April 14, 2021

Jochebed: A Sacrificial Mother

“Then the king of Egypt spoke, and he said, “When you are helping the Hebrew women to give birth and see them upon the birth stool if it is a son, then you shall put him to death; but if it is a daughter, then she shall live.” Exodus 1:15-16, NASB

THE STORY BEGINS

Jochebed is mentioned in Exodus 6:20 as the mother of Moses, Miriam, and Aaron. She has such a bit part to play in the Bible that she is rarely recognized as a significant figure. However, without her dedicated willingness and sacrifice, the entire narrative of our Biblical history would not have played out the way it did. You see, to Moses, she saved his life by giving up her time with him. She should have her own time in the spotlight of this project. Though it may be one of the shortest chapters, it is nonetheless important.

We know the sons of Israel [Jacob] had fled to Egypt. At this point, the king of Egypt made a decree over all the land that the midwives should kill a born child if it is a male. We also see that the midwives feared God and refused to do as the king commanded. Killing a child would have been an awful thing to happen, and the midwives did not want to be a part of the murder. 

The king found out that the midwives had disobeyed him. “So the king of Egypt called for the midwives and said to them, “Why have you done this thing, and let the boys live?” The midwives said to Pharaoh, “Because the Hebrew women are not like the Egyptian women; for they are vigorous and give birth before the midwife can get to them.” So God was good to the midwives, and the people multiplied and became very mighty. And because the midwives feared God, He established households for them. Then Pharaoh commanded all his people, saying, “Every son who is born, you are to throw into the Nile, but every daughter, you are to keep alive.” Exodus 1:18-22

God blessed the midwives, and he allowed them to multiply. However, Pharoah had another plan in mind! He instructed all of the people to throw every son into the Nile. His reasoning for this, as I understand, is that the boys would grow up to be men, and they would wage war against Egypt. If the boys were allowed to become men, they would possibly rise against Pharoah and overthrow Egypt.

MOSES IS BORN

“The woman conceived and bore a son; and when she saw that he was beautiful, she hid him for three months.” Exodus 2:2, NASB 

Side note: We know that Moses’s mother was named Jochebed and his father Amram as we read in Exodus 6:20. One interesting thing about his mother’s name is the meaning of “Yahweh’s glory.” She was part of Levi’s tribe, which gives us a glimpse that Yahweh was known before Moses’s time. 10

Jochebed kept Moses hidden for three months. We can learn a lot about what might have transpired during this time by looking further into Bowlby’s attachment theory. The first three months of life are essential for positive attachments to form. According to Bowlby, there are three types of attachment: secure, anxious-resistant, and avoidant attachment (Bretherton, 1992). 11 She had already saved his life by refusing to murder him, for she knew he was a beautiful child (Exodus 2:2).

MOSES AND JOCHEBED: ATTACHMENT?

What then would have become of Moses once he got too old to hide? For sure, Pharoah would have found out that he had been disobeyed, and he would insist his commands be carried out. During those three months, there must have been some awful feelings going through her mind. Would they find out? Would Moses get so big he gave himself away? What would happen if they found out she had disobeyed his commands?

We previously talked about attachment theory with Hagar and Ishmael. Jochebed would have been still nursing Moses after three months; as we know, the historical tradition would have been to nurse until they were three years old. Moses was only three months of age, so there was still quite a way to go to form that essential bond. Breastfeeding is one way in which a mother will help her child form a secure attachment in later life (Bretherton, 1992). No doubt Jochebed loved Moses very much, so that attachment would have been strong.

In looking at an infant’s development stages, Erik Erickson is one of the most notable scholars we can look to. Erickson discovered (in his theory) that there were eight distinct stages of psychosocial development that an infant goes through. In the first 18 months of life, the infant is in the “trust-vs-mistrust” stage. During this crucial stage, the infant begins to trust and wonder whether their caregiver will meet their primary needs (food, water, shelter, clothing). 

From what we can tell, Moses would have trusted that Jochebed would tend to his needs. According to Erickson, this stage is a crucial period of development in the life of an infant. The result of success or failure in this stage either results in hope (success) or fear (failure) (Erickson, 1982). 12

A MOTHER’S DESPERATE MOVE TO PROTECT HER SON

“But when she could hide him no longer, she got him a wicker basket and covered it over with tar and pitch. Then she put the child into it and set it among the reeds by the bank of the Nile.” Exodus 2:3, NASB

The time was coming that Jochebed could no longer hide Moses, so she decided to put him in the Nile. In doing so, Jochebed was showing her care, love, and concern for Moses. She was literally saving his life and hoping he would find a better one down the road. What kind of emotions must Jochebed have felt? She definitely seemed to have a trust in God that he would take care of the child, but it must have been heart-wrenching for her to place him in the reeds, not knowing if she would ever see her beautiful son again.

We see the great nature of her faith in Hebrews 11:23; we are told that “by faith,” she made a basket for him and placed him in it. Jochebed had no way of knowing that eventually, this child would grow up to be a man who would contribute to her being freed from the reign of Pharoah. We see other times in the scriptures when a parent trusts God with their child’s life. Abraham trusted God to protect Isaac (Genesis 22:1-9), and Hannah trusted God to protect Samuel (1 Samuel 1:21-2:11). Jochebed trusted God to protect Moses (though at that time, he had no name). Miriam, Moses’ sister, stood at a distance to watch this.

MOSES IS FOUND AND RESCUED

“The daughter of Pharaoh came down to bathe at the Nile, with her maidens walking alongside the Nile; and she saw the basket among the reeds and sent her maid, and she brought it to her. When she opened it, she saw the child, and behold; the boy was crying. And she pitied him and said, “This is one of the Hebrews’ children.” Exodus 2:5-6, NASB

What happened next is amazing! Miriam (Moses’ sister) offered to find a maid to nurse the child (she was undoubtedly thinking of Jochebed). “Then his sister said to Pharaoh’s daughter, “Shall I go and call a nurse for you from the Hebrew women that she may nurse the child for you?” Pharaoh’s daughter said to her, “Go ahead.” So the girl went and called the child’s mother.” Exodus 2:7-8, NASB

Jochebed was going to have the opportunity to see her son again and form that important bond. She (likely enthusiastically) did as she was asked. She nursed him, and he was allowed to grow up with her. According to the biblical tradition, a child would nurse for around three years. This would mean that Jochebed was able to keep Moses for the first few years of his life, a crucial development period.

CONCLUSION

We know that Moses was returned to Pharoah’s daughter (Exodus 2:10) and was given the name “Moses,” which means “drawn from the water.” We are not told whether she saw him again, but we can learn several things from her life narrative.

1) Jochebed trusted God even when all seemed hopeless. She acted in great faith by placing him in the Nile so that he may live. Why is it so hard for us to trust God when all seems hopeless? I know there are nights when I have intensive grief over Rachel’s loss, and trusting God is the furthest thing from my mind.

2) God rewarded her faith by raising her son for the first few years of his life because she acted in the child’s best interest. While God has not yet brought me a child of my own, I have trust and hope that my time will come one day. What if Jochebed had tried to manipulate the outcome and continued to hide him? Would she have had such a blessing?

3) God wants his children to place their faith and trust in him. When we place our faith in Christ, we can accomplish more than we could without him. However, putting faith in Christ is extremely difficult at times, especially in the midst of grief. We must strive to find where his GRACE lies in the midst of our grief.

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