Yesterday’s message …
- Hinged on the fact that in Exodus 1, the Hebrew midwives are named while the all powerful Pharoah is anonymous. A tiny detail with an enormous impact.
- Noted some parallels between Pharoah’s attempts to erase a generation and the culture wars many of us in the church find ourselves taking part in. A mom of a collegian sent me a message afterwards that her son had been taught — and tested on — the 52 genders in the human race.
- Landed at this bottom line: Your opposition is just your opportunity in disguise.
So when we think of movers & shakers, of people of major influence, we naturally think of someone with a big, recognizable name. Lord, around Charlotte locally, most of you know the Belk family because of the stores, you figure there has to be a Harris or a Teeter or both. A few years ago, there was Mayor Pat (seven terms!) who became Governor Pat and even though that didn’t end well for him that McCrory name sticks around Charlotte. Or Hugh McColl with BOA. Cam with his Panthers. Just big names all around
Goodness, there’s even a guy who kept building buildings and entertainment complexes and golf courses and putting his name on them with absolutely no subtlety at all and he moved and shook all the way to the White House. That’s what we think of with movers & shakers. And just when we’re comfortable there, when we have settled, along comes the bible, as it almost always does, and turns that whole notion upside down and turns it inside out.
Because here we are at the beginning of the book of Exodus. There has been a long gap in terms of years between the end of Genesis and the beginning of Exodus, but it continues the same stoy. And in that gap, the children of Israel (also called Hebrews, a title that emphasizes they are land-LESS and right-LESS and enslaved) come under the domination of might Egypt. It’s a bad scene, an oppressive situation, a bricks-without-straw kind of misery. So with that, look at Exodus 1:15:
15 The king of Egypt said to the Hebrew midwives, whose names were Shiphrah and Puah,
and stop right there. See that? THE KING … not named. THE MIDWIVES, the first career women in Scripture, are named. The man in power is anonymous; the women under oppression & opposition are named. It’s one of those details that make close bible reading endlessly entertaining and enriching. It’s the narrator’s way of shouting out IN ADVANCE: These nobodies? They’re the movers and the shakers! This SOMEBODY? He’s really the nobody in the story!
But nobody or not, the king says this in 1:16:
16 “When you are helping the Hebrew women during childbirth on the delivery stool, if you see that the baby is a boy, kill him; but if it is a girl, let her live.”
Whoa. You know what that is? Erasing a generation, that’s what. Hey Hebrew ladies, I’m gonna hire you to guarantee the genocide of your own people. You good with that? So you’ve got a guy, no name but all power, and he is the face of this incredible opposition faced by not only the people of God but apparently by God himself. Ladies, help me out here so that there will be no more Jews in Egypt, so that I can successfully erase a generation.
And what is it about the Jews? People are ALWAYS trying to exterminate them. Egypt and then Assyria and then Babylon in the OT, then Rome in the NT, then Nazi Germany in the 20th C and then every single nation that surrounds Israel in the Middle East today. What’s the political platform of some of those nations? To wipe Israel off the map. What is it about them? Oh yikes … it’s the fact that they represent this deep, enduring, visible link to the God of history and the God of the bible. That they’ve been selected not based on merit or skill but based on love and choice. That reality elicits in so many an absurdly irrational plan to erase a people and until that can happen, let’s at least erase a generation. SMH.
And not to be melodramatic but let me get a bit melodramatic. As I survey the landscape of our culture, our entertainment, our higher education, I can’t help but feel we are in the middle of some déjà vu. That there are more than a few powers that be who would prefer not that children DIE (like in Egypt) but that the faith of their parents would. That many if not most in media, entertainment, & higher education … if they could ensure that future generations will not be exposed to and raised in biblical Xnty, they would. You see it in the ways that the ONLY religion that is fair game for parody in entertainment or in the classroom is … biblical Xnty. You see in in the ways church kids run off to college, find themselves in very intimidating classes taught by super smart people whose primary agenda is to ridicule Sunday School faith.
You see it in the relentless, oppose-us-at-your-peril drumbeat of the agenda of sexual freedom — ignorant of the fact that the “free-er” we become the more enslaved we end up. It moves from there to calling the idea of male-female marriage (you know, how all cultures have defined marriage essentially for all time until the last 15 years or so) for life either hateful or bigoted or both. And maybe most of, coming on with stunning speed, the new efforts to make gender a construct of your mind rather than a fact of your biology. Gender becomes what you decide rather than who you are. Not to be alarmist, but let me alarm you: folks in entertainment and media and higher ed foresee a utopia of gender fluid kids and subject you to all kinds of name calling if you object. Erasing a generation indeed.
Now: I know that some of you are like, “Whoa, Talbot, you got all that from midwives in Exodus 1? Isn’t that a stretch?” Nope. Shiprah and Puah faced long odds & incredible opposition. And any among us who care not only about things like gender & sexuality but more importantly the ability to lift up a living relationship with Jesus Christ, we’ve got opposition and we face odds as well. So what did our NAMED movers and shakers do?
Look at 1:17:
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.
Ah, fearing God is more important than fitting in … and that’s some serious moving and shaking going on. The King finds out and asks the obvious question in 1:18:
18 Then the king of Egypt summoned the midwives and asked them, “Why have you done this? Why have you let the boys live?”
Doh! Talk about a moment of truth! The anonymous power, who literally has your life and your death in his hands, puts you on the spot and what do you do? And as you look at the answer in 1:19, please know that ANE culture values cleverness over honesty every time:
19 The midwives answered Pharaoh, “Hebrew women are not like Egyptian women; they are vigorous and give birth before the midwives arrive.”
Hey – I dare you, go up to a woman today and call her “vigorous.” See how that goes. Stout. Hearty. Rarely goes well.
Yet this deception, this hilarity, this “their truth,” whatever, is not the real point of the story. The defiance is. What they do in the face of opposition is why Exodus begins this way. How they deal with the adversity of a power and a system that literally wants to write them out of history is the thing. Look next at 1:20-21:
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.
Blessing and favor and children (midwives were frequently barren women in those days). In the ancient mind that abundance of children did NOT represent higher day care costs or more hassle at home; it instead meant security in old age.
And then, just to let you know that the opposition never rests and never relents and to give a bit of duh Duh DUH music at the end of the scene, there’s 1:22:
22 Then Pharaoh gave this order to all his people: “Every Hebrew boy that is born you must throw into the Nile, but let every girl live.”
But don’t you see what is going on? The opposition is overwhelming, a generation hangs in the balance, and two women, Shiphrah & Puah move and shake their way into re-writing the story. Why? How? Because they saw that Your opposition was just your opportunity in disguise. Yep, that’s what they did. They became more purposeful in ensuring the next generation of Jews not only lived, but worshipped. They influenced, they shook, they moved, they seized an opportunity. They, whom the world regarded as ultimate nobodies, became the ultimate somebodies. Because we’re still talking about them and USING THEIR NAMES 3500 years later. The Egpytian King? Old, what’s-his-name? Not so much. Your opposition was just your opportunity in disguise.
Because here’s what I know. As we find ourselves in a land and a time more and more hostile to the Gospel, we’re looking for some more Shiphrahs and Puahs to ensure that the next generation of kids with a living relationship with Jesus Christ not only gets born but flourishes. People who come alongside parents (single or coupled), folks who add a voice in the nursery, who represent consistency and steadiness in the KZone, who provide insight into the chaos of student ministry lives. Those pivotal ministry placements are among the highest honors with the most enduring impact of any in the church. And so many people have thought that they’re not worthy or their name’s not big enough or that they’re not skilled or even that the culture is too powerful and all hope is lost anyway. Guess what? BULL! God selects the Shiprahs and the Puahs of the world to confound the kings! To empower the living relationships! Your opposition was just your opportunity in disguise.
I’m not gonna lie. The need, in and out of church, is great. Like the traveling speaker who met a young boy at a coffee shop and the boy asked what he was doing. And the speaker answered “I’m here in town to tell people about Jesus.” And the little boy gasped and said, “Don’t you know that’s a swear word?!” Because in his house that’s the only way he’d heard it. And I bet that’s the case with some houses even here, and a lot of houses not here this morning. Who will tell that little boy Jesus is not a swear word he is praise worthy? REFRAIN Almost like that middle age guy leading high school class when I wandered into church 2 weeks after becoming a Xn. Awkward in a suit, more awkward as a rank beginner. Except you know what? Even in those very beginning steps, I heard stuff about the return of Jesus that still shape and mold what I believe today. That class leader – don’t know his name of course! – moved and shook and you got a preacher as a result. Your opposition was just your opportunity in disguise.
Because we’re looking for voices and influences who will NOT help kids be good. We want them REDEEMED. We don’t want to grow SUCCESSFUL kids here. SIGNIFICANT ONES. We don’t want leaders who help students FIT IN. We want leaders who are able to call out the ability to STAND OUT. Like the little boy who asked his dad to pray at bedtime: Pray I’ll be safe, Daddy. Dad, a genius, answers: “Nope, I’m going to pray you’ll be dangerous. I’m praying Satan flees when he sees you coming.” Whew! Need moms and dads and voices like that. Who don’t get intimidated by the culture but energized by it. Your opposition was just your opportunity in disguise.
Because I don’t know if you know this or not but Shiprah & Puah’s guile & courage set the stage for a specific yet perilous Hebrew birth in Exodus 2: Moses’. Check it out: READ 2:1-10
Now a man of the tribe 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. 3 But when she could hide him no longer, she got a papyrus basket[a] 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. 4 His sister stood at a distance to see what would happen to him.
5 Then 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. 6 She opened it and saw the baby. He was crying, and she felt sorry for him. “This is one of the Hebrew babies,” she said.
7 Then 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. So the girl went and got the baby’s mother. You know what that is? A mother & child reunion!
9 Pharaoh’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. 10 When the child grew older, she took him to Pharaoh’s daughter and he became her son. She named him Moses,[b] saying, “I drew him out of the water.”
See that at the end? The Hebrew baby, against all odds a) lives and b) joins the King’s household. Pharoah is gonna raise his own replacement! Unwittingly, unknowingly, cooks his own goose. Because will neither be mocked nor stopped. The opposition is fierce, the desire to erase a believing generation is strong, yet God will not be halted. And Moses’ birth – long odds, much opposition, miraculous provision, trip to Egypt! – does it not echo the birth and ministry of yet another Jew who the world not only could not prevent from being born but then could not keep in the grave when he died?!?! Yes! You and I oppose all those generational erasers and we do so empowered by the one whose grave could not contain the power of HIS NAME. He’s the move and the shake behind all the movers and shakers in this place.