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Mothers of Israel; Mothers of the Church

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Mothers of Israel; Mothers of the Church

Exodus 1:1

       I thank God for the privilege of being here on this momentous occasion.  To honor the first lady of this church is significant.  Furthermore, for the pastor to allow her to be honored is significant.

       I’m going to believe that God has led me here and that the invitation was extended with the realization of how unique I am.  Consequently, I’m going to be myself—which is always dangerous!

       An occasion like this demands a sermon that highlights the struggles and accomplishments—not only of this great woman, but of all great and godly women.  However, to get at what I want to talk about, I have to take a circuitous route.  So, please tie a knot and hang with me, because I’m going somewhere.

       I want to reveal a hidden truth in the book of Exodus and then apply that truth to this wonderful occasion.

 “The Book of Exodus begins with a listing of the sons of Israel.  In its form, this list imitates genealogies of names.  But its introduction reveals it to be a list of immigrants (i.e. people who had come from another country to take up residence in Egypt):

Exodus 1:1 (NASB-U), “Now these are the names of the sons of Israel who came to Egypt with Jacob; they came each one with his household.”

(Furthermore), The list includes only Jacob’s sons.  The families, the women and children, who belonged to them are simply subsumed under ‘each one with his household.’  The female element in the genealogy is thus entirely lacking in Exodus 1-5.”[1]  This should not surprise us, because these texts are basically the work of men.

Likewise, it’s not unusual for women to be overlooked in the Church, because most of the study Bibles, concordances, Adult Sunday School material, etc. is written by men.  In my extensive study of the Bible, I have become aware of the fact that a number of biblical texts seem to have been re-written by priests for the sake of teaching them to the children of Israel.  So, in Bible times and even today, women are seldom really heard, because even when they are allowed to talk they don’t know that they are talking in men’s voices.


It is not must different in our times!  Do you realize that there is virtually no female psychology in America, because Euro-American psychology is written by men on test subjects, case studies, and psychological testing that is done on men?  So, if you are not a European, middleclass male, much of what is written in psychology textbooks does not fit you.  Therefore, I have been working for a number of years to help women develop their own biblical theology, their own psychology, their own philosophy, and to speak in their own voices!

(But, let me not wander to far from the text.)

Upon closer examination of Exodus 1-5, it will be seen that “This immigration list, despite is brevity, alludes to two other texts that did not neglect the female share in the genealogy.”[2]   The names follow a list that was given in Genesis 35:22b-26, arranged according to the offspring of the two principal wives, Leah and Rachel, and their two servant women, Bilhah and Zilpah.[3]

So, even though the story is told through male eyes, contrary to popular belief, it does not totally exclude women.  Why?  Because, the story has less to do with the men who recorded the text and more to do with the God who revealed the text to them!

       Additionally, we see something staggering in Genesis 46:8.  “Genesis 46:8a begins with exactly the same words as Exodus 1:1…  Even though the list in itself has the characteristics of a patrilineal (fathers) genealogy, it is organized according to Jacob’s wives.  Ordinarily, such lists count only the male offspring of a man from his wives.  Here, however, the introduction itself deliberately emphasizes the female portion of those emigrating:

Genesis 46:5-7 (NASB-U), ‘Then Jacob arose from Beersheba; and the sons of Israel carried their father Jacob and their little ones and their wives in the wagons which Pharaoh had sent to carry him. [6] They took their livestock and their property, which they had acquired in the land of Canaan, and came to Egypt, Jacob and all his descendants with him: [7] his sons and his grandsons with him, his daughters and his granddaughters, and all his descendants he brought with him to Egypt’”[4] (bold type added).

Wow!  The writer lists Jacob’s daughters and granddaughters!  What is the point of such a radical departure from the normal rules of recounting genealogy?  Well, “The wives, daughters, and granddaughters are emphasized in order to show those who were coming into Egypt were already a little nation.”[5]  It was not the men alone who were immigrating to Egypt, but a nation of families was immigrating to Egypt!

       There are three powerful truths that we must realize:

1.     First Church has more than a pastor; it also has a first lady.

2.     First Church has more than a pastor and a first lady; it also has a first family.

3.     First Church is more than one family; it is a nation of families.

Therefore, it is important that we model the honoring of more than the pastor, as important as he is.

·        It is good and right to honor the pastor, Bishop Timothy J. Clarke.

·        It is good and right to honor the first Lady Pastor C. Clarke.

·        It is good and right to honor the family members of these two people of God.  In addition,

·        It is good and right to honor all of the families of First Church.

(Amazingly, there is even more!)

“In the body of the list, …even though it is designed as a family tree of Jacob’s male descendants, exemplary women are included…  The fact that all of the offspring listed are traced back through their mothers… gives additional emphasis to the significance of women for the emigrating group.”[6]  So, contrary to popular belief, women are sometimes included in the overwhelmingly male genealogies of the Bible!

       If you missed all of that, then please remember this:  While the Exodus has traditionally been treated as the story of the “Fathers” of Israel, while they were down in Egypt, it can also be treated as the story of the “Mothers” of Israel!  You can’t have fathers without mothers!

       Thank God for our biological mothers!

       Thank God for our spiritual mothers!

In addition, the Mediterranean culture is collectivistic, not individualistic.  Therefore, the stories would be the stories of families, not solitary individuals!  The God that we serve is not an American individual, but a Mediterranean Tri-Unity!

       So, we are here tonight to honor the first lady and mother of this church.

·        She is not the first mother, because she is the oldest.

·        She is not the first mother, because she is the wisest.

·        She is the first mother, because of her position, calling, and anointing!

       Furthermore, other female scholars see twelve “daughters” in the early words of Exodus.  The twelve ‘daughters’ are

·        the two midwives (Shiphrah & Puah),

·        Moses’ mother (Jochebed),

·        Moses’ sister (Miriam),

·        the daughter of Pharaoh, and

·        the seven daughters of the patriarchs.[7]

Consquently, Jopie Siebert-Hommes, in her book A Feminist Companion to Exodus to Deuteronomy, sees these twelve women counterpoised to the twelve sons of Israel as women who will rescue the community, when it has grown into a great nation![8]  Yes, the twelve sons of Israel father the nation of Israel, but these twelve mothers of Israel will rescue the community from bondage, when it has grown into a great nation!

·        The Matriarchs of Israel seem to be listed in juxtaposition to the Patriarchs.

·        The Patriarchs fathered Israel, but the Matriarchs birthed and nurtured Israel.

·        God is not just a God of men, but a God of women, because he is a God of families!

·        Bishop is the visible, spiritual father of the church, but Pastor C is the invisible, spiritual mother of the church.


(So, as we begin to wrap up the implications of this sermon, I’d like to give you an entirely new perception of godly women.)

       Our perceptions of godly women are usually no more than caricatures of women.  We tend to see them in the extreme as either strong like men or feminine to the point of weakness.  However, in the texts that we have been dealing with there is a striking picture of two powerful women, Shiphrah and Puah.  They were midwives we defied Pharaoh’s orders to kill every male, Hebrew baby of two years old and under.  These women were both feminine and strong.

       Do you think that Pastor C has had to defy the devil’s orders to destroy her own offspring, at some time in her life?

       In the book The Feminine Journey, by Cynthia & Robert Hicks, they choose a metaphor to describe the mature women that they teach about.  They chose the metaphor and the movie title “Steel Magnolias” to describe the mature, godly women.  These women are beautiful, relational, tender, and yet strong.

       These are women who have properly handled their wounds.

What emerges out this time of pain is a much stronger woman, a woman more in touch with who she is and what is really important to her.  A woman’s wisdom is a wisdom born in pain.  In the places where she was broken, she becomes stronger.”[9]

Her strength is seen in:

Proverbs 31:10 (KJV), “Who can find a virtuous woman?  for her price is far above rubies.”

       The Hebrew word translated “virtuous” is

chayil, khah’-yil, Hebrew Stg 2428; from Hebrew 2342 (chuwl); probably a force, whether of men, means or other resources; an army, wealth, virtue, valor, strength :- able, activity, (+) army, band of men (soldiers), company, (great) forces, goods, host, might, power, riches, strength, strong, substance, train, (+) valiant (-ly), valour, virtuous (-ly), war, worthy (-ily).


This word is used all through the Bible to mean “manly power,” “efficacy,” or “valor.”[10]  It the same word used in the phrase, “Mighty men of ‘valor.’”  Also, this word is normally used of war heroes.  So, this mature woman is a warrior!!!

       This comes up again in the writers description of a “virtuous” woman in

Proverbs 31:17 (NASB-U), “She girds herself with strength And makes her arms strong” (emphasis mine).

Interestingly, she is called ‘strong,’ though clearly her strength is inspired by her compassion toward her family.”[11]

Let me point out one more place where we get the same picture.  It is in

Proverbs 31:29, “Many daughters have done nobly, But you excel them all” (emphasis mine).

       The word “nobly” is the same word that is translated “virtuous” Dan Allender and Tremper Longman, III, in their book Intimate Allies, point out that “Many scholars have noted that the description of this woman as a warrior is just under the surface.[12]

This does not sound like the sweet, gentile, demur, whispering caricature of a woman put forth by many biblical conservatives!  This sounds like a real woman; (1) sweet but strong; (2) tender but tough; (3) refined but sharp; (4) direct but feminine.  Again, the contrasts are:

·        sweet but strong;

·        tender but tough;

·        refined but sharp; and

·        direct but feminine.

       In addition, Hebrew is a pictorial language and the letters of the word for “virtuous” paint a picture.  “The first two letters spell the Hebrew word for Life.  The last letter is ancient Hebrew for a camel goad.  The ancient shape… looks like a shepherd’s staff.  This letter symbolizes to shepherded or to control.  Together, these letters describe a mighty woman as one who…Shepherd’s Life.”[13]

       On this point, Carol Gilligan writes of another psychologist, “Similarly, Miller calls for ‘a new psychology of women’ that recognizes the different starting point for women’s development, the fact that

(1) ‘women stay with, build on, and develop in a context of attachment and affiliation with others,’ that

(2) ‘women’s sense of self become very much organized around being able to make, and then to maintain, affiliations and relationships,’ and that

(3) ‘eventually, for many women, the threat of disruption of an affiliation is perceived not just as a loss of relationship but as something closer to a total loss of self.’ (p. 83).”[14]

       Women who are able to live healthily in their mid-life, have worked through their co-dependent sacrifice and have learned to do some things for themselves.  They learn how to balance the various demands and see who is going to get hurt less.  They go back to school.  They go back to work.  They begin to live more interdependently, as opposed to dependently.

(So, tonight we honor Pastor Clarke as a mother of the Church and we honor all women here tonight.

      Before I quit, let me say just a word to men.)

       In maturity, women and men will look a great deal alike.  Men will have worked through their differentiation towards a point of relationship, responsibility, and care, and women will have worked through their enmeshment towards a point of balanced differentiation, equality, and fairness.  But, they approach this point of maturity from two different points and that should be understood and researched.  So, mature, Spirit-filled women and men will look very much alike!

So, tonight, we honor:

·        Eve, the mother of all the living;

·        Sarah, Rebekah, and Rachel, mothers of Israel;

·        Jochebed, the mother of Moses, the deliverer

·        Rahab the harlot, who was instrumental in Israel taking Jericho

·        Deborah, the prophetess

·        Huldah, the prophetess

·        Esther, who set her face to go to see the king for the survival of the Israelites

·        Ruth, who forsook her own country and people to follow Naomi and become the great-grandmother of King David

·        Mary, the mother of Jesus

·        Mary Magdalene, an ardent disciple of Jesus

·        Tabitha, also called Dorcas, who was raised from the dead to continue her good works

·        Lydia, the first convert in Europe

·        Junia, who was outstanding among the apostles

       Pastor C, tonight, we honor you!


----

[1] Irmtraud Fischer, Women Who Wrestled with God:  Biblical Stories of Israel’s Beginnings, Liturgical Press, Collegeville, Minnesota, 2005, p. 113.

[2] Irmtraud Fischer, Women Who Wrestled with God:  Biblical Stories of Israel’s Beginnings, Liturgical Press, Collegeville, Minnesota, 2005, pp. 113-114.

[3] Irmtraud Fischer, Women Who Wrestled with God:  Biblical Stories of Israel’s Beginnings, Liturgical Press, Collegeville, Minnesota, 2005, pp. 113-114.

[4] Irmtraud Fischer, Women Who Wrestled with God:  Biblical Stories of Israel’s Beginnings, Liturgical Press, Collegeville, Minnesota, 2005, p. 114.

[5] Irmtraud Fischer, Women Who Wrestled with God:  Biblical Stories of Israel’s Beginnings, Liturgical Press, Collegeville, Minnesota, 2005, p. 114.

[6] Irmtraud Fischer, Women Who Wrestled with God:  Biblical Stories of Israel’s Beginnings, Liturgical Press, Collegeville, Minnesota, 2005, p. 114.

[7] Irmtraud Fischer, Women Who Wrestled with God:  Biblical Stories of Israel’s Beginnings, Liturgical Press, Collegeville, Minnesota, 2005, p. 114.

[8] Irmtraud Fischer, Women Who Wrestled with God:  Biblical Stories of Israel’s Beginnings, Liturgical Press, Collegeville, Minnesota, 2005, pp. 114-115.

[9] Cynthia & Robert Hicks, The Feminine Journey, Navpress, Colorado Springs, Colorado, 1994, p. 160.

[10] Dr. Frank T. Seekins, A Might Warrior:  The Hebrew-Biblical View Of A Woman, Copyright © 2004 Frank T. Seekins, All Rights Reserved, p. 21.

[11] Dan Allender & Tremper Longman III, Intimate Allies, Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., Wheaton, Illinois, 1995, p. 171.

[12] Dan Allender & Tremper Longman III, Intimate Allies, Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., Wheaton, Illinois, 1995, p. 171.

[13] Dr. Frank T. Seekins, A Might Warrior:  The Hebrew-Biblical View Of A Woman, Copyright © 2004 Frank T. Seekins, All Rights Reserved, p. 21.

[14] Carol Gilligan, In A Different Voice, Harvard University Press, Cambridge Massachusetts, 1982, 1993, p. 169.

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