Note: During the time of Lent I will be making an effort to tie all the stories forward to Jesus and something he said or did. So at the end of this lesson we talk about Matthew 5:43-47, and tie it into this story.
When we last left off, Jacob and his entire household—all of his sons and their families, all of his servants and their families, and all of their animals—had moved to Egypt. Who remembers why they moved to Egypt? [Let them answer.]
That’s right there was a famine and there was no food, and going to be no food for many years. But Egypt had food and Joseph was already in Egypt. Joseph was second to none but pharaoh and he basically said, “come live here, be safe, and you can live in this area of land.”
Alright let’s talk a minute about this group of people who just moved to Egypt. They are not Egyptians. They are from Canaan. They are all descended from Jacob and before him Isaac, and before him Abraham. Who remembers what Jacob’s name was changed to? [Let them answer.]
Israel. That’s right. From basically this point on everyone descended from Jacob is going to be referred to as one of two words: either Hebrew or Israelites. (Write the words on the board so they can see them.) So when the Bible says either Hebrews or Israelites it means all the people descended from Jacob and his twelve sons.
Now the twelve sons of Jacob were Reuben, Simeon, Levi, Judah, Issachar, Zebulun, Benjamin, Dan, Naphtali, Gad, Asher, and Joseph. [Write the names on the board]. You will often hear people refer to the twelve tribes of Israel. These are—more or less—the twelve tribes of Israel. Each of Jacob’s sons is the father of his own tribe. So every Israelite would know which son they descended from. They would consider other descendants from that son their tribe. Which is basically sort of like “We’re all sons of Israel but I am specifically a son of Judah.”
Basically, you now have all these people living in Egypt who don’t identify as Egyptians. They identify themselves first and foremost as Israelites. They are God’s people, and they would consider themselves set apart from the Egyptians. They might intermarry with Egyptians—Joseph for example did. His wife was an Egyptians. But even after generations, they considered themselves Israelites. And as we’re going to see, this worried the new leader of Egypt, the new pharaoh.
So today, for the first time, we’re in the book of Exodus, which is the second book of the Bible. It basically picks up right where Genesis left off, recapping that all of Israel has moved to Egypt and then fast forwarding a bit, to a time when all the sons of Jacob were dead and it’s their descendants who still live in Egypt.
Can someone read Exodus 1:6-14?
6 Then Joseph died, and all his brothers, and that whole generation. 7 But the Israelites were fruitful and prolific; they multiplied and grew exceedingly strong, so that the land was filled with them.
8 Now a new king arose over Egypt, who did not know Joseph. 9 He said to his people, “Look, the Israelite people are more numerous and more powerful than we. 10 Come, let us deal shrewdly with them, or they will increase and, in the event of war, join our enemies and fight against us and escape from the land.” 11 Therefore they set taskmasters over them to oppress them with forced labor. They built supply cities, Pithom and Rameses, for Pharaoh. 12 But the more they were oppressed, the more they multiplied and spread, so that the Egyptians came to dread the Israelites. 13 The Egyptians became ruthless in imposing tasks on the Israelites, 14 and made their lives bitter with hard service in mortar and brick and in every kind of field labor. They were ruthless in all the tasks that they imposed on them.
So Pharaoh is afraid that since the Israelites don’t view themselves as Egyptians, basically they might ally with one of Egypt’s enemies and help overthrow Egypt from the inside. It’s not a crazy fear. There are historical examples of this sort of thing happening: where land is shared by basically two distinct people groups and one of those people groups helps overthrow the other. A possible way to solve this would be for the Pharaoh to say “I’m going to work harder at showing the Israelites that they are our friends. I’ll make it clear they are an integral part of this nation and that we love and respect them. Then they’ll never want to ally against us, because they’ll be like ‘NO way! The Egyptians are our best friends!’” But does Pharaoh say that?
No. Instead he says “I’m going to make their lives a living hell.”
I think what Pharaoh is going for here is that he think they’re multiplying too fast, and he thinks if he makes their lives miserable, they’ll slow down all this kid having business. And also maybe they’ll just all die. And they’ll be too beaten down to even think about allying with any other power. This is what we call “oppression” and it’s not cool.
And it doesn’t work for Pharaoh, does it? The Israelites keep multiplying. In response Pharaoh works them harder. But it doesn’t stop them. Why do you guys think that is?
[Let them answer.]
Well I think most importantly it’s because God is with them. Even if Pharaoh takes everything from them they know they have God and God has their back. God is not just going to let them all die in Egypt.
So Pharaoh’s brilliant plan is not working. Let’s see what he does in response to this. Can someone read Exodus 1:15-16?
15 The king of Egypt said to the Hebrew midwives, one of whom was named Shiphrah and the other Puah, 16 “When you act as midwives to the Hebrew women, and see them on the birthstool, if it is a boy, kill him; but if it is a girl, she shall live.”
Pharaoh’s response is basically to pull aside the Hebrew’s midwives and be like “Could you make sure all the boy babies happen to die in childbirth? We’re cool with girls though.”
This is a diabolical plan because it wouldn’t have pointed back to Pharaoh. A lot of babies and women died in childbirth back then. Like you were lucky to survive. So he was basically asking these midwives to skew those numbers so boys just happened to have higher rates of death. Which would be weird but probably not that suspicious.
However, in order for this plan to work, the midwives have to go along with it. Let’s see if they do. Can someone read Exodus 1:17-21?
17 But the midwives feared God; they did not do as the king of Egypt commanded them, but they let the boys live. 18 So the king of Egypt summoned the midwives and said to them, “Why have you done this, and allowed the boys to live?” 19 The midwives said to Pharaoh, “Because the Hebrew women are not like the Egyptian women; for they are vigorous and give birth before the midwife comes to them.” 20 So God dealt well with the midwives; and the people multiplied and became very strong. 21 And because the midwives feared God, he gave them families.
Basically the midwives don’t do what Pharaoh asks them to do. Pharaoh gets upset and when he summons them back to ask why, they lie. Instead of being like “It’s because we’re not crazy murdering people and we love God” they say it’s because the Israelite women give birth before they can get there. Because remember back then there were no cell phones or even phones. So if a woman went into labor, someone would have to go run and get a midwife and bring her back. That trip could take some time. So it’s not completely unbelievable they could be having babies before the midwives arrive. However, I think it’s heavily implied here that the midwives are lying. They are still helping, they’re just not willing to kill babies or go against God.
God sees these midwives and what they’re doing and he blesses them because of it.
But do you think Pharaoh is going to be happy with this answer? [Let them answer.
Alright someone read Exodus 1:22.
22 Then Pharaoh commanded all his people, “Every boy that is born to the Hebrews you shall throw into the Nile, but you shall let every girl live.”
Pharaoh is basically throughs subterfuge out the window at this point. He’s just like “Every baby boy is ordered to be dead.” And he sends out his people to make sure it happens. From this point forward, every baby boy born is to be murdered.
Do you guys think the Israelites were happy about this? [Let them answer.]
Yeah me either. And back then a woman wouldn’t know before she was giving birth if she was having a boy or a girl. She wouldn’t know if her baby would get to live or die, if once she gave birth, soldiers would arrive at her door. So I imagine every woman lived in fear that her baby would be murdered, because they didn’t know if it was a boy or not.
Alright let’s see what happens. Can someone read Exodus 2:1-4?
Now a man from the house of Levi went and married a Levite woman. 2 The woman conceived and bore a son; and when she saw that he was a fine baby, she hid him three months. 3 When she could hide him no longer she got a papyrus basket for him, and plastered it with bitumen and pitch; she put the child in it and placed it among the reeds on the bank of the river. 4 His sister stood at a distance, to see what would happen to him.
Remember the House of Levi just means they were descended from Levite, Jacob’s son. A Levite woman had a baby who was a boy. By pharaoh’s command that should mean he must die. But she hides him. Maybe she did this by telling people her child died in childbirth? Maybe she did it by telling everyone he was a girl. Who knows. We don’t. We just know that after three months she couldn’t hide him any longer. But she didn’t want him to die. So she made a desperate attempt to save his life. She puts him in a basket and puts him in the Nile River.
Now it says she plastered it with bitumen and pitch because that’s how she’d make the basket water tight and float, so it just doesn’t immediately flood and the baby drown and die. And she put him in the reeds on the bank, but that area is not safe.
The Nile River is full of life. Crocodiles might seem that basket and think it’s a tasty snack. Hippos lived in that river, and while they don’t eat humans, if they saw something like a basket and they weren’t sure what it was, they might attack it just to make sure it wasn’t dangerous. Hippos are actually one of the most dangerous creatures out there because they are so big and strong. Both crocodiles and Hippos would probably be found around the banks of the river, where she put the basket.
More towards the center of the river, the basket would have to worry about actual human traffic like ships. Because the Nile was basically Egypt’s highway. It was the easiest way to travel through the kingdom.
Yet all of this danger of putting her baby in a basket was safer than the reality that the soldiers would come for him and murder him. By putting him in the river she was at least giving him a chance. A slim chance, but a chance.
To help that chance, the baby’s sister watched him to see what would happen. If he would be eaten, drown, or miraculously saved.
Let’s see what happens.
Can someone read Exodus 2:5-10?
5 The daughter of Pharaoh came down to bathe at the river, while her attendants walked beside the river. She saw the basket among the reeds and sent her maid to bring it. 6 When she opened it, she saw the child. He was crying, and she took pity on him. “This must be one of the Hebrews’ children,” she said. 7 Then his sister said to Pharaoh’s daughter, “Shall I go and get you a nurse from the Hebrew women to nurse the child for you?” 8 Pharaoh’s daughter said to her, “Yes.” So the girl went and called the child’s mother. 9 Pharaoh’s daughter said to her, “Take this child and nurse it for me, and I will give you your wages.” So the woman took the child and nursed it. 10 When the child grew up, she brought him to Pharaoh’s daughter, and she took him as her son. She named him Moses, “because,” she said, “I drew him out of the water.”
Pharaoh’s daughter is bathing in the river and she sees the basket. She asks her maid to get it, and when she pulls the baby out he’s crying. It’s very clear here that Pharaoh’s daughter immediately recognizes this as an Israelite baby, and she would know the decry her father the Pharaoh had set down. But does she through him the river and let him die, upholding her father’s command?
No. She chooses to raise him as her own son.
Now the baby’s sister who is watching all of this is a smart cookie. She basically reveals herself and asks, “Do you want a wet nurse?” Basically do you want me to find a slave to nurse this baby for you. Because women can only nurse babies when they have recently had babies. It has to do with hormones and biology. So if Pharaoh’s daughter hadn’t recently had a baby—which probably not—she wouldn’t even be able to feed the baby. Not to mention it’s always been fairly common for noble ladies to hire maids or acquire slaves to nurse babies for them so they wouldn’t have to do so.
When Pharaoh’s daughter agrees that she needs a wet nurse, the sister actually goes and gets the baby’s biological mother. Pharaoh’s daughter actually pays the baby’s biological mother to help her raise this baby.
Now up to this point none of these characters have been named, but here Pharaoh’s daughter names the baby Moses. Also we later learn that Moses’s mother is named Jochebed and his sister was named Miriam. Pharaoh’s daughter is never given a name, so we will continue to refer to her as thus.
Here at the beginning of Moses story, we have three incredibly courageous women.
Jochebed hides her baby from Pharaoh’s men and then when she can hide him no longer, she trusts him to God. It was a dangerous and incredibly brave thing to do. If she had tried to continue hiding him, he probably would’ve been found. It would have taken an act of incredible faith to place her baby, who she didn’t want to die, in that water. But also considerable bravery not to try to immediately take him back from Pharaoh’s daughter, but to retain her composure and realize that Moses being raised as a prince of Egypt would be in his best interest.
Jochebed has the bravery of a mother who realizes she can not raise her own son, so she gives him up for adoption. Sometimes that is the bravest thing a person can do, realizing that they cannot provide for their child. Holding on to Moses for herself would have led to his death.
Miriam was also incredibly brave. She is basically a slave child who walks straight up to Pharaoh’s daughter and suggest a plan of action. Not just any plan of action, but one as audacious as “I’m going to bring the birth mother here to nurse the child.” At best, Pharaoh’s daughter might have only ignored her. At worst, Pharaoh’s daughter might have had her punished for daring to talk to someone as high and mighty as her. But Miriam still steps forward and suggests her plan.
But Pharaoh’s daughter was also brave and held an important place in God’s plan. She took this baby out of the water and realized it was one of the baby’s her own father would have demanded the death of. She was risking Pharaoh’s ire by taking that baby in, and Pharaoh would have been completely in his rights to have her punished for defying him. But she decides to risk it anyway. Because when faced with the reality of a crying baby, she can’t go alone with Pharaoh’s plan.
But I also think there is another lesson to be learned from Pharaoh’s daughter. She obviously knew before this moment that the Hebrew’s babies were in danger. That’s why she immediately identified the baby in the basket as a Hebrew.
Sometimes we hear about horrible things, like Hebrew baby’s being killed by Pharaoh, or men women and children being murdered in other countries, but it doesn’t seem real and we don’t do anything about it. We don’t know these people and we don’t stand up for them. It’s not until we see a baby crying in its basket or a Syrian who finally made it to America, that we realize these people are people to. This disinterest in others is called “apathy” which means we just don’t care. And to a certain extent, that’s our minds protecting us from ourselves. It takes a lot of effort to care about everyone.
However, God calls us to care about everyone. Jesus tells us we are to love our neighbor as ourself, but he goes further than that too. Let’s flip to the new testament. Flip to Matthew which is the first book of the New Testament. We’re looking for Matthew 5:43-47.
Before we read it, keep in mind this is Jesus speaking. This is from a sermon he gave called the Sermon on the Mount, which is very long and this is just a part of it. Can someone read it?
43 “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ 44 But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45 so that you may be children of your Father in heaven; for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous. 46 For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? 47 And if you greet only your brothers and sisters, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same?
Jesus says we are to love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us! If someone bullies you, pray for them. Not just pray for them, we are to love them. He says it’s easy to love people you are close to, everyone does that, it’s hard to love those we are the enemies of and yet we are called by Jesus to this.
The kid who bullies you, you should pray for them and love them. The kid who annoys the crap out of you, pray for them and love them. The person who is the opposite political party of you? Pray and love them.
Pray and love.
This is not easy. This is in fact incredibly hard. It is so much easier to hate, and even easier to just in general be apathic. Because caring is hard. It exerts a lot of effort.
And when you honestly care, your actions will reflect that. You’ll find you just can’t stand by when people talk bad about other people—even when it’s entire people groups you don’t even know.
If you hear that Pharaoh is murdering Hebrew babies, you shouldn’t just sit there and think, “I’m Egyptian, that doesn’t affect me so I don’t care about it.” You should be thinking “These poor women. These poor babies. I can’t even imagine the hurt and pain.” Those thoughts of sympathy? That’s loving. You should then pray for them, and then you should go to Pharaoh and say “What the heck do you think you are doing?” Our love and prayers will often directly lead to this sort of action, because when we really care about someone or something, we have to do something about it. We have to stand up to Pharaoh.
Now the truth is most of us are like Pharaoh’s daughter. And that’s not all bad. We don’t know all that’s going on in the world or with people, so you may not realize there is even someone you should care about until you meet that Hebrew baby in a basket. Pharaoh’s daughter may not have ever given a thought to Hebrews before. Sometimes that’s just the reality of being human, and that’s okay. You can’t be all knowing.
But you should be brave enough to pick up that baby and risk Pharaoh’s ire to support it—even though it was born as the enemy. When these issues of suffering and pain come to your attention, we are supposed to care.
Even if they’re our enemies.
Love God. Love your neighbor. Love your enemy. Love. This is what it means to be a Christian.