Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Moses (part 1) - Misery Multiplied

The Bible is an amazing book and it's filled with unbelievably exciting stories.  You don't have to make the Bible more exciting than it already is.  We want to begin our journey through one of those stories and it's going to be the life of Moses.   

We're not going to get through the entire life of Moses but we are going to go from his birth to the Exodus as we study through the first 13 chapters of the book of Exodus.  We begin in chapter one by seeing the times in which Moses was born into.  We're going to learn the history behind the birth of Moses.  If you're going to understand the Bible theologically, you must also understand it historically.  To really understand the man, you have to understand the time in which the man lived.  We're going to break it down into three areas.  We're going to see, first of all, that Israel goes to Egypt.  Then we're going to see that Israel grows in Egypt and then we're going to end by seeing that Israel groans in Egypt. 


Let's begin by talking about how Israel got to Egypt to begin with.  To understand this you have to know the story of Joseph.  Joseph is betrayed by his brothers which results in his being sold as a slave into Egypt where he spends many years as a prisoner.  Ultimately, he is elevated to the position of prime minister where only Pharaoh himself was greater in power. 

God then uses Joseph to save all of Egypt and the surrounding areas from a horrific seven-year famine.  During that famine, Joseph's brothers are forced to go to Egypt for food.  They think Joseph is probably long since dead.  It ends up that they are reconciled to their brother, the prime minister.  Joseph is again bonded with his brothers and all of Joseph's family leaves the land where they live and they come to Egypt where Pharaoh gives them the good part of the land and they end up living in prosperity in the land of Egypt.  That's where Exodus picks up the story in Exodus 1:1.

“Now, these are the names of the sons of Israel who came to Egypt with Jacob. They came each one with his house hold.”

In verses 2, 3 and 4, he lists the names of his sons.  Now, interestingly enough, he doesn't list them in the traditional way which would be to list them in the order of their birth.  Instead, he lists them in groups based on who their mother was.  If you remember the story of Joseph, the sons of Jacob were born to him by four different women.   

“All the persons who came from the loins of Jacob were 70 in number but Joseph was already in Egypt.”

We see that when Israel arrives in Egypt, they arrive with 70 men along with women and daughters.  There is 70 of them - that's all.  That's how they start in the land of Egypt. 


From there we discover is that Israel grows in Egypt.  In verse 6 of Exodus 1, we learn that Joseph dies.

“Joseph died and all his brothers and all that generation.”

To give you a little bit of a timeline, Joseph would have been 17 when he was sold into slavery.  He would have been 39 when his family moved to Egypt.  He then would have lived another 71 years ruling as prime minister and he dies as the age of 110.  Along with him dying, so does his generation.  His dad has already died.  All of his brothers have died.  All the generations of Joseph are completely gone.  Time is marching on. 

From the time of Joseph's death to the time of Moses' birth is about 350 years.  Many of the following generations have all died.  But during this time, we discover the prosperity of the sons of Israel.  Look at verse number 7 and notice what happens to Israel in the land of Egypt during these 350 years. 

“But the sons of Israel were fruitful and increased greatly and multiplied and became exceedingly mighty, that means in numbers, so that the land was filled with them.”

Here are the sons of Israel.  They have lived in the land of Egypt now for 350 years.  God supernaturally blesses them and they multiply in amazing fashion.  They start with 70 men plus Joseph, but notice how they end up.  In Exodus chapter one, 70 men enter into Egypt but in the book of Numbers, when they leave Egypt there are over 600,000 men.  When you add women and children, at the time of the exodus there were probably over 2 million Jewish people.  It all started with 70 men who entered Israel 350 years prior to the birth of Moses. 

God blesses them in amazing ways which, by the way, is evidence of God's promise.  Back in Genesis 46:3, when Joseph invites his family to come live in Egypt, his father is hesitant.  Should he really leave the land where he lived and move to Egypt?  So God makes him a promise.

“I am God, the God of your father.  Do not be afraid to go down to Egypt for I will make you a great nation there.”

God keeps that promise.  At the time of the exodus, the Israelites have grown from 70 men to over 600,000 men.  They are an amazing number of people filling the land of Goshen in the region of Egypt. 


Now we get to the time period that leads up to the birth of Moses.  This is not just a time period of misery it is a time period of misery multiplied.  Two things take place.  In verse number 8 we find that a new Pharaoh has come into power. 

“Now a new king, a new Pharaoh, arose over Egypt who did not know Joseph.”

Keep in mind it's been 350 years since Joseph died.  There have been several different Pharaohs reigning in Egypt during that time.  The Bible doesn't tell us which Pharaoh it was that ruled during the time of Joseph, or which Pharaoh it was that ruled at the birth of Moses, or which Pharaoh it was that ruled at the time of the exodus.  But a new Pharaoh comes on the scene and this Pharaoh has no remembrance of Joseph.  If you were to bring up Joseph's name, he would go, “Joseph who?”  He has no idea about Joseph or what happened in Egypt through Joseph. 

How could that be?  How could a Pharaoh not remember Joseph?  Keep in mind that it was 350 years earlier.  Let's do a little exercise to see if we can't plant that into our minds.  Let me give you a year in history and I want you, without cheating and using your smartphones, to tell me who were the main characters on the world stage and what were the main occurrences going on at that time.  The year is 1664.  Who were the main characters?  What were the main occurrences?  You likely don’t have a clue because it was 350 years ago.  So it's not surprising that this new Pharaoh would have no recollection of Joseph. 

For him, there's no sentimental connection at all to the Hebrew people.  They are just a group of people, a large group of people, living in the land.  That results in a nagging problem for Pharaoh.  Beginning in verse 9 you see the problem and how he deals with it.  Here's what it says,

“Pharaoh said to his people, behold, the people of the sons of Israel are more and mightier than we.  Come, he says.  Let us deal wisely with them or else they will multiply and in the event of war they will join themselves to those who hate us and fight against us and apart from the land.  So, they appoint taskmasters over them to afflict them with hard labor.  And they built for Pharaoh storage cities.  But the more they afflicted them, the more they multiplied and the more they spread out so that they were in dread of the sons of Israel.  The Egyptians compelled the sons of Israel to labor rigorously and they made their lives bitter with hard labor, in mortar and bricks and in all kinds of labor in the field, all their labors which they rigorously imposed on them.” 

The Israelites have grown to the point that they outnumbered the Egyptians.  For Pharaoh, this is a problem.  It also produces fear in Pharaoh's mind and heart.  The fear is that the children of Israel may join forces with one of their external enemies, and if that were to happen, the Egyptian empire would topple easily.  Based on this fear he decides he needs to break their spirit which he believes would keep them from multiplying and becoming an even mightier group of people.  To do so, he puts them into severe slavery.  Go back and read verses 9 through 14 and notice the adjectives and adverbs.  This was hard slavery.  They worked rigorously.  They worked in bitter conditions.  This was an attempt to break their spirit. 

He puts them in slavery and they build storage cities.  Some people have the mistaken idea that it was the Hebrew slaves that built the pyramids.  The pyramids pre-date Moses and Joseph.  That's astonishing.  I've had the thrill of standing at the foot of the largest pyramids in Egypt and when you look at these amazing structures, one of the greatest wonders of the world, it is staggering to think that they were built in a time period with no modern construction or engineering equipment.  The Hebrew slaves did not build the pyramids.  They already existed.  They built storage cities. 

Notice a principle that is worth contemplating.  What was it that drove Pharaoh to put the Israelites in hard labor?  Was it his dislike of the Israelites?  Not really.  Was it mere racism?  No.  The thing that propelled Pharaoh to act in such an aggressive and brutal nature was his internal fear that they would join with an external enemy.  Quite often people who act in aggressive ways are really acting out of an internal fear that you cannot see.  When you look back over your life at the times that people acted towards you aggressively, even brutally, chances are very good that it wasn’t really stemming from a hatred towards you as much as it was from an internal fear of something.  In your own life, when you find yourself being aggressive towards somebody else, you need to stop and ask yourself, “What am I really afraid of?”  Often our aggressive nature is propelled by an internal fear.  That's what happens to Pharaoh which results in his wanting to break the spirit of the Israelites by putting them in hard slave labor. 

It doesn’t work and instead the Israelites multiply even more.  His problem grows.  His fear escalates.  Now he has to try something else.  He's going to have to get more brutal.  He's going to have to get more aggressive to try to alleviate the fear that's in his own life.  He issues a nasty proclamation which really comes in two phases.  First, there is a subtle phase, kind of an ‘under the radar’ approach.  Then, there will be an ‘over the top’ approach.  The first approach deals with the midwives.  Pharaoh issues an order to the midwives in verses 15 and 16. 

“Then the king of Egypt spoke to the Hebrew midwives and said, ‘When you are  helping the Hebrew women to give birth, and see them upon the birth stool, if it is a son then you shall put him to death but if it's a daughter then she shall live.’”

In order to try to stop the growth of the Jewish people, because that's what Pharaoh sees as the problem, he goes under the radar and calls in the midwives who help with all the Jewish births.  Two are mentioned by name, Shiphrah and Puah.  There would have most likely been more than two midwives so chances are really good that Shiphrah and Puah were supervisors.  All the midwives probably worked underneath them. 

Basically Pharaoh says, “Here's what I want you to do.  When you're called to a Hebrew home because a woman is giving birth and she is on the birth stool (keep in mind in the culture of that day ladies didn't lay down when they give birth, they crouched on a stool) and you're helping to deliver the baby, as the baby's coming out, as soon as you notice the gender of the baby, if it's a boy, smother it.  If it's a boy, as it comes out, kill it and tell the women it was a stillborn.  Tell them that their baby was born dead.’   That's the command to the midwives. 

It's amazing to me how cultures change in many ways except evil continues to progress.  What the king was demanding of the midwives is no different than the modern-day practice in our country of partial-birth abortion.  That's what the king commands of Shiphrah and Puah, the Hebrew midwives.  Notice how they respond.  Notice their courage in verse 17.  I

“But the midwives feared God and did not do as the king of Egypt had commanded, but instead, let the boys live.”

Shiphrah and Puah, though they are names most people have not heard of, are amazing heroes in Scripture.  These are women of great courage because to disobey the king would most likely result in execution.  These women are caught in a quandary.  If they disobeyed the king, they would probably die.  But if they obeyed the king, they were going to have to disobey their God. 

So they make a decision and this decision is that they fear God more than they fear the king.  They would rather face the king being disobedient than to face God being disobedient.  One of the number one reasons today as to why believers continue to live compromising lives in our culture is, because unlike Shiphrah and unlike Puah, believers today fear man more than they fear God.  They fear their neighbors more than they fear God.  They fear their co-workers more than they fear God.  They fear their classmates or their bosses more than they fear God.  Not Shiphrah.  Not Puah.  These ladies said, “We would rather face Pharaoh and disobey him than face our God and disobey Him.”  So they chose not to obey and the children of Israel continued to grow. 

The Bible is filled with examples of individuals who walked in the steps of Shiphrah and Puah, who disobeyed human authority when human authority called upon them to disobey God.  In the Bible we are told very clearly that we're to obey our authorities but it is not a blanket submission.  There is an exception.  In Acts 5 we see Peter and the apostles who have been arrested for preaching about Jesus.  They've been beaten, thrown into prison and told, “You are not to preach about Jesus ever again.”  Jesus Himself was the one that commanded Peter and John and the apostles to go into the world and preach the gospel so they can't obey the orders of their Jewish leaders.  Instead, they continue to preach and they're brought before their authorities again who question them.  Notice how Peter responds,

“Peter and the apostles answered and said, we must obey God rather than man.”

It's very simple.  We are to always obey our authority unless by obeying our authority it causes us to disobey God.  That's the principle.  If you go back to the book of Daniel, you are introduced to three young men -- Meshach, Shadrach and Abednego.  King Nebuchadnezzar orders that at the sound of the music everyone is to bow down and worship the idol and Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego refuse to do it because God said, “You shall have no other gods before Me.”  The king brings them in and says, “Don't you realize by not doing this I can throw you in the fiery furnace?”  Look how they respond. 

“Meshach, Shadrach and Abednego answered and said to the king, ‘Oh Nebuchadnezzar, we do not need to give you an answer concerning this matter.  If it be so, our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the furnace of blazing fire, but even if He does not, let it be known to you, O King, we are not going to serve your gods or worship the golden image that you have set up.’”

They say, “Sorry, King, we can't obey you because to obey you, we'd have to disobey our God.”  Notice another important principle that we see.  When you're put in the position that you have to choose to disobey a human authority because by obeying that authority you would be disobeying God, you must be willing to pay the consequences.  Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego were and they were thrown in the fiery furnace as a result.  God ultimately saved them but they were willing to pay the consequences. 

Notice one more example.  In Daniel 6, Daniel is told that he can't pray.  Daniel knows that to obey that command he'd have to disobey God so he prays anyway and he's thrown into the lion's den.  The next morning the king, who has a hunch that Daniel's God will save him, runs down to the lion’s den. 

“The king arose at dawn at the break of the day.  He went in haste to the lion's den.  The king spoke and said to Daniel, Daniel, servant of the living God has your God whom you constantly serve been able to deliver you from the lions?”

I love Daniel's answer.  God did deliver him and Daniel responds and says, “O King, live forever!”  Here’s another principle to remember.  Even when Daniel is forced to disobey his authority, because by obeying his authority he would be disobeying God, he still does so with respect.  If the king threw me in the lion's den and God sent an angel and saved me and the next morning the king showed up, I'd say something like, “Ha, sucker!  It didn't work!”  I love how Daniel responds, “O King, live forever.” 

These examples are not teaching that any time you disagree with an authority you can disobey them.  The Bible doesn't say that.  The Bible doesn't say, “Submit to your authorities unless you disagree with them.”  The Bible doesn't say, “Submit to your authorities unless you don't like them.”  The Bible says, “Submit to your authorities unless their command would cause you to disobey God if you did it.” 

In the 48 years that I have been alive I can only think of one time in my life when I was put in that kind of a situation.  I was a kid playing little league baseball.  I wasn't very good.  I had a lifetime batting average of .034.  If you know anything about baseball, you know how rotten that is.  Our team was going down to the building where they had all the uniforms and equipment to pick up our gear.  Every team got so much equipment.  You could buy additional equipment if you desired.  As we were walking through the facility, my assistant coach looked at me and pointed at a doughnut.  In baseball, that's not something you eat.  A doughnut is a weight with a hole in it that you put on the bat as you're warming up.  He pointed to the doughnut and he said to me, “They have more of those than they need.  Put it in your bag.” 

What in essence did my assistant coach tell me to do?  He was telling me to steal the doughnut.  If I obeyed him, who would I be disobeying?  I would have been disobeying God.  As a result, my answer should have been, “Sorry, Coach, but I fear God more than I fear you.  I can't do that.”  Instead, I took the doughnut as instructed and put it in my bag.  Someone caught me.  I got in big trouble and when I told them that the assistant coach told me to do it, he denied the whole thing. 

My point is simply that in our culture (at least today) this is not a common occurrence.  In 48 years I've only been put in this position one time where to obey an authority, I would have to disobey God.  I think sometimes we're way too good about rationalizing away why it's okay to disobey authorities we don't like and don't agree with. 

When I was a youth pastor I was trying to teach this principle to my teenagers so one night at youth group I put white papers all over the walls of the youth room and I said, “I want to make a list of every dumb rule that you have to obey.  Let's start with your parent's rules.  I want you to tell me every dumb rule your parents have and we're going to write them on the walls.”  We filled those white papers and a lot of those rules, frankly, did seem pretty dumb.

I then said, “Now let's go to your school.  Let's list all the dumb rules that you have to follow at school.”  We listed many more.  Then I said, “How about youth group?  What are some dumb rules I have as a youth pastor that you have to obey?”  We had the walls filled with these rules.

I then gave each student a marker and said, “I want you to go up to the walls and I want you to star any of these hundreds of dumb rules that if you obeyed them you would have to disobey God.”  Not one rule got a star next to it.  Even though some of them were really dumb rules, and even though these students didn't agree with or like them, none of the rules would have caused them to disobey God by doing it.  We are called upon in Scripture to submit to our authorities with an attitude of respect unless obeying a command of our authority would cause us to disobey God.  That's what happened to Shiphrah and Puah.

Over time, Pharaoh realizes that his command was not followed and he questions the midwives saying, “Why do I still see baby boys?  How come you haven't done what I told you?”  They respond in verse 19.

“The midwives said to Pharaoh, ‘Because the Hebrew women are not as the Egyptian women for they are vigorous and they give birth before the midwives can even get there.’”

I can't help but laugh when I read that verse.  I think the thing that makes me laugh the most is that Pharaoh bought it!  They're saying, “Pharaoh, you know we tried but you have to understand that Egyptian women, they take a long time to get that baby out, but not those Hebrews.  Boom-boom-pop and there it is.  It’s all over before we even get there.” 

Now, in essence what did they do?  They lied.  We could talk about situational ethics all day long.  We could bring up all kinds of examples and give all kinds of explanations as to why this might have been a justifiable lie.  But when I look at scripture I see very clearly the principle that God hates a lying tongue.  I really do believe that God could have protected these midwives even if they would have told the truth.  I just wish that we as Christians would be as zealous to find ways to obey God as we are to find ways to get around His commands.  Notice, though, that God still rewards these midwives.  Look at the consequence that they face in verse 20. 

“So God was good to the midwives and the people multiplied and became very mighty and it came about because the midwives feared God that He established households for them.”

Nowhere in the text does it say He rewarded them for lying.  He rewarded them because they feared God more than they feared man, seen by their refusing to obey Pharaoh.  As a result, He gives them households.  If you go back and read the ancient literature, it appears that for the most part in that culture, that midwives were barren.  Barren women became midwives.  Women who couldn't give birth became midwives to help others give birth.  Chances are really good that Shiphrah and Puah were barren women and as a result of their willingness to obey God, even though the king had given them a command, God allows them to have families of their own. 

For Pharaoh, however, his problem continues to increase.  The children of Israel continue to grow and Pharaoh’s fear continues to escalate.  Now, instead of an ‘under the radar’ command to the midwives, he gives a public decree to the masses.  Notice the order he gives to the masses in verse 22. 

“Then Pharaoh commanded all his people saying, every son who's born, you are to cast into the Nile River and every daughter you are to keep alive.”

Pharaoh now gets aggressive.  He escalates his brutality.  He gives a public decree to every Egyptian in the land that whenever a Jewish baby boy is born into the world, they are rip that baby out of the arms of its mother and throw it into the Nile River to drown it.  It's hard to estimate how many thousands of Jewish baby boys were thrown into the Nile River but many of them were.  It's that culture into which Moses is born.  It's that scenario that's going to make the birth of Moses unbelievably miraculous. 

Keep in mind that back in Genesis 15 God made a promise to Abraham about 450 years before Moses was born.  

“God said to Abraham, ‘Know for certain that your descendants will be strangers in a land that is not theirs (the land of Egypt) where they will be enslaved and oppressed for 400 years (and they were), but I will judge the nation whom they serve and afterward your descendants will come out of Egypt with many possessions.”

That's what's ultimately is going to happen.  The children of Israel living in misery for 400 years as slaves with baby boys being drown in the Nile River will ultimately leave that time of slavery with 2 million plus people and many possessions on their backs and animals.  It didn't matter how powerful Pharaoh was, he couldn't thwart the plan of God.  It doesn't matter how powerful man thinks he is, man cannot thwart the plan of God.  It doesn't matter how powerful Satan thinks he is, Satan cannot thwart the plan of our God.  And that's what the story of Moses is going to show us in amazing, vibrant color.   

1 comment:

jackie said...

Amen! :)4