The Old Testament reading of Track 1 of the Lectionary gives us the story of Moses, starting this Sunday, so I plan to preach on that for the next few weeks. We begin with the birth of Moses:
The new king of Egypt looked around him at his great kingdom and it was good. Except. Except that there were a lot of immigrants, foreigners. And his advisors were telling him that people on the ground were grumbling about how the foreigners were getting the jobs, and they got the cream of the benefits, and went straight to the top of the housing lists, and it just wasn’t fair. In fact, in one city, there had been a “Unite the Bright” protest, people marching with banners saying “Keep Egypt Egyptian!” and “Egyptian lives matter!”
Other advisors pointed out that there was a security issue here. What if the Hebrews started getting political and tried to take over and change our religion and our way of life, and then where would we be. And maybe they would start attacking us, terrorism on our streets. It all felt very threatening.
One old retainer pointed out to Pharoah that there was a historical reason for all those Hebrews being there, that a Hebrew had been responsible for saving Egypt in the great famine and had brought his family to live here, but Pharoah didn’t want to listen and retired him on the spot.
So Pharoah enacted new laws, so that the foreigners were confined to certain areas of work and were heavily supervised and given limited pay and conditions. The regime was pretty oppressive, it has to be said, but it only went some way to calming the anxieties of the Egyptian people. More was needed. The trouble was, there were too many Hebrews. The population had to be controlled. So Pharoah insisted that the Hebrew midwives kill the baby boys at birth. This was not a great success. The midwives did everything they could to subvert their instructions and keep the babies alive, even when they put themselves at risk. There was God’s way and there was Pharoah’s way, and they knew which way was right. It was clearly an act of civil disobedience, but sometimes what is right is bigger than what is legal and what is popular.
So Pharoah went further and made a new law so that every baby boy born to the Hebrews could be thrown into the Nile. It was open season on baby boys. And that was OK, because as everyone in Egypt knew, the Hebrews were not quite human. So it was just like killing rats really, wasn’t it?
So this Hebrew couple have a baby, and it’s a boy! He was such a beautiful baby, absolutely gorgeous. But a boy was condemned – his fate was to be thrown into the great river Nile. The parents looked at him and they loved him and they couldn’t throw him to his death, not yet. So they kept him out of sight. That was OK for a time, though it was stressful keeping the child quiet whenever the Egyptian overseers came near. But it couldn’t last forever.
The mum was clever. She wove a basket for the baby, a Moses basket, light and strong. She made it watertight, a boat for a baby. And she took it down to the river and threw her baby into the water, fulfilling the law. Except actually, she carefully placed him onto the water, among the reeds from where he couldn’t float too far too fast. She said a prayer asking God to protect her little one. It felt like she was committing her beloved son to the waters of chaos, the waters of creation. Leaving him there was the hardest thing she ever did. But her daughter hung around, watching out for her little brother.
It wasn’t long before a group of young women came down to the river for a splash and a swim. They hoped they could have a nice time without have to see any of those horrible dead bloated baby corpses that were a regular part of river life these days. Fortunately there were no dead babies that day, only a basket with a screaming baby, fully alive. And he was so cute, you just wanted to take him home. The king’s daughter decided to adopt him, this baby that her father had condemned to death. She rescued him and wanted to keep him. A little local girl offered to find a wet nurse to feed the baby, and the Princess made the arrangements and agreed to pay the woman. Did she realise that she was dealing with the baby’s sister and mother? She wasn’t daft. Like the midwives, she finds a way of subverting her father’s cruelty. She brings salvation to one little baby, but that is enough, eventually, to bring salvation to a whole nation. Because the baby she saves, Moses, will be responsible for bringing the people of the Hebrews out of Egypt, through the wilderness, and into the land of promise, the land of milk and honey. Little acts of kindness can bring huge results.
It is an ancient story, the story of Moses, and it will build up for us over the next few weeks. Wouldn’t you think that an ancient story would have nothing to tell us about life today? And yet so much in this story sounds like it could happen today. What echoes did you hear? There are many examples of hatred and oppression in our world – too many. And – thanks be to God – there are those who stand up against racism and evil. It’s a story that gives hope and encouragement, because the little act of saving one baby could result in saving the world.
Even old stories can act as a mirror for our own souls: who would you identify with in the story? Are there times when you have been cruel like Pharoah, hating people who are different? Are there times when you take a stand against what you know is wrong? Are there times when you go out of your way to be kind and generous? It’s not just an old story, it’s our story as well.