The story of a single family now grows to become the story of a whole nation. The people of Israel are all still part of the same big family. But now the scope broadens out. Just as God began in one place with one person; with Abraham, and that path followed a particular course; through Isaac’s line (not Ishmael’s) and through Jacob’s line (not Esau’s), now the small stream expands outward. Jacob’s 12 sons become the heads of 12 separate tribes of one family. And those tribes will multiply until the burgeoning clan becomes a people. But those people have trials to face and dangers to encounter. And the rest of our course through the Old Testament narratives will be a tracing of the path and footsteps of the people of Israel through history. A family saga now becomes a national epic.
Remember last time how we talked about Joseph moving his family down to Egypt because he had a good job there, and because by way of his position Joseph was able to make sure that the family was fed? Well…things went real smooth for a while. But eventually Joseph died and so did his brothers. And so did their children. And after a while a new king of Egypt came to the throne. This new king didn’t remember any of the great things that Joseph had done for the country, nor did he have reason to or understand why these people–these Israelites (Hebrews, the Egyptians called them) were living in Egypt in ease and comfort on some of the best pieces of property available. So he did what any mean king would do. He started acting nasty. He put the people of Israel to work. The king didn’t want to pay them anything so he decided to declare them all–slaves. It’s a nice way to save a buck.
But a funny thing happened. The worse that the people of Israel got treated by the king of Egypt the better they seemed to get along. The people of Israel kept having big families. They believed that children were a blessing and they wanted to have lots of them; as many as they could. This got the king of Egypt even more nervous. “Pretty soon there will be more of them than there are of us,” he said. “Then what happens if they get wise and decide that they don’t want to let us just push them around anymore? I know what I’ll do,” he said. “I’ll have all of the baby boys killed. The girls we can let live. They’re not a threat. They won’t rise up in opposition to us.”
The king thought that this was pretty clever of him. There were a couple of women who would help the Israelite women when it was time to give birth. And the king told those gals, “Now if you see that the baby that is born is a girl–that’s okay. But if the baby is a boy then kill him right away.”
These two women looked at each other and thought, ‘no way. God’s not going to like that. God is not in favor of killing defenseless little children.’
So those two ladies, they didn’t exactly follow the king’s orders. In fact, they didn’t follow them at all.
When the king found all this out, that these two ladies weren’t following orders and acting as assassins against the threatening babies of Israel, he called them in and was about to chew them both out. “What are you trying to do to me here,” the king complained? “I’m trying to rule a kingdom and treat people savagely and you two ladies are making me look ridiculous.”
“It’s not our fault,” the women responded. “The Israelite women are so tough and so rugged that they don’t need our help when they have their children. So, we’re not there on the scene to do your dirty work anyway.”
Whether these women were telling the truth or just making up a story, the king couldn’t get anywhere with them. So it’s kind of a funny story how the mighty king who practiced and believed in ruthlessness got his tail kicked by a couple of women. And those women–God blessed them. He gave them children of their own and big families, which just goes to show–when it comes down to a choice of whether to be wicked and ruthless in order to get ahead, or to be the person who gets pushed around and bullied, it’s better to be bullied. Nobody likes to be bullied of course. But the important lesson here is that the bully is far worse off. The bully may be hurting and destroying the other person’s body, his health and well-being; but the bully destroys his very own soul.
The people of Israel had landed in sort of an awful mess. They were made slaves and oppressed. But a person can be delivered from those sorts of circumstances. What if you ruin your own heart, your own mind and own soul? What is left of you then?
There’s another little story connected to this one. And it leads nicely into next week’s story. You see, one of those baby Israelite boys who was supposed to be killed escaped in a daring plot hatched by the baby’s mother. She deposited her beautiful little baby boy in a little boat (just like the one Noah had escaped the flood in–only a lot smaller) and she had floated him down the river. The mother thought, ‘who knows, maybe somebody kind will find my baby and have pity and take care of him? It’s worth a shot.’ So away the baby went in the basket, down the river. And, you know what? The baby was found. Not just found but found by a nice young lady who didn’t go in for killing babies. And not just found by any old nice young lady, but, in fact by the king’s own daughter; the daughter of that nasty old king who wanted all baby boys killed from the people of Israel. Well, she plucked that baby up out of the water, took him home and cared for him as her own…right there in the king’s palace; the palace of that nasty old king. And that child, in time, would grow up to be the worst foe that that king could ever have. And here he had survived because of the kindness of the king’s own daughter; and grown up in the king’s own house, right under his nose. The baby’s name was, Moses. That means, ‘taken up out of the water.’
And so, once again, in the funniest way, things often work backwards; just the opposite of what people planned or expected to have happen. And the king’s kingdom would be undone and destroyed in spite of his every effort to fortify it. And who, in a way, was to blame for it all? A bunch of women. A couple of gals who wouldn’t do what was horrible and would be displeasing to God in spite of the king’s sternest warning. The king’s own daughter! Remember–the king thought that he was being clever having all of the baby boys killed but letting the girls live; because everyone knows–girls can’t hurt you. Oh, can’t they? And when the king’s kingdom fell, and before he died, I wonder if the last words on his lips were–’doggone those girls. Girls! Who would have thought it? Ruined by girls.’ So much for strong and mighty kings. So much for ruthlessness. Sometimes weakness is a real strong hand.
Lord’s Prayer: 3rd petition: “Thy kingdom come. God’s kingdom certainly comes by itself apart from our prayer…”. God’s kingdom can’t be stopped. What is right and true can’t be defeated; only suppressed for a time. Evil and wickedness or infertile; unable to reproduce. Evil can be imitated and replicated but is ultimately barren. It leads only to death. What sin lives on is, death. The wages of sin is death. That’s what this means. That the wages of sin is death is, in a very real sense, good news. You wouldn’t want evil to be able to ultimately succeed. The collapse and the ruin of the devil’s tyranny is a good thing and enjoins our delight and celebration. We don’t rejoice in destruction just for destruction’s sake, but for the desolation of the evils the oppress and tyrannize people. The freedom into which God will call mankind is most certainly a freedom from something as much as it is a freedom for something. The tyrants that oppose and oppress us are not merely political. They are the tyrannies of lies and of fear. We allow ourselves to fall into subjugation and are too timid to rise and to shake off the shackles that bind us.
The hymns of the church militant, which are often the favorite of hymns of men (they like the martial tone) express a warlike disposition. People wince at the violence and the militancy exhibited in the Old Testament. It may seem like a bit of fancy footwork to spin it this way and to interpret real and bloody battles into figurative images for spiritual warfare. But this use of the Old Testament’s battle imagery allows us to distinguish between courage and hostility or violence. There is a way to be strong and yet, at the same time, not aggressive; not giving in to or succumbing to the devices of those from which we would escape.
Jesus says, ‘Satan’s kingdom, if divided against itself, cannot stand.’ You can’t fight fire with fire. That just sets everything on fire. Turning the table on your oppressor, if it leads you into acts of oppression itself is not so much freedom for you as it is a conversion, a copitulation that that very thing that you once said you most hated. The meek and mild women of the early chapters of the exodus account are not, for all that, either weak or ineffectual. They topple the world’s greatest kingdom.