Four hundred years have passed since Jacob's family left the land of Canaan and settled in Egypt to survive the famine. Now a new Pharaoh is less than pleased to see how God's people have multiplied over the years and decides that they must be eliminated. One couple decide to save their baby from being thrown into the River Nile by placing him in a basket and leaving him in the river amongst the reeds in the hope that an Egyptian woman will find him and take pity on him.
“Wah! Wah! Wah!”
Thump, thump, thump.
“SHUT THAT BABY UP!”
Amram and Jochebed looked at each other with fear in their eyes. If their next door neighbours could hear the baby crying then everyone could. If an Egyptian guard walked past the house and heard the noise they were in trouble. The Egyptians would take the baby away ... and throw him in the River Nile.
Why would anyone do such a terrible thing to a tiny little baby boy? It was because he was one of God's special chosen people. They called themselves the Israelites because they lived in the land of Israel ... or at least they used to. Back when Amram and Jochebed's great-grandparents had been alive they had run out of food in the land of Israel, but God didn't let his people starve, he moved them to the land of Egypt where there was food to spare. Pharaoh, the king of Egypt, was happy to let God's people stay and for a long time life was good. But now there was a new Pharaoh and he wasn't as pleased to see the Israelites as his great-grandfather had been.
“Look at them!” said Pharaoh to himself, “They're everywhere and there seem to be more and more of them every day. If I don't stop them they'll take over the whole country. I've got to get rid of them, but what can I do? Hmm. I know! I'll make them slaves, I'll make them work on my building sites, I'll make them work until they drop down dead!”
And that's exactly what he did ... except that the Israelites didn't drop down dead, they just worked and worked and worked.
“It's no good,” Pharaoh moaned, “there are more of them than ever. I need a new plan. Hmm. I've got it! From now on whenever an Israelite woman gives birth to a baby boy he will be taken from her and thrown into the River Nile! That'll put a stop to them ... sooner or later.”
And the plan might have worked, if it hadn't been for Amram and his wife Jochebed. They already had two children – a daughter called Miriam, who was eleven, and a son called Aaron, who was three – and now Jochebed was pregnant again. They hoped that their new baby would be another girl, because Pharaoh had only ordered the baby boys to be thrown into the river. But when the baby was born he was a boy. So Amram and Jochebed kept the baby hidden, hoping that the Egyptian guards wouldn't find out about him. Three months went by, but now the baby's cries were so loud that even old Zephaniah next door could hear them.
There was only thing to do, Amram and Jochebed got down on their knees and prayed – “Please God, show us how we can save our baby!”
Then a smile spread slowly across Jochebed's face. “I know what to do!” she told Amram. She got up and hurried from the room and was back a few moments later carrying her shopping basket. “We'll put the baby in here!”
Amram looked at his wife and shook his head sadly, clearly it was all too much for her and she had gone completely mad. “Yes dear, whatever you say, we'll put the baby in the basket.”
“No! Listen!” said Jochebed, “First, we'll cover the outside of the basket with tar so that it's waterproof, then we'll put the baby in the basket and then we'll put the basket in the river.”
“What good will that do?” Amram demanded, “The baby will just float away!”
“Not if we put the basket amongst the reeds where the Egyptian women go to wash” Jochebed explained. “Perhaps one of them will find him and take care of him.”
“You're going to give away our baby?” asked Amram.
“I'd rather give him away than see him thrown into the river” sighed Jochebed sadly.
So that's what they did, they put the baby boy in the basket and put the basket amongst the reeds in the River Nile. Then the baby's sister, Miriam, stood nearby to see what happened. Imagine her surprise when the next Egyptian woman who came to wash in the river was Pharaoh's own daughter, the Princess of Egypt! When the Princess saw the baby boy in the basket she knew he was an Israelite but he was so lovely, she couldn't bear to think of him being thrown into the river. “I'm going to adopt this baby,” the princess told her servants, “that will make him an Egyptian, then he'll be safe.”
When Miriam heard this she clapped her hands for joy and ran over to the princess. “Excuse me your highness,” she said, bowing down, “but would you like me to find an Israelite woman to look after this baby for you?”
“Yes, go!” the princess commanded and Miriam ran home as fast as she could to fetch her mother.
When they returned the princess handed the basket to Jochebed with these words, “Take this baby and care for him until he is old enough to live with me in the palace and I will pay you.” As Jochebed took the baby from the princess her eyes filled with tears and she whispered a prayer to God – “Thank you! Thank you for saving our baby.”
So Amram and Jochebed's little boy survived and when he was older he went to live in the palace with the princess, just as she had said, and there the princess gave him a new name – she called him Moses.