A Mother’s Choice

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Sooner or later, every mother has to face what Moses’ mother faced.

She had to let her child go.

The story of Moses’ birth is told in one of the Bible’s most dramatic texts – the opening 32 verses of the Old Testament book of Exodus. 

More than a thousand years before Christ, the Hebrews are slaves in Egypt. Their burgeoning numbers feel threatening to Pharaoh. For the first time in history – but tragically, not the last – a totalitarian leader opts for Jewish genocide.

Pharaoh’s plan is to enlist the help of two Hebrew midwives. Newborn baby girls may live. But as soon as the midwives deliver a baby boy (someone who may grow up to foment rebellion against the regime), they must take his life.

The midwives foil the plan. They let the boys live and conjure up a rather incredible explanation.

“Sorry,” they say to Pharaoh, “Hebrew women don’t wait for their epidurals. They have their babies, stamp those two little feet on the ink pad, grab a couple of blue foil balloons that say It’s aBoy, and they’re gone before we even get there.”

It appears that men in the ancient world were just as clueless in the labor-delivery room as they are today. Pharaoh apparently hears their explanation and responds, “Really?” then lets the matter drop. 

It’s worth noting that we know the names of these two midwives – Shiphrah and Puah – but scholars have never been able to agree on the precise identity of this Pharaoh. What was the ultimate way to disrespect an ancient monarch? Fail to report his name. Scholars think this was Seti I, who reigned 34 years after King Tut. But nobody knows for sure.

Who were the Hebrew midwives? We know their names: Shiphrah and Puah – servants of the living God.

At this point Pharaoh proposes a grim alternative plan: Every newborn Hebrew male must be thrown into the Nile.  

Now a young mother named Jochebed faces a daunting choice. She has a newborn boy. Should she try to conceal him or risk letting him go, putting his fate into the hands of God? 

In an act of radical trust, she places her 3-month-old into a basket coated with pitch, then releases him onto the river.  

Two times in the Bible, humanity’s hopes float in a pitch-coated boat. The first time it’s Noah. Now it’s a tiny ark amidst the bullrushes lining the Nile.  

Two times in the Bible, humanity’s needs are addressed by a baby’s cry. The cries of little Moses win the heart of Pharaoh’s daughter, and she adopts him as her own – the very child who will one day thwart her father’s kingdom and lead his people out of slavery. Centuries later the cries of another newborn, who will be laid in a feeding trough for animals, will signal God’s plan to lead humanity out of its slavery to sin and death.

The ultimate irony is that by letting her child go, Jochebed gets him back. She is recruited by Pharaoh’s daughter to nurse this baby in the basket. 

Every mother, at some point, must make the choice that Jochebed made. Parents cannot hold on to their children forever. Every little boy and little girl, even while being hugged and loved and feted with the joys of childhood, is being prepared to leave the household – to depart one day as a mature, responsible adult.      

Will we get our children back? We can never be sure about that. What we know with certainty is that trying to hold on to our kids is the surest way to lose them.  

Jochebed didn’t passively resign herself to potential disaster. She actively embraced the love and care of God and accepted what came next. Author Elisabeth Eliot, who was widowed twice during her lifetime, describes the difference between resignation and acceptance: 

“Resignation is surrender to fate; acceptance is surrender to God. Resignation lies down quietly in an empty universe. Acceptance rises up to meet the God who fills that universe with purpose and destiny.

“Resignation says, ‘I can’t,’ and God says, ‘I can.’ Resignation says, ‘It’s all over for me.’ Acceptance asks, ‘Now that I’m here, Lord, what’s next?’ Resignation says, ‘What a waste.’ Acceptance says, ‘In what redemptive way can you use this mess, Lord?'”

This Mother’s Day weekend, may you be blessed by the God who can transform whatever situation you are facing.

For he is Lord over every mess, every challenge, and every circumstance.