Exodus Lesson 2 - Faith and a Wicker Basket
Moses was the most important figure in Jewish history. Not only did God use him to deliver the Jews from Egypt, but God used Moses as a mediator between Him and His people. But before Moses was talking to burning bushes and delivering stone tablets, he was a helpless baby in a floating crib. His mother's faith and courage saved his life.
“FAITH . . . AND A WICKER BASKET”
Moses was born at a time that could be characterized as the darkest era in Hebrew history. If you were with us last Sunday, as we started our journey through the book of Exodus, you may turn there now and notice the 22nd verse of chapter 1. Pharaoh has just decreed that all of the male children will be cast into the Nile river as an act of religious duty to the great god, the Nile. This wasn’t just considered murder; this was justified, in their minds, as being something that would give allegiance to their god by a people who had ignored their god, the Nile. And it says, in verse 22, that, “Pharaoh commanded all his people, saying, ‘Every son who is born you are to cast into the Nile, and every daughter you are to keep alive.’” So here we are in a period of Hebrew history where the birth of a Hebrew child would normally bring about great celebration and rejoicing. They would spread the news, far and near, that a Hebrew boy, that they had been given, in their family, the joy of another son of Abraham, who would help that line that would, ultimately, bring about the Messiah. But now, in this era, when a Hebrew boy was born, there was terror and fear and the thought of loss. It was kept secret in hopes that the Egyptian prowlers and those spies among the Hebrews themselves would not discover that their baby was a little boy, hoping that he would live. And it is in this chapter, when it seems that oppression is at it’s worst, when Pharaoh has issued an extermination edict, that God is beginning His plan of emancipation.
Thus we begin chapter 2. Read with me. Verse 1, “Now a man from the house of Levi went and married a daughter of Levi.” Now the story here is written by Moses and he begins with his own birth. It would imply that he is the firstborn, which he is not. We’ll learn later, in the book, that there were two other children born to this couple. There was a daughter, Miriam, who, perhaps, was seven or eight years old, during this episode in chapter 2. He also has an older brother, three years older than him, we know as Aaron. They’re unnamed here. In fact, the story seems to indicate that Moses came along first. We would know by comparing scripture that he doesn’t.
Verse 2, “And the woman conceived and bore a son;” - usually that would bring rejoicing, now it brings fear - “and when she saw that he was beautiful, she hid him for three months.” We need to take this verse apart so we can understand the context of what’s happening here. Acts, chapter 7, will tell us that she and her husband saw that he was beautiful. They were both people of faith. In fact, they, together, conspired to hide the child. The word “beautiful” would indicate that they decided, because their baby boy was so handsome, that they would allow him to live. That seems a little inconsistent simply because every parent considers their baby boy to be handsome, even though you and I know that’s not true. Right? At least, it was for us but I don’t know about you! Well, it wasn’t just because they thought, “Oh, this is such a pretty boy, we don’t want to cast him into the Nile.” Acts, chapter 7, says that, “he was lovely in the sight of God”. Now while the text doesn’t give us any inclination of what happened, we know that they had faith because Hebrews, chapter 11, says, “By faith Moses, . . . was hidden”. “Faith comes from hearing, and hearing by the word of Christ.” So we can only assume that somewhere, in this birthing room as they viewed their newborn baby boy, that God gave some sort of revelation that this boy had a destiny. “He was beautiful to Me,” God taught them. He would, in fact, become the redeemer of Israel.
Now, we would note, even further in Acts, chapter 7, we won’t turn there, but it tells the story of how Moses slew that Egyptian soldier. You remember how he was beating one of the Hebrews? And Moses comes along and he decides now is the time to implement the rebellion. And so, he strikes that Egyptian down. But, the text says, that when the Hebrews rejected Moses, that Moses said, “he supposed that his brethren understood that” - he was the redeemer. Where did he get that idea? Did it come to him in the night? No. It probably came from a mother and a father who told him, as a little boy, that, “God has a destiny for you and you will lead the people out.” The prophet said, in Genesis, chapter 15, that “My people will be subjugated to Egypt for four hundred years.” At his birth, it had been 350 years. It all fit. Moses was the boy who would grow up to lead them out.
And Amram and Jochebed, from some kind of revelation, learned that. And so, they decided, by faith, because he was beautiful unto God, that they would hide him. And, it says, specifically that, “she hid him for three months.” And I’ve kind of got to scratch my head here because I can’t imagine concealing a baby boy for three months. It’s hard to do for three hours but I can’t imagine three months. Now, perhaps, they put him off or, if they had the tradition then that I’m sure they didn’t, maybe they dressed him in pink, telling everybody this was really a little girl. I don’t know what they did but, somehow or another, they played him off to those who knew as a girl, perhaps? We had twin boys born my last semester of seminary. And it used to be so irritating to me because they were fraternal and they looked rather different. But, one of the boys has very fine features, long lashes at birth and a beautiful little face. Of course that’s my bias again, understand. But, we’d be pushing them along in the mall and we’d have somebody come up and say, “Oh my, twins. Aren’t they beautiful. Let’s see, this must be the boy and isn’t that a sweet little girl.” And I’d be, you know . . . If you don’t know the sex of the baby, never guess. Because if it’s a boy and you say that it’s a girl, that Dad’s going to be worried. And, if it’s a girl and you say, “Oh, what a handsome boy,” the Mom’s worried. Well, at this time, and I don’t know how they did it, but somehow they concealed him, somehow they fooled everyone for three months. Perhaps they dug an underground room, put a loft in their hut, somehow keeping him quiet, as quiet as they could, which I can’t imagine.
But, at the end of three months, the text tells us that, “she could hide him no longer”. So, she comes up with this plan. And, I think, Amram probably designed that little boat. But it says, “she got a wicker basket and covered it over with tar and pitch.” Pitch would be the bitumen, that was a plant that they believed would repel the crocodile. And so, the vessels were usually coated with bitumen. The Nile was infested by the servants of the Nile god, the crocodile. And so, as she designed or, perhaps, put this thing together with Amram working out in the field, Jochebed designed this little boat and she made it just as water tight as she could possibly make it. And, “Then she put the child into it,” - verse 3 - “and set it among the reeds by the bank of the Nile.” You ought to underline, in your text, the word “set.” You may have the idea that this is an act of sheer foolishness, where she just puts the little boat into the water and says, “God help you.” You know, “I’m going to trust God for this and I’ll let Him do all of the details.” No. She took every possible occasion to make sure that this boy would survive.
And we often learn from the archeologists and one of the things that we have learned is that the daughter of the Pharaohs often had their own housing and it would usually be by the Nile. You see, the Nile was considered a fertility giver. That’s why they would often sacrifice children to the Nile, in hopes that the Nile god would give them many more. And what will happen here is best understood in context. But, let’s take a note at verse 4, before we get too far. “And his sister” - that’s Miriam, a seven-year-old - “stood at a distance to find out what would happen to him.” And here’s what happened, “the daughter of Pharaoh” - that we know who’s name was Merri - “came down to bathe at the Nile, with her maidens walking alongside the Nile”. This was not a bath where she took a bar of soap and decided that she needed to be clean and so she headed down to the Nile. Being the daughter of Pharaoh, she would have marble encased baths, she would have had the most luxurious surroundings with attendants to bathe her. But, this was a religious ritual. If the archeologists chronology is correct, this woman was yet childless and she believed, as all Egyptians believed, that, if they washed or bathed, ritualistically, in the Nile, the waters of their fertility god would give them many children. And so, what she is doing here is, not bathing herself to clean herself but, she is going down and sprinkling herself with water, hoping that the god would be favorable to her and give her a child. Isn’t it interesting that there is only one person, in all of the kingdom, who could override the edict of the Pharaoh and save Moses’s life, only one person, the daughter of Pharaoh. Now, don’t think, for a moment, that Jochebed and Amram didn’t know that. And, don’t think, for a moment, that they didn’t recognize the fact that she was without child and, perhaps, very sympathetic to having a child. You see, this is faith in action that combines all that they could do to help their boy survive. And it says that, “she . . . set it among the reeds” - she carefully marked out the spot, she placed it just there where she knew Pharaoh’s daughter would come down in this ritual bath.
And, it is there that Pharaoh’s daughter notices the little basket. “She saw the basket among the reeds and sent her maid, and she brought it to her. When she opened it” - and that’s where J. Vernon McGee said that God pitched Moses - “she saw the child, and” - “look,” or - “behold, the boy was crying.” I don’t think it was the kind of cry that irritates. I think it was the little whimper that brings sympathy. My daughter has it mastered. It doesn’t affect her mother but it really gets me. It’s that little whimper that you just, you know, can’t turn away from. And, I think, as she lifted the lid on that little boat, Moses whimpered and began to cry, perhaps, blinking his eyes at the sun that was now full force in his face. And God brought together, at that moment, a baby’s cry and a woman’s heart. And Pharaoh’s daughter found him irresistible.
Now, other texts, extra-biblical texts, suggests that, at that moment, she began thinking, with her maidens, “Who can nurse this boy?” Obviously a Hebrew child, the text tells us. And they went around the circle, trying to decide who could take care of this boy and nurse him and they couldn’t find anyone and, it was at that moment, that plan A went into action. Notice what happened. Verse 7, “Then” - Miriam, at that particular time - “said to Pharaoh’s daughter, ‘Shall I go and call a nurse for you from the Hebrew women, that she may nurse the child for you?’” Now, here again, don’t think that this whole story rests upon the ingenuity of a eight-year-old child, who came up with the clever thought, when this whole thing began to develop, “Oh, I know, I’ll suggest that I get a Hebrew maid and I’ll go home and get Mom.” Absolutely not. They had this thing planned to the most minute detail. Miriam was sent along to watch and she was instructed that, if Pharaoh’s daughter didn’t cast that baby into the water of the Nile, but yet, seemed sympathetic, to wait until just the right time and dash in there and say, “Can I get a maid for you?” And she had her lines memorized. Man, I can imagine Jochebed, back at the hut, hoping that Miriam remembered her lines and said them just right. I love watching the faces of parents when children are in a play or singing and they’ve got a solo part. Mom and Dad don’t enjoy it a bit. You can watch their faces. I was reading, this past week, of a little boy who was in a Sunday school play. And he got on stage and he saw the crowd and he forgot his lines. And his mother was right on the front row and she begins to gesture wildly and she’s so frightened and she’s mouthing the words, “I am the light of the world. I am the light of the world.” And, finally, the boy, with great confidence, said, “My Mother is the light of the world.” I have a very good feeling that they had planned and rehearsed and rehearsed again, “Now, Miriam, what are you going to say? Here are the words, ‘Shall I call, for you, a maid from among the Hebrews to nurse this child.’” What a plan.
Now, you need to understand, as well, before we go any further, that, up to this point, all of the characters in this play are nameless. We won’t learn the names of Mom and Dad until later, sister, until later. We’ll never learn, other than extra-biblical resources, the name of Pharaoh’s daughter. And, it has been suggested, and I would agree, that the point that God, I think, is giving to us, as He made into scripture this account, is that He is the primary actor, He is in total control. And, I don’t think He wants the focus of that spotlight away from anything other than His plan, His sovereign decree. And, as we watch this thing develop, we may come away with the idea, “Wasn’t Jochebed clever? Wasn’t Miriam really sharp? Wasn’t it something the way they were able to persuade Pharaoh . . .” No, none of that. God is at work. Around that little basket, floating in the reeds of the Nile, is the shield of God’s purpose. Even in the height of pain and difficulty, God had a plan. It would be 80 years before it was developed. And for most people, they would wonder if God was alive. Yet, God was at work. That same shield is around every one of our lives. It is the shield of God’s divine plan and purpose. I think, perhaps, they are left unnamed, maybe that is best understood by the monument of John Wesley, a man who was greatly used of God. On his monument, in Westminster Abbey, he had inscribed on his tombstone these words, “God buries the workman, and carries on His work.” Let’s not come away from this study with our eyes tuned on people but on a sovereign God.
Let’s note what happens next. Let’s start with verse 6. “When she opened it, she saw the child, and behold, the boy was crying. And she had 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 a nurse for you from the Hebrew women, that she may nurse the child for you?’” And don’t think for a moment that Pharaoh’s daughter didn’t get the plot. She knew. “And Pharaoh’s daughter said to her, ‘Go ahead.’ So the girl went and called the child’s mother.” I imagine that Jochebed gave it away when she came up to the bank of the Nile and with trembling hands reached out to get her son back. They knew what was going on. But, somehow, God had moved in the heart of Pharaoh’s daughter to accept it and to override the edict of her cruel father and to allow this boy to live. So Jochebed took that little boy home and nursed him, perhaps, for a period of three to four years, until he was fully trained, did she keep him. And so, God used the daughter of a Pharaoh to adopt the child, to protect the child.
Let’s look at what happens next. ‘Then Pharaoh’s daughter” - verse 9 - “said to her, ‘Take this child away and nurse him for me and I shall give you your wages.’” Imagine that, Moms, being paid for raising your children! Wouldn’t that be wonderful? “So the woman took the child and nursed him. And the child grew, and” - note this - “she brought him to Pharaoh’s daughter” - that is, she kept her word. Pharaoh’s daughter didn’t have to send a legion of soldiers to get that baby boy. This, in fact, was another great act of faith on the part of Jochebed. She had entrusted the life of her son, not understanding how it would all work out, but she brought him to her. Can you imagine that with me? Jochebed, perhaps, kneeling in reverence to the daughter of Pharaoh and holding her baby boy up, unable to give full vent to the plot and tell her, “This is my son. Please, may I keep him?” She gave him to Pharaoh’s daughter. What faith. What trust.
Verse 10, “And the child grew, and she brought him to Pharaoh’s daughter, and he became her son. And she named him Moses” - did you get that? Pharaoh’s daughter was the one who gave him the name “Mosheh,” “Mo” meaning “son,” “sheh” meaning “to draw out.” She says, “This is my son whom” - “I drew him out of the water.” Perhaps he was not named as part of the plot. If they had named him a boys named, maybe they would have slipped and given away the secret that this was a boy. So no name had been given. Pharaoh’s daughter would give him a name.
Now, let’s draw the strings together and let me give you, by way of application, three things about faith, as evidenced in their lives. First, faith benefits those who live closest to us. And let me tell you what I mean by that. There are at least three things that are results of the faith of Amram and Jochebed. The first is that Jochebed was now able to stay home and raise her children. Because of the edict, they had been forced out. Because of that edict, they had been sent to labor camps. Perhaps their children tagging along with them out in the field as they worked, forced to work themselves. But, because of this act, she was given the great benefit of being able to stay home and raise her children.
Do you know, ladies and gentlemen, I really believe, in the twentieth century, as in this day, it is going to take more and more a declaration of faith for Moms to remain at home. In 1950, there were only twelve percent of mothers who were at work. In 1987, that figure had risen to fifty percent. And they are saying, in the next five years, eighty percent of all moms will be at work. The tragic tale of that is the statistic that, now, more than ten million children are being raised by someone else. TEN MILLION children! My heart grieves for ten million children. Now, I recognize that there are instances where a Mom must work and my heart, in sympathy, goes out to every single Mom who has the burden of raising her children and providing for them. But my heart has little sympathy and I do not think it’s appropriate when a man and a woman decide, volitionally, for the sake of social advancement, for the sake of purchasing things, we will give our child to someone else. God help us. There is a feminist lie out there that tells our women of today and our young people, that for a woman to be fulfilled, there must be a career outside the home. I can’t help but think that because of this faith, Jochebed was able to take Moses and raise him and train him. You know what’s interesting in this text? There isn’t any mention of Amram even being in the home. Perhaps, he was part of a labor camp group that was out working in the fields. And God, in a sense, is emphasizing for us the fact that nothing can replace the need of a mother. Where did Moses learn the covenant given to his forefather Abraham? Where did he get the idea that he was the redeemer? Where did he learn such truths that one day he would forsake Egypt for a people he rarely knew? How? Why? I believe it’s because, in the early days in his home, his mother instructed him and trained him and taught him. Not only Moses, but Aaron and his sister Miriam, who together, all three, would be instrumental in leading the people out of Egypt.
There may be instances where work is necessary. In fact, I come from a home where my mother had to work. It was their conviction that all of us boys attend a Christian school and, on a missionary salary it was impossible to send us all. And so, when our fourth, my youngest brother, enrolled in kindergarten, my mother began working. She chose to work at the school where we attended, as one of the maids. I am deeply grateful for that. I was never embarrassed, in any way, that she was a maid. In fact, by that time, I was in fifth grade and really had the inside scoop because, just before gym class, when all of the other guys were scrounging around for a fresh pair of socks and the gym basket(?) that we had to wear, I’d slip down to the maid’s room and my mother would give me a fresh pair right out of the dryer. Man, I was the envy of that class! And I appreciate their conviction too. But, ladies and gentlemen, it is time that somebody had the guts to stand up and it must be you. The sweep of our culture is tearing the family apart and it is telling us a message that, to really be happy, we must have things. It may be a house or a car or clothing. And I challenge you to check out your motivation, if you may be a working Mom with children yet out of school.
One of the other things about faith that strikes me, from this passage, is that faith, obviously, affects decisions that surround us. Faith affects decisions, or it should, that surround us. And I come away with a question. Does my faith in God demand honesty and integrity? Does my faith in God shape my vocabulary? Does my faith, does your faith in God keep you in the front seat on a date? Does your faith in God guide your hand as you fill out an expense report? Does your faith in God work? Is it alive? George Gallop Jr. said these words that have struck my heart. He wrote this, “Never before, in the history of America, has Christianity gained such popularity and made so many inroads, while at the same time, making so little difference.” Why? It is because the faith, that we claim to have, does not impact our lives. They made a strategic decision. Amram and Jochebed, housing a Hebrew boy, could have lost their lives. And yet, their conviction declared that they would obey God. And their child would live. And because of that, their decisions were shaped on the basis of faith.
Let me give you one more and it is this, faith impacts, and I love this, faith impacts people who are observing us. You have no idea, on the job, in the neighborhood, who is watching you. Perhaps, no thought that someone has been keeping their eye on you and they’ve noticed there is something about you. You make them thirsty for something and they don’t know what. You’re a source of conviction and they can’t understand why. But it is your faith in God that’s alive.
One of the greatest parts of this story is what would happen some fifty years later. We have learned that the daughter of Pharaoh’s name was Merri. And there have been discoveries of Appalachians with the daughter of Pharaoh’s name being found and discovered at this time. We, from Rabbinical traditions and stories carried down through the Hebrews who, obviously honored this woman, and kept her story alive. Her name was changed to Bithia, which means “daughter of Jehovah.” Something occurred and the text doesn’t really tell us. We wish we had all of the details but, somewhere, she decided, along with her son, Moses, that she would no longer be the daughter of Pharaoh but she would become the daughter of Jehovah, or Yahweh. There is a very rare passage of scripture that is often overlooked. I want you to find it because I want you to see it for yourself. I Chronicles, just head toward the book of Psalms. I Chronicles, if it’s any help, it’s the book just before II Chronicles. I Chronicles, chapter 4, where the pages stick together. Would you look with me at verse 17? And, I want you to hold on to your hat, with the implication involved. Verse 17 of I Chronicles, chapter 4, “And the sons of Ezrah” - these were Hebrews that came out of the Exodus - “were Jether, Mered, Epher, and Jalon. (And these are the sons of Bithia the daughter of Pharaoh, whom Mered took)”. Did you catch that? The daughter of Pharaoh left, during the Exodus, with the people of Israel. She took a Hebrew husband and she bore children. She had turned her back on her home country. Her faith had been brought alive by the faith of those that she had seen and observed. You know, it’s interesting, as a sidelight, that she bears a firstborn daughter. You notice what she names her? “Miriam”. What a day that must have been as the people of Israel exited Egypt and among them, we already know, were many Egyptians who had become proselytes of God. And, in that company, was a woman who was, none other than, the daughter of Pharaoh. Why? How did that come about? She had observed, in the life of these Hebrew children, a faith in God that would not break them, a faith that would allow her adopted son to turn his back and, perhaps, in lengthy discussion with her, explain, “I must follow God.” And she said, “I’ve got to have that.” And she became a follower of Jehovah as well.
My dear friend, does your faith benefit those that live closest to you? Does your faith affect decisions that you make, your lifestyle? Does your faith impact those who are observing you? Is our faith alive? Let’s pray.
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