Now a man from the house of Levi went and married a daughter of Levi. The woman conceived and bore a son; and when she saw that he was beautiful, she hid him for three months. But when she could hide him no longer, she got him a wicker basket and covered it over with tar and pitch. The she put the child into it and set it among the reeds by the bank of the Nile. His sister stood at a distance to find out what would happen to him. The daughter of Pharaoh came down to bathe at the Nile, with her maidens walking alongside the Nile; and she saw the basket among the reeds and sent her maid, and she brought it to her. When she opened it, she saw the child, and behold, the boy was crying. And she had pity on him and said, ‘This is one of the Hebrews’ children.’ Then his sister said to Pharaoh’s daughter, ‘Shall I go and call a nurse for you from the Hebrew women that she may nurse the child for you?’ Pharaoh’s daughter said to her, ‘Go ahead.’ So the girl went and called the child’s mother. The Pharaoh’s daughter said to her, ‘Take this child away and nurse him for me and I will give you your wages.’ So the woman took the child and nursed him. The child grew, and she brought him to Pharaoh’s daughter and he became her son. And she named him Moses, and said, “Because I drew him out of the water.” (Exodus 2:1-10)
The account of the baby Moses floating in a basket in the Nile River is a favorite Bible story. We all know that his sister, Miriam, took him to the river where an Egyptian princess was bathing. Miriam watched over her brother until the princess discovered him and adopted him. Miriam cleverly arranged for her mother, Jochebed, to be hired as a wet nurse for the baby. Later the princess would name him Moses, because she said, “I drew him out of the water” (Exodus 2:10).
Let’s review a little history so that we can understand why Jochebed had to go to such an extreme to save her baby boy. Why did she need to risk losing him in order to give him a chance to live? Why would a mother put her baby in a basket and put it in a river?
About four hundred years before this, ten of Jacob’s sons had sold their brother Joseph into slavery in Egypt. A few years later there was a famine over all of that part of the world. God blessed Joseph in Egypt. He was put in charge of all of the food in Egypt. (This amazing story is in Genesis 37-50.) Jacob and all of the rest of his family eventually moved to Egypt to live so that they would not starve. The Pharaoh at that time was friendly to Joseph and his family.
But about four centuries later “a new king arose over Egypt, who did not know Joseph” (Exodus 1:8). During this time the Israelites had multiplied until there were hundreds of thousands of them. Pharaoh was worried that he might be overpowered by the Israelites and so he imposed slavery on them. The Israelites had to do hard labor building his cities so that they would be too busy to be able to oppose him. This was not working as well as he liked and so he ordered all of the male babies who were born to the Hebrew people to be murdered.
This was why Jochebed put her newborn baby into a basket and sent him with his sister to be saved by the Egyptian princess. Like most mothers, Jochebed loved her children and was willing to make sacrifices in order to protect them. We have a hard time imagining how it would be to live under a government that wants to kill our babies. This must have caused a lot of sorrow for Jochebed and all of the Hebrew mothers. Most of the Hebrew women would have had to watch while their sons were taken from them and killed before their eyes.
Jochebed risked hiding her son for three months and then she knew that she had to do something before they were discovered. Somehow Jochebed must have known the place where Pharaoh’s daughter went to bathe in the river Nile. Maybe she thought that if only the Pharaoh’s daughter would see this beautiful, helpless baby in a basket, she would take pity on it. Surely the princess’s womanly instincts would make her decide to protect the baby. Jochebed decided to trust God and put her plan in action.
Scholars are not sure which one of Pharaoh’s daughters this was, but it is possible that she was later the famous Queen Hatshepsut, the sister to Thutmose III. Others believe that she was one of the fifty-nine daughters of Rameses II. We know that the princess was a very strong and compassionate woman. We also know that she was destined for rank or power. The author of the book of Hebrews would write, “By faith Moses, when he had grown up refused to be called the son of Pharaoh’s daughter” (Hebrews 11:24). This phrase implies that Moses could have continued as royalty in Pharaoh’s family, perhaps even have been in line for the throne. Instead Moses identified with his people and was willing to obey God and lead the Israelites out of Egypt.
Whatever her rank or influence over her father the Pharaoh, the princess not only wanted to save the child, she also decided to adopt him as her own. As soon as the princess opened the basket, the boy cried. Jochebed’s plan worked – the princess had pity on the baby. Pharaoh’s daughter took Miriam’s quick-thinking advice and agreed to let her find a “nurse … from the Hebrew women that she may nurse the child” for her. Miriam was very clever not to mention that she was thinking of the child’s mother. The princess no doubt knew the law concerning Hebrew baby boys. Nevertheless she was so filled with compassion for the infant that she disregarded the Pharaoh’s orders and spared the baby’s life.
Of course we know that God was watching over Jochebed, Miriam, the princess, and Moses. God had His plan for leading His people out of Egypt through this baby eventually.
So with the princess’s permission and protection, Miriam brought the baby home to Jochebed. What a blessing from God. Jochebed could have her son at least for a while and not only that but be paid to nurse him!
One wonders what Jochebed’s husband, Amram, thought of all of this. The Bible does not tell us. We can only imagine that he was glad that his wife found a way to spare their son even if the joy of having their son was temporary. Eventually the child would be weaned and sent to the princess.
In those days children were weaned at about age three or four years. During this time Jochebed would have a chance to influence her son. She would have tried to give him a love for his people and for Yahweh. We don’t know how much Moses would remember while living with the princess, but certainly Jochebed had a chance to instill some sort of identity with God’s people that Moses would remember later.
How hard it must have been for Jochebed to give up her son when the time came to give him to Pharaoh’s daughter. We do not know if she ever saw him again. Maybe she caught a glimpse of him if he played in the river with his adoptive mother. By the time that Moses led the people out of Egypt, he was eighty years old. So Jochebed must have been dead by then. She did not get to see the great purpose in which she played a part. She is an example for parents to have faith in God that He will take care of their children.
In our day many young girls who find themselves with an unplanned pregnancy should be encouraged to sacrifice for those little ones. If they find that they cannot, then adoption is a good answer – never abortion. Motherhood is a special gift and calling. May we have the courage of Jochebed who gave up her child to spare his life and the princess who defied the Pharaoh in order to raise him. We do not know what God’s plans are. Let us just trust and obey.