The book of Exodus opens with Jacob and his clan, the tribes of Israel, coming down to Egypt to dwell in the finest part of the land of Egypt, the land of Goshen, in the Nile River Delta, just next to the Mediterranean Sea. They even received Pharaoh’s blessing because of his appreciation for the fine job that Joseph did saving Egypt from seven years of severe drought.
The book of Exodus starts seemingly well, but just a few verses into it and about 200 years later, a new Pharaoh rises up in Egypt who doesn’t know Joseph. What does this mean?
It means a change in government. It means that the political system changes, and a new dynasty comes into power in Egypt, a Pharaoh of a different political party who didn’t appreciate Joseph and what he did for Egypt This happen in history often, and there is a bloody history of changes of dynasties by war, and by revolution, and by subterfuge.
This should not surprise us at all. The United States of America as we know it today was born out of a revolution. Today’s Europe was born out of a revolution. Russian Communism was born in a revolution, and in all these cases there was a “purge” of the old regime and the establishment of a new system of government that put new people and sometimes, as in Egypt, a new race of people in power.
When this happens, it is not unusual that the leadership of the previous power is exterminated. So, here you have it! A Pharaoh came into power that didn’t know and didn’t appreciate Joseph and his contribution to the economy of Egypt A Pharaoh that didn’t know Joseph means simply that he didn’t recognize or appreciate Joseph, and probably didn’t appreciate the preferential treatment that Joseph and his family had received – being allowed to settle in the best part of Egypt.
In this Torah reading from Exodus chapter 1 to chapter 6, the real heroes are really heroines, women! Five women that are little appreciated in most Christian circles.
The first women that were real heroes were the midwives, the one, Shiphrah and the other Puah. There is some discussion among scholars as to whether these two women were Egyptians or Israelites. It is my opinion that these two women are neither Egyptians nor Israelites.
Egypt was full of Semitic tribes and nations that had moved from both Europe and Asia to Egypt. One of the largest groups was the Hyksos. The Hyksos came from Asia, they were of Semitic origin and they ruled Egypt during the 15th dynasty, around 1500-1600 B.C.E. They were deposed by a new Dynasty that was not Hyksos.
Judging from the names of these two midwives, they are probably of Hyksos origin. The name Shiphrah means “beautiful” – like Linda in Spanish. This name is the same name as Saphira in Acts chapter 3. Puah can also be a Semitic name.
Would the Pharaoh of Egypt assign two Hebrew women to do this job?! Could he trust them to do it? When he finds out that they have not killed every male child of the Hebrews would Pharaoh be so incompetent as to accept the excuses that these two women gave him?
Take this into consideration: These two women took the job to drown every male child of the Hebrews in the River. They must have been very professional for Pharaoh to choose them for this job. They accepted the Job. But they didn’t obey the ruler of Egypt, the Great Pharaoh who ruled from Lake Victoria in Africa to Tunisia of today. They took a terribly dangerous chance to not obey the command of the Pharaoh and to save the Hebrew male babies. They were brave, they were moral, they were faithful to God and not to the Egyptian Pharaoh.
The third woman that was very brave and special was the wife of Amram a man from the tribe of Levi who married a woman from the tribe of Levi. This simple text reveals a great deal of what we should be aware of. Through this text, the Holy Spirit reveals to us that this family was faithful to God’s commands.
They had lived many years in Egypt, the greatest empire of the world in those days. The family of Moses was from the tribe of Levi, a tribe that was destined to become the priests of Israel. Baby Moses was hidden from the Egyptian secret police for three months.
His mother and father took a big chance hiding this baby and preserving his life, but the situation had become dangerous for the whole family and the baby had to be dispatched and put into the hands of God. Yocheved the Baby’s mother with great courage and trust in the Lord God of Israel, the creator of the world, put the baby in a water-proof basket and floated the basket down the Nile River. Moses mother and father had faith in God that He would not let this child be killed by Pharaoh’s police.
The waterproof basket is floating down the river. They have no control over this basket with the Hebrew baby inside and no one knows where and what is going to happen to this child. At the same time the Princes of Egypt, the daughter of Pharaoh himself, is going down to the river to bathe accompanied by her handmaids. The text is strange:
“Then the daughter of Pharaoh came down to bathe at the river. And her maidens walked along the riverside; and when she saw the ark among the reeds, she sent her maid to get it. And when she opened it, she saw the child, and behold, the baby wept. So she had compassion on him, and said, ‘This is one of the Hebrews’ children.’ Then his sister said to Pharaoh’s daughter, ‘Shall I go and call a nurse for you from the Hebrew women, that she may nurse the child for you?’ And Pharaoh’s daughter said to her, ‘Go.’ So the maiden went and called the child’s mother. Then Pharaoh’s daughter said to her, ‘Take this child away and nurse him for me, and I will give you your wages.’ So the woman took the child and nursed him. And the child grew, and she brought him to Pharaoh’s daughter, and he became her son. So she called his name Moses, saying, ‘Because I drew him out of the water.’” – Exodus 2:5-10 [NKJV]
Notice the strange things in this text: Pharaoh’s daughter goes in the water of the Nile River alone. Her maids don’t go down into the water. The Nile River is not a small river it is one of the greatest rivers of the world. It has fish, and big alligators, water snakes, and a variety of wildlife that could be dangerous.
If Pharaoh’s daughter was going to just bathe in the river – it would be natural for her maids to enter the water with her and help her bathe. If she was going to the river to play and enjoy the river – she would not go into the river alone.
From this text the Jewish rabbis deduce that Pharaoh’s daughter was already a convert to the faith of Israel, and she was in that time of her month, and went to the river to wash ceremonially and to be purified. This is the reason she went into the water alone and her maids stayed out of the water.
The second part that seems to strengthen this rabbinical commentary is that when Pharaoh’s daughter opens the basket and looks at the baby Moses, she immediately identifies the child as a Hebrew child. How would this protected daughter of the greatest king in the world of that time, who lives in one of the most luxurious palaces in the world, with guards, and maids, locked up in a palace that is the very definition of the word “luxury,” know a Hebrew child from a Nubian, or a Hyksos child, or a child from one of the other tribes and nations that lived in Egypt during that period? Pharaoh’s daughter had to have had some relationship with, some knowledge of this nation of slaves that worked on her father Pharaoh’s grandiose projects.
The Jewish rabbis very early on noticed the hidden subtext in this story and understood that Pharaoh’s daughter must have been acquainted with the Hebrew slave nation and have known their customs and identifying marks. She was able to immediately identify this as being a Hebrew child.
The next point reveals that the rabbinical commentaries might be right in saying that Pharaoh’s daughter might have known about the faith of Israel and had at least gained respect for the slave nation who had worked as slaves for several generations.
If Pharaoh’s daughter would be faithful to the laws of Egypt and the edicts of her father the Pharaoh and be obedient to the laws of Egypt, she would have been afraid to claim this baby.
The last woman who is a hero in this story is Miriam, the older sister of this Baby in the basket. She is hiding by the river and without doubt expecting something like this to happen. Miriam is considered a prophetess and she must have had a premonition that God will take care of this baby in the basket.
As soon as Miriam sees Pharaoh’s daughter pick up the basket, Miriam appears from behind the vegetation on the river banks and comes to talk to Pharaoh’s daughter and suggests a Hebrew woman to take the baby as a wet-nurse and raise him until it is time to deliver the child to Pharaoh’s daughter. It is not so simple to believe that a simple girl, a Hebrew slave, has access to the royal shores of the Royal palace precinct. Without doubt it must have taken more than courage for Miriam to enter there and address the daughter of the great Pharaoh.
The most important woman in this Bible story is actually Pharaoh’s daughter. Without her saving that Hebrew Baby and giving it the Egyptian name Moses (notice that most of the Pharaoh’s of Egyptian History have names that end with “ses”: Ramses, Tuthmoses, and many other of the Pharaohs had the suffix “ses” in their names).
Consider this, this Egyptian, non-Hebrew woman saves the savior that is to bring Israel out of slavery and into freedom and to receive the Torah from God. If Pharaoh’s daughter had not saved Moses, there would be no Israel, no King David, and finally no Yeshua…
Praise God for courageous women who chose to follow God and His righteousness and not the evil laws of this world’s dictators.
This article originally appeared on Netivyah and is reposted with permission.