In the name of the F, S, and HS. Amen.
Have you ever had your mind blown on a certain subject such that it alters your life and studies forever? Have you ever, years later tired to come back and see things the way they were before your mind was set free? That happened to me as I sat down to write this sermon. The problem I have found with abandoning the established lectionary for the subject of preaching is that it is essentially re-inventing the wheel. I am having to look for ways in which to break up the text to get the story. I am looking at the infamous elephant that one decides to eat and having to decide which areas to bite next in order to get the whole thing down.
As I am sitting down I have a plan and then things happen and plans change. Then I have to figure out the story again. So this particular time, I pick up my Bible, not my current Linus blanket, but the one before this one. This Bible was acquired from my dad, (a better term might be stolen as one steals tools from one’s dad, but we are in Exodus now in our journey and Exodus contains the 10 commandments, one of which is thou shalt not steal, they father’s bible, so acquired is a much better word). This Bible was the one I put all my notes in college, post-college, and my first year and a half of seminary. Opening it is seeing an old friend.
As I thumbed through this Bible because I know this was the Bible that I was using when my mind was opened that glorious day in seminary when I learned that the Bible is not just a collection of unrelated books that generally have to do with God and should be studied as one reads a magazine. Rather this was all one story from beginning to end, each building on what came before and expanding the story exponentially.
Well I didn’t take notes in my bible that day, it all came too fast and furious so I was forced to type. So in the spot I was looking for inspiration about our story today, was not what I was looking for, rather it was the old notes for the old mindset. There was notes that were the result of what is called “source theory.” You may have encountered this if you have studied the first five books of the Bible—the Pentateuch—and remember the J, E, D, P sources that show us what editors at what time period were responsible for which sentences on the page we see in our Bibles.
So In my bible are little notes as to which source wrote the section. I have seen bibles that have in them highlighted according to the source used. I wanted to do this myself, until I found out that some bibles have already done that for you. Ooooooo fancy. But now looking back, I realize that this is a distraction from the actual text on the page, not an enhancer. It gets you in the Bible, but you are concerned with the highlighter and not the actual words. “Well this source is obviously this group which has this bend to them and so this theology is at work. And moving to the next line, well this is a different source which has a different theology at work. Don’t forget this word here out of this third source but then it’s back to the second.” It distracts from the beauty of the text on the page and from what it is actually trying to say. It is like God is there on the page, screaming to be known by us, but we bind him with highlighter and tell him he can only speak to us a certain way.
So looking back at my Bible, yes it is still dear old friend, but I look back and realize that my friend might have been a little misguided. And I saw one word that sent me on this trip of the mind which I have now lead you on, and fittingly it was tevah the Hebrew word for “ark” that is only used in two places in the Bible. Obviously the first one is in Genesis, obviously dealing with Noah and the ark referring to a sealed nautical vessel daubed with pitch—a tar like substance used to waterproof. The other instance comes to us in Exodus which brings us to our story.
Now when we last visited Egypt at the end of Genesis, life was good, Joseph had just saved his whole family and all of Egypt and gotten the best of the land awarded to him for this. And Joseph’s family was fruitful and multiplied, and multiplied, and multiplied. When one day, a new pharaoh came into power who was not up to snuff in his history of Egypt o he knew nothing of Joseph, nor of the good works that he had done. All he saw was roughly 2 million people dwelling in the best of the land which were not native Egyptians and should a foreign army come in with a better arrangement for them, the Hebrews could switch sides. So he decided to get ahead of this, and enslave these people to break their fighting spirit. And in a fit of mad brilliance, Pharaoh had the idea to kill off all the male children of the Hebrews so the resulting overabundance of women in the land would be forced to marry Egyptian men thus eliminating the outsiders in a few generations.
And a young mother who did not want to see her son perish, made a tevah my text reads basket, and daubed it with pitch. The use of this word tevah is intentional because it is supposed to point back to the Genesis episode of Noah. The world had become corrupt and was going to be destroyed but God called Noah to make his giant tevah and salvation would emerge from that ark when the killing was finished. God selected his deliverer and placed him in the tevah and deliverance followed with Noah, and now we are meant to see the same theme with Moses. (But notice this interconnectivity—possible only because it a continuation of the same story.)
Moses is discovered in this vessel by Pharaoh’s daughter as she was bathing in a pool. Now this was no accident, Moses’ mom didn’t just place him in, kiss him on the forehead and wish him the best of luck. She had a plan, and she had spent days, maybe even weeks determining exactly where this vessel would rest to save her baby. Maybe she would get sticks and float them down river to see where she could sail her vessel that it would find a current to lead it to this bathing pool. And when she found it she placed her daughter Miriam there to suggest a wet nurse for the child.
When she discovered all this, she enacted her plan, and placed her child in the care of God as she sent him to be the child of another and the deliverer of her people. And her plan could not have gone better. The vessel landed exactly where it needed to go, and Pharaoh’s daughter saw the vessel and opened it. As she did, the sun came out from behind a cloud, lighting up her entire world. She fell in love with this obviously Hebrew baby. And she saw a local Hebrew girl, who just so happened to know of a wet nurse. And when Pharaoh’s daughter showed dad what she found, he said, “Put that thing back into the River, I have decreed that all Hebrew male babies should be drowned in the River.”
PD: “All Hebrew babies, except this one,” she said. And that was that, she named him Moses and brought her new wet nurse in to live at the palace and paid her as she raised the boy until he was weaned.
Moses is now set up perfectly to deliver the Israelites, for he was raised in the household of the pharaoh and though he could not actually rule, he would have enough power to be able to legally free his people if he just stays according to the plan. But Moses doesn’t. Moses is a man of action, not of words (we will see this happen many times in his life), and he has a bit of a temper.
One day he sees a fellow Hebrew being beaten, and though he has the power to stop the man with words, he strikes the man and kills him. But he is not very street –wise, and so he merely covers the body with some sand. Then next day there is this big pile of sand and when it was investigated, there was the guy he killed. Word got back to pharaoh and Moses had to flee, because now there was a warrant out for his arrest. Though he was now of the royal family, Egyptian society was very advanced and had laws to which even the royal family was subject.
So Moses fled as far away as he could think, just running into the desert. Moses landed into a family of the local priest in Midian. He married his daughter and settled down. And after Moses had wandered in the desert following his father-in-law’s sheep for 40 years, God decided, “Moses and I need a little face time.”
One day as Moses was sitting there watching his sheep, he saw a bush and all of the sudden the bush burst into flame. And as Moses stood looking at this bush, he noticed that it just kept burning and burning. And as He leaned in to investigate further, a voice came to Moses from the midst of the bush: “Moses. Moses.”
God: “I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. I have seen the affliction of my people and heard their cry, and I have come down to deliver them out of the hand of the Egyptians and into a land flowing with milk and honey. And you Moses, are going to be my go between, and you are going to bring my people out.”
M: “Ok. Who are you again? Whom should I say sent me?”
For Moses the God of Joseph was remote (this was the end of 430 years of oppression). This would be asking Moses to go back and locate the cherry tree George Washington chopped down and about which he could not tell a lie. For Moses, this God he has obviously heard about, but is more of a tall tale than a reality. The Israelites have been in Egypt for over four centuries, in a land with a very strong religion of their own. So without it being reinforced, their religion transitioned into their heritage, and their God faded into the background for them.
So now God has to introduce himself to Moses and to the entire Israelite people. Say to them, “I am who I am.” Really this sentence is just a beginning—a subject and a verb—I am, and we don’t learn until much later the rest of the sentence. It is not until Jesus comes to that little town of Bethlehem that we learn that the name Jesus means “He who saves.” So with the revelation of Jesus, we learn that God is “I Am He Who Saves.”
Moses world has just been changed. He thought he knew who he was, and about what life was about (He is 80 years old at this point). But now God has just changed it. He is now going to go back into the world he abandoned to set his people free, from the bondage of Egypt and the bondage of the Egyptian world view. Through this encounter, God will set this people up as a witness to the world to bring the world to him.
But first Moses has to go through the hard task of getting the people to see past the highlighter on the page, and to see the salvation contained on the page itself. He has to get them to trust in something that they haven’t seen in their life and trust him as he takes them into the unknown. And they are going to have to trust God enough to follow even though they have no idea what is going on. So the question we will see in this book is will they or won’t they?
In the name of the F, S, and HS. Amen.