A Very Bold Rescue

Exodus 2:1-10 — Now a man of the tribe of Levi married a Levite woman, 2 and she
became pregnant and gave birth to a son. When she saw that he was a fine child, she
hid him for three months. 3 But when she could hide him no longer, she got a papyrus
basket[a] for him and coated it with tar and pitch. Then she placed the child in it and put
it among the reeds along the bank of the Nile. 4 His sister stood at a distance to see
what would happen to him.
5 Then Pharaoh’s daughter went down to the Nile to bathe, and her attendants were
walking along the riverbank. She saw the basket among the reeds and sent her female
slave to get it. 6 She opened it and saw the baby. He was crying, and she felt sorry for
him. “This is one of the Hebrew babies,” she said.
7 Then his sister asked Pharaoh’s daughter, “Shall I go and get one of the Hebrew
women to nurse the baby for you?”
8 “Yes, go,” she answered. So the girl went and got the baby’s mother. 9 Pharaoh’s
daughter said to her, “Take this baby and nurse him for me, and I will pay you.” So the
woman took the baby and nursed him. 10 When the child grew older, she took him to
Pharaoh’s daughter and he became her son. She named him Moses,[b] saying, “I drew
him out of the water.”

Prayer: Draw near, O God, in the silence of this hour. Settle us down; silence in us any voice
but your own; speak the word you have for us; and give us courage to hear, believe, trust, and
follow Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.


1. Video
2. The theme of several of the messages that we are working with is about Bible Stories that
we will tell our children and grandchildren. Most of these stories are familiar with us – like
David and Goliath, Noah and the arc, Jonah and the whale and, today, Moses and the
Bulrushes. Later on in May we will be working with Bible stories that we really do not share
with our younger children – they are filled with violence, murder, rape and adultery —
sounds like the world we live in today, doesn’t it?
3. Telling stories are important — they help us remember the past and to project the future.
The stories are about life – the complexities and challenges of life. Stories are about life
making decisions that can change the direction of our lives in an instant. Stories about the
ramifications about moral decisions and immoral decisions and how they can hurt other
people. Stories are very important in our lives.
4. If Stephen Prothero is right, most people don’t know the story of Moses in the bulrushes.
a. Prothero is professor of religion at Boston University, and his book Religious Literacy:
What Every American Needs to Know—and Doesn’t documents the fact that simple
familiarity with the content of the Bible is at an all-time low.
b. Prothero begins each semester with a “Bible Content” quiz and learns that 75 percent
of his students think the statement “God helps those who help themselves” is in the
Bible (it was Benjamin Franklin), that most don’t know that Jesus preached the
Sermon on the Mount, and many can’t name one of the Gospels and think that Noah’s
wife was Joan of Arc.
c. Show article from the Washington Post
5. While including amusing anecdotes about biblical ignorance, Prothero’s book is serious about
this relatively new phenomenon.
a. Prothero thinks that it’s not just biblical ignorance but ignorance about religion in
general. And he worries about that a lot.
b. He points out that a lot of domestic controversies—issues that play a critical role in
elections, for instance, are bound up in religion: such as evolution or intelligent
design, gay marriage, abortion, stem-cell research.
c. Prothero says that it is a rare world crisis—Sudan, Iraq, Afghanistan, Israel-
Palestine—Syria —that is not rooted in religion and proposes that “you need
religious literacy in order to be an effective citizen.”
6. This morning, the story of the birth of Moses could have may titles in addition to the one I
am using – A Very Bold Rescue — could also be “Five Remarkable Women, the Baby Who
Survived, and the Will of God.”
7. It’s a gem of a story. Moses will emerge as the leader and liberator of the Hebrew people,
the father and founder of Israel, and one of the most important people in history. To the
Jews this story about Moses and the freeing of the slaves in Egypt is as important to them as
the story of Jesus is to us.
8. So — let’s just reflect on the Scripture that was read from Exodus — the beginning of the
life of Moses.
9. Exodus actually continues from the end of Genesis where Joseph had come to Egypt after
being sold to a Caravan. Joseph, a Hebrew, rose to great power when the Pharaoh assigned
Joseph to manage the economy of Egypt as a famine began to sweep over the Middle East
and Egypt.
a. The children of Israel, the Hebrews, are in Egypt because generations before, during a
famine, they migrated south looking for food, and the Egyptians welcomed them.
b. They settled in and thrived, generation after generation of Hebrews, guests of the
c. They thrived so much that a new Pharaoh looks at Hebrews suspiciously that their size
and strength constitute a security threat to the state, and so the new Pharaoh turns
them into forced laborers, slaves. They do the Egyptians’ building projects—houses,
palaces, pyramids, entire cities—and still they continue to thrive.
10.The Pharaoh summons the Hebrew midwives, in charge of birthing the Hebrew babies. (They
obviously are very busy.)
a. Their names are Shiprah and Puah. The king orders them to stop the Hebrew
population explosion at the source: kill all the boy babies. That should resolve the
security threat in one generation.
b. The first two of the five remarkable women in this story are the first feminists in
history. They ignore what the men tell them to do; they disobey orders. The babies
keep coming. When the king summons and questions them, they lie and get away
with it. “These Hebrew mothers are strong,” they say. “They have their babies before
we can get there. Sorry about that.”
11.Two strong, brave, faithful, remarkable women back on the edge of history listen to the
voice of God, their conscience, engage in civil disobedience, disobey orders, and allow the
story of God and God’s people to continue.
12.Now it’s time for Moses. The Pharaoh, angry that Plan A didn’t work, launches Plan B, a blunt
cruel order: drown the baby boys.
13.Once again women throw a wrench into the gears of the king’s plans.
a. The story has always been a favorite with children. Back in the days of flannelgraph
teaching, before audiovisuals, the Sunday school teacher employed a large piece of
black flannel tacked to a piece of plywood.
b. Flannel characters were then placed on the board to create a colorful tableau of
whatever story was being taught.
c. Over on the left is a woman carrying an infant in her arms. With her is a young girl,
her daughter. They weave a basket of grass, place the baby in it, and carefully hide it,
floating in the river in the bulrushes.
d. The boys in the class start to laugh. One of them has observed that if that baby
makes a move, he’s going to fall out of that basket and drown.
e. Now a procession of young women approach from the right: Pharaoh’s daughter and
her entourage, the attendants fanning the princess with those huge Egyptian palm
leaves. The princess tests the river water with her foot. Here comes the basket.
“Look,” the princess says, “it’s a baby, a Hebrew baby. Let’s take him home.” One of
her attendants picks up Moses from the basket.
f. Now Moses’ sister Miriam moves across the flannelgraph. “I know a Hebrew woman
who would be happy to help you take care of that baby.” Off she goes across the
flannelgraph to her mother, waiting in the corner. Back the two of them come.
i. It’s the baby’s mother. She takes the baby in her arms, and they all walk back
to the royal palace.
ii. The baby is safe—in his mother’s arms.
14.The story of the people of God, after a very close call, can continue because of five
remarkable women:
a. First — Shiprah and Puah, who disobeyed orders;
b. Second — Moses’ mother, Jochebed, who refuses to comply with royal policy and gives
birth to a baby boy and then continues to nurse him and raise him.
c. Third — Moses’ sister, Miriam, so innovative that she surreptitiously arranges for her
mother to become the royal nursemaid and care for her own child;
d. And finally, Pharaoh’s daughter, who knows the law but has mercy in her heart and
engages, herself, in civil disobedience by adopting and raising this Hebrew baby as if
he were her own.
15.What a gem of a story: five remarkable women,
a. each of whom breaks the law,
b. breaks with custom and convention, to do what is right and just and good
and merciful and whose behavior God blesses.
c. Their refusal to comply, obey civil authorities, is the reason Moses lives and
the story can continue.
16.When we take a close look at the founding of the United States, we are reminded again that
the issue of disobeying the law in the name of justice and goodness and truth is at the heart
of the founding of our nation.
a. The founders were British citizens.
b. The founders struggled with the moral quandary of listening to conscience, to justice—
some of them understood it to be the voice of God—and then intentionally
disobeying, engaging in civil disobedience, then revolution.
17.Dietrich Bonhoeffer, son of upper-middle-class German professional people, had to struggle
mightily with his natural and culturally conditioned propensity to obey the rules over against
his aversion to Nazi ideology. He went with his conscience, broke the law, joined the
resistance, and paid with his life.
18.Not so very long ago, in the civil rights movement of the ’60s, American men and women,
normally conventional, law-abiding citizens, deliberately broke laws their conscience—many
of them called it the voice of God—told them were unfair, unjust, and wrong.
a. They sat at segregated lunch counters, deliberately disobeyed racist laws, picketed,
protested, marched.
b. Some ended up in jail.
c. Others were tear-gassed, beaten, blasted with water and canons; a few were killed.
19.If the Bible is to be trusted, people will do that—people like Shiprah and Puah, people like
Bonhoeffer and Martin Luther King and Nelson Mandela, people like Rosa Parks, a
remarkably brave woman who subverted the law, refused to move to the back of the bus,
and ended up changing history.
20. The story of Moses and the five remarkable women is the story of God working
to bring in the kingdom through the events of history, the small and seemingly
inconsequential lives and decisions of individual people.
21.God is the major player here.
22. But there is a big issue lurking that must be acknowledged.
23. There is a dark side to this.
a. Baby Moses survived, but one has to assume a lot of babies didn’t.
b. Centuries later another king, Herod, King of the Jews, will order all the babies of
Bethlehem killed.
c. The infant Jesus survives because his parents took him away, to Egypt, but one has to
assume a lot of babies did not.
24.We have a quandary:
a. If God is acting, is God choosing some babies to save and others to discard or to
punish? Sometimes it sounds like what we believe is that God intercedes, rescues
some and visits suffering and death on others as an expression of God’s will.
25.In a major article on Christian faith and suffering in a recent New Yorker, James Wood
a. that Pat Robertson suggested that former Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s stroke
was God’s response to him turning Gaza over to the Palestinians;
b. a prominent televangelist said that God sent Hurricane Katrina to New Orleans as
punishment for a gay pride parade;
c. and televangelist John Hagee announced, appallingly, that the Holocaust was God’s
way of achieving the greater good of allowing the Jews to reclaim Israel—a comment
for which he has apologized.
26.We need to approach these comments very carefully and humbly.
27.To the question of why:
a. Why, if God is good and actively involved in the world, there is suffering,
there is no simple answer.
b. It is appropriate to say we don’t know the answer.
28. What we can say with confidence is that a good and gracious God does not will or
cause leaders to die and planes to crash and tyrants to oppress.
29. What we know from our own experience is that when something good happens,
when surgery is successful, when the baby is born healthy, we have to say thank
you, we have to be grateful to God.
30.And what we can know with confidence is that God does become part of this life
with us: that God does keep watch over us all, that God does surround us with
gracious, healing, resurrecting love:
a. Moses, floating down the river in his little basket, right into the waiting arms
of a princess.
b. God’s love is with the other babies, also.
c. You and me when we are healthy and alive, and when we are not – God is with us.
31.What these old Bible stories teach us, and what we can know with confidence, is
that God is on the side of justice and freedom and peace in history
a. and that the opponents of justice and freedom and peace are fighting a losing
b. Tyranny will fail. Hitler, Stalin, Pol Pot, al Qaeda—
c. the good and gracious God of history is alive and working to bring in the
d. The slaves will be free. The exiles will come home.
e. Truth and goodness and justice and peace will win.
32.We know it because God has come into history, come into our life in Jesus Christ
and nothing, not even death, could undo him.
33.“Who do you say that I am?” Jesus asked his friends one time. “You are the Christ, the son
of the living God,” they confessed, but almost immediately, when he started to talk about
how he would suffer and die, they backed away. “God forbid, Lord, that you should suffer.”
34.It is our central, most precious, most Christian belief, that God would suffer, that God knows
what it is to watch a beloved son die.
35. To live by faith in a God of suffering love who cares enough to suffer with and for
suffering humanity . . . means to expect and experience the presence and work of God in
our own lives and in the world around us—where there is pain, suffering, and dying and
where there is health, happiness. and success. . .. Not because God wills and sends the
bad as well as the good but because God is so powerful that nothing can happen to
us so painful that God cannot be with and for us in the midst of it.
36.What God did in and through the drama of an endangered people and an endangered child in
Egypt thousands of years ago enabled God’s people to survive and live into the future.
37.God’s will was done through the courage and faithfulness of five women who refused to obey
orders, who listened instead to their conscience, the voice of God in their hearts.
38. In this old, old story, God came to be with people in the common events of daily
life: birth of the babies, caring for the children, protecting and nurturing the most
39.What God did in that drama thousands of years ago, God did ultimately in Bethlehem of
Judea and in Jerusalem, on a cross and in an empty tomb: showed that we, even you and I,
can be instruments of God’s will, God’s justice and truth, when we listen to our conscience,
God’s voice in our hearts.
40.God showed us that we are not alone, none of us, ever alone, but loved, protected from
ultimate harm, held in the embrace of the one who created us, who wants to live through
us, and who will love us forever.