Saturday, October 29, 2005

From the Cliff-edge of Mt. Nebo 4

From where Moses stood:On the edge of the promised land, Moses stood here and saw far more than physical geography. He saw a political map of the twelve tribes and a redemptive history stretching away to the coming of the Messiah.

—•— What is an Evangelist? —•—
Mark Heath has posted a helpful summary of officers in New Frontiers Churches in his ‘wordandspirit’ journal. I find the distancing of apostles in the New Frontiers movement from the apostleship of the twelve apostles helpful and look forward to the day when they are able to say ‘different from the twelve and from Paul.’ In the meantime I feel provoked to re-examine what I, as a ‘Word and Spirit’ cessationist, ought to think about evangelists.

To fast forward through all the background for church offices we should make the following points with no explanations or deviations. There are two and two only groups of officers in the churches, denominated respectively as ‘overseers’ (bishops) and ‘servants’ (deacons). The overseers are distinguished primarily by their ability to teach but not all of them specialize in doing so, so there is one office but distinctions between officers. Similarly with deacons there are degrees of attainment and experience brings change and responsibility. Some terms, elder, pastor and teacher, are shown to be synonymous with overseer so it is not a great leap to see the link between the ‘… great confidence in the faith that is in Christ Jesus’ [1 Timothy 3:13] that deacons gain and the term ‘evangelist’.

Ephesians 4[07-14]

7 But to each one of us grace was given
according to the measure of Christ’s gift.
8 Therefore He says:
“When He ascended on high,
He led captivity captive,
And gave gifts to men.”
9 (Now this, “He ascended”;
what does it mean
but that He also first descended
into the lower parts of the earth?
10 He who descended is also the One who ascended
far above all the heavens,
that He might fill all things.)

11 And He Himself gave
some to be apostles,
some prophets,
some evangelists,
and some pastors and teachers,
12 for the equipping of the saints for the work of ministry,
for the edifying of the body of Christ,

13 till we all come
to the unity of the faith
and of the knowledge of the Son of God,
to a perfect man,
to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ;
14 that we should no longer be children,
tossed to and fro
and carried about with every wind of doctrine,
by the trickery of men,
in the cunning craftiness of deceitful plotting,

Let’s skip over why so many past theologians have thought that evangelists disappeared along with apostles and prophets and take it for granted that this is something that continues with us. To put it in the terms we were using earlier, there are still deacons who serve well and gain great confidence in the faith and we need to fit them into Ephesians 4. Forgive me also for jumping over any discussion about why apostles and prophets should be considered to continue or to have ceased because such discussions are not key to the functioning of evangelists. We’re done with fast forwarding now; it’s time to play at normal speed.

Three functional pairings out of five ‘giftings’: The first pairing is that of apostles and prophets because we could helpfully translate Ephesians 4:11a-c as ‘And He Himself gave on the one hand the apostles, on the other hand, the prophets.’ A different kind of grammatical construction makes the third pair a different kind of pairing so that ‘pastors and teachers’ are lumped together as one part of the second pairing: evangelists and pastors-and-teachers. It is not out of order to make the equation that evangelists are to apostles what pastors / teachers are to prophets. Draw a diagram to see how that maps onto the text. I’d do it for you but I’m somewhat technologically challenged as you can see from the lack of permalinks around this post. (My apologies if I’ve learned how to do them by the time you read this.)

The one-handing of evangelists and the other-handing of pastors / teachers fits in very well with the separation of ministries into overseer and servant. We could ask why Paul doesn’t just talk about bishops and deacons but his purpose here isn’t to establish once again that there are two offices in the church, moreover, the one-is-to-the-other diagram doesn’t work with deacons and overseers per se; deacons need to have gained great confidence in the faith before we can expect any semblance of an apostolic function to be seen in them.

Differentiation and development: Because of the grammar used we are able to look at the pastor / teacher pairing as a differentiation within the office of overseer. Because of the word used we are able to see degrees of development in the office of deacon. We always have been capable of underestimating the value of deacons because we tend to define the limitations of the work that deacons should be doing in terms of work that apostles ought not to be doing. It is therefore the more frustrating that we are so capable of limiting the work of an evangelist to a limit that does not embrace the apostolic functions apparently entailed to the place of the evangelist in Ephesians 4.

Not in Word only: This tendency is not helped by focussing on the vocal nature of these ministries because it is all too easy to see that they have the common characteristic of being publicly vocal and miss that speaking is the means to ends rather than ends themselves. The ends of these ministries are listed as ‘for the equipping of the saints for the work of ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ.’ And let’s not get distracted for the minute about whether the work of the ministry is what the saints are to be equipped for or what the ministries are themselves for or both. However these are split up, they are all directed towards the church. This goes with the territory for pastors and teachers but against the grain a little for evangelists. We are inclined to consider that the gifts of pastors and teachers are inwardly directed and that would accord easily with these purposes but we are equally predisposed to see the giftings of an evangelist to be outwardly directed and that is not reflected in these purposes.

Except that the work of the evangelist is to these purposes and outwardly directed when the function of the evangelist is seen to involve planting new churches and serving reconciliation between churches without being the sort of super-elders that diocesan bishops both aspire to and fail to be because diocesan bishops are also a misinterpretation of what an officer is for. I suggest that exploring the role of an evangelist as we find it delimited in Ephesians 4 should go some distance towards fulfilling the purposes of equipping the saints and edifying the church.

Friday, October 28, 2005

Selah 5

Psalm 4:4
Be angry, and do not sin; ponder in your own hearts on your beds, and be silent. Selah.

A city in the valley, lit and warm and barred
to me because of principle. And Esau with two wives
belonging to these people! My heart, cold
as this stone, clutches emptiness to hold.

Me in this place, within constraint, between two lives
and if and when? … and then you’ll be my God.

The woman of my longing — morning dawns to dread!
No Rachel here. A cousin, yes! But facing me this ‘Leah.’
A custom of these people! Exile hope; lies; toiled-
for, lack-love marriage; grasped-at vision; spoiled.

Me for a servant’s bonds and bound for all to see
the ladder’s in the round and round and round I tread.

This valley of decision, cleared of mine, until
there’s only me to fret about, an exile coming home,
the father of these people. Come the day
here comes the other man, some ghost to lay.

Me down to sleep at last. When sinew shrunk on bone
reminds me to remember, I’ll remember and be still.

Thursday, October 27, 2005

18th Century Theology with Thomas Boston 5

Thomas Boston was a Scottish preacher of genius. His writings are more readily available than ever before, in book form (including the ubiquitous Fourfold State of Man ), increasingly on the web (including bits of the ubiquitous Fourfold State of Man), on unsearchable CD rom and 0n searchable CD rom.

—•—The Spirit of Bondage—•—
Unbelievers are actuated by a spirit of bondage, suitable to their state of bondage under the covenant of works, Gal. 4:24, 25. A slavish fear and a servile hope are the weights hung upon them by that covenant, causing them to go: sin is avoided, duty performed, not out of love to God and holiness, but out of love to themselves. (Works VIII 572) A law-work cannot miss to be straitening to a sinner. Conviction of sin, of heart, lip, life, and nature, cannot but press sore; the spirit of bondage, girding the soul with the cords of death, and the curse of the broken law, makes a strait entry, Rom. 8:15. (Works X 318)

This fear of God is to be found in the unconverted; they have the spirit of bondage again to fear, (Works IX 77) Satan and our corrupt hearts are ready to drive forward this fear of God’s wrath to exceed all bounds: and no wonder, for when it has got over the boundaries, it makes fearful havoc in the soul’s case, like a consuming fire, deadening all good motions towards God, and quickening evil ones, to the dishonour of God, and one’s own torment; and no case out of hell is liker hell than this, both in respect of sin and misery. But when the Spirit of God has a saving work in view, he can easily make the spirit of bondage subservient to the spirit of adoption. (Works IX 80) The service he performed for you was hard service; the yoke he puts upon you is easy, and the burden light, Matt. 11:30. He served as a bond-servant for you; he requires you to serve him as a son serveth his father, Mal. 3:17. If his people make their own service harder, they owe it not to his Spirit, but to their own spirit, or a worse, Rom. 8:15, “For ye have not received the spirit of bondage again to fear.” (Works VII 540 cf. Works VII 333 n. l )

Question… But can saints have no such slavish fear of God? Answer: As all the graces of the Spirit are imperfect and mixed in the saints, so is their fear of God not without a mixture of that slavishness. Hence saith Jesus unto his disciples, Matt. 8:26, “Why are ye so fearful, O ye of little faith?” It is the same word as 2 Tim. 1:7. It is true, God never again gives them the spirit of bondage; but they may, through unbelief, take up a spirit of bondage again. But seeing they can never again lose the Spirit of adoption, neither can they lose that grace of filial reverential fear altogether: so that there is still as much difference betwixt them and hypocrites, as betwixt the malefactor fearing the judge, and a son’s fearing his father; who appears enraged against him, and about to put him out of his house; which yet will not kill natural affection. (Works IV 484f.)

Now, there is a twofold word to be believed by all those who would enter into the covenant of grace in a saving manner, namely, the word of the law, and the word of the gospel. The believing of the former is a faith of the law; and of the latter, a faith of the gospel. The faith of the law is the work of the Spirit of God, as well as the saving faith of the gospel, though wrought by him in a very different manner. The former he works by the law, as a Spirit of conviction and bondage, convincing of sin and misery, Rom. 8:15, with John 16:8. The latter he works by the gospel, as a quickening Spirit, a Spirit of saving illumination and adoption. (Works I 359f.)

Let those, who, by the power of the spirit of bondage, have had the law opened before them in its spirituality, for their conviction, speak and tell, if they found themselves able to incline their hearts toward it, in that case; nay, whether the more that light shone into their souls, they did not find their hearts more and more unable to comply with it. (Works VIII 57f.) They are of a slavish spirit who are under [the covenant of works]; whereas the saints are acted by a son-like spirit. For, says the apostle, Rom. 8:15, “ye have not received the spirit of bondage again to fear; but ye have received the Spirit of adoption, whereby we cry, Abba, Father.” As the slave is moved with fear, not with love; so is it with them. (Works XI 273) Look at those whose soul exercises have issued in putting their case in the hands of a Physician of no value. There are many who, being awakened by a spirit of conviction, and are really exercised about their souls’ condition, put their case to Christ for healing. But not being able or willing to wait his time, till the wound be sufficiently searched, but being for peace at any rate, they are offended in him, and so put themselves in the hand of the law that wounded them. Thus they make themselves whole, not by the believing application of the blood of Christ, but by their prayers, tears, and external reformation. And so they settle down upon their lees, farther from Christ than ever. (Works III 72)

Consider the entertainment which [Christ] meets with when he comes to teach souls inwardly by his Spirit. Men do what they can to stop their ears, like the deaf adder, that they may not hear his voice. They “always resist the Holy Ghost:” “They desire not the knowledge of his ways;” and therefore bid him “depart from them.” The old calumny is often raised upon him on that occasion, John 10:20, “He is mad, why hear ye him?” Soul-exercise, raised by the spirit of bondage, is accounted, by many, nothing else but distraction, and melancholy fits; men thus blaspheming the Lord’s work, because they themselves are beside themselves, and cannot judge of those matters. (Works VIII 67) The spirit of bondage witnesseth the truth [that there is a sentence passed in the court of heaven, and standing, against ungodly men, evil-workers], convincing the sinner that he is a dead man, Rom. 7:9, and that he stands in need of a remission, chap. 3:19. This testimony is true; for it is the testimony of the Spirit of God, whereby he brings sinners to see their need of Christ. (Works VI 483)

The Spirit of the Lord speaks to the soul as it were out of the midst of the fire; but there is blackness, darkness, and tempest, mixed with this light. And here consider the [twofold] matter … of this conviction, … (1.) Sin, John 16:8, “He will reprove the world of sin.” The Spirit of the Lord convinces the man that he is a sinner, and sets his particular sins in order before him, Ps. 50:21. Then sins that are out of mind, as dead and buried, have a fearful resurrection, Rom. 7:9. The spirit of bondage leads his prisoner in chains, through the several parts and steps of this life, to his very birth; and shows him convincingly his sins in them: lets him see such ill in sin as he never saw before, how heinously God takes it, and that with the several aggravations thereof. (2.) Misery, John 16:8. The Spirit of the Lord convinces him, that he is lost and undone, Luke 15:17. Being convicted and found guilty, sentence passes on him within his own breast, whereby he sees himself doomed to eternal death. He is convinced, as if an angel from heaven should tell him, that he is under God’s wrath and curse, and that therefore, if he die in that case, he will perish for ever. He sees God to be his enemy; his word to speak no good of him, and all God’s creatures his enemies in some sort ready armed against him. (Works I 564f.)

The Lord, the Judge, sends out other messengers, and they apprehend the sinner, lay hands on him to carry him, whether he will or not, before the judgment-seat, and oblige him to abide his trial. And these are two: the Spirit of bondage, and an awakened conscience, John 16:8, 9; Prov. 20:27. These will catch the man, and hunt him till they find him out, when they have got their order, Jer. 2:27. They apprehended Paul when going to Damascus, and left him not till he appeared, and submitted himself. But it is not always so. Some that are apprehended get out of the messenger’s hands, and make their escape unhappily. When they are caught, they are unruly prisoners: they struggle and wrestle, and strive against the Spirit, and their own consciences, Acts 7:51; they go no farther with them than they are dragged. They get the mastery at length over their conscience, break its bonds, and stifle its convictions, and so grieve and quench the Spirit, that they get away to their own ruin; like Cain, Saul, Felix, &c. But none of God’s elect ever get away altogether. (Works I 583f.) Then the elect soul is infallibly sisted at length before the judgment-seat. The Spirit of bondage and the awakened conscience apprehend him afresh, and bring their prisoner in chains of guilt unto the bar trembling, and he can escape the trial no longer, before a holy God, Acts 16:29, 30. Then what fear, sorrow and anxiety, seize the prisoner’s soul, while he sees a just Judge on the throne, a strict and severe law laid before him, and he has a guilty conscience within! And he must undergo a trial for his life; not the life of the body only, but of soul and body for evermore. These things may seem idle tales to some; but if ye have not experienced the reality of them, ye shall do it, or dreadful shall the judgment after death be to you. (Works I 584 )

How hopeless is the case of many that have never yet been awakened by the Spirit of conviction! The forerunners of the effectual call are not yet come unto you. (Works I 566) Let us take a view of those who are lying dead upon their murdered convictions. Our Lord has taken some persons in hand to cure them, and by the Spirit of conviction, he has begun to let blood of the heart vein of their beloved lusts. But the pain of this operation hath made them disagree with the Physician, start up and break the lancet, and stifle their convictions. And now their wound is whole, their convictions are gone, and their conscience, which was so uneasy before, is now as dead as stone. Go where they please, they are not troubled. Darts are as stubble. (Works III 71) When the natural conscience is awakened by the Spirit of conviction, it will indeed rage and roar, and put the whole man in a dreadful consternation; awfully summon all the powers of the soul to help in a strait; make the stiff heart to tremble, and the knees to bow; set the eyes weeping, the tongue confessing; and oblige the man to cast out the goods into the sea, which he apprehends are likely to sink the ship of the soul, though the heart still goes after them. Yet it is an evil conscience which naturally leads to despair, and will do it effectually, as in Judas’ case; unless either lusts prevail over it, to lull it asleep, as in the case of Felix, Acts 24:25, or the blood of Christ prevail over it, sprinkling and purging it from dead works, as in the case of all true converts, Heb. 9:14, and 10:22. (Works VIII 81f.)

[B]y the Spirit of the Lord, acting as a spirit of bondage, there is a criminal court erected in the man’s breast; where he is arraigned, accused, and condemned for breaking the law of God, (Works VIII 190) [A] man believes … [t]hat he is a sinner, a breaker of the law’s commands, liable to divine vengeance. The law pronounces him a guilty man, and he believes the report of the law concerning himself in particular; and so, by this faith, his heavy and sorrowful heart echoes back to the voice of the law, guilty, guilty! Rom. 3:19. This faith is a divine faith, founded upon the testimony of God in his holy law; and rests not in the testimony of men, whether spoken or written. The Spirit of God as a Spirit of bondage, brings home the law to the man’s conscience, and persuades him, that that law is the voice of the eternal God, and the voice of that God to him in particular; and so convinces him of sin upon God’s own testimony. (Works I 360)

The means the Spirit makes use of is the word; hence we read of preaching repentance. And (1.) The law serves to break the hard heart, Jer. 23:29, “Is not my word like a fire? saith the Lord; and like a hammer that breaketh the rock in pieces?” It is like the Baptist preparing the way for the Messiah’s coming. Hence it is called, “The Spirit of bondage,” Rom. 8:15. (2.) The gospel serves to melt the hard heart, like a fire, Jer. 23:29, forecited; and so bow and bend it from sin unto God. The soul is driven by the law, but drawn by the gospel. The Lord comes in the still small voice. (Works II 413) Time was when [the convicted sinner] could not think of parting from among [the world’s society]; but could get no rest among them; seeing every moment the city of destruction ready to be overthrown, and himself to be swallowed up in the ruins. This is a new sight that one gets, not by the sight of the eyes, but from the word, by the Spirit acting as a Spirit of bondage on the soul and conscience; awakening, convincing, and persuading into a firm belief of the report of the law, with application to one’s own particular case. (Works V 354)

[T]he Spirit of the Lord makes use of both parts of the word. … The law, to break the hard heart. Jer. 23:29, “Is not my word – like a hammer that breaketh the rock in pieces? saith the Lord.” It goes before like John Baptist to prepare the way of the Lord into the heart. And the Spirit of the Lord making use of it in a soul, is called “the Spirit of bondage,” Rom. 8:15. And here each part of the law has its proper use. (Works VI 386)

The work of the Spirit for persuading and enabling us to embrace Christ, is threefold: namely, conviction, saving illumination, and the renewing of the will. But conviction is not a work of the Spirit, of the same kind with the other two. Conviction is a work of the Spirit, acting as “a spirit of bondage” upon us, Rom. 8:15. The Spirit, acting as a Spirit of bondage, convinceth us of our sin and misery; John 16:8, “And when he is come, he will reprove the world of sin, and of righteousness, and of judgment.” Acts 2:37, “Now, when they heard this, they were pricked in their heart, and said unto Peter, and to the rest of the apostles, Men and brethren, what shall we do?” (Works VII 85)

[A man’s belief that he is a sinner] rests not on the testimony of man, whether spoken or written; but is a divine faith, founded upon the testimony of God, in his holy law, demonstrated by the Spirit of bondage, to be the voice of the eternal God, and the voice of that God to him in particular. (Works VIII 582f.) He can no more look upon the curse as some strange thing, belonging only to some monsters of wickedness, and not to him: for the Spirit of the Lord, as a Spirit of bondage, applies it closely to him; as if he said, thou art the man. (Works VIII 583)

Our Lord breaks his people’s hearts by his Spirit, and yet by the same Spirit binds them up again. In the first work he is the Spirit of bondage; and some may be long under his hand this way. Hence we read of some “who, through fear of death, were all their lifetime subject to bondage,” Heb. 2:15. (Works IX 560) [B]y his Spirit acting upon them, as a Spirit of bondage, he sets home on their consciences, the holy law in the commands and curse thereof, as of divine authority, and binding on them in particular. Hereby they are convinced of their sin and misery, seeing their sin as heinous in the sight of God, and his wrath due to them for their sin: they are filled with remorse, terror, and anxiety; are made to pant for relief, feel an absolute need of Christ and his righteousness, and despair of relief by any other way, Acts 2:37, and 16:29, 30. (Works VIII 551)

[T]he faith of the law is the work of the Spirit of God, as well as the saving faith of the gospel; though wrought in a different manner. The former he works as a Spirit of bondage, convincing of sin and misery, by the law, Rom. 8:15, with John 16:8. The latter he works as a quickening Spirit, enlightening the soul in the knowledge of Christ, by the gospel, 2 Cor. 3:17, 18. (Works VIII 582) The bonds laid on [the] consciences [of the person united to Christ] by the Spirit of God, acting as the Spirit of bondage, are taken off, never more to be laid on, Rom. 8:15, “For ye have not received the Spirit of bondage again to fear.” (Works VIII 206f.)

Monday, October 24, 2005


Shadrach, Meshach, Abed Nego were stoked into the fire,
the old king took a look in just to watch the flames climb higher.
Those three wise men in the fire stood
accompanied by the Son of God;
the fire couldn't touch them for the Lord was on their side.

He was the:
fourth man in the fiery furnace,
third man going to Emmaus,
second man to represent us,
God's only Son.

Cleopas and a friend of his were walking home by night,
a stranger came and talked with them and showed them what was right.
How their hearts did burn within
as he showed how the Scriptures spoke of him,
their fears and doubts were banished as the Lord walked by their side.

Adam was the founder of the dying human race,
condemned to crucify until the Saviour took his place.
Adam's sin meant the fall of man,
salvation was God's rescue plan,
the love of Jesus bought it for the Lord is on our side.

Sunday, October 23, 2005

Meanwhile, this Sunday Night in North Finchley … 3

Sermon preparation for the record and for the day ahead:

—•—What did the first nine plagues ever do for us?—•—

Preparing to come out of bondage and into an inheritance is no easy step. We should not underestimate the effect of the first nine plagues in preparing the way for the exodus. It is quite obvious that those plagues had the beneficial effect, as far as the Israelites were concerned of softening up the Egyptians. Yes, Pharaoh’s heart was still hard but that doesn’t mean that the Egyptian people were as resolute or as strong after nine plagues as they were at the beginning of them. The picture the Bible gives us is of a nation ruined by what the plagues had wrought on them.

We don’t need to look any further than the complete and utter freedom that the Israelites enjoyed to keep the first Passover to see how much had changed during the course of the nine plagues. How, during the bricks-without-straw era, would the Israelites have been able to stage such an act? The Egyptians would have been down on them like the oppressor nation that they were but not any more.

Psalm 76:5 ‘The stouthearted were stripped of their spoil; they sank into sleep;
all the men of war were unable to use their hands.’

Egypt still had the power to keep the Israelites there and the power to destroy but the power to enforce labour from them had been destroyed and it had been destroyed by the first nine plagues. However, only looking at one side of this equation will miss a very important lesson. The first nine plagues had an effect on the Israelites as well.

Just consider what the Israelites were like before the nine plagues, during the time of bricks-without-straw. A more pathetic people can hardly be imagined than those in Exodus 6:9 who ‘…did not listen to Moses, because of their broken spirit and harsh slavery’ who complained that Moses and Aaron were the cause of their troubles. On the eve of the nine plagues there was not a sign that these slaves were about to be transformed into a martial nation. It isn’t that the people who left Egypt after the tenth plague were a fully-formed army but nonetheless, contrast those who ate the Passover with their belts fastened ready for action with their former selves when crushed under the weight of bondage and you get a glimpse of what the nine plagues did for Israel.

It is important to know that the Israelites did not start the period of bondage as unwilling to be led, unable to imagine things getting better and thoroughly demoralized. In fact when we consider the generation before Moses’s generation we find a very different picture is presented to us by the resistance that the Israelite women showed to Pharaoh. First of all we have the story of the Hebrew midwives and that contains the essence of the story of the other Israelite women within it.

Exodus 01[15-22]

15 • Then the king of Egypt said to the Hebrew midwives,
one of whom was named Shiphrah and the other Puah,
16 • “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.”
17 • But the midwives feared God
and did not do as the king of Egypt commanded them,
but let the male children live.

18 • So the king of Egypt called the midwives and said to them,
“Why have you done this, and let the male children live?”
19 • The midwives said to Pharaoh,
“Because the Hebrew women are not like the Egyptian women,
for they are vigorous
and give birth before the midwife comes to them.”
20 • So God dealt well with the midwives.
• And the people multiplied and grew very strong.

21 • And because the midwives feared God, he gave them families.
22 • Then Pharaoh commanded all his people,
“Every son that is born to the Hebrews you shall cast into the Nile,
but you shall let every daughter live.”

We generally concentrate on what the Hebrew midwives do in this story and the summary of our thinking is pretty much that God rewarded the midwives for disobeying Pharaoh and in spite of them deceiving Pharaoh. Now, since the disobedience and the deception are pretty much of a muchness, we are probably giving too much weight to our nice little equation that a lie is a lie is a lie and it is tempting just to defend the midwives as doing the best they were able in impossible circumstances — breaking the commandment, of course, but doing so legitimately because they were doing so not to lie for lying’s sake but to save lives. Put it this way, Pharaoh was a mortal enemy in the full meaning of the word ‘mortal’. His desire was to have rid of the Hebrew identity by eliminating all the male children at birth and it is perfectly righteous to deceive a mortal enemy.

Pharaoh was incredibly arrogant in his mortal oppression of the Hebrews. For a start he did not seem to see that he was attacking the whole reason for existence for the midwives but more than that, he doesn’t seem to get it that in attempting to kill the Hebrew sons he was attacking Hebrew motherhood. His total disregard for women was at the root of the downfall of his dynasty because he did not take notice of a very fundamental linkage — that it would be, to put it in archetypal terms, the seed of the woman who would bruise the serpent’s head.

The midwives seem to have deduced, quite correctly, that the disdain that Pharaoh had towards their womanhood was derived from a disdain that he had for women in general so that, when they said, ‘the Hebrew women are not like the Egyptian women.’ he was set up to believe them. It was entirely in character for Pharaoh to extend his genocidal plan to make it an obligation for all his people to drown the Hebrew boys. As soon as he did this, of course, it made his entire people the mortal enemies of the Hebrews and legitimately liable to deception.

However, no matter how great the temptation to use the Hebrew midwives as an example of the righteousness of deceiving a mortal enemy, there remains the difficulty that the vigour of the Hebrew women was an actual reality. If Pharaoh had checked he would have no doubt discovered that many of the Hebrew women were being delivered without the midwife being in attendance. The decadence of Egyptian womanhood was evident away back in the days when Potiphar’s wife tried to seduce Joseph whereas these Hebrew women, including the midwives, looked back to Sarah who gave birth to the patriarch Isaac when she was in her nineties.

Now, it is a still a temptation to dwell now on the truthfulness of what the midwives said to Pharaoh, and draw out the lesson that when we are deceiving a mortal enemy, it is generally a good rule to be as truthful as possible in what we say to deceive. It isn’t that the midwives never assisted at the birth of a baby boy but when they gave a reason for their general inability to comply with Pharaoh’s demand they were demonstrating why there were many little Hebrew boys out there. With regard to the fact that they had, out of reverence for God, never killed a baby boy was a truth with which they were economical. In their reply to Pharaoh they used as much of the truth as they could in order to deceive him utterly.

No, the lesson we take from the incident of the Hebrew midwives is that that generation of women could be favorably contrasted not only with their Egyptian contemporaries but also with their own sons on the eve of the plagues. Shiphrah and Puah were representatives of a galaxy of strong mothers-in-Israel in a day when they were called upon to be the first line of resistance to an attack on the very existence of Israel’s children.

One more name from that generation needs to be singled out. She was the daughter of one of the twelve sons of Jacob but born when he was old. Here is her generation as we find it recorded in Exodus 06[14-20]

14 • These are the heads of their fathers’ houses:
the sons of Reuben, the firstborn of Israel:
Hanoch, Pallu, Hezron, and Carmi;
these are the clans of Reuben.
15 • The sons of Simeon:
Jemuel, Jamin, Ohad, Jachin, Zohar,
• and Shaul, the son of a Canaanite woman;
these are the clans of Simeon.

16 • These are the names of the sons of Levi
according to their generations:
Gershon, Kohath, and Merari,
the years of the life of Levi being 137 years.
17 The sons of Gershon: Libni and Shimei, by their clans.
18 • The sons of Kohath:
Amram, Izhar, Hebron, and Uzziel,
the years of the life of Kohath being 133 years.
19 • The sons of Merari:
Mahli and Mushi.
These are the clans of the Levites according to their generations.

20 • Amram took as his wife Jochebed his father’s sister,
• and she bore him Aaron and Moses,
• the years of the life of Amram being 137 years.

Note how the families of tribes of Reuben and Simeon are passed over quickly save that it is mentioned that Shaul was son of Simeon and ‘of a Canaanite woman.’ The families of the tribe of Levi are drawn out for one more generation to establish the families and, to give a rough chronology, three ages at death are given. The captivity in Egypt was long but the startling evidence of this text is that Jochebed the mother of Moses, who led the Israelites out of Egypt, was the granddaughter of Jacob. It is difficult to make the figures add up precisely since we do not have ages of fathers at the birth of their sons to put beside their ages at death but however we stack the figures up it seems necessary for us to recognise that Jochebed was older than normal childbearing age when her children were born.

However it was that she got to take a place among the lively Hebrew women of Shiphrah’s and Puah’s generation, Jochebed was called on to give birth to her youngest child during the time when Pharaoh had given up on the midwives being able to dispatch the Hebrew boys and was calling on the Egyptians to do it. Let’s look at the strength of her resolve when her son was born:

Exodus 02[01-08]

1 • Now a man from the house of Levi went
and took as his wife a Levite woman.
2 The woman conceived and bore a son,
and when she saw that he was a fine child,
she hid him three months.
3 • 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.
4 And his sister stood at a distance
to know what would be done to him.

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.

Pharaoh’s disdain for women rises up to bite him once more in this story. We are presented with the story of three women here and we know the names of two of them from later on in the account. Jochebed and Miriam her daughter were beneath Pharaoh’s attention as Hebrew women, although it is possible that they were notable simply because of seniority in a major family. On the other hand, although Pharaoh’s daughter would have been known to him, we never know her name although she is responsible for naming Moses and for taking him into Pharaoh’s household. It is inconceivable that a son of Pharaoh’s would have been able to do this but an insignificant daughter was allowed to bring the one who would become the nemesis of the entire dynasty into the palace and sponsor his growing up there. What did it matter to Pharaoh if the Hebrew girls were allowed to live and what did it matter to him that his daughter wanted to amuse herself in this way?

If Pharaoh was aware that Moses was a Hebrew, it is fairly certain that he never entertained the thought that anyone would choose to align himself with a group of slaves when he had a place in the palace. Jochebed knew better and her choice of method to save the boy’s life shows that her trust was placed entirely in the God of history. Pharaoh wouldn’t even acknowledge the recent history of the salvation of his nation at the hand of the Hebrew slave, Joseph, but Jochebed’s preparation of the bulrush basket covered in tar shows a knowledge of the way that God preserved the human family, eight strong in the Ark, through the flood. The means that would have been used to destroy Moses was thus transformed into the means of his survival and the crying that would have given him away during the first three months of his existence now stirred up maternal instincts in Pharaoh’s daughter.

Moses might have been called ‘the son of Pharaoh’s daughter’ but Jochebed knew — by the recognition that first saw that ‘he was a fine child’, by his preservation in the basket and by the answer to her prayers that he was returned to her to nurse — Jochebed knew that God had a purpose for Moses. How great her vision was we do not know but her struggle to preserve her son’s life is representative of the struggles of a whole generation. Their vigour, fear of God and resistance to the mortal enemy of their people would have had poor reward if the preserved generation had continued to be the beaten and ground-down bunch of slaves that wouldn’t listen to Moses eighty years later. But just as God provided the idea of the basket to Jochebed and the opportunity for Miriam to suggest to Pharaoh’s daughter that she fetch ‘a nurse from the Hebrew women,’ he also sent the nine plagues to strengthen Israel in the measure that they weakened Egypt.

Moses himself honored his mother with another mention of her name:

Numbers 26[52-59]

52 • The LORD spoke to Moses, saying,
53 • “Among these the land shall be divided for inheritance
according to the number of names.
54 • To a large tribe you shall give a large inheritance,
and to a small tribe you shall give a small inheritance;
every tribe shall be given its inheritance in proportion to its list.

55 • But the land shall be divided by lot.
• According to the names of the tribes of their fathers
they shall inherit.
56 • Their inheritance shall be divided
according to lot between the larger and the smaller.”

57 • This was the list of the Levites according to their clans:
of Gershon, the clan of the Gershonites;
of Kohath, the clan of the Kohathites;
of Merari, the clan of the Merarites.
58 • These are the clans of Levi:
the clan of the Libnites,
the clan of the Hebronites,
the clan of the Mahlites,
the clan of the Mushites,
the clan of the Korahites.
• And Kohath was the father of Amram.
59 The name of Amram’s wife was Jochebed the daughter of Levi,
who was born to Levi in Egypt.
And she bore to Amram Aaron and Moses and Miriam their sister.

It tells us three things about Jochebed, that she was the daughter of Levi, that she was born in Egypt and that she bore her husband, Amram, three children. The first two facts make explicit what is implied elsewhere but note that the context here is all about inheritance. Inheritance is about patrimony and size, but we see here that it isn’t only about patrimony and size. Two things are very relevant. 1) God would control the lot that would select which tribe and family would inherit where and 2) mothers are important in sonship as well as fathers.

God gave the mothers in their tenacity the means to preserve their sons and he gave the nine plagues to turn these sons back into the sort of men that their mothers had wanted them to be. He uses means to guard his inheritance and to bring us into ours. These mothers-in-Israel were stirred up to do whatever it took to preserve life and bring their sons to the inheritance in the land that they, true daughters of Abraham, were looking for. We should not be surprised that God chose a mother, Mary, to bring a special child into the world and fight for his preservation, and that that son then did what it took to claim the inheritance on our behalf and bring many sons to glory.