As we approach Mother’s Day, children – young and old – will reminisce, poets will wax eloquent, and greeting card companies will enjoy a splendid spike in sales. The story we are about to share is true. It happened a very long time ago – about 3,500 years, give or take, but it remains a remarkable example of two mothers whose love changed the world.
Their story is a familiar one for the most part. Much of it is told in the Old Testament book of Exodus. It is the story of how a birth mother and an adoptive mother saved the life of a baby boy and raised him to become a great leader and a godly man.
Jochebed was a Hebrew slave in Egypt. The family of the patriarch, Jacob, had moved to Egypt to escape a famine in their own country. They were treated with kindness and hospitality for more than 300 years until there appeared to be more Hebrews than native Egyptians living in the country.
Several generations had passed until a new administration came into power. The ruling Pharoah feared that the Hebrews, being greater in number, might one day band together to overcome his government. He mandated the infanticide of all Hebrew male babies. A death sentence also awaited any parents who were caught hiding their children.
Jochebed gave birth to a baby boy while the nation was under that edict. Exodus 2:2 explains that “he was a beautiful child.” She loved him and would not allow the Hebrew midwives to abscond with him. Neither were they inclined to do so.
For three months, she fed, sheltered, and protected him. When it became impossible to continue doing so, she wove a basket, waterproofed it, and placed the baby in it in a place along the Nile near when the king’s daughter, Thermuthis, was known to frequent.
Instead of being drowned in the Nile as the king had decreed, the baby was discovered alive by Thermuthis and her attendants. The Bible tells us that when she found the child, she took compassion on him. The Jewish historian, Josephus, adds that “she was greatly in love with it” because it was strong and beautiful.
Having rescued the child out of the river, Thermuthis named him after the Egyptian god of water, Mo. She added to that the Egyptian word, Uses, which means “to be saved out of the water.” Thus, we have the transliterated name of Moses.
Knowing full well that he was a Hebrew child, Thermuthis determined to protect Moses from her own father’s decree.
To do so, she needed help. The Lord used Moses’ older sister to arrange for a Hebrew woman to nurse the baby until he was weaned. Of course, the Hebrew woman was Jochebed, Moses’ mother.
During that time, however long it may have been, the Lord kept Moses under the loving compassion and protection of two mothers who provided for his needs. After his weaning, Moses moved from a slave’s hut into the king’s mansion. Both Jochebed and Thermuthis knew that the palace was the safest place for him to grow and prosper.
Just prior to his martyrdom, Stephen described Moses as “learned in all the wisdom of the Egyptians, and was mighty in words and deeds,” despite Moses’ excuses before the burning bush. (See Acts 2:19-22)
According to Josephus, surprised though he may have been, the Pharoah was quick to observe the beauty of the child whom his daughter proposed should be made next in line to the throne. And so, he was trained to be. He became known as an orator and a great leader of men as the general of the Pharoah’s army.
Whether Thermuthis loved Moses as much as Jochebed did is a matter of frivolous debate. There is no question, however, that both mothers wanted to protect him and provide the very best things in life for him. “Agape” was not a word in those days, but it certainly existed in the compassion both had for this one special child.
These two women exemplify the agape love that so sets mothers apart. A mother’s love is tuned to resonate with the beat of her children’s hearts. Mothers are often the first willing to sacrifice everything for the sake of their children. Aside from the love of God, there can be no greater love than that of a mother for her child.
The Lord used the love of Jochebed and Thermuthis to mold Moses into the person He needed to be to lead the Israelites out of bondage and onward toward the Promised Land. The Lord entrusted Moses to deliver and codify His rules for a godly life. Moses became known as the greatest prophet in Israel, the prophet “whom the Lord knew face-to-face.” (Deuteronomy 34:10)
Under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, Moses wrote the first five books of the Bible, including his infancy in Exodus 2.
It doesn’t matter who you are. Most likely, your mother loves you. The important question this Mother’s Day is, “Do you love her?” Clearly, Moses recognized the love of both of his mothers with a tender heart. We should do the same. You’ll never have anyone love you as much as your mother does.