As she swallowed the lump of fear in her throat, Jochebed watched her precious baby boy float down the river all alone. Little Moses, only three months old, was safely tucked inside a basket she had woven herself.
Would he be safe for long? His little sister Miriam chased the basket through the grassy reeds of the Nile River, carefully watching from a distance. From the swampy banks of the river Nile to the burning bush in the desert heat, God had great plans for Moses’ life that began with the faith of these two women.
TRUSTING IN GOD’S CARE
Maybe it’s because I’m pregnant and can’t imagine giving up my child in hopes of survival. Maybe it’s because I have a daughter of my own, and I hope that we will be a dynamic duo like this… but this mother-daughter account really inspires me! As terrifying as the Pharaoh’s verdict was, Jochebed was not afraid. Jochebed trusted God with her child’s life, and Miriam’s resourceful thinking kept him by their side a little longer.
In Exodus 1, we read that the Pharaoh became fearful of the Hebrew slaves. He feared that they were growing too strong in number, so he set out to kill all of their baby boys. Jochebed knew they would be coming for her newborn son Moses. He was no longer safe with her. So in an act of faith, she sent him down the river in hopes that someone would find him and care for him as their own. Little did she know, the basket would be spotted by the Pharaoh’s daughter.
Exodus 1:22-2:6 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.' …. When [Jochebed] could hide [her son Moses] no longer, she got a papyrus basket for him and coated it with tar and pitch. Then she placed the child in it and put it among the reeds along the bank of the Nile. His sister stood at a distance to see what would happen to him. Then Pharaoh’s daughter went down to the Nile to bathe, and her attendants were walking along the riverbank. She saw the basket among the reeds and sent her female slave to get it. She opened it and saw the baby. He was crying, and she felt sorry for him. “This is one of the Hebrew babies,” she said.
Miriam watched the scene unfold, and in an inspired act of resourceful thinking, she made her presence known and suggested that the baby be nursed by a Hebrew woman… his very own mother!
Exodus 2:7-8 Then his sister asked Pharaoh’s daughter, “Shall I go and get one of the Hebrew women to nurse the baby for you?” “Yes, go,” she answered. So the girl went and got the baby’s mother.
Because of her daughter’s quick thinking, Jochebed was blessed with the opportunity to nurse her baby boy until he had weaned. What resilience to care for your own child under the guise of a caregiver! She would have cradled her son to sleep in her arms, felt his sweet embrace against her chest, knowing all the while that he would never grow up to call her “mother”. How did she ever do it?
Perhaps it’s because she was an exceptionally strong woman. Or perhaps it’s because Jochebed recognized that children are a gift from God. Rather than holding on as tightly as she could, Jochebed released Moses back to God and entrusted him to His care. Though he didn’t know her as “mother”, she was still faithful to her role, providing for him where she could and trusting God with the rest.
WE DO NOT KNOW WHAT TOMORROW HOLDS
As a mother of two, I am inspired by this important reminder that children are a gift from God. Every day that we wake up, when we watch them take their first steps or wave goodbye at the bus stop, we are slowly releasing them into a world of overwhelming waters. We may not be facing the deadly orders of a Pharaoh coming after our children, but there are everyday injuries, natural disasters, and school shootings in our broken world. Try as we may, we cannot protect ourselves or our children from every harsh reality of this fallen world. We cannot possibly avoid every ailment or prevent every danger.
Everyday we have is a gift. We are not entitled to any of it. Tomorrow isn’t promised. Only God knows what tomorrow holds. But what is promised is an eternal life for those who know Him as Savior.
When fear tries to consume us, remember there is no place safer than the arms of Jesus, cradling us as His children. When the waters of the Nile overwhelm, we are safely tucked inside the promise that we are in His care.
“Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid or terrified because of them, for the Lord your God goes with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you.” – Deuteronomy 31:6
"When you go through deep waters, I will be with you. When you go through rivers of difficulty, you will not drown. When you walk through the fire of oppression, you will not be burned up; the flames will not consume you." Isaiah 43:2
The Story Isn’t Over Until It’s Over
Both Jochebed and Miriam are mentioned as heroes of faith in Hebrews 11. Jochebed is commended for trusting God with Moses’ life, and Miriam is commended for crossing the Red Sea on dry land.
As inspiring as these women were, their story doesn’t end there. We don’t know if Jochebed crossed the Red Sea to freedom. The end of her life is not accounted for in Scripture. But we do know that Miriam lived a long life as a prophetess, serving the Israelites after leading them in worship when they crossed the Red Sea.
Miriam, though included as a hero of faith, was far from perfect. Unfortunately, the book of Numbers shows how she and her brother Aaron fell into a spirit of complaining as they got older. They criticized Moses for marrying a Cushite woman, and they questioned his leadership with a jealous eye, “’Has the Lord spoken only through Moses?’ they asked. ‘Hasn’t he also spoken through us?’” God did not look fondly on their jealousy, and Miriam was inflicted with leprosy outside the encampment. But, despite her failures, she was restored as a leader of the people and given another chance to serve God before her death (Numbers 20:1)
When we read stories of inspiring men and women from the Bible, it is important that we remember they are just that.. men and women. It is important we remember their failures as well as their faith so we don’t idolize a person over the power of Christ. Their faith is only as strong as the One in whom they place it. Jochebed wasn’t good enough. Miriam wasn’t good enough. It’s only Jesus! He is good enough, strong enough, powerful enough for any fear that we face in the overwhelming waters of this world.
FOR FURTHER READING: Exodus 1-2, 15; Numbers 12: 1-15, 20:1; Hebrews 11:23 & 29
THE MEANING BEHIND THEIR NAMES: Jochebed, whose name (Hebrew yokheved) apparently means “YHWH is glory,” is notable as the first person in the Bible to have a name with the divine element yah, a shortened form of YHWH. The name Miriam means “drop of the sea, bitter, or beloved“
THEMES IN THEIR STORY: Water. From the Nile River to the Red Sea, Miriam’s life was surrounded by miraculous accounts of water. The element of water held great symbolism in Egyptian mythology, and Miriam knew the God who controlled it.
OTHER WOMEN CALLED “PROPHETESSES”: Deborah, Huldah, Isaiah’s wife, Anna, and Philip’s four daughters.
WAS MIRIAM MARRIED? Although Scripture never makes mention of her husband, there are several Jewish historical documents that claim she was married. But their accounts contradict each other. The historian Josephus deems Hur the husband of Miriam while Rabbinic sources give her Caleb for a husband and Hur for a son.