Last week we saw how things started to go down hill for God’s chosen people. At the end of Genesis, God’s people are in Egypt. Joseph dies and is embalmed in Egypt, buried far from the land that God promised to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. As he dies, Joseph tells his brothers that God will bring them up out of the land of Egypt (Genesis 50:24), but as we know this does not happen for some time. In Egypt, the people of Israel expand in numbers and new king rises to power in Egypt, a King without all of the strong ties to Joseph and his family (Exodus 1:8). Because of the Hebrews large numbers, this new king is concerned about the Hebrews strength. He sets taskmasters over them and they make bricks–they go from being valued guests in Egypt to being slaves.
In the story we are tracking, we have seen how God has gradually entered into covenant relationship with the Hebrew people.
Moses is such a fascinating character and so much happens in his life. It can be tempting to move through the whole story this week (especially with how quickly we are making our way through the Old Testament at this point), but for this week, focus on the first two chapters of Exodus. In them, we learn why the Hebrew people are enslaved, we learn also about the subversive behavior of two Hebrew midwives–Shiphrah and Puah–who save many of the Hebrew children from certain death under the king’s orders (1:15-21). In chapter 2, Moses is born, his mother hides him for as long as she can. Then, in what may be one of the most hope-filled acts, she lines a basket with bitumen and pitch, and sets her son among the reeds (2:3) with his sister standing by to watch. I wonder what she thought would happen. A flowing river (perhaps teeming with Crocs and Hippos) is not the first place one would want to leave an infant. And yet, she does. When Pharaoh’s daughter draws the child out from the water, she gives him his name (pay attention to names in the book of Exodus; they are very important!), Moses.
Take a moment, to notice several things about this text. In it, women–midwives, a mother, a sister, the daughter of Pharaoh–are the agents with whom God works to save Moses (an act which we know leads to the liberation of the people of Israel much later). Also notice how the action taken by each character requires profound trust–Hebrew midwives defying orders from the king, a woman leaving her infant in possibly dangerous water, a young slave girl approaching Pharaoh’s daughter and offering her mother as a nurse, the King’s daughter raising a Hebrew child and giving him a name (when you give something a name, it’s hard not to bond). It’s hard to read this story without being moved about the way God works in such an unlikely way. Also note how much like the ark Moses’ lined basket of reeds might be. God brought Noah and his family through water as the earth was destroyed and now Moses is brought through the water in his own miniature ark. Finally, you may also be interested to note the way that this story prefigures the early life of Jesus (the threat from King Herod under which Jesus lives, the defiance of the king by the Magi, protection in Egypt just as Moses is protected by Egypt’s elite).
At the end of chapter 2, we learn that after all of these things, time passes. Moses grows up and flees to Midian after killing an Egyptian. “After a long time the king of Egypt dies” (2:23). Then, God hears the Israelite’s cries and remembers God’s covenant to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.
Hear the Word
This story is in virtually every children’s Bible. We have many books in the Old Testament section of the Christian Education library about the life of Moses, many of them leave out the wonderful story of the Hebrew midwives. Notice the details that are left out by each telling and if you choose to use one of the resources in our cabinet, fill-in the details where they are missing.
Respond to the Word
1. Dress the Part: We have several Egypt costume pieces from VCS 2 years ago. Split your class into Egyptians and Hebrews. Borrow a baby doll from the nursery and act out the first two chapters from Exodus. If the weather is nice, take that acting outside!
2. Wonder: This is story filled with mysteries. Why do people who are in positions of low esteem work in ways that are contrary to those in power? How is God working in them? Does God forget about the Hebrews (since the text says that God heard and remembered them) and their location in Egypt? Is it important that the Israelites have this time away from the land that God promised to their ancestors?
3. Leave it Open-ended: Sometimes when we provide an end product for children to reproduce, we don’t let them respond to the parts of the story they find meaningful. Follow our approach from a couple of weeks ago, and provide several different kinds of materials for your students. Offer them lots of time to reflect on the parts of the story about which they had questions or which they found interesting. You may want to provide writing materials, art or paint materials, clay, or something that you have never tried in your class. Remember, if you put out a new material that the students have not used, you may want to provide a demonstration on how to use it.
4. Sing a Moses Song: Since we will spend two weeks on stories about Moses and the Exodus, you might want to introduce a song or two to sing the next two weeks. They may know the songs from Vacation Church School.
- Pharaoh, Pharaoh is a favorite
- Go Down, Moses
You can find the music these songs in the song binder in your classroom. Remember that we have several musicians who are willing to come and sing with your class if they are available and you provide enough notice. You can find them on the Google spreadsheet linked in your weekly teacher email.
5. Compare and Contrast Images: Take a look at some of the ways that this story has been depicted in art. The image below is a Coptic icon of Pharaoh’s daughter drawing Moses from the water. Also check out this image by Henry Ossawa Tanner, Moses in the Bullrushes (1921). What does each of these images show or suggest about the story? Which image tells the story the best? Which one do you like the most? Why?
6. Make Miniature story materials: Use clay, paper, felt, and other materials in the closet to make the various items in the story (baby moses, a basket, reeds, Hebrew midwives) so that students may retell the story to their parents when they get home. Here is one idea of how this might be done, but the possibilities are endless.
Close with a feast and a prayer