Exodus 1:15-2:10 (New International Version)
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.
22 Then Pharaoh gave this order to all his people: “Every boy that is born you must throw into the Nile, but let every girl live.”
Exodus 2–The Birth of Moses
1 Now a man of the house of Levi married a Levite woman (Jochebed, Ex 6:20), 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 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 river bank. She saw the basket among the reeds and sent her slave girl 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. And the girl went and got the baby’s mother. 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, saying, “I drew him out of the water.”
Did you hear about the three sons who left home, went out on their own and prospered? Getting back together, they discussed the gifts they were able to give their elderly mother for Mother’s Day.
The first said, “I built a big house for our mother.” The second said, “I sent her a Mercedes with a driver.” The third smiled and said, “I’ve got you both beat. You remember how mom enjoyed reading the Bible? And you know she can’t see very well. I sent her a remarkable parrot that recites the entire Bible. It took elders in the church 12 years to teach him. He’s one of a kind. Mama just has to name the chapter and verse, and parrot recites it.”
Soon thereafter, mom sent out her letters of thanks: “Melvin”, she wrote, “The house you built is so huge. I live in only one room, but I have to clean the whole house.” “Gerald”, she wrote to another, “I am too old to travel. I stay most of the time at home, so I rarely use the Mercedes. And the driver is so rude!” “Dearest Donald”, she wrote to her third son, “You have the good sense to know what your mother likes. The chicken was delicious!”
Our mothers were, and maybe still are today, some of the most influential people in our lives. They taught us to share, to care, to do our chores, to love the Lord, and much, much more. Mother’s Day can be a difficult day for many people for many different reasons. Maybe you have lost your mother, maybe you have wanted to be a mother and couldn’t. Maybe you had a bad relationship or no relationship at all to your mother. But today I don’t want to just focus on mothers, but on women, and on Christians in general. And maybe not all of us are women, but I would bet that most of us know at least one woman. Today I would like to look at the scripture above to see that we are not called to be submissive in all instances, but this requires knowledge of God. I want to look at the Ministry of Motherhood, and I want to look at God as the perfect parent.
The Submissive Woman
Our scripture for this morning begins in Egypt while the Hebrew people were under the oppression of the Egyptians and Pharaoh. The Egyptians, though they are in control, kind of fear the Hebrew people because they are getting too numerous and too powerful. So the king of the Egyptians makes the decision that the Hebrew midwives should kill all of the male Hebrews to prevent the procreation of Hebrew people. Without males (or females) the people will die out with the current generation.
But Shiphrah and Puah, the Hebrew midwives, fear God. They knew that it was against the will of God for humans to kill other human beings, even though the king said to do so. So instead, they make up a story about how the Hebrew women are able to pop out those babies so quickly that the midwives aren’t even able to get there before they have given birth. Yeah, they lie. But telling lies isn’t commended, serving God even when governing people order them to do something counter to the ways of God is commended.
This reminds me of when Peter and the other apostles are brought before the Sanhedrin for teaching the message of Jesus to the people after they had been told not to. Peter and the apostles reply to the Sanhedrin, “We must obey God rather than human authorities.” And this is exactly what the midwives do. They choose to obey God, even though it meant disobeying Pharaoh.
We might call these women strong-willed. They are so convicted of what they believe that they are willing do defy an authority figure. And I hope that we could all be considered strong-willed when it comes to our faith today. But I want to make sure before you go defying authority figures, even your parents, that you are doing so out of what you believe God is calling you to, not just in an attempt to be difficult. This means we need to search the scriptures, pray, and seek the council of other Christians. We need to seek to know God before we can even attempt to live out God’s will. I’m sure that the Hebrew midwives and Peter and the other apostles didn’t just rush into their decision to serve God over the authorities rashly.
Well Pharaoh seems to catch on to the ploys of the midwives and he orders all Hebrew women to dispose of their male sons by dumping them in the Nile River. So first he tells the midwives to kill the male children, and when he finds them to be too strong-willed for him to push around, he goes to the women themselves and tells them to do the dirty work. And again, he finds himself outsmarted by another strong-willed woman.
We are not given the name of this Levite woman in out passage from Exodus, but elsewhere we are told that her name is Jochebed. We commonly know her as Moses’ mother. Moses’ mother delivers what is at least her third child, a boy we know as Moses. And Moses’ mother turns out to be another strong-willed woman, and she isn’t about to kill her own son. So she hides him for about three months, and when she can hide him no longer she finds a loophole in Pharaoh’s edict. He said to put the male babies in the Nile. He didn’t say that they couldn’t be in a basket in the NileJ.
And the plot thickens. Pharaoh’s daughter finds the baby and pays the biological mother of Moses to nurse and raise Moses for a few years. I’m going to guess that Moses’ mother is one of the few people in history to be paid to raise her own child. Who says motherhood isn’t a paying job? So Moses is able to grow up in the comfortable atmosphere of royalty while learning about his Hebrew ancestry from his mother. The privileges that Moses enjoys come from God’s interventions and the strong-willed, quick-witted nature of his mother.
I am convinced that Moses wouldn’t have grown to be the person that he was had his mother not been the person that she was. If the midwives and Moses’ mother had simply submitted to the authorities of their day, we wouldn’t be talking about Moses today. Submission to authorities is biblical, but only when the authorities are adhering to biblical principles.
Submission is a word a lot of women hear and shudder in horror. Why? Because I believe submission is a biblical teaching that has been abused by men for almost 2,000 years. Paul writes in Ephesians 5:21-22, “Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ. Wives submit to your husbands as to the Lord.” First of all, Paul tells us all, regardless of gender, to submit to one another. I don’t believe that Paul is saying always do what another person wants you to do, regardless of what it is. And the same is true when he encourages wives to submit to their husbands.
This scripture has been abused for almost 2,000 years to say that a wife needs to be subordinate to husbands. Submission is different from subordination. Submission is giving yourself to a person, subordination is putting yourself below other people. Paul is encouraging us to be mutually submitted, mutually give yourself to your spouse so that you become one in Christ. As Paul says elsewhere, there is no longer male or female, Jew or Greek, slave or free. Instead we are one in Christ.
So as we see with the Hebrew midwives and with Moses’ mother and with Peter and the apostles, we are only supposed to submit to our spouses or to the authorities when they are following the will of God.
Ministry of Motherhood
I want to tell you right now and go on the record as having said I respect mothers… I respect mothers a lot. I enjoy children, but when you have children of your own, they are your responsibility 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year. I look at a child like Madelyn and I think it is quite clear that she can’t do very much for herself at this stage of life. She cannot feed herself, change herself, or bathe herself. She is almost totally dependent on her parents, and I think that her parents are doing an excellent job of raising her and sharing in the parenting responsibilities.
My mother was a stay-at-home mother, and we didn’t make it an easy job for her. She had three boys in a period of six years and between the cut fingers, skinned knees, broken arms, and regularly scheduled visits to the doctors, she found time to take us to church on Sundays. In the summer when we were outside experimenting with gasoline and fire, hydrochloric acid and aluminum foil, and eventually gunpowder, she found time to take us to Bible School. She cooked a home-cooked meal every night, kept us clothed and as clean as possible. She was and is a strong person. And I hope that today any stay at home mother is proud to tell others about her job description.
I like the story told by Tony Campolo about his wife, Peggy. Tony is a professor of Sociology at Eastern University and Peggy stayed at home to raise their two children. Whenever they would go to some social event, filled with female doctors and lawyers, Peggy never missed a beat when people asked what she did for a living. Tony says, “My wife, who is one of the most brilliantly articulate individuals I know, had a great response: “I am socializing two homo sapiens in the dominant values of the Judeo-Christian tradition in order that they might be instruments for the transformation of the social order into the teleologically prescribed utopia inherent in the eschaton.” When she followed that with, “And what is it that you do?” the other person’s “A lawyer” just wasn’t that overpowering.”
Motherhood requires strong women: strong physically, strong mentally, and strong spiritually. A stay at home mother should have more influence on her children’s spirituality than anyone else in the child’s early years.
I heard a story about four scholars who were arguing about their favorite Bible translations. One said he preferred the King James Version because of its beauty and eloquent old English. Another said he liked the New American Standard Version for its literalism and how it moves the reader from passage to passage with confident feelings of accuracy from the original text. The third scholar was sold on the New Living Translation for its use of contemporary phrases and idioms that capture the meaning of difficult ideas. After being quiet for a moment, the fourth scholar admitted: “I have personally preferred my mother’s translation.” When the other scholars started laughing, he said, “Yes, she translated the Scriptures. My mom translated each page of the Bible into life. It is the most convincing translation I have ever read.”
Mothers, what you do and what you say in front of your children will have more of an impact on your children than where you take them to church or Bible School or even pre-school. The way you translate the scriptures into real life will speak to them for a lifetime. So I encourage you to not only read the Bible with your children and to pray with your children, but live out your beliefs so that they can see your good works and give glory to the Lord.
God: the model parent
The Lord is our ultimate guide to parenthood. God is often referred to in the Bible as father. Jesus addresses God as Pater and Abba, Father or Daddy, and he instructs his disciples to pray, “Our Father, who art in heaven…” But God is not only the perfect father, God is a perfect mother.
Now God is never called “mother” in the Bible, but mothering terms are used to describe God. Isaiah describes God as the one who birthed Israel, who will protect her children, has fed her children. Isaiah 66:13 says, “As a mother comforts her child, so I will comfort you; you shall be comforted in Jerusalem.”
God is described as a seamstress making clothes for Israel (Neh. 9:21), a midwife attending to the birth of Israel (Psalm 22), a woman working leaven into bread (Luke 13), and a woman looking for a lost coin (Luke 15). There are a number of references to God as a mothering animal, such as a bear or a hen. To be honest, I was quite surprised when I started looking at all of the references to God that lifted out the feminine side of God.
Does that mean God is a woman? No, it doesn’t. As I said earlier, God is never referred to in the Bible as mother. But I also don’t want you to hear me saying that God is a man. God is not man or woman, God is God. God created man and woman in his own image, and that my friends, is something that we will never be able to understand. It is a divine mystery that may never be answered sufficiently for us as long as we are bound by our earthly bodies and minds.
But I will continue to call God Father. Not because God is a man and not because I am trying to be sexist or patriarchal. I refer to God as Father because that is how Jesus referred to God, among other metaphors as well. I recognize that not everyone has had a loving, caring earthly father like I have and I understand that this makes it difficult for other people to view God as Father in a loving and caring way. To those people, I encourage you to pray to God using other biblical adjectives for God like loving God, creator God, Yahweh, Jehovah, Wonderful, Counselor, Mighty God, Emanuel. God is not male or female, man or woman. God is God. And our good and perfect God is our good and perfect father, a father who has birthed us, who looks for us like a woman looking for a lost coin, who spreads his message like a woman kneading leaven into dough. We serve a big, big God.
So women, as we seek to learn from the strong-willed women of the Bible, let us learn from Shiphrah and Puah, as well from Peter and the apostles to follow God, even if it means that we are not submissive to the authorities. But that means we must know who this God is that we serve. As some choose to enter into the ministry of motherhood, remember that your actions speak louder than your words. And as we seek to model our parenting or mentoring skills, let us remember that we have the ultimate example in God, the one that Jesus called Father, Abba, Papa, Daddy.