The birth of Moses (Ex 1:1-2:10)

Today we start our new series in Exodus. Over next nine weeks, we will work our way through this full and famous book.

• It contains well-known events like the Plagues, the Passover, and the parting of the Red Sea. Plus the Ten Commandments and the Tabernacle tent.

• Exodus also introduces important ideas that resonate throughout the rest of the Bible. Ideas like sacrifice, atonement, redemption, liberty, law and grace.

• Above all, Exodus helps us understand the Lord Jesus. Because the Gospel authors present Jesus as the greater Moses, the last Passover Lamb, the living Bread from Heaven – and as the true tabernacle in which God dwelt amongst human beings.

As we start our series today, we meet a God who remembers but a Pharaoh who is forgetful. We encounter a group of wonderful women. And we get to meet a very surprising Saviour.

A God who remembers and a Pharaoh who forgets!

Exodus begins where Genesis ends, with Jacob, Joseph and his brothers in Egypt. You may remember Joseph had been sold into slavery by his jealous brothers, but had risen to become Prime Minister of Egypt. Joseph had saved the people of Egypt from a famine, and was well-loved and respected during his lifetime.

When Joseph and his fellow Israelites initially settled in Egypt they numbered only 70. But as verse 7 today tells us “the Israelites were exceedingly fruitful; they multiplied greatly, increased in numbers and became so numerous that the land was filled with them.”

This exponential growth in the population is a sign of God’s faithfulness. A sign that God had not forgotten his promise to Joseph’s great grandfather Abraham many decades before. A promise to bless him and make his family into a great nation. By God’s grace, the Israelites (also called the Hebrews) had grown from a large family to a small nation in Egypt. Their existence was a testimony to God’s ability to keep his promises to his people.

One obvious application for us is to be confident that God never forgets his promises – including those most precious to us as Christian believers. Promises to never forsake us, promises to indwell us by his Spirit, promises to forgive us for Jesus sake, promises of eternal life in a world to come. The exponential growth of Israel in our passage today is a testimony to God’s reliability and faithfulness.

In contrast to God’s great memory, in verses 8 and 9 we meet a forgetful Pharaoh. A Pharaoh with no care for the past and a fear of the future: “Look,” he said to his people, “the Israelites have become far too numerous for us. Come, we must deal shrewdly with them or they will become even more numerous and, if war breaks out, will join our enemies, fight against us and leave the country.”

This Pharaoh saw the Israelites as a threat. He was frightened that they would be come so numerous as to overwhelm his country. So Pharaoh pursues a dreadful policy of social engineering and genocide against the Israelites.

• First, he denies them their liberty and makes them slaves. Verses 11 and 14 tell us that the Egyptians “put slave masters over them to oppress them with forced labor, and they built Pithom and Rameses as store cities for Pharaoh. They made their lives bitter with harsh labor in brick and mortar and with all kinds of work in the fields; in all their harsh labour the Egyptians worked them ruthlessly.”

• When this strategy fails to stop the growth and spread of the Israelites, Pharaoh moves to stage two of his agenda. In today’s language we would call it a policy of ‘sex-selective abortion’, because Pharaoh instructs Israelite midwives to kill Israelite baby boys as they are being born.

• Thirdly and finally, Pharaoh’s policy of infanticide becomes more explicit. He orders every Egyptian to throw “every Hebrew boy that is born” into the River Nile.

We should be shocked, but not surprised, by Pharaoh’s actions. He follows a pattern of behaviour that is sadly all too familiar amongst tyrannical rulers and authoritarian regimes throughout history.

Even today, Christians in many parts of the world face persecution and discrimination for their faith. We should be very grateful for the liberties we enjoy in this country, guard them carefully, and pray for those less fortunate than ourselves.

Can I commend to you the work of charities like Christian Solidarity Worldwide, who do all they can to support and speak up for our persecuted brothers and sisters oversees, in places like China, the Middle East and parts of Africa.

Wonderful women who feared God, not Pharaoh

As today’s passage progresses, we meet five remarkable women. Five wonderful women who wanted to do what was right, rather than comply with Pharaoh’s policies. Five women who feared God, not Pharaoh.

The first two heroines are called Shiprah and Puah – the two Hebrew midwives who refused to implement Pharaoh’s policy of infanticide. They refused to kill baby boys as they were born. This pair of midwives knew life is sacred, and feared God’s displeasure far more than Pharaoh’s.

We too should have a healthy fear of God – the Bible calls it the beginning of wisdom. We should be more concerned about God’s assessment of our behaviour than what other people might think of us. Doing right in God’s sight may not always be popular, politically correct or the policy of our employers or government, but we should do it anyway. We should particularly pray for Christians working in the medical profession, like those two midwives, that they will remain faithful to Christ in the NHS. We should support those Christian medical staff who take a strong ‘pro-life’ stand on issues like abortion and euthanasia.

The next pair of heroines we meet are the mother and sister of Moses. Moses mother clearly loved her son and had no desire to see him die. So we’re told she hid him for three months at home before making a floating basket, so her baby would survive in the Nile and not drown. A basket made of papyrus and pitch would be both light and watertight.

Moses’ sister, meanwhile, was clearly a brave, bright girl! We’re told she watched Moses in the basket to make sure he was alright. And then was quick-thinking enough to suggest her mother as the nurse for Moses when he was discovered by Pharaoh’s daughter.

Both Moses mother and sister used their heart and their head to save his young life. They were motivated by love but made use of their brains as well. And so should we!

We should all be grateful that God has given us a conscience to listen to and brains to make use of. Our ambition in life should be to serve God and do what is right, and we are to use our brains (as well as our Bibles) to identifiy what is the right course of action in any situation.

A baby born to save

Finally, Pharaoh’s daughter is the fifth wonderful woman in our passage today. After discovering Moses’ basket in the bullrushes she shows him compassion and lets him live – despite her father’s decree. She then adopts Moses into her royal family. This little Israelite lad is now in a position of power, ready to perform his God-given role in the years ahead.

Because the birth of Moses marked the beginning of God’s rescue mission for his enslaved people. With Moses’ birth, God’s great escape plan for Israel had begun. God’s chosen instrument for the liberation of his people was not a weapon, an army, or a revolutionary movement – but a baby boy. A baby destined become a great man of God and leader of his people, Israel – as we shall see over the coming weeks.

But, before I finish, the birth of Moses should remind us to another baby boy in the Bible:
• Another boy also born at a time when Israel was subject to foreign oppression (this time, under the Romans).
• Another baby who was also threatened with death by an evil king (this time, called Herod), and hidden in Egypt for his own safety.
• Another child who would grow up to be man of God, because he was the only-begottem Son of God.

You see, in Moses we see a prototype of the Lord Jesus, over a thousand years before Christ was born. Moses was foretaste of a greater God-given Saviour who was yet to come. A Saviour who would lead his followers out of slavery to sin, rather than out of slavery in Egypt.

Think how grateful the Israelites were when Moses emerged on the scene. How much more grateful should we be, now that our own Saviour, Jesus Christ, has been born, died and risen again – for us.

Phil Weston