Consider Jochebed

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I was recently asked, “If you could meet any person in the Bible, who would it be?”. My first thought was Esther for her strength and faith to stand in a time of crisis for her people. I also thought of Ruth who with loyalty remained with her mother-in-law through sorrow and displacement. But then, another woman stood out in my mind. The mother of Moses. How often we hear of Moses as the hero of the story but his mother? What was his mother like?

Listening to stories of God’s faithfulness is something I love to do. When I considered Jochebed, the mother of Moses, my mind started to reel with what her memoir might have looked like. There is definitely information about her life in the account of Moses’ birth in Exodus chapter 2. However, as a mom, my mind went further. There was so much left out and left to my imagination prompted by my own experience from this same stage of life.

To set the stage

This story takes place in Egypt long after Joseph and his brothers had died. There was a new pharaoh in power and he felt threatened by the growing numbers of Hebrew people in the land. In order to reduce their number, he instructed the midwives to kill the Hebrew sons as they assisted at the births. Every pregnant Hebrew woman would have had to know about this. She had to be holding her breath during her pregnancy knowing that her child had a 50/50 chance of escaping death upon their entrance into the world. Can you imagine?

The midwives however obeyed God and revered life. They made a plausible excuse as to why they were unable to accomplish pharaoh’s goal. The Hebrew babies were still alive. Then, in Exodus 1:22 we are told, “Then Pharaoh gave this order to all his people: “Every Hebrew boy that is born you must throw into the Nile, but let every girl live.” It was open season on those precious babies! Can you imagine?

Into hiding they went

No wonder he had to be hidden. For 3 months, his mother did just that. Beyond the normal postpartum discomfort and stress Jochebed bore the responsibility to keep her infant still. I wonder if she was afraid to fall asleep with the concern that she would miss a cry and put him at risk? The heightened state of vigilance no doubt tired her out.

There were also older children. Miriam and Aaron would have to have been sworn to secrecy. No telling neighbors or friends about their new baby brother. It would have been obvious that their mother had been pregnant. Yet, when her belly flattened she did not appear at the market with the boy. The directive to throw the Hebrew boys into the Nile was not a secret. I wonder if she had a hard time trusting people or if she was doing mental gymnastics as she pondered the “what ifs”? Can you imagine?

Then there was the basket

If I were to interview Jochebed, I would want to know how she came up with the idea of a basket. Surely God presented the idea into her mind. It was her job to prepare it and to walk forward in obedience. I think the reeds would have been soaked with tears long before any moisture from the river bank ever touched it. Each stroke, spreading the pitch onto the vessel must have been an act of grit. In those moments did she weigh out all potential outcomes? Or did she just trust completely? Can you imagine?

To the water

Then the point came when she would take the baby to the water. As she tucked the basket away in the bulrushes she had no promise that the Pharaoh’s daughter would act in compassion. They would have also known that the pharaoh himself ordered that this baby would be thrown into the river. With as many handmaidens in attendance would not one of them act in fear of him and carry out their civic duty? But no, isn’t it interesting that it was the daughter who also had the power to resist her father’s instruction and offer protection?

Young Miriam watched. How old would she have been? Some sources I have found say seven years old. SEVEN! As she prepared to go down to the bank, how had her mother prepared her? Or, did she go there on her own, independent of her mother’s knowing, in an act of childish curiosity? I’ve had several seven year olds in my home. For Miriam to respond with the presence of mind and candor as to suggest fetching a Hebrew woman to nurse the child is amazing. She would have had to limit her speech and not let on that she not only knew who this Hebrew baby was but that it was her brother. At seven! Can you imagine?

Back at home

I wonder how Jochebed waited in the hours after she placed her child among the reeds? Did she stay and risk being seen or did she go back home sick to her stomach about her situation? Waiting and wondering did she busy herself baking? Cleaning? Or crying? No doubt she was praying and pleading to God on behalf of her child. He was out of her physical hands, her control was gone. What could she do but trust?

Miriam, heart pounding, burst through the door. Can you visualize her with mud on her clothes and her feet as she breathlessly shouts out, “Mother, come quickly!” I bet she needed to be slowed down as she explained to her mother that Pharaoh’s daughter had the baby and she had asked for a Hebrew woman to nurse him.

Did she scream? Were there tears of joy? As she bolted out the door I am sure that there was praise on her mouth and in her heart. What a relief to know that her son was still alive! As she approached the palace did she need to take some time to pull herself together? The sight of her precious son whom she knew she may never see again! Can you imagine?

Making the most of her days

Do you think he called her “mother” in those years at home? Moses, after all was now the princess’ son and Jochebed simply the nurse. In some ways, the title may not have mattered to her. I bet she clung to those years with the knowledge that her time was limited. Each time she looked at him she understood that these moments were redeemed from certain loss.

Knowing all this, how do you suppose she spent her time? I’m sure she purposed to take all of those days captive to impart her faith and knowledge of God to her son. The mundane tasks of motherhood surely had a renewed joy as she wove the beliefs of the Hebrew people into all that she did. What songs did she sing? What stories did she tell? How did she train her son knowing that the day he would be released back to the palace would come all too fast. Can you imagine?

The day of release came

He grew older and that day came. She took him to the palace and released him. No doubt that brought another flood of emotion. But we know that those years that she invested came back in a harvest. The seeds she planted and nurtured for the time she had would later be recognized. Moses arose to the call and led his people from Egypt.

Why this story matters to me

Maybe more lessons are in the unknown of this story. In the imagination and conjecture of what may have taken place. But, the heart of a mother “goes-there” and I wonder, what can I learn from this? There are so many unknowns along the journey of parenting. No matter the city, the state or even the country our world can be unstable. Circumstances in life can change at a moments notice.

So yes, if I could meet anyone in the Bible and sit down for a chat, I think I would like to meet Jochebed. Her story is for me today and for you as well. May we look into our children’s eyes with wonder and thankfulness for the time we have. Let’s take captive of our days and live with purpose to pass our faith onto them. And finally, let’s be women who walk forward in faith in the unseen, even when it is risky because we know that God has our children and we can trust in Him.

Trust in him at all times, O people;

    pour out your heart before him;

    God is a refuge for us. Selah

Psalm 62:8

What Bible figure would you like to meet?

As I pondered the question in this article and reached out to friends I found that we all had different curiosities. . Just ask the people in your life the question! If you are curious what others have to say and enjoy studying scripture, you may want to check out The Bible Speaks To You podcast.

You can also join this and many other conversations on my Facebook group, Less Than Perfect Christian Mamas.

As we gear up for the fall, if homeschooling is on your mind, check out this article about What Do I Need To Homeschool?

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