“Moses - the Promise of Rescue”
December 9, 2012
God has always been a God of unexpected rescue.
I. The Rescue of the Doomed Baby
II. The Rescue of the Enslaved Nation
III. The Redemption of the Slaves of Sin
God's people were desperate for rescue. After the generations of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob came the generation of Joseph and his brothers. Sold into slavery by his brothers, Joseph endured slavery and imprisonment to become Prime Minister, the most powerful man in Egypt, and the Pharaoh of that day allowed Joseph to rescue his brothers and his father Jacob, and to place them in the land of Goshen, to be sheepherders for the Egyptians.
In Egypt the people of God multiplied, but after Joseph died, and after the Pharaoh of that day died, this became a source of fear and anxiety to the Egyptians. So they enslaved God's people, and made them toil at building their cities and monuments, and work in their fields, and they made their lives miserable, as cruel taskmasters. But even this was not enough to stop their numbers from multiplying, and so finally that Pharaoh gave the order that the Hebrew midwives were to kill all the boy babies born to Jewish women.
This was genocide enforced at birth, not that dissimilar to what has been happening in China, where a woman can be forced into abortion and sterilization if she gets pregnant a second time. Even Planned Parenthood in the U.S. has been accused, with some merit, of being in the business of genocide, since they seem to want to prevent African-American babies from being born.
But the Hebrew midwives were what we call pro-life. They would not kill the boy babies, but told Pharaoh that Hebrew women gave birth so quickly that the midwife couldn't even arrive before the babies were born. So finally Pharaoh gave up all pretense and simply ordered the people of Egypt to destroy all the Hebrew babies by throwing them into the Nile River to drown.
So God's people were desperate, they cried out to God for deliverance. And their cry came to his ears; he began to put into place a wonderful and unexpected rescue plan. As we saw last week, when God's people are desperate or longing, part of God’s answer is often sent in the form of a baby. That's what happened in this case, as we read in today's text, Exodus 2:1-10:
I. The Rescue of the Doomed Baby
Exodus 2:1-10 Now a man from the house of Levi took as his wife a Levite woman. 2The woman conceived and bore a son, and when she saw that he was a fine child, she hid him three months. 3When she could hide him no longer, she took for him a basket made of bulrushes and daubed it with bitumen and pitch. She put the child in it and placed it among the reeds by the river bank. 4And his sister stood at a distance to know what would be done to him.
5Now the daughter of Pharaoh came down to bathe at the river, while her young women walked beside the river. She saw the basket among the reeds and sent her servant woman, and she took it. 6When she opened it, she saw the child, and behold, the baby was crying. She took pity on him and said, “This is one of the Hebrews’ children.” 7Then his sister said to Pharaoh’s daughter, “Shall I go and call you a nurse from the Hebrew women to nurse the child for you?” 8And Pharaoh’s daughter said to her, “Go.” So the girl went and called the child’s mother. 9And Pharaoh’s daughter said to her, “Take this child away and nurse him for me, and I will give you your wages.” So the woman took the child and nursed him. 10When the child grew up, she brought him to Pharaoh’s daughter, and he became her son. She named him Moses, “Because,” she said, “I drew him out of the water.”
God is a God of unexpected rescue. What could be more unlikely than this story? A woman has a baby who is doomed to destruction unless she finds a way to hide him. When that becomes impossible she makes the decision to put him in a basket and float him down the river. But the basket takes the baby not to the sea, not to the endless bulrushes that line the river, not to the hands of Pharaoh’s soldiers, but to the bathing place of Pharaoh’s daughter. Maybe the mother hoped this would be the case, because she sent the baby’s sister to follow the basket. And when Pharaoh’s daughter pulled the baby out of the river and declared that she would keep him, the sister was able to offer the baby's mother as a nurse to the baby. So Moses was raised in his own home, probably for several years, and then grew up in the courts of Pharaoh, giving him unique insight into the oppressors of his people. Even if Moses’ mother had a plan here, this is nothing less than a remarkable rescue.
II. The Rescue of the Enslaved Nation
For several years now I have been saying that the whole story of the Bible is the story of God's rescue, and that all of the rescues of the Bible point ultimately to God's rescue of his people in Jesus. The story of baby Moses is one of those small rescues that points us to the rescuing character of our God. He was a baby doomed to destruction, but God saved him from that destruction, by the hand of an unexpected rescuer. But this small rescue story sets the stage for the larger rescue story that we call the Exodus. And that in turn sets the stage for the larger rescue story we call redemption, the incarnation and sacrifice and resurrection of God's son to save his people from sin.
Moses, of course, is the key actor in the Exodus rescue story. We know that when he grew up he became indignant at the mistreatment of God's people in slavery, and in an act of personal rescue he killed an Egyptian who was beating a Hebrew slave. But then he grew afraid, and fled from Egypt, and God kept him in the desert, in the wilderness for 40 years.
God kept him there as a shepherd, taught him the shepherd truths he teaches all his servants, and then, at just the right time, when the desperate cries of his people in Egypt came into God’s ears, God called Moses back to Egypt. Exodus 2:23 “During those many days the king of Egypt died, and the people of Israel groaned because of their slavery and cried out for help. Their cry for rescue from slavery came up to God. 24And God heard their groaning, and God remembered his covenant with Abraham, with Isaac, and with Jacob. 25God saw the people of Israel-and God knew.
So God spoke to Moses from a burning bush that was not consumed, and in that holy moment he called him to go down to Egypt and say to Pharaoh ‘let my people go.’ Pharaoh was unwilling, his heart was hard, and he repeatedly refused, even though God brought plague after plague on the Egyptians. God was showing his power and might to those who oppressed his people.
It was not until the 10th plague, the death of the firstborn son, that Pharaoh’s heart was finally broken. But that 10th plague was also an image of the rescue God would ultimately achieved in Jesus. God told the Israelites they should take a spotless lamb, kill it in their family groups, and paint the blood across the tops of their doors and down the sides - a cross. And when the angel of death saw the blood had already been shed in that home, he would pass over and not kill the firstborn son. God told the people that the remembrance of this Passover would be the central feast of their religious year, because God rescued them from slavery in Egypt by the shedding of blood.
And that's exactly what happened, after the death of the firstborn Pharaoh finally agreed to let God's people go, and they gathered themselves and escaped from Egypt to the Red Sea. Then Pharaoh’s heart was hardened one more time, and he sent his army after the Hebrew people to destroy them. But God is a God of unexpected rescue, and he told Moses to extend his staff over the Red Sea, and parted the waters, so that his people could cross on dry ground. When the armies of Pharaoh tried to cross the sea behind them, the waters closed and all the Egyptians were destroyed.
I love the song they sang on the far side of the Red Sea: “I will sing to the Lord, for he has triumphed gloriously; the horse and his rider he has thrown into the sea. 2The Lord is my strength and my song, and he has become my salvation; this is my God, and I will praise him, my father's God, and I will exalt him. 3The Lord is a warrior; the Lord is his name.”
This became the Old Testament’s great rescue story, recounted over and over, recorded in the Psalms, and in the books of history and by the prophets to remind the people of the greatness of their God of rescue.
I want to point out something about this rescue, however; in fact about both of the rescues seen so far. When God’s people were rescued from Egypt, it was after several generations had not been rescued. When Moses was rescued as a baby, it was after many babies had not been rescued. For many of the Hebrew mothers, their baby was taken and thrown in the river, and there was no miracle. This doesn’t mean the rescue of Moses was chance, nor that God didn’t care about those other babies, but arbitrarily cared about Moses. What it does mean is that those living by faith, and desperate for God, sometimes do not see his rescue in this life. They live by faith and die in faith.
This is one of the most beautiful aspects of the great faith chapter Hebrews 11. In the beginning of the chapter the author points out right away that some, like Abraham, “died in faith, not having received the things promised, but having seen them and greeted them from afar.” A little earlier he says that they were ‘…looking forward to the city that has foundations, whose designer and builder is God.” They died in faith, but with a promise of eternity. Later there is a list of victorious saints “who through faith conquered kingdoms, enforced justice, obtained promises, stopped the mouths of lions, 34quenched the power of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, were made strong out of weakness, became mighty in war, put foreign armies to flight.”
But the author turns a corner in verse 35 and begins to talk about people who live by faith and were not rescued. “Some were tortured, refusing to accept release, so that they might rise again to a better life. 36Others suffered mocking and flogging, and even chains and imprisonment. 37They were stoned, they were sawn in two, they were killed with the sword. They went about in skins of sheep and goats, destitute, afflicted, mistreated- 38of whom the world was not worthy-wandering about in deserts and mountains, and in dens and caves of the earth. 39And all these, though commended through their faith, did not receive what was promised.”
III. The Redemption of the Slaves of Sin
I entirely believe that God performs the little rescues of Scripture, the rescue of Moses, the rescue from Egypt, and all the other rescues of Scripture in order to prepare his people to see and believe in the rescue of Jesus. That is, to live by faith in a God of unexpected rescue, and to trust that he has their own eternity in hand. I recently mentioned Safely Home by Randy Alcorn. The title alludes to the fact that one of the main characters is not rescued in this earthly life, despite the great exertions of the other main character. Instead the first main character dies under torture and persecution, and is only safely home what he ends up in the arms of his Savior in heaven. Nonetheless, though not everyone in a desperate earthly circumstance is rescued, God's heart is still a heart of rescue, and he intends us to have a heart like his.
I recently learned of the work Bob and Suzanne Achgill’s daughter Merinda has been doing in Ghana. There, on Lake Volta, thousands of children as young as four or five are enslaved in the fishing industry, trafficked there by telling parents in rural Ghana that their children will be given work and education. They never see their children again. The organization Merinda and her husband Josh work with, Project Mercy, has been teaching the adults to raise fish in pens, so the enslaved children in the village can be freed. In September they moved a group of 24 young children from one village to a safe place across the lake, a home where they can get schooling and be reunited with their parents. For these children, God showed himself to be the God of unexpected rescue. And he did so when his people responded to the call to redeem those he loved from their slavery.
But at Christmas we celebrate the great rescue to which all other rescues ultimately point. In Scripture, over and over, God takes to himself the name Redeemer. The word comes from Leviticus, where God gave rules for the redemption of property and people. If someone had to sell their property in order to live, a kinsman, a close family relative could redeem that property for them. And if a person had to sell himself into slavery, the redeemer could buy him back, paying the price of his service. The book of Ruth tells the famous story of Boaz, who was the nearest kinsman to Naomi's son, and to therefore bought back Ruth from her poverty and childlessness, and became her redeemer.
In the same way, at Christmas, God sent his own son, as a man, as our nearest kinsman, to become our redeemer, buying us back from slavery to sin. For the true slavery, the true bondage which the slavery in Egypt only pictured, is slavery to sin. No one born after Adam has been free from this bondage; sin enslaves us, makes us do its bidding. It is a hard and cruel taskmaster. As Brian Shelley said a few weeks ago, sin enslaves us, and causes us to worship and serve the wrong god, the god of our own fallen desires.
The song the worship team sang for the offertory is Andrew Peterson’s “Deliver Us,” This is the same title as the baby Moses song from the Prince of Egypt that was our prelude. But Andrew Peterson recognizes that “our enemy our captor is no pharaoh on the Nile; our toil is neither mud nor brick nor sand; our ankles bear no calluses from chains, yet we're bound, imprisoned, though we dwell in our own land.” The second verse says “Our sins they are more numerous than all the lambs we slay; these shackles they were made with our own hands.” So like the people of Israel we cry out for deliverance: “Deliver us, deliver us; Oh Yahweh, hear our cry; and gather us beneath your wings tonight.” We are slaves to sin, desperately longing for rescue.
And so, over and over, in Isaiah and other places, God calls himself the redeemer and says I will redeem my people. Isaiah 59:20 “And a Redeemer will come to Zion, to those in Jacob who turn from transgression," declares the LORD. 21"And as for me, this is my covenant with them," says the LORD: "My Spirit that is upon you, and my words that I have put in your mouth, shall not depart out of your mouth, or out of the mouth of your offspring, or out of the mouth of your children's offspring, from this time forth and forevermore." Jeremiah 31, in conjunction with the New Covenant promises says “For the LORD has ransomed Jacob and has redeemed him from hands too strong for him. 12They shall come and sing aloud on the height of Zion, and they shall be radiant over the goodness of the LORD, over the grain, the wine, and the oil, and over the young of the flock and the herd; their life shall be like a watered garden, and they shall languish no more.”
In the New Testament, Zechariah, the father of John the Baptist recognizes that the time of redemption has come, “Blessed be the Lord God of Israel, for he has visited and redeemed his people. 69and has raised up a horn of salvation for us in the house of his servant David.” He’s speaking of Jesus, our redeemer.
Paul will later say to the Galatians that “when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, 5to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons.” That’s Christmas - the fullness of time, the time when all the little rescues are fulfilled in Jesus. He says “Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us-for it is written, "Cursed is everyone who is hanged on a tree"- 14so that in Christ Jesus the blessing of Abraham might come to the Gentiles, so that we might receive the promised Spirit through faith.”
And so the God of unexpected rescue, when the time had fully come, sent his Son. This was an unexpected rescue in so many ways. The people of that day were expecting a Messiah. But they did not expect a Messiah who would be born in poverty as a baby. They did not expect a Messiah who would grow up in obscurity as a carpenter’s son. They did not expect a Messiah who would preach and teach humbly, followed by a ragtag band of disciples.
They expected a messiah to defeat and expel the Romans, then to take the throne and reign, to restore Israel to glory. But they received an unexpected Messiah, one who walked the dusty hills of Judea toward the cross of Calvary. One who prophesied his own suffering, death and resurrection, and then was betrayed by his own people, judged, condemned to death, brutalized, tortured, and crucified. As one of our songwriters has said it was a strange way to save the world.
But it was the way of redemption. God’s love compelled him to buy back people from their slavery to sin. Not just the people of Israel, but the people of the whole world, so enslaved they could not do what they knew was right. He needed to buy us back, you and me, for we were enslaved by sin, unable to do right, breaking relationships, hurting ourselves, suffering consequences of our own sins and the sins of others, and longing, longing, longing for rescue.
At Christmas we celebrate the incarnation; act one of our true redemption. At Easter we celebrate the crucifixion, Christ’s payment of our sins, and resurrection to life: this is act two of redemption’s drama. And someday, hopefully soon, we’ll celebrate the King’s return to reign, act three, the final climax of redemption. It is almost certain to be an unexpected return, for we serve and believe a God of unexpected rescue.
When Abby and Tim first went to Nepal, our family read a book called Little Princes, a story of unexpected rescue. A young man named Conor Grennin decided to take a year to travel the world. As part of that trip he thought “I'll do something nice for someone.” So he volunteered to spend three moms at an orphanage in Nepal. But he soon discovered that these orphans, wonderful and endearing as they were, were not orphans in the traditional sense. Instead they were children who had been given up by their families in rural villages. These parents were promised that their children would be given work, kept safe and attend good schools in Kathmandu. For this service, traffickers demand vast sums from already impoverished families; then they quickly removed the children, dumping them in illegal orphanages in Kathmandu or enslaving them as street beggars and laborers. ‘Little Princes, a legal orphanage, sheltered dozens of these trafficked children.
But Conor Grennin had a different vision. With the civil war over, he worked to reunite these children with their families deep in the Himalayas. It was an act of unexpected rescue, very unexpected to the families, most of whom thought their children lost forever. Some even thought it would violate their honor to receive these children back. But over the course of several years Conor and his team have succeeded in reuniting many of these children, restoring them to their mothers, their fathers and their homes.
That's what God has done for us. As a God of unexpected rescue he restores us to fellowship with himself, he has adopted us into his family so that we are his children and he is our ‘Abba’ He has given us Jesus Christ to be our Shepherd and Brother, and he has given us the Holy Spirit who indwells us, so that we now no longer live alone or in despair, but we live with him in a relationship that will be complete and eternal in that day.