A baby at the whim of a stranger – Moses in the basket Exodus 2:1-5 a sermon for CAMEO by Revd. Alex Pease

Everything turned upon what she would do when she opened the basket….

This story of Moses being put in a basket and floated down the Nile and rescued by Pharoah’s daughter, this story is so familiar to us from Sunday School upwards that it is easy to pass by how significant it is.

If Pharoah had succeeded in his plan to kill all the Jewish boy children, especially Moses then we would have had no Exodus; no 10 commandments; no distinctive nation of Israel; no Jewish exile to Babylon; no saving of the very unique Jewish religion and culture which was not absorbed into  Babylonian culture during the exile; no restoration of the Israelites to Jerusalem; and, unless God had found an entirely different way of achieving it, no Jesus Christ in Jerusalem in the first century AD.

Moses’ faith was so considerable, his leadership so dependent upon God that the stories of the Exodus were told to every generation of Israel. God even described himself to the Israelites: “I am the Lord your God who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery’. But it was through Moses leadership that God did this incredible thing.

These stories of freedom from slavery were what gave the Israelites the sense that they had of their own identity and of their unique understanding of who God is: an understanding on which Jesus and his apostles built in their teaching and in the actions they took during their lives and, most importantly, in the death that Jesus chose to endure which God endorsed by Jesus’ resurrection, an understanding of life, its purpose and its meaning which has never been improved on by anyone since.

When we think of Pharoah’s decision to kill all the Hebrew boys, it is so terrifying, so Nazi like in its cruelty and we know from the previous chapter that the Hebrew midwives were in on the plot to keep the baby boys safe, but we can well understand that the Hebrew Midwives would have wanted to protect them, the children were of course their cousins and nephews, but why would Pharoah’s daughter want to help?

She is an Egyptian.  Perhaps she hears Pharoah ranting about there being too many Hebrews; ranting about the ‘Hebrew Problem’. Pharoah is not after all the benign ruler of a constitutional monarchy, like our Queen, he is an absolute ruler, peoples lives hang on his slightest whim….and It was quite common, in the Ancient world, for monarchs to kill siblings and their own children who got in their way.

Why did Pharoah’s daughter take this colossal risk?

It was a very brave thing to do and for the whole of the life of that Pharoah she must have wondered if she was going to be punished.  It’s completely irrational that she would have made this decision for this stranger, for this child of a slave, at a time when Hebrew slaves were worth no more than dogs.

But I want you to focus not on her, but on Moses mother, who we discover is called ‘Jochebed’ later on in the story.

While this drama with Pharoah’s daughter plays out, Jochebed is at home.  What is she thinking? What is she doing?  

Certainly she is praying to the Lord. She has just left her precious baby entirely in his hands and put him in a basket coated with pitch and tar and made out of reeds that is so resonant of Noah’s Ark in Genesis – a tiny ark holding the hope of the future for the Hebrew people and indeed for us.

Did she know that the Princess would be going down to the river to bathe at that time?

Was she praying that Pharoah’s daughter would see the basket and have compassion?

Desperately hoping against hope that another woman might react with compassion to the compelling cry of a baby boy?

I think that is probable…

But, nevertheless, she is at home leaving her daughter to watch and see what happens next.

But, whatever her thoughts, the situation is very dicey.  How will Pharoah’s daughter, the princess react? Everything turns on what happens when she opens the basket, and sees the boy and hears his cry….

Then, of course, there is the very unlikely, but very wonderful, result: the princess adopts the pauper and takes him into the palace after a few years of leaving him with his own mother as a wet nurse, being paid to look after him!

The Princess’ act is so brave, so selfless, so crazy…but perhaps more importantly Jochebad’s trusting of her baby to what ever God would do in that situation is so faithful, so remarkable that we can easily see the hand of God at work in the decisions of these two women…

Through this little story, we learn the absolute sovereignity of God, who can and will use any human being for his purposes, should he choose to do so, regardless of whether they are signed up Judeo-Christian believers, because they are humans made in his image.

You see sometimes we can get hung up on worrying about the lives of our children, those we love, hanging on the whim of strangers…perhaps the secretary of admissions to the university; the human resource department of the company; the triage nurse at the hospital; the drunk driver on the motorway; whatever; all strangers who may not believe the things that we do, who may behave with selfishness and prejudice, who have no reason to do something brave, something which is perhaps out of the ordinary, something which perhaps stretches regulations, when it is essential for us, for the people we love, that they do so.

As our children go out from us into the world, we can see in this little story what we all have to do for our children and grandchildren: we have to let them go out into life, vulnerable as they are, like Moses in the basket, subject to the whims of strangers.

It is in these moments that we need to hand over our child, our grandchild, or our loved ones to the Lord and trust that, through his absolute sovereignity, he will act in a remarkable way through the most unlikely people to bring about his purposes on earth.


Exodus 2:1-5

Now a man of the house of Levi married a Levite woman, and she became pregnant and gave birth to a son. When she saw that he was a fine child, she hid him for three months. But when she could hide him no longer, she got a papyrus basket for him and coated it with tar and pitch. Then she placed the child in it and put it among the reeds along the bank of the Nile. His sister stood at a distance to see what would happen to him.

Then Pharaoh’s daughter went down to the Nile to bathe, and her attendants were walking along the river bank. She saw the basket among the reeds and sent her slave girl to get it. She opened it and saw the baby. He was crying, and she felt sorry for him. “This is one of the Hebrew babies,” she said.

Then his sister asked Pharaoh’s daughter, “Shall I go and get one of the Hebrew women to nurse the baby for you?”

“Yes, go,” she answered. And the girl went and got the baby’s mother. Pharaoh’s daughter said to her, “Take this baby and nurse him for me, and I will pay you.” So the woman took the baby and nursed him. When the child grew older, she took him to Pharaoh’s daughter and he became her son. She named him Moses, saying, “I drew him out of the water.”

 The Holy Bible: New International Version—Anglicised. (1984). (electronic edition., Ex 2:1–10). London: Hodder & Stoughton.

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