(While looking for something entirely different I stumbled on the notes to an old homily I delivered years ago on Motherhood. While there are many things that I would say differently now, I have decided to just post the message as it was originally delivered.)
The Leviathan-like French army had its tentacles wrapped around the throat of almost every civilized nation on the planet. Napoleon had his sights set on ruling over the entire globe. It seemed as though he was destined to conquer all of England, the newly formed United States, and the whole world. That is until the fateful 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. While things that seemed to matter most to the world were going on, quietly, all over the earth, even more important events were unfolding. More significant than all the bullets coming forth from muskets were some remarkable babies that were coming forth from the wombs of loving mothers.
In that 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.
F.W. 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.’
That’s also why long before Jesus was born, God sent a baby into the world named Moses. That mighty man Moses towers like a titan over the vast reaches of our Bible. His looming figure casts its long shadow over all of human history. He was Israel’s great emancipator and legislator. He was a brilliant scholar, a courageous soldier, a dignified statesman, and a devoted saint. He was one of the greatest men that God was ever pleased to create. But Moses was the man he was largely because of the caliber of mother he had. It may be true that the face of history has been shaped mostly by great men. But it is also true that those great men have been shaped mostly by the hands of great mothers. Jochebed was one such mother. Her life serves as something of a portrait of a godly mother; a mother whose life is founded upon the fear of the Lord and is fortified by a faith in the Lord.
I. She Had Him
The crocodiles of the Nile River grew fat on the flesh of Israel’s male babies that year. Before Moses was born, the Pharaoh of Egypt decided that every male child, born to a Hebrew woman, was to be thrown into the Nile. This decree was one of Satan’s early efforts to prevent the birth of the Messiah by attacking the Jewish race. It 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.
Few mothers have had to raise a family in more difficult circumstances. How many women today, when they discover they are pregnant, consider the minor inconveniences the child may cause them and simply abort their babies? But not Jochebed. In the worst imaginable circumstances she carried that baby full term and HAD HIM. Why would she have him in such circumstances?
Faith in the promises of God. God did not promise her personally that God would deliver HER child. She knew her child might perish in the jaws of crocodiles just as thousands of others had. But she knew God made a promise to the father of her people- Abraham- 400 years before. God said that he would raise up a mighty nation from the loins of Abraham and that nation would one day inherit the earth. She believed the promise of God.
Hebrews 11:23 “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.”
Jochebed knew a nation would need men and she would do whatever it took to do her part to give men to her nation. If God so chose not to use her man-child then God’s will be done. But if God would use her man-child then what a privilege to be an instrument whereby God would keep his promise to Abraham!
I’m going to say something a bit controversial here. For the last forty years or so there has been a popular ideology that has had a crippling effect upon the church. That is the notion that it is best to have two or less children, if any at all. The idea is that you have to be sure that you have all of the finances lined up and be able to prove that you can provide a good life for the child before you enter the enterprise of expansion. In a way, that might seem admirable. It seems thoughtful and responsible. But ultimately it is faithless disobedience to the command to raise up an heritage to the Lord.
All the while, Muslims, in far more poverty stricken circumstances than most Christians find themselves, are having children in droves.
Now, no religion in the history of the world has ever been able to compete with Christianity in the getting of converts. We are not losing ground so much in the area of evangelism as we are in the area of birthing and raising godly seed.
I pray that all Christian parents will say, “God if I can raise several children to launch forth into service for your Kingdom, use this womb and this home for your glory.”
She HAD HIM.
II. She 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.
Can you imagine the hardships of those three months? How terrifying it was when Egyptian soldiers stood outside and little Moses burst forth into crying. “Please, Moses, PLEASE quiet down. Please baby, don’t cry!”
90 days of hiding and sneaking. She must have hung blankets all over the house to absorb sound. She must have covered all the windows so no one could see in. She made those four walls an impenetrable fortress of safety for that baby.
And mothers who would have great sons and daughters must do as Jochebed did. Hide them in those impressionable years from the influences and dangers of the world. Our homes must 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.
But as Moses lungs grew larger, his cries grew louder. Perhaps a few times soldiers swung open the front door of Jochebed’s home and yelled, “Did I hear a BABY cry in here?!?!”
Finally, Jochebed knew she could hide little Moses in her home no longer. And there comes a time when we can hide our babies no longer from the world. What do you do when hiding them is no longer an option?
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.
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.”
There are three arks in the Bible. Each one points to Christ. There was Noah’s ark, by which God saved the human race from extinction. There was Moses ark, by which God saved Moses, and through Moses saved the nation of Israel and protected the line of Christ.
Then there was the Ark of the Covenant that would reside in the Most Holy Place. Once a year the high priest would enter the holy of holies where the ark was located. He would take the blood of a spotless lamb and sprinkle it on that altar- signifying the blood of Christ which would be sprinkled before God in heaven- and through that blood sins would be forgiven and sinners would be reconciled to God.
So Jochebed put her baby in an ark, knowing that that is how God saves those condemned to death!
Mothers, do whatever it takes to get your babies into the ark of salvation. Hide them in the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Make a bed of the Gospel for them to lay in. Make walls of the Gospel to surround them on every side. And cover them with the Gospel of Jesus Christ so that when they look up, they see Jesus protecting them at all times. She hid him…
III. She Held Him.
Follow that Ark as little Miriam did from the shoreline of the Croc infested Nile. Watch it as one big fat crocodile swims over to it and bumps it with his nose. There it goes down into rugged rapids! How many times did it almost turn over and dump three month old Moses into a watery grave?
Oh, how little Miriam must have prayed! “Oh God, save my little brother!”
Then the water calms. A current carries the little ark down a tributary into the palace court of the Princess of Egypt where she happens to be bathing at that moment…
Of all the “coincidences” that have changed the fortunes of this weary world, certainly among the greatest are the events surrounding the discovery of the baby Moses in his ark. The royal princess 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.”
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 in a turn of providential irony Jochebed received wages for raising her own son.
She held him. Think about those hands that held him.
Her hands were Tough hands…
Her hands were Tender hands…
Her hands were Teaching hands…
Oh the power of a godly Mothers hands!! How strong they are. How sweet they are!
Jochebed, a slave, raised three notable children. Moses the deliverer of Egypt of whom the Bible speaks some 784 times. She raised Aaron, the first high priest of Israel and founder of that holy order. She raised Miriam, the sweet singer of Israel.
These three had one thing in common- the hands of Jochebed!
Moses is the author of the the first five books of the Bible. He wrote Genesis even though everything happened long before he was even born. How do you think he knew those stories? They were painted in his mind and heart in a way that only the sweet voice of a mother can sketch them.
He never forgot, as long as he lived, her voice saying, “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth…” and the covenant promises to their father Abraham.
That compassionate catechesis upon his mother’s knee was such that when Moses became a man he truly put away childish things. He chose to suffer affliction with the people of God rather than enjoy the pleasures of sin for a season. He considered the reproach of Christ greater wealth than all the treasures of Egypt. Mom must’ve taught him everything from creation to Christ and he learned his lessons well.
But the hero of this story isn’t Miriam, or Jochebed, or even Moses. The true hero is the gracious God who loved the world enough to raise up Messiah by raising up men by raising up mothers; the kind God whose means are as glorious as his ends. The story that climaxes on a tree and culminates on a heavenly throne traces its way from our first mother Eve with the promise of resurrection in her womb. Every birth east of Eden was one step closer to the Garden City. From faithful Eve and giggling Sarah, to tender Rachel and tainted Rahab, to determined Ruth and blessed Mary, God graced women with the gift of motherhood for the redemption of the world.
One of Paul’s more perplexing statements is that one about “women being saved through bearing children.” Well, I am not sure that I know exactly what he meant by that but I’m content that he would agree than none of us could’ve been saved without women bearing children.
So the miracle that is motherhood is entirely a gift of grace; it is the work of God. Jochebed wasn’t necessarily anyone uniquely gifted, she was simply a lady who believed God, rested in his promises, and wrapped them tightly around her children like swaddling clothes. Hers was but an ordinary faith in an extraordinary gospel. Her faith manifested itself in quiet faithfulness. There was nothing spectacular about her actions. In truth, that is the spectacular thing–God was pleased to do the miraculous through the monotonous. She had him. She hid him. She held him. And God, as is his habit, turned that simplicity into sublimity. In a brilliant display of wise folly, the Almighty was pleased to place the salvation of the world into two tiny feminine hands. Women truly were saved in child bearing. And the rest of us along with them.
They say that man is mighty,
He governs land and sea,
He wields a mighty sceptre,
O’er lesser powers that be,
But a mightier power and stronger,
Man from his throne has hurled,
For the hand that rocks the cradle,
Is the hand that rules the world.