Summary: In Exodus 1-2, we see three great examples of what it means to be a mother. But only one is a biological mother. This Mother’s Day, whether you are mothering your own children, raising someone else’s children, or simply speaking up for the rights of children, we honor you today.
Good morning! Please open your Bibles to Exodus 2. Today, I’d like to preach a sermon specifically directed toward women who have a heart for children.
Notice I didn’t say “Mothers.” I hope today is a good day for Moms. That if your mother is still living, that you are finding ways to honor her today. If you are a new mom, or have a new mom in your life, you’ve been looking forward to this day. We’ve got a little of that gong on in our family. This is Trish’s first mother’s day as a grandmother.
And if your mom has gone on to be with the Lord, I hope today is a healing mix of sweet memories and appreciation for the lessons you learned from her. I know it’s been that way for me, as I am spending my first Mother’s Day without my own Mom. So there’s also some of that sadness for me.
Now, I’m also very conscious that there are some in our service today for whom Mother’s Day is uncomfortable at best and even painful at worst because they have tried, sometimes desperately, yet unsuccessfully, to have children. To them, Mother’s Day can be a reminder of unfulfilled dreams. And so I know there were some of you who struggled with whether or not to even come today, and others that may never even hear this message because they opted out of today’s service.
And so, to you, I would like to say welcome. I honor you for even showing up today. And I hope you are encouraged by one simple fact about this morning’s text: In Exodus 1-2, we see three great examples of what it means to be a mother. But strangely enough, only one is a biological mother. This Mother’s Day, whether you are mothering your own children, raising someone else’s children, or simply speaking up for the rights of children, we honor you today. This morning, we are going to look at three different models for mothering in Exodus 1-2, so I hope you will see yourself in at least one of them. Please let me pray for us, and then we will get into our study of God’s word.
Jochebed: Mothering by Biology
The first Mom we’re going to talk about is Moses’ mom. We are first introduced to her in Exodus 2.
To give you a little background if you aren’t all that familiar with the story of the Bible.
At the end of Genesis, a man named Jacob, whom God renamed “Israel” left the Promised Land with his eleven sons to go to live in the land of Egypt, where his twelfth son Joseph was the governor of the entire land. There was a worldwide famine in those days, and through Joseph, God made sure that his chosen people Israel wouldn’t starve to death. So Jacob and his sons and their families all packed up and moved to Egypt—seventy of them in all.
But then we get a time jump at the beginning of Exodus. Four hundred years have passed, and now the children of Israel have grown into a large nation—between 30,000 and 600.000, depending on how you read the Hebrew. And the new Pharaoh, the one who “knew not Joseph” was afraid that they would form an alliance with Egypt’s enemies and form an army against the Egyptians. So Pharaoh ordered all the Hebrew midwives to kill any male Hebrew the minute he was born. They defied Pharaoh, and we will talk more about them in a minute. But as a result, Pharaoh moved to his plan B, which was to authorize his own people to carry out genocide. Exodus 1:22 says that
22 Then Pharaoh commanded all his people, “Every son that is born to the Hebrews you shall cast into the Nile, but you shall let every daughter live.”
So that’s the background for our first mom. Let’s read together what Exodus 2 has to say about her:
2 Now a man from the house of Levi went and took as his wife a Levite woman. 2 The woman conceived and bore a son, and when she saw that he was a fine child, she hid him three months. 3 When she could hide him no longer, she took for him a basket made of bulrushes and daubed it with bitumen and pitch. She put the child in it and placed it among the reeds by the river bank. 4 And his sister stood at a distance to know what would be done to him.
Okay. From this passage, we don’t even know what her name is Honestly, if we stop here, we don’t even know what the baby’s name is. Most of you probably know that the baby they are talking about is the main character of the book of Exodus. His name is… [crowd respond]. Right! Moses.
What’s his mother’s name? Anyone know?
Well, this passage doesn’t say. Her name is given in two other places, Exodus 6:20 and Numbers 26:59. Exodus 6:20 only mentions her as the mother of Moses and Aaron, but the numbers passage adds Miriam’s name.
59 The name of Amram’s wife was Jochebed the daughter of Levi, who was born to Levi in Egypt. And she bore to Amram Aaron and Moses and Miriam their sister (Num. 26:59)
So we really don’t know much at all about her. She was most likely born in Goshen, Egypt. We know she and her husband both belong to the tribe of Levi. Her name means “The glory of Yahweh,” which is super interesting to me, since as far as we know, Moses was the first one to whom God revealed his personal name.
Before we make some applications from Jochebed’s life, let’s read the rest of this passage to see what happened next:
5 Now the daughter of Pharaoh came down to bathe at the river, while her young women walked beside the river. She saw the basket among the reeds and sent her servant woman, and she took it. 6 When she opened it, she saw the child, and behold, the baby was crying. She took pity on him and said, “This is one of the Hebrews' children.” 7 Then his sister said to Pharaoh's daughter, “Shall I go and call you a nurse from the Hebrew women to nurse the child for you?” 8 And Pharaoh's daughter said to her, “Go.” So the girl went and called the child's mother. 9 And Pharaoh's daughter said to her, “Take this child away and nurse him for me, and I will give you your wages.” So the woman took the child and nursed him.
Don’t you love God’s providence here? God made a way for Jochebed to nurse Moses until he was weaned, which in this culture could have been as late as four or five years old! How much of an impact did that make on Moses’ identity as he was raised in Pharaoh’s household? The fact that in the very next scene Moses identifies as a Hebrew against an Egyptian tells you that Jochebed’s influence was considerable!
But here is something else I want you to think about this morning:
I had never thought about the fact that Jochebed wasn’t just Moses’ mother, she was also Miriam’s mother and Aaron’s mother. Miriam was most likely the oldest. She was the sister that stood watching from a distance to see what would happen to her baby brother. And we can guess that Aaron had been born before the edict came down to kill all the Hebrew boys, so he may have already joined the slave labor force by this point.
So let’s reflect on what Jochebed accomplished as a mom. She raised a daughter to take both the responsibility to watch Moses from a distance, and the initiative to approach Pharaoh’s daughter with a ready-made solution that would allow Jochebed to stay involved in Moses’ life. Later in Exodus 15, Miriam is called a prophetess, only the third person in Scripture (after Abraham and Aaron) to have this role. She was also the first worship leader in Scripture, leading the women of Israel in song after they cross the Red Sea. Jochebed raised a strong, assertive, spiritually attuned daughter!
What about her middle child, Aaron? We’ve already said Aaron was called a prophet (Exodus 7:1). But Aaron also became God’s mouthpiece to Pharaoh after Moses begged God to send someone else to Pharaoh (Exodus 4:14). And later, he would be ordained as the first high priest for the Jewish people, and every high priest thereafter would come from the line of Aaron.
And of course, there’s Moses himself, the future Giver of the Law. On any list of the most influential people in history, Moses is going to be near the top. Most of us parents are trying to figure out how to get our kids to read the Bible. Jochebed’s kid sat around writing the Bible!
What does it take for a mother to raise not one, not two, but three amazing children, each with their own gifts, their own personalities, and their own callings from God?
I would suggest to you this morning that every single child has gifts for leadership, music, speaking, writing, and spiritual discernment. But not every child has a mom who allows each of her children to grow and mature and thrive on their own terms. Jochebed seems to have been a mother like that.
Jochebed spared Moses from death as an infant. Instead of allowing him to be murdered under a royal edict, she coated the bottom of a woven basket with tar to waterproof it. Then she sat the baby in it and set it among the reeds on the Nile’s riverbank despite crocodiles, changing currents, and the risk of the basket capsizing.
And it “just so happened” that Pharaoh’s daughter was bathing in the river at the exact time the basket came to rest in the reeds. But do you really think that was a coincidence?
It’s possible that Jochebed simply walked down to a random spot at the river’s edge, at a random time, and deposited her child among the reeds.But I can’t imagine a mother who would go to all the trouble of making this basket and then leave everything else to chance. I think Jochebed probably scouted out a safe area first. She probably knew where Pharaoh’s daughter liked to bathe, and came up with a plan based around that schedule. It wouldn’t have been difficult to place him just a little upstream of that spot where the basket would be seen or his crying would draw attention.
So Jochebed was creative. She was courageous! She let each of her children grow into their own giftedness.
And then, she did the bravest, hardest thing of all. She let them go. She entrusted all of them to God’s care. This is most obvious with Moses, because she literally let him go to float down the Nile. But I think this was true for all three of them. And this can be the toughest thing to do as a parent.
So moms, where does Jochebed’s story challenge you the most? Is it her courage? Her faith? Her parenting style? Or is it her willingness to put her child into God’s hands, even when it’s dangerous or uncertain?
The world needs more Aarons. More Miriams. More Moseses. Which means, the world needs more Jochebeds who will let them go.
But one last thing about Jochebed. She was not the only influence on baby Moses. Let’s look at the woman who took him in, and adopted him as her own. Pharaoh’s daughter represents our second mode of mothering: The Adopting mom.
Pharaoh’s Daughter: Mothering by Adoption
Scripture doesn’t give a name to Moses’ adoptive mom, only that she was Pharaoh’s daughter. She may have been the Egyptian princess Hatshepsut, whom history describes as a woman with a strong personality and a bit of a rebellious spirit. Perhaps this was what it took for her to defy her father’s decree to kill all the male Hebrew babies. No matter what her name was, after Jochebed finished weaning her son, she turned the boy over to Pharaoh’s daughter, who raised him as her own and named him Moses because, as she said, “I drew him out of the water.”
And here we have history’s first recorded international adoption! And while Pharaoh’s daughter disappears from the story after this, consider how this act of selflessness has changed the world!
Sometimes a mother, married or not, in dire circumstances might have to consider placing their child for adoption or foster care. Like Jochebed, they should pray and trust God to find a loving home for their child. The heartbreak of giving up their baby can be offset by moms and dads who have the means and character to provide a good home for their baby. This is apparently what Jochebed found in Pharaoh’s daughter. She had years to watch her while she nursed Moses. I imagine she would have had lots of opportunities to change her mind, but she never did.
I praise God for moms and dads who are willing to adopt or foster children!
Several months ago, when one couple in our church was beginning the process of getting approved to be foster parents, they shared some statistics with me that have haunted me ever since:
- Did you know that every two minutes, another child enters the foster care system in the United States?
- On the average, nine children will enter foster care every single day in Alabama alone. In 2017, there were 365 kids in foster care in Montgomery, Autauga, Elmore, and Chilton counties. Yet there were only 63 licensed foster homes.
- Now, think about this: there are over 300 evangelical churches in those four counties. If just one family in every church committed to be a foster parent, then nearly every kid in the system could have a loving, Christian home
So where does the story of Pharaoh’s daughter challenge you? Do you have the means to adopt or foster? We know there’s the opportunity and the need. I want you to think about this, especially as we look at the last mode of mothering. And that is mothering by advocacy. Our example for this mode of mothering is Shiphrah and Puah.
Raise your hands if you even have a clue as to who Shiphrah and Puah were? Some of you are like, “Yeah—I know where you’re going with that. Shiphrah and Puah were the meerkat and the warthog that adopted Simba in The Lion King, and that’s like adoption, right?
No. That was Timon and Pumba, not Shiphrah and Puah. To figure out who Shiphrah and Puah were, let’s turn back to Exodus 1:
Shiphrah and Puah: Mothering by Advocacy
15 Then the king of Egypt said to the Hebrew midwives, one of whom was named Shiphrah and the other Puah, 16 “When you serve as midwife to the Hebrew women and see them on the birthstool, if it is a son, you shall kill him, but if it is a daughter, she shall live.” 17 But the midwives feared God and did not do as the king of Egypt commanded them, but let the male children live. 18 So the king of Egypt called the midwives and said to them, “Why have you done this, and let the male children live?” 19 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 comes to them.” 20 So God dealt well with the midwives. And the people multiplied and grew very strong.
Shiphrah and Puah were two Hebrew nurses who helped the Israelite women give birth. They were most likely Hebrew women. However, in some manuscripts, the phrase the ESV translated as Hebrew midwives is translated as “midwives to the Hebrew women.” So there is at least a chance that they were Egyptian.
Shiphrah is a Hebrew word, meaning beautiful. But Puah is a Canaanite word that just means “young girl.”
So they may not have been Hebrew themselves. Regardless, these two women trusted God, at great personal peril, they chose not to obey the king’s command. They let all the Hebrew baby boys live. And God blessed them for it.
Does that mean God approves of disobedience and lying to government authorities? No! Obedience to governmental authorities is the norm for Christians. Our government, no matter what we think of individual issues, has received designated authority from God and we are commanded to obey.
However, when the government defies God’s law—sanctioning the murder of babies, we are always called to obey God rather than man, no matter where our political affiliations lean.
Shiphrah and Puah feared God and saved Moses’ life, and the lives of many others as well. They advocated for both the unborn and the newborn, even at great personal cost and risk to themselves.
Now, what does that say to us today?
This has been an interesting week. As you probably saw or heard in the news, this past Wednesday a draft was leaked of a Supreme Court ruling that will in all likelihood overturn Roe V. Wade, the 1973 ruling that made abortion on demand legal in all fifty states. Which means that what millions of Christians have been praying for for fifty years now will come to pass. Abortion on demand will become illegal in Alabama, as well as in every state in an over 300 mile radius of us.
This is an answered prayer for so many who believe abortion is murder.
But the question that will face the Christian church in the coming years is, “Ok, now what?” We are a little like the dog that finally catches the car. What will we do next?
I can tell you what the world will be watching for. I have a friend from high school named Endsley who is part of the LGBT community. She and her wife live in the Atlanta area. She is intelligent, thoughtful, and she responds to people who disagree with her with kindness and level headedness.
She posted this on Facebook the day after the Supreme Court document was leaked. I won’t read the entire posting, but here’s the gist of what the post said:
The unborn are a convenient group to advocate for. They never make demands of you. Unlike the incarcerated, addicted, or the chronically poor, they haven’t made any poor choices that you object to. Unlike orphans, they don’t need money, education, or childcare. Unlike immigrants, they don’t bring any religious or cultural baggage you dislike.
The unborn allow you to feel good about yourself without any obligation. All you have to do is talk about what you are against.
Best of all, once they are born, you can forget about them, because you’re an advocate for the UNborn. Advocating for the unborn doesn’t challenge your wealth, power, privilege, or security.
Prisoners? Immigrants? The sick? The Poor? Widows? Orphans? Those are all groups that are specifically mentioned in the Bible. But being an advocate for the unborn? That’s just so. Much. Easier.
Here’s the thing. My friend Endsley didn’t write this post. It was actually written by a Methodist pastor in Birmingham Alabama. No, Endsley is just one of over 13,000 people that have shared the post on social media. She is angry at the organized church. She believes that now that abortion is overturned, the church will turn all of its focus on overturning same sex marriage.
And maybe she’s right. I’ve already seen posts from Christians saying things like “We’re coming for you, next, LGBT!”
So here are some things we need to be prepared for as the church in a post Roe v Wade world. I believe that the next few years will see unprecedented hostility toward the Christian church.
But we will also see unprecedented opportunity to opt for something more than just easy advocacy.
How will our church respond when more babies are born in poverty? When more babies are born and put up for adoption? When more children are placed in the foster system?
Shiphrah and Puah did more than just easy activism. They stood up stood up for infants that could not speak for themselves, even when doing so could cost them their lives.
What about you? What challenges you about the story of these two advocates for children, even when they weren’t their own children?
There is something from today’s message for all of us. Maybe you don’t have children yet, or your children have grown, you can still commit to praying for and releasing your children. Maybe you aren’t married, or you are unable to have children. You can begin the process of adoption or fostering. You can walk alongside a new mom. You can commit financial resources to crisis pregnancy centers. You can be an advocate not just for the unborn also for the unexpected, the unwanted, the unloved. And you can pray for the witness and the reputation of the church in our world.
Happy Mother’s Day. Let’s pray.