A sermon preached at Covenant Presbyterian Church of Fort Smith, Arkansas before the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper on August 6, 2017.
Then Joseph died, and all his brothers and all that generation. But the people of Israel were fruitful and increased greatly; they multiplied and grew exceedingly strong, so that the land was filled with them. Now there arose a new king over Egypt, who did not know Joseph. And he said to his people, “Behold, the people of Israel are too many and too mighty for us. Come, let us deal shrewdly with them, lest they multiply, and, if war breaks out, they join our enemies and fight against us and escape from the land.” Therefore they set taskmasters over them to afflict them with heavy burdens. They built for Pharaoh store cities, Pithom and Raamses. But the more they were oppressed, the more they multiplied and the more they spread abroad. And the Egyptians were in dread of the people of Israel. So they ruthlessly made the people of Israel work as slaves and made their lives bitter with hard service, in mortar and brick, and in all kinds of work in the field. In all their work they ruthlessly made them work as slaves.
Then the king of Egypt said to the Hebrew midwives, one of whom was named Shiphrah and the other Puah, “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.” But the midwives feared God and did not do as the king of Egypt commanded them, but let the male children live. So the king of Egypt called the midwives and said to them, “Why have you done this, and let the male children live?” The midwives said to Pharaoh, “Because the Hebrew women are not like the Egyptian women, for they are vigorous and give birth before the midwife comes to them.” So God dealt well with the midwives. And the people multiplied and grew very strong. And because the midwives feared God, he gave them families. Then Pharaoh commanded all his people, “Every son that is born to the Hebrews you shall cast into the Nile, but you shall let every daughter live.” Now a man from the house of Levi went and took as his wife a Levite woman. The woman conceived and bore a son, and when she saw that he was a fine child, she hid him three months. When 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. And his sister stood at a distance to know what would be done to him. Now 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. When 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.” Then 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?” And Pharaoh’s daughter said to her, “Go.” So the girl went and called the child’s mother. And 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. When the child grew older, 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” (Exodus 1:6-2:10).
Sometimes life can feel like everything is wrong: family problems, marriage problems, work problems; the death of a parent, child, or sibling; divorce or the death of a spouse; job loss or no work at all. Life can feel hopeless.
Have you ever cried, “Where is God in this?” Or, “God, where are you?” If so, you can relate to the context our passage today.
Consider the case of Israel in Egypt. 400 years prior to the context of our passage God sent Israel to Egypt. To put this in perspective, 400 years from the U.S. Declaration of Independence is 2176. Israel was in Egypt for a very long time.
400 years earlier God told Jacob: “I am God, the God of your father. Do not be afraid to go down to Egypt, for there I will make you into a great nation. I myself will go down with you to Egypt, and I will also bring you up again, and Joseph’s hand shall close your eyes” (Gen. 46:3-4). God promised Israel (Jacob’s descendants) that they would become a great nation; God would go with them, implying God’s blessing; and, God would bring them back to their homeland.
In the beginning, life was good in Egypt. Israel was preserved through a famine. The land was good the food was good, the people were good, and Israel flourished. Until . . . “there arose a new king over Egypt, who did not know Joseph.” Rather than seeing the Hebrew immigrants as a blessing, he saw them as a threat to his kingdom. The “good life” that Israel had enjoyed came to an end.
Isn’t that just like life? Everything seems to be fine and then . . . something changes. And that something leads us to believe that now everything is bad. Where is God in this? God, where are you? This is when we need to think about our perspective.
Let us remember that Israel was God’s chosen people. They were the descendants of Abraham. They were the people of promise. In Genesis 12, 15, 17, we read of the covenant promises God made to Abraham and his offspring. A promise that they would prosper. A promise that kings would come from them. A promise that they would inherit the land of Canaan (a.k.a. “the Promised Land”). And, it was God who had sent Israel to Egypt, and He promised to bring them back again (Gen. 46:4). These promises had not changed. God had not abandoned His people or His promises. But from the perspective of a people enslaved, it felt that way. We hear Romans 8:28 quoted, “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose” but it just doesn’t feel like “good.”
God promised to bless Abraham with offspring in numbers like the stars in the sky and like sand on the seashore (Gen. 22:17). It should not surprise us to read that “the people of Israel were fruitful and increased greatly; they multiplied and grew exceedingly strong, so that the land was filled with them.” This was a blessing from God. The psalmist sings, “Behold, children are a heritage from the LORD, the fruit of the womb a reward” (Ps. 127:3). We could say this is the heavenly perspective.
But consider the earthly perspective:
Therefore they set taskmasters over them to afflict them with heavy burdens. . . . So they ruthlessly made the people of Israel work as slaves. . . . Then the king of Egypt said to the Hebrew midwives. . . “When you serve as midwife to the Hebrew . . .if it is a son, you shall kill him, but if it is a daughter, she shall live.” . . . “Every son that is born to the Hebrews you shall cast into the Nile, but you shall let every daughter live” (Ex. 1:11, 13, 15-16, 22).
They were blessed by God, but now they are slaves. They were fruitful, but now their boys were to be murdered.
But let us also consider the heavenly perspective:
But the midwives feared God and did not do as the king of Egypt commanded them, but let the male children live. . . . The woman conceived and bore a son, and when she saw that he was a fine child, she hid him three months. When 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. . . . Then 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?” And Pharaoh’s daughter said to her, “Go.” So the girl went and called the child’s mother. And 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 (Ex. 1:17, 2:2-3, 7-9).
When our perspective is enslaved by the earthly, we forget the heavenly. This is one of the reasons why one of the most often used words in the bible is “remember.” The earthly is urgent and screams for our attention. So, we must routinely go to God’s Word, regularly observe the sacraments, and consistently pray to remember the heavenly perspective.When we do, we see more clearly the providence of God.
What is providence? The Larger Catechism states, “God’s works of providence are his most holy, wise, and powerful preserving and governing all his creatures; ordering them, and all their actions, to his own glory” (WLC Q18). What we observe in our passage is just that: “holy, wise, and powerful preserving and governing all his creatures; ordering them, and all their actions . . .” It’s the last part we ignore from our earthly perspective: “to his own glory.”
We all fall prey to the “king for a day” dilemma. If we were king, then we would orchestrate a problem-free life for ourselves. We assume that God would do the same. We hear “all things work together for good” and presume that we know what is ultimately good as the captains of our own souls. But what if our earthly perspective blinds us to what is heavenly good? What if because we fall short of God’s glory (Rom. 3:23), our perspective of good is jaded? We manipulate Scripture like Jeremiah 29:11 (“I know the plans I have for you . . . plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope”), forgetting that God’s plans at that time was Babylonian captivity under a pagan king. We would have a shortage of Christian bookstore coffee mugs if we understood the context!
Understanding the providence of God teaches us to consider how God works, His economy, for His glory. Pharaoh commanded the execution of all Hebrew boys by drowning in the Nile river. This is evil. A seemingly hopeless catastrophe. Despite the consequences, Moses mother hid him for three months. Then she cast him into the Nile in a miniature ark, a boy in the Nile but not drowning.
The command of execution of the boys came from Pharaoh, but the rescue came from three women. Consider the irony of the situation. The executioner’s daughter saves the baby. The baby’s sister provides assistance. The baby’s mother nurtures her own son, a son of Israel now a prince of Egypt. The plan of the powerful king was thwarted by three women and a baby . . . in the providence of God.
It makes for a beautiful narrative in retrospect, and this is often the case in our own life as well. Moses’ mother surely thought the worst, but in retrospect the providence of God was revealed. Similarly, we do not know the future; we may not always understand the present; but, as we look back often we can see God’s hand at work. This is where we must learn to trust God, even in the “hard providences” of life. We may not see a “happy ending” as we would write the script, but from a heavenly perspective, according to His providence, God makes provision for our good and His glory.
At a time that Israel, from an earthly perspective, saw a lifetime of slavery and eventual extinction, God raised up a deliverer. God used the son drawn out of water to deliver the people of promise. Through Moses God would redeem His people from slavery, give them His Law and the Scriptures, and return them to the land promised to Abraham. In His providence, God orchestrated Israel’s salvation from Egyptian slavery and extinction. The story of Moses is extraordinary. But there is something even more important than slavery and ethnic extinction, and…there is one greater than Moses
Like Moses, Jesus was born into an Israel under pagan reign. Like Moses, a powerful king executed Hebrew boys seeking to protect his kingdom. As Moses served as God’s appointed deliverer and mediator of His people under the old covenant, so Jesus came as the Deliverer and Mediator of God’s people of the new covenant.
In Christ, we are saved from the evil slavery of sin, the punishment of death, and the judgment of God. The writer of Hebrews explains,
Therefore, holy brothers, you who share in a heavenly calling, consider Jesus, the apostle and high priest of our confession, who was faithful to him who appointed him, just as Moses also was faithful in all God’s house. For Jesus has been counted worthy of more glory than Moses—as much more glory as the builder of a house has more honor than the house itself. (For every house is built by someone, but the builder of all things is God.) Now Moses was faithful in all God’s house as a servant, to testify to the things that were to be spoken later, but Christ is faithful over God’s house as a son. And we are his house, if indeed we hold fast our confidence and our boasting in our hope (Heb. 3:1-6).
We look to Christ as our providential provision. Our confidence and hope is in Him as our Lord and Savior.
If you are at a time in your life where you are wondering where is God in all of this or crying, “God, where are you?” Our Deliverer has come in the person of Jesus Christ. He has given His Holy Spirit to all who believe. He knows you better than you know yourself. He knows your struggles and your needs. While your perspective may be captured by the earthly, in His providential provision He provides all that you need for your good and His glory.