August 8, 2021
Order of Worship:
This week we’re beginning a new series, which we’re calling Exodus: Journey to Deliverance. The narrative of the Exodus, God’s liberation of the Israelites from slavery in Egypt and their journey to the Promised Land, is one of the most significant in scripture. It shaped the identity of the Jewish people, and of Jesus himself, in fundamental ways, and this story still has so much to teach us as modern Christians about the ways God works in the world to champion the oppressed and seek justice. As we enter into this story, we pray the Spirit would open our hearts to the lessons of the Word:
- The second book of the Bible begins by giving the reader a transition from what came before. Genesis told the stories of the patriarchs and matriarchs, and now we will see that family grow into a nation. God is going to keep his promise to Abraham, that his descendants ‘shall outnumber the stars.’ Go back and read Genesis 15; how does this set up the story for what is about to come in Exodus? Verse 7: “The Israelites were fruitful and prolific; they multiplied and grew exceedingly strong, so that the land was filled with them.” How big is your extended family? How do you stay connected to them; are there some you’re closer to than others? What role does your family play in giving you a sense of identity and who you are in relationship to them and others?
- “Now a new king arose over Egypt who did not know Joseph” (verse 8). The new pharaoh (who is never named in the Exodus text, more on that later) has no relationship with the people of Israel, no memory of how Joseph had helped interpret dreams and manage years of rich harvests to sustain the Egyptians through a famine. Rather than see the presence of strong neighbors in their midst as a benefit, he sees them only as a threat. Can you think of any echoes of Pharaoh’s language in some of the rhetoric we hear today about immigrants; does “they’re going to overwhelm us and take our jobs” sound anything like “they will increase and fight against us” (verse 10)? How might the story have gone if Pharaoh had approached them as a people to be partners with, to use their strength and gifts to better the whole community, to build something together rather than by force on the backs of others? Why does having a relationship with someone make all the difference? What is our role today in building those relationships with ‘strangers’ and recognizing the gifts of others so that the whole community benefits?
- Fundamentally, Pharaoh sees the Israelites as a threat because he is afraid. There is often a connection between our fear and our anger, our fear and what we’re willing to do to exert some sense of ‘control’ over our circumstances or other people. Humans are still like animals in many ways; as my grandfather used to say, “When you corner a wildcat, that’s when they get dangerous and mean.” Pharaoh’s fear prompts him to enslave a people, to be “ruthless in imposing tasks on the Israelites, and made their lives bitter with hard service in mortar and brick and in every kind of field labor” (verse 14), even to commit genocide. One of the most repeated commands in the Bible is “Don’t be afraid” (it appears over 140 times in the Old and New Testaments!). It’s important to ask ourselves, what are we afraid of? Why are we afraid? Are there decisions we’ve made or actions we’ve taken that came from a place of fear? How have we tried to exert control over something (or someone) we can’t; and how can we release that desire to God?
- At the heart of this story, you have Pharaoh’s fear compared to the Midwives who “feared God” (verse 17). It is always significant when the Biblical authors give us the names of women because that is frequently not the case (and here they are given a sense of honor and dignity that even the king of Egypt is not!). Yes, Moses is the hero of the Exodus story, the greatest prophet, who will lead the people and convey God’s law; but without the women of these first two chapters – the midwives’ faithful work, a mother entrusting her child to God’s protection in a basket, a sister who keeps watch at the river bank, and Pharaoh’s own daughter who has a compassionate heart – Moses wouldn’t be around to liberate the people. Shiphrah and Puah are heroes with great courage, conviction, and integrity, the predecessors of Esther who will also save the nation of Israel. Why is it important to highlight these Biblical stories of faithful women along with the male heroes of the narrative? What can we learn from the example of Shiphrah and Puah that is worth teaching our daughters and our sons? Shiphrah and Puah have been identified as the first users of nonviolent protest, the first act of civil disobedience we see in scripture – not doing what Pharaoh commanded, which could have resulted in cruel punishment; has there been a time in your life when you were moved to stand up for what you believed, even at risk to yourself?
I pray we are all inspired by the story of Shiphrah and Puah this week! There are more lessons of the Exodus story to come soon!
Shalom, Pastor Maggie Rust