Moses Mondays: How It All Started

It wasn’t just the fact that Moses is a seminal character in the history of the people of God that drew me to him. I was also disturbed that the popular view of Moses was radically distorted, especially his time in Egypt. Due to Cecil B. DeMill’s The Ten Commandments, most people think of him as ignorant of his Hebraic roots until a crisis point later in his life. DeMill got his story from Prince of Egypt, a novel by Dorothy Clarke Wilson. Her story was also the basis for the animated film Prince of Egypt. The problem is that she was wrong.

Besides the Bible, the only other historical writings we have about Moses’s life are found in the Antiquities of the Jews by Flavious Josephus, a Jewish Roman historian of the first century A.D. In Book II, Chapter Nine we see that all of Egypt knew about Moses’s Hebrew origins, from the very beginning. No matter what one thinks about the particulars of the Josephus story, it is obvious that Moses was always thought of as a Hebrew. With that in mind, I decided to write a new story about the life of Moses, one that explored the problems that a Hebrew in the midst of the Egyptian court would encounter, the danger, the intrigue, the plots and counterplots. I also wanted to write a story that accurately described the period and the people, giving the Egyptians, as well as the Hebrews, their due. You can be the judge of my success at that.

See also Chapter 1: Disturbing Dreams

Destiny’s Passage
Copyright 1993-2004 William G. Meisheid

Chapter 2: Adrift

An ibis flew overhead, and the sounds of the retreating night were replaced by the muted stirrings of the creatures of the dawn. Jochebed and her daughter cautiously crept through the rushes to the river’s edge. She hoped the dense vegetation would conceal their movements from the few people who had begun to stir in the vague glow of the approaching dawn.

Bone-tired from the difficult journey, they carried between them a large, lidded basket woven from the same bulrushes that now provided their cover. The container, which looked like a common storage basket, had been altered. Its outside, to a casual glance, appeared normal, but the interior’s bottom and sides were coated with pitch, normally used for waterproofing boats.

Jochebed stopped, and her sharp eyes scanned the banks of the river in both directions. Several times during the night Egyptian patrols had come perilously close, but it appeared that no one had seen them. The strain of their twisting journey to the banks of the Nile had stretched her nerves to a thin strand. Reaching deep into her diminishing reserves, she steadied herself.

“God of Heaven. Don’t let your servant falter now,” she quietly prayed.

Only partially concealed by the thinning rushes, they moved to the edge of the water. Placing the basket on the narrow sandy bank, Jochebed gently removed its lid. Despite the bumping and jostling, their cargo, a sleeping baby, appeared undisturbed. He was three months old. Against her people’s tradition, they had not named him, fearing the increased attachment that would bring. It was already hard enough to do what needed to be done.

As she knelt down in the wet sand, Jochebed reached into the rough cradle and gently lifted the baby into her arms. Brushing open her robe, she held his mouth to her breast for the last time. He instinctively responded and, without fully waking, began feeding. He was so warm, so close to her heart, it almost overwhelmed her.

The difficulty of parting had not been a major concern before, because she had prided herself on her firm resolve, but now the heartache bit deeply into her determination. No matter how painful it was, she had to put those feelings aside and continue to nurse him. The child would get no more nourishment until someone found him.

In the three years since the Pharoah’s father had begun seriously enforcing the decree of Haremheb, Egyptian soldiers had been actively seeking out all newborn Hebrew males. Following the decree of the priests of Amon-Ra the infants were tossed into the Nile as offerings for the glory of Egypt and food for the waiting crocodiles. It was said that the Royal house was troubled by the Hebrews’ rapidly increasing numbers and the midwives, fearing the Hebrew God, were claiming an inability to carry out the Pharaoh’s edict. The soldiers had no such problems.

Jochebed and her husband had fiercely argued over their son’s fate. In a dream, Ashram had seen greatness foretold for the child. He had argued that The Most High God would protect him. Hadn’t He hidden her pregnancy and the birth from everyone? The infant had not even cried out at his circumcision.

She had countered that it was only a matter of time before they would be caught. There were paid informers everywhere, even in their own village. She argued that an anonymous voyage on the Nile was the child’s only real chance at life.

It was common knowledge that Egyptian women used the river to free themselves of the results of an unwanted birth. Childless couples scanned the waters daily for a reed boat ferrying their only hope for a baby. Better to be raised by the hands of unknown Egyptian parents than to be sport for the soldiers and food for the river beasts.

Besides, she had argued, what greatness could a child of Hebrew slaves aspire to? Maybe The Most High God would use this means to fulfill her husband’s vision in the same way their ancestor Joseph’s bondage to an Egyptian had prepared the way for him. Eventually her husband had relented and grudgingly agreed to the plan.

Jochebed’s gaze drifted to the growing light on the horizon, and she knew the time was short. Dawn was only moments away. Steeling herself against the growing anguish, Jochebed reluctantly removed the child from her breast and put him gently back into the basket.

He remained asleep, calmly unaware of the dangerous journey on which he was about to embark. Taking a deep breath, she replaced the lid and tied it securely, feeling as if she had bound her own heart in the process. She signaled her daughter and they silently lowered the floating cradle into the river.

They were along one of the smaller channels that the Nile had been split into as it passed through Memphis. It was early in the spring low season, so the shallow water’s flow was unhurried and unlikely to upset this fragile voyager as the currents carried him downstream. With a faltering prayer, Jochebed gave her son up to the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.

A sudden sense of emptiness pulled at her remaining hope as she felt the currents begin their work. The river took the bulrush ark easily from her shaking hand and then he was gone.

Helped along by the flow downstream, the basket drifted eighty or ninety cubits away from them before becoming wedged in a clump of reeds. Jochebed watched for a few moments, anxiety fighting against her resolve. It didn’t break free. She almost waded into the water after it, but with the dawn’s light rapidly growing brighter, she knew she had to start home before someone connected her with the cradle.

She was frozen for a moment in anguish and indecision, but then finality wrapped itself like a cold fist around her heart. Jochebed realized that her son’s fate was now out of her hands, just because she happened to see the first snag in his journey changed nothing. She quickly removed the carry cloth from around her waist and turned to her daughter.

“We can do nothing more, Miriam. It is almost dawn. Hide yourself nearby and see what becomes of your brother.”

“Momma. How long should I wait?” Miriam asked.

“All day if necessary. If you are not home by the evening meal, I will return at sunset with something for you to eat. We can decide what to do then. Be careful, my child.”

Bending down, Jochebed took a flint knife from her sash and began to cut some of the nearby reeds, piling them onto the carry cloth. When there was enough to satisfy any casual inquiry, she hoisted the bundle onto her back, supported it with a loop across her forehead, and then steadied herself. Looking around to make sure there was no one to see her, she gave her daughter a weary kiss and disappeared through the curtain of rushes.