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Dear Friends in Christ, grace and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.
Since Martin Luther first posted his 95 Theses 500 years ago, five Latin phrases known as the Solaes or Slogans of the Reformation have emerged as the principles of Christian faith. Sola Fide by “faith alone”: Sola Scriptura “by Scripture alone”: Sola Gratia “by grace alone”: Solus Christus “by Christ alone”: and the sola most popular among musicians, Soli Deo Gloria “to the glory of God alone.” For Luther, faith alone was always the most important. It was the solid, unshakable confidence in God’s promise which allowed the believer to act by faith. This morning we continue our sermon series on the Old Testament characters mentioned in the Book of Hebrews. Today we turn to Jochebed the mother of Miriam, Aaron and Moses.
From Hebrews 11:23
By faith Moses was hidden by his parents for three months after his birth, because they saw that the child was beautiful; and they were not afraid of the king’s edict.
It is often said that behind every great man is his mother. Yes, mothers can inspire and encourage us to greatness, and at other times children achieve greatness to spite their mothers. In the March 1988 Reader’s Digest, the following imaginary comments were written of mothers to their well-known sons. Mrs. Morse to Samuel Morse, the creator of the Morse Code. “Oh, Sam, stop tapping your fingers on the table–it’s driving me crazy!” Mrs. Lindbergh, to Charles Lindbergh, the first man to fly solo over the Atlantic Ocean. “Oh, Charles, can’t you do anything by yourself?” Mrs. Washington describing her son, the first president of the United States, “George never did have a head for money.” Or Mrs. Armstrong, about the Apollo 11 astronaut aboard the lunar landing. “Neil has no more business taking flying lessons than the man on the moon.”
Of course, fathers play an important role as well. But this morning I would like to focus on the most influential mother in the whole Old Testament. She is praised for her actions in the Book of Hebrews, though she is never mentioned by name. She was the mother of Moses, one of the greatest national leaders the world has ever known. She was the mother of Aaron, Israel’s first high priest and the founder of the Aaronic priesthood. And she was the mother of Miriam, the gifted poetess and musician, who sang of God’s victory over the Egyptians. If you are looking for her name, it is hard to find. You must sort through the genealogy tables in Exodus 6. There you find Jochebed.
According to rabbinical writings, Jochebed was born on the border of Egypt just as the sons of Israel entered into the land at the invitation of the Pharaoh. Interestingly, the Torah asserts that Israel’s household numbered seventy, the ancient Rabbis, however noted that only sixty-nine individuals are listed in the book of Genesis. One of the explanations of this discrepancy is that Jochebed was still in her mother’s womb She was a daughter of Levi, Israel’s son. In time she who marry another member of Levi’s clan- Amran. Jochebed had once enjoyed life with her family in the land of Goshen. But as the years from the time of Joseph, grew in number, the relationship between the sons of Israel and the Egyptians grew tense. The Pharaoh began to see the Israelites as a threat to their national security. So gradually, they were ostracized, persecuted and eventually enslaved. “The Egyptians worked the people of Israel without mercy. They made their lives bitter, forcing them to mix mortar and make bricks and do all the work in the fields. ”
The Hebrews had multiplied so greatly that a new Pharaoh ordered that the Hebrew midwives kill the infant boys. The ancient Rabbis identify Jochebed with one of the two Hebrew midwives Shiphrah and Puah mentioned in the Book of Exodus. According to one midrashic view, Shiphrah and Puah were mother and daughter— Jochebed and Miriam, while another states that they were daughter-in-law and mother-in-law—Jochebed and Elisheba daughter of Amminadab. Regardless, they refused to administer the Pharaoh’s command because they feared God. In return, they were rewarded them for their actions. For Jochebed, it was the gift of a child.
Then the Pharaoh issued a new degree. He commanded that all newly-born Hebrew boys be thrown into the Nile. It was a grizzly fate casting babies into crocodile infested waters of the Nile. Jochebed, herself, was now heavy with child. Already there was Miriam, about ten years of age at the time, and there was Aaron, possibly about three, in the home. Knowing of Pharaoh’s command, Jochebed must have been anxious as she awaited her third child. Would it be a boy that would be wrenched from her and thrown into the Nile? Or would it be a girl?
When Moses was born, Jochebed saw “how good he was.” Good in Hebrew is the word Tov. The ancient Rabbis often asked what Jochebed saw that was special or good in her son. One rabbi stated she realized that he was suited to be a prophet; according to another, she saw that he was born circumcised; and according to a third exegetical suggestion, she saw that the entire house was filled with light. In all three explanations, Jochebed immediately understood that her son was meant for greatness and that he possessed unique spiritual qualities. According to another interpretation, Jochebed and Amran named their son “Tov” or “Tobiah,” which was what his parents called him until Pharaoh’s daughter renamed him “Moses.”
How Jochebed managed to hide her baby, who doubtless cried as lustily as other babies, is a mystery. After three months, she was unable to conceal him any longer. There was great peril with the Pharaoh’s edict. Disobedience could easily cost one’s life or the life of one of Jochebed’s other children. The ancient midrash describes in detail how she prepared the ark for Moses. It is a beautiful choice of words. She creates an ark, a treasure chest for protection, in the same way that Noah, built a treasure chest or ark for his family and the animals. Jochebed chose bulrushes, a soft and flexible material that was capable of withstanding contact with both soft and hard objects. She lined the inside with bitumen, and coated it on the outside with pitch, then “she placed it among the reeds” teaches that Jochebed put the ark in a protected place, where bushes and reeds grew. This portrayal emphasizes the painstaking attention that Jochebed paid to saving her son’s life placing, by letting go and him firmly into God’s hands.
At her usual time the Pharaoh’s daughter came to the Nile to wash herself, and her maidens walking by the river side discovered the cradle among the rushes. When the royal lady saw the beautiful baby and heard his cry she had compassion on him. A Hebrew woman must be found to nurse the child. Jochebed was fearfully watching the fate of that precious child she had borne and the rough cradle she had fashioned. Young Miriam was also near at hand, and quite naively said to Pharaoh’s daughter, “Shall I go and call to a nurse of the Hebrew women, that she may nurse the child for you?”
Pharaoh’s daughter said, “Go!” and Miriam was not long in calling her mother and presenting her as a nurse. Pharaoh’s daughter asked her to nurse the child for her at a given wage. Thus Jochebed’s baby was not only saved, but Jochebed was paid to care for him until he was weaned. Pharaoh’s daughter must have loved the child for she brought him up as her son. And for all his days, he bore the name she gave him, “Moses” which means, one who is drawn from the waters. But interestingly, Moses never referred to himself as the son of the Pharaoh’s daughter.
How long Jochebed lived after her delivered child no longer required her nursing, we are not told. Doubtless she passed on by the time Moses fled into the wilderness when he was forty years of age. Although she did not live to see how famous her children became, she had lived her life by faith- hoping to light their flames of faith within them.
Now what does this story teach us about living by faith? What does it say about the loving actions of parents who cannot see the end of their journey with their own sons and daughters? Of course, we all see goodness and beauty in the face of our children. The question is always whether we can hold on to the wonder and beauty in their not so lovely moments. Certainly, we are reminded that you and I lay the foundation of faith early in life. Jochebed and Amran provided the foundation for Moses. They were the primary characters used by God during his formative years. They had no idea that God was using them to prepare Moses for the grand calling of God to lead his people out of Egyptian bondage. Jochebed and Amran’s love, faith and courage in saving their child from a cruel watery death and living a godly life had a profound influence on Moses. “By faith Moses, when he became of age, refused to be called the son of Pharaoh’s daughter, choosing rather to suffer affliction with the people of God.” Like every parent, Jochebed let go and let God. Just as God provided for Moses, as Jochebed placed her trust in God’ loving hands, so he will provide for you and your children. We simply never know when our impact on the life of child will be made clear.
My friends, live by faith. There will be difficult time in the life of your family. There may be strained relationships between the generations, but never doubt the impact that you have on the lives of your children and grandchildren whatever their age. Then let go and allow God to work in your life and in the lives of your children through you. Living by faith may have its costs. But you do it because you trust in the greatness of God and his ultimate promises for you. Amen.
May the peace of God which passes all understanding keep your hearts and mind in Christ Jesus.