Wednesday, March 22
“Now a man from the house of Levi went and married a Levite woman. The woman conceived and bore a son; and when she saw that he was a fine baby, she hid him three months. When she could hide him no longer she got a papyrus basket for him, and plastered it with bitumen and pitch; she put the child in it and placed it among the reeds on the bank of the river. His sister stood at a distance, to see what would happen to him” (Exodus 2:1-4).
When I was a boy in Sunday School, a great joke was to ask someone, “How many animals did Moses take on the ark?” The answer, of course, is “None—that was Noah and the ark.” Yet, curiously, Moses did have an ark, and in the Hebrew a clear connection is made between Noah’s and Moses’ deliverance.
Moses was the child of a man and women of the priestly tribe of Levi (neither named here). His birth was a great risk, since, as we saw yesterday, Pharaoh had sentenced all Hebrew baby boys to death by drowning in the Nile. His parents hide him as long as they can, but when he is three months old, they surrender to the inevitable, and Moses’ mother and sister take him to the river themselves. But instead of drowning the baby, they place him in a tebat (rendered in the NRSV as “basket”) and set him afloat—hoping against hope, perhaps, that someone will find him and raise him in safety.
The word tebat is a loanword from the Egyptian tbt, meaning “chest.” It appears in only two places in the Hebrew Bible: twice in Exodus 2 to describe the reed basket in which baby Moses was placed, and 26 times in Genesis 6—8 to describe the boxy structure Noah built. Both Moses’ little tebat and Noah’s enormous tebat are coated inside and out with pitch (Genesis 6:14; Exodus 2:3) in order to make them water-tight. When they read of Moses’ ark, then, careful readers of Scripture recall God’s deliverance of Noah, his family, and the world’s creatures in their ark, and know that as grim as Moses’ future seems at that moment to be, this baby, like Noah, will be saved through water. 1 Peter 3:19-22 also alludes to Noah’s flood, with reference to the waters of baptism—we too have been saved through water! Our God, these texts all declare, is a God who saves.
“When the storm of life is raging,
Stand by me.
When the storm of life is raging,
Stand by me.
When the world is tossing me
Like a ship upon the sea,
Thou who rulest wind and water,
Stand by me.”
Through Christ Jesus our Lord, who calmed the waves, Amen.
(Hymn by African American Gospel composer Charles Tindley).