A sermon on Exodus 1 & 2 by Rev Richard Keith on Sunday 1 November 2020
Exodus is the second book in the Bible. It’s the sequel to the book of Genesis. Genesis, we learned last year, is a word that means “beginning”. And it tells the story of the beginning of the world and of human beings, of the beginning of the problem of the world and of its solution. And an important part of that solution was the story of one family. The children of Abraham. God said to Abraham,
Go from your country, your people and your father’s household to the land I will show you. I will make you into a great nation, and I will bless you; I will make your name great, and you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and whoever curses you I will curse; and all peoples on earth will be blessed through you.
Now I may be wrong, but I think that a great nation has three key ingredients. It needs people, land and laws to live by. A people without land is just a multitude. A land without people is a wilderness. A people without laws is just a mob. So part of the story of Exodus is how that one family became a great nation.
At the beginning of Exodus the family of Abraham was 70 odd people. They moved from Canaan, the land God promised to give them, to Egypt because there was a famine. And because Joseph, one of Abraham’s great grandsons, had become governor of Egypt and made sure that there was plenty of food. Abraham’s family made themselves at home in this strange land. And for a long time, it was great. They were well fed. They had lots of children. The family grew. It became a great people, a multitude. It was one third of the way to becoming a great nation.
But why would they ever want to leave Egypt? It was paradise. Why would they want their own land? Why would they ever want to go back to Canaan? Compared to Egypt it was second rate. The people of Israel had become a victim of their own success. Why not stay in Egypt and forget about God’s big plans?
But God had not forgotten his plans and he was determined for them to be fulfilled. And isn’t it interesting how God, when he wants us to move, makes it hard for us to stay where we are. We are so comfortable, but God has other plans, and so almost for not reason, things become hard. We have to go and we end up where God wanted us to be.
Things became hard for the people of Israel. A new king came into power over Egypt. He didn’t know Joseph. He didn’t care that Joseph had saved his nation from the famine four hundred years ago. He didn’t feel grateful for his help. So he had no reason to tolerate Joseph’s people anymore. Instead, when he looked around at his country, his Egypt, he found it full of foreigners. These Hebrews. They weren’t like him. They didn’t speak his language. They didn’t worship his gods. They were dangerous and couldn’t be trusted. He had to get rid of them.
And so he began to implement Plan A. Operation Pyramid. He said to his people,
Look, the Israelites have become much 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.
The king’s plan was to make use of their presence. To weaken them with forced labour so that they would be underfed, understrength and weakened until they were no longer a threat. The Israelites became the slaves of Egypt, building store cities for Pharaoh.
But plan A didn’t work. The harder they were worked the stronger the Israelites became, and the stronger they became, the more the Egyptians feared them, and the more they feared them, the harder they made them work. Plan A wasn’t working. Sure, cities were being built. Great monuments for the glory of Egypt. But the Israelites were as much a threat as they were before.
Time for Plan B. Operation Planned Parenthood. The king of Egypt said to the Hebrew midwives,
If the Hebrew women have a boy, kill it, but if it is a girl, let her live.
It was genocide. The potential soldiers would be put to death, leaving the girls to live as his maids and concubines, perhaps even breeding the Hebrew strength with his own people. But it didn’t work either. The midwives feared God more than they feared Pharaoh. They let the boys live and lied to Pharaoh to protect them and to protect themselves. Obviously, they couldn’t be trusted.
So it was time for Plan C. Operation Holocaust. He said to his own people,
Every boy that is born must be thrown into the Nile, but let every girl live.
With the rise of this king, the paradise of Egypt had turned into hell for the Israelites. A place of death instead of life. A place of hard labour instead of work.
I mean, who isn’t prepared to work if it’s for their own good? This is hope. With work we create our own future. We earn the money to buy us the things we want and need. But hard labour, for nothing good in return, is the breeding ground of despair. It is the end of hope.
It is sad to see so many people these days bound by chains of despair. Some are prisoners of someone else’s making. Through neglect, through abuse, they live a ghostly life, mere shadows of the human beings they could be. Others are prisoners of their own making. There are lower class slaves, chained to drug abuse or crime or gambling. There are middle class slaves, chained to their desks or to their own self-centredness. And there are upper class slaves, chained to their pleasures and to their enslavement of others. As Jesus said,
Anyone who sins, is a slave of sin.
We may be building great monuments. We may think we are getting ahead, that the slave driver will notice us and give us relief. But anything that drags us short of what God made us for enslaves us. And if we enslave others, if we oppress them and make their lives miserable, we are only forging more links in the chain that binds us, that holds us down and squeezes the life from us. As Paul says,
The wages of sin is death.
We need a deliverer who will break all our chains.
Exodus chapter 2 records the birth of a famous baby. Now babies are not usually famous. Babies don’t usually do much more than eat and sleep and cry. Babies don’t invent new machines. They don’t discover new stars or planets. They usually have to wait until they grow up. So babies are usually only famous for one of two reasons: either because their parents are famous or because of who they will one day grow up to be.
Baby Archie is an example of the first kind. He is famous because he is the child of Harry and Meghan. They are famous so he is famous. Not for doing anything but just for being related to his parents.
Moses is an example of the second kind. His parents weren’t famous, so he had to grow up to become famous. So Exodus chapter 2 isn’t the story of a remarkable baby. It is the story of the birth of a remarkable man. It’s just the beginning of the person he would grow up to be. Because this baby grew up to be the Saviour of Israel.
By the decree of the king of Egypt, Moses’ life was forfeit. But by the decree of the king of creation, three women intervened to save his life and through him they saved the lives of thousands. His mother tried to hide him. But it couldn’t last. Babies are noisy and smelly, and someone was bound to notice him eventually. Or at least notice that he was a boy. She was desperate. She took a basket, made it waterproof by coating it with tar. She put the baby in the basket and put the basket among the reeds along the bank of the Nile, while the baby’s older sister watched. Whatever she thought she was doing, events then took an unexpected turn.
The king’s own daughter came down to the river to wash. The king’s own daughter. The one most likely to obey her father’s command. She saw the basket among the reeds, sent a slave girl to fetch it. She opened the basket and looked inside and saw the baby. She knew it was one of the Hebrew’s babies. She could see it was a boy. But she felt sorry for him. Something human inside her, some mothering instinct, created and made good by the good God, connected with the humanity and need of the baby boy. In her own way, the princess feared God more than her father.
The baby’s older sister came out from her hiding. Bold as brass she asked the princess, “Shall I go and get one of the Hebrew women to nurse the baby for you?” And, of course, she came back with her own mother.
“Take this baby,” the princess said solemnly to the baby’s own mother, “and nurse him for me, and I will pay you.” What a perfect solution. The baby was raised by his own mother among his own people, fed not just on his mother’s milk, but on the promises of God for his people. And she got paid for it. But after he was four or five years old, he was to grow up in the palace, raised up as a prince of Egypt, receiving the best education on earth.
This was how the life of Moses began. Not a famous baby. But the baby who would grow up to be famous. A man who shared two natures. Hebrew and Egyptian. He was not only kept safe from his people’s problem. But saved in order to become the saviour.
We see that too in our Lord Jesus. Like Moses, not a famous baby born to famous parents. But who grew up to be famous. A man who shared two natures. The one who came as God to reveal God. The one who was born a human being like one of us to reveal God to us and to be our saviour. Who would live not just our life, but he would live the life of faith and obedience that God made us for. And who would bear our sin in order to break the chains that bind us to set us free from ourselves and to set us free for God. Jesus came to lead an Exodus that was just as real as Moses. As he said in the synagogue at Nazareth, reading from the prophecy of Isaiah,
The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to release the oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour.
Or as Paul said,
The wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.
This is the gospel of Jesus, our saviour. It is the call to stop slaving for scraps, to stop trusting our slave drivers that are slowly squeezing the life from us, to stop treating others and ourselves as animals, rather than humans, and to trust instead in Christ our Lord who by the power of his death and resurrection breaks all our chains. The ones others forge for us. And the ones we forge for ourselves. He sets us free from ourselves and sets us free for God.