Exodus 1 tells us that a new king had arisen in Egypt. Unlike the kings before him he was hostile towards Israel. To contain their growth as nation he made the Israelites perform hard labour. As this had no effect, he instructed the Hebrew midwives to kill all new born baby boys. The midwives, however, outwitted him and so his final desperate instruction was that every son born to the Hebrews had to be cast into the Nile, to drown. It was not a good time for this Levitical couple to get married, for the wife to become pregnant and give birth to a boy, as we read in the next chapter of Exodus. Such, however, was the world that Moses was born into.
Mum takes on Pharaoh
Our focus in this reflection is on Moses’ mother. It’s interesting that the events following Moses’ birth seem all to be initiated and carried out by her. She hid the baby and when she could no longer hide him, she made the basket, placed the boy in it and then left the basket at the river’s edge, she interacted with Pharaoh’s daughter and negotiated the raising of the child and then delivered him to Pharaoh’s daughter when he was old enough.
So, where was Dad? No doubt, working brutally hard in the brickworks or maybe in one of Pharaoh’s fields. Out all day, doing long hours, at the cruel behest of Pharaoh’s overseers. The author of Hebrews, credits Moses’ parents (plural) with the faithful actions that are described in Exodus 2 (Hebrews 11: 23), and we recognise that much would have happened behind the scenes between mother and father as they contemplated how to go forward in this life-threatening situation. But it was Mum who was called to lead, as Mums so often are.
I can’t help wondering about the explanation for the defiance of the king’s order. In Exodus you read: “when she saw that he was a fine child, she hid him …” (Exodus 2: 2) and the inspired author of the letter to the Hebrews says: … Moses … was hidden for three months … because they saw that the child was beautiful …” (Hebrews 11: 23). So, what if Moses had been less beautiful, or disfigured? Would they then have complied with the king’s edict? I suspect that here, we are dealing with a phenomenon that is repeated over and over at the birth of a child. Every parent, every mother at least, considers their new born baby to be the most beautiful baby ever born. It’s that maternity feeling, embedded in the nature of mothers, that we see at play here, and it is that maternity instinct that we now see rising up, in defiance of Pharaoh’s order.
Mum hides the baby
First the baby is kept hidden for three months. Now, hiding a bay is a tough gig. The neighbours would have seen that Moses’ mother was pregnant and would have observed the difference in her bodily form and shape after the birth of the baby. Loose clothing can go some way to hide such things, but there’s always sharp-eyed people in the community, who aren’t fooled. But Moses’ mother belonged to a supportive people as can be evidenced from the activity of the midwives in earlier stories. God’s people band together in holy causes like the protection and nurture of newborns.
A bigger challenge was to keep the baby quiet to ensure that its cries would not be heard by Egyptian patrols or other Egyptian individuals who may have entered the land of Goshen where the Israelites most likely still lived together as a nation (Genesis 47: 27). So, the baby was confined indoors, somewhere deep inside the house, constantly watched over to avoid him crying.
Mum prepares a basket
At three months, however, hiding the baby was just no longer possible. The tough gig just became an impossible gig. So, Moses’ mother resolved to take a basket, waterproof it, place the baby in the basket, put the lid on it and then park the basket on the edge of the river, amongst the reeds. A desperate move, surely. At three months, babies are capable of squirming and wriggling. It would not have taken much for the basket to tip and the baby to drown. The Nile river was known for the Nile crocodile; what if a crocodile would come sniffing at the basket and find the contents to its liking? What if someone would come by, who would deliver the child into the hands of Pharaoh and the child would, as yet, be thrown into the river. Lots of what ifs.
Mum does what she can
Moses’ parents first hid the child in their home and when that was no longer an option they placed him at the river’s edge in a basket. They act in whatever way they can to protect their baby. They go to great lengths to do those things that are in their power. Note the daubing of the basket to make it waterproof. Note the strategic placement of the basket, in a location where Pharaoh’s daughter was known to bathe. We all know how girls and women go mushy at the sight of a baby, especially a crying one. Moses’ sister was placed on watch to possibly influence the course of events and, at least, to be able to report back to Mum. Whatever could be done by them, Moses’ parents did.
Mum leaves the what ifs to God
So, what about the what ifs? Moses’ parents first of all do what they need to and can do, and then, they trust in God to take care of the what ifs. Sure, they are anxious and they have fear, but they trust in God and act calmly, knowing that he will take care of whatever they can’t. The record doesn’t say anything about it, but it’s reasonable to conclude that the actions taken were accompanied by much prayer. Prayer for wisdom in deciding what to do, prayer for the strength and the ability to do what had to be done, prayer for a favourable outcome, prayer to accept the way of the LORD, in the event that the outcome was not favourable. That’s what believers do, when challenged by situations over which they don’t have control.
God does not disappoint
The narrative goes on to show us the working of God’s amazing providence. God has a story and Moses’ story was a sub plot in God’s larger narrative. The faithful action of Moses’ mother, enabled God’s plan and story to be fulfilled. Did Moses’ mother know that at the time? Most certainly she didn’t. She had no guarantee of a favourable outcome. She acted as a faithful mother would, out of concern for her child and in faithfulness to her God. But God worked with this, to enable his plan, his story to proceed.
Responding to corona
There’s something in all of this for us to consider, especially as we are, all of a sudden confronted with a serious health threat in the corona virus epidemic that is sweeping the world. Like Moses’ mother we are probably experiencing some anxiety about how this is all going to affect us. Will we contract the virus? Will others around us contract it? How will it impact our economy and our work situations? How will it affect our travel plans? What should we do?
There are, of course, things we can do. We can follow the excellent health advice that helps to limit the spread of the virus. We can avoid travel or self-isolate if we have been travelling. We can undertake testing if we have any suspicion that we might be affected. We can access treatment if we fall victim to it. We not only can do all of this, we should. These things lie in our power and it is part of our responsibility in caring for ourselves and for others.
Doing what we can doesn’t eliminate the hundreds of what ifs that revolve around this situation. As believers we are called to be calm and at peace; we do what we can and we leave the what ifs with God. The outworking of his providence may not be as favourable as how things happened with Moses, but we can be sure that it will contribute to and feature as part of his story, as he rules and guides this world towards the day of Christ’s return.