Jochebed, hmmm, I’ll be honest, when my hubby and I were looking for girl names, this one never made the list.  But I spent a bit of time with her over the last few weeks as I prepared to give a devotional for a ladies retreat my church held this past Saturday. Those who spoke were asked to look at a biblical character and consider how she faced a fearful circumstance, and then explain how her God met her and helped her in it.  As I read and thought about her and even glimpsed her through the lives of her children (who get a lot more attention than she does in scripture), I really started to think we would have been friends if we hadn’t been born half a planet and several millennia apart.  I even learned a bit about myself and about my God as I watched her story unfold.  If you have a minute, (ok, maybe ten. I know, I’m wordy.) walk with me.

The family of Israel, who is also called Jacob, had immigrated to Egypt by royal invitation several generations earlier in a time of famine.  One of the youngest sons of Israel, Joseph, through a series of divine interventions, became second in command of Egypt. The family of Joseph’s father Israel had been welcomed and honoured when they arrived.  They flourished there and became wealthy, influential, and numerous.  So numerous that within a few generations, the native-born Egyptians began to fear them, racism has been around a long time.  And it is often rooted in unfounded fear.  Over time, horrific, state sanctioned violence broke out against them.  They were subjected to forced labour and were physically abused.  Somehow in the midst of their oppression, they just kept growing and becoming stronger, which only fueled the hatred of their abusers.  Eventually the king instructed the midwives who served the Israelite women to kill any babies who were born male.  They were supposed to just do it on the sly, make it seem like an accident.  If it was a girl, let it live.  If it was a boy, arrange an unfortunate event.  But the midwives knew the Israelite people and had observed the way their God continued to bless and prosper them even in their slavery.  They had no interest in opposing a God that powerful, so they lied to the king and said they never got there in time.  The Israelite women just popped them out and there was no opportunity to arrange an accident.

So the king stopped trying to be subtle.  He literally issued a genocidal edict, demanding that every Israelite baby boy be thrown into the river to die.  And around the time that edict was issued Jochebed found out she was expecting her third child.  She already had two kids; a daughter Miriam, she was her mother’s daughter, feisty, resourceful and loyal.  And a son named Aaron. He was smart, well spoken, and hard working.  She adored them as any mother would, but then along came her third, and when the baby was born, it was a boy.  The family knew that to resist the king’s order would mean they could all suffer, but they were determined to try to save his life.  At first, his cries were quiet, and they were constantly with him to make sure he was happy.  But as days turned into weeks and weeks into months, his lungs got strong, and he learned to use them.  Jochebed and her husband Amram tried everything, but they knew keeping him at home would threaten all of their lives when discovered.  It was an impossible choice, and yet it wasn’t a choice at all.  Even after making the decision, Jochebed could not bring herself to simply throw him in the river and wait for him to die.

Now, there is nowhere in scripture that gives us any indication that God gave Jochebed any promise that he was going to rescue her son.  But I think her actions indicate that she knew that her God could save him if he chose.  And so, she fashioned a little cradle-boat out of reeds and sealed it with pitch.  She placed him in it and set him adrift.  And then she left her older daughter Miriam to watch him.  

Can we stop for a second? Who does that?  Who leaves a young girl to, in all likelihood, watch her baby brother die? I think a woman who knows that her God can work miracles does that.  We have no indication that she had any specific assurance.  Fear for the lives of her older children forced her to this place.  But she had her daughter wait to see if their great God would choose to act.  

And he did.  Massively.  The little cradle floats towards a secluded place where one of Egypt’s princesses has gone to bathe.  She sees the basket, immediately understands that it must be one of the baby boys her father has ordered killed. But rather than pushing him on down the river, she has an attendant bring him out of the water.  Suddenly, a bold young girl walks through the river grass toward her and offers to help the princess find someone to take care of the baby for her, to nurse him and care for him until he is weaned.  And shortly thereafter, Miriam introduces her mother Jochebed to the princess as a suitable nursemaid for the little one.  Not only did Jochebed get to nurse her own son to health and strength and toddler-hood, but then she was able to give him a life she could never have provided him.  A life in the palace of the Egyptian princess who raised him to manhood. 

I think Jochebed is an amazing example of experiencing fear, even responding to fear, but ultimately choosing faith; still recognizing that in the middle of impossible circumstances, she worshipped a God who did impossible things. 

At first glance, I look at Jochebed and feel like we just have nothing in common.  No one ever threatened my family if we refused to murder our infant sons.  I’m not a victim of racist violence. I’m not a slave.  But I realize as I read her story and as I think about her life that we handle fear in much the same way.  See Jochebed didn’t set her baby adrift the day he was born.  She fought for him.  She had every reason to be afraid, and she responded by trying to take control of the situation.  She hid the baby, tried to keep him quiet and happy, did everything she could think of to keep him from being noticed.  And I don’t fault her in the least.  But it wasn’t until she was completely out of options and every effort to fix the problem herself had been exhausted that she chose to trust God with him.  And at the point at which every effort at gaining control of the situation had failed, it seems like she finally realized that she never had control at all.  And then she chose faith.  She recognized that God alone was really in control.  He alone had to power to protect her baby’s life.  God, not Jochebed, not the king of Egypt, no one but God was really in control.  And it was in the moment that Jochebed finally accepted that she was powerless to control her circumstance that she stepped aside and gave God room to demonstrate that nothing was beyond his control.  I mean, not only was the baby rescued, but he was raised in the home of, and no doubt at the expense of, the man who wanted him killed.  

Come on, that is irony at its finest.

But here’s where it gets personal.  I think if we evaluate ourselves and our fear response, most of us respond to fearful circumstances just like Jochebed did.  I perceive a threat so I am going to orchestrate, manipulate and gain control so that I can make sure that nothing bad happens.  Relatable? 

Even us completely not type-A people, get really controlling when life gets scary.  But guess what? Control is an illusion.  Are you going to protect your kid with severe allergies by packing his lunch, lecturing the school officials, petitioning to keep all allergens out of schools?  Good. Go for it.  That sounds like a wise course of action to me, but if you think that by doing that you really can protect his precious life, you are kidding yourself.  You are not in control of the days of your child’s life.  

If you think that by monitoring everything your husband watches and by giving him an allowance, and by scheduling his life so that he hangs out with people you trust, if you think by all those things you are going to keep him faithful, you are playing God.  Trust me, you’re no good at it.  You can exhaust yourself and damage your relationships by trying to control situations and circumstance, but in the end you don’t have control.  Save yourself and your family a lot of aggravation and simply recognize that God alone is in control.  He instructs us to be wise and godly and care for the people and possessions with which he has entrusted us, but when we do those good things, it needs to be motivated by an understanding that we are merely cooperating with the God who is actually in control.  

God has had to remind me of this over and over again.  See, maybe I’m like you, maybe I’m not.  I don’t lose sleep over COVID. I was never the woman who freaked out when her kids learned to drive. I love storms. I am happy to walk alone on city streets and in the woods.  So, people probably don’t perceive me to be a very fearful person.  But I battle a fear every day that can absolutely destroy me, sap my energy, and leave me feeling hopeless, worthless, and thoroughly discouraged.  

My greatest fear, and don’t laugh, is disappointing people. And what’s even better, is I do it all the time.  People want a lot, and no one can keep everyone happy.  But my goodness, I try!  Example? After losing much  sleep, sanity and a lot of precious time to graduate university in my late thirties, I wrote a brand new paper on a subject entirely outside of my field and delivered it at a conference at Queens University at my own expense.  It was terrifying and exhausting.  Why would I do such a thing? Because a friend of one of my profs was organizing the conference and was looking for a few more presenters.  My prof told me she really loved my work and thought I could do a great job.  And I was determined not to disappoint her.  

One time the youth were over.  I make the same cookies for them every week, and they really like them.  Somehow that week, I forgot.  One of them said, “Did you make cookies?”  It was an innocent question, but it absolutely derailed me to know that I had failed them.  It bothered me so much that at the end of the night I ran into the kitchen and made a fresh batch so they could take them home.  They had to wait to leave so I could give them out.  I go crazy trying to make everyone around me happy, trying to fix everything for everyone, trying to be what everyone expects me to be.  

It’s pathological.  I am pretty much crazy.  And why do I do this? What am I trying to accomplish?  Trust me, it’s not that I’m just a super nice person.  I’m trying to control my circumstances so that people will like me and not be disappointed by me.  And here’s the thing, when I lose my mind trying to be what people want and do what people expect, it has very little bearing on what people actually think of me.  In fear, I try to control the world and all I really accomplish is losing control of my own mental and physical health.  

But when I remember that I am not really in control of much of anything, and also remember that I serve a God who is actually in control of everything, I realize that its completely ok to disappoint people.  In fact, if you have more than one person in your life, you will regularly have to choose which one to disappoint because their demands of you will conflict.  I’ve had to learn, and keep having to learn, that the only person whose approval I need is God.  And when I get that straight in my head, my stress level just drops.  The thing with pleasing God is that he is first of all, not very demanding.  He is secondly, very forgiving when I do fail, and finally, his opinion is the only one that is just based in truth.  And the cool thing is that when I seek to please God, it has the lovely benefit of helping me do things in my other relationships that actually matter and make a difference for the people who need me.  I can drive myself nuts trying to see what people need and meet those needs, but when I wait for God to say, “Hey, this person needs this from you,” then it doesn’t matter how it is received, it’s the right thing to do.  And then I’m not wasting my time and energy doing things that God is preparing others to do.  It’s a massive perspective shift for me.  Pleasing everyone to pleasing the ONLY one.  It’s choosing to stop living my life motivated by fear and guilt over letting people down, and to start trusting that God has only ordained as many things for today as I actually have time to do.  It’s trusting that God is big enough to meet some needs without involving me.  It’s knowing that God cares enough about other people to minister to them when I am forced to disappoint them.  It’s letting God be God and allowing myself to just be me.  I don’t have to be amazing.  My God already is.  

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