymn “I Surrender All” until I understood it through this story. There are times in life when that is exactly what is required. But what is surrendered in faith becomes what it was intended to be all along.

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