Friday, April 24, 2015

The Hebrew Baby

Sometimes, the faithful thing? It is the subtlest, quietest, hardest thing we could ever do. 

Take, for example, Moses' mother. She gives birth to a Hebrew boy in a land where Hebrew boys are under a death sentence. Pharaoh's already ordered that all newborn boys in the Israelite camp be killed on sight. The midwives are supposed to make sure those little bundles of boy never become bundles of joy at their mothers' breasts. But because the midwives fear God more than they do Pharaoh, the boys are spared. Many of them are making it. Moses' mother gives birth to the boy and cradles him in her arms. She loves him. She holds him. She names him. 

And on the eighth day, she circumcises him.

That's not in the Exodus text. It doesn't tell us about Moses' circumcision. But we can piece it together. The story does tell us that Moses' mother kept him for quite a long time. She hid him for three whole months. That's quite a feat when babies aren't quiet and all of Egypt's on the lookout. If it had been me, I might have been tempted in those three months to be reading up on all the latest Egyptian baby boy trends. Names. Clothing. Ceremonies. All the things that would mark my baby boy as "not a Hebrew," I'd be interested in learning about. Because it seems to me that in a nation bent on killing him, this would be the only way to save him. 

Yet his mother, a faithful Hebrew we can assume, didn't do that. She lived her life. She lived her culture. She raised him in her faith. She did all the things a Hebrew mother was supposed to do for a Hebrew boy. Including the most marking of all - she circumcised him. Because a few verses later when an Egyptian woman finds him in the Nile? The Egyptian's first comment is: this is a Hebrew baby. This is a Hebrew boy.

Take a look at any baby you can find. Tell me, quick - what do you know about that baby's religious preference? Anything? How many three-month-olds are making declarations of faith? Any? But the Hebrew baby...see, the Hebrew baby is different. He doesn't have to make a declaration of faith; his faith declares him. His faith marks him. That's what circumcision is. It set the Hebrews apart. That the Egyptian woman took one look at this child and knew that he was a Hebrew came solely from the recognition that only Hebrew boys were circumcised. And certainly, Moses must have been, too.

I'm not sure why she did it. His mother, I mean. I would be doing everything I could to make my little boy blend in, to try to save his life. I would be sheltering him from this world, trying not to make him stand out in it. Maybe, like some mothers who face the early loss of their children, she wanted him to be dedicated to the Lord in case of tragic events. Maybe death seemed inevitable, and she wanted him to be right before God. Maybe she wanted to be a mother her whole life and in this short window she had - and she didn't know how long she had - she wanted to be a good mother. Maybe she wanted to dive into the whole motherhood experience and get the fullest measure of it she possibly could. I think it's unlikely that she looked at her little boy and thought he must be the exception. I think it's unlikely that she thought she would have him forever. I think it's unlikely that she thought he would stay out of Pharaoh's sight for very long at all. I don't think it was hope that made her circumcise her boy.

I think it was faith.

Incredible faith.

That's the difference between hope and faith. Hope looks at things the way they are and imagines all the ways they might get better. It dreams of the coming day when the world is set right. It dreams of justice, of mercy, of redemption. Faith has no such imagination. Faith is more a discipline than a dream. Faith looks at things the way they are and determines to make the best of it. It embraces this broken, messed-up life and trusts that there's a way even to do broken and messed-up well. Hope...hope is easy. hard. 

So the question is this: What have you done by faith lately? 

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