Moses was born at a very difficult time in Israelite history. The Hebrew people of Israel (descendants of the twelve sons of Jacob, or Israel as he was renamed) had ended up in Egypt as refugees from a terrible famine. There they multiplied to such an extent that the Egyptians perceived them as a threat, and made them slaves. Still they increased, and so the Pharaoh decided to enforce birth control by the simple expedient of ordering every male baby to be thrown into the Nile. It was then that Moses was born (though he was not given the name Moses at that time). He had an elder sister, Miriam, and an elder brother, Aaron, who had been born before Pharaoh’s law was made.
The book of Hebrews in the New Testament comments that Moses’ parents acted in faith when they hid him for three months, ‘because they saw he was no ordinary child, and they were not afraid of the king’s edict.’
The implication was that they saw more in him than a sweet little baby boy; maybe they sensed that God had a purpose for him. However, he could not be hidden for longer than the three months, and presumably he would soon be exposed as a boy if they no longer hid him (nappies had not been invented). so at that point they had to do something.
The passage from Exodus only mentions Moses’ mother, who is not named until later in Exodus when we discover she was called Jochebed and her husband was her nephew Amram! (Exodus 6:20.) She must have been the main decision maker, though she could not have acted as she did without consulting Amram. After hiding Moses for three months she decided that the best thing to do was to semi-obey the law, and entrust her baby son to the River Nile. However, she had the brilliant idea of putting him in a papyrus basket (with lid) which she waterproofed so it could float, and placed among the reeds by the river bank so it would not be swept away. Miriam then kept watch from a distance to see what would happen.
That particular place on the river bank was where Pharaoh’s daughter went to bathe – presumably a ritual bath, the Nile being an object of worship for the Egyptians as well as the water supply and the reason for the nation’s fertility and prosperity. I wonder whether the choice of place was deliberate! It was certainly inspired, for Pharaoh’s daughter duly came along and heard the baby crying in the basket. I expect a crowd gathered to see what was going on, Miriam among them. The princess’ maternal instincts overcame her civic duty and loyalty to her father, and she was obviously moved with compassion. Miriam seized the opportunity, and offered to get her a Hebrew wet nurse to feed and look after the baby for her until the child was old enough to live with the princess. We don’t know whether this was the outcome Jochebed had hoped and planned for, or whether it was the inspiration of the moment; but when Miriam went to get her mother to look after the baby, it must have been difficult to disguise their joy!
In the event, the outcome could not have been better, given the terrible situation. Jochebed was paid to look after the son who should have been killed at birth, and then he went to live as a member of the royal family with all the education and privileges that would have entailed.
Pharaoh’s daughter was his adoptive mother, and gave him the name ‘Moses’, which is a Hebrew name (literally ‘Moseh’, meaning ‘one who draws forth’) which sounds a lot like the Egyptian name ‘Mose’, meaning ‘child’. (The reason Pharaoh’s daughter gives for the name shows that the Hebrew meaning was uppermost in her mind – she may have got the idea from Jochebed!) In all this passage God is not mentioned. However, his presence and inspiration pervade the story. God was at work, preparing for the great rescue of his people from slavery and their journey to the promised land. ‘Mothering’ was a vital part of his plan.
1) When is it right to follow our instincts rather than to obey the rules?
2) What examples of good mothering do you see these days?