When good people do good things

The readings of the day, click here

People of faith seem to have a fondness for stories in which God does things, usually big things, spectacular things.

You know, stories where God gets into the act, makes himself known, or gives people clear and precise directions about the kind of thing he wants done.

Like when God speaks to Moses out of the burning bush, for
example. “Go tell Pharaoh to let my people go!’

Or, when Moses begins to doubt that Pharaoh will listen to him and God says,

“When that happens, use your staff like a magic wand.”

“Drop the staff and get it to turn into a snake or part the seas with it……that’ll get his attention!”

We like to hear the stories of miracles and healing at the hand of Jesus, even though we might be a little skeptical from time to time when the laws of nature and our personal experience bring such things into doubt.

Those kind of stories get our attention too, don’t they?

We like stories where God seems to get into the action, making sure that things get done properly and everything ends happily ever after.

We want stories of a “hands-on” kind of God, one who acts quickly and decisively.

All this praying and waiting on the Lord stuff is just too much at times for our limited attention spans.

We like it when things in our lives are perfectly clear.

We like it when God makes things in our lives perfectly clear.

So it’s easy for us to miss the real story in this week’s text from our first reading from the book of Exodus; the events leading up to the birth and protection of Moses.

The narrative that tells us how the Hebrews got into that mess down there in Egypt and how it almost happened that there never was a Moses to begin with, if his mother had not turned him into a sailor early on in life!

In our Old Testament lessons this summer we’ve been reading a continuing saga from the books of Genesis and Exodus.

Last week we left Joseph inviting his brothers and their families to come and live with him down in Egypt.

Egypt where, because of Joseph’s interpretation of dreams, he had risen to a position of influence and power and the Hebrew tribes enjoyed all the privileged benefits of honoured guests.

Today we fast forward almost 400 years and a lot has happened during that time.

A new Pharoah is on the throne in Egypt.

A king, the scripture says “who did not know Joseph”, meaning a king who had no commitment to the kin of Joseph.

A king who was not aware of, or didn’t care for the past history of Joseph’s saving the nation and the people of Egypt

A king with a huge ego and a concern about the place of immigrants in the life of the nation.

Hmmmm….that sounds familiar.

To make things even more tense, that original family of “seventy” born to old Jacob has grown by leaps and bounds during their stay in Egypt “so that the land was filled with them.”

More numerous even than “we are”, the new Pharaoh noticed and more powerful too.

Since the time of Joseph Egypt had not exactly had a peaceful time of it during those 4 centuries.

Foreign invaders had occupied the eastern part of the empire for a time, forcing Egypt to take a more war-like stance than usual, conscripting captured invaders into forced labour camps.

In such a highly charged situation, the presence of an ever-burgeoning Hebrew population, was simply one more threat that Pharaoh did not need on his mind.

That is why the Hebrews became slaves in the land of Egypt, because the new king of Egypt saw it as a way to keep them in their place.

“Better to have them in chains,” the new boss-man said, “than joining up with our enemies.”

Like most of the plans of tyrants, Pharaoh’s plan backfired.

From our reading this morning;

“But the more they were oppressed, the more they multiplied and spread, so that the Egyptians came to dread the Israelites.”

Until finally, Pharaoh came up with the brilliant plan (or so it seemed to him at the time) of imposing population controls.

He approached the two women who had been appointed as midwives to all those thousands of Hebrew women and said to them,

“Start killing all the boys of the Hebrews whenever you get the chance.”

Apparently, it never occurred to this Pharaoh, whom historians suspect was Ramses II, that, aside from being one of the worst kinds of ethnic cleansing imaginable, it was also a pretty stupid business decision.

How was he going to keep building all those monuments to his ego without male slaves to do it!?

Pyramids and Sphinxes and lavish temples were not going to build themselves.

So here you have a ruler who was a man without a moral conscience but one who was stupid to boot!

In the midst of this situation we have these two midwives,and we’re told their names: Shiphrah and Puah.

Shiprah and Puah do have a moral compass.

They step up and put one over on the king.

Clearly they were risking their lives to do the thing they did.

They tell Pharaoh they’d like to obey his order but they never could get there fast enough to give all those sturdy Hebrew women a hand before their babies just popped out on their own!

I guess the way these two brave women figured it, they were dealing with a king who was not only morally deficient and narcissistic but was also as dumb as a box of rocks.

Well at the very least he didn’t know much about how babies were born.

So Pharaoh buys their story.

And then he ups the ante and commands all his own people, his family and his inner circle to take every Hebrew baby boy and drown them in the Nile!

Apparently those closest to him didn’t have much respect for his edicts either.

Because when little Moses is born and was shipped down the Nile in that little ark his mother made for him, the daughter of Pharaoh found him and, realizing at once what kind of child he must have been, took him into her care.

This Pharaoh really had a way with women, didn’t he?!

First, he’s bamboozled by two midwives, then he was defied by his own daughter!

And to make him even more of a laughing stock, if that is possible, his daughter gets Moses’ sister (who had been watching in the bulrushes all along and had to be the best baby-sitter there ever was!) to find a nurse-maid for little baby Moses.

Who does she just happen to choose but her own mother, whom
Pharaoh’s daughter then puts on Pharaoh’s payroll just so that she can nurse her own baby!

So, in the end, Pharaoh ends up protecting, raising and educating the very Hebrew boy-child who is going to make him sorry that he ever heard of the Hebrews – and without a clue that he was doing it!

Now, you may have noticed that I haven’t said much about God so far this week; and there is a pretty good reason for that because in this story the bible doesn’t mention him either.

God isn’t overtly one of the players.

In this critical moment in Israel’s history when the stakes are very high indeed.

When it could be that if something miraculous didn’t happen that there may never have been a nation called Israel had it been left to the schemes of a cruel and stupid old tyrant,

God is not involved directly at all.

It was a time, no doubt, when people were praying that this oppression would stop.

They were praying for God to make this bad situation right, yet it seemed that God was not listening and not acting.

It was a time when perhaps people perhaps what God was up to, if anything.

God seemed to be out of town!

What happens next, it seemed, depended, not about what God would do, but on what five rather gutsy women decided to do out of pure respect for human life and decency.

The midwives, Shiphrah and Puah defied Pharaoh because they “feared God”, the author says, and Pharaoh’s daughter and her helpers did what they did because she “took pity” on a little baby.

And that is how a nation got saved.

That is how there ever came to be anything left of the Hebrews down in Egypt before there ever was a Moses to save them.

Now I think it’s fair to say that God was on the side of those five women whether things appeared that way or not.

That God was somehow working behind the scenes, prompting people to do the very thing that he would later give them a hand in finishing.

But, right here, in this humorously ironic little masterpiece from Exodus, we are reminded that before what needed to happen did happen it was a group of ordinary people working behind the scenes who really made things possible.

They didn’t wait for God to show them miraculous things, they just did the decent thing.

They did that which God fearing folks do.

I’m convinced that often we don’t do or say enough when things are happening that are clearly wrong, or when something clearly needs to be done.

The philosopher Edmund Burke once said “All that is necessary for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing.”

We know in the experience of our two congregations we have been able to make good things happen because we are convinced that doing nothing will help evil to triumph.

When we bring in refugees whose lives are in danger…

When we help other people through our giving to the Primate’s World Relief Fund or the M & O fund of the United Church.

Through the community ministries of our two churches we are capable of allowing good to flourish and evil to be defeated.

I like this scripture reading this morning because it reminds us that God’s mighty acts are not always in the flash and bang of miracles but in the miraculous works that can be achieved when God fearing people act on their conscience and their convictions.

Sometimes instead of just praying and waiting we need to actually take the initiative and get things done.

It’s in the getting it done that the miraculous can happen and the kingdom of God comes that much closer.