Oh, the depth of the riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God!
How unsearchable his judgments, and his paths beyond tracing out!
"Who has known the mind of the Lord? Or who has been his counselor?"
"Who has ever given to God, that God should repay them?"
For from him and through him and to him are all things.
To him be the glory forever! Amen. (Romans 11:33-36; TNIV)
God’s ways are full of mystery and glory. Here in Exodus 2 we see something of that. His people, Israel, are oppressed in Egypt. The Lord has staked the future of his creation on his plans to save through them but they are in deep trouble: the new king is working them ruthlessly, has tried to make sure their male children don’t survive (and been thwarted by the Hebrew midwives) and, finally, orders that all male children be thrown into the Nile.
The scene demands that we ask, ‘What will the Lord do now?’ Are his plans to save and heal his creation going to drown in the Nile?
1. The LORD will save through a special child
The beginning of ch.2 suggests that the Lord is not finished yet. A child is born to a Levite family and is straightaway marked out as a potential deliverer of the people, in at least 2 ways.
i) His mother sees that he is a “fine child”. But doesn’t every mother think her baby is lovely? This is something more. The phrase “she saw he was a fine child” is very reminiscent of the statements in Genesis 1 that the Lord saw that it was good (fine = good).
ii) And that point is further stressed when we’re told that his mother hides him in a pitch covered basket and puts into the Nile. What is very significant here is that the word translated ‘basket’ only occurs elsewhere in Genesis 6-9 where it is usually translated as ‘ark’.
The link back to Noah is very clear and deliberate and says to us that this child is destined to be rescued from the water and, just as with Noah’s deliverance, it will have significance for all humanity.
But that significance will only ultimately be realised in and through another special child marked-out by God as the deliverer, as the saviour of the world. Noah and Moses were never really capable of taking on sin and evil and overcoming them; Jesus could and did.
2. The strange ways of the LORD
This child is marked-out as a potential deliverer of his people. How will the Lord preserve him? Where will he be hidden until his time arrives? Who will train him in God’s ways, ready for that role?
The great irony is that Moses is drawn from the water by Pharaoh’s daughter and is given back, for a time, to his mother. But then, when he is older, he is taken into Pharaoh’s household and grows up there as the son of Pharaoh’s daughter
Not only is this deeply ironic but it seems intensely fragile, too. What if Moses is discovered to be a Hebrew? He’s in Pharaoh’s palace, right at the centre of the evil opposition to the Lord’s purposes of mercy and grace. You can’t get much more vulnerable than that.
Here is the Lord who works in surprising ways, whose ways are higher than ours, whose plans often seem to be at risk and yet whose power is made perfect in weakness (remember the cross).
How much the church must always remember this – her situation is often very weak (even when it seems strong). On the margins, lacking strength, in a hostile world – but the Lord knows what he is doing. He can be trusted, as he works all things together for good for his people and for his plans of salvation.
3. The Real Deal
Moses’ situation seems unique but, in terms of literature, it isn’t. As more discoveries of other literature from the Ancient Near East have been made, it’s been noticed that there are many stories of children being born and exposed to the elements - take, for instance, The Legend of Sargon:
Sargon, the mighty king, king of Agade, am I.
MY mother was a changeling, my father I knew not.
The brother(s) of my father loved the hills.
My city is Azupiranu, which is situated on the banks of the Euphrates.
My changeling mother conceived me, in secret she bore me.
She set me in a basket of rushes, with bitumen she sealed my lid.
She cast me into the river which rose not (over) me,
The river bore me up and carried me to Akki, the drawer of water.
Akki, the drawer of water lifted me out as he dipped his e[w]er.
Akki, the drawer of water, [took me] as his son and) reared me.
(from The Legend of Sargon (c.2300BC)
Now, if there were other well-known stories of this type and if those stories were known to be legends and myths, why is the Lord doing this with Moses? Why not cause him to be delivered in a way that doesn’t resemble those myths?
The fact that this story has similarities with other accounts doesn’t detract from its power and relevance. In fact, it heightens it. You see, the Lord is showing that he is the real deal and makes that point in ways that people can readily connect with and in ways that directly challenge their thinking about the world.
Paul does something similar in his preaching in Acts, as he sees what is around him and what stories the people tell and how they see the world. He uses it to tell the real story of God and his Son.
And, of course, we see this most wonderfully in the incarnation of Jesus – the Lord coming to where we are, living our lives, speaking our language (as it were), sharing in all our joys and sorrows.
The challenge for us as the church is to learn from the ways of the Lord. He is the real deal and we need to be able to show that in ways that are readily accessible to those we speak to. That means being attentive to their lives and the stories they tell about the world and its meaning. That’s a demanding but necessary task because it involves what John Stott has called ‘double listening’ – to the world (to understand it) and to Scripture (to confront the world).
4. People in God’s place
I’ve been speaking about what the Lord is doing here through the birth and deliverance of Moses but it might be fairly asked, where is the Lord? He gets no name-checks in these verses, not until 2:23 in fact; so how can we speak of his work here?
Firstly, he is at work through Moses’ mother. She gives birth and because she sees he is “a fine child” she decides to hide him and then to put him aboard his mini-ark. Moses’ mother is being reported as acting in the place of the Lord, doing his will, furthering his plans for the whole creation (yet without actually being conscious of that).
The second person through whom the Lord is at work is Pharaoh’s daughter. In vv.5,6 she comes down to the Nile, sees the baby, hears his cries and takes pity on him. Fast forward to 2:23-25 and 3:7,8 and it becomes clear that she is acting just as the Lord does with his people. Her actions regarding Moses are paralleled by the Lord in his actions for Israel.
The Lord who could have chosen to act in some spectacular and supernatural way to rescue his people Israel is, instead, remaining behind the scenes for now and acting through Moses’ two mothers (birth and adoptive).
This is something that happens consistently through the Bible and is equally as true today. The Lord acts to further his purposes of blessing through people like us. We may not at times realise it but just knowing that he works in that way invests the whole of life with the deepest significance. As Paul tells us, our work for the Lord is not in vain because Jesus was raised from the dead.
Briefly, there are two other points that flow from these observations.
5. Women in God’s service
Up to this point in Exodus, all the Lord’s work has been carried out through women – first the midwives, then Moses’ mother and sister and then Pharaoh’s daughter. That is significant.
Some people read the Bible as being very negative in its view of women and their place in God’s service. Others say that Jesus improved the situation but that the OT was dreadful. Yet all the way through the Bible the Lord shows the highest regard for women and all along uses them in profound ways to further his saving purposes.
It is true that the Bible identifies different roles in the home and in the church but in no way are those differences of role intended to suggest that women are lesser subjects in God’s kingdom or that they have a minor role to play in his saving purposes for the world. That simply is not so and passages like this show us how deeply valued by and valuable to the Lord women are.
6. Pagans in God’s service
But notice something else about one of these helpers. Not only is Pharaoh’s daughter a woman (obviously!) but she is also a pagan, a worshipper of false gods. And yet she is capable of acting with genuine compassion, taking her stand against the evil designs of her father (and how risky that must have been) and is singularly used by the Lord to further his work through rescuing Moses.
What does all this tell us? It reminds us that the Lord is sovereign in who he chooses to use to further his plans and it also reminds us that the Lord’s people do not have a monopoly on good behaviour. Pharaoh’s daughter is not acting out of love for the God of Israel but the very fact that she acts in line with his will shows that he is at work in her life in what is termed common grace.
That is a valuable lesson for us to learn as we live in a world that is hostile to God and frequently to us also. Not all people will be so; they may even be used by God both to help us and to challenge us in terms of our own compassion (or lack of it). Listen to how one writer puts this point:
What is our proper posture toward an unbeliever? There is more than one biblical model. The model of "opposition" is certainly well known and has ample biblical precedent. This model, however, is not deserving of universal application. We share with others the love of Christ, who was a friend to sinners. In doing so, we bring the good news to them in many different ways, which is something that God's people are called to do. But do not be surprised if in the process the Lord uses these same people to change you. Our neighbors, coworkers, and relatives are not so much projects to be won, notches on our salvation belt, but people who are created in God's image and whose lives are in God's hands. They, too, may be his instruments for purposes we cannot fathom. It is his will to employ many facets of his creation for his sake and for his glory. (Peter Enns, Exodus, NIVAC, p.76)
As much as we need to take to heart that we’re in a battle, we need also to take to heart this point and learn to see the world and our life in it through the multi-faceted lens of Biblical revelation.
God’s ways – surprising, yet wise and powerful. He is worthy of our love, our trust and our service