The baby’s older sister found herself a vantage point a little way off and watched to see what would happen to him. Pharaoh’s daughter came down to the Nile to bathe; her maidens strolled on the bank. She saw the basket-boat floating in the reeds and sent her maid to get it. She opened it and saw the child—a baby crying! Her heart went out to him. She said, “This must be one of the Hebrew babies.”
Then his sister was before her: “Do you want me to go and get a nursing mother from the Hebrews so she can nurse the baby for you?”
Pharaoh’s daughter said, “Yes. Go.” The girl went and called the child’s mother.
Pharaoh’s daughter told her, “Take this baby and nurse him for me. I’ll pay you.” The woman took the child and nursed him.
After the child was weaned, she presented him to Pharaoh’s daughter who adopted him as her son. She named him Moses (Pulled-Out), saying, “I pulled him out of the water.”
Exodus 2:4-10 MSG
As Sunday school colouring-in stories go, Moses’ birth is a favourite, and I’m pretty sure most of us have coloured in water and baby, reeds and basket. Pharaoh’s unnamed daughter is usually present in these images, but it’s only for this one moment that we see her, before Moses’ narrative moves on. But what do we see? And what can it teach us?
We need to realise something here: Pharaoh’s daughter knew. She knew the baby was a Hebrew child, and she probably knew that the woman fetched to nurse him was his mother. But she also knew that there was a political agenda against the Hebrew infants; that their boy children were to be slaughtered. She also knew she wasn’t alone. She found herself in the middle: on one side were her retinue of watchful attendants, and on the other a Hebrew witness, Moses’ sister. So Pharaoh’s daughter played along, played her part in the story, and saved the life of the Hebrew liberator and the man who would lead the slaves into nationhood, who would lead them into becoming Israel.
We never coloured in this image, did we?
Now, some might say that God compelled Pharaoh’s daughter, like he compelled her father and/or brother to resist Moses and Aaron’s demand to let the slaves go. But the Bible makes no mention of that, and I think that’s because God didn’t need to compel this woman. She saw not an enemy in that baby, and probably not a slave – she saw a child. She saw in his sister’s behaviour no impertinence, only love. And her soft-heartedness, her God-heartedness, saved the nation of Israel.
Having (and keeping) soft hearts isn’t an easy thing. Recently I was in a meeting and someone said something well-meaning but ultimately hurtful to me, something that pricked a well of emotions this person couldn’t have known was sitting under the surface. My first instinct was to harden my heart, to clam up and tough it out. But soft-heartedness means letting your fists unclench, your heart stay open. Soft-heartedness means being constantly vulnerable, being consciously vulnerable. It’s the only way to live from a place of love.
We follow a soft-hearted God, did you ever think about that? If you’ve read Hosea you know what I’m talking about. We hurt God constantly: with evil, sin, apathy or indifference. We’re fickle creatures to love, you know, but he loves us anyway. He sent his soft heart to earth in the form of a Son, and this Son laughed and cried, overturned tables and danced children in his arms, lifted up the sick to health and the dead to life, washed feet, broke bread, broke his body, arose again. It’s in this soft heart that we see God’s desperate love sprawled on a cross; it’s in this heart’s bleeding that we are cleansed, resurrected, new.
Soft-heartedness will be painful: it’s an open wound in a world of caustic sin. But it’s also this pain that will keep us attuned to God, to people, to their needs, to the evil in this world. Apathy allows us to forget what pain never will: that this place is temporary, fallen, fickle. It helps us remember what’s really important, and that’s two things and only two things: God and neighbour.
Let’s approach the rest of this week like a soft-hearted woman finding a baby abandoned in a river. The world may not deserve our soft hearts, but we never deserved God’s either.
Prayer inspiration: Hosea 11
But how can I give up on you, Ephraim?
How can I turn you loose, Israel?
How can I leave you to be ruined like Admah,
devastated like luckless Zeboim?
I can’t bear to even think such thoughts.
My insides churn in protest.
And so I’m not going to act on my anger.
I’m not going to destroy Ephraim.
And why? Because I am God and not a human.
I’m The Holy One and I’m here—in your very midst.
“The people will end up following God.
I will roar like a lion—
Oh, how I’ll roar!
My frightened children will come running from the west.
Like frightened birds they’ll come from Egypt,
from Assyria like scared doves.
I’ll move them back into their homes.”