Call the Midwife: Pain, Providence and Promise in Exodus 1-2
Life is filled with mystery. Many of our sorrows and if we would admit it many of our successes are attributable to powers other than ourselves. It can leave us feeling helpless. It is as there is a deeper spiritual battle raging just beyond the veil of our existence.
This past weekend I had Chaplain duty. I am the command chaplain of U.S. Military Intelligence. A soldier came to me and said she had heard me in chapel that morning and was intrigued by the message and the Spirit that was pervasive in the chapel. I listened. She confessed that, of all things, she had stolen a picture-framed Scripture verse. It was a verse that dealt with this very theme. The Scripture was telling her to “commit her ways to the Lord, and He would direct her paths.”
“What does that mean?” I had to tell her that it meant for her to avoid stealing, first of all. Then, I gave her the framed Bible verse! I explained that we serve a God who goes before us, behind us, over us, and under us providentially to arrange—orchestrate, if you will—all the pathways of a believer to lead toward home—home with the Lord Himself— so that death, cancer, traffic accidents, homicides, war and old age are God-guided paths to lead us home.
She said, “Chaplain, I think you just gave me another sermon!” I told her she got a two-for-one deal today. Then, I had to tell her that while that was so, on this side of the Scripture promise, the pain can be unbearable. Faith in Jesus is how we hold on to the promise that providence will overturn the events and providentially transform the bad into good. It is hard. It is, in fact, life.
How many are here today, living in the pain of a pathway with a collapsed bridge such as a bad diagnosis from the doctor, the death of a loved one, a lingering depression of the spirit that has idiopathic origins, a strange feeling that you are working like crazy…for nothing, a battle within yourself about your faith in God, a chronic illness that is chipping away at your spirit, a feeling of betrayal from someone at school whom you thought was your best friend, a struggle about your vocation?
Pastors and their families are not exempt from such pain. My family has experienced many of these pains of life and others. It is called life. Sometimes we bring things on ourselves, but sometimes it seems that forces are out of our control, conspiring against us to hurt us or destroy us. This is where we pick up the Bible story of the Hebrew children in Egypt and God’s answer to our pain, His providence, and His promise.
Exegesis: Call the Midwife
Exodus 1 and 2 tells the story of the 70 years from Joseph to the reign of a new Pharaoh who did not know Joseph. The Hebrews had grown in number in their slavery, had remained true to the faith of God, and had become a threat to the rule of this new Egyptian king. So he ordered the death of the male babies. This motif will repeat itself in Scripture all the way to the birth of Jesus. Another feature that repeats itself is the miraculous intervention of faithful servants of God. In this case, it is the midwives.
The important principle emerges here that God will honour those who defend the principles of righteousness, showing respect for His creation and His rule over life. The midwives are more anxious to please God than to please Pharaoh, and God rewarded them.
Because of the faith of these women, chapter 2 of Exodus records the supernatural events concerning the birth of Moses, his salvation from infanticide, his divine protection, and engrafting into the Egyptian household, while being reared by his Hebrew mother and sister, all to demonstrate the providential power of God over the diabolical plans of a human king.
The message is clear to us today: God’s power transforms our pain into providence through His promise.
How does He do this? In the passage, our wonderful Savior works on our behalf to accomplish our salvation through four improbable ways:
1. God transforms our pain into providence through His promise through a father.
Joseph’s blessing extended through the generation to these people. We are the recipients of those spiritual fathers and mothers who have gone before. I recently visited the grave of a church planter, my third great-grandfather, Jephthah Vining, who had written a letter to pray for his progeny to be faithful and to preach the gospel. He planted several churches in North Carolina, South Carolina and his final church, where he is buried in Warren, Georgia. I stood at his grave several weeks ago and asked God to bless me with a thread of his mantle for the work of the gospel. My beloved, we are all the spiritual descendants of loved ones or people across the oceans from another country who were ordered by God to pray for us generations before we were born.
“We are not our own, we have been bought with a price” (1 Cor. 6:20), and we live not for ourselves but in a larger community of the church here and in heaven.
My beloved, let this truth encourage you in your walk today. You are a product of many prayers. You may be here, having been born, because of the prayers of someone you do not know and might never know while on earth, but God loved you so much He made a way for you. This does not diminish your pain, whatever you are facing; but my dearest friend, your pain is in the hands of a sovereign God who will work all things together for your good if you are His and if you are surrendered to His Son.
There is another way that our wonderful Savior works on our behalf to accomplish our salvation:
2. God transforms our pain into providence through His promise through a pharaoh.
What do I mean? This Egyptian king really was a pawn, not a king. He was a pawn in the hands of the true King, Almighty God, to bring about His grand design to save mankind. Every evil move the pawn made against the true King was a move that was countered and used to advance the true King’s noble and good cause. So, the diabolical activity of the pharaoh was, in fact, moving the Hebrew children closer to the birth of Moses, closer to the exodus, closer to the Promised Land, closer to theocracy, closer to the kingdom of David, closer to the birth of Jesus, closer to the resurrection, closer to His ascension, closer to Pentecost, closer to your birth and mine, and closer to the second coming of Christ and the final establishment of the kingdom of God in the entire world!
Did you think your cancer was the end or that your son’s death in Vietnam so many painful years ago was the end of the story? Did you think your failure at work was the nail in the coffin of your career? Well, it might be, unless you are hidden in the side of the Son of God. If you are in Christ and He is in you, then pain becomes the fodder for the providential activity of a glorious God who moves at the impulse of His own promises to bring about good for His own glory and your own good.
3. God transforms our pain into providence through His promise through a midwife.
Now we get to the midwives. These are the heroines of the story. If you want a theology of Dietrich Bonhoeffer and a defense of his underground church and seminary activities during the Nazi regime of WWII, this is the place to go. These midwives, who cared for expectant mothers and used their nursing expertise to birth children defied the Egyptian king’s death decree to save lives. They also are directly responsible for bringing forth Moses, the one who would save the Hebrew people and bring about the nation of Israel.
Last year, the BBC produced and aired a wonderful series called “Call the Midwife.” My wife and I were devoted viewers, but I must say I often was uncomfortable during the birthing scenes. I am a husband and father, but they showed images and scenes that gave me quite an education. I frequently had to leave the room because I couldn’t take the screaming. I have been in the military on active duty or reserve all my adult life and have seen a lot, but I cannot stand a screaming lady, and I would hide my eyes and cover my ears, which caused my wife to really laugh. Yet I loved the show because these women were really heroines and helped bring life into the world, often in unlikely situations.
God the Holy Spirit is the Midwife of the Triune God. He specializes in bringing life out of death, order out of chaos, and hope our of despair. He often uses real life heroes and heroines to be His instruments.
Who in your life is the midwife who helped bring life to you? Who worked silently behind the scene to birth hope? To deliver your dreams? To bring forth faith? Maybe it is time today to thank God for that person. Maybe it is time to rededicate yourself to the Lord and say, “Lord, I am ready to be the midwife for another. I am ready to do Your will. I am ready to bring life, faith, hope, healing to another. Use me, Lord.”
Finally, our wonderful Savior works on our behalf to accomplish our salvation through this fourth way:
4. God transforms our pain into providence through His promise through a miracle.
The miracle was the birth of Moses. He was born by the intervention of a midwife, through the care of his sister, through the unlikely compassion of the evil pharaoh’s loving daughter and the nursing love of his birth mother. The miracle is that God intervened on Israel’s behalf at just the right time when one was looking,with the birth of a savior. Does that sound familiar?
Jesus Christ our Lord came this way: as a miracle to an obscure place in supernatural arrangements and with threats all around. The answer to your own prayer will come this way, as well. God most often comes to us not as a King on a steed but as a baby in a reed basket, surrounded by crocs, unseen, unknown, yet powerful to save.
God has allowed us to read His Word, to hear His Word, to experience the Holy Spirit applying His Word to our lives. He shows us the ways He arranges His providence to bring us His promises to heal our pain:
1. Through a father who prays for us before we are born;
2. Through a pharaoh-type figure who is used to leverage the goodness of God at just the right time;
3. Through a midwife, the Holy Spirit of God, who ministers often through a kind, loving, faithful soul who acts on our behalf to bring about our good; and
4. Through a miracle: the life, death and resurrection of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, alive in us, born in us, living in us, and who will raise us from the dead with Him.
I saw this at work in my own life as I was orphaned as a child. I was reared by my Aunt Eva. I was a prodigal who lost much. My wife and I married more than 30 years ago, both broken and battered by the slavery to sin and shame that the world had brought to us. Then Christ came to us and saved us, showed us His grace, gave us a future and a hope; and after many years of prayers, our son, John Michael, was born to us just as we were finishing seminary in answer to His call to preach the unsearchable riches of Christ. We are here to tell you that pain always is answered in providence, and providence is fueled by the promise of Jesus Christ and His life; and providence is leading us home.
This morning, we come to the table, to the bread and the cup, where the authoritative seals of the kingdom once more are presented, tasted, consumed, to draw us back to the everlasting truth of Jesus’ promise demonstrated by His death on the cross, a death sufficient to save the whole world. For just beyond the veil a battle is raging, but the outcome is now determined. The cross brought the victory. The empty tomb sealed the fate of all who would trust in Him.
Our journeys will have ups and downs, but they never will fail to bring us home. In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.