We are starting a new series looking at how God shaped the Jewish people during the story of Exodus, and how God is shaping us today.
If you think of the Bible as a play, you can divide it into 6 acts: Creation, the Fall (when Adam and Eve and all of us are separated from God due to sin), Israel, Jesus, the Church (where we are today), and the final resolution (which hasn’t happened yet). Exodus is kind of the transition to the beginning of the story of Israel, and that lasts the whole rest of the Old Testament.
Our text today says that there was a new king in Egypt who didn’t know Joseph. Who’s Joseph? If you rewind to Genesis, God chooses Abraham and tells him that he’s going to make a great people out of Abraham’s descendants. Abraham had Isaac. Isaac had Jacob. And Jacob had a bunch of sons, who go on to be the 12 tribes of Israel. The youngest of these sons is Joseph, who was sold by his brothers into slavery in Egypt. As a side note, as a younger brother I find this story to be totally believable.
But Joseph actually comes to be respected in Egypt and he becomes Pharaoh’s right-hand-man, saving the Egyptians from a major famine. When his brothers run out of food during that famine, they come to Egypt to buy food and they are reunited with Joseph, who welcomes them back. In return for the excellent service that Joseph provided, Pharaoh granted his family land in an area called Goshen.
And what started with 12 guys and their families has now become hundreds of thousands. Egypt has gone through a huge period of upheaval – they actually come under the rule of foreign kings for a while, and they’re not feeling super secure in their power. So when this new king arises – one who has no clue about the loyalty and service of Joseph, all he can see is a giant group of foreigners living in his land who don’t worship his gods and more importantly don’t worship him. They have a higher allegiance, and that makes them a threat.
Based on the extreme fear he has over what MIGHT happen, listen to how far he’s willing to go.
8Now a new king arose over Egypt, who did not know Joseph. 9He said to his people, “Look, the Israelite people are more numerous and more powerful than we. 10Come, 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.” 11Therefore they set taskmasters over them to oppress them with forced labor. They built supply cities, Pithom and Rameses, for Pharaoh. 12But the more they were oppressed, the more they multiplied and spread, so that the Egyptians came to dread the Israelites. 13The Egyptians became ruthless in imposing tasks on the Israelites, 14and 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.
15The 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.” 17But the midwives feared God; they did not do as the king of Egypt commanded them, but they let the boys live. 18So the king of Egypt summoned the midwives and said to them, “Why have you done this, and allowed the boys to live?” 19The 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.”20So God dealt well with the midwives; and the people multiplied and became very strong. 21And because the midwives feared God, he gave them families. 22Then 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.”
So what do Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, The Canterbury Tales, The Diary of Anne Frank, and the Bible all have in common? They are all books that have been banned at one time or another. And you know what else they have in common? Lots of people still read them today. In fact many times banning a book has the opposite effect – people hear about it and want to read it to find out what the fuss is about.
That’s exactly why I read The Golden Compass – I heard a bunch of uproar about it being anti-Christian but also an award-winning fantasy novel, so I bought it and read it. It was a good read, and no I don’t think I’m in danger of losing my faith over it.
So if you could nominate the Bible study I published for the ban list, I would greatly appreciate it – it would really help the sales I think.
Coming at that from another angle, one of my favorite quotes from Star Wars is when Princess Leia is talking with Tarkin, the commander of the Death Star. And he’s talking about how fear will keep the galaxy in line, and Leia replies, “The more you tighten your grip, Tarkin, the more star systems will slip through your fingers.” Same idea.
In our text today, that’s exactly what happens. The more Pharaoh tightens his grip, the more the Jewish people slip through his fingers. There’s no sugar coating this – Pharaoh is trying to wipe the Jewish people off the face of the earth. Kill all the boys, so there won’t be any more soldiers. And then he can use the girls however he wishes. Either way, the blood line will be diluted and there won’t be anyone to stop him. And the end result? V12 says, “But the more they were oppressed, the more they multiplied and spread, so that the Egyptians came to dread the Israelites.”
The Promised Land
This was the first attempt to wipe out the Jewish people, but as we know it was definitely not the last attempt. And that gets me thinking. If you were God, and you had this chosen people. Your special guys and gals. Where would you have them set up camp? Where would you locate the Promised Land? I’m thinking something like Madagascar, right? Big island, enough room to spread out but safely tucked away from all the wars and machinations of foreign rulers. You know what would be at the bottom of my list of nice places to send my Chosen People? The Middle East. There’s always turmoil. The earliest kingdoms arose there and were always fighting with each other. For thousands of years and even up to today it was the crossroads of the nations. There’s no hiding in the Middle East.
So why the Middle East? And for Exodus, why set up shop in Egypt, the super power of its day? Why stick them where they are guaranteed to be used, abused, manipulated, and attacked? Why place them where jealousy and power can come after them?
Much, much later in the Bible Jesus told his followers, “You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden.” In other words, the Jewish people weren’t meant to be hidden away in Madagascar. They were meant to be seen. Like a lighthouse in the night. Like the lights of downtown Denver on a clear day, or the mountains to the West – it’s supposed to be one of those “you can’t miss ‘em” kind of things.
And Jesus makes it clear that we aren’t meant to be hidden either. First Pres Littleton is “that beautiful old church on the hill,” right? We can’t hide! We aren’t in Madagascar, we’re in the middle of everything.
So what is our community supposed to see? Ever wondered that? When someone with mental health issues wanders in on a Sunday, what is our community supposed to see? When a homeless couple ties up our downstairs bathrooms for an impossibly long time, what is our community supposed to see? That’s just the last week of real life here on our not-so-hidden hill.
So what did our community see? Frankly, I’m pretty stinkin’ proud of us the last few weeks. Usually it feels like I’m talking about what we should be doing, but let me tell you what we actually did. People greeted and talked and listened and prayed. We helped with food. We helped with caring hearts. We helped with human touch. We were the church, not a hidden away Madagascar church, but a lighthouse on the hill for everyone to see church. “Well done, good and faithful servants.” Nailed it this week.
Obeying the Right Orders
I believe those are the moments that shape us as people and as a church. Not just the moments when everything is clear. The moments when it’s fuzzy. When it’s inconvenient. When it smells. When there might be consequences.
In our text today, the Hebrew midwives face a choice with consequences. Live, but be partner to Pharaoh’s genocide. Or risk dying, knowing that Pharaoh could just get someone else to do his dirty work. It’s inevitable. Why fight a losing battle? But v17 says, “But the midwives feared God; they did not do as the king of Egypt commanded them, but they let the boys live.” They chose their souls over their lives. And then v20-21: “So God dealt well with the midwives; and the people multiplied and became very strong. And because the midwives feared God, he gave them families.” You know there’s plenty of suffering that comes after this, but God notices the faithfulness of the midwives. He notices their difficult choice.
When we face those difficult, even defining moments, there’s no guarantee that God is going to bless us materially like he did for the midwives here. But if we do the right thing – especially when there are consequences – we do become strong. Strong of faith. Strong of will. Strong of character. Strong in the Lord. Do you want to be that kind of strong?
I have a friend who moved across the country for a job. He was working for a very successful company. His salary had never been higher. But after a year he knew something was wrong. Sure, the company and he personally were making money. But the money came from false promises. The money came from dishonesty. The money came from people who couldn’t afford what they were being cheated out of. He was strong enough to quit. He would rather make far less money than sell his soul. He still makes way less than he did, but he’s strong.
For me a defining moment was in my freshman year of college. A classmate and friend tragically lost his dad near the end of the semester. And in that class we had projects that could be done individually or in pairs. So my classmate asked me to add his name to my final project since he was understandably distracted during that semester. I considered three routes.
I don’t like being dishonest, so I thought about just saying, “sorry, but no.” I definitely had compassion or him, so I thought about saying, “it’s OK this one time.” What I actually did, though, is say, “I’m so sorry for your loss. I’m not comfortable putting your name on my work, but I’ll come over tonight and tell you everything you need to know to finish the project yourself.” It was the hardest option – it would take the most time. But it was how I could display both honesty AND compassion. Of course, he just found someone else to add his name to their project, but still!
For our church, I believe the free community meals are a defining moment. A test of faith. A test of will. A test of character. A city on a hill moment. Our first one there were like 10-15 people. So we could have said, “All this work for ten people? Not worth it!” But we heard Lynda Kizer report that the other churches who started something like this told us to expect ZERO on our first few. We were ahead of the curve! So we’re at it again this Tuesday.
But when we hear that this meal isn’t really for us – it’s not like a church potluck, it’s for the hungry and lonely (some of whom are in our church, but most of whom are in our community) – that can rub us the wrong way. “What do you mean it’s not for me?” Or maybe it can lead us to think about people we come across who might be hungry or lonely or both. Inviting them to come on Tuesday is not an easy task. It takes strength of faith. Strength of character. Strength of will.
I shared a few weeks ago that we were testing the waters to see which direction Jesus was asking us to go. And we’re really starting to sense that the community dinner is where Jesus is calling us. We have said “no” to some other great and worthwhile mission opportunities so that we can focus on getting the church rallied around the community dinner as a MONTHLY offering for our community. It’s not easy saying “no” to good stuff. It takes strength of faith. It’s a defining moment for our church heading into next year. But like I said, I’m very encouraged by these last few weeks. I’m very encouraged by what our community saw in those defining moments. And I’m excited to see what our community will see this Tuesday and when we feed so many on Thanksgiving and in next year’s meals and in so many other defining moments.
Sisters and brothers, we aren’t hidden away on Madagascar. Our church is on a hill – for everyone to see. And so are all of us individually in our lives. So when the next defining moment comes, what will people see? May you, like the Hebrew midwives, find strength from the Lord. Amen.