Of all the books in the Bible, of all the books in the Old Testament, none tell the story of Israel quite like Exodus. Through its pages and chapters, we are surrounded by an intriguing story that is filled with danger, political intrigue, a massive rescue effort, and internal conflicts. It is the story of God’s effort to redeem the people of Israel out of slavery.
Those reasons, and others, are why the story of Exodus has held a central place in understanding God’s ways of redeeming us through the Lord’s grace and love. It is the story of Moses. It is the story of Israel. It is the story of us. For the story of Exodus reminds us of how God continually reaches out to us and seeks to redeem us.
Over the next few weeks, we will look at this fascinating story of faith and see what Exdous has to say to us today. My hope is that we will find ourselves in these narratives that are important to our faith. As we do, perhaps we will see how God continually seeks to redeem us and how the Lord gives us a new hope through faith everyday.
We begin our journey through Exodus by looking at this large segment of text from Exodus 1:8-2:10. As we look at this text we see that the people of Israel are in danger and are threatened by the Egyptians. The same nation who Israel, through Joseph’s efforts, helped to survive a massive famine in the latter chapters of Genesis. Now, some years later, those efforts have long been forgotten as the people of Israel had grown in numbers.
Perhaps this is why when a new Pharaoh, or king, takes the throne he does not see Israel’s presence as an opportunity to remember the redemptive acts of the past. Instead, he sees Israel as a threat that must be taken care of. So, the new Pharaoh takes steps aimed at preventing Israel from living out their purpose. He develops three inhumane acts that sought to completely eliminate Israel. At first, we might pause to wonder how any leader could devise such an unthinkable and destructive plot. That is until we consider all the acts of inhumanity that have been implemented throughout history by ruthless and dictatorial governments. As we look at Pharaoh’s edicts, we are left to wonder if there is any hope for the people of Israel.
That is until we look what happens throughout the entire passage. The beginning of Exodus isn’t simply about setting the context of Israel’s redemption and telling the story of Moses’ birth. It is the story of people who were willing to be used by God in order to help others. What we notice are a number of people – five women – who stand against the Pharaoh’s desires to eliminate Israel. They are unlikely heroes in this narrative of abuse of power. Heroes who remind us that God often uses the unlikeliest of individuals to bring hope to others.
The ways these five women become unlikely heroes who stand against the Pharaoh’s desires are passionate examples of those who stand in support of others regardless of the costs. It begins when Pharaoh’s first edict was made to enslave the people of Israel. Pharaoh demands that Israel’s people be used to build cities and monuments for Egypt. He wanted to demoralize Israel and to keep them from having a desire to grow. Pharaoh’s first edict does not work. Israel only grows bigger and stronger, even in the midst of oppression.
So, the Pharaoh issues a second edict. An edict that was aimed at endangering the lives of innocent children. He orders that the Hebrew midwives were to kill any male Hebrew after they were born. Think about the nature of this edict for a moment: Those who are tasked with helping to bring life into the world are now told that they must take the life of innocent children who were being used as a pawn in Pharaoh’s game to eliminate the Israelites. It is inhumane.
Which is why two midwives, Shiphrah and Puah, refused to cooperate. They decide they would not follow the Pharaoh’s demands. Their faith in God would not allow them to kill others. Instead, they chose to side with those being oppressed and help them. When pressed by the Pharaoh about their actions, the two women create a story that is intended to protect them from the Pharaoh’s wrath. They said the Hebrew women are too prolific and they have their children before they can arrive. We are told their faith is rewarded by God blessing them with a large family. They are two unlikely heroes who instead of blindly following an inhumane edict chose to care for others and give them hope.
The Pharaoh, though, does not stop. He decided on another inhumane tactic to eliminate the people from Israel. He now orders that all Hebrew males were to be thrown into the Nile River. That as soon as a Hebrew male baby is found they are to be killed by tossing them into the water. Pharaoh would stop at nothing to get what he wants.
Not everyone in Pharaoh’s family would obey his ruthless demands. Pharaoh’s daughter joins the growing list of unlikely heroes when she finds a basket floating in the river. The basket was placed there by a Levite family who had just given birth to a baby, and wanted to do whatever they could to protect it. The child’s sister, we are told, is watching as well, perhaps wanting to make sure that the child is safe. Pharaoh’s daughter tells her maids to open the basket. It is then that she finds a baby in the basket and upon realizing it was a Hebrew child she has pity on the baby and the entire people of Israel. She expresses compassion and joins with those who are suffering.
The baby’s sister picks up on this and moves in to seek help for her younger brother. She asks Pharaoh’s daughter if she would like her to find a Hebrew woman to nurse the baby. It is an attempt to find help for the baby. Pharaoh’s daughter agrees, which leads to the sister finding her mother and taking her to Pharaoh’s daughter. The mother then is told to raise the child and that she would be paid for her efforts. The child is protected and given a new life.
All three women become unlikely heroes who stand against the Pharaoh’s policies to kill innocent children. They decide that they would give of themselves to help others. A mother protects her child in a basket. A daughter has pity on a child and decides life is more important. A sister seeks to build upon that compassion to seek help for her brother and family. All this leads to a baby being given a new life.
In all, there are five unlikely heroes in this narrative. They were people who had no real bases of power and influence. They were people who might have easily gone along with the Pharaoh’s demands in order to protect their own lives. They were unlikely heroes who decide that having compassion for others was more important than following the Pharaoh.
While they are unlikely heroes, perhaps we should not be that surprised by that fact. You see, they are another in a long list of unlikely people who God uses to bring about redemption and hope for all people. God routinely uses the weak, the powerless, the forgotten, and even the oppressed to bring forth the realities of his love and hope for all. Each of these were willing partners in God’s efforts to redeem the people. They weren’t necessarily the best trained, best equipped, or even the best and the brightest, but each had a willing heart to be used to share hope with others. A willing heart that God used to make hope a living reality for the people of Israel.
That is where we fit into this story. The story of these unlikely heroes is a reminder to us that God desires to use us to share hope, love, peace, and joy with the people of our community. We do not have to have all the answers of how to do it. We don’t even have to immediately know how to care for our communities in the best ways. All that is asked is for us to partner with God to bring about the realities of God’s love into our communities.
With a willing heart God can do some amazing things in and through us. With the willing heart of two Hebrew midwives, God protected the people of Israel from Pharaoh’s efforts to eliminate the community. With the willing heart of a daughter, a mother, and a sister, God gave new life to a child who would come out of the water to redeem the people. That child would be the one known as Moses, who would lead the people out of Egypt.
With a willing heart, God can do an amazing work of redemption and hope in our lives, the life of our church, and throughout community through even the most unlikely of people. The question is are we willing to be used by God, like the five women and baby in this story, to do an amazing work of hope and love in our communities?