This text is used as the Lectionary Text for Year A on August 27, 2017.
The subject of the sovereignty of God can be a touchy one within the church. It raises seemingly limitless questions, with seemingly limitless answers depending on one’s subscription to any number of theologies. The nature and scope of God’s sovereignty are often disagreed upon—even to the point of contention—among Christian denominations. But the fact that God is sovereign, whatever that might look like, is a critical tenet for all who profess, “Jesus is Lord.”
The passage begins by highlighting humanity’s ephemeral nature. Not even a great man like Joseph, who had risen to a place of prominence in Egypt, can be remembered forever. What has withstood the test of time, however, are the people through whom God’s covenant with Abraham would be fulfilled. The Israelites have honored God’s creation mandate to “be fruitful and multiply” (Genesis 1:28), and their growing number was a sign of God’s presence and blessing. The size of the Israelite population has snuck up on Pharaoh, and he decides to put an end to their growth—he attempts, in effect, to put an end to God’s presence and blessing among God’s people. Pharaoh does not deport the Israelites from his land; he recognizes that they have value to him, and he attempts to exploit it by ruthlessly imposing slave labor upon them. God’s sovereignty shines through, however, as the Israelites respond to Pharaoh’s oppression by further increasing in number. The Egyptians began to loathe the Israelites—after all, as the plagues in Exodus 8 would reveal, Egyptians hate swarms.
Next, Pharaoh attempts to nip his problem in the bud by ordering Hebrew midwives to kill all the newborn boys born to Hebrew women. But the midwives recognized God’s sovereignty over Pharaoh and refused his demand. They let the boys live, essentially telling Pharaoh that there is simply no stopping Hebrew births. God blessed the midwives and gave them families in response to their faithfulness, and the Israelites continued to grow in population. Finally, Pharaoh decided that if the birth of Hebrew boys could not be stopped, then he would order those born to be thrown into the Nile.
In scripture, water is seen as a destructive force prior to the book of Exodus. Genesis 6 offers an account of a flood that destroys all humanity—all humanity, that is, except a man named Noah and his family. Noah built an ark and, once the rains came, he floated safely above the destructive waters. Noah’s salvation from the flood represents a repeat of Genesis’ creation account, as it would be through Noah that God would preserve humanity.
In the Exodus passage, water was once again used as a destructive force, as Pharaoh ordered newborn Hebrew boys to be thrown into the Nile. Surely this would be the end of the Hebrew people and the end of God’s covenant with Abraham! However, in the same way that God’s sovereignty was on display in the subversion of Pharaoh’s first two attempts to stifle the Israelites’ growth, God’s sovereignty is revealed again in yet another picture of re-creation that mirrors Noah’s salvation. Just as Noah built himself an ark, so too was an ark built for one of the newborn Hebrew boys, saved by his mother from destruction. The ark built for this boy—who would be named Moses—was scaled down to the size of a basket, and the child was placed inside. Like Noah, Moses floated safely in his ark, above the destructive waters of the Nile.
God did not merely thwart Pharaoh’s attempts to stop his people—he subverted them. When Pharaoh oppressed the Israelites as slaves, God increased their number. When Pharaoh attempted to use the Hebrew midwives against their own people, God honored the midwives’ refusal to comply. And when Pharaoh attempted to have all newborn Hebrew males thrown into the Nile, God delivered the one who would ultimately lead the Israelites out of Egypt. As another picture of re-creation, Moses’ salvation represents the birth of a new people. This is not the birth of the Israelites, who were a people for generations before Moses. Rather, this is the birth of the delivered Israelites. Just as Moses was drawn from of the reeds in the Nile, so would God draw the delivered Israelites be from the Reed Sea.
The nature and scope of God’s sovereignty can (and will!) continue to be the subject of discussion within the church. But as this passage reveals, God does not lack creativity in the way his sovereignty is expressed. Pictures of re-creation like the one we see in this passage are found throughout the Old Testament as the Hebrew people repeatedly turn away from, and back to, God. In the ultimate picture of re-creation, however, God subverts a force much greater than Pharaoh—Christ died and rose again, delivering humanity from the oppression of sin and death. As the church, this is the deliverance we profess. We have been adopted into the promise God kept alive through Moses and, like the Israelites, have become a delivered people.
Minister of Youth and Education
Ball Camp Baptist Church, Knoxville, Tennessee
Tags: Moses, sovereignty, delivered, Pharaoh, slavery