When we first meet Jochebed, she is a single woman from the tribe of Levi living in slavery in Egypt. She marries a man from the same tribe and bears him three children.
The birth story of her second child is told in Exodus 2. She becomes pregnant right around the time Pharaoh orders his people to toss all Hebrew baby boys into the Nile (as an offering to Hapi?).
There’s no way Jochebed will kill her own baby, so she and her family figure out a way to hide him for three months—this alone is astounding when you consider the fact that (1) she no longer had her baby bump, and (2) newborns are not the quietest creatures on earth. But. Somehow. They. Did. It.
Eventually, she could no longer hide the little guy, and you know the rest of the story. She placed him into a water-tight basket in the Nile charging his sister, Miriam, to keep an eye on him. The baby’s cries were loud enough to be heard by a group of prominent women who happened to be walking by the river at the same time. When Pharaoh’s daughter realized there was a baby in the basket, she took him as her own—but how would she feed him?
His sister, Miriam, bravely approached the princess and offered to find a Hebrew woman to nurse the baby. The princess thought this was a great idea and Miriam brought the baby’s mother to her. She then paid the baby’s own mother to nurse him, and she eventually raised him as her own.
Pharaoh’s daughter played a significant role in this story as she intentionally rejected her own father’s orders by saving the baby, not reporting Jochebed for her defiance, and raising the child as her own.
After the Hebrews’ miraculous deliverance from the Egyptians through the Red Sea, Miriam (now a prophetess) grabbed her tambourine and led a group of other tambourine-toting women in a song of praise to the Lord, “Sing to the Lord, for he has triumphed gloriously; the horse and his rider he has thrown into the sea.” Exodus 15:21
One more thing: There was a time in Miriam’s life where she was stricken with leprosy (a term used for a variety of skin conditions in the ancient near east). Whether this was a permanent condition or only temporary, we must infer from the context.
What we know for sure is that she had a problem with something her brother Moses had done, but rather than confront him about it, she went behind his back to his brother and complained to him.
During this exchange, it becomes clear that Miriam was trying to set herself (and Aaron) up as the new leader of the Hebrews. She was so self-righteous in her attitude that she neglected to seek the Lord’s counsel. She had it all figured out. She knew what she was going to do, and as prophetess, she was stepping out to do it.
There was just one problem: In standing up against God’s chosen leader, she was standing up against God.
She was “punished” with what I think was a temporary skin condition. Why temporary? Had it been permanent, she would have been permanently removed. Instead, she was cast out of the community for only one week and the people did not move again until she was brought back in.
Miriam’s story serves as a warning to all women in leadership: We MUST check our attitudes and sense of rightness and justice against God’s will which can be known through relationship, prayer, and revelation.
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Photo by Delfi de la Rua on Unsplash