“What Are You Doing?” – Exodus 1 & 2
Pentecost 16 – September 24, 2017
As we make the transition from the Old Testament book of Genesis to the book of Exodus, we also find ourselves making a significant transition in the storyline of God’s people. Genesis took us through the family life of Abraham, his son Isaac, his son Jacob, and then his twelve sons, with special emphasis on Joseph. At the end of Genesis, we find the entire family of Jacob in Egypt. Because his name had been changed to Israel, we now call them the Israelites. When Jacob died, his sons took his bones back to Canaan to bury him in the cave that Abraham bought… so that he could be buried with his grandparents, with his parents, and with his wife. When Joseph died, he also instructed his family to keep his bones, and when God would bring the Israelites up out of Egypt and back to the Promised Land, they were to take his bones back “home.”
Many years and generations came and went, and we still find the Israelites in Egypt as the book of Exodus begins. (Oh, by the way, the word Exodus is Greek for the road or the way out. Think “EXIT” sign.) It wasn’t just the Israelites that were in a period of transition. The Egyptian pharaohs also succeeded one another so eventually a new king did not know Joseph nor did he appreciate the contribution Joseph had made to Egypt’s past nor did he appreciate the presence of these foreigners in his country.
- What are you doing, Lord?
a. Egyptian oppression
As we pick up the story in Exodus 1, we find that the Pharaoh was concerned that the Israelites would outnumber the Egyptians, fight against them and leave the country. He put slave masters over the Israelites, and oppressed them with forced labour, working with bricks and mortar. They were compelled to build the Egyptian cities of Pithom and Rameses. They were also required to work hard in the fields.
An observer might question, “What are you doing, Lord? What are you doing to your called and chosen people? Why are you letting them suffer like that?” We do ask those very questions even these days when we see innocent people suffering, when we see Godly people of faith suffering.
But it wasn’t just the hard physical labour imposed on the Israelites by the Pharaoh. It was also his plan for reducing the Israelite population and the threat of future warfare. Pharaoh instructed the Hebrew midwives, as they assisted with childbirth, to kill baby boys and to let baby girls live – the opposite of what was happening in China recently. The pharaoh didn’t want any more Israelite men maturing into possible warriors. And, you know, if there weren’t any boys around, pretty soon there wouldn’t be any more Israelite babies in the next generation, and the Israelite girls could be mates for the Egyptian young men instead.
However, the midwives feared God, knowing that taking the life of an unborn child or a newborn child is inherently wrong in God’s eyes. They had to concoct an untruth – “the vigorous Hebrew women give birth before we even arrive” – in order to deceive the Pharaoh and protect the Israelite babies. They understood that they were placed under two authorities – the Pharaoh’s and God’s – and God’s authority took precedence. It’s like when, in Acts 5, Peter and the apostles were warned not to preach and teach in the name of Jesus and their response was, “We must obey God rather than man.” This instructs us. When we are faced with a choice – to obey the authority of an earthly ruler or to honour the will of God – our first allegiance is always and only to God.
b. Baby Moses
So, into this situation of Egyptian oppression over against the Israelites, a husband and wife – both of the tribe of Levi – gave birth to a son. In order to protect this infant, for three months they placed him in a papyrus basket and let him float among some reeds along the bank of the Nile River. His older sister, Miriam, would watch him from a distance every day. At some point, his life would no longer be in danger. However, one day the daughter of Pharaoh, himself, was bathing in the Nile and noticed the basket and heard a baby crying. She recognized him as a Hebrew baby. Miriam was still close and offered to find a Hebrew woman to nurse the child. Pharaoh’s daughter accepted the offer and agreed to pay the woman – who just happened to be the baby’s own mother. After some time, the baby was taken to be raised in Pharaoh’s daughter’s household, and she named the boy Moses for she drew him out of the water. (Moses sounds like the Hebrew word for ‘draw out.’) But again, “What are you doing, Lord… raising an Israelite boy in an Egyptian home… especially a privileged home? What will he learn there? What values will he grow up with? Where will his loyalty be? Where will his faith be?”
Sometimes we can’t imagine the end of or even the path of life’s story while we are on it. It may take twists and turns which we can’t foresee, which we don’t understand, which we don’t welcome, but which we also can’t change. We can only work with what we have, and pray for God’s guidance.
- What are you doing, Moses?
a. Moses’ big mistake
Although the Moses story takes up the next four books of the Old Testament, this part of the story happens quickly. One verse, he’s a young boy being taken into the home of the Pharaoh’s daughter, the next he’s a grown up, observing the Israelites at their slave labour. And the “What are you doing, Lord?” question is asked of Moses.
Like many adopted children, Moses knew that he wasn’t a true Egyptian, and somehow he identified with his own people, the Hebrews. He may have had supervisory responsibilities over some of the slave labour, for one day he noticed an Egyptian beating a Hebrew slave and it stirred up his anger over this seeming injustice. Seeing no one else around, he killed the Egyptian and buried him in the sand, thinking that that was the end of that. But somehow our sins often find us out, and come back to haunt us.
As it turned out, the very next day, Moses saw two Hebrew men fighting. He asked, “Why are you hitting your fellow Hebrew?”
The response surprised Moses. “Who made you ruler over us? Are you thinking of killing me as you killed the Egyptian?”
Moses realized his actions had been seen by others, and when word got to Pharaoh, himself, he tried to kill Moses to thwart any attempts at spiraling retaliation, and to prevent a rise in racism.
b. Moses’ flight and marriage
When faced with the “fight or flight” dilemma, Moses realized that flight was his best option. He fled from Egypt and went to live in Midian. Moses’ life was divided into three 40 year segments. He spent the first 40 years in Egypt. He spent the next 40 years away from Egypt. He spent the last 40 years leaving Egypt and then wandering with the Israelites in the wilderness on the way to the Promised Land, where he died before crossing in.
When Moses arrived in Midian he sat down by a well. There was a priest in Midian named Reuel. Later in Exodus he is also called Jethro. He is a mysterious figure. The gods he worshiped are neither described nor named. In Exodus 18, he acknowledges that Moses’ God is greater than all gods, so obviously he had not believed in the true God when Moses first met him.
Now, after Moses had arrived at the well, Reuel’s seven shepherdess daughters also came to the well to get water for their flocks. Some other shepherds came along and drove these women away from the well. Moses, who must have still been in a rescuing / justice mode from his time in Egypt, came to their rescue and drew water for their flocks. Reuel was surprised that his daughters returned so quickly, and they explained that an Egyptian had rescued them from the other shepherds and had watered their flocks. He was irritated that they didn’t show hospitality to this kind man by inviting him for dinner. But they finally did connect with Moses, and he stayed on with Reuel and his family, even marrying and having a son with one of his daughters.
Meanwhile, back in Egypt, it was more of “What are doing, Lord?” as the Israelites continued to groan and cry out in their oppression and slavery. We’ll leave the story there for now and pick it up next week with God’s call to Moses to lead the Israelites out of Egypt and to the Promised Land.
- What are you doing, Lord?
a. Easy to be “out of sync” with God
So, the question for us to reflect on today is, “What are you doing, Lord? What are you doing in our world? What are you doing in my life?”
When we look at what’s happening around us – another earthquake in Mexico, another hurricane battering the Caribbean – it’s easy to ask those questions, and wonder what in the world, what, in the world, God is doing? It’s not unlike asking that question of God regarding the oppression and slavery of the Israelites in Egypt. What in the world was He doing with His people?
Maybe more significant is that question asked from a personal perspective. God, what are you doing in my life? People ask that question when they have money problems, marriage problems, health problems, kid problems, sin problems, faith problems. In any and all of those areas of life it’s easy to be “out of sync” with God. We haven’t been wise stewards. We haven’t been loving spouses. We haven’t cared for our bodies. We haven’t demonstrated tough love with our kids. We haven’t guarded our lips and our lives from evil situations and circumstances. We haven’t steeped our lives in God-reality, God-initiatives, God-provisions. Really, God could ask us the same question: “What are you doing, child?”
b. Keeping “in sync”
After identifying the fruit of the Spirit in Galatians 5 – let’s be reminded in a little song…
After that, Paul says, “If we live by the Spirit, let us also walk by the Spirit.” In other words, let’s keep in sync with God, the Holy Spirit.
That’s what Isaiah 55 says in a different way: “Seek the Lord, call upon him, forsake your wicked ways and thoughts, search out God’s thoughts, God’s ways.”
Sometimes those thoughts and ways of God will be so other, so above ours that we can’t understand and comprehend. Paul wrote in Romans 11: “Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are His judgments and how inscrutable His ways! For who has known the mind of the Lord?” We may not know God’s mind, God’s ways, but because He is God and we are not, we accept His ways with childlike faith.
The most unsearchable, unfathomable thoughts and ways of God was His plan of salvation. When we human beings really deserved nothing but His wrath and punishment, God sent His Son, Jesus, to suffer that punishment so that we would be reconciled to Him. Jesus was sinless, we were not. Jesus suffered, we did not. Jesus died, so that we would live. Reflecting on that, Paul wrote, “To me to live is Christ, and to die is gain.” When we die that is the gain of eternal salvation – all thanks to God’s inscrutable thoughts and wisdom and ways and grace.
And the giving of our salvation – the same salvation to all who believe, whether they came to faith in the early morning of their lives, in the heat of midday, or in the cool of the evening near the end. That, too is unfathomable, but as the vineyard owner in the parable said, “Am I not allowed to be generous and gracious to all?” We can rejoice that God knows what He is doing, especially when it comes to salvation.
In the classic novel Les Miserables by Victor Hugo, there is a scene where Jean Val Jean steals the silverware from the bishop. When the bishop catches him in the act, Val Jean strikes him down and gets away. The next day the police bring Val Jean back to the bishop with the silverware still in his backpack. Rather than verify that the silverware was stolen, the bishop says that he gave it to Val Jean and asks him why he didn’t take the silver candlesticks, too. In a touching moment the bishop forgives him, reminds him of his promise to be a changed man, and gives him back to God. Those are not human ways, but God’s ways. But God knows what He is doing – in the world, and in your life. Really!! Amen.