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Lenten Devotions from Fourth Presbyterian Church

Sunday, August 27, 2017

Today’s Scripture Reading | Exodus 1:8—2:10

Now a new king arose over Egypt, who did not know Joseph. He said to his people, “Look, the Israelite people are more numerous and more powerful than we. Come, let us deal shrewdly with them, or they will increase and, in the event of war, join our enemies and fight against us and escape from the land.” Therefore they set taskmasters over them to oppress them with forced labor. They built supply cities, Pithom and Rameses, for Pharaoh. But the more they were oppressed, the more they multiplied and spread, so that the Egyptians came to dread the Israelites. The Egyptians became ruthless in imposing tasks on the Israelites, and made their lives bitter with hard service in mortar and brick and in every kind of field labor. They were ruthless in all the tasks that they imposed on them.

The king of Egypt said to the Hebrew midwives, one of whom was named Shiphrah and the other Puah, “When you act as midwives to the Hebrew women, and see them on the birthstool, if it is a boy, kill him; but if it is a girl, she shall live.” But the midwives feared God; they did not do as the king of Egypt commanded them, but they let the boys live. So the king of Egypt summoned the midwives and said to them, “Why have you done this, and allowed the boys to live?” The midwives said to Pharaoh, “Because the Hebrew women are not like the Egyptian women; for they are vigorous and give birth before the midwife comes to them.” So God dealt well with the midwives; and the people multiplied and became very strong. And because the midwives feared God, he gave them families. Then Pharaoh commanded all his people, “Every boy that is born to the Hebrews you shall throw into the Nile, but you shall let every girl live.”

Now a man from the house of Levi went and married a Levite woman. The woman conceived and bore a son; and when she saw that he was a fine baby, she hid him three months. When she could hide him no longer she got a papyrus basket for him, and plastered it with bitumen and pitch; she put the child in it and placed it among the reeds on the bank of the river. His sister stood at a distance, to see what would happen to him.

The daughter of Pharaoh came down to bathe at the river, while her attendants walked beside the river. She saw the basket among the reeds and sent her maid to bring it. When she opened it, she saw the child. He was crying, and she took pity on him, “This must be one of the Hebrews’ children,” she said. Then his sister said to Pharaoh’s daughter, “Shall I go and get you a nurse from the Hebrew women to nurse the child for you?” Pharaoh’s daughter said to her, “Yes.” So the girl went and called the child’s mother. Pharaoh’s daughter said to her, “Take this child and nurse it for me, and I will give you your wages.” So the woman took the child and nursed it. When the child grew up, she brought him to Pharaoh’s daughter, and she took him as her son. She named him Moses, “because,” she said, “I drew him out of the water.” (NRSV)

When I was a college student, a well-known author spoke on our campus. She said something that I’ve never forgotten. She said, “You have to understand that institutions are not monoliths.” Don’t assume everyone in an institution is the same, she was telling us; look for your allies. She was talking about how we can work for justice and change systems that damage people. Don’t think that everyone in an institution is your enemy, she encouraged.

As a college student I was prone to believe that institutions were monolithic. I tended to see things in dualistic terms: good guys and bad guys, so to speak, (and I was usually the good guy, ahem). But the truth is so much more complicated. I’m not always the good guy. And people “on the other side” are not always the “bad guy.” Each of us is caught up in systems that do harm and damage people, and it’s up to each of us to keep looking for ways to interrupt the damage being done.

This message is reinforced by today’s scripture reading. Pharaoh’s daughter was the very person who could save Moses from her father’s heartless and murderous policy to kill all the Hebrew boys. The Egyptian people were not a monolith; they were not all the same.

Pharaoh was pursuing an evil agenda and needed to be resisted, which Pharaoh’s daughter, the midwives, and others did. Eventually, Pharaoh’s actions did reverberate back on him. But in this story before liberation came to the whole community, the life of Moses was saved by Pharaoh’s daughter. Her actions were an integral part of the chain of events that led to the liberation of the Hebrew people from slavery.

Who are pharaoh’s daughters in today’s world? (We might be some of them.) With whom can we collaborate to do the right thing, to bring about justice, to overcome oppression?

Dear God, fill me with love and courage as strong at that of Pharaoh’s daughter and the midwives. Help me to interrupt systems and policies that lead to death and suffering. Let my bravery be inspired by conviction and trust in your love. Amen.

Written by Nanette Sawyer, Minister for Congregational Life

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