You can tell a lot from the opening lines of a story. For example:
· “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.” (Great Expectations)
· “In our family there was no clear line between religion and fly-fishing.” (A River Runs Through It)
· “Every who down in Whoville liked Christmas a lot.” (The Grinch)
The Exodus story begins this way: “These are the names of the sons of Israel who went to Egypt with Jacob, each with his family…” (read Exodus 1:1-7)
This beginning tells us that what we are about to read is tied to the life story of Joseph (Genesis 37-50), to the story of Abraham (Genesis 12-25), and to the whole story of creation. God had told humanity to be fruitful and multiply, and that’s exactly what they had done…in Egypt! This is no longer the story of a family, but the story of a people – the story of Israel.
Out of fear of the numerous Israelites, a new Pharaoh brought down harsh persecution on the shoulders of the Israelites. These were dark, dark days, as had been foretold to Abraham (Genesis 15:13).
The Exodus story, the Moses story, begins with five heroines. First, read Exodus 1:8-22. Here we meet two brave midwives, Shiphrah & Puah. (It’s interesting that Pharaoh is unnamed.) These midwives practice civil disobedience out of loyalty to God. They refuse to participate in genocide. Obeying God is more important to them that their own lives.
The Theological Declaration of Barmen was written by the German Confessing Church during World War 2, when some churches refused to bow before National Socialism. Barmen states: “Jesus Christ, as he is attested for us in Holy Scripture, is the one Word of God which we have to hear and which we have to trust and obey in life and in death.” This is still true today, and Shiphrah and Puah show us the way.
Now let’s read Exodus 2:1-4. Here we meet Jochebed, Moses’ mother. Jochebed also refused to participate in Pharaoh’s increasingly desperate attempts to wipe out the Israelites. She hid her son for three months. (That’s a miracle in itself!) She was defiant, but her defiance also broke her heart as she placed her baby boy in the Nile River, entrusting him to God. But God often works most profoundly in disappointment and heartache.
In Exodus 2:5-10 we meet our fourth and fifth heroine of this story: Miriam (Moses’ sister) and Pharaoh’s daughter. Miriam planted herself close to the baby, and she was able to suggest a plan for keeping him alive. Pharaoh’s daughter, despite the well-known murderous decree of her father, took compassion on the child and provided for him.
These women are the stars of the beginning of Exodus. God wanted the story of Moses told. Moses entered the world utterly dependent on others and utterly dependent on God. This is a theme we will come back to many times in our summer series on Moses. Moses was, to use Isaac Newton’s phrase, “standing on the shoulders of giants.”
Through civil disobedience, in heartbreak, and through planning and compassion, God used heroines to give Moses a start. The same may be true of us. Others may follow God in their lives because they are standing our own shoulders. Who are we paving the way for? Let me encourage you to have a heart that is willing to invest in others – especially the young – knowing that God can use our life stories in ways we never could have guessed.
This weekend is the 76th anniversary of the Allied liberation of Normandy. We point to June 6 as D-Day. But that epic event was only possible because of tireless planning and preparation that took years. Those brave soldiers were standing on the shoulders of all those who made it possible.
Life in the world Moses entered was unsettled, to say the least. We value, and are willing to give lots of money and time to the feeling of being settled in life, but life has a way of keeping us unsettled still today. We should never ultimately never trust people or organizations to settle the world for us. Only God can do that. Only God could establish Moses, and he used five extraordinary women to do it in the opening chapters of the story. This is the overall idea of our series on Moses: WHEN LIFE IS UNSETTLED, LET GOD ESTABLISH YOU. (hint: it’s always unsettled)
Moses/Exodus is the central story of God’s people. It was repeated constantly as the source of Israel’s identity. And it gives us the language and the categories with which to understand what God was doing in Jesus Christ. This is our story. It tells us who we are, and who God is. Let’s press into that this summer. Let’s let God establish us in this unsettled world.