Saturday, September 22, 2007

Moses, Pt. 1: "Love is Stronger Than Death" (Ex 1)

Moses led a colorful, controversial and commended life. He was The Prince of Egypt, the Giver of the Law (John 1:17) and God’s Faithful Servant (Heb 3:2, 5). A man more humble than anyone else (Num 12:3), he spoke to God face to face, as a man speaking with his friend (Ex 33:11), communicated God’s word to the people and even showed up in the New Testament to talk with Jesus (Lk 9:31). He was also a psalmist (Ex 15:1-18, Deut 32, Ps. 90, Rev 15:3), an historian (Num 33:2) and a prophet like no other (Deut 34:10).

Exodus to Deuteronomy relates the story of Moses’ personal redemption, Israel’s national deliverance and God’s implementation of His promise to Abraham. At the end of the wilderness sojourning, Israel emerged as a nation, the apple of God’s eye and a thorn to their enemies, and God displayed His sovereignty over Egypt, Israel and all the nations of the earth in a powerful way.

In this 15-part series, we will learn of the names of individuals, tribes and places; read of personal conflict, group dynamics and national wars; and understand a bit more about Moses’ effort, the people’s experience and God’s expectations of His people.

Columbine was supposedly nothing but the loss and the end of innocence. On April 20, 1999, two students armed themselves with shotguns, semiautomatics and bombs, entered Colorado’s Columbine High School and killed twelve students and a teacher. However, the courage, bravery, and heroism of the students and teachers in the school gave optimism to the country that all was not lost.

The story of younger brother Craig Scott and his sister Rachel Scott have touched millions of people. Craig was in the library with his African-American friend Isaiah Shoels when they heard shots in the hallway. Craig instinctively played dead and prayed, but when the killers saw Isaiah, they said some racist remarks to him and shot him to death.

After the killers had left the room, Craig displayed a maturity beyond his years. He shouted for those in the library to run for their lives. Once outside, he comforted the crying students and prayed with them for those who were inside. However, deep in his heart, Craig had a hollow feeling. Scott did not only lose his good friend to killers; unknown to him, he also lost his sister, Rachel Joy Scott.

According to a Denver newspaper, Rachel was truly a joy to be around. A classmate said, “When she came into my class, she was going through some difficult family times. But you wouldn’t know that at all, because she shined. She shined for God at all times. She made a choice to love life.” A friend shared, “Life was just like one big amusement park to Rachel.” A potential roommate, who was planning to rent an apartment with Rachel in August, said, “She saved me in so many ways. She taught me the value of life. She taught me to love every second you have.”
( “17-year-old girl ‘shined for God at all times” Denver Rocky Mountain News, April 25, 1999)

During the worst of times, people rise to the occasion. The first two chapters of Exodus tell of a cruel king, an oppressed people and a few heroes, who were all women. The account began with slavery and moved quickly to forced abortion and infant genocide. Love, kindness and hope prevailed when violence, bloodshed and fear threatened.

When Israel was in danger of extinction, a few stubborn ladies outsmarted the heartless, headstrong and heavy-handed Pharaoh, who considered the Israelites a political liability, a national danger and an inferior race. God blessed the ladies and treated them well and favorably for displaying faith instead of fear.

How should believers act in times of adversity, hostility and tragedy, especially when others’ lives are at stake, depend on us and require critical assistance?

Share Your Compassion
8 Then a new king, who did not know about Joseph, came to power in Egypt. 9 “Look,” he said to his people, “the Israelites have become much too numerous for us. 10 Come, we must deal shrewdly with them or they will become even more numerous and, if war breaks out, will join our enemies, fight against us and leave the country.” (Ex 1:8-10)

Some time ago the movie Elephant Man made a big impression on me. The Elephant Man was a deformed man who was made into a circus act because he looked part-man, part-elephant. The circus owner exacted money from the curious crowd that paid to see the disfigured man.

A kind surgeon saw the man’s misery, rescued him from his tragic plight at the circus, brought him into normal society and persuaded the general public to accept him as a man, and not a freak. The welcome was short-lived and, inevitably, the public regarded him as a creature or monster - disgusting, deranged and dangerous.

The surgeon, however, was more determined than ever to help the Elephant Man as he got to know the sorry figure more and more. He knew that the man was not a creature but a normal person with an ordinary name and an engaging personality. The victim’s name was Joseph Merrick; he was funny, sensitive and vain, and his dream was to be like any other human being. The surgeon relentlessly taught people not to be afraid of Merrick, took him to social functions and introduced him to people of high society, even though he won few admirers, friends or converts.

Fear and ignorance enslave people, but kindness and compassion free them. Compassion is a kindred feeling, a restless heart and a ready response when people are suffering, troubled or in need. Rabbi Samuel H. Holdenson says kindness is “the inability to remain at ease in the presence of another person who is ill at ease, the inability to remain comfortable in the presence of another who is uncomfortable, the inability to have peace of mind when one’s neighbor is troubled.” (Bits and Pieces 1/4/96)

The Israelites’ situation was dire. All of them were enslaved - none of them was spared. They had no national identity and more than 400 years of history could disappear in one generation. However, Pharaoh’s plan backfired. His contempt for the Israelites’ baby boom (Ex 1:7) accelerated the founding of a nation, quickened the exodus to the Promised Land and invited the wrath of God upon Pharaoh himself, his subjects and the land. The Israelites’ numbers, loyalty and independence were not issues; Pharaoh’s plan to snag, afflict and exploit them was the problem (1:11, 1:12). The ruthless way Pharaoh worked and treated the Israelites were abominable. Slavery was strictly forbidden among the Israelites in the future (Lev 25:43, 46, 53).

The compassion of old worked better than the contempt of late. The previous king had built a solid relationship with Joseph and the Israelites based on trust, friendship, and respect. The two races had prospered over hundreds of years, beyond all expectations, to everyone’s delight.

Unfortunately, the legacy of the previous Pharaohs, the goodwill of the Egyptians and the harmony between the Israelites and the Egyptians were shattered because of the new Pharaoh’s dishonesty, fear and ambition. The new Pharaoh thought he could change history, control things and chain people, but the new king was just digging his own grave. The Israelites spread (1:12) - the word means break out. They made a breakthrough not only in numbers, but also in identity and in intensity. Pharaoh’s fear was not appeased, no matter his actions; in fact, he felt more aggrieved and threatened (1:12). The tyrant felt more terror than ever.

Strengthen Your Conviction
15 The king of Egypt said to the Hebrew midwives, whose names were Shiphrah and Puah, 16 “When you help the Hebrew women in childbirth and observe them on the delivery stool, if it is a boy, kill him; but if it is a girl, let her live.” 17 The midwives, however, feared God and did not do what the king of Egypt had told them to do; they let the boys live. 18 Then the king of Egypt summoned the midwives and asked them, "Why have you done this? Why have you let the boys live?" 19 The midwives answered Pharaoh, "Hebrew women are not like Egyptian women; they are vigorous and give birth before the midwives arrive." 20 So God was kind to the midwives and the people increased and became even more numerous. 21 And because the midwives feared God, he gave them families of their own. (Ex 1:15-21)

I had the privilege of hearing the testimony of Dutchman John Scultz, a retired Christian and Missionary Alliance missionary, when he made a missionary stop at my church. When the Nazis invaded Holland in 1940 to begin a 5-year occupation of the country, the family of the ten-year old Scultz made a daring decision to help the Jews, who were issued ID cards with the word “Jew” stamped on the cards and forced to wear a yellow Star of David on their coats.

One night the whole population of the Jewish ghetto of Amsterdam was rounded up and transported to Jewish concentration camps. John’s father, who was in charge of the food coupons that were given out, made periodic visits to deliver food rationing booklets to the Ten Boom family that was renowned for hiding and saving Jews.

On February 29, 1944, John’s father was caught red-handed in front of the Ten Boom house. While the bulk of his delivery was safely hidden in his undershirt, a few food stamps were in his pocket. He immediately put the stamps in his mouth as he pretended to cough. When the stamps were softened enough, he swallowed them. His suspicious but smart actions resulted in a mere six-week cell confinement to the thankful but undeterred Dutch (Stone Age Diary 1-4, John and Janine Schultz, Christian Publications).

Pharaoh enlisted the service of the midwives in keeping Israel’s population under control but they refused to cooperate. Why not? Where was their loyalty? What gave them the strength of conviction to defy the king? They were motivated by a sense of responsibility to God, a sense of regard for others and a sense of relief when they sleep.

Of course they were afraid of Pharaoh, but they were more afraid of the One who was superior to Pharaoh - God. A healthy dose of godly fear causes people to live their lives in a praiseworthy, sensible and dignified manner. As Pat Riley, the ex-Lakers coach, warned his players who talked to the media about the coach or teammates: “Don’t embarrass me, and I won’t embarrass you” (Magic Johnson, “My Life” 170).

The defining word that swung the midwives’ opinion was how they perceived the victims: “...they let the ‘boys’ live” (Ex 1:17). The midwives couldn’t bring themselves to obey the king because they felt that the victims were just boys, children and babies. Note the midwives cleverly changed the subject before Pharaoh to Hebrew women instead of Hebrew children (Ex 1:19).

Finally, the midwives felt strongly that they had to what was decent, right and moral so that they could sleep well and stand tall at the end of the day. The Chinese have a saying, “Do nothing that condemns your heart and you don’t have to fear midnight’s door knocking.”

Show Your Charity
2:1 Now a man of the house of Levi married a Levite woman, 2 and she became pregnant and gave birth to a son. When she saw that he was a fine child, she hid him for three months. (Ex 2:1-2)

A tyrannical husband demanded that his wife conform to rigid standards of his choosing. She was to do certain things for him as a wife, mother and homemaker. In time she came to hate her husband as much as she hated his lists of rules and regulations. Then, one day he died- mercifully as far as she was concerned.

Some time later, she fell in love with another man and married him. She and her new husband lived on a perpetual honeymoon. Joyfully, she devoted herself to his happiness and welfare. One day she ran across one if the sheets of do’s and don’ts her first husband had written for her. To her amazement she found that she was doing for her second husband all the things her first husband had demanded of her, even though her new husband had never once suggested them.

Perfect love drives out fear (1 John 4:18); continuous fear brings no happiness, hope or harmony to a home or a society.

Pharaoh commanded the death of all infant Hebrew males, but now two more ladies had the courage to defy his orders - Moses’ mother (Ex 2:1-2) and Pharaoh’s own daughter (Ex 2:5).

What inspired Moses’ mother and Pharaoh’s daughter courage to overcome fear? The words of Jochebed when she gave up her son in movie “The Prince of Egypt” touched me: “My son, I have nothing left to give, but this chance that you may live...”

The Hebrew text says that Moses’ mother saw that her baby was good (v 2) – the very word for God’s creation in Genesis 1. The baby was beautiful, innocent and God-sent. Moses’ mother disregarded the warning of Pharaoh, hid her young at the risk of her life and waited at the river until the baby was safe. She could not resist the baby’s charm, could not replace the baby’s life and she did not regret the baby’s birth.

Pharaoh’s daughter was another story. She knowingly adopted the Hebrew baby when Moses cried and she felt sorry for him (Ex 2:6). The baby’s cries broke her heart and defense. A bond was built at his first cry. The Hebrew text noted that she had compassion on him, or the Hebrew for “she spared him.” The responsible side of her responded to the reprehension she saw around her. Pharaoh’s daughter felt strongly that the baby belonged to her (Ex 2:10). After all, she found, fed and fostered the child.

The loser in the end was Pharaoh. The very thing that Pharaoh feared and the very thing that he tried to prevent – that the Israelites would multiply (Ex 1:10) - was the very thing that he set into motion (Ex 1:12, 20).

Conclusion: The winners in life are those who demonstrate conviction, compassion and charity. Many are the plans in a man’s heart, but it is the Lord’s purpose that prevails (Prov 19:21). Are you bent on destroying or delivering? Do you hate, envy and discriminate, or are you willing to forgive, bless and save? Are you afraid of involvement – speaking out, standing firm, and saving lives – when you can make a difference, change the course and point the way? It is a better and healthier way to live than continuing in fear, denial, and darkness.


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