Birth of a Nation
March 28, 2022 | Ray Pritchard
Today we begin a brand-new series called “The Making of a Champion.” It’s all about the early years of a man named Moses.
Let me set the scene this way. When James Montgomery Boice wrote a book about the life of Moses, he began the first chapter with this sentence:
Apart from Jesus Christ, no person in history has made so deep or lasting an impression on the world as Moses.
That’s quite a statement to make when you consider people like Napoleon, Muhammed, Lincoln, Luther, Newton, Confucius, Buddha, Stalin, Shakespeare, and Alexander the Great.
Yet there he stands, all alone, the great lawgiver, the emancipator of Israel.
Moses stands alone
Apart from Jesus himself, he is the greatest man in the Bible. When the Apostle John wrote his gospel near the end of the first century, he offered this comparison: “The law was given through Moses, but grace and truth came through Jesus Christ” (John 1:17).
It is no surprise to discover the Bible mentions Moses almost 700 times. God wrote his epitaph in Deuteronomy 34:10, “No prophet has risen in Israel like Moses, whom the Lord knew face to face.” Exodus 33:11 tells us that “the Lord would speak to Moses face to face, as one speaks to a friend.”
That’s not said about anyone else in the Bible, not even Abraham or David.
Our mental image of Moses depends in part on Hollywood. If you are of a certain age (meaning 60 or above), you probably remember Charlton Heston playing Moses in The Ten Commandments. Heston’s Moses was strong, handsome, and very brave. If you are younger, you may have seen the animated feature The Prince of Egypt. The movie portrays Moses as witty, fun-loving, and very athletic. Plus, he never seems to age. He looks the same at 80 as he did at 15!
Then you have the incomparable sculpture by Michelangelo, which I saw on a visit to Rome. The sculptor captured Moses’ nobility in marble. He holds the book of the law as he looks into the distance. His greatness clings to him like a cloak.
But the Bible presents us with an entirely different picture of Moses. While showing us he was a real man with undeniably great gifts, it doesn’t cover up his weakness, especially his painful self-doubt.
Moses saw God face-to-face and lived to tell the tale
He faced huge problems and didn’t always handle them well. Born into slavery in Egypt, he rose to become the leader of Israel. Millions looked to him for guidance. The Lord spoke with him face to face. Although he led his people out of Egypt and through the wilderness, he could not enter the Promised Land because of disobedience.
He was fearful, failing, and sometimes furious. And yet, he was the friend of God.
He killed a man and tried to hide the evidence. He was a fugitive from the law for 40 years. He had trouble with anger, and his anger got him in trouble.
God tried to kill him but called him a friend. He was not a perfect man, but Hebrews says he was faithful in all of God’s house. It would be hard to find higher praise.
He saw God face-to-face and lived to tell the tale.
All God’s Heroes Have Warts
All God’s heroes have warts because all our heroes are human. They were all flawed and broken. None approached perfection. Yet they had a relationship with the living God.
It’s easy to put the heroes of the Bible on a pedestal. We think they tower over us in their faith. Yet as we will see, Moses was made of the same stuff as us. He struggled to obey God just like us. So as we study his amazing life, let’s say to ourselves, “If Moses could live for God, so can I.”
Hold this thought in your mind: God’s methods are never out of date.
In our series, we will focus on the beginning of his story because we need to see how God prepared Moses. There was no human reason why he should be the deliverer of his people. In fact, everything argued against it. Yet, there he is, standing on the bank of the Red Sea, parting the water so his people could cross on dry ground.
May God use this series to give us “faith like Moses” for the 21st century.
God is looking for nobodies
We can divide his life into three sections of 40 years each:
40 years growing up.
40 years in the desert.
40 years leading the Jews.
D. L. Moody said Moses spent 40 years thinking he was a somebody, 40 years discovering he was a nobody, and the last 40 years learning how God could use a nobody to become a somebody in his sight. Jack Wyrtzen applied that truth this way: “God is looking for nobodies who will become somebodies in his hands.”
Exodus 1 tells us how the story begins. Moses is never mentioned because we need to know something about the world as it was 3500 years ago. Moses was born in dangerous times.
When things were at their worst, God raised up a prophet named Moses.
#1 The Prosperity God Sent vv. 1-7
This is how Exodus begins:
These are the names of the
sons of Israel who came
to Egypt with Jacob;
each came with his family:
2 Reuben, Simeon, Levi, and Judah;
3 Issachar, Zebulun, and Benjamin;
4 Dan and Naphtali; Gad and Asher.
5 The total number of Jacob’s descendants
Our obedience often gets us into trouble
Joseph was already in Egypt.
6 Joseph and all his brothers and
all that generation eventually died.
7 But the Israelites were fruitful,
increased rapidly, multiplied,
and became extremely numerous
so that the land was filled with them.
Four centuries have passed between the end of Genesis and the beginning of Exodus. What started as a tiny group of 70 Jews migrating from Canaan to Egypt became a vast nation of perhaps two million people. That tiny group of shepherds finding refuge in Goshen (the delta near the mouth of the Nile River) grew into a mighty nation that became a threat to Egypt.
Their blessing brought them into bondage. That should not surprise us because our obedience often gets us into trouble. Sometimes we suffer not because we did wrong but because we did right. When that happens, we need deep roots in the soil of God’s sovereignty.
#2 The Pain God Allowed vv. 8-14
So now there is trouble for God’s people in Egypt:
8 A new king, who did not know about Joseph,
came to power in Egypt.
9 He said to his people, “Look, the Israelite people are
more numerous and powerful than we are.
10 Come, let’s deal shrewdly with them;
otherwise they will multiply further,
And when war breaks out,
they will join our enemies,
fight against us, and leave the country.”
The Egyptians faced a Catch-22. They couldn’t live with the Jews, and they couldn’t live without them. They hated the Jews for three reasons:
- They were too numerous.
- They were too prosperous.
- They were too dangerous.
The new Pharaoh (we don’t know his name) was weak, insecure, and a bit paranoid. He knew nothing about Joseph, which seems incredible since Joseph saved the nation during the devastating seven lean years. From being the hero of Egypt, Joseph has been relegated to the hieroglyphics in the National Archives.
How could they forget him?
But they did.
We live in a “What have you done for me lately” world.
Seeing the Jews as a rising threat, Pharaoh concocts a three-part plan to keep these despised immigrants in their place. The first step was forced labor. Although he enslaved an entire race, the Jews continued to grow and expand. He added to their forced labor until life became very bitter for them. Gone were the days when Pharaoh honored Jacob and welcomed his people to the land of Goshen. Gone was the privilege given to the Jews because of Joseph’s position in Egypt.
The sin that darkened Pharaoh’s heart darkens ours as well
Moses entered a troubled world. He was born to be a slave, but God had other plans. Man proposes, but God disposes. Pharaoh had his plans, but God overruled him to protect and deliver his people from bondage.
#3 The Plan God Approved vv. 15-22
Here we come face-to-face with the ugly brutality of unchecked paranoia:
15 The king of Egypt said to
the Hebrew midwives—
the first, whose name was Shiphrah,
and the second, whose name was Puah
These two godly women helped Jewish mothers deliver their babies. Now they find themselves in a difficult spot. Pharaoh, the most powerful man in the world, gives them gruesome instructions:
16 “When you help the Hebrew women give birth,
observe them as they deliver.
If the child is a son, kill him,
but if it’s a daughter, she may live.”
This is genocide.
Get rid of the Jews by killing the baby boys.
It’s a sadistic tactic worthy of the Nazis.
We like to think we have advanced far beyond such barbarism. But have we? Under the guise of “healthcare,” we abort unborn babies. A proposed Maryland law would allow doctors to legally neglect newborns who somehow survived an abortion attempt. Writing in National Review (March 5, 2022), Wesley J. Smith says, “The pro-abortion left clearly is slouching toward not only authorizing late term abortions for any reason, but also, post-birth deaths of unwanted born babies.”
We think we have the moral high ground, but we are simply more sophisticated than this ancient Pharaoh. We have produced a generation of mental giants and moral pygmies. The heart of man has not changed. The sin that darkened Pharaoh’s heart darkens ours as well.
Thank God for these two women.
17 “The midwives, however,
feared God and did not do
as the king of Egypt had told them;
they let the boys live.”
We need not back away from this verse. This is nothing less than deliberate disobedience. It is intentional rebellion against an unjust decree. Pay careful attention to what the text says. Because they feared God, they disobeyed the king. Little boys lived because they refused an evil command. It was a silent protest against injustice.
Note further that they did not make a public fuss. We have no record they spoke out against Pharaoh’s decree. They don’t seem to have spoken out publicly at all. In modern terms, they didn’t post their rebellion on social media or write letters to the local editor.
Don’t kill babies!
They simply decided to obey God.
They understood you don’t kill babies.
It doesn’t matter what the king said.
You don’t kill babies.
The midwives took this stand without regard to the consequences. If Pharaoh found out about their rebellion, they wouldn’t live to see another day. They didn’t attempt to anger the king or make him look bad in public. They weren’t attempting to overthrow him, but they decided they could not obey an unjust law.
They did not know what would happen to them, and evidently, they did not care. It reminds us of what Peter said in Acts 5:29: “We must obey God rather than man.”
We come back to this moment again and again. Secular governments hate any challenge to their power because they want total control. That’s why the Chinese regime is trying to strangle the church out of existence.
In a totalitarian world, there can be no competition.
Living in “End of the World” Days
Here’s our problem, and it’s a very real one. We live in a digital age, where we bank online, pay our bills online, and we communicate online. We go to MacDonald’s and pay by credit card. We talk to each other online, text and email online, and live on the internet. That wasn’t true 25 years ago, and there is no going back.
The entire world lives on the internet, which is good, except when it’s not. Unfortunately, the internet has a dark side.
Whoever controls the internet controls communication.
Whoever controls communication controls the world.
Obedience to God may look like rebellion against the state
I agree with those Bible teachers who say we live in “end of the world” days. The internet could allow one person to control the entire world economy.
Hard times are coming, whether we are ready or not. We already see where some leaders have advocated cutting off access to the internet to those who rebel against government policy. That means cutting off access to money and the means of communication.
We will see more moments like these Hebrew midwives faced in the coming days. Our convictions will be put to the test.
How will we respond?
I do not advocate rebellion. I merely observe that we live in strange times where obedience to God may look like rebellion against the state.
Eventually word got back to the king that the Hebrew boys were not being killed when they were born.
He can’t brook insubordination.
Heads will roll—literally.
18 So the king of Egypt summoned the midwives and asked them,
“Why have you done this and
let the boys live?”
19 The midwives said to Pharaoh,
“The Hebrew women are not like the Egyptian women,
for they are vigorous
and give birth before the midwife
can get to them.”
God honored their disobedience
Exodus merely states the reply but doesn’t explain it. Commentators differ over the interpretation. Dr. Boice calls this explanation “dubious.” That’s how it strikes me. John MacArthur calls it literal truth because God somehow intervened to cause the Hebrew mothers to deliver quicker. Warren Wiersbe suggests it is true because the midwives informed the pregnant mothers not to call them until the baby boys were already born.
That brings us to the second stage of Pharaoh’s evil plan: Genocide.
God Gave Them Families
Thank God for two women who feared God more than man. Incidentally, we know their names but not Pharaoh’s. It’s God’s way of telling us who matters most in his sight. Shiphrah (her name means “beautiful”) and Puah (her name means “splendid”) mattered more to God than the Pharaoh in his Egyptian glory.
God made sure they were honored. Notice what happens next:
20 So God was good to the midwives,
and the people multiplied
and became very numerous.
21 Since the midwives feared God,
he gave them families.
Let’s be crystal-clear about this. God honored their disobedience. He honored them just as he would honor Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego centuries later in Babylon (Daniel 3).
With that we come to the end of Exodus 1:
22 Pharaoh then commanded all his people,
“You must throw every son born to the
Hebrews into the Nile,
but let every daughter live.”
Here is the third stage of Pharaoh’s plan. In short order, Pharaoh has gone from slavery to genocide to state-sponsored murder. He no longer relied on the Hebrew midwives to do his dirty work (which they refused to do). So now he declared open season on every Jewish baby boy. He sparked a reign of terror that spread across the nation.
Pharaoh has gone from slavery to genocide to state-sponsored murder
In making this command, he played into the Egyptian fear of foreigners and their prejudice against the Jews. Here is the first (but not the last) instance of anti-Semitism in the Bible.
As the chapter closes, everything Pharaoh feared has come to pass. His evil plans have come to naught. But, like Herod the Great who ordered the slaughter of the boys of Bethlehem, he intended to destroy the future for God’s people.
All we know at this point is that an evil plot by an evil man has been foiled by the courage of the Hebrew midwives. We don’t know yet what it all means, but their courage sets the stage for a baby who is yet to be born.
Lessons for Today
What may we learn from this?
1. When God intends to bless his people, no wicked man can foil his plans.
Pharaoh was the Hitler of the Old Testament. He thought he could give the word, and all the Jewish baby boys would be killed. But God had other plans.
2. Salvation is of the Lord.
Dr. Boice makes much of this point, and rightly so. The Jews must learn Pharaoh would not save them, and they could not save themselves. That was true then, and it is true now. If we are looking to the government to save us, we’re looking in the wrong place.
It is better to be a Hebrew midwife than to be the Pharaoh of Egypt
Salvation must come from heaven. The Reformers often spoke of “alien righteousness,” meaning righteousness that comes from another place. If all my righteous deeds are like “filthy rags” in God’s sight (Isaiah 64:6), then the righteousness I need must come from outside of me. I can’t save myself; someone else must save me. That “someone” is Jesus. His righteousness must be imputed to me because I can do nothing to earn it or deserve it.
The Jews must learn that only God can save them. He is their only hope.
3. It is still true that we must obey God rather than men.
When the Hebrew midwives disobeyed Pharaoh, they were actually obeying God. They feared God so much that they did not fear Pharaoh at all. Lives were saved as a result. And God honored their faithfulness by giving them families.
We may conclude from this story that it is better to be a Hebrew midwife than to be the Pharaoh of Egypt.
We may find ourselves in their position before too long. Given the moral trajectory of the world, we will soon need Christians who will risk everything to obey God in a godless world. We can only pray for the same courage that animated these two women.
These are amazing days to serve the Lord. On one of his speaking tours, Richard Neuhaus was picked up at the airport by a man who talked about how bad things were in America and how difficult these times were. Finally, Rev. Neuhaus had had enough of the doom and gloom talk: “These may be bad times, but they are the only times we are given. And despair is a mortal sin.”
Every child born to a Christian family is a statement of faith
He’s right. It does no good to talk about how it was 50 years ago. That doesn’t matter. These are our times. This is our day to serve the Lord. Whether good or bad, these are the only times we are given—and it is our privilege to serve the Lord today, right where we are. We have no time to despair, and no reason to despair since Christ is risen from the dead.
Fear God and Make Some Babies!
Sometimes I hear well-meaning Christians say we shouldn’t bring children into a world like this. But when has it ever been easy to raise our children for the Lord? Yes, these are hard times, but times were hard in Egypt, and the Jews kept making babies.
Remember what the text says about the midwives. Because of their faithfulness, “he gave them families.” In that awful hour, under that murderous king, in desperate circumstances, when hope seemed lost, he gave them families!
We need to say to our young people:
Fear God, get married, and make some babies!
Every child born to a Christian family is a statement of faith. It’s a vote for God in a world gone mad.
Those midwives paved the way for Moses to be born, but they didn’t know that. Sooner or later, we all have to choose sides.
Do you stand with the midwives or with Pharaoh?
Will you stand while others bow down?
In the end, it’s more dangerous to bow to the world than to stand alone for God.
We will not be silent
We stand for life in a culture of death.
We stand for truth in a time of lies.
We stand for hope in a world of despair.
We will not be silent.
Here are your marching orders:
Stand your ground.
Speak the truth.
Let God take care of the results.