The Bravery of the Midwives to Fear God and Protect Life

If you’re a pharaoh that means you’ve got a great deal of power and not that many checks on said power. If you tell someone to do something, they should do it.

In chapter one of Exodus the pharaoh has a message for the midwives who are there at the deliveries for the Hebrew women. He’s not happy that the people of Israel were increasing in number and he feared them. So his idea is to control their population.

“When you serve as midwife to the Hebrew women and see them on the birthstool, if it is a son, you shall kill him, but if it is a daughter, she shall live.”

This is not a suggestion. It is an order. But what do the midwives do? While they almost certainly feared the pharaoh, they valued life and they feared God more. They did not do as they were commanded, instead allowing the male children to live. They deceive pharaoh to cover up their actions and it says in verse twenty that “God dealt well with the midwives.”

These women knew who was truly king in the land and they protected life even in the face of a pharaoh who could have ordered their execution.

Grace Precedes Law

We finally come to the Ten Commandments in Exodus 20, a codified law for God’s people. To many, the law characterizes the Old Testament and the old covenant, and given its prominence not only here, but throughout the many books of the Old Testament, it isn’t hard to understand that view. But do not forget the preceding chapters and stories in Exodus and Genesis.

God graciously created this world and placed us in it. God has provided for a people that he chose for himself, not based on their superiority as a people, but because of his grace. God called Abraham out to be the father of many nations, made a covenant with him, and while Abraham struggles in his faith, God remains ever faithful. He protects his people, provides for them, and in Exodus we see how God set them free from the oppression in Egypt.

God did not come to Moses and deliver two tablets of stone and say, “Moses, deliver these to the people. Gather all the elders and proclaim this law to them, and let it be known that whoever keeps it perfectly will be rewarded. In five years, I’ll be back, and if you were good, I’ll have a chat with Pharaoh about letting you go.”

Instead God hears the cries of his people and frees them from Egypt. He sets them free, parts waters, gives manna from Heaven, and also as an act of grace, he then gives them this law. Grace precedes the law. The Israelites were never a people who earned or deserved God’s favor. They did not merit it. God chose them for himself, and in his grace saves them. The law follows as a way to live as God’s people, and a way to live well.

Be careful when simplistically dividing the Old and New Testaments as though one were law and the other grace, as though grace were absent in the beginning. The Bible is a book that reveals to us who our God is, and we see he is and always has been a God of grace.

The Story So Far, Week 4

This week we made it through some of the most monumental events in the history of God’s people: their captivity in Egypt, the Passover, and the Exodus. It was a lot to cover in only sixteen chapters. In Luke we see the birth of Jesus and John foretold, people recognize Jesus’ for who he is, whether it is Simeon or shepherds, and Jesus initiates his public ministry with fasting and teaching in the synagogue. We also read the first four of the psalms.

Like in the beginning of the Gospel of John, John the Baptist plays a large part in the opening chapters of Luke. What I love about him is his amazing humility. The people around him see his boldness and how he speaks with authority, and his followers don’t want anyone to detract from his notoriety, but John recognizes that he is only to prepare a way for Jesus. He is unworthy to untie Jesus’ sandals. John’s job, and a job he is delighted to do, is to point others away from himself and to Jesus.

It’s a humility that recognizes that we shouldn’t seek out glory for ourselves or try to claim credit for work that only God can do. God is the center of this whole story.

We see God as the main player in our Old Testament readings. Looking back to Joseph, we saw how only God could bring him from slavery into the courts of Pharaoh, and only God is able to do it again with Moses. Because of the persecution of the people of Israel, when he is just a baby, Moses is set adrift and found in a river. It is the daughter of Pharaoh who finds him, has him cared for, and makes him her son. Joseph and Moses have two very different ways to be brought into Pharaoh’s courts, but God is there in both.

When Moses is called by God to return to Pharaoh’s courts, to the very person who had sought to kill him, again it is only achieved because God is with him. God gives him words, God reveals his name to Moses, he promises he’ll work signs and wonders through Moses, and he even provides Aaron. Moses is a great character from our history, but like John the Baptist, his greatness is only in that he points others to God. There is no way Moses is taking credit for parting the Red Sea. His job is to make sure the world knows that it is our God who has done such a marvelous work.

That is our job as well. We don’t broadcast how great we are or what great things we have done. We just point others to our God and give him credit for all the good things that he has done.

A Pharaoh Who Did Not Know Joseph

Exodus changes the tone quickly from the prosperity Joseph and his family enjoyed at the end of Genesis, and it does so in the first chapter with the line in verse eight: “Now there arose a new king over Egypt, who did not know Joseph.”

This leads to the growing oppression of the people of Israel and sets the stage for what we know comes later in Exodus. Because he did not know Joseph, the king (or pharaoh), does not know the debt Joseph is owed for saving the land from famine. He does not know of the commitments made and relationships built. What this pharaoh does know is that the people of Israel are too many and too mighty.

Knowing your history is important as it helps shape our future and inform our decisions. Paul reminds the church of its history in 1 Corinthians 10, urging his readers not to be ignorant of what our ancestors went through and he does so that we may learn from their mistakes. If we don’t learn from the mistakes of others, we are bound to learn from our own. Paul reminds us that our ancestors, after the Exodus, were lead by a cloud, passed through the sea, were fed with bread from heaven, and yet they still turn from God to idols. Paul tells us that ignorance is not bliss, it is folly. 1 Corinthians 10:11-13 says:

Now these things happened to them as an example, but they were written down for our instruction, on whom the end of the age has come. Therefore let anyone who thinks that he stands take heed lest he fall. No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it.

Learning from these examples is at times the way of escape. So let us choose to learn our history and learn from it, not choosing ignorance that will lead us to repeat the sins of others.