There is a song that goes back to probably the 1950s or early 60s by a female group from the U.S. called The Ponytails. I wouldn’t be surprised if no one has ever heard it. It was typical of songs back then; the subject was the pain and challenges of young love.
This song was called Born Too Late. It was about a heartbroken girl, probably a young teenager, who had the terrible misfortune of being born too late. For the guy she idolized was older than she was. Maybe she was a freshman and he was a senior, or already in college. Whatever, she was too young for him to ever be interested in her. And so the words go:
BORN TOO LATE TO HAVE A CHANCE
To win your love.
O why was it my fate to be born too late?
I see you walk with another,
I wish it could be me.
I long to hold you and kiss you,
But I know it never can be.
For I was born too late, now my heart cries
Because your heart just couldn’t wait.
Why was it my fate, to be born too late?
If that doesn’t tear your heart out, nothing will! But was she really born too late? While it may have seemed that way to her, Scripture would indicate otherwise. God is in control of the flow of history and the timing of our lives. That doesn’t mean we play no role in what happens, or that we are just puppets God manipulates, for God gives us free choice by which we make meaningful decisions for our lives. But it does mean we can trust God, for His wisdom is perfect, His timing is flawless, and He graciously and sovereignly rules over His creation as He brings His good purposes to pass.
The ancient Israelites must have felt a bit like the young girl in that song. Only they weren’t wondering why they were born too late. They were questioning why someone else was so late being born. As we saw last week, the Israelites had been Egypt about 400 years. During that time their numbers increased greatly, so much so that the Pharaoh began to fear them. He turned them into slaves and oppressed them with hard toil and exhausting labor. Beyond that, the Pharaoh commanded that all the newborn Israelite male children were to be killed in order to keep the Israelite population from increasing.
And so the Israelites waited, and waited. They waited for their deliverer to be born. They waited for someone to set them free from their oppression. They waited for God to act. And God was acting on their behalf. They couldn’t see it at the time, and in fact, it would still be many years before they would experience their deliverance. But God had not forgotten them. God was in control and was acting on their behalf. Let’s read about this in the first 10 verses of Exodus 2.
Now a man of the house of Levi married a Levite woman, and she became pregnant and gave birth to a son. When she saw that he was a fine child, she hid him for three months. But when she could hide him no longer, she got a papyrus basket for him and coated it with tar and pitch. Then she placed the child in it and put it among the reeds along the bank of the Nile. His sister stood at a distance to see what would happen to him.
Then Pharaoh’s daughter went down to the Nile to bathe, and her attendants were walking along the river bank. She saw the basket among the reeds and sent her slave girl to get it. She opened it and saw the baby. He was crying, and she felt sorry for him. “This is one of the Hebrew babies,” she said.
Then his sister asked Pharaoh’s daughter, “Shall I go and get one of the Hebrew women to nurse the baby for you?”
“Yes, go,” she answered. And the girl went and got the baby’s mother. Pharaoh’s daughter said to her, “Take this baby and nurse him for me, and I will pay you.” So the woman took the baby and nursed him. When the child grew older, she took him to Pharaoh’s daughter and he became her son. She named him Moses, saying, “I drew him out of the water.”
At the right time a baby was born. No one at the time had any way of knowing there was anything special about this baby. It’s unlikely that even his parents knew the special role God had for their son. For it doesn’t say that the parents were visited by an angel, as was true with Zechariah. Recall how an angel came to Zechariah and told him that he and his wife Elizabeth would have a son even in their advanced age, and that son would be the forerunner of the Messiah, known as of John the Baptist. The parents of Moses had no such angelic visitation. Nor does it say that the Spirit of God somehow communicated to these parents that their son would one day be the deliverer of the Israelites.
Our passage from Exodus simply says that when the child’s mother “saw that he was a fine child, she hid him for three months.” And isn’t that what every mother thinks of their newborn child – this is a fine child? In fact, that is probably an understatement. Every mother is thrilled with her new child, and so of course would do anything to protect their child.
That’s how this mother responded. Knowing that the Pharaoh had commanded that all Israelite male children were to be killed, she hid her son. It doesn’t say that God told her to do this; she simply did what any loving mother would do. But through this very normal response of a mother, God was acting. God was shielding the boy He had set apart to deliver the Israelites. When three months later the boy was found in the basket by the Pharaoh’s daughter, God was at work. When instead of acting in line with her father’s decree and ordering that this Israelite baby be killed but rather she had pity on the baby and let him live, God was acting. And several years later, when the boy was given back to the Pharaoh’s daughter to grow up in the palace, again God was acting, for the day would come when this boy would need the training he received there.
In all these events we see the hand of God, although the principle players were not aware of what God was doing. The boy’s parents perhaps had a sense that God had been merciful to them and spared their son, but they didn’t know God spared their son because of the decisive leadership role their son would play many years later in leading the Israelites to their freedom. The Pharaoh’s daughter, who certainly would have been a worshiper of the Egyptian gods, surely did not know that the God of the Israelites was working through her sense of compassion toward this baby floating in a basket to accomplish His will. And, of course, there was no way the thousands and thousands of Israelite slaves could have known that in the midst of their hardship and despair, God was acting to relieve them of their oppression, for their deliverer had been born and God was protecting him. All the people were unaware of what God was doing, or that God was doing anything, but the truth is God was doing a lot. It would be years before anyone saw God use Moses to deliver the Israelites, but even at this time God was working behind the scenes, protecting their future deliverer.
This should give each of us a lot of encouragement. We all go through times when we long for God to act, but it seems God is not concerned. We long to see God acting in our lives to address or remedy a certain situation in our lives, but it seems God has gone on vacation. Maybe you’re single and you want so much to find that person who is just right for you. It could be that you’ve been sending out job resumes by the dozens, yet there is no response. Possibly you have a wayward child and you cry out everyday that God would touch your child’s heart and bring them home. Perhaps you are struggling with your sense of purpose, wondering why you are here, and you long for some clear guidance.
During such times it’s easy to become anxious. Maybe we begin to doubt that God is there, or that He cares. We may even get angry at God. For we want instant answers. We want to see visible results, and see them now. But while God, as we know, does not operate on our timetable, He is always at work. As Ps. 121:4 assures us, God never slumbers or sleeps. In other words, His care for us never wavers. He is always working to bring about His good purposes. Beyond this, His wisdom far surpasses ours. So while we may not always see the answers we want, or see them just when we want them, we can have the assurance that God is at work, and He is working for our ultimate good, just as God was working for Israel’s deliverance by protecting this baby though no one knew it.
Martin Luther, the great Reformer of the church from from Wittenberg, Germany, once commented, “While I sit here and drink my little glass of Wittenberg beer, the Gospel runs its course.” As we go about our daily activities, the Gospel runs its course. No matter our circumstances, no matter the forces that oppose us, no matter the disappointments we have endured or the challenges we face, the Gospel runs its course. God is at work, bringing His good purposes to pass for our lives and for the world. He did that for the ancient Israelites, even though they weren’t aware of what God was doing, and God does that for us. We can be sure of that even when we can’t see it.
God is clearly the main player in this passage, bringing about His purpose. This is underscored by the writer, for the names of all the other characters are omitted. The parents of Moses, while we learn later in Scripture who they were (Ex. 6:20, Amram and& Jochebed), in this passage they remain nameless. The same is true of Moses’ sister. Elsewhere in Scripture we are told she is Miriam, but here she is not called by name. And then there is the Pharaoh’s daughter, who humanly speaking had the authority to kill this Israelite baby and bring to a screeching halt God’s plan of deliverance. What an important role she had, though again, she did not know it. And we are never told her name. Everyone remains anonymous. The focus is solely on God and what God was doing to save His people. Yet even though God is the central character, God used these anonymous people, and used them in profound ways.
That also is an encouraging word for us. Maybe we feel rather anonymous. We don’t stand out in any particular way. We’re not really noticed by others. We’re not recognized for our great abilities or remembered for our significant accomplishments. We just blend in with the crowd. If that’s how you feel, don’t be discouraged. Don’t write yourself out of God’s program. For God doesn’t need the superstars to accomplish His work. In fact, sometimes being well-known or real accomplished and successful in the world just gets in the way of what God wants to do. Remember the words of Paul to the Christians at Corinth (I Cor. 1:26-29).
Brothers, think of what you were when you were called. Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were influential; not many were of noble birth. But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. He chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things – and the things that are not – to nullify the things that are, so that no one may boast before him.
The fact is, God can use anyone whose heart is yielded to Him. Who was Moses’ mother? An unnamed slave forced to work in the fields or make mud bricks. What kind of resume is that? Yet God used this unnamed slave in a remarkable way, for through her motherly love and courage, the future deliverer of the Israelites was spared. And God can use any of us in profound ways – regardless of what others think about us or if they even know who we are. Even if you feel rather anonymous in this world, never underestimate the significance of God’s purpose for your life. You are not anonymous to God, and He has a purpose for you of eternal significance. So seek after God with all your heart, and receive with joy His purpose for your life.
But there is another side to this coin. It is true that the light shines directly on God and His actions in this passage, while the human players are in the shadows where they remain nameless. But they were not idle. They did not just sit on their hands with the attitude of, “Well, if God wants to do something He will do something. And if God wants me to do something, He will give me a vision, or write His directions on the wall.” Sometimes Christians think that if they just trust God, no action is required on their part in discerning God’s will for their lives, for God will supernaturally guide them. But that’s not the case.
Perhaps we think that biblical characters always received supernatural guidance from God. Certainly there are instances of that. God spoke to Abraham and told him to move to a new land. Peter had a vision of the food the Jews regarded as unclean, and through that God was telling him that the Gentiles were not unclean but through Christ God has welcomed them into His family. As I mentioned earlier, an angel appeared to Zechariah and told him that he and Elizabeth would have a child – the forerunner of the Messiah.
Sometimes the people we read of in the Bible received some form of supernatural guidance, and when that happened Scripture records it. But that did not always happen; in fact, it was more of the exception, and usually happened only when there was a particular need for it.
There may be occasions when God guides us in some kind of supernatural way, when His leading is absolutely clear. But more typically God would have us act on the basis of what He has already revealed in Scripture – the principles that should guide our thinking, the values that should direct our actions, and the description of godly character that should shape our own character. We seek to live out that. And then if we need more specific guidance, God will give it.
Scripture never says that the parents of Moses received any kind of divine guidance. It never says God told his mother to put the infant Moses in a basket and then in the river.
But it does say in Heb. 11:23, “By faith Moses’ parents hid him for three months after he was born.” They did this by faith. Moses’ parents were willing to take a huge risk and step out in faith to protect their son, even though it meant disobeying the Pharaoh. Again, it doesn’t say they received any direct or supernatural communication from God; they were simply acting on the basis of what they knew was right before God. They knew that life is sacred, and so they had to protect their son. Without knowing how all this would turn out, without knowing as much as they probably would have like to know, they acted on in faith the basis of what they did know.
And so we have another good word for us as it relates to God’s leading in our lives. God sovereignly works to accomplish His will, but He doesn’t work alone. We play a role in that as well. As the saying goes, you can’t steer a parked car. So when we are faced with making an important decision, even though we perhaps don’t have a clear word from God and we don’t have all the information we would like, we need to be moving toward God’s will as best as we understand it in the moment, praying that God will continually direct our steps and give us a fuller understanding of His will as we need it. At the same time we seek God’s leading for our lives, we are also doing what we can to fulfill what we already understand of it.
That begins with studying God’s Word so we develop a deep and thorough knowledge of what God has already revealed concerning His will for our lives. The ways of God, the values of His kingdom, and probably 95% of His purpose for our lives – all of that is already revealed to us in Scripture, and so the beginning of discerning God’s will is not a simple prayer, “God, guide me.” No, it is coming to understand the ways of God as revealed in His word, especially concerning the kind of people we are to become – people filled with His love, standing for justice, honoring the important relationships in our lives, upholding His truth, cultivating Christ-like character so our words, actions, and behaviors will reveal the presence of Christ in us. And then we allow those principles to guide our thinking and actions and decisions, knowing that if we need more specific guidance, God will give it in His way and His time. We shouldn’t expect to receive specific guidance if we are not already seeking to obey what God has already revealed in His word.
And so in the passage we not only see how God worked so magnificently to spare the infant Moses. We also see a beautiful picture of how God works in all our lives. All of us are important to God. We may feel anonymous in this world, but we are not anonymous to God; He knows each of us by name. And God created each of us with a glorious purpose in mind. We need to be sure that we don’t define “glorious purpose” as the world would. For it doesn’t necessarily have to do with fame and fortune or occupying a prestigious and very visible position – although it could mean that for some. It could mean playing an important role in the diplomatic community or the medical field or the mission field.
But for others it may be less visible but just as important. It could be that God’s purpose for you has to do with nurturing and shaping your own children. What’s more important than that? It may mean living your whole life right here but impacting the youth of this community. It may relate to being that special friend someone needs during a time of crisis. It could mean regularly visiting the elderly or shut-ins, giving some encouragement to them in their otherwise dreary days. It might mean impacting your colleagues at work as you live an authentic Christ-like lifestyle. There are so many ways that God can use us as we join with God in discovering and working out His will for us.
God is sovereign, and He providentially works out His will. But God is so gracious that He involves us in that – no matter who we are. And when we are going through difficult times or periods of discouragement or even crisis, we can be sure that God in His wisdom is working then as well, whether we see it or not. God did not forget His children the Israelites. He was working in unseen ways to bring about their deliverance. And God doesn’t forget us. As we surrender our hearts and minds and wills to God, we will see God do amazing things in and through our lives.