The book of Exodus is filled with outcasts who become conduits of God’s grace and power, when God thunders from heaven to deliver his people from Egypt. If you have never noticed this, it’s probably because you’ve been reading the Old Testament through a thick moral lens—looking for heroes and saints to emulate, instead of a gracious God to thank.
Or it’s because you’re a man.
I’m embarrassed to admit that it was three years after I completed a Ph.D. in Bible that I noticed that God uses a bunch of women to rescue His people from slavery in Egypt. God’s choice of female redeemers is a backhanded slap to the patriarchal, male-centered culture He was working with.
In the ancient world, women were considered inferior to men and were subject to much oppression. Their identity was one of property: they were the daughter of their father or the wife of their husband. “I am a daughter, I am a bride, I am a spouse, I am a housekeeper,” was the mantra sung by women as they slugged along through life with little self-worth. Women existed in order to bear children, keep a good home, and in some cases, brew beer for the local tavern, where the men would guzzle ale, listen to music, and enjoy the company prostitutes. Oh yes, I almost forgot. Women made good prostitutes as well.
But God created people in His image “male and female” (Gen 1). Women reflect God’s image just as much as men, or should I say, men reflect God’s image just as much as women. You cannot see God’s image reflected very clearly in a monastery.
In Exodus 1, in order to halt the rapid birth-rate of the Israelites, Pharaoh orders the Hebrew midwives to kill off all the firstborn male children. But the “midwives feared God” (Exod. 1:21) and oppose the command of the king.
In the midst of the attempted slaughter, we read about one particular woman who hid her boy to keep him from being slaughtered (Exod 2:1-2). But after three months, she could no longer keep him a secret, and so she slipped him in a basket and sent him down the Nile river. The boy’s sister, Miriam, watched him until he bumped into Pharaoh’s daughter, who was bathing in the river with her lady friends. Miriam suggests to Pharaoh’s daughter that one of the Hebrew women could nurse the child, and she agrees. So Miriam finds the baby’s mother—a refreshing twist in irony in the midst of genocidal horrors.
And then there’s Moses’s wife, Zipporah. We don’t know much about Zipporah, but what we do know is that she saved Moses’s life (Exod 4:24-26). Even though God demanded that all male children were to be circumcised, apparently Moses forgot to perform this operation on Gershom. One day, Moses was strolling along with his family when all of the sudden God is seconds away from destroying Moses for not circumcising his son. So Zipporah intervenes and saves Moses’ life. That is, she cuts off Gershom’s foreskin with a flint rock and tosses the piece of skin at Moses feet. I know, I wish I could have seen the look on Gershom’s face too. (“Mom, what do you plan on doing with that sharp rock?”)
The story raises more questions than it answers, but one thing is clear: God’s grace invaded the desert with unwelcomed splendor and targeted a bunch of undervalued and oppressed women. Were it not for Zipporah, Moses would have never lived to see the Red Sea part in two.
Midwives, slave-women, the daughter of a wicked king, and an African woman with a very sharp rock. The only ounce of testosterone used by God is stored up in an abandoned child name Moses, who became a tongue-twisted murderer. Women are the real human heroes in the early chapters of Exodus.
Now, without getting into all the details, I’m complimentarian. I believe in male leadership in the home and the local church. However, or perhaps therefore, I believe that we—my circles—often neglect the wisdom, ingenuity, creativity, insight, and theological expertise of our female image bearers. We undervalue, under-use, and sometimes belittle the knowledge and strength and intelligence of our image bearing females. If you too are complimentarian, make sure you don’t confuse one’s role with one’s value as a true reflection of the One who breathed the stars into existence.