“Moses: Fear of the Other”
Exodus 1:8-11, 15-17 and 2:1-6
Rev. Sandy Johnson
September 10, 2017
Prayer: May the words of my mouth and the meditations of my heart be acceptable in thy sight O Lord, my rock, and my redeemer. Amen.
This morning we begin a new series on Moses, the reluctant prophet. Most of us grew up knowing the story of Moses and his demand to Pharaoh to “let my people go!” Moses is perhaps the single most important person in the Hebrew Bible, the Christian Old Testament. Moses is bigger than life and one of the most unlikely persons called by God to be used in extraordinary ways.
His influence is far reaching, most of the Jewish festivals are rooted in the Moses story and the Law attributed to him. Moses’ influence is seen throughout the New Testament as well. “Moses life serves as the backdrop for much that is found in the Gospels, including the story of Jesus’ flight to Egypt with his family, the Sermon on the Mount, the Last Supper and finally the Crucifixion.” Moses influences is seen throughout.
Remember the transfiguration as told in Matthew, Mark and Luke, where Jesus went with Peter, James and his brother John high up on a mountain and was transfigured before their eyes. Moses and Elijah appeared before them and spoke to Jesus. “Moses is mentioned by name more than seventy times in the New Testament, and his life, story and commands are alluded to in nearly every New Testament book.”
Many Africans who were enslaved in the early years of our country, composed songs with Moses’ theme of freedom in response to their oppression. Martin Luther King drew on the story of Moses in his last sermon, the night before he died, “King proclaimed that he had, ‘been to the mountaintop,’ where, like Moses, he claimed to have seen the Promised Land.”
The original account of Moses’ life was shared around campfires and passed down from one generation to another through an oral tradition. These types of stories were meant to shape the identity of people, to entertain, and to “teach them about God and God’s will for humankind. We often read these stories with a certain seriousness…stories that contain heroes and villains, suspense and intrigue, and no small amount of humor. This is God’s story.
“Among the many things I appreciate about Moses’ story is what an unlikely hero he was. He was a Hebrew adopted into Pharaoh’s family. He was a murderer and a fugitive from the law. He was an elderly sheepherder from the desert whom God called to deliver the Israelites. He appeared to have some kind of speech impediment, yet became Israel’s greatest prophet. We see in every chapter in the Bible that tells his story, that he was imperfect, afraid, reluctant and often frustrated, all of which makes him so very human.” I would say that Moses would fit with our congregation, like a glove.
Even though there is no archeological evidence for Moses or enslavement of the Israelites in Egypt, that doesn’t mean that the story isn’t true or of considerable value. The writers of the Hebrew Bible weren’t reporters, bloggers, historians, and they were not writing for us today. They were recording the oral traditions that had been handed down for years; stories that had been told and retold, improved upon and made to shape the lives of the listeners. I heard the story described more like an “excellent film “based on actual events” more so than a documentary intended to convey historical events as accurately as possible.” The master story tellers’ “intent was to convey the Israelites’ epic and defining story and to reveal the God who claimed Israel as his own.” The goal of knowing this story is to learn something about ourselves and about God as we seek to find ourselves in the story.
Let’s set the stage for the beginning of Moses’ story. The setting is Egypt, after the time of Joseph. A new king came to power and he noticed there were a lot of Israelites living in Egypt. Not just a lot, in fact scripture says, they were more numerous and more powerful than the Egyptians. What would happen if the Israelites were to join forces with Egypt’s enemies and rise up against them? The very thought struck fear in the Pharaoh.
Pharaoh’s response was to enslave them, to “deal shrewdly with them” says scripture. He ordered taskmasters to rule over them and oppress them with forced labor. They were put into service, building the cities for the Pharaoh. “Notice that Pharaoh was the most powerful ruler on earth, king of both Upper and Lower Egypt, and yet he and his people were anxious about a population of foreign sheepherders in their midst. Their fear led them to despise the Israelites and to oppress them.
“And this is precisely where I’d like us to consider how the story of Moses is more than just a story; it is Scripture that reveals truth about us as human beings. What does the oppression of the Israelites tell us about ourselves as a race or people?
“Fear is a powerful emotion, and irrational fear can lead us to do irrational and sometimes horrible things. It doesn’t take long to think of examples around the world in which fear of minority populations has led nations to oppress, dehumanize, and at times kill those viewed as strangers in their midst. The word we use for this fear is xenophobia. Taken from the Greek, it means “fear of strangers.””
“When the Irish came to America in large numbers in the mid-1800’s because of a famine in their home country, fear gave birth to a new political group at first called the American Party and later nicknamed, the Know-Nothing Party. This group was certain the Irish were sent by the Pope to take over America, and they sought to ensure that Catholics would not old office in America.
“Later the Chinese came to America fleeing persecution in their own country. The United States happily received them, and at first even recruited them, as a source of cheap labor to build the railroads. But later, as the number of Chinese grew, they evoked fear and were spoke of as the “Yellow Peril.” As a result of that fear, Congress passed the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 that prohibited all Chinese from entering America for the next sixty years.
“By the 1920’s, Americans were concerned with the Russians and anyone else from eastern Europe, including “undesirables” from Greece, Italy, Spain, and Czechoslovakia, as well as Jews. The new wave of fear led to the Immigration Act of 1924, which severely limited immigration of these groups while favoring “white” immigrants from Great Britain, France and Germany. In this wave and others, two types of leaders were prone to use fear to motivate people into action: politicians and preachers.”
These atrocities don’t hold a candle to what the Nazi’s did to Jews in Germany. Nazi’s were masterful at using fear as they exterminated more than six million people, based solely on fear of the “other.”
As fear overwhelmed Pharaoh, he decided he wasn’t going to take any chances; the Israelites must be suppressed, even though they had done nothing to provoke the Egyptians. “Yet fear led Pharaoh to decree this dreadful plan to kill the newborn baby boys.” This reminds me of the story of Herod killing all male children under 2 years of age in response to his fear of the rumor that a newborn king had been born in Bethlehem.
“If we’re looking for ourselves in the story of Moses’ birth, we’ve got to consider when and where we struggle with fear of the other and how our fears lead us to act in ways that are hardly humane.”
Getting back to the story, we see that Pharaoh cooked up a plan where he would enlist two midwives, Shiphrah and Puah who he ordered to kill all male babies born to the Israelite women. Why Pharaoh would think that the Hebrew midwives would turn on their own people is astounding to me. The midwives knew that this was wrong. They feared God more than they did Pharaoh and they did what they knew to be the right thing. They demonstrated great courage in the face of even greater evil. I am reminded of the many people who hid Jews during the holocaust. One human demonstrating love for another based on their humanity and their love and dedication to God.
I love these midwives. Their commitment to God and to what is right and their blatant civil disobedience is an example for us today. Their courage to do the right thing should boost our courage to fight for the rights of our sisters and brothers today. These “two remarkable women remind us what courage looks like and invite us to join them in resisting evil even if doing so comes at some personal cost. Here’s the question I ask myself and would ask you: Are you willing to stand against the authorities if they call you to do something that is immoral or unjust?”
Because the midwives didn’t follow Pharaoh’s plan, he ordered all Egyptians to kill any Hebrew male babies by throwing them into the Nile river and allow the girl babies to live. Can you even imagine?
Moses’ mother was horrified. She refused to allow her son to be killed and instead hid him for three months. That was no easy task I can tell you. Do you all remember how much babies cry? Finally, when she could hide him no longer, she placed him in a basket and asked her daughter, Miriam to place him in the river near where Pharaoh’s daughter was bathing with the hopes that she would show compassion on him.
This story is full of compassionate and courageous women. First the midwives, next Moses’ mother, and sister and finally the Egyptian princess. She sees the baby and despite her father’s edict against Hebrew boys, she claims Moses as her own, the first recorded adoption in the bible. This Egyptian princess, took a huge risk in opposing her father, and instead was used mightily by the Hebrew God whom she did not believe in nor follow. She worshiped the Egyptian gods and goddesses. Yet God used her…in one of the most important roles played by any mother in human history.
Fear set up a horrible series of evil acts against humanity; courage and compassion shut it down. God could have come in and destroyed Pharaoh or changed his heart. But instead he used “two midwives who feared God and courageously practiced civil disobedience. He used a heroic mother who saved Moses when she hatched a plan for Pharaoh’s daughter to adopt him. A princess was used, one who listened to her heart rather than to her father’s decrees and took a Hebrew child as her own and raised him as her own son.”
God uses us, he uses our hands and feet to change fear and evil to confidence and goodness. God works through us, his people, you and me. “When we listen to our hearts, do what we know is right, and pay attention to the nudges and promptings and whispers of the spirit, we find ourselves being used by God to accomplish his purposes. God uses ordinary people, in seemingly ordinary ways, to do extraordinary things.”
This week we saw another group of “others” lose some of their protection. 800,000 young undocumented immigrants became the next group that those in the majority fear and wish to demonize. These young people were brought to the United States illegally by their parents, through no decision of their own. They were given some hope five years ago through the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program. They were able to get drivers licenses, attend college and legally secure jobs. Years ago, a girlfriend of mine immigrated here illegally from England. Her daughter was very young and although she could attend school, when she graduated she was unable to do anything – she couldn’t get a driver’s license, a work card, nothing. Through DACA she was able to begin her adult life, in a country that she called her own.
Fear causes us to do awful things. Fear of unknown, fear of other, fear of differences that are seen and unseen. Irrational fears, those that stir up anxiety and move us toward making decisions that harm others. This is the fear that we learn from Moses’ story. And like Moses we can choose to learn from his early life. “Don’t give in to fear of the other, as Pharaoh did. When these in authority call you to do what you know is wrong, resist them, as Shiphrah and Puah did. When you face heartbreaking circumstances, trust that God is still at work, as Moses’ mother did. And when you see those in need, let your heart be moved to compassion, as the Egyptian princess did. If you do these things, you may find yourself playing a pivotal role in God’s saving story.”
 Hamilton, Adam. Moses. In the footsteps of the Reluctant Prophet. Abingdon Press, Nashville, TN. 2017. Pg. 10
 Ibid, 11
 Ibid, 17
 Ibid, 29
 Ibid, 30
 https://www.ushmm.org/wlc/en/article.php?ModuleId=10008193 Accessed September 9, 2017
 Hamilton, Adam. Moses. In the footsteps of the Reluctant Prophet. Abingdon Press, Nashville, TN. 2017. Pg. 31