Moses is no doubt the most important prophet in Judaism, and one of the most significant for Christianity and Islam. He led the Israelites out of Egyptian captivity, was given the Ten Commandments thereby establishing Jewish law, and he is believed to have been the author of the Torah, the first five books of the bible. However, without the bravery of several women, he may never have made it beyond the first few months of life. There was the bravery of the midwives (Shiprah and Puah) who prevented infanticide, and now we learn of how his mother (Jochebed), sister (Miriam) and an Egyptian princess came together in an extraordinary way to protect his life.
Having a baby at the time of war or persecution must be a terrifying ordeal, one that millions of women encounter every year – we have all seen with horror the images of pregnant women fleeing bombing in Ukraine. The situation for Jochebed and her child was dire. The Pharaoh had issued an edict to murder all the Hebrew baby boys by throwing them into the River Nile and Jochebed had given birth to ‘a fine baby’ at this dangerous time.
Jochebed was one of Levi’s daughters, therefore was one of Jacob’s grandchildren. She was married to Amran and had two older children, Aaron and Miriam. She had successfully hidden her new-born baby for three months but this was becoming impossible and so she needed another plan. She created a basket out of reeds, waterproofed it with a plant resin and took the ‘moses basket’ and hid it near to the place the wealthy women bathed in river. Her daughter Miriam was stationed to watch over the baby, and I imagine both mother and daughter prayed earnestly to God for his protection. They could not have imagined in their wildest dreams that his salvation would come from the very place that also posed the greatest risk to his life.
Pharaoh’s daughter Bithia was bathing in the river alongside her entourage and she spotted the baby in the reeds. If she had followed her father’s rules she would have been obliged to hand him over to the authorities. What she did was far more risky. Realising he was a Hebrew baby she took pity on him and decided to adopt him. He was still breastfeeding and, in an extraordinary twist and an answer to Jochebad’s prayers, Miriam, who had been watching all this unfold, stepped forward and offered to find a ‘wet-nurse’ for the baby. So Moses’ own mother was paid to look after her child until adulthood, presumably from the safety of the royal palace or its surroundings.
We can imagine Jochebed’s joy at the return of her beautiful son and the delight that they could now live in safety without fear. It’s Mothering Sunday in the UK and this story reminds us of the sacrifices made by mothers through the ages. Many of these acts are unremarkable and go unnoticed, such as those who take two jobs or who put their careers on hold for a time. Sometimes the sacrifice is costly. I remember meeting a woman whilst working for a homeless charity who offered up her child for adoption as she knew she wouldn’t be able to have looked after him. Her decision was painful and was clearly made out of a deep love for her little boy. This story also reminds us that the care of children is so often done by a community working together, and so we think of all the foster parents, respite carers, nannies, and siblings who so often take on these caring roles to help children thrive.
God of Miriam and Jochebed,
you care for those the world forgets
and you never forget the needs of your people.
Be present with all who make agonising decisions;
protect children who have nobody to protect them;
bless those who foster, adopt and take care of children;
and may all teh members of your family
live for one another in self-giving love. Amen