With outstretched hands

Jason Storbakken

(Exodus 14:19-31)

Moses is considered one of the world’s greatest prophets. He is renowned as the giver of the 10 Commandments, the author of the first five books of the Bible, and he was the leader of one of the greatest liberation movements the world has ever known.

He was born a Hebrew slave in Egypt. The Egyptians feared that the population of the Hebrews was growing too quickly, and that there might be an uprising if these people were not kept in their place.

At the time of his birth, there was a decree by the Egyptians that all Hebrew midwives must kill Hebrew baby boys – not the baby girls. They felt that the girls were insignificant, harmless. Little did these powerbrokers of Egyptian society know, but these females (the baby girls and the midwives) would lead to their undoing.

In the first act of civil disobedience and nonviolent resistance in the Bible, the midwives refuse to obey Pharaoh’s murderous decree. They broke the law and lied to Pharaoh so that these Hebrew baby boys might live.

In a next attempt to weaken the Hebrew people, Pharoah commands all the people (not just the Hebrew midwives) to throw the Hebrew baby boys into the Nile River that they would die.

Again, he allows the Hebrew girls to live because he sees them as no threat. But it is three women – Moses’ mother, his sister Miriam, and Pharoah’s daughter – who disobey Pharoah and rescue Moses. It was women who conspired against the empire so that the weakest and most vulnerable might live.

It is in this political climate that Moses is born and raised.

Moses was raised in Pharaoh’s home. He intimately knew power, had great privilege. Although he was raised in the palace, his mother and sister cared for him. It appears he always knew he was Hebrew.

And around the age of 40, he saw an Egyptian abusing a Hebrew. Moses killed the Egyptian and buried him in the sand. He became a fugitive from Egypt and a scourge to his own people. He fled to Midian where he stayed for 40 years. He made a life for himself, married, had children, and worked as a shepherd for his father-n-law.

After 40 years Moses encountered God in the burning bush. God tells Moses to go to the Hebrew elders in captivity and tell them that the day of liberation was upon them. God told Moses to go to Pharaoh and tell him, “Let my people go that they may serve me.”

Of course, we know the story, Pharaoh was hard-hearted. And so came the 10 plagues.

The plagues.

  1. Water to blood
  2. Frogs
  3. s or lice
  4. Flies
  5. Livestock diseased
  6. Boils
  7. Thunder and hail
  8. Locusts
  9. Darkness
  10. Death of the firstborn

Let’s take a moment to pause on this last plague. God instructs Moses to tell the Hebrew people to place lamb’s blood on the door sides and top so that they would be protected from the death angel. But not on the bottom of the door – because the blood is not to be trampled.

The death angel comes. Pharaoh’s son dies. There is a great wailing throughout Egypt. And Pharaoh demands that the Hebrew slaves leave his country.

Moses organized his people. He was their great liberator. But there was no more he could do. He arrived at the Red Sea. Their back is against the wall. There is nowhere to turn. There is an obstacle before them and the enemy is on their heels.

The people are surely looking to Moses, their leader. But there wasn’t anything he could do.

The scriptures tell us: “Then Moses stretched out his hand.” We see this outstretched hand throughout the scriptures.

Job 11:13- 18

“Yet if you devote your heart to him

and stretch out your hands to him,

Life will be brighter than noonday,

and darkness will become like morning.

You will be secure, because there is hope;

you will look about you and take your rest in safety.”

Dedicating the temple, Solomon “stood before the altar of the Lord … and spread forth his hands toward heaven.”

David wrote in Psalm 64: “So I will bless You as long as I live; I will lift up my hands in Your name.”

Paul wrote to Timothy: “I want everyone in every place to pray, lifting up holy hands.”

There are times in our lives when we are at a loss as to what to do next. When we are weary and wonder, What next? That is often a time – as counter-intuitive as it may sound – to slow down, center yourself in God, breathe deeply – follow your breath – and look to God. Surrender. Throw your hands up. Worship God. Praise the Holy Name. And trust that God has seen you this far… God will see you through to the next season.

Moses stretches his hands to the heavens. And the east wind begins to blow. The Scriptures say that the wind moved all night. Throughout the Scriptures, wind is a symbol of the Spirit. Moses kept his hand outstretched all night. And the Spirit moved – in fact, it removed the obstacle and eventually destroyed the enemy.

And then the deep worship begins. The Scriptures tell us…

“Then the prophet Miriam, Aaron’s sister, took a tambourine in her hand; and all the women went out after her with tambourines and with dancing. And Miriam sang to them: ‘Sing to the Lord, for God has triumphed gloriously; horse and rider are thrown into the sea.’”

Moses often gets the credit as the great Liberator, but we see that it was the midwife’s radical resistance to empire that allowed him life. It was his sister and the Hebrew women who led the celebration when the empire was toppled. And it was because Moses surrendered his place in the palace, stepped aside from his privileged position, and gave everything unto God that he was able to walk by faith. And it was by faith that the people were delivered from bondage to begin their journey toward God’s promise for them.