The command to throw the baby boys into the Nile River was an awful thing. The parents of Moses must have seen this very clearly the moment they laid eyes on their baby son. He was “a fine child.” The Hebrew at that point can be translated in other ways, but the ESV gives it to us like that – Moses was “a fine child.”
It could be that Moses was a good-looking baby. It could be that Moses’ parents sensed some sort of greater purpose for this boy. But it also could be that they saw, simply, that he was a fine child. The Hebrew there actually is similar to the common phrase in the creation account of Genesis 1, where God saw that his creation was good.
This was an infant person, and human life is a good thing. Human life is not a thing to be thrown to the crocodiles. It is something to be cherished and valued.
And so Moses’ parents hid the boy for three months. I picture them keeping visitors out of their home and of muffling the sounds of the baby’s cries, especially in the middle of the night when babies tend to wake everyone up hungry. “She hid him three months.” She would not throw this baby boy into the Nile.
The South Carolina governor signed a bill into law in recent days that prohibits most abortions in his state that occur after a heartbeat has been detected in the womb. The governor said when he signed the bill, “If there is not a right to life, what rights are there? We’re here to protect that. We have a duty … to protect life above all else.”
Moses was “a fine child.” His mother refused to throw him into the Nile. She and her husband might have said to themselves, “If there’s not a right to life, what rights are there?” And they chose to protect the life of that baby by hiding him in their home for three months.
This is not to say Moses and his parents were not in danger during those three months. The forces that sought to take life, to treat it as some disposable thing and as some kind of nuisance, were always present. The order from Pharaoh remained in effect: “Every son that is born to the Hebrews you shall cast into the Nile.”
The parents who sought life for their child were living in direct opposition to that law. They would not abide with it.
In some ways, this early portion of the exodus story is all about what a person thinks about life. We recall those midwives who would not kill off the baby boys upon birth. The first chapter of Exodus tells us twice that the midwives “feared God.”
There was something in them that saw new life and would not submit to the command to take it. Such commands come from prideful humanity. Only prideful humanity can look at the miracle of new life and then snuff it out.
The psalmist wrote to God, “For you formed my inward parts; you knitted me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Wonderful are your works; my soul knows it very well. My frame was not hidden from you, when I was being made in secret, intricately woven in the depths of the earth. Your eyes saw my unformed substance; in your book were written, every one of them, the days that were formed for me, when as yet there was none of them” (Psalm 139:13-16).
According to the Bible, human life is something that has been formed and knitted and weaved together by God himself. To tear apart something that has been knitted together by God is sinful. To treat that thing as disposable and inconvenient and threatening to a nation or a lifestyle is contrary to the very nature of the God of life. Moses was “a fine child.” God created humanity and he called it “very good” (Genesis 1:31).
The attitude that undergirded Pharaoh’s order to throw the baby boys into the Nile River is no different than the attitude of the abortion providers who promptly filed a lawsuit against South Carolina’s heartbeat bill. It is an attitude that parades as being helpful and protective but is one that willfully disregards human beings as people who are “fearfully and wonderfully made.”
The president of the South Carolina Planned Parenthood said, “We will never back down from this fight.” That is, they will never back down from the fight to ensure babies can be thrown into the Nile. The threat remains.
And Moses was hidden by his mother and his father for three months. But no one was going to come to the rescue. Pharaoh would never back down from that fight.
That three months of hiding baby Moses was significant to the first Christians. They didn’t ignore the actions of Moses’ parents. The writer of Hebrews enshrined Moses’ father and mother into the “hall of fame” of the faith.
“By faith Moses, when he was born, was hidden for three months by his parents, because they saw that the child was beautiful, and they were not afraid of the king’s edict” (Hebrews 11:23).
This hiding of the child Moses was an act of faith. His parents saw something holy and good in this new life, and they lived unafraid of Pharaoh. They were wise and judicious, certainly. They hid the child. To parade the baby boy around town, I suppose, would have meant death to all of them. And so they hid him away, and they hoped. And they did this “by faith.”
What is this “faith” that they had?
Well, faith certainly overcomes fear. They were not afraid of the king’s edict. Faith and fear frequently seem at odds with each other in Scripture. When Jesus was asleep on the boat in the storm, the disciples were beside themselves in fear. “Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?” And Jesus calmed the waters and then asked his disciples, “Why are you so afraid? Have you still no faith?” (Mark 4:35-41).
And so Moses’ parents lacked fear. Instead, they had faith in God. This faith is, as the writer of Hebrews put it, “the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of thins not seen” (Hebrews 11:1). In broad strokes, according to the writer of Hebrews, this means the people of God always trust in the promises of God, no matter what, even if they can’t really grab hold of those promises in the here and now.
For Moses’ parents, it meant that they trusted God even if they couldn’t see a good way out of their predicament. How could this baby boy live in this culture of death? By the same token, I suppose they remembered the promises given to Abraham, the one that undergirded their very nation – promises for a land, a nation, and the blessing.
And so, like the midwives who feared God and refused to put the baby boys to death, Moses’ parents hid their son in faith. And they took three months, and they gave God room to act. And God did.
I suppose the point thus far in the story of Moses’ young life is twofold.
First, the people of God exist in a world filled with pride and death. And it is death that wants to consume life itself. It is death that actively pursues the people of life – God’s people. The disciple Peter said, “Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour” (1 Peter 5:8).
Moses pre-figures Christ in that he, too, had to be hidden as a baby from forces that wanted to kill him. Jesus’ parents were told by an angel, “Rise, take the child and his mother, and flee to Egypt, and remain there until I tell you, for Herod is about to search for the child, to destroy him” (Matthew 2:13). And of course we know what Herod did to the children of Bethlehem. It was not too far off from the viciousness of Pharaoh.
And at the end of the New Testament, all of this is summarized in Revelation 12. It tells the story of the people of faith, the church, giving birth to a son. And waiting for that child was a great red dragon ready to “devour” the child (Revelation 12:1-6). And this is a picture of the plan of God coming into opposition with the forces of this world.
And this is the world where we live. We exist as the people of God in a world filled with pride and death. That’s the first point in this story of Moses’ young life. God’s plan faces opposition in the world.
The second point is this: In this culture of death where the people of God exist, we are to see life for what it is – a good thing. And we are to protect it. We are to live without fear in the face of that hostility and to trust in the plan and promises of God.
Back in Hebrews where Moses’ parents (I think especially his mother) are commended for their faith in hiding their son for three months, another woman is commended for her faith. Rahab lived in a culture of death among the Canaanites. “By faith Rahab the prostitute did not perish with those who were disobedient, because she had given a friendly welcome to the spies” (Hebrews 11:31). She, too, protected life in the face of a culture of death (Joshua 2).
And so we have a reality and mission. We live in a world that is hostile to life. And we are to faithfully and fearlessly seek to protect life.
One of the interesting things about the South Carolina heartbeat bill is that when a heartbeat is not yet detected in a mother’s womb and when an abortion is permissible, the doctors must wait one hour after the ultrasound before performing the abortion. After that quiet ultrasound, when everyone still knows the baby is very much alive inside the mother’s womb, the doctors are to halt the proceedings. The mother is given time. That one hour, I suppose, is important.
A lot of thinking can be done in one hour. In that sixty minutes of waiting, you have created space to consider – and to re-consider.
Sometimes we live by faith and all we are doing as we live by faith is creating space for God to act. In faith, we leave room for the Almighty. Our acting in faith is nothing more than trusting that God will provide – of continuing with our best wisdom and looking for God to act.
And we never cease to trust him.
When Moses’ parents finally could hide the baby no longer, they built him a little boat. The word there is used one other place in Scripture, back in Genesis. The Hebrew word (tebah) is “ark.”
And we see faith in action. Moses’ parents might have said to each other, “We will build a boat. Perhaps God will save him.” And Moses was joined with Noah – saved by the hand of God on an ark.
Moses was put into the Nile River as required by law. And he was saved out of the water in the unlikeliest of ways. And God’s plan continued.
So what are we to do with a story like this – with a teaching of Scripture like this?
I suppose the overarching theme(s) in these first few verses of Exodus 2 is this: We should value life in this culture of death and faithfully and fearlessly seek to protect it. And if we can’t do it ourselves, we try to leave room for the hand of God.
Life is precious to God – created and sustained by him alone (Genesis 1; Psalm 139). And this culture of death is pervasive and has been this way throughout history. Satan always has sought to snuff out the plan of God for his people (Exodus 1-2; Matthew 2; 1 Peter 5:8; Revelation 12).
And we should fearlessly and faithfully seek to protect life and advance God’s kingdom on earth – like Moses’ parents, and like Rahab and Mary and Joseph (Hebrews 11; Joshua 2; Matthew 2; Mark 4).
And sometimes we just need to create space for God to work. We can do this through prayer and faithful endurance.