It was an act of desperation. There really isn’t anything else that you can call it. A husband and wife – both from the house of Levi – had a son. Normally this would be a source of joy. But they were Israelites living in the land of Egypt. As we heard last Wednesday, a new Pharaoh had arisen who did not know Joseph. He viewed the Israelites as a threat to be controlled and exploited. And so he gave the command that while new born girls could live, all new born boys were to be drowned in the Nile River.
We learn that this mother hid the child for three months. Imagine what it was like for her as she attempted to keep a newborn quiet in the fear that he would be discovered and killed. But finally, it was clear that she could no longer pull it off. There would be no hiding her son.
So she formed a plan. She took a basket and covered it with bitumen and pitch to make it water tight. She put the child in the basket and placed it among the reeds by the river bank.
Then she had her daughter stand at a distance to see what would happen to him.
We are so familiar with the account that we probably don’t stop and think about the logic of it. The Egyptians want to kill her son by drowning him in the Nile River. So she takes her son and places him, floating in the Nile River. What’s she trying to do – make his murder convenient for the Egyptians?
Apparently she held out hope that an Egyptian finding the child abandoned would have compassion on him. And I suppose that it was the only real hope she had for saving his life. If discovered and reported there was no doubt what would happen to him. At least, in this way there was still a chance.
God had big plans for this child. And so, sure enough, someone did find the child and have compassion. In fact, it turned out that she wasn’t just anyone. Pharaoh’s daughter had gone to the Nile to bathe. When she saw the basket floating along the edge of the river she sent a servant girl to fetch it.
We hear about the daughter of Pharaoh, “When she opened it, she saw the child, and behold, the baby was crying. She took pity on him and said, ‘This is one of the Hebrews' children.’” She saw a crying, helpless child and she had compassion on him. She did not seek to kill the boy. Instead, in a bold move his sister asked, “Shall I go and call you a nurse from the Hebrew women to nurse the child for you?” Pharaoh’s daughter told her to do so and as a result the mother received wages to nurse her son until he had grown. Then she brought him to Pharaoh's daughter, and he became her son. She named him Moses, “‘Because,’ she said, ‘I drew him out of the water.’”
The name “Moses” often has some negative connotations among Lutherans. Moses, of course, received the Torah – the Law – from God at Mt. Sinai. His name is sometimes used as shorthand among Lutherans for the Law in its full theological meaning – those commands of God that tell us what we must do. The Law that we can’t do shows us our sin. The Law condemns. That’s what “Moses” brings to you.
But this overlooks entirely the fact that in the Old Testament Moses is the instrument of God’s rescue. God uses him to lead the people out of slavery as he works signs, wonders and miracles through Moses. God uses Moses to speak his word to his people. In doing this, Moses is the first prophet, and we are told that he is also the greatest prophet. Everyone else was just following in the model he had already established. In Deuteronomy chapter 18 Yahweh promised, “I will raise up for them a prophet like you from among their brothers. And I will put my words in his mouth, and he shall speak to them all that I command him. And whoever will not listen to my words that he shall speak in my name, I myself will require it of him.”
In our text, the instrument of God’s deliverance is rescued from a king who wants to kill him while he is a small child. If that sounds familiar, it should. Jesus Christ, the Savior sent by God to deliver all people from sin and death, is rescued from King Herod who wants to kill him while he is a small child. God warns Joseph to take Jesus and his mother and flee to Egypt before Herod can kill him. The similarity is not by chance. In the incarnation, God sent his Son into the world to be the prophet like Moses. He sent him to be the instrument of his deliverance and salvation.
Moses was raised in the house of Pharaoh. There must have been an interesting dynamic between father and daughter for that to happen. Moses was raised with all of the benefits of the royal court. But he didn’t forget where he was from. We learn in our text that, “One day, when Moses had grown up, he went out to his people and looked on their burdens, and he saw an Egyptian beating a Hebrew, one of his people.” He looked around
and seeing no one, he killed the Egyptian and hid him in the sand. Clearly, Moses felt the connection to his own people – so much so that he killed an Egyptian in order to protect an Israelite.
When Moses went out the next day, two Israelites were struggling together. He said to the man in the wrong, “Why do you strike your companion?” Moses again showed concern for his people. He confronted the one who was doing wrong and asked why he was striking this fellow member of his own people.
The response that came back was nothing that he expected. The Israelite said, “Who made you a prince and a judge over us? Do you mean to kill me as you killed the Egyptian?” Moses was afraid, because at that moment he realized the killing of the Egyptian was known by others. When Pharaoh learned about it, he wanted to kill Moses. So Moses fled from Pharaoh and stayed in the land of Midian.
Moses speaks the truth to an Israelite. He confronts wrongdoing. Yet instead of taking his words to heart and being corrected, the Israelite rejects Moses and snaps back at him. This was Moses’ first experience of this. It would not be his last. In fact in his role as God’s prophet leading the people of Israel it would happen again and again. More than that, it would characterize the experience of all of Israel’s prophets. Like Moses, God’s word spoken through the prophets was rejected. The Israelites rejected the prophets, persecuted the prophets, and even killed some.
This behavior is not unique to Israel. It is our reaction as well to God’s Word that directs how we are to live. We have our own ideas about what we want to do, and we don’t want God telling us do and don’ts. After all, the world doesn’t listen to that stuff. We want life to go the way we want it to go, and are not interested in hearing God’s word that calls us to trust in him in the midst of difficulties; God’s word that says he even uses difficulties for our good.
Because we react this way, Jesus Christ came as the prophet like Moses sent by God. He came to speak God’s word. He came to be rejected. He came to be persecuted and killed. Yet his death was not just about faithfulness to the will and word of God. God was working through Jesus to provide deliverance from sin itself. Jesus died on the cross and then was raised from the dead as the instrument of God’s rescue from sin, death and the devil.
He has given this rescue to you, and the events in our text call to mind how he has done this. The water of the Nile River was to be the means that killed. Yet instead it by being placed in that water Moses was rescued from death.
This is what God had done for you through your baptism. The apostle Paul told the Romans, “Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.”
The water of baptism was the means by which you died. Through that water included in God’s command and combined with God’s word you died with Christ and were buried with him. His saving death became yours. But because Jesus rose from the dead, the water is the means by which you have been rescued from death. Paul goes on to say, “For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his.” You are now a “Moses” – you are a person who has been drawn out of the water of baptism. And because you are, you have forgiveness, salvation and resurrection on the Last Day.