Thursday, August 4, 2011

Was Moses' Mother a Hero?

Most people know the story of Baby Moses' excursion on the Nile. We've heard of a loving mother who carefully bundled her boy in a basket to protect him as she laid him in the river. As his older sister watches, Moses is pulled out of the water by Pharaoh's daughter, and we can exhale because the baby has been saved. Then in a twist of happy irony, Moses' mother is chosen to be his wet nurse until he grows older. I've always had warm memories of Moses' mother because that's the way she was portrayed by storytellers.

Did Moses' mother really do anything heroic? Moses' mother obeyed Egyptian law and abandoned him in the river. Consider Exodus 1:22, "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.”" This is precisely what Moses' mother did in Exodus 2:3, "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." While Moses lay in the water, "... his sister stood at a distance to know what would be done to him" (Exodus 2:4). Unlike his sister, the text does not say that his mother stayed to watch; I imagine that she could not watch. Acts 7:21 describes this scene as exposure.

Could she have done anything differently? What were her options?
  1. Defy Pharaoh directly.
  2. Try to hide Moses longer.
  3. Obey the command and cast Moses into the Nile. 
The first option would have been the most courageous, but it would have meant certain death for the whole family. The second choice sounds sensible, but the inspired writer in Exodus 2:3 says she could not hide him any longer. Sadly, there was no other choice. Moses' mother had to obey the law.

Despite ultimately obeying Pharaoh's evil command, Moses' mother disobeyed the edict as long as possible. She did not cast her son into the Nile immediately after he was born. And when she had no other option, she did place him in the Nile, but not as Pharaoh intended. She held onto hope for his deliverance as long as she could. The author of Hebrews identifies her actions as an act of faith. She had no more human hope. Her only hope of salvation could be in God alone. Her actions prove she held onto this hope in faith. It's no wonder that the author of Exodus identifies the basket Moses laid in as an "ark" (tebah in Hebrew). in God's providence he arranged to save Moses in a similar fashion to Noah, and he would use this man Moses to save his people from the oppression that tried to take his life. Hebrews 11:23 says that Moses' mother hid him by faith. And she didn't throw him into the Nile, she spared him as long as she possibly could. There was no more human hope, but she was acting out of hope and faith, that which could only come from the Spirit.

Moses' parents saw Moses the same way God saw him. Exodus 2:2 says that Moses' mother saw that he was a fine child. Hebrews 11:23 mentions that his parents saw that the child was beautiful. While every parent believes their child to be the most beautiful creature in the world, these parents saw their child with God's eyes. Acts 7:20 reveals how God saw Moses, "At this time Moses was born; and he was beautiful in God's sight." This vision of beauty was not due to his cuddly baby nature, "for the LORD sees not as man sees: man looks on the outward appearance, but the LORD looks on the heart" (1 Samuel 16:7). God foreknew the character of Moses; he could already see Moses' heart, for "the man Moses was very meek [humble], more than all people who were on the face of the earth" (Numbers 12:3).

So, was Moses' mother a hero? Yes, but not quite in the way children learn in Sunday School. It's far more heroism than a mother's undying love for her child--she was a woman of faith. Every indication was that Moses was going to die, but his mother held to the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.

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