In recent days, I have become a Sandra Bullock fan. While I haven’t seen all of her movies, I’ve been impressed by her characters in each one I’ve seen (except Speed).
I enjoy her roles because she portrays women who are thoughtful and resourceful. She is never victimized, pitiful, or weak. When you watch a Sandra Bullock movie, you will see a very real, 3-dimensional person who you can relate with and admire (at least in the movies I’ve seen). In a culture when both sexes are given an unending set of stereotypes and gender associations to live up to, I have found her characters uncharacteristically refreshing.
Another woman has caught my attention today, her name is Jochebed. She was the mother to Moses, the man God appointed to lead Israel out of Egypt. The Bible does not present much in the way of her personal background except to say, “And a man of the house of Levi went and took as wife a daughter of Levi.” Note that this isn’t incestuous, “daughter of” and “son of” refers to lineage with respect to Levitical origin; Levi wasn’t their actual father.
As we examine the story about Moses’ mom, Jochebed (I found her name in Ex. 6:20), an industrious, intelligent woman is unveiled. More than those attributes, we see someone who is a model of excellent faith in God’s future grace.
Due to the inordinate growth of the tribe of Israel in Egypt (Ex. 1:7-8), Pharaoh has issued several decrees (1:9, 16, 22) to debilitate, if not decimate, the Hebrew population. At the point we pick up with the story of Moses and Jochebed, they have been publicly disenfranchised (1:10), forced into government work projects (1:14), and sex-based mandatory infanticide (1:16) to limit the population.
The one glimmer of hope in the first chapter of Exodus is the Hebrew midwives. Instead of killing children during birth, they “feared God, and did not do as the king of Egypt commanded them, but saved the male children alive.” (v. 17) Upon Pharaoh’s inquisition of them, they deceive him, saying, “…the Hebrew women are not like the Egyptian women; for they are lively and give birth before the midwives come to them.” (v. 19)
Pharaoh concocts a new plan: “Every son who is born you shall cast into the river, and every daughter you shall save alive.”
So the woman conceived and bore a son. And when she saw that he was a beautiful child, she hid him three months. But when she could no longer hide him, she took an ark of bulrushes for him, daubed it with asphalt and pitch, put the child in it, and laid it in the reeds by the river’s bank.
We read this in Hebrews 11:23, “By faith Moses, when he was born, was hidden for three months by his parents, because they saw he was a beautiful child; and they were not afraid of the king’s command.” “Beautiful” in both contexts, could also be translated “favored”, referring to a divine favor, since faith in God isn’t required to observe physical form.
Every line of this story speaks of a mother who keeps her head in a situation where she must exercise her faith in God, obedience to an oppressive King, and love for her son. When all three seem to only exist in mutual contradiction, she devises a plan that ingeniously satisfies her commitment to each. Her faith in God prevents her from killing her son; her sense of righteousness compels her to obey the governing authority; and her love for him generates her plan to save him. Instead of being afraid of obeying the King, who commanded, “Every son who is born you shall cast into the river,” she nurses him 3 months, and then places him in the river (although to preserve him!). And her love moves her hands as she fashions an miniature “ark” (NKJV) for him to float in the water as he waits.
As Moses lay in the water, we read that, “his sister stood afar off, to know what would be done to him.” (v. 4) His mother had such a faith that she didn’t need to wait to see what would happen. Only later do we read that, when Pharaoh’s daughter finds Moses, his (Moses’) sister suggests , “Shall I go and call a nurse for you from the Hebrew women, that she may nurse the child for you?” (v. 7) Subsequently, Pharaoh’s daughter hires Jochebed to raise him until he was “grown” (v. 10,11). God rewarded her profound faith with the blessing of raising her own son, with the blessing of the Pharaoh.
I wonder how she told him the story about his preservation…
Strength and honor are her clothing;
She shall rejoice in time to come.
She opens her mouth with wisdom,
And on her tongue is the law of kindness.
She watches over the ways of her household,
And does not eat the bread of idleness.
Her children rise up and call her blessed;
Her husband also, and he praises her:
“Many daughters have done well,
But you excel them all.”
Charm is deceitful and beauty is passing,
But a woman who fears the LORD,
She shall be praised.
Give her the fruit of her hands,
And let her own works praise her in the gates.