Season after Pentecost (Proper 16 [21]): The Psalm Passage – The fates turn on the Israelites

Now a new king arose over Egypt, who did not know Joseph.”(Exodus 1:8)

We now start down another long road of the story of God’s called and chosen people. It has often been joked by Jews that they sometimes wish God would chose someone else! It is bitter humor. The sentiment has at times been shared by other people called out by God. Because being called out by God can often mean the powers and principalities are set against one. I do have to wonder however, why God’s chosen people were allowed lead into such trying circumstances.

“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.” (Verses 9 – 12)

Overlords and rulers being ruthless over those who are helpless to defend themselves. It is a story told over and over, in differing places and at differing times. And in different cultures. It is tragedy that branches from ancient times to modern times. One people oppressing and subjugating another. Just tell me when it sounds familiar to you, beloved reader, and I will stop pounding it into your minds.


“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.” (Verses 13 – 14)

Many terrible things are done out of fear, and misunderstanding. Once we see people as “things” instead of kindred souls and spirits deserving of respect, dignity, and acceptance . . . a great many things are tolerated and condoned.

“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.” (Verses 15 – 21)

As I am sitting here and thinking about these things, I can’t help but remember all the times in the Old Testaments that the Israelites, the Hebrews, and the Jews were told to recall their time in Egypt as a reason to do a thing or an obey a law. I have often thought of the Old Testament as the story of a people learning what it means to be called by God. Not a fully formed and realized people, but learning what it means to follow the One God. Mighty lessons needed to be learned, and the people seemed at times to be slow to learn the lessons.

“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.”(Verse 22)

Did you notice, beloved reader, that the Israelites are now called the Hebrews. I do not know how many years it was until the new king of Egypt “did not know Joseph.” It must have been several generations for the family of Israel (Jacob) to become a nation. The Israelites – now Hebrews – still remembered the families they were from.

“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.” (Chapter 2, verses 1 – 4)

This was Moses. Proof that the Lord God has not forgetting the called and chosen people. That they were still chosen by God, and still under the Divine Eye. A lesson to us, beloved reader, that even in our trials and tribulations that we are still under the Divine Eye, and still within the Lord’s heart.

“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.” (Verses 5 – 8)

You may be thinking lucky Moses and lucky Moses’ mother, and sharp thinking Moses’ sister. But let me remind you, beloved reader, this happened because the Pharaoh’s daughter also thought of Moses as a “thing”, something to be cared for but it did not matter to get Moses back to the correct family. Any family and nurse would due.

“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.” (Verses 9 – 10)

Grown up does not mean an adult, but weaned and capable of eating solid food. The Pharaoh’s daughter took another woman’s young child for her own. That is not to say she did not have compassion on the infant child, saving it from the river and insuring its welfare. Surely she was aware of her father’s edict about male Hebrew children. And she evidently did want to save the child from an uncertain future. But neither did she let Moses grow up with his own people but took him as her own son, turning her back on his heritage.

But if Moses was poorly used by the Egyptians, he was never far from the Lord God . . . as his story will show.

We too, beloved reader, are never far from the Lord God. And I am reminded again that this lectionary year has the theme of new believers. As the Hebrews were new to being God’s people (as the extended story will show) new Christian believers are new to Christian faith too. There is many stories of difficult times amongst new Christians. Trust that none of them are far from God’s concern. Selah!

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