“God’s anonymous: Pharaoh’s daughter”
Grace to you and peace from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus.
Kaiser Wilhelm II, former king of Prussia and the last great emperor of Germany, ruled from June of 1888 till November of 1918. And though historians are willing to admit that he helped to make his country a superpower, they also say he was rude, arrogant and obnoxious. And they say that his foreign policy was one of the main causes of the first World War.
But back in 1889, after he had been king for only a year, a special event was about to take place in Berlin. It was called Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show, complete with 97 Indians, 180 horses, 18 buffalo, 10 elk, 4 donkeys and 2 deer.
And among the show’s many performers, like “Wild Bill” Hickok, Sitting Bull and Geronimo, there was a woman named Annie Oakley, one of the very best sharpshooters of the American West. And every time she performed, she would ask a volunteer to hold a cigar in his mouth. Then she’d pace off her steps to shoot the ashes off of the cigar.
Of course, no one would ever come forward, so her husband, Frank Butler, also an experienced marksman, would “volunteer.”
But on that particular day, after she made her usual announcement, it just so happened that Kaiser Wilhelm himself, just to show what a big and brave man he was, stepped out of his royal box, walked into the arena and volunteered. German police tried to stop him, but he waved them off. He really wanted to hold that cigar. But when Annie saw him coming, she said to herself, “I’d look like a fool if I backed out of this now.”
So what happened next? Here’s what one historian wrote, “Sweating profusely under her buckskin and regretting that she had consumed more than her usual amount of whiskey the night before, Annie raised her Colt .45, took aim, and blew away the ashes from Wilhelm’s cigar.”
To this day, we wonder what would have happened had she missed, and shot Wilhelm instead. Could history have avoided its first World War?
Sometimes, it seems, the biggest events in history turn on the smallest things.
So it was in the words of our text. Listen to the words of Exodus chapter 2: “Now a man from the house of Levi went and took as his wife a Levite woman. The woman conceived and bore a son, and when she saw that he was a fine child, she hid him three months. When she could hide him no longer, she took for him a basket made of bulrushes and daubed it with bitumen and pitch. She put the child in it and placed it among the reeds by the river bank” (Exodus 2:1-3).
Let me give you a little background so you’ll know what’s going on.
As you might remember, a man named Joseph once ruled as Pharaoh’s Prime Minister, his right-hand man, second-in-command over all of Egypt. And during that time, his brothers and their families all came to live there. And as the years passed, their numbers quickly grew from a group of seventy to more than a million. As the Bible says in Exodus chapter 1, “The people of Israel were fruitful and increased greatly; they multiplied and grew exceedingly strong, so that the land was filled with them” (Exodus 1:7).
But the day came when Joseph died, and a new king, a new pharaoh, ruled over Egypt. And since he didn’t know Joseph, he said, “Behold, the people of Israel are too many and too mighty for us. Come let us deal shrewdly with them, lest they multiply, and, if war breaks out, they join our enemies and fight against us and escape from the land” (Exodus 1:10). So he set up rulers, taskmasters, over them, and for the next four hundred years, enslaved them.
But it didn’t work out as well as old pharaoh had planned. In fact, the more he oppressed them, the more they multiplied, and the more the Egyptians lived in fear of the people of Israel.
And not knowing what else to do to curb their “population explosion,” he gave the heartless and ruthless order to kill all the newborn baby boys. As he said, “When you serve as midwife to the Hebrew women and see them on the birthstool, if it is a son, you shall kill him, but if it is a daughter, she shall live.” And when even that didn’t work out as well as he had planned, he commanded all his people that, “Every son that is born to the Hebrews you shall cast into the Nile, but you shall let every daughter live” (Exodus 1:22).
Which takes us to the words of Exodus chapter 2.
Now imagine for a moment, the fear, the concern and the anxiety Moses’ mother must have felt when she learned she was going to have a child, worrying the entire time that it could very well be a boy. Month after month, for nine long months, she prayed. And sure enough, just as soon as he was born, her absolute worst fear came true.
Then for the next three sleepless, agonizing months, she kept him hidden from everyone’s sight, which was no small task for a Hebrew slave!
And as he grew, she knew she couldn’t hide him any longer. Still out of sheer desperation, she was determined to come up with some plan to let him live.
But what would she do? What could she do? That’s when she had an idea.
If you think about it, it was an absolutely dangerous thing to do--wrap up a three-month-old baby, lay him in a tar-covered basket, then float him down the river--a river full of swift currents, snakes, hippopotami and crocodiles. But it was a risk she had no choice but to make.
Yet in spite of that awful choice, she left little to chance. The Bible says she set the basket, she laid it, she placed it among the reeds of the river. She put it exactly where she wanted it. Then she rehearsed the whole plan with her daughter again and again--where she should stand, how she should act, what she should say.
She said, “Make it look like a surprise, Miriam. You can do it, honey. I’ll be right here, ready to come.”
And as she set that basket among the reeds, her heart was pounding and her throat was dry. And all she could do was to wait and to trust in the plan and the will of God.
Now verse 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. 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.’ 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?’ And Pharaoh’s daughter said to her, ‘Go’” (Exodus 2:5-8).
Now as we read those words, we often think that Pharaoh’s daughter wasn’t all that smart. “Oh! Look, there’s a baby! And there’s a girl! Yes, go get a woman! And sure, I’ll pay her, even though I have no idea who she is.”
That’s possible, but it isn’t likely. What is likely is that since she was Pharaoh’s daughter, she was probably one of the sharper tools in the shed.
How did she know it was a Hebrew child? Maybe it was the color of his skin. Maybe it was the color of the blanket his mother wrapped him in. Or maybe it was because she knew that only a Hebrew would have no choice but to float him down the Nile.
And when she saw him, what did she do? She knew what she was supposed to do. Her father, the pharaoh, had made that perfectly clear. At the least, she should push him further down the river and walk away. At the worst, she should dump him in the Nile, just like every other Hebrew baby boy. She was, after all, a princess, a member of the royal court.
But as she stood watching and wondering what to do, who should appear out of the rushes but his sister, Miriam.
It was an important moment, an incredible moment, really. Can you see those two women--one a princess and one a slave--standing there, looking at each other, wondering what to do.
After all, this was a plot, a scheme, a conspiracy, plain and simple. This was an act of defiance in direct opposition to her father--to save the life of an enemy of the state.
Yet in that moment, what was at stake? Had there been no Moses, there would have been no burning bush, no ten plagues, no Passover, and no Red Sea, no Ten Commandments and no Mt. Sinai, no forty years of walking through the wilderness, no Israel, no freedom, and no Promised Land.
And it all started here, in a basket, in a river.
Yet what did she say? She said, “Yes, go. Go and get his mother.”
In his commentary on the book of Jude, author David Helm tells of a missionary named Frederick Nolan who served in North Africa during a time of persecution. Thousands of Christians had already been murdered and now soldiers were coming for him too.
For days he had been running and hiding, until one night he couldn’t run anymore. That’s when he saw a small cave on the side of a hill, so he crawled inside. It was small--only six feet deep.
A short time later, he could hear soldiers coming for him. Since he couldn’t risk running out of the cave, all he could do was wait and pray.
That’s when, out of the corner of his eye, he saw a large spider beginning to weave a web over the opening. Within an hour, it covered the mouth of the cave.
Soon after, soldiers arrived looking for him. And as they glanced toward that shallow cave, Frederick feared for his life. But when the commander saw the spider’s web, he said it’d be impossible to have entered that cave without first breaking the spider’s web. So the soldiers left and his life was spared.
Later, as he reflected on that event, he wrote: “Where God is, a spider’s web is like a wall. Where God is not, a wall is but a spider’s web.”
It’s funny if you think about it. In this story of Moses’ adoption from the Nile, God is never mentioned once. There are no divine commands from the clouds and no holy signs from heaven.
Yet through it all, God was at work in and through the life of His people, accomplishing His purpose, and ordering His will.
Does Moses remind you of anyone? It should, for as Pharaoh tried to kill him as a baby, King Herod tried to kill the infant Jesus. While Moses was nurtured by his mother, Jochebed, Jesus was cared for by His mother, Mary. While Pharaoh’s daughter adopted him and named him, a man named Joseph adopted and named Him Jesus. While Moses was a prince of Egypt, Jesus is the Prince of Peace. Moses spent forty days on a mountain, while Jesus spent forty days in the wilderness. Moses’ mission was to redeem Israel from slavery. Jesus’ mission was to redeem us from our slavery to sin. And while Moses offered his life for the salvation of his people, Jesus gave His life for the salvation of the world.
So we give thanks to God.
Dear Father, through something as simple as a basket, You saved the life of a boy and a nation, and through a cross, You accomplished our salvation. Grant that we may always find our hope and strength in You, for Jesus’ sake. Amen