Joseph was long gone. So was the Pharaoh who made him second in command over Egypt. Time changes everything. At the end of Joseph’s days, the people of Israel (his dad’s extended family) were welcomed into the foreign country with open arms. A few generations later, the Israelites (who worked hard and no doubt contributed to the country’s bottom line) were viewed as a threat to Egypt’s national stability. The king treated them harshly with slave labor, but they kept on reproducing. Giving in to the fear, Pharaoh gave an unthinkable order.
The king of Egypt had a talk with the two Hebrew midwives; one was named Shiphrah and the other Puah. He said, "When you deliver the Hebrew women, look at the sex of the baby. If it's a boy, kill him; if it's a girl, let her live."
But the midwives had far too much respect for God and didn't do what the king of Egypt ordered; they let the boy babies live. The king of Egypt called in the midwives. "Why didn't you obey my orders? You've let those babies live!"
The midwives answered Pharaoh, "The Hebrew women aren't like the Egyptian women; they're vigorous. Before the midwife can get there, they've already had the baby."
God was pleased with the midwives. The people continued to increase in number—a very strong people. And because the midwives honored God, God gave them families of their own.
So Pharaoh issued a general order to all his people: "Every boy that is born, drown him in the Nile. But let the girls live." – Exodus 1:15-22 (The Message)
A couple of questions come to mind for me at this point. The Pharaoh did not remember, did not know, or did not care about the history of the Jewish people. I wonder if anyone told him about Joseph’s influence, or if the Pharaoh Joseph worked for simply got the credit for saving Egypt from famine? So, one question that comes to mind is this: what are some historical moments we do not want our children and grandchildren to forget, lest they forget history and therefore become more inclined to repeat it?
On another note, we are introduced to Shiphrah and Puah, two Hebrew women who were as courageous as Pharaoh was horrific. They put their lives at risk to ensure that Jewish boys lived. When held accountable, they played into Pharaoh’s ignorance that fueled his fear. “Hebrew women are champions when it comes to pushing out babies…” Reminds me of tales of Brer Rabbit from American slavery days. Brer Rabbit was a fictitious folklore hero who outwitted those who tried to trap and kill him. African slaves, knowing that their masters thought them to be lazy and dimwitted, used the prejudice to their advantage at times. Ingenious creativity in the face of terror that protected life as best as possible. A question that comes to mind for me at a time in our country that is so divided is this: how are we creatively doing our part to insure that endangered people are allowed to truly live?
The story builds…
A man from the family of Levi married a Levite woman. The woman became pregnant and had a son. She saw there was something special about him and hid him. She hid him for three months. When she couldn't hide him any longer she got a little basket-boat made of papyrus, waterproofed it with tar and pitch, and placed the child in it. Then she set it afloat in the reeds at the edge of the Nile.
The baby's older sister found herself a vantage point a little way off and watched to see what would happen to him. Pharaoh's daughter came down to the Nile to bathe; her maidens strolled on the bank. She saw the basket-boat floating in the reeds and sent her maid to get it. She opened it and saw the child—a baby crying! Her heart went out to him. She said, "This must be one of the Hebrew babies."
Then his sister was before her: "Do you want me to go and get a nursing mother from the Hebrews so she can nurse the baby for you?"
Pharaoh's daughter said, "Yes. Go." The girl went and called the child's mother.
Pharaoh's daughter told her, "Take this baby and nurse him for me. I'll pay you." The woman took the child and nursed him.
After the child was weaned, she presented him to Pharaoh's daughter who adopted him as her son. She named him Moses (Pulled-Out), saying, "I pulled him out of the water." – Exodus 2:1-10 (The Message)
A story that was generally awful just got very personal for a particular Jewish woman. This wasn’t just some child, this was her child, and she was not about to let her baby drown. So, she did what people do when they realize they are up against the wall – she did whatever it took to save her son. A calculated risk all the way around. If she got caught, she could be killed. If the baby got discovered by the wrong person, he could be drowned. If the baby was found by a crocodile, well… Serious risk.
Of course, the story went well. The baby was discovered by a sympathetic princess who wanted a pet, I guess? Or was this willful disobedience against her Pharaoh-brother born out of compassion? Very curious. All of this was witnessed by the boy’s sister, who arranged for her own mother to be the nurse maid. Clever. But risky.
I wonder if we would be so creative and courageous if we knew the stakes were so high. Of course, for most of us in these parts of the world, such a threat seems incomprehensible and extremely unlikely. But if we were faced with such a foe, if our own flesh and blood were on the line or our kin or our country, I think most of us would act with great bravery and sacrifice willingly. What would you be willing to do if you knew there existed a real threat that endangered your life and the life of those most important to you?
There is a Pharaoh that threatens. I don’t think it’s Kim Jong-un, although I think he’s nuts and might just do something incredibly stupid that will hurt many people (he has already ruled in ways that hurt North Koreans – why stop there?). I don’t think it’s ISIS, either. They are nuts for sure, so deeply committed to their version of radical, fundamentalist Islam. I don’t think it’s Trump, or our Congress, even though I think they are each pathetic in their own way and continue to underwhelm us all.
There is a threat that I think seeks to undermine our lifeline, our capacity to really live life as it was meant to be lived. The Bible actually speaks into it from cover to cover. The name of our foe may change over time – Pharaoh one day, Nebuchadnezzar the next – but their game plan is essentially unchanged. Our Jewish ancestors knew that their way of engaging life as people of God was being threatened. Their culture was built around the belief that God was with them wherever they went, and that basing life on the faithfulness and goodness of God was what would lead toward a truly blessed life corporately and individually. That is the message of Jesus, too. He spoke of competing kingdoms – the Kingdom of God and the kingdoms of this world – as being in sharp contrast to one another. He said bold things about the need to decide which one we would follow, and that only one would lead to life. Not many find it. When we try to grasp our individual lives with clenched, white-knuckled fists, Jesus says we will lose it. Yet when we release our lives, entrusting our ethos to the way of Jesus (the Kingdom of God), we find the life we are looking for.
The Church in the United States is in decline. An increasing number of people don’t care, and may in fact want to see the Church’s demise accelerate. I think for many, however, the Church as a whole seems unnecessary for people who are spiritual but not religious. Why do we even need the Church, anyway? We can get whatever spiritual input we want from a wide range of websites, podcasts, books, etc., many of which offer excellent content?
Believe me, I think a significant reason the Church has lost so much favor over the years is the Church’s fault. The Church has been arrogant, unbending on the wrong things, failures at standing for the best things, and has become a political pawn on both the left and right side of the aisle. This is a terrible tragedy, because the purpose of the Church is to proclaim the teachings of Jesus which called us to see the difference between the Kingdom of God and the kingdoms of this world and decide which one would receive our pledge of allegiance.
The kingdom of this world we are intimately familiar with today proclaims from all sectors that the pursuit of personal happiness and success is ours to pursue. It’s even written into our country’s founding documents. Go after the life you want, on your terms, defined by you – the American dream. Our entertainment celebrates it, our capitalistic economy counts on it, our politicians craft speeches that tap into it, our military protects it on a global level. God is an accessory in our plot to enjoy life. So long as we feel inner peace when we need it, we’re good. But this is not the Way Jesus lived or taught. And while it may give us moments of serenity, it is not the real deal. It is a false way, and given the multitude who are on it, a highway. Jesus said that the way is wide and many are on it – that way that leads to destruction. Not life.
The Way of Jesus, however, is narrow, and few find it. Why? Because it’s not the norm. It walks to the beat of a different drummer who doesn’t play familiar rhythms. The Way of Jesus is foreign and uncomfortable and even unwelcome because it challenges us to think beyond ourselves, to rely on and center ourselves on our identity as entwined and animated by God, which leads us to see others as equally valued and therefore worthy of our respect and inclusion. This way is radically different than one focused almost solely on our personal, private pursuits to satisfy and build our own puny kingdoms. It feels like death. Yet Jesus says it is the way to life.
Influenced by the false kingdom, we think of church as an accessory item that we may or may not adorn, depending on any number of factors. Instead of being a place where we are reminded of the Kingdom of God and what it means to live under it’s influence, it’s value is measured with the criteria of the culture – if it’s not doing anything for me, I have no patience for it.
If we really believe that this faith thing is legitimate, then we must behave as if were so. We must muster the courage that the four women in the first chapter and a half of Exodus displayed. It will need to be creative, it will be different, it will feel risky because it isn’t mainstream, and it just might save a lot of people from literal and figurative death.
What kinds of behaviors need to change? We live in a spiritually attuned culture that treats God as an on-call therapist – that’s the kingdom of our world. This Kingdom of God, however, demands that our connection to the Divine be the central, driving, animating force in our lives. We live in a radically individualized culture – that’s the way of this kingdom of our world. The Kingdom of God calls for community. The kingdom of our world seeks self-preservation at all costs. The Kingdom of God, however, is service-of-others oriented, proclaiming that true greatness comes from being a servant, even a slave to the needs of others. Somehow we find our deepest needs met as we base our lives on God’s love and learn to love others well.
How are you creatively countering the culture of this world with the culture of the Kingdom of God?
How are you fostering a life that is truly centered on a vibrant relationship with God?
How are you engaging others on the Way in genuine community?
How are you serving others in your midst because they are inherently valuable as brothers and sisters created by the same God?