Last week we discovered that the Book of Exodus was written to be read as a direct sequel to the Book of Genesis, picking up exactly where Genesis left off: with the family of Israel moving to Egypt to escape from a famine.
But then, as we continued reading, we discovered that hundreds of years have actually passed since they first arrived. And the growing nation of Israel has been suffering under the growing threat of a genocide by the Egyptian government.
And we ended last week on a bit of a cliffhanger: the Pharaoh of Egypt gave this order to all his people: “Every Hebrew boy that is born you must throw into the Nile, but let every girl live.”
And as soon as we read these words we realized there was a deeper symbolic significance to them: the king of Egypt is telling his people to sacrifice the sons of Israel to the Nile river-god of Egypt. In other words, this is not just a physical genocide, this is also a spiritual genocide. The king of Egypt intends to destroy the faith of Israel along with the body of their nation. He wants to see Israel’s God drowned by the gods of Egypt just as Israel’s baby boys are drowned in the Nile.
The king of Egypt has just declared war on the God of Israel.
So the question on our minds now is this: how is the God of Israel going to respond to this challenge?
This is how God responds: he arranges a marriage between a man of the tribe of Levi and a Levite woman.
A bit underwhelming, perhaps, but we’ll read on and see what comesof this small beginning.
And, just for some background here: the tribe of Levi is descended from the third of the twelve sons of Israel. His name was Levi. He got famous in the Book of Genesis for helping his older brother Simeon murder an entire city.
In modern terms we might say that Levi had some unresolved anger issues. And there is some evidence — here in Exodus, and in later books — that some members of the tribe of Levi continued to struggle with the sin of anger and impetuousness.
After this man and woman were married, she became pregnant and gave birth to a son —
right after Pharaoh issued this terrible command to throw every Hebrew baby boy into the Nile.
Now, last week we met two women — Shiphrah and Puah — who feared God and did not do what the king of Egypt had told them to do when he told them to murder baby boys: they let the boys live.
Well, the Egyptians did not fear God. They feared their gods and their government instead. And last week we were told they also feared the Israelites themselves because of their huge numbers. And so, apparently, many Egyptians did do exactly what the king of Egypt had told them to do: they began snatching and drowning babies as an act of nationalistic devotion to gods and government.
And no doubt the Hebrew people did whatever they could to protect their sons, to keep them hidden. But this must have been very difficult. They must have been trying to conceal even their pregnancies from prying eyes, because there would have been overseers keeping track of which slaves were pregnant when, demanding to know after the birth if the baby was a boy or a girl.
And so with every pregnancy, every Hebrew family would have had to weigh the cost of getting caught. Every family was being faced with Shiphrah and Puah’s choice: are we going to fear God, or fear Pharaoh?
And we have no idea how many Hebrew families chose to fear Pharaoh rather than God. We do not know how many Hebrew families may have terminated their pregnancies, or even smothered their newborn sons themselves rather than see them sacrificed to a foreign pagan god. Surrounded by the overwhelming might of Egypt, crushed by the despair of slavery, choosing life over death must have been a very difficult decision to make.
But when this particular Levite mother gave birth to a son, and saw that he was a fine child, she could not help herself: she feared God more than Pharaoh, she chose life, and she hid him for three months.
 But when she could hide him no longer — when he was too big, too active, too noisy to be hidden at home — she finally went out in public with the baby, she went down to the river, and she obeyed Pharaoh’s command: she threw her baby boy into the Nile.
But she did not throw him in without a floatation device! Instead, she placed him in a little rotan basket that she had sealed with tar and pitch so it would be waterproof, and she put the basket among the reeds along the bank of the Nile. And his sister stood at a distance to see what would happen to him.
Now, what is this mother trying to accomplish here?
History suggests that she did not come up with this idea all by herself. There are several ancient stories from this time that describe how desperate mothers would sometimes try to save their babies from certain death at home by putting them in a little basket and letting them float away down a river.
Basically, it was a way of giving the baby into the hands of the gods. The child will certainly die if he stays home, but if he is given to the river in a basket then there is at least a chance that the gods might show mercy, that the baby might be found and adopted by someone else. That way the heartbroken mothers could always hold on to the hope that their child might still be alive somewhere. And, in fact, that is how those ancient stories did always end: with the baby being found and adopted and growing up to become someone great.
So, given this historical background, it could be that some of the other Hebrew mothers were doing the same thing with their infant sons: technically obeying Pharaoh’s command — but not drowning their sons directly; instead letting the river-god carry them away in baskets in hope that they might somehow be saved.
However, we are given three hints here that this particular Hebrew mother has a different plan than just letting her son go downriver into the hands of the gods.
The first hint is found in the word the writer uses for “basket”. In Hebrew, this is also the word for “ark”. A more literal translation of verse 3 would say: she got an ark for him and coated it with tar and pitch.
Now, where have we heard before about an ark that is coated with pitch to make it waterproof? Oh yeah: Noah’s ark! Amirite? Yes, I’m right.
The point the writer is making is this: just as Noah once prepared an ark so he could give his family into the hands of God, so now also this Hebrew mother has prepared an ark so she can give her infant son into the hands of God. She is not trusting to the mercy of the Nile river-god, she is fighting back against this spiritual genocide by entrusting her son to the only true God. This is an act of faith.
The second hint is that she put the basket among the reeds along the bank so it would not float away downriver. That way anyone who passed by might just assume that this was yet another abandoned baby that had washed up here from somewhere upriver — and would hopefully leave it alone.
The third hint is found in verse 4, where her daughter stands at a distance to watch over the basket: this mother does want to keep track of her baby. She has given her son into the hands of God, but she also wants to be a mother to the boy if she can!
In short: this woman, very cleverly, has obeyed the letter of the Egyptian law — the baby is in the Nile, isn’t he? — while at the same time completely violating the spirit of the Egyptian law: she is keeping her son alive and close.
She has just declared war on the gods of Egypt!
So the question on our minds now is this: how are the gods of Egypt going to respond to this challenge?
This is how the gods of Egypt respond: they require that the women of Egypt go down to the Nile periodically for some kind of ritual, religious bath. And on this particular day they make sure that  Pharaoh’s daughter went down to the Nile to bathe, and her attendants were walking along the riverbank. She saw the basket among the reeds and sent her female slave to get it.  She opened it and saw the baby. He was crying, and she felt sorry for him. “This is one of the Hebrew babies,” she said.
But hang on: how could she be so sure that this was a Hebrew baby?
We do not know. It could be that she recognized his ethnicity, or perhaps the clothes he was wearing, or maybe even the style of basket. Or it could be that most of the babies in baskets floating down the river during that terrible season were Hebrew babies, and the princess just made an educated guess.
But it doesn’t really matter. The point is this:
It looks as if the gods of Egypt are fighting back against this Hebrew mother’s faith by making sure her baby falls directly into the hands of the royal house, directly into the coils of the serpent king of Egypt.
But just then a little Hebrew slave girl comes running up and asks the princess: “Shall I go and get one of the Hebrew women to nurse the baby for you?”
“Oh! What a fantastic idea!” the princess thinks.  “Yes, go,” she answered.
So the girl went and got the baby’s mother.  Pharaoh’s daughter said to her, “Take this baby and nurse him for me, and I will pay you.” So the woman took the baby and nursed him.
And  when the child grew older — probably four or five years old — she took him to Pharaoh’s daughter and he became her son. She named him Moses, saying, “I drew him out of the water.”
Because “Moses” sounds like the Hebrew word for “draw out”.
So it seems that the baby boy’s sister was just as clever as the mother. That moment when the princess discovered the baby must have been heart-stopping for the little girl! But she did not give in to fear. She kept her head. And when she saw that the princess had a soft heart, she seized the opportunity to save her little brother’s life.
It also seems that the gods of Egypt have lost this first skirmish of the war. They succeeded in their scheme to draw this baby boy right down into the center of their death-dealing power! — only to discover that the God of Israel had gotten there ahead of them. Years before this moment, he had already installed a secret agent of his own right there in the king’s household: the Pharaoh’s own daughter! a young woman with a mother’s heart who drew this baby back up out of the waters of death into life.
So: God of Israel, 1. Gods of Egypt, 0.
What a great beginning to the war!
But is that all this episode is: just a war story? Or is there more going on here beneath the surface?
If you have been worshiping with us for a while, you will not be surprised when I say that there is a lot more going on here than just an adventure story. Like all good narrative literature, there are multiple layers of meaning being conveyed all at once. There is the story, the action, which is fairly simple and direct, like the notes of a melody. But then, just as in music, woven throughout the melody of the story there are other harmonic overtones playing. And if, as listeners, we can learn to hear those overtones, our appreciation of the melody — and the one who wrote it — will only be deepened.
And so I might as well tell you now — since he has just been introduced — that this baby Moses grew up to become the writer of Exodus, and Genesis, and a few other books in the Old Testament. This episode here is autobiographical; Moses is writing about his own birth and early infancy. But not simply as an adventure story. Not just so people can go, “Oh, wow, exciting childhood, man!”
As always in his writing, Moses is playing literary chords here. He is drawing on texts and themes from the primordial past and weaving them together in layers so that his people will be able to see how those elements of ancient wisdom are able to inform their situation in the present.
For instance: it is clear that this episode continues the themes we noticed in last week’s episode: here, again, it is women who first step out in faith to fight back against the tyranny of gods and kings. We have here a slave woman, a slave girl, and a princess, women who embody what it means to be Eve reborn: the mothers of all the living.
What an inspiration! What an intense distillation of what motherhood is all about: spending your own life to nurse life in another! And what a reminder of God’s great promise to Eve that she would be saved through childbirth.
But as we noticed earlier, this episode is not just connected to God’s first promise of salvation, it is also connected to God’s first great fulfillment of that promise: Noah’s ark. Noah was a son of Eve who lived during an age of hopeless violence and oppression, dominated by the crushing weight of Cain’s world-enslaving empire, threatened by the rising chaos gods of the Abyss, the demonic servants of the serpent who hates mankind and hates God’s children most of all. That serpent did succeed in his scheme to drag Noah’s family into the Abyss, into the waters of death, into the center of his corrupt royal power — only to discover that the God of Noah had gotten there ahead of him, having prepared an ark coated with pitch, so that his people might pass through the waters without sinking down into them.
What a rush! And what a reminder that God has already kept his promise to Eve at least one time before this point in history!
Moses wants his readers to remember that God saved Noah through water, and that this action transformed Noah into a messiah, a saviour to God’s people, and a father over all the nations that grew out of him. Moses wants his people to be encouraged by this reminder that their God is the God who has kept his promises in the past, and therefore can be trusted to keep his promises in the future.
But there is also another layer to this: Moses wants his readers to realize that God also saved Moses through water just as he saved Noah. And if that action transformed Noah into God’s new nation-building messiah, well then…Moses must also be God’s new nation-building messiah: anointed, set apart almost from birth to become the great saviour of God’s people in Egypt!
This is the message Moses has woven throughout the simple melodic action of this episode: he wants the people of Israel to know, first, that God is once again going to lead his people through the waters of death to new life on the other side. Second, he wants them to know that he — Moses — is the messiah who has been called to do it. He is Noah reborn. And they can be sure that he is God’s chosen messiah because God has already drawn Moses through the waters of death into new life. Moses has already made the journey, which means he has already been equipped by God to lead his people along that same path to salvation.
But in his writing Moses was not just weaving past wisdom into the present, he was also setting patterns for the future. Inspired by the Spirit of God, Moses played these first simple literary chords knowing that every overtone, every harmonic would later be taken up by writers who — inspired by the same Holy Spirit — would develop them into an overwhelming symphony of salvation, every note pointing forward to the coming of the true Son of Eve, the final Messiah, God’s Anointed Saviour.
That prophetic song grew slowly in complexity and majesty and completeness throughout all the long waiting centuries of the Old Testament! — and then, suddenly: fell silent, through 400 echoing years.
Well, as any musician or writer or artist will tell you, the spaces between the notes are just as important as the notes themselves. That silence was essential to God’s symphony of salvation, because when the writers of the New Testament finally picked up the threads of Moses’ ancient song, they began again with the same simple notes and chords that Moses had used. And how those notes sang in the silence! — the story of how a man of the tribe of Judah married a Judahite woman; how she was pregnant and gave birth to a son named Jesus; how that son was circumcised as an infant, entrusted to the hands of God almost from birth; how he was hunted by an evil foreign king and had to be carried away from God’s homeland to exile in the heart of pagan Egypt; how he grew up in hiding, his true identity concealed, until the day he went down to the Jordan river, where he was ritually washed by a renegade priest and then led by the Spirit through the Jordan river into the wilderness on the other side. And there in the wilderness he fired the first shots of the great war between the Son of God and the ancient serpent called the devil, or Satan, who leads the whole world astray — !
But now we are getting ahead of our story in Exodus. Come back next week to hear more about that!
Here’s the point: by picking out the notes of Moses’ ancient melody, the New Testament writers were making it clear that, like Moses in his basket, Jesus of Nazareth also passed through the waters of judgement, but without sinking down into them — and that through this ritual washing action God was setting Jesus apart publically as the Messiah — “messiah” literally means the Anointed One! — and preparing him for the greater crossing to come.
And later New Testament writers picked up this theme and wove it back into the Old Testament symphony, making a new song out of the old, a new song that was the old song, but with every theme completed.
For instance, one New Testament writer pointed out that Noah’s experience was really a type of baptism, a preview of Jesus’ journey through death into life. Another writer pointed out that Moses’ experience was also a type of baptism. That same writer also said that even Jesus’ circumcision when he was an infant was a type of baptism, a preview and a prophecy of the greater baptism to come.
And these New Testament writers make it clear that when Jesus was baptised, God’s people were all baptised with him, into him: that when he died, we died; and when he was drawn up out of death to life in the royal household of God, we were drawn out.
So…wow. That is some multi-layered thematic imagery right there!
What are we supposed to do with all this? How are we supposed to respond? How in the world can we draw a practical application out of a symphony like this, a song so overwhelming that it shakes the heavens and the earth like the roar of rushing waters?
If you are anything like me, then you also find it impossible to listen to every single instrument, every single harmonic theme at once. When listening to a great work of art like the Word of God, we have two choices: we can either sit back and let it wash over us in all its power and beauty, letting the current of God’s majesty carry us away helpless to the foothills of the great Mountain; or we can remain among the reeds along the bank and try to just focus on a single melodic thread.
Both of those responses are right responses. On the one hand there is simply Worship! — joining in song with the great multitude that no one can count, from every nation, tribe, people and language. On the other hand there is also focused contemplation and quiet conversation with God and with one another. The one leads into the other, and the other leads back into the One. We must have both: the overwhelming whole and the intimate portion.
So, now that we have been carried for a while upon the flood, let’s return to the reeds along the bank of the ancient Nile and remember that the symphony of salvation began with this very simple melody, this very simple story about a mother who was saved through childbearing, and through giving up that child to God.
She did not know that she was actually anointing her own messiah when she placed her baby in that basket. She had no idea that her son would one day, in his writing, transform that cheap rotan basket into an ark of salvation, setting in motion a literary theme that would one day grow up into the concept of baptism. She did not know the profound significance of her actions. All she knew is that her child was going to die if she did not give him to God. So she gave him to God! And God gave him back.
She did not know the profound significance of her actions — but we do. And our greater understanding makes the application of this passage to our lives easier. Quite simply: we are called to imitate Moses’ mother in giving our children into the hands of God, just as last week we were called to imitate the midwives Shiphrah and Puah by refusing to give our children over to the serpent.
Moses’ mother acted in blind faith: she scarcely knew what kind of God she was giving her son to. But our faith is no longer blind: when we baptise our children, we know that we are baptising them into Jesus Christ, the only begotten Son of God, the One who passed through the waters of death into life before us, the One who sank down into the waters of judgement on our behalf so that we would not have to.
…this might be a good place to pause and explain that this is the reason the historic church, for the last 2000 years, has practiced baptism by sprinkling or pouring, not by immersion — immersion means going completely under the water.
See, in scripture — from Genesis to Revelation — going underneath the water is strongly associated with God’s judgement. In the entire bible there are only two kinds of people who are completely submerged under water: those who are bathing themselves (which is, obviously, okay) and unbelievers who refuse God’s salvation and receive God’s eternal condemnation.
There is only one person in all of scripture who was completely submerged under the waters of God’s judgement and then returned to life. That person is Jesus Christ. And scripture makes it clear that, because he went under, we do not have to. And that is why, in scripture — from Genesis to Revelation — we find that God’s children are only ever sprinkled with the waters of death and life as a reminder of that great reality.
More than this, throughout scripture, those who are sprinkled are always sprinkled as part of their entrance into some kind of ark of salvation. Noah and his family were baptized into the original ark. Moses was baptized into a basket as a baby, and later he and his people were baptized into the covenant nation of God. Even Jonah — that most vivid preview of Jesus’ death — was baptised into an ark that was actually a living creature!
So our faith has this great advantage that Moses’ mother did not: we baptise our children into a God that we know.
And we have this other great advantage that Moses’ mother did not: we baptise our children into the true ark of salvation. She entrusted Moses to God and to a basket, a little girl, and a princess. We entrust our children to Jesus Christ and to his Church.
And it is through Jesus’ Church that God gives our children back to us to raise, just as he gave Moses back to his mother. In this episode, a community of three women worked together to rebel against the serpent king of Egypt and bring life to a hunted child. In our age, local church communities like ours work together to rebel against the ancient serpent called the devil, and bring life to our hunted children.
Which means that we are not just called to imitate Moses’ mother in giving our children into the hands of God, we are also called to imitate Moses’ mother by receiving our children back from God and preparing them for life in the royal household of Jesus Christ. We baptise our children in faith, just as Moses’ mother did; and then we raise them in faith. The one leads into the other, and the other leads back into the One. We must have both: the covenant sign and the covenantal life.
So let’s get practical with our application.
If you are here today, and you are not a Christian, if this story and these concepts are new to you and almost completely incomprehensible, then let me simplify the melody to this: like Moses’ mother, like Moses’ sister, like the Egyptian princess, you live under the rule of the ancient Satanic serpent who will use you and reward you only as long as you are useful to him. In the end, no matter how useful or successful or fulfilled you may have been at some point in your life, he will discard you. He will throw you into the dark river of death. He will let you go into the hands of the gods — which are really his demons — and you will sink down, never to return.
But the Heavenly Father who created you has also provided a way of escape. All you have to do to receive it is call out to his Son, his chosen Messiah, Jesus Christ, and ask him to draw you up, out of the waters. And he will do it!
How can you know for sure that he will save you, that he can save you? You can be sure because God has already drawn Jesus up through the waters of death into new life. Jesus has already made that journey through the darkness, which means that he alone has the ability to guide you along that same path. So follow him!
This is what God is calling you to do today, this is how you should respond to this episode: act in faith, and give your own life into the hands of Jesus Christ. Be baptised into this frail basket we call the Church, this ark that has been sealed by the blood of Christ, and discover a place where the floodwaters of death will never penetrate.
Now, if you are here today and you are a baptised Christian, then this is our application: let us give our children’s lives into the hands of Jesus Christ, not just through baptism but through every little detail of our lives together.
It has been said that “it takes a kampung to raise a child”, and that is correct. But for us, our kampung is this local Christian community — even more so now, in this age when so many of us are uprooted and living far away from birth family and childhood home. For many of us here today, this community is the only local family we’ve got.
So, practically speaking, what this means is that we are all called to work together in raising the children and the young Christians that have been brought to us. In this episode we see a biological mother, a potential mother, and a foster mother all labouring together to give life to one little boy. That is how it is supposed to work! These three ladies are a picture of Jesus’ Church, which is the Bride of Christ, the resurrected Eve, the mother of all the living. So, in Christ, it really does not matter if you are a man or a woman, married or single, if you are a biological parent or not: the truth is we are all called to be mothers, in the very best sense of that word. We are all called to nurse and to nurture with the pure spiritual milk of God’s Word, so that by it we might all grow up in our salvation, now that we have tasted that the Lord is good.
In short: we have been baptized into Christ, we have received the sign and seal of his eternal covenant family. Let us then continue to activate our baptism, to make it just as real here upon the plains of the earth as it is upon the mountain of God in heaven.