Moses in a Basket

“Moses in a Basket”

Exod 2 Pharaoh's daughter and Moses in the Dura-Europos synagogue fresco, c. AD 244

Exodus 1:15-2:6 – July 7, 2019

On social media, one sure way to get loads of “likes” and “shares” is to post the photo of a cute baby. So many people love seeing photos of little babies looking adorable. And when photos of crying or unhappy babies are posted, many people pour out their sad, shocked, and comforting emotions in their responses online.

Is it much different in our Scripture reading today from Exodus? As we hear about the infants born to the Israelite women in Egypt so long ago, I suspect many in our congregation are sad and shocked, and wish to comfort those women and families involved.

And yet—this narrative about infants from Exodus has a much starker, darker impact, as we read it over again in the clear light of day. With the typical economy of words that Hebrew often employs, our narrative opens with: “Then a new king, to whom Joseph meant nothing, came to power in Egypt.” In other words, a number of generations had passed, and as commentator Karla Suomala suggests “the new king didn’t remember Joseph’s role in keeping the Egyptians alive during a time of famine or simply chose to ignore this piece of history. It seems to be more willful than a simple act of forgetting.” [1]

The people of Israel, resident aliens living in Egypt for several hundred years, have become extremely numerous. So numerous, in fact, that the new Pharaoh and other racist Egyptian leaders feared the people of Israel would be guilty of insurrection or an alliance with a foreign nation. The Egyptians ruthlessly worked them even harder, but they continued to multiply and grow as a sub-people group within the nation.

I give a trigger warning, since this sermon is going to speak of some horrible events.

Further compounding [Pharaoh’s] false statement, is a clear strategy to create an “enemy within” and to stir up fear of the foreign or immigrant other. The Pharaoh then wastes no time in putting a plan together to deal with this dangerous element in their midst.” [2] Pharaoh and the other leaders became so fearful and anxious that they come up with a nefarious scheme—killing all the Jewish boy babies, from that point onward.

We take a side trip to consider women in healthcare, specifically working as midwives. This work as midwives outside the home has been an accepted thing for certain women to do for millenia. The two women we look at come at the beginning of Exodus, in the middle of this narrative about the Israelite—or, Hebrew boy children.

These women were diligent in their work. We even know the names of these midwives—Shiprah and Puah. The biblical writer honors them by recording their names for posterity. Plus, they were God-fearing women, who understood their work was important in God’s eyes.

As we know, Pharaoh’s evil plan was to command the Hebrew midwives to kill all baby boys, to commit male infanticide, yet allow the baby girls to live. This is a slow yet sure way of eradicating Egypt’s problem population. What do we think about such horrendous acts of cruelty? No, even worse, acts of murder? What would you consider doing, if you had been in the place of these Hebrew midwives?

The midwives Shiprah and Pual were civil servants; they worked for the Egyptian government, and so the all-powerful Pharaoh was their ultimate boss. However, Pharaoh and his cronies did not have much power. Pharaoh needed to meet with the Israelite midwives in a huge turnover in power. Imagine, we are faced with the question: where—with whom—does true power reside?

Apparently, Pharaoh is not aware of this power differential. What is more, Pharaoh tries to deputize these Hebrew midwives to do his dirty work for him. He does not want to get his hands (or the hands of his fellow Egyptian leaders) bloody.

The midwives are honorable and God-fearing, and most probably cannot even consider killing the newborn infants they assist bringing into the world. However, when Pharaoh asks them why they are not killing the baby boys, “the midwives respond by playing to his own stereotypes about immigrants and their breeding habits. “Because the Hebrew women are not like the Egyptian women; for they are vigorous and give birth before the midwife comes to them,” they say.” [3]

Here we see that racist stereotypes are sadly perpetuated from generation to generation. Has this frightening, common, xenophobic mindset changed today? I think not.

The Pharaoh clearly sees that he won’t be able to convince the Israelites to kill their own children. So, he and other racist, xenophobic Egyptian leaders turn to the Egyptian population, telling them to throw the Jewish baby boys into the Nile River. This is where we pick up with the story of Moses. His mother gave birth to Moses in secret, hid him for three months, and then finally did put him in the Nile River—in a floating, waterproof basket.

We follow Miriam, Moses’s older sister, watching from the riverbank, as Pharaoh’s daughter finds the floating basket. Pharaoh’s daughter is charmed with the darling baby who she correctly identifies as a Jewish baby, spies Miriam nearby, and asks whether Miriam can find a wet nurse for this baby she decides on the spot to adopt. Thus, the adopted Moses is suckled by his own mom—and even paid to nurse her own child. Such are the amazing incidents that happen in God’s providence.

One fascinating insight about the male Pharaoh and the female midwives: one of the most striking points of this section is the fact that the text names the midwives. Why do we need to know the names of these two women, Shiphrah and Puah, who never appear again in the story? Names are very important in the Book of Exodus. Moses’s sister Miriam is named, too, further on in the book.

Who remains nameless? Pharaoh. Pharaoh is unnamed. Pharaoh’s royal family members are unnamed. Pharaoh’s officers are unnamed. Pharaoh’s royal advisors are unnamed. Every Egyptian in the book of Exodus remains nameless. All public figures in Egypt take great efforts at self-promotion and control. [4] But when God steps in and raises up the women in this story, we need to sit up and take notice.

A final act of defiance to the Pharaoh’s authority and will comes from his own daughter. Moses will grow up under the protection of the princess even before he is officially adopted. [5] Sure, we can see the patriarchal mindset and attitude shown in the Bible remains deeply entrenched, through the centuries. However, in God’s providence and outworking in these connected situations, we can see defiance and subversion of Pharaohs’ commands, even from within his own house at the hands of his own daughter.

God be praised. Yes, there is continuing horror, despair, death and destruction. But, God’s purposes shine through all the darkness. Moses rose to prominence, to lead his people out of Egypt. And, God’s purposes continue to shine through.

That is something to truly celebrate. Alleluia, amen.

@chaplaineliza

(Suggestion: visit me at my regular blog for 2019: matterofprayer: A Year of Everyday Prayers. #PursuePEACE – and my other blog,  A Year of Being Kind . Thanks!

This entry was tagged angry, arrogant, coat of many colors, dysfunctional, favorite, Genesis 37, God’s purposes, hurt feelings, Joseph, praise God, reconcile, sibling rivalry.

 

[1] http://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=3380

Commentary, Karla Suomala, Preaching This Week, WorkingPreacher.org, 2017.

[2] Ibid.

[3] http://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=3380

Commentary, Karla Suomala, Preaching This Week, WorkingPreacher.org, 2017.

[4] https://juniaproject.com/midwives-vs-pharaoh-exodus-question-of-power/

[5] http://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=972

Commentary, Exodus 1:8-2:10, Amy Merrill Willis, Preaching This Week, WorkingPreacher.org, 2011.

Open Our Hearts!

“Open Our Hearts!”

Acts 16 St. Lydia

Acts 16:6-15 – August 30, 2015

Men, men, men! Here in the United States, men still take center place in many areas today. Look at most sports broadcasts. What you see is—men! Look at many industries and places of work, still, today. Firefighters? Mostly men. Police officers? Mostly men. Truckers? Construction workers? Mostly men here, too.

The sermon I have for you this morning is not the typical sermon. I would like us to consider the passage from Acts 16 that was read just now. This passage is interesting because of its highlight on women. Let’s take a closer look at the subject at hand.

We are looking at Acts, chapter 16, as part of our summer sermon series, Postcards from the Early Church. The events recorded in this book take place later in the first century after the birth of Christ, a long, long time ago. The concepts of welcoming and celebrating multi-culturalism—as we do today—were not even thought of.

The apostle Paul and his friends had a bit of a culture shock themselves. They had been itinerant preachers and missionaries throughout Asia Minor for the past several years. They were on the front lines, spreading the good news of Jesus Christ on the frontier, to people who had never heard that good news before. And now, at the beginning of Acts 16, they take the huge step of crossing into Europe. They are now in Philippi, in what is now northern Greece, in the region of Macedonia. So they are truly missionaries, bridging continents, crossing cultures, coming into a new situation with their good news.

Now, there was one structure Paul and his friends had to deal with, wherever they went: the Roman Empire. The Roman Empire embraced many different cultures, from western Europe to northern Africa, to the edges of what is Iraq today. But within that polyglot of cultures, one basic aspect remained constant: the pre-eminence of men, and the subordination of women.

We can still see this fact of life in certain societies and cultures today; in certain cultures, women are still subordinate, not allowed to do things or to be involved in activities that are normal and matter of course for both women and men today, in our culture and society here in the United States.

Let’s return to the scripture passage we are examining today. Dr. Luke is different from the other biblical authors, since he was a Gentile, and a doctor. He was used to dealing with women and children as a doctor, as a matter of course, and I believe they were important to him, professionally as well as personally. Thus, he mentions them more often in his writings. Here in Acts 16, almost the first thing that Dr. Luke tells us about Paul and his friends in Philippi is their encounter with a gathering of women outside of the city.

Let me say how unusual this is, for the Bible. In either the Hebrew Scriptures or the New Testament, the mention of a gathering of women, only, is almost unheard of. The mention of a woman, on her own, at all, is unusual.

Just think about it: women in the Bible are usually mentioned in reference to a man: Abraham’s wife, Sarah; Judah’s daughter-in-law, Tamar; Samuel’s mother, Hannah; Mordecai’s cousin, Esther; Aquila’s wife, Priscilla; Jesus’ mother, Mary.

Some women in the Bible are not even mentioned by name: the woman at the well from John 4, the woman with the flow of blood from Luke 8, and the faith of the Syro-Phoenician woman from Mark 7—anonymous women, known only to God. But wherever they appear in the Bible, the women of the Hebrew Scriptures and New Testament are clearly examples for anyone who reads the Bible today or has read the Bible, throughout the centuries.

Let’s look at this situation in Acts 16 from a different perspective, for a moment. Quite an odd occurrence, to be sure! Here we have a small group of men, strangers from out of town, coming and sitting down among a larger group of women. What is going on here?

I could mention the fascinating information I researched about Jewish synagogues among majority Gentile towns in the first centuries of this common era, or about the possibility that there was no synagogue in Philippi, which led the God-fearing people who wished to worship outside of the town. However, that is not where I wish to focus today. I would like to look at the rabbi Paul and his companions coming to pray and worship with this group of women. Rabbi Paul was probably the guest preacher for the morning, supported by his colleagues in ministry.

This prayer meeting was an open-air meeting outside the town, probably at a marginal location near the river. It was a meeting of God-fearing women, probably mostly Gentile in makeup. The amazing thing about this mention in Acts 16 is that Dr. Luke mentions the women.

Women are not mentioned often in the Bible, period. But without the active participation and support of women, and some of them of high standing, too, Paul and his companions would not have been able to accomplish half of what they did. Women, especially of high standing, were involved in local politics throughout the region, and economically involved, as well. Women were important to the ongoing life of the new church and to the spreading of the good news for several years before this occasion in Philippi. I believe Paul was acknowledging this through his willingness to talk with and preach for the women.

It is unusual for women to be mentioned on their own, self-sufficient, having their own accountability and standing in the city where they live. Yet here we have just that. Dr. Luke particularly mentions Lydia, and he gives us lots of personal information about her. We can tell by her name that she is a Gentile woman, and we are told she was born in a city called Thyatira, and is a dealer in purple cloth, which for that time was a luxury item, for sure. What we can compare this to is a dealer in high-end designer clothing in our culture and context, today. We can readily see that she not only owns her own business, but she also has her own house, and household servants and maybe even assistants and others in her entourage.

What did the Lord do? Here in verse 14, the passage says that the Lord opened Lydia’s heart to listen eagerly to the things Paul preached. And because of her attention to the message, she came to faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. And as an expression of that sincere faith in the Lord, she went the next step, and was baptized, thereby making a public declaration of her realization of coming to faith. And not only Lydia, but also her whole household was baptized.

Then, after she was baptized, she offers her own house as a hotel, as a place for Paul and his companions to stay, a base of operations while they were in Philippi. She is hospitable, showing good character and a definite spiritual gift. She had been a God-fearer, a worshiper of God, and now she was a Christian, a believer in the good news.

That’s Lydia’s story. But, how about you? Lydia was a God-fearer. Lydia was a proselyte, probably coming faithfully to prayer and worship Sabbath after Sabbath. It could even have been for years, faithful in her attendance, faithful in her giving to others. But it took the Lord to open Lydia’s heart to listen eagerly to the message of the good news. It took the Lord to lead Lydia to faith in the good news of Jesus Christ.

What about you? Have you come to that point in your life where you accept what Jesus Christ has done for you? Have you come to believe in that good news that Paul preached? Paul’s answer from Acts 16 still stands today. It is still valid. “Believe on the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved, you and your household.”

And if you are a believer in the Lord already, praise God! You can join Lydia and Dr. Luke and Paul and Silas and the rest of the saints, throughout the centuries.

And even if we do know the Lord, there may be some who have been far away from Him, and not as attentive to God’s will and God’s ways. I know I have sinned, often, and I think there may be others in the same circumstance. The Lord does not turn His back, and ignore us when we come to say we’re sorry, and we have sinned. No.

The Lord is ready to welcome us, to extend God’s mercy and grace to us. Each one of us.

Have you come to the Lord? Have you asked forgiveness for your sins, and thanked God for welcoming you to Him? See, today is the day of salvation. Let this day be the day when you open your heart to the Lord.

@chaplaineliza

Suggestion: visit me at my daily blog for 2015: matterofprayer: A Year of Everyday Prayers. and my other blog,  A Year of Being Kind .  Thanks!