Wednesday, January 18, 2006

Fear and Drawing an Holy Blank

Some Christians in Africa sing this hymn:

“In the beginning was God,
Today is God,
Tomorrow will be God.
Who can make an image of God?
He has no body.
He is as a word which comes out of your mouth.
That word! It is no more, It is past, and still it lives!
So is God.”

For the first time in history, we read of people who are labeled as God-fearers in Exodus 1. Note the scripture points out twice that these people are two Hebrew midwives. Two midwives birthing a nation. Here are two women sold out to their task for God, to see His plan is carried out. This is astounding. By the time we reach this point where the nation is Israel seems to be a threat to the Egyptians there are already: 1) a great number of people; and 2) leadership who forgot their heritage. This is significant because we are already a couple of hundred years or more down the line when these two midwives appear.

I find it significant to note how the midwives feared God. I find it also significant to note also how they shared much of the same characteristics as Jacob, a father of the nation; greater still, they demonstrate the true characteristics of motherhood:

They were consistent; that is, they were not likely to change their convictions when the wind blows. They were firmly rooted in their faith and it showed in their obedience to the LORD. They were dependable in their tasks to the Hebrews.

They were real, authentic. These midwives are subjects of much debate about lying to Pharaoh concerning their involvements in the birthing process. This supposes inconsistency and deception. The fact of the matter is that given the great number of people, how could two women possibly keep up? I mean, really! I’m sure that if they had to personally appear before Pharaoh to answer, babies were being born during their audience!

They were true servants, try as they might, serving both people groups. They did not watch out for themselves, but had a greater interest in mind as they set about their tasks.

They were determined, tireless. They exhausted themselves. I will venture they even loved what they did and the persevered, regardless of their situations. And they did it out of fear and love for God.

Pharaoh was trying to impede the growth and possible rebellion of a nation by destroying the children. This is where we meet Moses. His name is called “Moses” by Pharaoh’s daughter and the name means, “Because I drew him out of the water.” Stop right here a minute because this is really intriguing.

Moses’ mother lay her baby in an ark and placed him in the river—and what mother would do such a thing without laying her child in the hands of God. She could not have done this had she not placed him in the care of God. How often we take cautions in our lives, “praying about it first”. Is there a level of careless abandon that is we are missing? Is there a level of faith we are lacking? I think so. Hang around an international Christian and you will find the same attitude, a measure of calmness even if a deed is unpleasant and this too is found in Moses’ mother.

Also, note how his mother placed his sister nearby to find out what would happen to him. When Pharaoh’s daughter came down to the Nile and saw the basket, guess who was on hand to volunteer her mother as nurse? Providence is everywhere in this! In our western mind, this seems staged. In one sense it was and there is nothing wrong in that. In another sense, it was not so unusual either for the mother to come as a nurse. Having a foreigner in the house was not unusual at all. Read some of James Pritchard’s books on Ancient Near Eastern documents and notice the roles of slaves in an Egyptian household.

Let’s return to Moses. What an unusual name, “Moses.” This is a strange name. Well, not in itself alone, but in the whole circumstance of naming. Watch this:

Q: Who named the boy?
A: Pharoah’s daughter.

Q: What does the name mean?
A: ”I drew him out of the water.”

Q: In what language does “Moses” mean “I drew him out of the water?”
A: In Hebrew moshe comes from mashah, meaning “to draw.”

Q: Why would Pharaoh’s daughter, an Egyptian, name a Hebrew child with a Hebrew name? Wouldn’t somebody around the palace know this was a Hebrew boy who should have been killed when she calls him by name? Is it possible he had an Egyptian name?
A: Certainly! In Hebrew, there are no vowels and the same is true in Egyptian; therefore, his name in Hebrew is “ms(h)”. In Egyptian, there is also a name pronounced, “mes” or “mesu”, which means, “child” or “son of” or “to give birth” and would be written as “ms”. The names are almost synonymous. There seems to be an irony that this child (“ms”), a son (“ms”) is drawn out (“ms”) when he should have been killed.

Q: So there is a play on words here?
A: Yes! She names him “ms”—the biblical record only delivers to us the Hebrew definition.

When we read this, we usually have in our minds the Cecil B. DeMille version of the story that Moses had an Egyptian brother, Raamses. I will not take the time to discuss the implausibility of this, but I will make this emphasis: whether Moses and Raamses were brothers or not is not as important as their names. The names are similar in that they are both “ms” with one difference. “Raameses” means “son of Ra”. If we take Moses name to mean “son of”, whose son was he? What deity would we attach to his name? To the Hebrew who spoke Egyptian, his name would be “son of ______”.

Does the question of “who made you prince or judge over us?” (Ex 2:14) take on another meaning?

What about God calling from the bush, “Son! Son!” (Ex 3:4).

Or perhaps the importance of the question in 3:13, “Then Moses said to God, “Behold, I am going to the sons of Israel, and I will say to them, ‘The God of your fathers has sent me to you.’ Now they may say to me, ‘What is His name?’ What shall I say to them?””

Whose son was the one drawn from the water?
What diety gave him authority to lead?
His name is so revered that no Hebrew will pronounce it.

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