When I was a child, I loved to play “let’s pretend” with my older sister or with my friends. Did you? Now a grownup, I have outgrown childish games, but I find that writing with a healthy dose of pretending or imagination brings words to life, particularly ancient words.
Jochebed is an ancient name found in the Old Testament. For a moment, let’s pretend Jochebed has joined a grief support group. She is seeking kinship among other mothers who know loss. Jochebed knows loss, too, but hers is different from theirs. She has just weaned her child . . . and given him away. Let’s join the group and listen as she shares her story.
Hello. My name is Jochebed. I’m a mom like you. I have suffered, too, over the loss of my child. However my loss is different from yours. My son has not died from suicide or other causes. Hopefully he has not died at all. Perhaps it will help you to understand if I tell you what happened.
I became pregnant with my little boy, Tov, at a most horrific time in my life. I am Hebrew. My people are slaves to the Egyptian people. They work us hard and beat us if they think we aren’t doing our jobs fast enough. In spite of our circumstances God is blessing my people, and we are multiplying greatly. It seems the size of our families worries the Egyptian Pharaoh, so he ordered all male babies to be killed during birth. Midwives defied the law and let baby boys live. This so enraged the Pharaoh that he ordered all newborn baby boys be cast into the Nile River! Being pregnant I was beside myself with worry. None of us wanted to lose our babies. Many of my friends were already in mourning because of this heinous law, and babies will continue to die as long as this law is enforced.
Then little Tov was born. He was such a beautiful baby . . . how could I give him up? Few Hebrew women knew of my pregnancy, and they would not tell. I decided to try to keep my baby hidden from sight, hoping he wouldn’t be heard. I met his needs quickly to keep him comfortable and quiet. My plan worked for three months, but then he became too noisy to keep hidden any longer. He was a big baby with a loud and lusty cry. I lived in constant fear some Egyptian would hear him and report us.
But God gave me an idea. I would put him into the Nile River, just in a different way. I made a basket out of papyrus and waterproofed it with tar and pitch. When it was dry, I added a blanket for padding and nursed my sweet baby one last time. My husband, 7-year-old daughter Miriam, and 4-year-old son Aaron took turns holding him and loving on him. We closed the lid, and in the early dawn I set our little water baby among the tall reeds at water’s edge. Miriam, who was assigned the task of keeping watch, hid among the reeds nearby.
What a dark day that was. Would we ever see our precious bundle again? Would he die of starvation or be eaten by wild animals? I shuddered to think something horrible would happen to my baby, but I couldn’t allow him to be thrown into the Nile as Pharaoh had ordered. I would just have to trust in Jehovah, my God.
Miriam watched the basket as it rocked gently on the little ripples near the riverbank. Tov loved to rock, so he remained quiet . . . for the moment. Miriam hadn’t been at her post long when she saw Pharaoh’s daughter, with her servants, approaching the riverbank to bathe. As the princess walked along the bank, she spied the basket. Curious, she called for one of her servants to retrieve it for her.
They could hear a baby whimpering as they drew near, and when they opened the lid, Tov let out a wail. “Oh, this must be a Hebrew baby,” she said, her heart melting at the sight of such a beautiful baby. Instantly Miriam sprang into action. She approached Pharaoh’s daughter and asked, “Shall I go and get one of the Hebrew women to nurse the baby for you?” (Exodus 2:7). The princess agreed, and Miriam took off running to get me.
When Miriam burst through the door with her news, can you imagine my relief? Hurriedly Miriam led the way to the riverbank where the princess was holding my baby in her arms.
“Pharaoh’s daughter said to me, “Take this baby and nurse him for me, and I will pay you.” So I took the baby and nursed him. When the child grew older, I returned him to Pharaoh’s daughter, and he became her son. She named him Moses, saying, “I drew him out of the water” (Exodus 2:9-10, paraphrased).
Now you know how my baby got his name changed to “Moses”. I was so overjoyed to have him in my arms again that I tried not to think about what lay ahead. I knew he would be given an Egyptian name, but I chose to focus on the present. I was happy that I could nurse him, and openly love him, and he would be a part of our family for a little while longer. The most I could hope for was maybe three more years. It would have to be enough. We tried not to spoil Moses, or treat him better than our other children, but it was hard not to. Every day I sang to him, and told him stories about God. How much would he remember? After years in the palace in Egypt, would he even know he wasn’t born an Egyptian? So many thoughts made my heart ache.
Then came that awful day. I had been dreading it as you can imagine. My husband and older children had bonded with Tov, too, so we were all sad to hand him over as promised. He would grow up Egyptian. Later we heard what his new name was, so foreign among my people. He now was one of them.
That’s my story. I weep every day for my child. I can’t see him. I never hear how he is doing. There are so many unknowns: Does the princess take good care of him? Is he accepted along with the other palace children, who were born Egyptian and not Hebrew? Will God keep His eye on my child, who will be brought up to believe in heathen gods? My heart is heavy with grief.
Now I must move forward without my son. I have other children who need me. And we are still enslaved to those who have my son, but I can’t pretend I never gave birth to him. This is why I joined your group. I pray you will accept me, even if my story differs greatly from yours. I want to hear your stories, too. I cannot fathom the depth of your pain from loss. I ache for my child, but I believe he is alive. I am so sad that your children are not. I hope that as we share our stories together, we will all be comforted.
Moses did live and he did reach out to his Hebrew family when he grew up. As a man Moses heard God calling him to play a mighty role in rescuing the Hebrews from Egyptian slavery. The story of Moses continues . . .
“The Lord said, ‘I have indeed seen the misery of my people in Egypt. I have heard them crying out because of their slave drivers, and I am concerned about their suffering. So I have come down to rescue them from the hand of the Egyptians. So now, go. I am sending you [Moses] to Pharaoh to bring my people the Israelite’s out of Egypt.’” Exodus 3:7-8, 10 NIV
Baby Moses’s story found in Exodus 2, New International Version (NIV)