Whenever I make the deliberate choice to truly study the scriptures, rather than just read them, they open up in such a way that the only word I can use for the experience is an adventure. Recently, as one search term led to a scripture which led to a footnote, which led to a definition, which led to an impression, which led to another scripture and then on to others, I found myself in the Joseph Smith translation of the book of Genesis, back in the Appendix of the LDS scriptures. Now, I had already discerned, to a smaller extent, the total awesomeness of Jochebed from these few facts. Remember how the Savior answered a question that was posed to him as a trap? Here the children of Isreal were, an occupied nation, living under the oppression of Roman law, and they ask the Lord a potentially deadly question: Master, we know that thou sayest and teachest rightly, neither accepts thou the person of any, but teaches the way of God truly: Is it lawful for us to give tribute unto Caesar, or no? (Luke 20:21-22). Jesus, discerning their insincerity, still deigned to answer them with the totally flabbergasting, show-stopping, evil-trumping truth that echos on today in our own Article of Faith 12. “Render unto Caesar that which is Caesar’s, and unto God that which is God’s.”
Rewind back to Jochebed, and the time of her pregnancy with Moses. Due to the courageous righteousness of midwives such as Shiphrah and Puah skillfully evading the evil command to kill male babies born to Israelite women and obeying the Lord in the true spirit of Article of Faith 12, the Pharaoh made a new decree: Every son that is born ye shall cast into the river, and every daughter ye shall save alive. I have always wondered how Jochebed knew. How did she know she was supposed to get pregnant at this time? Or did she? How did she manage the pregnancy without being overcome with fear? How did she know she was supposed to save this baby, especially when, presumably, most of her Israelite peers were praying to have daughters or fearfully obeying Pharaoh? How did she know that the Lord would support her in her righteous civil disobedience to a wicked and unrighteous decree? Where did she find the courage to hide her baby, instead of immediately obeying the law? Why were she and, presumably, her whole family, willing to put the entire family at risk to save this infant son? Why did they not love their lives unto the death (Revelations 12:11)? How did they know the risk was worth it? How did they know God would miraculously help them? The answer is that they did, and they did not (Hebrews 11:23). Faith and courage – confidence in the Lord – filled in the gap. As the song by Cherie Call says, they found the place where faith lives. (Thank you to another Jochebed blogger for the image above. I imagine Jochebed’s hands at work here, weaving the ark where she placed her son Moses.) When Dreamworks came out with their Prince of Egypt videos, I wasn’t all that pleased with their version of the story, or, for that matter, their portrayal of Jochebed. While the increase in the vivacity, feistiness and personality of the women was appreciated, I felt the portrayal of Zipporah was a bit too overdone. Furthermore, Jochebed seemed more weeping victim than heroine to me. You almost get the impression that she was completely surrendering the child to death, that she had given up and, at last, obeyed Pharaoh because she had no other choice.
NO! Her act of creating the ark of daub and pitch was the height of motherly protection, parental inspiration and feminine brilliance! It was a clever, clever act of civil obedience and disobedience!! Pharaoh said to throw her son in the river. So she did… she threw him in the river BUT in a protective ark! And she sent his sister Miriam to watch over him. These actions signify that it was fully her intent and hope to KEEP HER SON ALIVE. She rendered unto Ceaesar (I obeyed your wicked law and cast my son into the river) but rendered unto God foremost (I saved my son – your son, Lord, – alive.). What a rock star! Did she know how it would all turn out? No, I don’t think so. But did she have faith in God? Yes, of course, or she wouldn’t have done what she did. For, you see, faith is a verb.
I thought that this was all their was to her story until I stumbled across the fuller account of Joseph of Egypt’s blessings and prophecies, given at the end of his life (Hebrews 11:22), and contained in more detail in the Joseph Smith Translation of Genesis. JST Genesis 50:29 and 35 teach us that Joseph of Egypt knew well ahead of time about Moses and Aaron. He knew them BY NAME and he knew something of what their mission on this earth would be. The account does not state that he knew they would be brothers. But the Lord knew. And when you think about people who are prophesied of BY NAME, do you not think of Mary? Both Joseph and Mary were told to name their son Jesus. Both Zechariah and Elizabeth were told to name their son John. Well, I do not know if Amram and Jochebed were told to name their sons Aaron and Moses, in the same manner as the couples previously mentioned. However, if they were not, I believe they were, at least, very strongly inspired to name these boys as they did; just as Joseph Smith Sr. and Lucy Mack Smith unknowingly fulfilled prophecy given hundreds of years before in the Book of Mormon by Nephi and again by Joseph of Egypt, in naming their fifth child, fourth son Joseph. If the coming of these leaders in our Father’s Kingdom: Jesus, John, Moses and Aaron, Joseph Smith Jr., were so important to the Lord that he, in his omniscient foreknowledge, would name their names to all the House of Israel ahead of time, don’t you think their lineage, their descendancy and the choice of who their parents would be was just as important a detail to him? I know if I were sending my precious son away, with a mighty mission to fulfill, that I would hand-pick who his father and mother would be. Especially his mother, since she would be the greatest influence on leading and guiding the formation of core beliefs and character, since these are set down in children between birth and age 5. I realized that along with the much-celebrated Mary and Elizabeth, Lucy and Jochebed were just as chosen, just as highly esteemed of the Lord. He trusted them with HIS sons. And amazingly, he trusted Jochebed with the rearing of TWO of them specifically named prior to their births. Yes, two: not just Moses, but Aaron, as well. At that point, a desire entered my heart to see a picture of Jochebed. Yes, I knew it would merely be the guess of an artist’s rendering, but I wanted some way to remember her visually, so that I might remember her faith in God. So I turned to the internet. To my dismay, wikipedia had this totally wrong image:
Can you say scripture porno? The immediate focus of the eye (and, unfortunately of most male minds) is NOT on little Moses tucked in the corner of her arm. I can not imagine ANY Israelite woman walking around in broad daylight in this outfit during this time; at least not any righteous one. If one can manage to tear their view away and upward to her face, you also notice that the woman’s eyes are flowing with tears. Her countenance is one of sorrow, grief, worry, with a strong dose of helplessness and maybe even despair. No, this is not MY Jochebed. Wikipedia and the artist, Pedro Americo, expect me to believe that THIS image accurately depicts my righteous, daring, faith-filled, courageous Jochebed? Well, others may believe, but I will not. So I kept searching through all the images of weepy, bleary-eyed, boo-hoo, broken-down women at the river until I found this: Thank you, LDS astronomer, John Pratt, for choosing THIS image, by Alexey Tiranov, to represent Jochebed on your own post about her. THIS image says, Bite me, Pharaoh. THIS image says I will obey the Lord, no matter what the cost. THIS image says You can have my son over my dead body. If he dies, he dies, but it won’t be for my not trying to preserve his life. THIS image says, And guess what? I am teaching my daughter to be the same way. Like the queen and priestess to her husband in the Lord that she was; like the calling to be a Mother in Israel that she bore so well by living it, her righteous defiance and confidence in God stand shoulder-to-shoulder with the mighty prophet Elijah’s spitting in the eye of Baal and all of his priests. By choosing to play her part, and live her role as a mother in Isreal; through the actions of her righteous sons, she became the Mother of all Isreal. By saving him, she saved them.
I think it was Elder Ballard who I very recently heard say, in his 2015 address at BYU Women’s Conference, that the influence and power of women ARE in the scriptures. We just need to look for it. He is right, and the subtle story of Jochebed proves his point. Her story and pivotal role in history has been passed over or esteemed as little. It is still disregarded today. Seldom do you hear her name mentioned with honor along with Sarah, Mary, Ruth or Eve. This is NOT because Jochebed’s mission wasn’t crucially awesome but because readers neither look for it nor see it when the testimony of her life has stood as plain as day before all their faces all this time. How many other women in Israel were building arks to save their sons? How many other women in Israel were fiercely determined to obey God and entrust their sons to him and to his grace after all they could do? The Doctrine and Covenants teaches, “Therefore, dearly beloved brethren, let us cheerfully do all things that lie in our power; and then may we stand still, with the utmost assurance, to see the salvation of God, and for his arm to be revealed (D&C 123:17).” I am convinced that Jochebed had THIS kind of faith, because it was her son who proclaimed, “Fear ye not, stand still, and see the salvation of the Lord, which he will shew to you to day: for the Egyptians whom ye have seen to day, ye shall see them again no more for ever.” He knew, because he had a mother who knew. She knew because she stood still and experienced that very salvation of her son Moses for herself.
I feel like spouting off Dr. Seuss here, “And that was not all, oh no, that was not all.” At the present day there is a discontented movement among a certain segment of women, which exists even among some female Latter-day Saints, to be what I call Tit-For-Tat Beancounters. A group of Christian ladies in Minnesota got together to run all the tallies and have now even created a book from their work. They counted every woman that ever appeared in the Bible, counted how many verses mentioned each women, and then did the math to determine the percentage of the Bible soundly inhabiting She-Ground. Have we women become that unimaginative that we can not see beyond the written print ? Have we become that small of heart that we can not feel the love of the Lord for his righteous daughters and their powerful, incalculable influence upon the race of men? Are we of so little faith that empirical evidence is the only thing we will believe? Can the faith, hope, charity, sacrifice, honor, loyalty, dedication, or daily example so typical of our sex be quantified? Do we need the recognition or praise of men before we will believe our own value or that of our foremothers? We know what they were like by the daily doing of what they did. We feel what they were like as we experience what they experienced. We become as righteous women of the Lord became by following the same path they did. The Widow didn’t need to blow a trumpet in front of herself and yell Huzzah! Huzzah for Female Isreal! to have the Lord notice her. He already knew her, and her perfect heart of love for Him. Gender had absolutely nothing to do with her faithfulness to him, nor his to her. They were one. You rock a sobbing child without wondering if today’s world is passing you by, because you know you hold tomorrow tightly in your arms. – Neal A. Maxwell. Maybe that’s why we sometimes call our small ones “little mites”.
LIKE A BOSS, Jochebed carried, bore and nursed her son for three months, regardless of Pharoah’s law. LIKE A BOSS, Jochebed trained Miriam on what to do if her brother’s ark was discovered. While I am pretty confident that Jochebed did not anticipate that ark being discovered by Pharoah’s own daughter, I am sure that she had instructed Miriam well enough that Miriam, with the help of the Spirit and her own intelligence, knew what to do in that moment of great importance. Like George Bailey in, It’s A Wonderful Life, Miriam did the feminine version: Ask Mom, She Knows! while simultaneously protecting her brother, her mother, herself and her family from discovery. LIKE A BOSS, Jochebed strode into the courts of Pharaoh and took back her son. Can you fathom what a miracle that was? In the face of today’s Family Court system, I can. No weeping pansy, but LIKE A BOSS, she nurtured and sustained the life of her son under the very eye of the family who had vowed to destroy her son, her family and her entire House; thinking they, with their puny arm, could prevent the fulfillment of prophecy. It is totally awesome that Jochebed was up for the challenge and confidently dared not only to eat but to feast at the table God literally spread before her in the very presence of her enemies. At the breast and at the knee, did she dare to she teach her son who he really was? I think she did. The Israelites and Egyptians may not have known the crucial importance of the first year of human development, but God did. Jochebed probably did not understand that the precious period given her until Moses’ full weaning, around the age of 5, is typically the age by which a child’s core values are established in bedrock… but God did. No other portion of time allotted to her, at any other age, could have been more valuable than the one she, and later, Hannah, were granted. By allowing Jochebed to keep her son for those 3-5 years, God allowed her to keep him forever.
For all that followed afterward: growing up and being educated in the glittering but carnal courts of Egypt, the manslaughter in defense of another, the solo flight from Egypt, and all that Moses endured and learned until the burning bush, I do not think ANY of it would have happened without his mother (Hebrews 11:24-28). Had Moses not first been taught by his mother who he really was, who his God really was and whose family he really belonged to, Moses would just be another nameless dusty mummy under ignominious sand or intrusive museum glass. For engraved into the depths of her son’s heart was the message that Jochebed wrote there – every day, every day, every day – through every nurturing word and act: Remember Who You Are. No matter what else is said to you later, by others, no matter how repeatedly you are told otherwise, you are mine and I am the Lord’s and therefore, you are his, if you choose to be. In the end, Moses chose the truth as his identity; the greater birthright than being called “the son of Pharoah’s daughter”(Hebrews 11:24-25). As established by matriarchal right within the patriarchal system regarding all male claims of birthright, Moses chose to be called the son of Jochebed!
Even her name testifies of the mission that she fulfilled. Jochebed (Yocheved) means Jehovah (Yahweh) is glorified. Indeed, through her faith and sacrifice, He was. The other reason I knew that Tiranov’s representation of Jochebed was the right one was because of how he painted her countenance, especially her eyes. I realized I had seen those eyes before in another painting. I had originally seen this painting in the Ensign magazine, during the fight of my extremely difficult and painful divorce. The image touched me so deeply that I hung it in my little apartment in a place where I could see it often, and draw strength from it. The painting is called Helpmeet, and the artist is K. Sean Sullivan. It portrays the wife of Nephi, clinging to her husband through a raging storm, where he has been tied up to a mast by his brothers and is helpless to assist her. In her eyes is a look of such dignity, such righteous remonstrance and defiance that the intended audience of such a gaze could only be at the persecutors of her husband: his brethren, Laman and Lemuel. In my heart, I longed to be able to have a husband so worthy and righteous that I, too, could look upon all others with shameless, justified boldness in my eyes like she had. But I didn’t. So, in a way, I looked at this picture every day to give me hope that maybe someday I would have such a Nephi as my own. But if not, I would live out my days alone and righteously for the hope of him, even if it didn’t happen until the next life.
The other thing that spoke to me from this picture was the crying, innocent child. She has always looked to me as if she were asking, “Why, Daddy, why?” At that time I had children whose fate rested in my hands. I knew the legal fight I was then waging for custody was not just a fight for their bodies but for their very souls and all their future lives. Over my dead body would any hand rock the cradles of these babes I’d grown in my own and nurtured until then, but mine!! Unlike Jochebed, I knew what those first formulate years meant. I knew what I was fighting for and I knew who merited the same look. But I also knew that I couldn’t fight him alone. So, placed beside the first picture was another: Peace Be Still, by Simon Dewey.
I was no Nephi. I knew that even after “untying” myself and the children I could not calm the awful storm of his fury raised up against me for daring to leave oppression and abuse. “Now shall you deal with me, oh princess, and all the powers of hell.” Of myself, I could not calm the doubts, fears and worries that swirled within: What if I lose? What if I win? How shall we live? What shall I do? but I knew Who could. I knew my Savior already had helped me, was helping me, and always would help me no matter what happened, if I merited his so badly-needed grace through carefully and repentantly keeping his commandments and my covenants. Faithful and true, he saw me through it. He was my song in the night; the solitary set of footprints through the sands of those days. And then he taught me how to dance. He blessed me with the miracle of my very own Nephi. I, who was told I could have no more children, conceived for my Nephi more children… and sweetly, miraculously, just as a wife should: in the privacy of our own home, without the pain of medical procedures and the indifference of their practitioners. I have the bedrock of a beautiful Spirit-led courtship to remember; this spiritual witness to cherish that allows us both to weather the storms that come with marriage. I know this marriage to this man in that holy place – even the Temple of our God – was the kind of happiness that my Father in Heaven wanted me to have. He gave me beauty when I thought all that remained for me was ashes.
Today I am thankful to feel that I am not alone. That in addition to my Savior I have a scriptural sister, Jochebed, who knows something of what I have known, and that gives me hope. Despite my imperfections, I can do better today than I did yesterday. I can hope that, while I yet have the chance, I can raise my children up unto the Lord with faith like Jochebed’s. She understood how very limited her time with Moses was. Jochebed comprehended how precious his life was – not just his physical life but his spiritual life as well. With “only” the wisdom of a mother, she gave all she had to prepare him spiritually for living among a family, people and culture foreign and antagonistic to her own. Her example inspires me to try harder, while it is yet day, to wisely use remaining the time I have been allotted with my children. And all for this hope: that when all looks dark and lost to me, when they are taken from my view by the storms of life, even if they are Prodigal self-inflicted storms, I might have the sure witness remain in my heart that however imperfect and blundering their teacher, their mother taught them to live and love the truth. Then, like Jochebed, having cheerfully done all, I will also stand still and wait to see the salvation of the Lord.
====== The New Footprints Now imagine you and the Lord Jesus are walking along the beach together. For much of the way the Lord’s footprints go along steadily, consistently, rarely varying in the pace. But your prints are in a disorganized stream of zig zags, starts, stops, turnarounds, circles, departures, and returns. For much of the way it seems to go like this. But gradually, your footprints come in line with the Lord’s, soon paralleling His consistently. You and Jesus are walking as true friends. This seems perfect, but then an interesting thing happens; your footprints that once etched the sand next to the Master’s are now walking precisely in His steps. Inside His large footprints is the smaller “sandprint,” safely enclosed. You and Jesus are becoming one; this goes on for many miles. But gradually you notice another change. The footprints inside the larger footprints seem to grow larger. Eventually it disappears altogether. There is only one set of footprints. They have become one; again this goes on for a long time. But then something awful happens. The second set of footprints is back. This time it seems even worse than before. Zig zags all over the place. Stop…start. Deep gashes in the sand. A veritable mess of prints. You’re amazed and shocked. But this is the end of your dream. Now you speak: “Lord, I understand the first scene with the zig zags, fits, starts, and so on. I was a new Christian, just learning. But You walked on through the storm and helped me learn to walk with You.” “That is correct,” replied the Lord. “Then, when the smaller footprints were inside of Yours, I was actually learning to walk in Your steps. I followed You very closely.” “Very good. You have understood everything so far.” “Then the smaller footprints grew and eventually filled in with Yours. I suppose that I was actually growing so much that I was becoming more like You in every way.” “Precisely.” “But this is my question, Lord. Was there a regression of something? The footprints went back to two, and this time it was worse than the first.”The Lord smiles, then laughs. “You didn’t know?” He says, “That was when we danced.”