As God began working out His plan for His oppressed people, He used the faith of a humble Hebrew couple, the wise strategy of a loving mother, and His own providential work in the heart of an Egyptian princess to preserve the life of the one who would lead Israel to freedom.
The dark clouds of suffering and persecution for the people of Israel are beginning to gather. Pharaoh has just commanded that Hebrew baby boys are to be thrown into the river, essentially sacrificed to the Nile River god and his servants, the crocodiles.
Exodus chapter 2 begins, “Now a man from the house of Levi went and took as his wife a Levite woman. The woman conceived and bore a son” (verses 1-2). We will later learn that the names of these parents are Amram and Jochebed. We will also learn later that this couple already have a daughter named Miriam and a three-year-old son, named Aaron.
Now verse 2 tells us that when Moses was born, his mother saw that he was a “fine child,” or as many versions translate it, a “beautiful child.” That’s an interesting expression.
I’ve seen a lot of newborn babies over the years of my ministry, and frankly I wouldn’t call them beautiful—not even my own children. And that could get me into a lot of trouble with some new mother in church bringing her baby up to me and waiting for me to comment. What do I say? Well, years ago I adopted the practice of J. Vernon McGee, who would look at the baby and then say, “Well now, that’s a baby.” I’ve been saying that now for many years, and it’s kept me out of trouble.
Now was it the baby Moses’ physical beauty that so impressed his mother? No. In fact, Stephen’s sermon in Acts chapter 7 adds the phrase that Moses was beautiful “in God’s sight” (Verse 20).
In other words, God provided some information about this little boy’s future role in Israel. This is why in Hebrews 11:23, we’re told that Moses’ parents hid him in faith, believing what God evidently had told them about the future role of Moses.
Exodus 2:2 reports that Jochebed hid Moses for three months. Now how do you hide a baby boy for three months—or three hours for that matter? It’s possible that she passed him off as a baby girl, but we’re not told that. We are told in verse 3 that after three months, “she could hide him no longer.”
Amram may have been off building one of the storage cities for Pharaoh and unavailable to help her; so, Jochebed comes up with a plan of her own, no doubt impressed on her by the Spirit of God. We read in verse 3, “She took for him a basket made of bulrushes [papyrus reeds] and daubed it with bitumen and pitch.” Bitumen was a natural petroleum, and pitch was tar. They were used to not only make things waterproof, but also to repel the crocodiles. She’s not just throwing a little basket together.
Verse 3 continues, “She put the child in it and placed it among the reeds by the river bank.” The Hebrew could read, “She stationed it among the reeds.” Miriam, the child’s sister, also is stationed nearby, watching.
None of this was random; Jochebed knew this was where Pharaoh’s daughter came to bathe. There was a royal bathhouse built down by the river.
It’s very possible, given what happens next, that this particular daughter of Pharaoh is unable to have children. And everybody in that region knew exactly where she went to bathe and the rituals she went through in hopes of having a child of her own. The Egyptians believed the Nile River was the source of fertility.
And isn’t it interesting that one of the few people in Egypt who could override the command of Pharaoh and spare Moses’ life is the daughter of Pharaoh? And don’t think for a moment that Jochebed doesn’t know that.
Now verses 5-6 tell us what happened next:
She saw the basket among the reeds and sent her [maid], and she took it. 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.”
I don’t think Moses is crying at the top of his lungs here—she might have put the lid back on the basket if that were the case. I think this was one of those pitiful cries—whimpering and sniffling—that moves you to sympathy. My two daughters had this technique mastered. It didn’t seem to affect their mother, but it sure got to me. When that basket was opened, at that moment, God brought together a baby’s cry and a woman’s heart.
Ancient Jewish sources add that Pharaoh’s daughter stood there with her maidens wondering how she would be able to feed this baby if she kept him. That’s probably true. And right about then—no doubt according to the plan—little Miriam, who’s been watching all this, runs up and says to Pharaoh’s daughter in verse 7, “Shall I go and call you a nurse from the Hebrew women to nurse the child for you?”
I don’t think Pharaoh’s daughter is surprised at all by Miriam; this Egyptian princess is no dummy. She probably knows immediately what’s going on here. But again, God is the one turning this woman’s heart so that instead of feeling manipulated, she’s moved with compassion for this baby boy.
And Pharaoh’s daughter said to her “Go.” So the girl went and called the child’s mother. And Pharaoh’s daughter said to her, “Take this child away and nurse him for me, and I will give you your wages.” (verses 8-9)
So, Jochebed gets her baby boy back, and she is actually paid to nurse him. How great is that!
Moses will eventually grow up in the palace of Pharaoh, educated and “instructed in all the wisdom of the Egyptians” (Acts 7:22) and prepared to one day lead the enslaved Israelites out of Egypt.
By the way, do we know what happened to this daughter of Pharaoh? God evidently wasn’t finished with her. In fact, many Bible scholars, following rabbinic tradition, believe her common name was later changed to Bithiah, which means “daughter of Jehovah.”
If you take the time to read through all those names in 1 Chronicles, you’ll find this particular gem in chapter 4, verse 17:
These are the sons of Bithiah, the daughter of Pharaoh, whom Mered married; and she conceived and bore Miriam, Shammai, and Ishbah.
I believe this is the same daughter of Pharaoh who ended up not only raising a Hebrew boy but marrying a Hebrew man from the tribe of Judah. And we’re also told here that they had several sons as well as a daughter. And what did the daughter of Pharaoh name her daughter? She named her Miriam, no doubt in honor of that little girl who was the first person to introduce her to the people of God.
The Bible doesn’t give us the details about her conversion to the God of Abraham. Perhaps it was the testimony of Jochebed, or perhaps it was long conversations with her adopted son Moses; but eventually she no longer wanted to be known as the daughter of Pharaoh but the daughter of the true and living God.
You never know, beloved, how God will use your testimony in the life of someone who seems absolutely unreachable. Just keep living for Him and telling others about Him. And leave the rest to Him.