A few weeks ago I visited the Brooklyn Historical Museum’s Anti-slavery exhibit. It tells the stories of the many black and white people who were part of the abolition movement in Brooklyn. Many of these people were clergy and believers who played a significant role in speaking up against injustice and fighting for the freedom of slaves. I learned of men like: Simeon Jocelyn who started the American Missionary Association which helped free slaves, build integrated public schools and HBCU’s across the country. Also, William Hodges who moved to Williamsburg Brooklyn where there was a black community. He established the Williamsburg African school, served as a pastor, educator and later politician. The stories of these individuals are ones we need to hear. God used their faith as a catalyst to take on injustice and oppression. In Exodus 2 we hear the story of Moses’ life. We see many parallels of the courage, bravery and faith of the men and women who fought against slavery.
Saving faith of a Believing mother
The chapter opens up with Moses’ parents having a baby boy. He was born in a time when Joseph had died and his descendents were numerous. A new Pharaoh stepped into leadership and treated the Hebrews unjustly and with oppression. He made a law that all Hebrew newborn boys be put to death. Moses’ mom feared the Lord and chose to hide the baby. Exodus 2:3-5 reads:
3 When she could hide him no longer, she took for him a basket made of bulrushes[a] and daubed it with bitumen and pitch. She put the child in it and placed it among the reeds by the river bank. 4 And his sister stood at a distance to know what would be done to him.
In the face of oppression it was her faith that caused her to keep the baby. When she could not hide him any longer, her faith led her to wrap the baby up, place in a secured basket and put him in the river hoping his life would be further sparred. Her faith encourages us that in the face of systemic injustice and oppression to make the courageous decision to fear and honor God more than we do man. Hebrews 11:23 gives us insight into the mother’s thinking. It says:
23 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.
Bravery of a Princess
As the account of Moses’ story goes on we learn what happened as he was put in the water:
5 Now the daughter of Pharaoh came down to bathe at the river, while her young women walked beside the river. She saw the basket among the reeds and sent her servant woman, and she took it. 6 When she opened it, she saw the child, and behold, the baby was crying. She took pity on him and said, “This is one of the Hebrews' children.” 7 Then his sister said to Pharaoh's daughter, “Shall I go and call you a nurse from the Hebrew women to nurse the child for you?” 8 And Pharaoh's daughter said to her, “Go.” So the girl went and called the child's mother.
The word for pity here means compassion or to spare. God saves the child through the defiance and compassion of Pharaoh’s daughter. But He also “saves” Pharoah’s daughter through encountering, Moses. In this baby injustice collides with innocents. She knew the decree of her father but I would like to think that as she encountered the baby it resonated with her humanity. I wonder what had been communicated to her about Hebrews growing up in her household? How did she process the ideals of her father? Did the proximity of Moses’ sister working with Pharaoh’s daughter influence her? She made a risky decision to look at her story, break away from the unjust decrees, cultural norms and family loyalty. “God providentially used her to override Pharaoh's decree and protect the life of His chosen leader for the Israelites.” Her story is one that encourages humility and bravery. She saw the discontinuities of injustice of her family lineage and the impact in the lives of people around her and made a choice to be different.
Moses would go on to grow into a man. His time in the palace would have afforded him great opportunities and yet he knew his story and his God.
11 One day, when Moses had grown up, he went out to his people and looked on their burdens, and he saw an Egyptian beating a Hebrew, one of his people.[c] 12 He looked this way and that, and seeing no one, he struck down the Egyptian and hid him in the sand. 13 When he went out the next day, behold, two Hebrews were struggling together. And he said to the man in the wrong, “Why do you strike your companion?” 14 He answered, “Who made you a prince and a judge over us? Do you mean to kill me as you killed the Egyptian?” Then Moses was afraid, and thought, “Surely the thing is known.” 15 When Pharaoh heard of it, he sought to kill Moses. But Moses fled from Pharaoh and stayed in the land of Midian. And he sat down by a well.
“Hebrews 11:24-26 Tells us what happened in the heart and mind of Moses as he looked at their burdens.”
24 By faith Moses, when he was grown up, refused to be called the son of Pharaoh's daughter, 25 choosing rather to be mistreated with the people of God than to enjoy the fleeting pleasures of sin. 26 He considered the reproach of Christ greater wealth than the treasures of Egypt, for he was looking to the reward.
Moses was grieved by the burden of his people and yet because of his outwardly prestige his brethren could not identity with his inner alignment. “Just like Jesus, Moses could not deliver when he lived in the palaces of glory. He had to come down off the throne, away from the palace and into a humble place before he could deliver his people (Guzik).” His story shows us that sometimes having an acknowledgement and grief over injustice and oppression is not enough. Humility in such a way that demonstrates proximity to the struggle are needed to be a leader others will recognize and follow towards change.
God would “hear” the cries of the Hebrews and respond years later but it started with:
A mother who feared God more than she did man. A Princess who went against the currents of systematic oppression, to value the dignity she saw in humanity. And a leader who moved from an inward grief and acknowledgement of injustice to an outward reality demonstration of humility. Their stories are messy, resilient, difficult, complex, and yet beautiful. Through them we see God’s redemption and his saving grace. He shines through them as they chose to wrestle with the difficult realities of their society and culture in humility. This Black History month, I encourage you to wrestle with the difficult realities of our society and race that an on looking world would get to see God’s glory displayed through us.
“Exodus.” The MacArthur Study Bible. Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, Inc, 1997.
“Abolitionist Biographies” PursuitOfFreedom.org, 12 February 2019. http://pursuitoffreedom.org/abolitionist-biographies/.
“Study Guide for Exodus 2” BlueletterBible.org, 12 February 2019. https://www.blueletterbible.org/Comm/guzik_david/StudyGuide2017-Exd/Exd-2.cfm?a=52007.