(Questions From Israel’s Exodus” series: post #2)
We expect God to do His work through angels, lightning bolts, and whirlwinds, but the fact is that He usually does it through people. More to the point, He oftentimes raises up just one person through whom He begins the work and accomplishes it. Typically, this one person becomes a litmus test for others. Those who follow God will get on board the train of what God is doing through the person, but those who (at best) refuse to get on board or who (at worst) attempt to derail the train set themselves against God.
The Israelites who lived in ancient Egypt needed God to do a work. The Egyptians had turned them into slaves, and the current Pharaoh had decreed that every newborn Israelite male must be thrown into the Nile river. The Israelites cried out for God to deliver them, but He didn’t send the deliverance overnight. First, He had to get the deliverer delivered. That deliverer would be Moses.
The name of Moses’ father was Amram, and the name of his mother was Jochebed (Exodus 6:20). Both were from Israel’s tribe of Levi. Moses was born not long after Pharaoh issued his decree, but Amram and Jochebed hid their baby boy for three months rather than obey the decree. That act itself was nothing less than a legal crime, but while it’s true that for the most part God wants His people to obey their governments (Romans 13:1-7; 1 Peter 2:13-17), He sometimes blesses civil disobedience if the powers that be enact wicked laws and hand down unholy decrees (Acts 4:19-20; 5:29; Daniel 3:1-25; 6:1-28). By the way, baby Moses had an older sister named Miriam and an older brother named Aaron. Aaron was three years older than him (Exodus 7:7) and had been born before Pharaoh’s decree had been instituted.
Eventually there came a time when Amram and Jochebed could no longer hide baby Moses. He was three months old when Jochebed placed him in a basket made from bulrushes (papyrus reeds) and sealed with asphalt and pitch to make it waterproof (Exodus 2:2-3). She then carefully positioned the basket in the Nile among the reeds that grew along the river’s edge. She was obeying Pharaoh’s decree in one sense, but in another sense she was giving the child the best chance she could to survive the river. Interestingly, the Hebrew word used to describe the basket is the same Hebrew word used to describe the ark that Noah built.
After placing the basket among the reeds, Jochebed walked away, but her daughter Miriam kept watch from afar to see what would become of Moses. It was at some point, probably not too long afterward, that Pharaoh’s daughter came down to the river to bathe. She saw the strange sight of the basket sitting among the reeds, and out of curiosity she sent her female servants to fetch it. She had scarcely looked inside the basket when little Moses began to cry. His crying immediately melted her heart and she said, “This is one of the Hebrews’ (Israelites’) children” (Exodus 2:6). Israelite male babies were easy to recognize because they were marked with the mark of circumcision (Genesis 17:1-27).
Now it was time for Miriam to step forward and play her role. In an act of great boldness, this lowly slave girl approached Pharaoh’s daughter and asked, “Shall I go and find a Hebrew woman who can nurse this child for you?” (Exodus 2:7). Pharaoh’s daughter answered, “Go.” Miriam, of course, knew just where to find such a woman. When Jochebed arrived at the scene, Pharaoh’s daughter told her, “Take this child away and nurse him for me, and I will pay you for doing it” (Exodus 2:9).
It isn’t difficult to theorize that Jochebed and Miriam knew that Pharaoh’s daughter would come to bathe at that particular spot on that particular day. Since Egyptian royalty had baths in their homes, the bathing she did at the sacred Nile could have been ritualized bathing done for religious purposes. Perhaps she even had a set schedule for such bathing. If Jochebed and Miriam did know that she would be there that day to find the baby in the basket, surely the plan all along was for Miriam to approach her and offer to find an Israelite woman to nurse the baby. Admittedly, the Bible doesn’t say that Jochebed and Miriam devised any such scheme, but, again, it really isn’t hard to make that case.
In ancient times, children were nursed until they were as much as three years old. This means that Amram, Jochebed, Miriam, and Aaron got to enjoy the new addition to their family for all that time. Once Moses was weened, Jochebed took him to Pharaoh’s daughter and Moses was raised as nothing less than a grandson of Pharaoh. Actually, it was Jochebed who gave Moses his name.
In the Hebrew language the name “Moses” means “drawn out.” While some doubt that an Egyptian princess would have given her adopted son a Hebrew name, others suggest the possibility that it was Jochebed who helped the princess name the child. If this was indeed the case, it explains why Exodus 2:10 quotes the princess as saying that she named the child “Moses” because she drew him out of the water. Along the same lines, from God’s perspective of foreknowledge, it is also likely that the name can be accurately translated as “He Who Draws Out.” Thus, the name was also God’s hidden reference to the fact that Moses would be the man who would one day draw the Israelites out of Egypt.
It is along about here that we usually smile and think warm thoughts as we reflect upon Moses’ story. As a matter of fact, it is obligatory for every preacher to comment on how wonderful it was that God’s plan not only caused Moses’ life to be spared but also caused Jochebed to be paid for nursing him and getting to spend those early years with him. I trust you’ll forgive me, though, for pointing out all the precious time that elapsed while the Israelites were crying out each day for God to deliver them.
For starters, Jochebed carried Moses in her womb for nine months. Second, once he was born, she and Amram hid him for three months. Third, it took approximately three years for him to be weened and given to Pharaoh’s daughter to raise. Fourth, Moses spent the first forty years of his life living as Egyptian royalty, being schooled in all the wisdom of the Egyptians, and doing nothing about the plight of his fellow Israelites (Acts 7:21-23). Fifth, as we will learn in future posts, he spent an additional forty years in Midian before returning to Egypt to lead the Israelites.
Let’s imagine an Israelite father and mother who are forced to obey Pharaoh’s sadistic decree by casting their newborn male child into the Nile. They stand on the river bank and watch as their precious infant, who has his daddy’s eyes and his mother’s nose, sinks down into the water never to be seen or heard again. With tears in their eyes and a profound sadness in their hearts, they return to their dwelling and from that time forward call upon God each and every day to avenge their child’s death and deliver their people from the Egyptians. But days pass, years pass, and decades pass without anything changing in Egypt. It is as if the couples’ every prayer and every tear are ignored by God. In the end, they go to their graves mourning for their lost child and never get to see even the slightest inkling that God has a plan to deliver the Israelites from the Egyptians.
I doubt that you’ve ever heard the story of Moses preached like that, have you? That’s because we’ve trained ourselves to race ahead to the good stuff, the happy ending. What we must realize, though, is that a whole bunch of real people suffered a whole bunch of real loss for a whole bunch of real years before God’s plan to put a stop to it all finally came to pass. Babies died, and broken parents were left to limp along in their faith as best they could for the remainder of their lives. And what was God doing while it was all happening? He was working out a long-term plan that would take at the absolute minimum eighty years to accomplish.
So, if the question is, “Can God’s plan take a long time to play out?” the answer is a resounding, “YES.” As a matter of fact, it can take so long to play out that some people who would be eligible to benefit from it can die off never getting to see it accomplish its end game. Is this a depressing reality? I certainly think so. It is, however, one that we need to come to grips with if we want to understand God better and walk with Him in a deeper fellowship. This is a lesson the Israelites had to learn, and it’s one that you and I would do well to learn today. God’s plans can take days, weeks, months, years, decades, and even centuries to play out. But He is always at work keeping those plans in motion, and in His timing they will all produce the results that He wants them to produce.