This is the last in a five-part series about Mothers in the Word: Eve, Mary, Ichabod’s mother, and Lois.
Y is for Yocheved
Yocheved or Jochebed’s story is full of lots of dramatic irony and it’s too bad she isn’t as well-known as some other mothers in the Bible. If her name still doesn’t ring a bell, she’s much better known by her kids: just a few little wilderness wanderers called Miriam, Aaron, and Moses.
Yocheved is married to Amram, and they have two children, Miriam and Aaron. Yocheved was actually Amram’s aunt, the (hopefully very much younger) sister to Amram’s father. It was a different time, and it was often done to keep tribes together; Amram and Yocheved were both of the tribe of Levi, the third son of Jacob.
What can you say, the 1500s B.C. were a weird time.
In the 1525 B.C., Thutmose I ruled over Egypt. He had a few problems, his weird name being one of them. His second problem being that his pesky Hebrew slaves kept having babies. Quick history lesson: the reason the Hebrews were enslaved was because previous rulers of Egypt thought they were overpopulating and wanted to overwork them so … they wouldn’t be too tired to have sex or something. I don’t know. It was unsuccessful.
Thutmose’s first idea for infanticide was to have the Hebrew midwives kill the baby boys, Planned Parenthood having not been invented yet. That’s how backward he was. Obviously if he were of our enlightened times, he would know that it’s the baby girls and the handicapped children you want to kill, not the boys.
This idea failed, and he had the next bright idea. Why not have his own people toss the Hebrew baby boys in the river to drown? Feed the crocs and “decrease the surplus population”* at the same time.
Would you imagine, after this decree goes out, Yocheved gets pregnant again. (Will nothing keep these Hebrews away from each other at night!?) It would be all well and good if Yocheved has a baby girl, but nooooo. God gives her a little boy, because God is in the business of doing things that make us trust Him.
“And when she saw that he was a a beautiful child, she hid him three months.” — Exodus 2:2
Every mother thinks their child is beautiful, but she knows, somehow, that there is something special about Moses. The word used in the corresponding passage in Hebrews 11:23 means “favored.” How much God has revealed to her of His plan for Moses, we don’t know, but Yocheved knows she cannot allow the Egyptians to find this child.
The passage in Exodus 2 is focused on the women of this story (Yocheved, Miriam, and the Egyptian princess), but Hebrews includes Amram in this decision. The passage in Hebrews allows us to break their reasons down into a neat little three-point sermon.
By faith Moses, when he was born,
was hidden three months by his parents,
because they saw he was a beautiful child;
and they were not afraid of the king’s command.
— Hebrews 11:23
They have faith
They realize that Moses is favored by God
They didn’t fear the King’s command.
(And like every good Baptist sermon, the points are alliterative. Boo-yah.)
Finally, Yocheved can no longer hide him. Hiding him took faith that he would not be discovered. Giving him up would take even more faith. She makes a little ark of bullrushes, seals it and places it in the reeds. If you watch Prince of Egypt the ark goes on a ride similar to Splash Mountain. In the real account it implies that Yocheved, perhaps directed by God, intentionally places it in the river close to a bathing spot of a princess of Egypt.
In the reeds with her eye on her baby brother hides Miriam. The princess comes out to bathe and notices the little ark. Inside she finds a baby and immediately knows that this child was supposed to have been thrown in the river. I find it hard to believe that Yocheved didn’t know that God had a special plan for Moses. Who else but a princess of Pharaoh’s household would have the authority to ignore the decree?
Miriam steps from her hiding place and offers to find a wet nurse for the princess of the Hebrew women. The princess agrees. Guess who Miriam brings back? Yocheved. Not only does Yocheved get to nurse her own baby with the princess’s protection, but she also gets paid to raise her son. (God’s sense of humor – 1; Thutmose I – 0)
Depending on when Yocheved weaned him, Moses could have been anywhere from two to five years of age before he left his home, parents, and siblings for the palace. Yocheved has the most impressionable years of Moses’s life to nurse him physically and feed him spiritually with the knowledge of God.
It’s silly to speculate what she taught him, but when Moses is sent back to live at the palace with the princess who adopted him, he seems to know that he will one day have to choose to suffer for the glory of God rather than live for the glories of Egypt (Heb. 11:25-26) and the world.
It is doubtful that Yocheved lived to see the deliverance of her people from Egypt as she would have been over 100. What she didn’t see with the eyes of her body, she had seen with the eyes of faith. A faith which influenced Moses all the days of his life.
Even if you aren’t ever paid to raise your children, may they see your faith in the Lord every day they are with you until we are delivered from the bonds of this sin-filled world into the glorious light of our Savior.
Let Your work appear to Your servants,
And Your glory to their children.
And let the beauty of the Lord our God be upon us,
And establish the work of our hands for us;
Yes, establish the work of our hands.
— Psalm 90:16-17
Scripture taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
*quotation taken from “A Christmas Carol” by Charles Dickens