Does the name, Jochebed (yó-ka-bed) mean anything to you? Jochebed was the mother of Moses. She was the daughter of Levi. She married her nephew, Amram, Levi’s grandson – her brother, Kohath’s oldest son. (Exodus 6:16) She gave birth to a daughter, Miriam, and two sons, Aaron and Moses.
Hers is the story of a mother’s faith, hope and love – and her willingness to resort to extreme measures in order to protect and provide for her child. But, more than that, it’s a story of looking beyond the circumstances of the moment and trusting God to order and provide. And that’s what I want to emphasize in the sermon this morning – that, when we look to God, God can use our humility and courage to accomplish some pretty remarkable things. As we’ll see, all it takes is a leap of faith.
To begin with, let’s go back to Joseph. Joseph, you’ll remember, was the son of Jacob who wore the coat of many colors. He was the one his brothers sold into slavery and then told their father that he’d been killed by a wild animal. But Joseph had the ability to interpret dreams, and it was this ability that endeared him to the Egyptian Pharaoh. When the Pharaoh told Joseph his dream, Joseph warned him that they were in for a terrible drought. Wisely, Pharaoh made him chief overseer of all the grain in Egypt and, thanks to Joseph, they stored enough grain during the plentiful years that, when the drought came, they not only had enough to feed the Egyptians, but to sell to other countries, as well.
The drought led his brothers to come to Egypt to buy grain and when they came before the overseer, here was their long lost brother, Joseph. Surprise! Joseph and his brothers were reconciled at last. The Pharaoh welcomed Joseph’s family to settle in Egypt, and he treated them like royalty.
Their good fortune didn’t last forever. In time, the Pharaoh died, and a new Pharaoh took his place. The new Pharaoh cared nothing for Joseph or for his family – or for Jews, in general, for that matter. For one thing, they were growing more numerous and prosperous than the Egyptians, and so he saw them as a threat and began treating them as slaves. Things got so bad that the Hebrews cried out to God for deliverance, and that’s where our story for today begins. Here’s what happened.
Not long before Moses was born, Egyptian astrologers saw signs in the heavens that a child was to be born on a certain day who would set the slaves free. They warned the Pharaoh and he decreed that every male child born on that particular day should be thrown into the Nile River to drown.
Sure enough, on the seventh day of Adar in the Jewish calendar – the day the astrologers had predicted the child would be born – Jochebed gave birth to Moses. No sooner than he took his first breath, the whole house filled with a radiant light. She knew that this was no ordinary child, and that she must do everything possible to protect him from the wicked Pharaoh.
She hid him for three months, but then, you can’t hide a growing child forever. It would be only a matter of time before he was discovered. She faced a dilemma: If she kept the child, she’d lose him; if she gave him up, perhaps God would save him. It was – and is – the hardest decision a parent can make – whether to hold on or let go.
Well, here’s what she did: She took a small basket and smeared it, inside and out, with tar to make it waterproof. Then she lined it with a soft blanket and laid him in the basket sound asleep. She carried the basket down to the Nile and gently set it in the water among the papyrus reeds growing along the bank. It was her way of placing him into the very hands of God. Then she went home to cry.
Little did she know, but her daughter, Miriam, had followed her to the river and had watched from a distance. When Jochebed went back to the house, Miriam stayed to see what would happen.
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It was a hot day, and the Pharaoh’s daughter, Bithya, came to bathe in the cool waters of the Nile. Her maidens dutifully stood guard on the bank. As she splashed in the water, Bithya heard a baby crying. She rushed to the shallow waters where the papyrus reeds were thick and found the basket with a baby tucked inside. She took one look at the child and, even though she knew it must be one of the Hebrew children, she vowed to keep him for herself.
She picked him up and tried to console him, but, by now, the baby was hungry, and he cried at the top of his lungs. Her maidens rushed to help, but they were as useless as she. Just then, Miriam appeared. She said, “I know a Hebrew woman who’ll take care of this child for you. In fact, she’s nursing.” Bithya thought that was a great idea, and so Miriam rushed home to get her mother. Bithya gave the child to Jochebed to take home with her and care for him. And so, in this way, Jochebed was able to nurse her baby and care for him in her home for the next two years.
Meanwhile, Bithya returned to the palace and told her father all that had happened. Then she asked permission to keep him, and he agreed. As for the earlier threat to the Pharaoh, the astrologers said that the would-be liberator of the Hebrews had been taken to the Nile and they felt sure he was now dead. When the time came for Moses to be weaned from his mother, Jochebed took him to the Pharaoh’s court, where he grew up as the adopted son of the Pharaoh’s daughter, and the rest is history, as they say.
Jochebed wasn’t the only one in the Bible who took a leap of faith. A couple of weeks ago in the Adult Class we heard the story of Hannah and how she dedicated her son, Samuel, to the Lord. She prayed to God for a son and, in return, she vowed to give him back to the Lord. Sure enough, God heard her prayer and she gave birth to Samuel and, when he was weaned, she took him to the temple in Shiloh and left him in the care of the old priest, Eli. In letting go, she got to see him not only grow up to be a fine young man, but to become the prophet of God’s choosing to redeem the people of Israel. (1 Samuel 1-2)
If that weren’t enough, there’s more. Remember the story of Abraham and Isaac? God said,
“Now take your son, your only son, whom you love, even Isaac, and go into the land of Moriah. Offer him there for a burnt offering on one of the mountains which I will tell you of.” (Genesis 22:2)
Talk about a leap of faith! After waiting all these years for a son, now to be asked to give him up? Who could blame Abraham if he’d feigned some excuse?
But he didn’t. He saddled his donkey and loaded it with firewood and took Isaac with him to Moriah. When they got there, he and Isaac walked up the mountain together, Isaac carrying the wood and Abraham carrying a torch and a knife.
Isaac asked his father, “Where is the lamb for a burnt offering?”
Abraham said, “God will provide himself the lamb for a burnt offering, my son.” (Gen. 22:7-8) Little did he know.
When they got to the altar, Abraham stacked the wood and bound Isaac on top of it. Then he took his knife and was just about to cut his throat when he heard an angel call his name.
” Abraham, Abraham!” He (the angel) said, “Don’t lay your hand on the boy, neither do anything to him. For now I know that you fear God, since you have not withheld your son, your only son, from me.” And, at that very moment he heard the sound of a ram caught in the thicket by its horns. He placed the ram on the altar instead of his son, and, together, they made sacrifice and glorified God. (Gen. 22:9-13)
In time, Abraham became the model of faithfulness, not only for the Hebrews, but for the early church, as well. In his Letter to the Romans, Paul says, “Abraham believed God, and it was accounted to him for righteousness.” (Romans 4:3)
Perhaps you’ve heard this old story: A tourist went to the Grand Canyon, got too close to the edge and fell over the side. Luckily, there was a scrub bush jutting out from the rock, and he was able to grab a limb and hold on for dear life.
Looking down at the great chasm below, he called out, “Help, help!” At that moment, a bearded figure peered over the side and said, “I’ll help you, friend.”
“Who are you?” the man asked. And the stranger said, “I’m the Lord. I’m here to save you.”
“Great!” said the man. “Just get me out of here.” “Sure thing,” the stranger said. “All you have to do is let go of the limb.”
“Let go of the limb?” the man cried. “Are you crazy?” “Not at all,” said the stranger, “just let go of the limb and you’ll be saved.”
The man looked at the drop-off beneath him, then to the smiling face above him. He thought for a moment and then he called out, “Is anyone else up there?”
Søren Kierkegaard first coined the term, “leap of faith,” in a thesis he wrote in 1846 to describe one’s willingness to believe in God without being able to prove that God even exists. He believed that the only way to bridge the gap between us and God to take a leap of faith.
The term stuck, and we still use it today in both religious and non-religious ways. To take a leap of faith is simply to do something without knowing for sure what the outcome will be. For example, to get married is to take a leap of faith. So is to invest in the stock market or start a new business. To take a leap of faith is to invite success and to risk failure: You never know until you try.
Going back to the Old Testament lesson for today, had Bithya not come along when she did, Moses could’ve easily died of dehydration before anyone found him. Samuel could’ve become a nameless worker in the temple at Shiloh. Abraham could’ve gone home with Isaac’s blood on his hands. When you take a leap of faith, there’s no guarantee where you’ll land.
We take a leap of faith because we believe that the possibilities outweigh the risks. And if we’re acting in faith, we believe that, if it’s in accordance with God’s will, all things are possible.
This is what former British Prime Minister, Tony Blair did recently. On May 30, he announced the creation of a foundation in his name “…dedicated to proving that collaboration among those of different religious faiths can help address some of the world’s most pressing social problems.” (Time, May 28, 2008)
Specifically, Blair believes God is calling us to work together across traditional faith lines to achieve world peace. And you know what that means – Christians and Jews and Muslims will have to take each other seriously. They’ll have to listen and respect each others’ points of view. They’ll have to check their arrogance at the door and be willing to negotiate and compromise.
It won’t be easy. Take our own country, for example. I was born after World War II. In my lifetime we’ve gone to war four times, not counting the invasion of Grenada and bombing places like Syria and Bosnia. It’d take a huge leap of faith for us to give up our “Big Stick” policy and sit down at the same table with our enemies.
Still, Blair is optimistic. He says, “‘Faith is part of our future, and faith and the values it brings with it are an essential part of making globalization work.'” (ibid)
Closer to home, we’ve just heard from Angie Taylor, and how she and a handful of others have launched a new initiative called, “Restoring Hope to Hope.” They’re addressing some of the root problems of our community – juvenile delinquency, teenage pregnancy, the high dropout rate at Hope High School. They’re hoping to inspire folks like you and me to get involved – to tutor children after school or be a mentor.
Will it work? Who knows? It’s a leap of faith. But, like Tony Blair, Angie’s optimistic. She believes this is what God is calling her to do, and she’s willing to commit her time and effort and expertise in the hope that, working together, we can make a difference.
Here’s the bottom line: To take a leap of faith takes raw courage and a willingness to trust. Bithya placed her child into the hands of God. So did Hannah. So did Abraham. If we’re to experience the fullness of God’s amazing grace and love, so must we.
Our youth group in Nashville used to play a little game that brought this home to me. They’d stand in a tight circle with one person in the center. Then they’d blindfold the person and turn him/her around several times. His job was to stand rigid with both hands at his side, then fall backward into the arms of whoever was behind him.
I watched as several kids took their turn. “O.K.,” I thought. “That’s nice.” Then one of them said, “It’s your turn.” I tried to crawfish my way out of it. “We’ll catch you,” she said. I could see myself breaking my back.
Reluctantly, I took my place in the center of the circle, put on the blindfold, and turned around until I had no idea who was standing behind me. I stiffened my body and leaned back. In no time, I was passed the point of no return. Just when I thought my head was about to crack open on the concrete floor, I felt a dozen arms or more cushion my fall. It was a piece of cake.
To know the feeling, you’ve got to experience it for yourself. Hearing about it doesn’t count. You have to take a leap of faith. Bruce Springsteen put it this way:
“It takes a leap of faith to get things going
It takes a leap of faith you gotta show some guts
It takes a leap of faith to get things going
In your heart you must trust”
In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.
Copyright 2008, Philip W. McLarty. Used by permission.
Scripture quotations are from the World English Bible (WEB), a public domain (no copyright) modern English translation of the Holy Bible.