The Wisdom of Protecting Human Life


Sunday School Lesson for January 18, 2004


A Lesson for Sanctity of Human Life Sunday


Focal Teaching Passage:  Exodus 1:1-2:10


Today’s lesson passage has been selected as an example of the explicit Scriptural emphasis upon the value and sacredness of human life—life that has been created in the very image and likeness of God (Gen. 1:26-27). In the Exodus account of the slaughter of the Hebrew children and the deliverance of Moses, God’s concern for the protection of life is evidenced.


The Faith of the Hebrew Midwives (Exodus 1:1-22)


Verses 1-5

These verses provide the setting of the book of Exodus.  Here we find the people of God, or “the sons of Israel,” who had come to Egypt with Jacob.  The text places the number of men at “seventy.”  Joseph was already in Egypt having been raised by God to the office of prime minister (see Gen. 41:38-44).  Joseph’s father, Jacob, was allowed to settle in the land of Egypt along with his eleven other sons. With the inclusion of the women and children the total number of Israelites would easily have exceeded 150.  In many ways, the book of Exodus is the continuation of the Genesis account where God’s faithfulness to His covenant promises is demonstrated (see Gen. 46:3, 6).


Verses 6-7

Following Joseph’s death at the age of 110 years, and the demise of that entire generation, the number of Israelites began to expand very rapidly.  Verse 7 includes several descriptive phrases that reveal the dramatic growth of the Jewish nation in Egypt.  They “were fruitful,” “increased greatly,” “multiplied,” and “became exceedingly mighty” to the degree that the land of Egypt was “filled with them.”  Thus, we see that God’s promise to transform them into a “great nation” was literally being fulfilled (see Gen. 12:1-3). Scholars have estimated that the total Israelite population eventually grew to over two million people by the time of the exodus event. 


Verses 8-10

As the Israelite population continued to grow very rapidly, a “new king” came into power in Egypt.  This new ruler (perhaps Ahmosis I of the 18th dynasty, or Ramsees II) “did not know Joseph” and had forgotten the debt owed him by the Egyptian people. To the contrary, he felt threatened by their ever-swelling numbers.  Fearing an Israelite uprising, he appointed “taskmasters to “afflict them with hard labor” in order to keep them under his control.  Specifically, the Israelites were forced to build the cities of “Pythom and Raamses” where Egyptian weapons of war would be stored.  However, Verse 12 records that this plan actually backfired and only made the Israelite nation stronger and greater in number to the point that the Egyptian authorities were “in dread of the sons of Israel.”  The final two verses of this section detail the determination of the Egyptians in seeing that the Israelites were harshly treated and afflicted. They “compelled” them to work feverishly in the hot sun making and hauling bricks to the two construction sites.


Verses 15-22

Seeing that the increase in labor was having no effect on the growth of the nation, the king ordered two Hebrew midwives to kill every newborn Israelite male.  Yet, because the two women, “Shiphrah” and “Puah,” feared God they refused to obey the king’s direct order.  Instead, they deceived the king (v. 19) and preserved the lives of the male children.  The result of their obedience to God was that they each received their own household and witnessed the continued expansion of the nation (vv. 20, 21).  As Alan Cole notes, “Even if they lied, it is not for their deceit that they are commended, but for their refusal to take infant lives, God’s gift.  Their reverence for life sprang from their reverence for God, the life-giver, and for this they were rewarded with families” (Exodus, TOTC, 55).   Again meeting with failure, Pharaoh “commanded all his people” to cast every newborn Israelite boy into the Nile River. As George Rawlinson comments, “It would probably not have cost an Egyptian Pharaoh a single pang to condemn to death a number of children any more than a number of puppies” (Exodus, PC, Vol. I,  17). 



The Determination of a Mother  (Exodus 2:1-6)


Verses 1-2

With the people of God facing severe oppression, forced labor, and a king determined to annihilate the nation, God set in motion a series of events that ultimately led to the deliverance of the Israelites.  The rescue plan began with the timely birth of a “son” to “a man from the house of Levi,” Amram, who was married to “a daughter of Levi,” Jochebed.  According to Hebrews 11:23 they were a righteous God-fearing couple who were not afraid to violate the command of the Pharaoh.  In a tremendous demonstration of faith in God, Jochebed hid Moses for “three months” in order to preserve his life.  It is important to note that Amram and Jochebed had other children as well—Miriam, who was about 14, and Aaron who was 3 years of age when Moses was born. 


Verses 3-5

There soon came a time when Moses’ mother could “hide him no longer.” At this point she devised a plan to have him adopted by the “daughter of Pharaoh” whom she regularly observed bathing in the Nile River.  She placed her son in a “wicker basket,” or small chest made of papyrus, which she then covered with “tar and pitch” in order to make it watertight.  Some scholars have noted that the Nile River was a place where babies were frequently abandoned.  Such action would generally ensure that other women who came to bathe or wash clothes would find the unwanted child.  In this case, Jochebed’s plan worked to perfection.  The daughter of Pharaoh came to bathe and immediately found the baby in the “basket among the reeds.” 


Verses 6-10

The princess immediately recognized the child as “one of the Hebrew’s children.”  Amazingly, she “had pity on him” and devised a plan to spare his life and make him her son.  The sister of the child negotiated with the princess to have his mother care for him (v. 7).  The princess agreed and pledged to pay Jochebedwages” for nursing Moses.  After about two years, the child was taken back to the daughter of Pharaoh and Moses “became her son” (v. 10).  At that point the princess formally named him “Moses,” a name meaning “to draw forth” or “pull out.”  That the daughter of Pharaoh gave the child a Hebrew name is quite remarkable.  F. B. Huey notes that if she was “strong-willed enough to defy her father’s decree by adopting a Hebrew baby, it is not impossible that she gave him a Hebrew name, knowing he was a Hebrew” (Exodus: A Study Guide Commentary, 23).



Key Themes for Reflection and Application


One: This story chronicles the extraordinary lengths traversed by God-fearing people in order to protect innocent human lives.  What would be some twenty-first century examples of such life-preserving actions?



Two:  In a similar vein, what are some modern day counterparts to Pharaoh’s decree of death for the infants? In other words, what are some specific ways that modern culture betrays a trivial view of human life?  Hint: Try and think of some of the more subtle ways that the sanctity of life is trivialized today.



Three:  What should be a Christian’s ultimate motive for the protection and defense of human life?



Four:  Imagine what would have happened if the women in this story had not been so determined to save human life.