“And there went a man of the house of Levi, and took to wife a daughter of Levi.
And the woman conceived, and bare a son: and when she saw him that he was a goodly child, she hid him three months.
And when she could not longer hide him, she took for him an ark of bulrushes, and daubed it with slime and with pitch, and put the child therein; and she laid it in the flags by the river’s brink.”
Toil and tears had become the lot of the Israelites in Egypt. For many years it had been different and they had reaped the bounties of the land, and under the blessings of their God had prospered. But now a new Pharaoh had arisen who was determined to break the power of Israel’s God. First there was the extra toil in brick and mortar and menial labor of the fields. More and more the taskmasters of Egypt bore down upon them; intent on breaking their strength; but Jehovah held them up and the nation grew the more. Next there was the command that all of the male children should be stifled at birth; but against it the faith of the midwives prevailed. Finally the command went out to all the land that the baby sons of the Hebrews should be cast into the river. Pharaoh and the God of Israel were engaged in open combat.
“And there went a man of the house of Levi, and took “to wife a daughter of Levi.” It is a homely tale. In another setting it might appear peaceful and serene; but the place was darkened Egypt and the time that of Pharaoh’s implacable hatred. What did, such a marriage have to offer?—days of exhausting labor, and nights of trembling, and bitter tears. Still for simple Amram and Jochebed there was hope and promise. It Gas not that they thought the luxuries of Egypt somehow to counteract the sorrows, as was true with only too many of their nation. It was not that they believed that there would be found some goodness in Pharaoh which would cancel out his wickedness. Amram and Jochebed had the hope and promise of faith. They believed in God and in the promises which He had given unto their father Abraham, to be a God unto him and unto his seed after him through all generations. They waited for the deliverance which was sure to come.
The birth of a first child to Amram and Jochebed was an occasion of great joy. Although the oppression of Pharaoh was already severe, it had not yet reached into the intimate circle of the home. In their homes the Israelites still had opportunity to find joy and peace. The child was a girl and they named her Miriam, “the beloved one.” But time went on and the wickedness of Pharaoh began to cut closer and closer. It became evident that he was intent on destroying the nation and had designs to, cut off all of the male seed. Jochebed conceived again and bore a son, but now the joy of birth was gone. There was no assurance that the child’s life could be spared, and they named him Aaron, meaning “uncertainty.” Yet, perhaps through the faithfulness of the midwives, the child was kept alive. Spurred on by his lack of success, Pharaoh in his ragings was approaching the point of madness. Finally he issued the command that thereafter all of the male children who were born of the Hebrews should be thrown in the river Nile. This command was not limited to the midwives or parents; it went out unconditionally through all the land. It was the duty of everyone to see that it was enforced. When Jochebed conceived again there was little room for joy, only the silent prayers that the child in birth might be a girl. But the will of God was not so. In due time a son was born. The situation was very dire, for the agents of Pharaoh were throughout the land. If this son would be found with them alive, the consequences would be severe. But these faithful parents would not bow in fear before the tyranny of wicked Pharaoh. They saw, we are told, that their son was a goodly child. Now it may be, as many say, that this son was beautiful to look upon. But what Amram and Jochebed saw was much more than that. It was what Stephen pointed out many years later: the child was pleasing to the Lord. These believing parents recognized that their son was a covenant child of God. They could not give him over to death. No matter what the consequences might be, their faith demanded of them that they do all in their power to keep him alive. We might be inclined to ask why God ordained that Moses should be born just then. Born a few years earlier, Moses would have preceded this most cruel and wicked command of Pharaoh. Moreover it appears that a few years later the law fell into disuse and became a dead law upon the books. Moses was born during the time when it was being painfully enforced. Actually, of course, it is foolish for us to question the wisdom of God. His way is always best and must be received as such by faith. It makes no essential difference whether we can understand it or not. Nonetheless, in this case the wisdom of God is evident. Pharaoh had determined to destroy the church of God, and God would expose his folly. Out of the very period of Pharaoh’s most fanatical effort, God would raise the man through whom Pharaoh’s might would be utterly destroyed. In fact, Pharaoh in the midst of his most vile efforts would be used to prepare that one through whom these efforts would be brought to naught. God would make it clearly evident that none can withstand His will; as God He is very great.
For a time it appeared to Amram and Jochebed as if they would be able to keep their child safely in their own home. Careful measures were taken to prevent everyone from even knowing that the child had been born. He was kept as quietly as possible behind closed doors, and the older children were unwarned not to tell anyone of his presence. For about three months these efforts were successful. However, the task was becoming ever more difficult. The child’s voice was becoming stronger, his growing body more active. It became apparent for a time it appeared to Amram and Jochebed as if they would be able to keep their child safely in their own home. Careful measures were taken to prevent everyone from even knowing that the child had been born. He was kept as quietly as possible behind closed doors, and the older children were unwarned not to tell anyone of his presence. For about three months these efforts were successful. However, the task was becoming ever more difficult. The child’s voice was becoming stronger, his growing body more active. It became apparent to the parents that they would not be able to keep the child hidden much longer from those who passed by in the streets. Something different had to be done. If it was not, the child would soon be discovered and destroyed.
Burdened by her responsibility, faithful Jochebed went down to the river bank one day and gathered a large bundle of bulrushes. These she took home and she set to work: With painstaking care she wove the weeds into a closely knit basket. Thereupon she coated the inside of the basket with a smooth coat of pitch and slime until she was sure that it would be completely waterproof. Into this basket or ark Jochebed placed her son. Her plan was this. They would find a desolate stretch of river bank by which people very seldomly passed. Each morning, early before anyone else was astir; they would take the little ark with the child and allow it to float on the water within one of the thick clumps of reeds that grew all along the Nile’s banks. Being made from bulrushes itself, the ark would be very difficult to see. Should the child cry, it would be much less likely to be heard there in the desolate river bank than at home close to the busy streets. Finally each day Miriam would be sent apparently to play by the river but actually to keep a close eye on the little basket as much as possible, keeping it from being harmed. Each night the child could be returned again to the home after dark. Perhaps the location of the basket was changed from day to day to ward off all suspicion.
This action of Jochebed’s, we are told in Hebrews 11, arose out bf faith. It was not as though the child would now be free from all threats of danger. One could imagine countless things that might easily happen. What if the current should catch the basket and carry it away? or a storm should break and fill the basket until it sink? or if, perhaps, the crocodiles of the river should discover the precious contents? These dangers were very real, but by Jochebed they were far to be preferred to the dangers represented in the Egyptians that passed every day by her door. She felt as David did after he numbered the people, that it was better to fall into the hands of the Lord. Realizing that she could protect her child no longer, she placed him in the care of the Lord.
How long this plan was successfully followed, we do not know. However, one day as Miriam was sitting on the river’s brink, she looked up to see a company of women approaching. Her heart skipped with fear, for these women were evidently Egyptians. Moreover, from the royal dress of the one it was apparent that she was from the court of Pharaoh, evidently the king’s daughter. She was coming to the river to bathe. Quickly Miriam withdrew herself so as not to draw attention to the place where the ark was afloat in the reeds. If the child would fall into the hands of these hated Egyptians, surely it would be the end. But alas, the quick eyes of Pharaoh’s daughter were not to be deceived, not even by the clever camouflage of the bulrushes. She sent one of her maidens to fetch the basket and looked within.
Trembling with fear Miriam watched, expecting any moment to see, her young brother thrown heartlessly into the river. She wondered within herself what she should do. The child was crying and Miriam was quick to note that on the face of the Egyptian woman there were not sneers but smiles, not anger but sympathy. She heard the words of Pharaoh’s daughter, “This is one of the Hebrews’ children,” and there was kindness in her voice. Miriam caught the implication, the child was to be kept alive. Quick of wit, Miriam approached the woman and said, “Shall I go and call to thee a nurse of the Hebrew women, that she may nurse the child for thee?” Suddenly the possibility appeared of the child’s being restored to their home, safe from all threat of death.
Pharaoh’s daughter, looked at the young girl standing eagerly before her and immediately the whole situation became clear. The girl was evidently the child’s sister engaged in a plot to preserve the babe from death. Did not the girl’s eagerness manifest a personal interest in the child’s care? Did not her very features resemble those of the child? The girl wanted to return her brother to their mother. But then it made no difference. The child was fair to look upon and she had determined to take it into the palace for her own. As yet the child was too young. It needed a nurse. Who would care better for him than his natural mother? She told the young girl, “Go,” and soon the girl returned with her mother. Pharaoh’s daughter gave to Jochebed her instructions, “Take the child away, and nurse it for me, and I will give thee thy wages.”
There was little cause for concern that evening in the palace of Pharaoh. True, one Hebrew child had been spared from death, and that with the approval of Pharaoh, for he could hardly deny the plea of a favored daughter. But what did it really matter? That child was but one among many, and plans were already in the making to have the child educated in Pharaoh’s own schools. Th6 situation was well under control. What Pharaoh did not realize was that behind that one seemingly insignificant exception was the will of Israel’s God. Moses, the child drawn from the river, would rise up to put to naught all of the boasting of that evil kingdom. The very efforts of Pharaoh were hastening his own destruction. As the Psalmist wrote many years later, “Why do the heathen rage, and the people imagine a vain thing? The kings of the earth set themselves, and the rulers take counsel together, against the. Lord, and against his anointed . . . He that sitteth in the heavens shall laugh; the Lord shall have them in derision,” Ps. 2:1, 2, 4.