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Moses' Parents (and Friends)

Updated: Oct 8, 2019

Hebrews 11:23

Faith is believing that “it is only fear of God that has the spiritual power to overwhelm all the horizontal fears that can capture your heart”.

“23 By faith Moses’ parents hid him for three months after he was born, because they saw he was no ordinary child, and they were not afraid of the king’s edict” (Hebrews 11:23).

It is no easy feat to be the “David” facing a “Goliath” reinforced by an army of his followers. To defy orders from authority figures takes someone whose faith in the Ultimate Authority is strong. Though the passage in Hebrews mentions only Moses’ parents, there are others in the story who demonstrate a “David and Goliath” mentality: the Hebrew midwives.


Exodus 1-2:10

Joseph is gone and more than three centuries have passed. A Pharaoh comes to power who sees the Hebrews, now grown into millions from Jacob’s small family group, as threat. If they had been assimilated into Egyptian society as Joseph had, they might have escaped notice, but Joseph’s plan to keep them separated from the Egyptians in order to preserve their uniqueness as God’s people, now becomes a stumbling block to their survival. The Pharaoh is concerned that the Hebrews could rise up against them and actually assimilate them! He devises a plan to control them.

His first action is to enslave them. They will have to concentrate on staying alive and not have any time, or opportunity, to plan a rebellion or a revolution.

But the more they were oppressed, the more they multiplied and spread; so the Egyptians came to dread the Israelites and worked them ruthlessly.” (Exodus 1:12, 13)

Since he couldn’t work them to death, Pharaoh come up with a second plan. He ordered the Hebrews midwives to kill any baby boys that were born to Hebrew women. That, as we shall see, didn’t work either.

Then the Pharaoh simply told his people that every boy born to the Hebrews was to be thrown in the river. And we can imagine that the dread in which the Hebrew were held probably prompted them to terrorize any Hebrew family suspected of having a baby boy. The situation was dire.

What little we know about Moses’ parents we find in Exodus 2:1-4—

Now a man of the house of Levi married a Levite woman and she became pregnant and gave birth to a son. When she saw that he was a fine child, she hid him for three months. But when she could hide him no longer, she got a papyrus basket for him and coated it with tar and pitch. Then she placed the child in it and put it among the reeds along the bank of the Nile. His sister stood at a distance to see what would happen to him.

Exodus 6:20—"Amram married his father’s sister Jochebed, who bore him Aaron and Moses. Amram lived 137 years.”

Numbers 26:59—“…the name of Amram’s wife was Jochebed, a descendant of Levi, who was born to the Levites in Egypt. To Amram she bore Aaron, Moses and their sister Miriam.” (1 Chronicles 6:3; 23:13)

Let’s look first at the midwives. Pharaoh’s treatment of the Hebrews creates fear and those fears drive his treatment of the Hebrews. They have been made slaves, but slavery has not diminished their capacity to become a threat to the Egyptians. Something drastic must be done to control them. And the midwives become key to that control. Strange parallels to modern days where doctors have the right to kill the unborn as well as the elderly and infirm—the nuisances of society—those that are a threat to our comfort and convenience.

The king of Egypt said to the Hebrew midwives, whose names were Shiphrah and Puah, ‘When you help the Hebrew women in childbirth and observe them on the delivery stool, if it is a boy, kill him; but if it is a girl, let her live.’ The midwives, however, feared God and did not do what the king of Egypt had told them to do; they let the boys live. Then the king of Egypt summoned the midwives and asked them, ‘Why have you done this? Why have you let the boys live?’ The midwives answered Pharaoh, ‘Hebrew women are not like Egyptians women; they are vigorous and give birth before the midwives arrive.’ So God was kind to the midwives and the people increased and became more numerous. And because the midwives feared God, he gave them families of their own.” (Exodus 1:15-21)

The issues that may have faced the midwives are not often discussed, but the Jamieson-Fausset-Brown’s Bible Commentary says this:

20, 21. God dealt well with the midwives—This represents God as rewarding them for telling a lie. This difficulty is wholly removed by a more correct translation. To “make” or “build up a house” in Hebrew idiom, means to have a numerous progeny. The passage then should be rendered thus: ‘God protected the midwives, and the people waxed very mighty; and because the midwives feared, the Hebrews grew and prospered.”[1]

However, this doesn’t deal with a similar situation in the case of Rahab, a story we will look at little later. But there seems to be a bigger issue at stake than lying, i.e. saving a life (or lives) is involved, a lie seems the lesser of two evils.

To disobey a Pharaoh is a dangerous business. To disobey what would be considered “the law of the land” an equally scary prospect. To disobey those who held religious authority over them as Jews was a dangerous business for the early church as Peter and the other believers of his day discovered. In Acts 4:13-22; 5:25-29, Peter and John are brought up before the Sanhedrin, the highest religious authority of their day. Afraid that this new movement was growing beyond their control, the religious leaders demanded that the disciples no longer speak about Jesus or do miracles in His name. They were threatened and imprisoned. But Peter’s response to the religious leaders of his day tells us what response is needed when confronted by a conflict between human and divine authority.

Judge for yourselves whether it is right in God’s sight to obey you rather than God. For we cannot help speaking about what we have seen and heard…We must obey God rather than men.” (Acts 4:19, 20; 5:29)

Some might be quick to point out that we are told to obey both the civil and religious authorities that God has placed over us. And we should—when what they command does not violate the commands of a higher Authority—God.

Stephen, in his defense in front of the religious authorities of his day, as told to us in Acts 7:17-20, mentions the events of Exodus 1 and 2.

Hebrews 11:23, in the King James Version, describes Moses as a “proper” child. The NIV refers to him as being out of the ordinary. In the original language the description means “elegant, fine, handsome.” The commentators agree that there was something physically about this child that indicated to his parents that God must have designed something special for his life and that conviction caused them to defy Pharaoh and place their faith in God to protect them and him.

The Nile plays an important role in Moses’ story for it was in the Nile that Jochebed placed her young son and out of the Nile that he was rescued. If we look back at the story of Joseph we will remember that it was from the Nile that the cows come from in Pharaoh’s dream, the sleek cows that indicated plenty and the skinny cows that demonstrated famine. (Genesis 41:1-4)

For the ancient Egyptians, the Nile was connected with life and death. “Ancient Egyptian religion was based primarily on nature. This was because of the economic dependence of Egyptians on the Nile. The Egyptians prayed for the floodwaters of the Nile, and even created a separate god for the Nile named Hapi. The Nile also symbolized life and afterlife. All tombs and burial places of the Ancient Egyptians, including pyramids, are located on the West Bank of the Nile River because the sun rose in the East, symbolizing birth, and set in the west, symbolizing death.”[2]

Pharaoh’s first instructions were specifically to the midwives who were to kill the male children (1:16). When that didn’t work he instructed all the people to be on the lookout and to kill all male Hebrew children and throw them into the river (1:22).

Ellicott comments: “Infanticide, so shocking Christians, has prevailed widely at different times and places, and been regarded as a trivial matter. In Sparta, the State decided which children should live and which should die. At Athens a law of Solon left the decision to the parent. At Rome, the rule was that infants were made away with, unless the father interposed, and declared it to be his wish that a particular child should be brought up. The Syrians offered unwelcomed children in sacrifice to Moloch; the Carthaginians to Melkarth. In Chine infanticide is said to be a common practice at the present day. Heathen nations do not general regard human life as sacred. On the contrary, they hold that considerations of expediency justify the sweeping away of any life that inconveniences the State. Hence infanticide is introduced by Plato into his modern republic (Rep. v. 9.). Almost all ancient nations viewed the massacre of prisoners taken in war as allowable. The Spartan crypteia was a system of licensed murder. The condemnation to death of all male Hebrew children by Pharaoh is thus in no respect improbable. On the other hand, the mode of the death presents difficulties. For, first, the Nile was viewed as a god; and to fill it with corpses would, one might have supposed have been regarded as pollution. Secondly, the Nile water was the only water drunk; and sanitary considerations might thus have been expected to have prevented the edict. Perhaps, however, the children were viewed as offerings to the Nile, or to Savak, the crocodile-headed god, of whom each crocodile was an emblem. At any rate, as the Nile swarmed with crocodiles throughout its whole course, the bodies were tolerably sure to be devoured before they became putrescent.”[3]

We are no better than the ancient “civilizations” or the heathen nations since we sacrifice our own children when they are inconvenient. We shouldn’t be shocked by what was done in the past as we have our own expressions of the same barbarity in our society today.

Jochebed’s means of saving her son’s life was unusual. None of us would consider putting a three-month-old in a basket and launching him down the nearest river in order to save his life.

Jochebed’s actions demonstrate faith that overcame fear, and a faith that believed, as Abraham’s did, that somehow God would save this child.

Jochebed’s belief that somehow someone farther down the river would save her son because God willed it so, is a marvelous example to us of the importance of entrusting our children to the Lord, even when the circumstances around their lives seem to be fraught with danger. Parents worry about their kids all the time, but never so much as when they are far away. This “letting go” provides the opportunity for a God-moment for every mother and father. Letting go, and letting God never had a deeper meaning that it did for Moses’ parents—or for us!

In a sense, Jochebed did what Pharaoh commanded: she threw her son in the river! She just didn’t do it quite the way Pharaoh might have expected. When Pharaoh’s daughter received Moses out of the river (2:10), what significance might this have had to her given the Egyptians belief about the river? How might have this means of delivering Moses to her have protected him from death considering that at least some people in Pharaoh’s household knew he was a Hebrew child?

Did coming out of the river unharmed represent some kind of blessing from the river god that protected Moses even though it was certain that there were some in Pharaoh’s household that would know him to be a Hebrew child? Unlike her father, the princess took pity on the child.

Then Pharaoh’s daughter went down to the Nile to bathe, and her attendants were walking along the riverbank. She saw the basket among the reeds and sent her female slave to get it. She opened it and saw the baby. He was crying, and she felt sorry for him. ‘This is one of the Hebrew babies,’ she said.”[4]

Proverbs 29:25 says: “Fear of man will prove to be a snare, but whoever trusts in the Lord is kept safe.”

Paul Tripp writes: “It is only when God looms larger than anything you are facing that you can be protected and practically freed from the fear that either paralyzes you or causes you to make foolish decisions. Wise, stable, and fear-free living doesn’t require you to deny what you’re facing, but rather it looks at whatever you are facing from the perspective of a gloriously freeing and motivating fear of the One who rules all the things that you would otherwise be afraid of. A functional awe of God really is the key to your heart’s not being ruled by fear.” (Dangerous Calling, Crossway, 2012)


1. Look at the situations in your life that cause you fear, whether those situations involve people or events. How does our faith statement given at the beginning of the study apply to those people or events? “Awe of God really is the solution here. It is only fear of God that has the spiritual power to overwhelm all the horizontal fears that can capture your heart.

2. For those of us who live in so-named democratic countries, we pride ourselves on our freedom of voice and vote. But for our elected officials who belong to political parties that freedom does not apply. The party line must be adhered to—or else. How can we encourage those we elect who are believers to take a stand to obey God rather than their party leaders when decisions arise that go against the Biblical mandate? What can we do to support them?

3. What struggles have you gone through in “letting go” of your children and trusting God to do what He needs to do to look after them?

4. Report on how you are doing in strengthening your relationship with God as a vital part of your faith journey.


[2] ?


[4] Exodus 2:5, 6

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