Sermon for Sunday, January 17th, 2021 at First Presbyterian Church at Unionville, NY (BPC)
Old Testament reading:
[Exo 2:11-25 ESV] 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. 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. 16 Now the priest of Midian had seven daughters, and they came and drew water and filled the troughs to water their father’s flock. 17 The shepherds came and drove them away, but Moses stood up and saved them, and watered their flock. 18 When they came home to their father Reuel, he said, “How is it that you have come home so soon today?” 19 They said, “An Egyptian delivered us out of the hand of the shepherds and even drew water for us and watered the flock.” 20 He said to his daughters, “Then where is he? Why have you left the man? Call him, that he may eat bread.” 21 And Moses was content to dwell with the man, and he gave Moses his daughter Zipporah. 22 She gave birth to a son, and he called his name Gershom, for he said, “I have been a sojourner in a foreign land.” 23 During those many days the king of Egypt died, and the people of Israel groaned because of their slavery and cried out for help. Their cry for rescue from slavery came up to God. 24 And God heard their groaning, and God remembered his covenant with Abraham, with Isaac, and with Jacob. 25 God saw the people of Israel–and God knew.
New Testament reading:
[Act 7:23-29 ESV] 23 “When he was forty years old, it came into his heart to visit his brothers, the children of Israel. 24 And seeing one of them being wronged, he defended the oppressed man and avenged him by striking down the Egyptian. 25 He supposed that his brothers would understand that God was giving them salvation by his hand, but they did not understand. 26 And on the following day he appeared to them as they were quarreling and tried to reconcile them, saying, ‘Men, you are brothers. Why do you wrong each other?’ 27 But the man who was wronging his neighbor thrust him aside, saying, ‘Who made you a ruler and a judge over us? 28 Do you want to kill me as you killed the Egyptian yesterday?’ 29 At this retort Moses fled and became an exile in the land of Midian, where he became the father of two sons.
[Mat 22:23-33 ESV] 23 The same day Sadducees came to him, who say that there is no resurrection, and they asked him a question, 24 saying, “Teacher, Moses said, ‘If a man dies having no children, his brother must marry the widow and raise up offspring for his brother.’ 25 Now there were seven brothers among us. The first married and died, and having no offspring left his wife to his brother. 26 So too the second and third, down to the seventh. 27 After them all, the woman died. 28 In the resurrection, therefore, of the seven, whose wife will she be? For they all had her.” 29 But Jesus answered them, “You are wrong, because you know neither the Scriptures nor the power of God. 30 For in the resurrection they neither marry nor are given in marriage, but are like angels in heaven. 31 And as for the resurrection of the dead, have you not read what was said to you by God: 32 ‘I am the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob’? He is not God of the dead, but of the living.” 33 And when the crowd heard it, they were astonished at his teaching.
The Israelites are in slavery in Egypt, and Pharaoh has made it his policy to oppress them, even to the point of having all newborn male Hebrew babies thrown into the Nile. But one has “slipped through the cracks.” The baby Moses was “drawn out” of the Nile, given to his own mother to be nursed, and then raised as the son of the Pharaoh’s daughter.
Moses, however, is to be the earthly deliverer of the HEBREW people. So we now find God working out His plan to bring this about. We find today, “The Maturing of Moses.” [REPEAT: “The Maturing of Moses”]
And we’ll look at three points: I. Moses Flees to Midian, II. Moses Lives in Midian, and III. God Remembers His Covenant
I. Moses Flees to Midian
As we start today’s reading we find Moses “grown up.” In the Book of Acts it tells us Moses is 40 years old at this point. His life can be easily divided into 40 year periods. He spends 40 years in Egypt, 40 years in Midian, and 40 years in wilderness with the people of God.
So now we are transitioning from the first period – in Egypt – to the second period – in Midian.
Midian is a place on the other side of the Red Sea. To get there from Egypt you have to traverse the Sinai peninsula. Midian is south of modern Israel and Jordan in today’s Saudi Arabia. It probably wasn’t the most prosperous places, but was apparently at least suitable for raising flocks of sheep, as we’ll see.
Back in Egypt we find Moses grown up and he sees an Egyptian beating a Hebrew. The text refers to the Hebrew as “one of his people.” He has self-consciously taken on that identity. And he wants to defend his people. The beating must have been with the intent to kill, or otherwise quite severe as Moses reacts himself in a severe way. Rather than waiting on the Lord, he kills the Egyptian to save the Hebrew.
It is clear that this killing was not an accident or the product of spontaneous rage, because “he looked this way and that.” Moses looked to see if anyone was watching. And then he killed the man, and then he buried him in the sand.
And to quote Scooby Doo, he might have gotten away with it, if it weren’t for some meddling kids.
This would be the end of the story. But the next day Moses sees two Hebrews this time struggling against each other. And this time, because they are of his people, Moses does attack the one at fault, but says in disappointment, “Why do you strike your companion.” And he answered “Who made you a prince or a judge over us? Do you mean to kill me as you killed the Egyptian?”
Then Moses was afraid.
One of the more intense novels I’ve read is Dostoevsky’s “Crime and Punishment.” And I think I’ve mentioned this once before. The man there named Raskolnikov murders his pawn broker because he is jealous of her wealth and he rationalizes that the money would be more useful elsewhere. But then, he was afraid. And in the book you mentally go with him from place to place wondering if anyone saw the murder or knows that he is guilty. And it is intense, stressful, full of anxiety.
Moses must have been in a similar place mentally. But then this bombshell is dropped “Do you mean to kill me as you killed the Egyptian?”
The natural response of man in this circumstance is sure “flight.” It is time to flee. Moses says “Surely the thing is known.”
And someone – apparently an Israelite – told Pharaoh. “When Pharaoh heard of it, he sought to kill Moses.”
Moses is now a fugitive. He flees from Pharaoh and goes to the land of Midian.
And as he flees by this route, he in a sense, practices for the Exodus. When Moses is back 40 years later, he’ll lead the people on a very similar route out of Egypt to the East, through Sinai, and into Midian and to the wilderness in that area. Going to Midian then gives him knowledge of the route and places through which he would later take the people on the Exodus.
II. Moses Lives in Midian
Moses then makes it to Midian and he sits down by a well. And the seven daughters of the priest of Midian came and drew water for their father’s flock. Other shepherds came and drove them away but Moses stood up and saved them, and watered their flock.
He saved them. Again we have a small taste of what is to come. His path out of Egypt will be repeated with great numbers, and his work of saving people will be repeated with great numbers.
The Lord is bringing Moses up, preparing him for his future role.
Now the daughters of the priest return to him. And he says “How is it that you have come home so soon today?”
Some might take this to mean that each and every day these daughters had trouble with the other Shepherds and so were usually delayed in their work. Or, it might just be that Moses was able to retrieve the water much faster than they commonly did.
Here the father is called Reuel. But everywhere else in the Bible he is known as Jethro. It is not uncommon for a person to have two names, or to have a name and a title. So Reuel is Jethro, and he is the father of the seven daughters, and he is the priest of Midian.
It is hard to know whether he was a priest of the true God or not. But it seems likely that he was worshipping the Lord. The Midians were descended from Abraham. They likely still knew the God of Abraham. And it might even be that it is through Jethro’s influence that Moses grows more in the faith.
So Reuel (or Jethro) had asked his daughters how they came home so fast? And they say “An Egyptian delivered us out of the hand of the shepherds and drew water for us and watered the flock.”
There again Moses is a deliver.
But he is also called an Egyptian. While Moses considers himself an Israelite, his dress and language and general look about him was very Egyptian. He spent his whole life so far in Egypt. So the daughters of Reuel refer to him as an Egyptian.
Now, here is really my favorite part. Reuel’s response to his daughters.
I’ve spoken in the last few sermons about the fact that children are a blessing from the Lord. But there is a problem for Reuel – he has 7 unmarried daughters! And he must be thinking, “how did you let this man Moses get away?” Quick, call him, that he may eat bread.
Moses sounds like a great suitor. Invite him home!
For the father that has that many daughters, part of his job becomes finding husbands for them.
And I think of the mother that has 5 daughters in Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice. Mrs. Bennet is obsessed with finding them husbands. And it is to a sinful extent as it becomes the main focus in her life. But it provides for good comedy. She laments “Oh you don’t know what I suffer. If only we’d been able to have sons.” And Mr. Bennet is as easy-going as they come.
She comes to him excited about a neighboring property having been recently rented by a very wealthy and very single man.
She says “Wonderful news, Netherfield Park is let at lest! It is taken by a young man of large fortune from the north of England. A single man of large fortune, my dear! He came down on Monday in chaise and four to see the place. His name is Bingley, and he will be in possession by Michaelmas, and he has 5,000 a year! What a fine thing for our girls.”
And Mr. Bennet says “How so? Erm, how can it affect them?”
To which she responds “how can you be so tiresome? You must know that I’m thinking of his marrying one of them.”
Well, long story short, I picture Reuel as more like Mrs. Bennet than Mr. Bennet.
And Reuel is indeed successful in his undertaking, for Moses marries his daughter Zipporah.
And, the story moves fast, as in the very next line she gives birth to a son, Gershom which “sounds like the Hebrew for sojourner” which is what Moses is. A sojourner is a foreign land. A temporary resident. He’s ultimately destined to return to Egypt and fulfill God’s great plan for the Exodus of His people.
Moses is lacking in character to yet to be the deliverer of the Israelites. As seen in his killing of the Egyptian, he lacked patience and he lacked wisdom and he lacked faith. He needs to mature. The Lord is working on Him in a number of ways.
One, He’s gotten Moses out of Egypt. He is now with perhaps a believing people in the Midians. And, in fact, living with the priest of Midian.
Then also, Moses is now a husband and a father. And these are regularly used as a sanctifying process; as one focuses less on himself and more on others in his family.
The minister Voddie Bauchum says “God got Moses out of Egypt, and He’s working on getting the Egypt out of Moses.” [REPEAT: “God got Moses out of Egypt, and He’s working on getting the Egypt out of Moses.”]
But lest we forget, the Exodus is not first a biography of Moses and of his doings, but it is a story of God and His doings.
So in the last point of today’s sermon and in the last section of our reading, we find the emphasis on the Lord.
III. God Remembers His Covenant
While Moses is safe in Midian, the people of God are still groaning in slavery in Egypt.
They cry out for help, and God hears their cries. And, He remembers His covenant with Abraham, with Isaac, and with Jacob. “God saw the people of Israel–and God knew.” Or “God noticed them.”
He’s not just hearing, He’s listening.
He’s not just seeing, He’s watching.
And the Lord remembers his Covenant.
Now, God does not forget, and remember, and forget. His mind is not limited as ours are.
When it says that “God remembers” this indicates that now He is going to act. He is going to act upon his covenant promises. He is going to rescue his people through a deliverer. And that deliverer will be Moses whom He has been preparing; whom He has been maturing.
This covenant with Abraham is in the Book of Genesis:
[Gen 15:13-14 ESV] 13 Then the LORD said to Abram, “Know for certain that your offspring will be sojourners in a land that is not theirs and will be servants there, and they will be afflicted for four hundred years. 14 But I will bring judgment on the nation that they serve, and afterward they shall come out with great possessions.
[Gen 17:7-8 ESV] 7 And I will establish my covenant between me and you and your offspring after you throughout their generations for an everlasting covenant, to be God to you and to your offspring after you. 8 And I will give to you and to your offspring after you the land of your sojournings, all the land of Canaan, for an everlasting possession, and I will be their God.”
It is this covenant that God remembers.
The means by which God carries out his purposes are often the cries of his people.
God heard the cry of His people in Egypt. And God hears our cries today. And He remembers His covenant.
It is that same covenant that God remembers today, though we have what is called a new “administration” of it.
It is promised in the Old Testament that there will be a new covenant. The Covenant of Abraham will be extended to the Gentiles; to people of all tribes and tongues and nations.
[Jer 31:31ESV] “Behold, the days are coming, declares the LORD, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah”
And God says in this covenant “I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more.”
God remembers his covenant. And he remembers our sin no more.
And that is so assuring to us. So great to hear, for we recognize ourselves as sinners in need of forgiveness. And God remembers His covenant! And in Jesus Christ forgives our sins! And he remembers our sins no more! Praise the Lord.