Monday, June 28, 2010

Fifth Sunday in Trinity Season: Exodus II

Opening Prayer: O God, You are good and glorious and wonderful beyond our reckoning. And You are good particularly because You are always before us, ahead of us. You are always at work preparing a way for us. We thank you for this, and we ask it for it now, that your Spirit would prepare us now for Your word and lead us to fear you and obey you, through Jesus Christ our Lord, Amen.

We saw last week that Exodus opens as a new creation narrative with the word of God naming and prevailing over the word of a nameless satanic king whose word is repeatedly overturned. Despite hints of unfaithfulness and the oppressive slavery, God is bringing a new world to life. Israel is a son being born. And Moses is one son among many whom God is raising to rule with Him.

The Baptism of Moses
Moses came from the tribe of Levi. He is a member of the priestly tribe who will be tasked with the teaching and guarding of Israel. His mother sees that he is “good,” and this is another unmistakable allusion to the original creation story (cf. Gen. 1). She hid/treasured him for three months (2:2) until she could no longer hide him. The extreme measures that Moses’ mother takes suggest that the murder of Hebrew boys had become fairly widespread (but 12:37). Notice that his mother is obeying the command of the Pharaoh: she is putting him into the river. But Moses is placed in an “ark” made of bulrushes or papyrus, and the ark is covered with clay and pitch (v. 3). The word for “ark” is only used elsewhere to refer to Noah’s ark and implies that his mother is taking great pains for his salvation and rescue. The word for “clay/asphalt” could be translated cement or mortar, and this suggests that Moses is also in some way symbolically being given up for dead, returning to the ground in the river-grave of the Hebrew babies. The word can refer to the color “red” and may have actually looked somewhat “bloody” in the water. The ark is placed in the “reeds” in the Nile because his mother hoped he would be found by an Egyptian and saved (v. 4). This is clearly a prefiguring of Israel who will later pass through the Sea of Reeds. Pharaoh’s daughter probably knows what’s up, and goes along with the plan of Moses’ mother (v. 7-9). Literally, she “spared” him (v. 6). The same water that has killed many Hebrew boys is the water of life for Moses. Notice also that it’s Pharaoh’s own daughter who is saving the Hebrew baby who will rise up and deliver Israel. This further indicates Pharaoh’s impotence: it’s not just the midwives fooling the king; his own daughter is not obeying him. She is not only sparing Moses but paying his mother to nurse him. His mother is given money like the Israelites will receive from the Egyptians later (12:35-36).

From Saved to Savior
There are three events that mark Moses’ transition from an adopted prince in the royal house to Midian. He sees an Egyptian beating a Hebrew and intervenes to save him (v. 11-12). He intervenes to break up a fight between two Hebrews (v. 13-14). Finally, he intervenes to defend the daughters of Jethro from the shepherds (v. 16-17). The stories have in common Moses’ defense of the weak, but they also show us Moses’ future ministry to Israel. He will deliver them from Egypt (the Exodus), he will be their “prince and judge” to secure peace in Israel (the Law), and he will provide Israel with water in the wilderness.

The word for “strike/smite” in 11-12 is the verb form for the word “plague.” Moses is prefiguring what Yahweh will do to oppressive Egypt. One commentator suggests that when Moses “looked here and there” (v. 12), he was actually looking for help. Regardless, Moses pictures what Yahweh will do to Egypt to deliver Israel. The episode at the well is a scene that we have witnessed before (Gen. 24, 29). This is what might be called a “stock scene” or “type scene” (think of a western movie shoot-out scene). This wedding-well scene has its great fulfillment in Christ (Jn. 4). Moses is married to one of Reuel’s (Jethro’s) daughters, Zipporah, and she bears him a son named Gershom. The narrator says that this fits with Moses’ historical circumstances; we might also point out that the name is based on the verb “to drive out” and is what Moses has just done to the shepherds. This is also what God promises Pharaoh will do to the Israelites and in fact what he does (6:1, 12:39, cf. 23:28ff).

Notice that this chapter begins and ends with a wedding and the birth of a son. The names of the sons even have similar meanings: Moshe “he drew out” and Gershom “he drove out.” We noted in chapter 1 that there was a repeated emphasis on the word “son.” Here, interestingly, the word “daughter” is repeated 9 times (2:1, 5, 7, 8, 9, 10, 16, 20, 21). While the Pharaoh thought that only the sons were a threat (1:16, 22), these “daughters” join the midwives of chapter one in playing instrumental roles in the deliverance of Israel (cf. Gen. 3:15).

This text piles up the ways in which pharaoh’s word is thwarted and God’s word is established. The very thought of Israel “going up out of the land” begins with Pharaoh (1:10), and it is ultimately all of his actions that are used to bring about this result. Pharaoh’s house ends up saving and raising the very man who will be used to bring it down. This is a glorious testimony to God’s providence and sovereignty. The prologue of Exodus 1-2 describes a world where there is little explicit mention of God but where His hand and purposes are obviously present. By the time Israel cries out to God, God has already been at work. And this is the way it always is: God’s grace always precedes us.

But this doesn’t mean that Israel should not have cried out. The danger of teaching the doctrine of God’s providence is the temptation to apathy. But the text says that God heard Israel’s crying and their groaning and he remembered his covenant with their fathers and He looked upon them and knew them (2:23-25). God had been at work preparing for Israel to cry out to Him. This links back to Ex. 1:1-4, and between these two verses all of chapters 1-2 are the names and people that God knows. Knowing God and being known by Him is the crucial difference between blind arrogance and stoic apathy. And this applies to everything. Shall we buy this house or not? Shall we take this job or not? What should Moscow look like in 20, 50, 70 years? The only way we can be faithful is if we know and are known by the God of heaven, and that path is in the Word, Sacraments, and Prayer. What are you praying for?

In the Name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, Amen.

Closing Prayer: Our God and Father, we thank you and praise you that you have called us out of darkness into light, that you have raised us up and seated us in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, and that you wait expectantly to hear from us. And we confess that we are too often timid and silent or else we ask for foolish and selfish things. But we know that your grace always precedes us. Your grace is always getting ready for us. And so we place our trust in You, and we begin to pray again, we call out boldly to you in the words of our Savior who taught us to pray, singing…

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