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Iochebed – the mother of Moses

By John Phillips

Exodus 2:1-10; Hebrews 11:23-26

Moses towers like a titan across the vast reaches of our Bible. He is mentioned in 261 verses in Exodus, 80 verses in Leviticus, 216 verses in Numbers, 35 verses in Deuteronomy, 51 verses in Joshua, and 47 verses in the other historical books. The book of Psalms and the Prophets also refer to him. He is mentioned in 37 verses in the Gospels, 19 verses in Acts, and 22 verses in the Epistles. The book of Revelation also refers to him. Altogether he is mentioned in 784 verses in the Bible: 705 in the Old Testament and 79 in the New Testament. Pity the people whose pastors don’t believe in Moses. By the time such liberals tear him out of their mutilated Bibles, they don’t have much Bible left.

Moses is one of the greatest men God ever made. Known as the emancipator and lawgiver of Israel, he was also a scholar, soldier, statesman, and saint. He was one of the two men who were sent back from the otherworld to confer with Christ on the Mount of Transfiguration (Matt. 17:18). He wrote the first song in Scripture (Exod. 15:119), and in glory, they still sing the song of Moses. Only now it is muted as the great stanzas of that song awake the echoes of the everlasting hills in “The song of the Lamb”(Rev. 15:3). Much of the credit for what he became must be given to his mother, Jochebed.

Jochebed Had Him

Before Moses was born, Pharaoh of Egypt decided that every male child, born to a Hebrew woman, was to be thrown into the Nile. This decree, one of Satan’s early efforts to prevent the birth of the Messiah by attacking the Jewish race, must have been a tremendous test of Amram and Jochebed’s faith. Their little boy, who was destined to rule the Israelites, was born, like Christ, with a great red dragon waiting to devour him the moment he was born. The couple had two older children, but the Bible does not record their births. Perhaps they were born before the edict.

Few women have had to raise a family in more difficult circumstances. The fact that a Moses, a Miriam, and an Aaron could come from a slave hut on the Nile says much about Jochebed’s influence.

Hebrews 11:23 links the faith of Moses to the faith of his mother and father: “By faith Moses, when he was born, was hid three months of his parents, because they saw he was a proper child; and they were not afraid of the king’s commandment.” The king’s wrath was something to be reckoned with, but they discounted it because they feared the wrath of God far more. They made up their minds not to murder their child in cold blood just to comply with the tyrannical edict of a wicked king. God, in turn, honored their faith.

The hour had struck for the enslaved Hebrews to be emancipated from Egypt. The prophecy given to Abraham about four centuries earlier (Gen. 15:13-14) was about to be fulfilled. The nation that Satan wanted to stamp out of existence was about to rise up and trample the world. To accomplish His purpose, God sent a baby into the world.

That is usually God’s way. F.W. Boreham observed it as he surveyed the year 1809. That year stood midway between two great battles that shaped the destiny of the world: the Battle of Trafalgar, which destroyed the naval might of Napoleon, and the Battle of Waterloo, which destroyed his military might. Everyone was thinking of battles. Nobody was thinking of babies; yet in that one year William Gladstone was born in Liverpool, Lord Alfred Tennyson was born in Somersby, Oliver Wendell Holmes was born in Massachusetts, Abraham Lincoln was born in Kentucky, Frederick Chopin was born in Warsaw, and Felix Mendelsohn was born in Hamburg. Boreham commented,

Which of the battles of 1809 mattered more than the babies of 1809? When a wrong wants righting or a work wants doing, or a truth wants preaching, or a continent wants opening, God sends a baby into the world to do it. That is why, long, long ago, a Babe was born at Bethlehem.

And that is why, long before the birth of Jesus, another babe was born in a slave hut on the banks of the Nile.

Jochebed believed that God is greater than Pharaoh, that Satan is no match for the Holy Spirit, and that “greater is he that is in you, than he that is in the world” (1 John 4:4). So she had Moses. We can thank God that she did. For Mosaic Law lies at the heart of every sane piece of legislation on the world’s statute books. The books of Moses form the Torah (the Pentateuch), the first five majestic, monumental books of the Bible — without them we would be immeasurably impoverished in our understanding of God’s ways. By giving us the Pentateuch, Moses laid the foundation for all the subsequent books of the Bible — and a massive foundation it is.

Jochebed Hid Him

As long as they could, Jochebed and Amram shielded baby Moses from the destructive powers of the world. They hid him within the four walls of their humble abode. Nothing in that home could harm a little child. Thank God for homes like theirs!

The great red dragon hates our children and wants to destroy them. As long as possible, we should shelter and shield them from the world’s destructive ways. Think of the violence, immorality, and perversion in many of today’s television shows; the vileness of outright pornography on cable television; the foul lyrics and souldestroying ideas in most popular contemporary music. Are we hiding our little ones from influences like these?

Our homes should be places where goodness and godliness are constantly taught and exemplified, even during a child’s earliest days. For it is then that his soul’s citadel must be stormed; it will be ten thousand times harder to capture later on.

When baby Moses could no longer be hidden at home, Amram could well have said to Jochebed, “What do we do now?”

Jochebed could have answered by asking a question of her own: “How does God save someone who is condemned to death?”

Then they remembered the ark. When God condemned the wicked antediluvian world to death, He told Noah to build an ark in order to save his family from the wrath to come. That ark was to be covered inside and out with pitch. When it was finished, Noah and his family went into it. The storms of judgment came, and the rain beat upon the ark — but the people inside were saved. Amram and Jochebed would say to each other, “That is how God saves people who are condemned to death. He puts them in the ark.”

God, they decided, is the same yesterday and today and forever. So they made a little ark and covered it with pitch, just as Noah had done. They put their baby in the ark and placed the ark in the waters of the Nile, where death was everywhere. Amram and Jochebed committed Moses to the ark, and the ark would come between Moses and death. “We cannot save our little boy from the forces of death,”Moses’ parents decided, “but God can.” God always honors such faith as theirs.

There arc three arks mentioned in Scripture. All three point to Christ. Today we must commit our little ones to Him, just as Jochebed and Amram committed Moses to the ark. We cannot save our children but He can. “The promise is unto you, and to your children,” said Peter (Acts 2:39). By a deliberate act of believing faith that is backed by the power of godly lives, Christian parents must commit their children to Christ. He alone can surround them with adequate protection once they have to venture out beyond the confines of the homes.

Jochebed Held Him

Of all the “coincidences” that have changed the fortunes of this weary world, among the greatest are the events surrounding the discovery of the baby Moses in his ark. We know the story well. The royal princess (believed by many to be Hatshepsut, one of the most forceful, imperial, and powerful of all those who rose to power in Egypt) found that little ark of bulrushes. She sent her maid to fetch it, and just when it was opened, the baby wept!

No woman’s heart could have resisted the whimper of that lovely little boy. Perhaps he was hungry. Perhaps he was wet. Perhaps the sudden light startled him. Perhaps he was afraid of the strange hands that held him up for the princess to see. In any case, the tears that trickled down the cheek of that baby melted the heart of Pharaoh’s proud daughter and changed the destiny of an empire and the fate of the world. “This is a Hebrew boy,” she said in effect. “He should be thrown into the Nile, but I’ll adopt him. I’ll take him home with me and raise him as my son.”

Jochebed had not left her baby alone in his ark. His sister Miriam watched over him. Likewise when we commit our children to Christ, God still expects us to take all the prudent measures we can to shield them. He does not bless carelessness and lack of common sense.

As soon as Miriam saw what was happening, she came closer to the water. With commendable presence of mind, she spoke to the princess: “My lady, do you need a nurse for that child?”

The princess had not thought of that. Of course she needed a nurse. The baby was not yet weaned. We can picture her commanding Miriam: “Fetch a Hebrew slave to nurse this child for me. Tell the woman that I will pay her.” So Jochebed received wages for raising her own son! God always rewards His children for doing those things that please Him — if not in this life, in the world to come.

We do not know how long the princess allowed Jochebed to nurse Moses. Often in those days a child was not weaned for several years. (Isaac seems to have been five years of age when he was weaned.) No doubt this godly woman took full advantage of the few years she had. Before he went out into the world, she wanted to drill truth into his plastic mind in a way that he would never forget. What did she teach him? It does not take much thought to answer that question. We just have to look at the book of Genesis.

Later, Moses wrote out of his own experience four books of the Bible: Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy. In Genesis he recorded the truths his mother passed down to him — truths that were modified, amplified, and confirmed later and incorporated by the Holy Spirit into the Word of God.

We can surmise what Jochebed said to herself: “I don’t have long but, God helping me, I’m going to get the Word of God into this child before the professors of Egypt try to fill his mind with foolishness.” She taught him the truth about creation, about Cain and Abel, and about Enoch, Noah and the Flood. She would have then taught him about the Tower of Babel, Abraham and the covenant, Sodom and Gomorrah, Lot and his wife, Ishmael and Isaac, Jacob and Esau, and the twelve patriarchs. Then Jochebed told Moses why the Hebrew people were slaves in Egypt and taught him about the prophecy that after four hundred years they would be delivered.

Above all, she taught him about Joseph, a young man who lived for God in the same royal courts to which Moses would soon be taken. She told him how Joseph was sold as a slave into Egypt ;how in spite of his very impressionable, youthful age, he took his stand against the impurity and immorality of Potiphar’s wife; how he suffered for his godliness; how God raised him up at last to a place at the right hand of Pharaoh himself. Jochebed’s emphasis here is almost sure — Moses devoted onefourth of the book of Genesis to the story of Joseph.

The Jesuits used to say, “Give us a child until he’s seven, and you can do what you like with him after that.” We know that Jochebed would have agreed with them because she did a thorough job of training Moses.

Eventually the order came from the palace: “Send me Moses.” As Jochebed kissed Moses goodbye, she probably said, “Remember what I’ve taught you, my son.”Moses never forgot that he was a Hebrew. The universities of Egypt, the temptations of the palace, the lure of position, power, wealth, and the possibility of a worldly throne never erased his mother’s training.


Adapted from Exploring People of the Old Testament, Volume 1 by John Phillips. Used by permission of Kregel Publications. The John Phillips Commentary Series from Kregel is available at your local or online Christian bookseller, or contact Kregel at (800) 733-2607.


John Phillips is a popular preacher and Bible study leader who now resides in Bowling Green, KY.


1. F.W. Boreham, My Christmas Book (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1953), 7.


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