Series: Becoming the People of God
Sermon #2: Moses, Prince of Egypt
By: Donnell Wyche
Surveying the Landscape
We are in part two of our fall sermon series, Becoming the People of God – From Slavery to Freedom.
More Disobedient Women Because God Blesses the Disobedient
Last week we left off in our story in Exodus with the midwives, who through civil disobedience activated their prophetic imagination in resisting Pharaoh’s command that they participate in genocide by killing all Hebrew boys.
As we make our way to Exodus 2, there’s a continuation of the theme of disobedient women, women who fear God more than they fear the Empire. After Pharaoh failed to convince the midwives to join his demonic plans, he issued a decree to all his people:
22“Every Hebrew boy that is born you must throw into the Nile, but let every girl live.” (Exodus 1:22)
Yet, the resistance continues; this time it’s the partnership of two unlikely women, one, a daughter of Israel, and the other, a daughter of Egypt.
Now a man of the house of Levi married a Levite woman, 2and she became pregnant and gave birth to a son. When she saw that he was a fine child, she hid him for three months. 3But when she could hide him no longer, she got a papyrus basket for him and coated it with tar and pitch. Then she placed the child in it and put it among the reeds along the bank of the Nile. (Exodus 2:1-3)
A Levite woman, Jochebed, hides her son until it’s too late. Instead of waiting for someone to come for her son, she takes matters into her own hands and builds an ark [a reference that this story is a continuation of a story already in progress]. She constructs a basket, and coats it with tar, in the hopes that someone will discover this ark and receive and nurture the life within it.
I’m reading now from Exodus chapter 2, verse 4:
4His sister [Miriam] stood at a distance to see what would happen to him. 5Then Pharaoh’s daughter went down to the Nile to bathe, and her attendants were walking along the riverbank. She saw the basket among the reeds and sent her female slave to get it. 6She opened it and saw the baby. He was crying, and she felt sorry for him. “This is one of the Hebrew babies,” she said. (Exodus 2:4-6)
Jochebed is joined by her daughter Miriam in her scheme for life. Miriam watches nearby the basket to see what will happen. A daughter of Egypt discovered the child, identifies him as a Hebrew, and faces a choice: obey her father’s command and participate in genocide or resist.
Now watch the most shocking part of this resistance — Miriam arranges for Jochebed, the child’s mother, to become his wet nurse. And she gets paid to do it. This is a bonus, thrown in for good measure, what some might describe as God’s blessing. Jochebed just wanted her child to live, but the mercy of God gives her extra time with her child, more time to bond, to connect, more time for hope to develop.
7Then his sister asked Pharaoh’s daughter, “Shall I go and get one of the Hebrew women to nurse the baby for you?” 8“Yes, go,” she answered. And the girl went and got the baby’s mother. 9Pharaoh’s daughter said to her, “Take this baby and nurse him for me, and I will pay you.” So the woman took the baby and nursed him. 10When the child grew older, she took him to Pharaoh’s daughter and he became her son. She named him Moses, saying, “I drew him out of the water.” (Exodus 2:1-10)
Pharaoh’s daughter resists the Empire, her own father, by choosing compassion. Pay attention to the ways the Empire tells you not to be compassionate. The ways that the Empire tells you to deny mercy. The goal of Empire is to break intimacy, to break our connection and bonds between each other, to get us to stop caring for, loving, supporting, and looking out for each other. Empire wants to convince us that there isn’t enough, “Hoard, so you have enough,” because when there’s not enough, we won’t see each other as participating in the shared humanity. We will see each other as competing for scarce resources forcing us to believe that our gains come from your losses. This is a part of the demonization and dehumanization campaign of Empire. Pay attention to who you are being told to ignore, whose suffering you are being told isn’t valid, whose story you should ignore. Pay attention to the ways that the Empire tells you to believe that someone deserves this or that. We are biologically wired to be compassionate; in order to be indifferent or cruel, we have to train ourselves to ignore our biological prompts for compassion. It’s almost as if God wired us for love, compassion, and mercy anything else is against our nature.
In our story, the activation of compassion changes this individual child’s life, but this compassion has legs as it also contributes to the liberation of a nation from their oppression.
Justice without Mercy is Tyranny
There’s this question in the text that isn’t easily answered, “Why does Pharaoh allow Moses to become a prince of Egypt?” Moses should have been one of those drowned babies in Nile. After being returned to Pharaoh’s daughter, she raises Moses as her own son. What’s going on here? I want to offer that it’s a continuation of compassion. Maybe better understood as a father’s heart for his child; in this case, Pharaoh’s love and kindness towards his daughter. But like every adopted child, Moses wants to know where he’s come from, so he journeys to Goshen to see his people. What he discovers there disturbs him. While he has benefited from the enslavement of his own people, when he witnesses their treatment, he uses his power and acts.
11One day, after Moses had grown up, he went out to where his own people were and watched them at their hard labor. He saw an Egyptian beating a Hebrew, one of his own people. 12Glancing this way and that and seeing no one, he killed the Egyptian and hid him in the sand.
It struck me that Moses suddenly realizes the world in which he lives–almost as if he been sleepwalking through life. As a prince of Egypt, Moses had freedom, access to material comfort, and education.
As you read the text with me, ask yourself a question, “What prompted Moses interest in the plight of his people, the Hebrews?”
What caused Moses to leave the palace and travel to Goshen that day? And when he got there, what did he think he was going to discover? Maybe he told himself a story about the plight of his people; he knew he was a Hebrew, but maybe he thought their lives weren’t so bad. So when he witnesses for himself the injustice, the disregard for their humanity, the pain, and suffering, he acted. He acted impulsively, using his freedom, his anger, and his understanding of injustice. This executed justice, but his justice lacked mercy, which is a form of tyranny. That’s what we see here. Maybe he acted because he thought it would carry favor with this people. Maybe the people would welcome him as a savior, but he’d been raised a prince of Egypt.
13The next day he went out and saw two Hebrews fighting. He asked the one in the wrong, “Why are you hitting your fellow Hebrew?” 14The man said, “Who made you ruler and judge over us? Are you thinking of killing me as you killed the Egyptian?” Then Moses was afraid and thought, “What I did must have become known.” (Exodus 2:13-14)
Like Moses, none of us are born awake; we wake up the reality of the world in which we live. Often there’s something that wakes us up and once awake, it’s hard to go to sleep again. As we become aware of injustice like Moses did, some of us will struggle with what to do. I’ve suggested on multiple occasions that Moses would have been served by having a spiritual director, someone he could talk with about what he was experiencing, what was happening in his life. His spiritual director might have helped him come to grips with the social context of his life, the juxtaposition of his emerging identity as a Hebrew, and his lived experience as a prince of Egypt. Engaging a spiritual director might have allowed his reality to emerge over time instead of all at once, resulting his impulsive reaction to the way his world was constructed.
Time in the Desert
Moses realizes the impact of what he has done, and he flees to the desert to avoid the consequences–the wrath of Pharaoh. Moses never gives up his access to wealth and power voluntarily. He gives them up out of fear. Moses hides in the desert until the king dies. He’s no longer a prince of Egypt; now he’s a shepherd, a father, a husband, a son-in-law.
15When Pharaoh heard of this, he tried to kill Moses, but Moses fled from Pharaoh and went to live in Midian, where he sat down by a well. 1 … 23During that long period, the king of Egypt died. The Israelites groaned in their slavery and cried out, and their cry for help because of their slavery went up to God. 24God heard their groaning and he remembered his covenant with Abraham, with Isaac and with Jacob. 25So God looked on the Israelites and was concerned about them. (Exodus 2:15-25)
The text says it was a long time, we don’t know exactly how long. I want to argue it was long enough for Moses to develop his inner world, enough time to develop his awareness of God’s presence.
Sometimes we need a desert experience to help us develop an awareness of God’s presence. This is the work we do in our daily routines.
Now Moses was tending the flock of Jethro his father-in-law, the priest of Midian, and he led the flock to the far side of the wilderness and came to Horeb, the mountain of God. 2There the angel of the Lord appeared to him in flames of fire from within a bush. Moses saw that though the bush was on fire it did not burn up. 3So Moses thought, “I will go over and see this strange sight—why the bush does not burn up.” 4When the Lord saw that he had gone over to look, God called to him from within the bush, “Moses! Moses!” And Moses said, “Here I am.”
It’s interesting that God only speaks when Moses notices.
Moses’ awareness of God will lead him back to Egypt to confront the powers, to announce God is liberating humanity from the power of Empire, and to declare that God’s vision for humanity is centered in liberation, abundance, and generosity.
What are you noticing? How is God trying to get your attention? What routines do you need to adopt to create space for God to speak? What liberation does God want you join [him] in announcing?