How God Raised up Moses
Tony Renshaw, Heald Green, Cheshire
Joseph had been the saviour of Egypt, but when his generation died, 'there arose up a new king over Egypt, which knew not Joseph', Exod. 1. 8. By then the Hebrews were spreading across Egypt in vast numbers. The new king's concern was that if war broke out with an adjoining state, the Hebrews might ally themselves with his enemies and fight their way out of Egypt. He wanted to keep them as a massive slave labour force, so he worked them so ruthlessly that they were unable to organise themselves and attempt an escape. But his exploitation failed to slow down the birth rate among the Hebrews, 'the more they afflicted them, the more they multiplied and grew', v. 12 - see Acts chapters 8 and 12 for a New Testament counterpart of this situation.
Then the king had a great idea. He learnt about the two midwives, Shiphrah and Puah. He sent for them and ordered them to begin killing off all the male babies born to Hebrew women. That interview must have been frightening for the two home-spun women, as they stood in the ornate throne-room of such a vicious tyrant. He cared nothing for the sanctity of human life. The midwives were to become his executioners. If they were fearful of Pharoah, who could blame them? Remarkably, though, we read that 'the midwives feared God, and did not as the king of Egypt commanded them'. This must have been a new experience for Pharoah! Tyrants are rarely disobeyed. When he learnt that the women were ignoring his decree he was livid with rage, sent for them again, and demanded an explanation. This was their answer, 'the Hebrew women are not as the Egyptian women; for they are lively, and are delivered ere the midwives come in unto them', v. 19. It was as obvious to Pharoah as it was to the midwives that their explanation was untenable. We can imagine the lengthy pause as Pharoah glared at them. And gradually it dawned on him that he was beaten. He was wasting his time, and he knew it. Those brave women had been defying him, and they meant to go on doing so. He might bully them and rave at them and threaten them with torture and death, but they were not going to kill those babies. So he dismissed them, and ordered his own people to do the job, v. 22. But God had been observing these events, and He 'dealt well with the midwives', v. 20. How? 'He made them houses', . . . gave them families'. At that time those dear women were either unmarried, or were married but childless. They had spent their days diligently bringing other people's babies into the world, and they longed for families of their own. So God gave them their desire. He ever values such courage and faithfulness. And those women never dreamed that they would be immortalized in Holy Scripture!
People are creatures of habit, and it is therefore safe to assume that Pharoah's daughter used that stretch of the Nile regularly for her morning wash. This would be known among the Hebrew families who lived in that district. It follows that Moses' mother was not acting quite as recklessly as some have assumed, when she carefully laid the small papyrus basket in the flags by the river's brink, in a place where the princess would notice it when she arrived a little later. The mother told her daughter (presumably Miriam) to watch from a strategic vantage-point and to act according to developments. Nevertheless it was a great act of faith, as the family trusted God to move the princess to be merciful to the baby. The princess duly arrived, noticed the ark among the flags and sent her maid to fetch it. Miriam watched anxiously as the princess opened the ark, and as she spoke with evident compassion, 'This is one of the Hebrews' children'. This prompted Miriam to act with breathtaking courage, as she stepped forward and offered to find a Hebrew nurse for the child. For a foreign slave girl to dare to address a member of the royal household was sufficiently brave. But think what her suggestion amounted to! She was asking the princess to endorse the family's action of sparing a child which should have been killed at birth. To condone such an act of defiance would itself involve sharing in the guilt of it. But Miriam's suggestion went further, for she wanted the princess to continue the offence on her own initiative, with all the risks of discovery and punishment which that would involve. It was a treasonable suggestion! Prudence and self-interest might have prompted the princess to throw the baby into the river, arrest the family and have them punished and even put to death for their rebellious behaviour. Even if she was inclined to spare the baby, could she trust her maidens to be discreet? She may well have thought long and hard that morning before finally agreeing to Miriam's appeal. Like most biblical narratives, the story is told tersely and factually. We are not told whether, when Miriam returned with her mother, the princess asked whether the child was theirs. She probably did not need to as she watched the mother gently and gratefully take the infant into her arms. Whether subsequently Pharoah's daughter contrived to raise the boy as a member of her household without her father's knowledge, or whether it was thought legitimate to use selected Hebrew boys as household slaves, we cannot know.
What we do know is that, under God, the designs of an evil man were frustrated by the boldness of courageous women - the midwives, the mother, the sister, the princess and her maidens. Nor are such incidents rare either in the scriptures or in church history, a fact which should preserve sisters from under-valuing their service for Christ in these days.