Mommas Don’t Let Yer Babies Afloat Down the River

Exodus 2:1-10


Happy Mother’s Day to all of you out there.  I say that, of course, to my own mom.

I’m blessed to have her here with me this morning.  I say that, of course, to my favorite mom in the world—Kelley, my wife.

I also say that to all of you who are mothers, grandmothers, great-grandmothers—and even those who have been those second-and-third-mothers.

You know what I mean.  We all have those ladies in our lives who, though they might not have been biologically our mothers—or even related to us—act as our moms.

All of you have provided countless hours of prayer, care, discipline, and instruction to the children in your lives.  For all that, I thank you.


Moms have one of the more difficult jobs in the entire world.  I’d rank it right up there with those guys from The Deadliest Catch.

And this goes beyond the obvious labors associated with motherhood—labor and delivery, nursing, general childcare, homecare, and perhaps balancing a job with all of that.  Here’s a tough difficulty to swallow, but I think it’s true.

Moms—and, really, parents in general—just can’t be cool anymore.  Stay with me on this one.  One day I was talking with Kelley’s sister, Kristin.

She is a mother of a soon-to-be three-year-old, an adorable little girl named Ellie Lou.  Kristin is in her mid-twenties.  She is smart, beautiful, and personable.


In this conversation, she was expressing to me some of those difficulties of parenthood.  She was sharing how she had changed so much through it all.

As she listed off all the different trials and learning experiences, I interjected, “Don’t forget the hardest part to deal with.  You aren’t cool anymore.”

She gave me an almost-dirty look.  “What do you mean?” she asked, a bit irritated.

“Oh, don’t get upset,” I replied.  “I’m not cool either.  It happens to all of us who are parents of little ones.”

“I don’t get it,” she responded.  So, I proceeded to tell her all of the ways we weren’t cool.  If you walk around, unaware there’s a vomit stain on your shirt, it’s hard to be cool.  Her eyes got a little bit wider as she thought about it.

We have to stop what we’re doing to clean up poop.  We pick our kids’ noses for them.  We cut up their food for them—sometimes using our own teeth.

We stop caring about the clothes we wear, investing in several shades of gray sweatpants.  We know a little too much about Dora and her backpack.

Shocked, she said, “Oh my gosh!  I’m not cool!”  “Don’t worry,” I replied.  “You’re something better than cool.  You’re a parent.”


But it’s true, you know?  Being a good mom actually does fly in the face of most of what the world out there prizes.  The world values self-preservation and indulgence.

Good moms demonstrate the ideal of sacrifice.  In many ways, we cannot realize how much we resemble the self-absorbed world until we become parents.

Then we realize a better way, a sacrificial way—the way of Jesus Christ.  Then we realize that parenthood—yes, motherhood—requires much that is difficult.

Motherhood requires moms to go against the grain, to cease fitting in, to make sacrifices of their desires, and to make tough decisions.

In fact, you might say that, to be a mother in its purest form, is to get to the heart of what it means to be a Christian, in general.

This morning, I want us to look at a famous passage.  It involves a mother doing a not-so-motherly thing—at least, on the surface.

Travel back with me to the book of Exodus, to the time of the Israelite slavery in Egypt.  We will read of a famous mother making a radical sacrifice.

We will also read about other mothers—perhaps not biological ones, but ones who made sacrifices and difficult decisions to protect others, just as a mom would.

But enough introduction.  Let’s look at chapter 2, verse 1.  (Read Exodus 2:1-10.)


So we’ve got verse one—a seemingly meaningless verse, wouldn’t you say?  But look closely again at it.  Both mom and dad were of the tribe of Levi.

This was a special one among the tribes of Israel.  The Levites were consecrated—set apart for special use by the Lord.  They were His priests.

They were His temple servants.  We wouldn’t find that out until later in the Bible, but given our present state we can already know this to be true.

So the stage has been set.  This was to be a special baby.  His mother certainly thought so, based on verse two.  Look at it again.

She bore a son and “saw that he was a fine child”.  Other translations say she “saw he was beautiful”.  The good ol’ KJV says “he was a goodly child”.  Gotta love that KJV.

The Message translation puts an interesting twist on it.  It says that the baby’s mother “saw there was something special about him”.


Look, there’s nothing out of the ordinary here—nothing any good mom would do or feel given the same circumstances.

When moms conceive, they know that there is something special about that child.

Children are special, and for a whole lot of reasons.  But sometimes we forget that the ultimate way children are special is how God made them and plans to use them.

We know this child to be Moses.  We know what awaits him.  This was the man through whom God performed so many amazing miracles.

This was the man through whom God delivered Israel from its Egyptian oppressor.

This was the man through whom God would lead the people of Israel to the cusp of the Promised Land.  To be sure, Moses was special.


But, he was no more special than you or I—than your children or mine.  We all get the privilege of being used by God and being a part of His redemptive plan.

In the gospel of Luke, Jesus says that there was no one born among women who was greater than John the Baptist.

John shares similar fame with Moses in Christian circles.  He was the forerunner of Jesus.  Of course Jesus would tell of his greatness.

Here was a man who was truly special, just like Moses.  But then Jesus says this:  “Yet the one who is least in the kingdom of God is greater than John.”  Huh?  What?

Striving to be the least—thinking of ourselves less—is a highly prized character trait in God’s kingdom.  It’s as much about attitude as action.

Moses led an entire nation out of Egypt.  And, perhaps, you will lead a neighbor to Christ.  Or you will feed the homeless in your community.

Or you, as a mom, will raise up children in the ways of the Lord.  It’s all part of His redemptive plan.  Being least in the kingdom means surrendering to the greater.

Those who surrender to God’s call on their lives—how ever big or small you might perceive that call to be—are just as special as Moses.


I wonder if Moses’ mother realized how special he was, in both senses—in the general sense of being her child, and in the specific sense of his calling.

This now caused some problems, given her current circumstances.  If you don’t know the background to this story, here’s the Reader’s Digest version.

The Israelite slaves were becoming more and more numerous.  The Egyptian pharaoh worried that they might rise up and overtake his kingdom.

So he issued a decree that newborn male was to be executed.  Needless to say, this was great cause for concern for this baby’s parents.

Our passage said they hid him for three months.  Given as much as newborns sleep and how little they move in early stages, this was completely plausible.


Unfortunately, babies grow up fast.  They begin making lots of noises, rolling around, and generally being more active—and it doesn’t take long.

The baby’s mom decides to hide him in what is commonly described as a basket.

She coats it with tar and pitch, so it would be waterproof.  She then puts it among the reeds in the Nile, instructing her older daughter to watch after it.

What was the plan here?  We don’t exactly know.  Was she planning to go back and get the child later?  Was she hoping someone else would find the child?

Perhaps it would be someone not living among the Hebrew slaves, someone who might not recognize the child as Hebrew or consider the king’s edict.

We do not and cannot know the motives here.  All we can think of is that familiar phrase—drastic times call for drastic measures.  (Story on protective instincts?)


Now, while the plan wasn’t incredibly dangerous—we are talking about a well-sealed vessel, under the supervision of an older child, and floating among the reeds on the banks, not in heavy currents—imagine how this would go over today.

First of all, Child Protective Services would be called in on the spot.  The basket would have been given a thorough inspection to see if it held up to governmental regulations.

They would have asked for documentation as to whether or not the older sister had successfully completed swim lessons from an officially qualified instructor, since she was allowed to be so close to the river bank with no adult supervision.

In other words, this wouldn’t be happening today.  But that’s not to say that it wasn’t a good plan.  In fact, the outrageous nature of it could point to something good.


Is it possible that Moses’ mom was commanded by God to do this?  Whether or not there was a specific command—and we have no way of knowing—there can be no doubt that God is at the wheel of this entire saga.

Was she commanded by God to do this?  I don’t know, but I certainly get the sense that this was a woman who was ready to listen to God.

We read that something about this child stirred her—that she perhaps saw something special, or out of the ordinary, about him.

You know, there are two kinds of “out of the ordinary”.  In the first sense, every mom knows her child to be unique.

At the base level, a mom considers her child unique because that child is, indeed, “hers”.  But there’s another level, one that goes back to something we previously mentioned.  Every child is a gift from God, to be sure.

But we parents are merely stewards.  Our children belong to Him, to be raised according to His plan and used for His purposes.

I have to wonder if that’s the way this baby’s mother viewed her child.


In any case, the care she takes in protecting him is most interesting.  Commentator Douglas Stuart states that the term “basket” isn’t exactly appropriate.

In truth, what the baby’s mother placed her son in was a tiny ark.  That’s the word that is used in the original language.

Surely the people of Israel were familiar with the story of Noah and the ark he built.

That ark preserved the human race.  That ark delivered a remnant of humanity from God’s wrathful flood.  God built a new nation from those residing in that ark.

Similarly, God would build a new nation through this little baby in this particular ark.  The nation of Israel would be born under the leadership of that child.

I’m certainly not insinuating that this mother knew all that.  But I’m saying that she seems to be acting as a vessel of God’s grace and deliverance.


And you know what?  This baby’s mother wasn’t the only woman in this story who showed those motherly instincts by protecting this child.

First of all, there’s Miriam.  Well, that is how we will come to know her later on in the scriptures.  For now, she is simply the baby’s sister.

She followed the little child in the tiny ark as it floated down the river.  We can immediately infer a few things about this young girl.

First of all, she couldn’t have been anywhere near working age.  Otherwise, she would have been a part of the Israelite slave labor force.

So she is old enough to watch over the ark, but not so old that she would be working away from home.  We are likely talking about six-to-twelve years old.


Not only is she diligent and responsible in looking after her brother, but she also shows incredible boldness and poise in front of royalty.

Our passage states that the baby in the ark was discovered by the daughter of Pharaoh.  She immediately recognized the baby as a Hebrew child.

Notice the boldness the baby’s sister displayed.  She also showed incredible wisdom—certainly able to think on her feet.

At once she suggests to Pharaoh’s daughter that she could go fetch one of the Hebrew women who could nurse the child for her.

Of course, she knew exactly who to go to.  As Pharaoh’s daughter agrees, we are left to wonder whether or not this tiny ark has a steering wheel being handled by God.

And let’s not forget about Pharaoh’s daughter.  Of course, the mother of the child took a risk by hiding the baby in this ark and floating it down the river.

And you could also say that the sister took on considerable risk in her willingness to speak to royalty in Pharaoh’s court.

But what about Pharaoh’s daughter?  She takes on a good deal of risk as well.  If she immediately recognized this child as Hebrew, wouldn’t others?

Wouldn’t Pharaoh and his officials?  Might she not face serious repercussions for saving a child destined for death—by a decree issued from her own father?

So here we see three, not one, different women acting to protect this child—this child chosen by God for a glorious purpose.

This takes us back to that notion we mentioned earlier—those ladies who, though they might not biologically be our mothers, treat us like moms would nonetheless.

And all three of these ladies—and this story as a whole—teach us some valuable lessons.  Let’s think on them for a second.


First of all, moms have to make some really tough choices.  In truth, this is the case for all parents, not merely moms.  But I’ll stick with moms, given this special day.

Pharaoh’s daughter saw a need—more specifically, a helpless child in need.  She didn’t think twice about adopting this child as her own.

To be sure, there could have been consequences.  But this demonstrates a supreme truth about parenthood and, really, life in general.

We sacrifice ourselves for the good of others.  It is not a stretch at all to say that Pharaoh’s daughter essentially laid her life down on behalf of this baby.


Secondly, the traits of boldness and poise are practically prerequisites for being a mom.  If you don’t possess them before having kids, you will quickly adapt.

Children need a demonstration of a mom who knows how to act like a woman of God and a dad who knows how to act like a man of God.

Children need wisdom from mom.  Little girls need to see wisdom lived out before them so that they might know what to do when they grow up.

Little boys need to see wisdom lived out before them so that they might know what to look for in a future mate.

And children need to see boldness from mom.  I speak not of a crass, hostile belligerence.  I speak of a strong willingness to stand up for what’s right.

I speak of a boldness to protect those who need it, at all costs.


Finally, moms have to know that their children belong to the Lord.  This baby’s mom knew that.  She gave him up once, placing him—in the ark—into the river.

She received him back as she nursed him and weaned him, but then had to give him up again to be raised by the daughter of Pharaoh.

Tough as that was, it was going to be all right.  He belonged to God anyway.  First and foremost, children need to know whose they are.

This is a lesson that all parents must heed—dads and moms alike.  Moms, we need to remember that it’s not of utmost importance that your children like you.

Nor is it of utmost importance that they are popular, make good grades, financially successful, handsome or beautiful, or even properly mannerly.

Those are all good things, but they are mostly a byproduct of the main thing.  What is of utmost importance, mothers, is that your children know your God.

And, if you don’t know the true God, then you truly have nothing to offer them.  He is their primary need.  He is the primary need of every one of us.

If a child does not hear it from mom and dad, he or she may certainly hear it from someone else.  But the God-ordained way is through the parents.

We who are parents must all ask ourselves, “Does my child know my God?  Do I even know the true God?  Or am I spinning my wheels on something less significant?”


And all of us in this room should be grateful for women such as Moses’ mom, his sister, and even the daughter of Pharaoh.

After all, we are only here on this earth because God gave us a mother.  And we survive, in part, because of all those motherly types who raised us.


Would you pray with me?