The Measure of Faith

08.23.20

It took five women to change the course of history.  These five women did what had never been done.  Five women who, as far as we know, did not receive direct instruction from God, still, followed God in the midst of their day to day survival.  Five women took extreme personal risks that they didn’t really have to take.  Five women risked their lives, and, along the way, unknowingly changed the world.  Five women did what their gut told them to do even if it was dangerous, not just for them, but dangerous for those closest to them. Five woman saved the Israelites. Five women saved a group of humans, humans that were a fulfillment of the promise to Abraham, a promise of a people, a people we, today, know as the Jews. 

These five women did this extraordinary feat without any fanfare, without any substantial assistance, without any visible concern for their own safety, without support from, or even knowledge by, their community. Five women who simply stepped out and did what needed to be done.  Five women who acted in historic ways, doing so merely out of their daily existence, their daily survival. Five women who were the sounding pistol declaring that the deliverance of the Israelites had begun.  Five women who saved the lineage of Jesus.

Five women in a story that begins with two men. The first, was a newly enthroned ruler, Pharaoh.

This new Pharaoh was on the throne, a ruler who had an Israelite problem, there were simply too many of them, they were like wild animals in the street, and they were multiplying like feral dogs.  This Pharaoh was brutal and had no appreciation for the Israelites.  His ignorance of the history of his own people was staggering, his focus was himself, he was his own god – this was the god that instructed him how to secure his power, how to eliminate threats to his power, how to eliminate ‘problems’ immediately.  His paranoid ‘god syndrome’ fueled existence mandated that he have all the answers needing no assistance, no one could be trusted, no one – anyone could be fired, eliminated, at the drop of a hat, at the hint of unloyalty, at the need of a scapgoat, the only characteristic of a worthy employee was blind acceptance of Pharaoh as ‘god’. His unwillingness to grasp even the most basic aspects of the history of his people led him to act with blatant disregard and reckless abandon.  In a turn from wiser and the more stable rulers before him, he had no appreciation for, or even knowledge of, the Hebrew deliverer Joseph, nor did he have any respect for the God of Joesph and his people the Hebrews, the Israelites. He had no fear of this God who had shown himself in such a mighty way in the history of his people – his fear was of men, not God, a fear of what men could take from him.

The other male, a three month old Hebrew infant, was named Moses.

But, it was five women who were the heroes of this story, they were the first to be called by God, they were the first to take the deliberate and risky actions, they were the first, in this story, and the case could be made that they were the first in all of the Bible stories up to this point, to step out based on a faith conviction that this was actually not really a choice at all – it was life guided by faith. It was their daily life.

Let’s meet these heroes.

We begin with Shiphrah and Puah, two Israelite women, midwives who served their own people, the Hebrews.  They were summoned out of their day to day existence to appear before this Hebrew hating ruler.  Being summoned is seldom a positive for an oppressed person, it is devastating when it come from a brutal powerful ruler.  Pharaoh ordered the midwives to kill all of the male children born of Hebrew women.  These two women who had dedicated themselves to God’s calling to bring life into the world, now were given the order to take that life instead.  However, these women were dedicated to their calling, to life, and more than that, they feared God. They disobeyed, and when summoned again, Pharaoh asked why he is still seeing Hebrew newborn boys. These two women in the work of life were now facing their own death, still, they stood their ground, standing on their faith, blaming the quick labor of the Hebrew women, as the reason for their inability to stop these forbidden births.

Two more Hebrew women, Jochebed, and her daughter Miriam, are the next audacious heroes of this story.  Jochebed had nursed and hidden her son, Moses,  for three months after hearing of Pharoah’s edict to put to these Hebrew boys to death by being thrown into the vicious Nile river.  Ironically, the newborn female infants were allowed to live, they were not a threat – Pharaoh had no clue of the threat of his own misogynistic ingrained prejudices were to his power. Jochebed and Miriam hatched a bizarre plan that would only work if God was a part of the action. Jochebed and Miriam, as ordered by Pharaoh, ‘threw’ their beloved Moses, into the Nile River – however, before ‘throwing’ him into the river, they placed him inside a basket that had been retrofitted to float.  They prepared the basket, they put the infant Moses into the basket, and they let go of it into the river, releasing their control, surrendering it into the hands of a God they didn’t really know a lot about.

Our fifth heroic woman now enters the picture, a woman named Bithiah – an Egyptian, non Israelite, non Hebrew woman who was also the daughter of the brutal and paranoid Pharoah.  She was bathing in the river when she saw a basket floating in the water. Ordering one of her attendants to retrieve the basket she was surprised to find a child neatly tucked into the basket. Bithiah immediately recognized that this was a child of a Hebrew woman, and, presumed that this child had been released into the unpredictable waters of the Nile in order to save the life of this little boy.

It boggles the brain to think of the journey of this outrageous faith engineered plan which called for a mother to save her son by placing him into a basket, then placing the basket into the very river where he was ordered to die, a plan which ended with the child being rescued by the daughter of the very man who ordered the death of this infant, and, ultimately having this child raised in the very palace where this same brutal ruler lived, his own home…..and, all of this, is still decades before this same child, raised in the home of the ruler who sought his death, would deliver the Israelites from the brutally of the following Pharaoh.

We cannot leave this story of these five heroic women without looking at one final act of bravery.  Jochebed, and her daughter Miriam, allowed themselves to be noticed – again, it is best to go under the radar, unnoticed, when you are an oppressed person.  It would be nearly impossible to consider the possibility that Bithiah naively accepted the appearance of Miriam as serendipitous.  In doing this, both of these Hebrews put their own lives, as well as their families and the life of this beloved infant, in jeopardy.  They had allowed themselves to be noticed – this plan of faith required not only risk and release, it required that they place themselves in the crosshairs of a powerful, brutal, and paranoid, ruler.

Five women against a powerful man who was was dismissive and assuredly misogynistic.  Five women who were considered powerless and weak by a ruler that set out to destroy an entire people. Five women who began a movement that resulted in the deliverance of that people. Five women who were guided by faith, five women given the faith to answer the call, five women empowered with the grace to act on the call, five women who changed the world.

Five women whose faith that set the bar for a grown Moses, who, on ten specific occasions would be called upon by God to speak on behalf of God, to confront a man who consider himself to be a god.

So, what is faith? How do we obtain faith? 

We had a family living next to us who had a daughter with a disability from birth.  She was, confined to a wheel chair and, every two years would have to enter the hospital for an extended stay during which she would go through a harrowing physical treatment to attempt to restore her health, as much as possible.  A treatment much like the worst chemotherapy experience that you can imagine.  It was traumatizing for her and her family just to go through this.  She, along with her family, attended a church, where the pastor would often speak of our level of faith being our responsibility, ie. ‘If you are poor it is because you do not have enough faith, if your marriage is failing it is because you do not have enough faith, if your house is too small or you hate your job or your kids are a mess it is because you do not have enough faith,’ and frequently, he would preach in the direct eyesight of this little girl, ‘If you are sick it is because you do not have enough faith’. One Sunday as he began going down the path of this heretical teaching about faith, the siblings of this girl stood up from their seats, and non apologetically moved to the center aisle, turned their sister’s chair around, and pushed her to the exit door.  At the point, the parents, as they shared later, finally realized that they should have done this years before.

When this little girl completed the fifth grade, approaching the summer when it was time for another hospital extended treatment, she explained to her parents that she was ‘done’. She had made the decision to do no more treatments.  When I say ‘ready’ this little girl had a clearer understanding of life and death, of eternity, than probably most adults.  She was truly ‘ready’. The family grieved but understood and honored her decision. By the start of the next school year she had passed away.

This was knowing God enough in life that she was able to trust God in death.  This was having enough faith.

‘Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. Indeed, by faith our ancestors received approval. By faith we understand that the worlds were prepared by the word of God, so that what is seen was made from things that are not visible.’

Hebrews 11:1-2 (NRSV)

Five problematic words made this statement difficult for us to fully grasp in our English language state of mind, and our own tendency toward a selfish theology when interpreting scripture:

Assurance, Things, Hoped, Conviction, Received Approval

While a greek word study of these two verses written to the early Christians who had a Jewish background would give us a clearer understanding of the meaning of this passage – Eugene Peterson, author of The Message, does a superb job of explaining these words through his translation:

“The fundamental fact of existence is that this trust in God, this faith, is the firm foundation under everything that makes life worth living. It’s our handle on what we can’t see. The act of faith is what distinguished our ancestors, set them above the crowd.”

Hebrews 11:1-2

Take a moment to look at, and consider, these words again.

“The fundamental fact of existence is that this trust in God, this faith, is the firm foundation under everything that makes life worth living. It’s our handle on what we can’t see. The act of faith is what distinguished our ancestors, set them above the crowd.”

Hebrews 11:1-2 (the Message)

It was this firm foundation that allowed the five women to save the life of Moses. It was the fundamental trust they had in the known but unseen God (actually for one of the women, God was unseen and unknown) that permitted them to accept the risk of saving this life.

It was this fundamental faith that had consistently allowed this little girl to trust God with her life, now leading her to trust God with her death.

As the apostle Paul is teaching the believers in Rome how to be ready to live like the five women who saved Moses, and, how to be community at the same time, he says, 

“For by the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think of yourself more highly than you ought to think, but to think with sober judgment, each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned.”

Romans 12:3

This brings us to the issue of ‘Enoughness’.

We are not the master, or developers, of our faith.  We do not grow our faith, we do not strengthen our faith, we do not own our faith, we do not determine our faith. 

Faith is what permits us to answer ‘yes’ to God’s call – whether it is to respond with disobedience to a brutal Pharaoh with a god complex, or to let go of a basket into the Nile River in order to save the life of your child, or to painfully accept your Father’s plan to save the world.  


When God calls, or leads, or intentionally places us on the path where he needs us to be, then it is not a question of ‘Enoughness’, it is not ‘do we have enough faith to answer, or to follow, or to trust’ – it is a question of ‘do we trust the God that we know, to give us the exact needed measure of faith to do what he calls us to do?’.

We end up at Jesus question that Jesus poses to his disciples – ‘Who Do You Say That I Am?’

Jesus was not asking this as a test to see if his disciples had been paying attention in class, nor was it reprimand them for their ‘lack of faith.’ He was asking because he was now heading to Jerusalem, he was at a fork in the road where the direction of his physical journey was lining up with his journey to the cross. While this would ultimately be a solitarily journey that Jesus would have to travel alone, he was fully aware, though, that on the way, his disciples would be at his side.  They would be going as far as they were able to go.  To travel with him the distance they were equipped to travel, they would have to be ready to grab ahold of the measure of faith that God was giving them.  To face the pain and struggles ahead, this faith was going to be essential.

To grasp this faith, they needed to be standing on an unshakable foundation, a foundation of truly knowing God.

“Who do you say that I am?” Jesus asked.

“You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.”

Peter

Jesus smiled the smile of the Father, knowing that Peter was ready to face the horror that lie ahead, he would make mistakes, but in the end he would realize that he was standing on a Rock.  Jesus proclaims to Peter, “God has revealed this to you! The father has given you enough faith.”

Our question today is – “Who do you say that Jesus is?”

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