Jochebed, Mother of Moses
Jochebed is regarded as one of the great Hebrew matriarchs of the Old Testament. Her name means “The Lord is glorious.” Her parents, Melcha and Levi, had four children: Gershon, Kohath, Merari, and Jochebed. Levi, one of the twelve sons of Jacob, was already sixty-four when Melcha gave birth to Jochebed. The girl grew into womanhood with many excellent qualities, including selflessness, devotion to her family, and a deep and abiding love and commitment to God. Apparently these were exactly the qualities Amram sought in a wife, for he married Jochebed.
Some rabbinical sources assert that Jochebed was none other than Shiprah. You may recall reading about Shiprah, and her counterpart Puah, in Chapter 5. They were the midwives who defied the pharaoh's order to kill all infant boys born to the Hebrew women. God promised them “houses,” which many rabbis interpret to mean dynasties of royalty and priesthood. Shiprah's son Aaron became the first high priest.
Others say Jochebed was the matriarch and founder of the nation of Jews. She may have been 130 years old when she gave birth to Moses. Exodus 15:20 states that Miriam, Jochebed's second child, became a prophetess. Her third child, Moses, became known as the patriarch and savior of the Israelites. All three of her children became famous spiritual pillars for the Hebrews.
Moses witnessed the maltreatment of the Jews in Egypt, where they had migrated with Joseph to escape a severe famine. But the numbers of Israelites kept increasing, causing the pharaoh to worry that the Jews were overtaking the Egyptians in a population explosion. He made life even more difficult for the Hebrews.
While Joseph was alive, the pharaoh did little to curtail the increasing numbers of Jews. But a new pharaoh came to power after Joseph died, and that pharaoh didn't favor the Jews. He began a campaign of murder. At the time Moses was born, the pharaoh had just ordered all Hebrew baby boys killed (Exodus 1:22). Before Moses could grow up to become the Savior of the Jews, he had to survive to adulthood. His mother played a paramount role in ensuring that he did.
Jochebed Places Moses in the River
With the help of her husband Amram and her children Miriam and Aaron, Jochebed kept the infant Moses hidden for three months. But as the child grew, she worried that he would be discovered by those loyal to the pharaoh. She hatched a plan to hide her son in a little ark she had fashioned from some bulrushes. She placed the ark in the Nile near some reeds. She knew that the pharaoh's daughter came to that place each day with her attendants in order to bathe, and she hoped that the princess would discover her baby boy.
What did the Egyptians believe about moral behavior?
The Egyptian word ma'at represented truth and order. Ma'at was also the goddess who represented this abstraction. The Egyptians believed the universe to be orderly, rational, and in perfect balance. In the moral realm, there was retribution for sin and reward for purity. The Greeks called the universe's underlying rationality and order logos, a word adopted by Christians to mean God.
Miriam Keeps a Watchful Eye on Moses
Miriam watched over Moses until the princess came for her bath and discovered the baby crying at the water's edge, floating in his little papyrus ark. Some sources say Miriam was only five years old at that time. The pharaoh's daughter rescued the baby, and fretted about how to calm and feed him. Miriam offered to find a wet nurse from among the Hebrew women. The pharaoh's daughter agreed and sent Miriam away. Miriam went straight to her mother; thus, Jochebed became the Hebrew woman chosen to nurse the infant.
Moses Grows Up in the Pharaoh's Court
The pharaoh's daughter adopted little Moses, but Jochebed most likely cared for him throughout his youth. He undoubtedly received an excellent education, probably at the university level. He also may have served in Egypt's military for a number of years. But Moses always remembered his Hebrew mother and her sacrifice and risk in giving him up in order to save him. His discontent over the treatment of his people at the hands of the Egyptians festered until he was about forty. Then, he saw a Hebrew slave being mistreated by an Egyptian slave master. Moses killed the man and then fled Egypt for Midian. There he remained until the Angel of God told him to bring the Hebrews out of bondage.
Where was Jochebed buried?
Sources say she was buried in Hebron, along with Leah, Zilpha, Bilhah, Zipporah, Elisheva, and Abigail (wife of King David). Today, the site is considered the second holiest in all of Israel, and is called the Tomb of the Matriarchs.
Jochebed Remains in Bondage
You can't help wondering what happened to the beleaguered mother whose last hope was that her son wouldn't perish by the hands of the Egyptians. She must have heard about the slave master Moses killed. She must have known that Moses had fled. The Bible doesn't say whether she lived to see her son lead the Israelites out of Egypt. But knowing she'd taught him to stay close to God and stand by his principles, she would have known that Moses had the power to triumph in whatever he tried. The Lord had something mighty for Moses to do, but the Bible doesn't say if Jochebed lived to see it.