The events take place toward the end of the 400 years of slavery for the Hebrew people in Egypt (ca. year 320.) The Hebrew people have been thriving, at least reproductively, in spite of all their hard labor. The Egyptian rulers fear that they will become too numerous and rebel, perhaps joining forces with one of their enemies, and so they enforce a strict population control method. First they order the midwives to kill all the male children, but the midwives do not comply, and God blesses them by providing them with more work, more Hebrew children are born. Then a strict edict comes down, "Every boy that is born [to the Hebrews] you must throw into the Nile, but let every girl live." (Exodus 1:22, NIV)
Back to Jochebed: She already has an older daughter (Miriam) and son (Aaron, approximately 3 years old at this time). She gives birth to another son and chooses first to hide her newborn. After a few months it becomes clear that she can't safely hide him (colic, perhaps?). She decides to follow the letter of the law if not the spirit. She gets a basket, covers it with tar and tree sap to waterproof it, and puts her son in the reeds of the Nile. She leaves Miriam to watch over him. I wonder if she placed him strategically. The Bible doesn't say how much time goes by before the Egyptian Princess comes to the Nile to bathe, hears the baby crying and rescues him from the reeds. Miriam steps up and asks if the Princess would like a Hebrew wet-nurse. With the Princess agreeing to this idea Miriam runs home to get her mother. So Jochebed's intelligence and faith are rewarded by being able to raise her son until he is weaned and adopted into the royal Egyptian family.
I find myself wanting to emulate Jochebed. In particular, she must have fully entrusted her son's life to God. There were any number of dangers that could have brought death to her tiny baby as she placed that basket in the Nile. I suppose crocodiles, drowning, dehydration, and starvation are among likely hazards to a baby floating solo on the Nile. Putting Miriam there to watch over him is almost another evidence of Jochebed's faith. Surely she didn't expect Miriam to watch her little brother's demise. She must have been expecting something good. She came up with a creative solution to extend her boy's chances at life as long as possible.
No one's asking me to throw my children into the Nile, but they do have to go out into a culture and a society that runs counter to our values, beliefs, and practices. Even those who home school, control their childrens' media and Internet exposure, and eat only home-raised organic food cannot completely remove their offspring from this World, nor should we, I think. Jesus said that His followers are "in the World," but "not of the World," (John 17:11 and 16, respectively.) I am stretching my faith, shaping spiritual "baskets" around my children, choosing a good spot to launch them, and watching to see what God will do. For me, this is a process that will take years, while Jochebed had just a few days, hours even, to literally send a newborn into the unknown. Next time I start to worry about my childrens' future I will remember Jochebed and her faith.