“Amram,” she whispered breathlessly. “It’s time.”
He sat up in bed and looked around. It was still dark in the small earthen home that was built into the side of the hill. It was a small, one room dwelling with just enough space for the family of four, soon to be five, to lay on the floor side by side at night. During the day the bedrolls were put away and the small table stored the corner would find its place in the center. The only entrance to the home was a six-foot gate like door. An open window was cut out on the far side, four feet above the ground, measuring roughly two feet. It carried the noises from the street to the inside. Amram listened carefully and did not hear anything. He sighed with relief.
“Do you want me to go get Damaris?”
“No,” she replied through gritted teeth. “The baby should be here soon; my pains are very close.” Jochebed took a deep breath through her nose, exhaled through pursed lips and panted shallow breaths as the contractions seized her body. She looked up at her husband, only making out a shadowy figure. “Do you remember everything I told you?”
“Yes, I think so.” He rubbed the sleep from his eyes and got up. Walking to the far end of the house, he tripped on a body causing him to tumble to the dirt wall. “Ooofff.”
“Mama, are you ok?” It was Miriam.
“Sorry Mir,” her father replied. “Mama’s ok. Go back to sleep.”
There was a loud breath sound from Jochebed. “Ughhh, we might need her.”
“I’m ready!” She jumped up and went to her mother’s side as Amram found the stool he was looking for and returned to his laboring wife.
“Remember,” she took a deep breath, “no matter what happens, you must hide this baby if it is a boy.” She reached out for a hand and found her daughter’s. They squeezed each other for a moment as the mother positioned herself for the birth.
“You’ll be fine mama. You did fine with me and Aaron, you’ll do fine with this little one too.”
Amram supported his wife as another contraction seized her and she struggled to breathe through it. “I’ve got you…you and the baby are going to be fine.”
Jochebed could feel the baby coming, the pain at its peak. She knew that in a few minutes she would either be holding her baby in her hands or she would be dying. “Lord, I pray for my baby’s safe passage and that you also spare my life,” she whispered.
Amram bowed his head. He was fully awake now and the thought of losing either his wife or child made reality settle in light a ton of bricks. His stomach churned. Please be a girl, he thought. Lord, please protect them.
She slumped in her husband’s hand as the building contraction took over her body. She squeezed her eyes tightly and saw stars. She was getting exhausted; the labor had started shortly after the family went to bed. She was not sure how much longer she could continue. Self-doubt was rearing its ugly head.
Amram prayed aloud in a whispered voice next to his wife’s ear. “Lord please protect these precious ones.”
The sun was starting to rise, a small light beamed through the window bidding morning to begin. Miriam looked at her mother and noticed that she was drenched with sweat, her hair a tangled mess down her back. Her father was gently rubbing her neck and whispering encouragement in her ears. Miriam had attended the births of many cousins; her mother was apprenticing her to be a midwife. Birthing was usually a loud event, yet her mother was so quiet. She hoped that this quietness was for secrecy only, not because something bad was going to happen. Her mind went to the first post-partum mother she had seen die and she shuddered against the memory.
“Come on mama, you got this,” she whispered.
Jochebed gave one long, quiet push, squeezing Amram’s hand. She stifled her moans by hiding her face in her husband’s arm. Another long push, this one sending spasms throughout her body. She dug her nails into the bedclothes, pushed again, and the baby was born.
Miriam helped gather the baby and placed it in her mother’s arms. Amram gently positioned her on the floor.
“What is it?”
“A boy,” Jochebed whispered bowing her head to tend to the newborn.
Amram’s heart sunk as he processed the news. A tear slid down his cheek. His mind full of questions directed to God.
Light was streaming through the window with more energy now. The whole house was lit up, daybreak had come. Amram surveyed the scene. His three-year-old son, Aaron, still sleeping curled up in the fetal position, his thumb stuck in his mouth. Miriam went about the midwife business just as her mother was instructing her. And cuddled in his wife’s arms was his new baby, a son, who contently nursed unaware that his life was in peril.
Miriam took the pitcher and quietly opened the door, leaving to get water from the well. It would be a thirty-minute journey, but her mother was doing well, and the baby was thriving. She needed water for refreshment and washing. Her father would help with Aaron if he woke while she was gone.
The sun was mercilessly hot even in the dawn of the morning, and the air was thick as she walked down the dusty path that led to the common well. Her mind was spinning with fear and hope. Her mother and baby brother had survived, an answer to prayer. Now came the hard part. Pharaoh had instructed all the midwives to kill newborn boys. How was this little one going to be safe? Her mother’s pregnancy was well known, she was one of the midwives and attended many births. Jochebed had cleverly hid her pregnancy for the first three months, so the midwives would think she had three more months to go. Many of the other women were violently ill in the begging of their pregnancies, but not Jochebed.
If there was a need for midwifery services today, Miriam may be called upon to assist in her mother’s place. to go in her place. The other midwives were scattered throughout the Hebrew designated territory in the land the Egyptians held them. She knew many of them and they were all kind to her. However, this secret was too big to tell; it was a matter of life and death. A tear slipped down her face as she thought of the atrocities that Pharaoh was willing to subject the people to; he was a tyrant.
She passed by the brick making field where the Israelites were already working. The soldiers standing at the ready with their whips. The intermittent snaps causing her to jump.
“You there, get back to work or you will get a thrashing!” A soldier walked toward a man who was visibly ill, hunched over and retching.
The man nodded his head and stood up only to stumble and fall. The soldier spared no mercy. Miriam could hear the moans of pain in response to each thrashing. She quickened her step and willed the vision out of her sight.
Her heart dropped into her stomach as she again thought of her new brother and worried about his fate. How were they going to protect him? Yahweh hear our prayers.
A dozen women were already waiting in line for the well by the time she reached it. She noticed Abela, one of the Hebrew midwives, standing close to the front of the line. She bowed her head low hoping to evade detection. She had to get her story straight. No one could know about the birth.
“Miriam,” she called loudly. “Come on up here girl, you can wait with me.”
The women in between them all frowned and a few of the shook their heads. They moved forward tightly, standing their ground.
“Thank you, but no thank you, ma’am. It would not be fair to all these other women. I’m in no hurry,” she replied waving a hand at the other women who relaxed at her response. I actually need to get home as quick as I can!
“Suit yourself. How is your mama?”
So much for evasion. “She is well. Resting now,” she hesitated. That didn’t sound good,she thought. “You know, she is so big, she can barely do anything,” she rolled her eyes for effect and smiled extending her arms out around her body while balancing the jug in her arm.
Abela found this hilarious and laughed in reply. “Pregos do get that way. Soon she’ll be asking you to put on her stinky sandals.” She held her nose.
“Too funny, I won’t be doing that. I’ll make Aaron do it!” she forced a giggle.
The older midwife, appeased by the information she had been given, turned to the woman beside her for conversation. Miriam quietly sighed relief and her mind returned to the early morning events. Her heart dropped as she thought of the newborn in her house. She bowed her head and again prayed for his safety.
When Miriam returned home with the water, she found her mother rocking the newborn gently in her arms, seated on the floor with her back propped up against an earthen wall. Aaron was awake by her side staring at the infant and patting his head. Her father was gone.
“Where is father?”
“He has Levi duties today.”
She carried the water pitcher to the table and poured some in the heating pot. Cold water remained in the jug and she would mix this with the warmed water before her mother bathed the infant. The embers from the night before were still in the tin by the door and she stooped to pick this up on her way out to the firepit.
As the water warmed, she looked around at the other dwelling places. They were a mixture of earthen homes and tents. The firepits were communal and often a place of gossip and family announcements. Miriam was thankful for the solitude provided to her this morning to pray for her mother and newborn brother while the water warmed.
Her eyes were closed, deep in prayer when she heard Aaron’s voice. “Is it ready yet?”
The water had just started to bubble. “It is.” She smiled at him. “Your timing is perfect!”
Miriam carefully carried the hot water back to their home and mixed it with the cool water to make a comfortable bath for the babe. She lifted the basin and carried it to the floor beside her mother and then reached out for the baby. Her mother passed him along and gathered herself up to the task at hand.
He was a beautiful baby boy. Perfect from head to toe. She wetted a clean cloth and rubbed the baby down. He didn’t cry or fuss, content with the whole process. Miriam counted his fingers and toes with Aaron.
“We will need to hide him,” Jochebed said firmly. “He is such a fine boy.”
“He’s really small. I think he will be easy to hide…as long as he doesn’t fuss,” Miriam replied. She looked around the room.
“He will grow fast, though. And if he is hungry, he is bound to cry. We need to pray about this.” A tear slid down Jochebed’s face and she shook it away. “Yahweh will provide.”
“Should I make up a bed for him in the corner?” Miriam asked.
“That is a good idea for now. Take some of the new cloths from the basket and see if you can make him a comfy place.”
“I help,” Aaron walked over to the basket and gathered some cloths.
Miriam went to the far corner of the room, took the cloths that Aaron brought her and started making a place for the infant to stay. The area had dirt on one side and wood on the other, she took a pin and pinned a cloth up on the dirt, just enough to keep any from falling on the baby. She then took a five of the cloths and stacked them on the ground for a little cushion. The baby would sleep with Jochebed at nights, but this corner would serve as a hiding place during the day. The table was nearby, and this could be moved to increase the sheltered area from the eyes of those who visited their dwelling.
“Aaron, why don’t you roll up the other bedrolls. And Miriam, when you’re done with that, I think the bread may be ready for us to eat for breakfast.”
Jochebed was lost in love with her new infant while she directed the children on how to help her. She was going to need to make up an excuse for not visiting with the other expectant mothers today. In deep thought, she didn’t hear the first gentle knock on the door but was called to attention by Miriam’s voice.
“Just a minute!” She called to the door. She grabbed a bunch of the old clothes and bundled them in a ball then handed them to her mother who passed the infant into her arms.
Jochebed stuffed the cloths under her night shirt in an effort to replace the very pregnant look she had yesterday. Aaron absently rolled up the empty beds, in his usual three-year-old fashion, oblivious to the sudden chaos. Miriam took the infant and placed him in the corner and then placed a basket over him.
“Hellooo!” came the voice from the other side of the door. More knocking.
Miriam walked to the door, glanced at her mother for the nod of approval and then opened it to find Abella standing with a small bowl of dried herbs. The two greeted each other and then the visitor strode past her, welcoming herself into the home. Miriam shot Aaron a look and put her pointer finger to her lips behind the woman’s back. Aaron nodded slightly in reply.
“There you are my friend!”
Abella walked over to Jochebed and bent to her giving her a kiss on the forehead. “When I didn’t see you this morning, I thought something might be wrong. But I ran into Miriam at the well and she said that you were just feeling fat and pregnant.” She smiled at the girl.
Jochebed forced a laugh. Miriam smirked back and Aaron laughed.
“I did not say you were feeling fat mamma!”
Jochebed winked at her, “Are you sure?”
“Here, take these herbs Miriam and prepare them in a drink for your mamma, it will make her feel better.”
Miriam took the bowl and then walked over to the table and placed it there. She glanced down in the corner at the upside down basket and was thankful the infant was quiet. She did not want to leave her mother alone with the visitor but couldn’t think of a way to get out of the assigned chore.
“That is so kind of you to think of me dear Abela, but I am not in the mood for an herb drink now. I’m actually quite tired. I didn’t sleep well at all last night and I think I need more rest now.”
Miriam sighed relief. Aaron had rolled up all the beds and was now sitting on the ground uncomfortably close to the basket with his thumb in his mouth and a small blanket clenched in his fist, glancing to conspicuously at the hiding spot.
“Oh dear,” Abela replied. “I understand that. The bigger they get the less sleep you get!” She shrugged. “I’ll be off to tend to the other women. You get some rest. Maybe I’ll stop by later to make sure you are feeling better.”
“No need to bother yourself. I have Miriam here. She is a good little helper.”
The women smiled at each other, Abela bent again to bid her good-bye and then left. Miriam closed the door behind her and rested on it for a moment. Aaron stood up and lifted the basket finding his brother still sleeping peacefully.
“Wow, that was close.” Jochebed took the extra stuffing out of her night shirt and left it in a pile by her bedroll. She would no doubt be needing that again. “You were remarkable thinking of that basket Miriam.”
She smiled and bent her head slightly. “But what are we going to do with him mama? How can we protect him?” Tears streamed down her face as she looked up; eyes longing for answers to the dire situation.
“Come here child,” Jochebed waved her daughter to her. She had the same worries but was determined to raise her children up with courage and faith. “You too, Aaron, come here and let’s pray.”
The family knelt together bowed their heads and were led in prayer by their mamma. As she began her voice strained with sadness, but she shook it away, calling on El Shaddai for protection, wisdom and mercy. She ended her prayer with thanksgiving and assurance that he had heard her prayer and would guide her and her family in what to do for the beloved newborn.
The infant grew fast and strong. Miriam found herself often increasing the size of his corner hideout, replacing the tacked cloths to keep the dirt from him. As his voice became louder the siblings found ways to make noise that would muffle it by singing songs or playing a game of five stones loudly.
Jochebed and Amram kept to their normal routines, with few exceptions. She kept the bundle of cloth tied around her waist whenever she went outside and continued in her pregnancy posture. Amram, although distracted during his daily duties, helped with the sacrifices and other ministrations according to his role; his thoughts often of his newborn, praying for the infant’s protection.
As the baby entered his third month of life, Jochebed realized that he would need to be hidden in something other than the corner. He was outgrowing any shelter that she could find. The corner and the bedroll would only cover him for a little longer. The babe was not yet old enough to be presented to the people as Pharaoh was now giving orders to throw baby boys in the river. And there was her fake pregnancy that she had to deal with. Abela was becoming incessantly annoying about touching her belly to offer blessings of safe passage.
Jochebed woke early, the vision of a basket still fresh in her mind. Her infant was cuddled close and she gazed down on his shadowy figure. She could hear his soft steady breaths. She gently rubbed his head and kissed him, relishing the moment. He was contently sucking his thumb. She wished that she could stay like this with him forever. She closed her eyes and whispered a soft prayer of protection.
“Yes,” came the sleepy deep reply.
“You need to watch the babe for a bit this morning. I have to go get some reeds,” she whispered.
“Yes, I need to make a basket.”
“Don’t you have a basket? Why do you need another one?”
“It’s for the babe. I had a dream last night. I think I know how to keep him safe.”
“Pass him to me. Ok. I have him. Be safe my love.”
She kissed him and the babe and then gathered herself up and left. She was so deep in thought that she forgot the belt of cloth; she was already to the Nile before she remembered it. The sun was just peaking over the horizon.
The mass of bulrushes was not far from her dwelling place. She set to work cutting down the papyrus material. Her ears cautiously listened for any sign of the morning bustle. She smelled the musty odor from the river, its current was slow this morning. Here and there fish jumped out of the water as to welcome the dawning day. Jochebed smiled. There was a peace that encompassed her mind as she calculated the reed count and design needed to safe guard her son. Yahweh would provide.
“Mama!” called Aaron, as Jochebed opened the dwelling door.
Jochebed smiled. “Hey there sweetie. How’s my big boy?”
He ran to her and she bent to put down the reeds and pick him up. Miriam was rolling up her bed and Amram was lying on the floor next to the infant with his pointer finger in his fist.
“Just look how strong his grip is?”
“He’s going to be a strong one, no doubt.”
“I’m strong too, see my muscles,” Aaron gestured, flexing his arms.
“Yes, you are too, sweetie.” She touched his nose with her pointer finger. “Do you want to help me make a basket?”
“I do too!” Miriam called.
Jochebed stood up. “Good, I’ll need both of your help. We have to make it sturdy.”
“To hold lots of stuff?” Aaron asked.
“To hold precious cargo,” Jochebed replied. “Very precious cargo.”
“Oh, like fancy stuff?”
“Something like that.”
Amram and Jochebed shared a smile. Miriam noticed this and raised her left eyebrow. She wanted to ask for what but thought better of it. She knew that her parents would tell them what they needed to know when they needed to know it. If they were being evasive, it was for a reason.
“Let’s get started.” Jochebed moved the mound of reeds to the center of the home and sat down on the floor. Miriam and Aaron joined her. She gave them each a handful to start with and then showed them how to weave the material together. Miriam had made a small boat before; she worked with ease. Aaron had difficulty starting, his chubby toddler fingers almost in the way. But after a few attempts, he got it.
“Good job. Please be very careful as you work. The reeds can be sharp if you hold them the wrong way.”
Amram stood up slowly, the infant cradled in his arms. “You guys are doing a great job!” He walked to the table, uncovered the day-old bread and took a bite. Do we have any more water from yesterday?”
“If the pitcher is empty then no. Miriam you are doing such a great job, but can you stop for a bit and go get water. I completely forgot that this morning. I just wanted to get home and get this started.”
“Ok, mama.” She put her work down on the floor, grabbed the pitcher from her father’s hand and went out the door.
“I best be going soon too,” Amram walked to the corner with the baby. “I’ll just set him down here for now.”
He changed his garments, kissed his wife and sons and then left. When he opened the door, he almost ran straight in to Abela who was standing at the threshold ready to knock. “Hi Abela,” he greeted her loudly closing the door behind him.
Jochebed heard her husband’s warning and reached for the bundle of cloths. She placed it under her gown quickly and scooted back to the work area. She was just in time as the woman came through the door.
Aaron’s eyes were wide as he stared conspicuously at the intruder. He looked to his mother for direction. The babe in the corner wasn’t completely covered. What was he to do?
“Good job Aaron,” Jochebed stated nodding at him. “Just look at how well he is doing with the basket Abela.”
Abela walked toward the boy and stooped to appraise his workmanship. Jochebed stood up to block the woman’s view of the corner. She prayed that the babe would stay quiet.
“It’s nice. What are you making one of those for, don’t you have one already?” Abela peered at the boy’s workmanship.
“Do you need my help with something this morning Abela?” Jochebed asked, ignoring the question
“No, I just came to check on you. The baby should be coming any day now…at least in my calculations. I am beginning to worry, though, that this one might not be…well, I don’t want to cast any superstitions, but your others came early, did they not my dear?” She reached a hand to the woman’s belly.
Jochebed could feel the heat rising to her cheeks as she stepped back. “I’m fine. We’re fine. The babe still kicks away. Your concern is appreciated but you need not worry…my friend.” The last two words spoken with effort.
Abela stood up and bowed her head. “I can see that I upset you and I didn’t mean to.” She placed her hand on her chest. “Please forgive me. I’ll be off now. Please send for me…if you need me.”
Abela turned and left the dwelling, gently shutting the door behind her.
“Phew!” Aaron stated shaking his head with a quick blink of his eyes.
Jochebed bent to kiss his head. Her ears were red with annoyance and fear. She let out a deep breath as she removed the bundle from her waist.
The babe stirred and she walked to the corner to tend to him. Aaron continued with his work, eyeing the door frequently. Miriam returned with the water and listened intently to the story of the unexpected visitor while she took up her portion of the reeds and resumed her work.
Slowly, the project began to take form as the three portions were blended together. Jochebed only left the work to tend to the infant at intervals. Aaron and Miriam worked diligently throughout the day.
Amram returned at noon and took up a portion of the work. He shook his head as he listened to the retelling of the interaction between Abela and Jochebed. His heart was heavy with worry as he wove the material together. He frowned, thinking of his baby in the homemade vessel. He closed his eyes and said a brief prayer. Feeling a hand on his, he opened them to see his wife’s reassuring smile.
“Yahweh will provide.”
Aaron fell asleep quickly that night; his mind free from the cares of the world. Miriam was teary-eyed as she kissed the babe good night on his head. Sleep did not come easy, her prayers mixed with intervals of sleep. Amram and Jochebed lay with the infant between them, taking turns praying over him through the night. If rest did come for the couple, they didn’t realize it; their dreams taking on prayers of their own.
“Miriam,” Jochebed whispered. “It’s time.”
The young girl sat up quickly and looked around. Faint rays of light beamed through the window. Sunrise. She groaned slightly and stood up. Careful not to trip on her brother, she gathered herself together, changed her clothes quietly and met her mother and father at the door.
Amram prayed over the infant before bidding him farewell. He would stay in the dwelling with Aaron. His heart swelled with hope and love. Tears ran down his cheeks as his spirit fought the fear and anxiety of the unknown.
Jochebed placed her forehead on Amram’s as he passed the babe into her arms. “Yahweh will provide,” she whispered with a strain in her voice.
“Don’t worry father. I will watch him too.”
Amram placed a hand on her shoulder, “Bless you, my child.”
The mother-daughter team took their leave, setting off towards the Nile. They walked quietly as to not draw attention. Miriam carried the basket while praying blessings of protection over it. Jochebed held her infant, praying blessings of protection over him. She pleaded with Yahweh in her heart, willing herself not to cry. She was determined to be both faithful and courageous in this most difficult task of her life. She believed the promises of El-Shaddai, she had them written in her soul; her mind was another issue.
They arrived at the chosen spot along the Nile. The bulrushes sprouted up in wide patches from the shallow, calm water. Miriam placed the basket on the shore and lifted its lid.
Jochebed looked down at her son. “He is beautiful and strong.”
Jochebed kissed his forehead and then lowered him into the basket. She bunched his blankets around to cushion him from the sides. She had fed him before waking Miriam that morning and he was contently sleeping. She bent to kiss him and give one more prayer of blessing and protection. Mother and daughter lifted the basket and gently placed it in the water.
“Yahweh will provide,” Jochebed stated firmly. She nodded her head, giving herself reassurance and turned to go back home. Tears began to flow freely down her cheeks as she silently left the river’s edge.
This story is an adaptation from Exodus 2:1-4. Songs and stories have been written about the infants’ concealment in a basket, but we are given few details of the struggles to keep him hidden and place him in the crocodile infested waters. As a mother, I imagine that this was the most difficult thing Jochebed did in her whole life. And how many times did she have to stop herself from retrieving the precious one before Miriam returned with tidings of answered prayers?
What if Jochebed had retrieved Moses before Pharaoh’s daughter arrived? What if she brushed off the idea of a basket? What if she allowed her fear and anxiety to immobilize her instead of trusting in God for guidance?
We place our bundles of concern before the Lord and I wonder how often we retrieve them prematurely. In certain circumstances, I have even found myself almost giving God a roadmap, if not specific instructions, on how to solve my problems! As if the Almighty needs my advice!! Oh, how untrusting we can be!! The battle of will that it is to trust God completely is only as big as we let it be. In such a state of mind may we remember the prayer of the father in Mark 9:24 “I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief!” Praying daily, with bold expectation, and spending time in the Word will strengthen the establishment of trust.
It is written, “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways submit to him and he will make your paths straight.” (Proverbs 3:5-6). Trusting in God is the salve to life’s problems and negative emotions. It is a peace giving ointment that helps us cope with difficult issues often bringing to mind alternative perspectives that help us thrive. It may burn at first as we release any fight for control, but as it sinks into the soul we will find ourselves facing the blessed assurance of the Proverbs.