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With Splendid Brightness
August 24, 2014
In the past few weeks we have heard the stories of Jacob and Joseph. Our passage today begins with, “Now a new king arose over Egypt, who did not know Joseph.” Joseph had saved the people of Egypt from starvation. He had helped to preserve Egypt in its state of glory. That would be like our next president not knowing who George Washington was! In the Pharaoh’s ignorance, fear took root as he observed the number of Israelites increasing. He feared that they would overpower his people.
In his fear, the Pharaoh turned to slavery and violence to control the Israelite population. He ordered two Israelite midwives to deliver and then kill all infant males that belonged to Israelite women. Imagine the horror and shock these two women felt as the Pharaoh was giving them this task. To disobey the pharaoh would mean most certain death. The Pharaoh’s fear had morphed into madness! A darkness had crept into his mind and taken over his being.
These two midwives were Puah and Siphrah. Though the recklessness of the Pharaoh was good reason to fear him, they feared God more. That is to say, they respected God’s reign over Pharaoh’s. With their faith, they outwitted Pharaoh and saved several lives.
You may have heard it said that, “courage is fear that has said its prayers.” In the case of Puah and Siphrah, this could not be more accurate. In their faith, they had the strength to stand before the most powerful man in Egypt and lie to his face. In a time when darkness consumed the atmosphere of Egypt, these women held a light. They held God in their hearts the way we may hold a candle to navigate our paths in the darkness. They gave life to those who would otherwise have perished.
Interestingly the Hebrew name Puah translates to “splendid” in English, and Siphrah means “brightness.” Appropriately, they possessed a splendid brightness that changed the fate of the world. Two women changed the course of history forever when they chose courage over fear, when they chose light over darkness, and when they chose God over Pharaoh.
Of course the story continues… The Pharaoh could only think of one way to overcome the rapid births of male Israelites that the midwives had told him of. He ordered the Egyptians to take it upon themselves to kill the babes of the Israelites. The Egyptians ripped the babies from their parents’ arms, violently dumping the infants into the Nile; a river riddled with crocodiles and other deadly snares not to mention the water itself. The river became one of death.
One mother managed to escape the violence with her infant. Her faith equipped her with courage to save the life of her boy. Hebrews 11:23 later reveals, “By faith Moses was hidden by his parents.” Love prevailed over fear. She gathered up the baby Moses and his older sister Miriam and fled to the river where the other infants had been cast to their demise. In her faith she crafted a basket. She set him in this basket with hope. How desperate she must have been to know that the baby’s only chance was to float alone down the very river that countless others had perished in. But… he wasn’t alone. Yes, Miriam followed along the river bank to watch what would become of the basket with her little brother tucked inside, but she was powerless if he should go to the crocodiles or fall victim to the currents. Would this basket become her brother’s casket? No… The mother knew with a certainty that Moses would not be alone. God was with him. His mother’s faith burned brightly the moment she let go of her son’s basket. Her courage outshone her fears. Her fear had said its prayers and her hope was the hope of an entire people; that they should no longer suffer such sorrow. Had she not let go of the basket, the savior of her people would have perished with the rest of the infant boys.
Finally the basket bobs its way into the bathing area of the Pharaoh’s daughter. She knew Moses was Israelite immediately. Egyptians at the time did not circumcise their children. She looked upon him not with disgust, but with compassion. She too possessed courage in raising a fugitive infant under the same roof of the man who would have him cast to the crocodiles. She risked the Pharaoh’s wrath, but overcame fear with love.
Moses was the miracle child that Israelites needed desperately and because of the faith and courage of five women the Israelites would someday be freed and taken to the promise land among so much more.
It is not often that we read in our history books that ordinary women have taken matters of nations into their own hands. These were not the heroes we read about in our comic books. These were people, like you and like me! These were people with a choice before them. They could choose quiet compliance with that which they knew to be wrong in the eyes of God, or they could fight back the demons of their reality in favor of the goodness God has willed for us in hope, in faith, and in love.
As ordinary people today we do not often have the ability to single-handedly change the fate of nations. We are not all world leaders or soldiers. Our place in life never seems to be that of great world authority. We feel as though we cannot change the world alone. If we could, perhaps the world would not feel so broken. If only we could eradicate the grip terror holds on the world. If only we could reverse the landslides in Hiroshima, protect passenger aircrafts from enemy fire, free the Kurds from violence, halt the lootings and violence in Ferguson, rescue our journalists from terror, cure Ebola, ALS, cancer. Our fractured world is in crisis.
But the good news is that you do have the power to bring light where light seems most absent! In our everyday lives we do not get to stand up to kings and nations, but we can choose goodness in our daily routines. Often when we arrive at the crossroads of such a choice we can feel it. We have all had that twinge when for instance we are at the pet store and the cashier asks, “Would you like to donate to save the life of a homeless pet today?” Or perhaps we witness someone fall down on the sidewalk and we have a fleeting moment of debate as to whether to run to their aid from our chair at the restaurant on the corner. It could be something so small as the opportunity to give a stranger a smile. It is all about sharing our light with others.
We are all aware of the recent tragedy of the death of Robin Williams; a man who lived with a splendid brightness that touched the hearts of families across the globe. Suicide affects everyone today whether it is a friend, family member, or a beloved figure. I came across a story recently that I would like to share with all of you. It is a story of someone with light in his heart who had to make a simple every day choice.
Mark was walking home from school one day when he noticed that the boy ahead of him had tripped and dropped all the books he was carrying, along with two sweaters, a baseball bat, a glove and a small tape recorder. Mark knelt down and helped the boy pick up the scattered articles.
Since they were going the same way, he helped to carry part of the burden. As they walked, Mark discovered the boy’s name was Bill, that he loved video games, baseball and history, that he was having a lot of trouble with his other subjects and that he had just broken up with his girlfriend.
Mark went home after dropping Bill at his house. They continued to see each other around school, had lunch together once or twice, then both graduated from junior high. They ended up in the same high school, where they had brief contacts over the years. Finally the long-awaited senior year came. Three weeks before graduation, Bill asked Mark if they could talk.
Bill reminded him of the day years ago when they had first met. “Do you ever wonder why I was carrying so many things home that day?” asked Bill. “You see, I cleaned out my locker because I didn’t want to leave a mess for anyone else. I had stored away some of my mother’s sleeping pills and I was going home to commit suicide. But after we spent some time together talking and laughing, I realized that if I had killed myself, I would have missed that time and so many others that might follow. So you see, Mark, when you picked up my books that day, you did a lot more. You saved my life.”
When we have the flame of God’s Spirit burning in our hearts we are called to share the light it creates with others. Sometimes sharing our light is all we can do. Something so simple as helping a stranger to gather his books can hold so much power. It changes the world. We are called to love one another, to share hope with one another, to have compassion for one another. God wills us to live with goodness. We are called to bring the splendid brightness of God into the darkest shadows of the earth. To quote Isaiah, “The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who lived in a land of deep darkness— on them light has shined.” Puah and Siphrah, ordinary women of their day changed the world with God in their hearts. They brought a splendid brightness to the darkness Pharaoh had created. With faith, they changed the world. So can we!
Dozeman, Thomas B. “Commentary of Exodus.” Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing, 2009. Print. Pages 74-76.
Ed. Gardner, Joseph L. “Who’s Who in the Bible.” The Reader’s Digest Association Inc. Pleasantville, New York, 1994. Print. Pages 300-301. Gill, John. “John Gill’s Exposition of the Entire Bible: Exodus.” Copyright 1763. Kindle edition.
Rubinstein, Nachama. “The Untold Story of the Hebrew Midwives and the Exodus.” The Jewish Woman. Chabad-Lubavitch Media Center. Copyright 2014. <http://www.chabad.org/theJewishWoman/article_cdo/aid/1465248/jewish/The-Untold-Story-of-the-Hebrew-Midwives-and-the-Exodus.htm> Accessed August 21, 2014.
Schlatter, John W. “A Simple Gesture.” Copyright 2013. Georgia Girl Inspiring Short Stories. <http://www.gagirl.com/stories/a-simple-gesture.html> Accessed August 22, 2014.
Stallman, Bob. “Exodus and Work: A Biblical Perspective on Faith and Work.” Theology of Work Inc. December 2012. <http://www.theologyofwork.org/old-testament/exodus-and-work/> Accessed August 21, 2014.
Wesley, John. “John Wesley’s Explanatory Notes: Exodus 1-2.” Christ Notes Biblical Commentary. Copyright 2014. <http://www.christnotes.org/commentary.php?com=wes&b=2&c=1> Accessed August 22, 2014.
 Isaiah 9:2 NRSV