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Monday, April 30, 2018

THE RICH LADY AND THE POOR BABY, more lessons from the childhood of Moses

Then his sister said to Pharaoh’s daughter, “Shall I go and call a nurse for you from the Hebrew women, that she may nurse the child for you?”
 And Pharaoh’s daughter said to her, “Go.” So the maiden went and called the child’s mother.
Then Pharaoh’s daughter said to her, “Take this child away and nurse him for me, and I will give you your wages.” So the woman took the child and nursed him. (Exodus 2: 7-9)

God is clever, really clever; and He has a heckuva sense of irony.  The  family whose state-mandated genocide had forced Moses’ mother, Jochebed,  to abandon him: that same family HIRED Jochebed to nurse him.  Pharaoh’s money paid Moses’ mother to be Moses’ mother.  And, since she was working for Pharaoh’s daughter, her family, while enslaved,  would have been given the the protection and favor of the king.  God found a way to turn their enemy into their patron. 

God can and does use the people who hurt you to deliver help you.

But, benevolence and patronage did not change the rulers' sense of ethnic superiority.
When Moses was around 3 years old, his mother had to bring him to servant’s entrance of the palace, hand him over to Pharaoh’s daughter, explain to her baby boy “This is your mother now,” and then . . .  then she had to walk away. 

And the child grew, and she brought him to Pharaoh’s daughter, and he became her son. So she called his name Moses, saying, “Because I drew him out of the water” (Exodus 2: 7-10). 

On the one hand, Pharaoh’s daughter was doing her part to mitigate the suffering of the oppressed minority. 

She had seen a little Hebrew boy abandoned by his parents, but instead of calling the police (I mean the palace guards) on the boy so he could be killed like the others, she sent for a wet nurse.   In a world that had normalized the murdered bodies of Hebrew sons, this most privileged member of the most privileged majority had compassion. 

The daughter of the evil king might turn out to be a decent person. 

On the other hand, unexamined privilege creates a kind of social blindness which makes you look stupid to the un-privileged.

When Pharaoh’s daughter discovered baby Moses floating in the reeds, she accepted the offer of a Hebrew wet nurse without question.  A wet nurse is a lactating woman hired to provide breast-milk to another woman's child.  The fact that Jochebed was lactating meant either she had an unweaned child of her own or she'd recently given birth. A few questions along the lines of basic interest in Jochebed's story would have revealed that she had birthed a child 3 months earlier, but the child was now "gone."  Either the child had died from sickness or been murdered on Pharaoh's orders.   

If the princess had cared to hear the poor, disadvantaged Hebrew woman's story, she might have realized she was asking/ ordering a woman still grieving her own child to  breastfeed a baby who would be taken from her as soon as he was off breast-milk.   Pharaoh's daughter was compassionate but she was also blinded by her privilege.  She didn't see the insensitivity and ignominy of her intervention in the minority community.

Pharaoh’s daughter probably thought she was doing the community a favor.  

The baby wouldn't be their child anymore, but he was alive. 

On the other hand, he wasn’t their child anymore.  

People born into social, economic, and ethnic privilege forget that the "favors” for which “people like them” should be grateful are only necessary because of the political, economic, and literal genocides ordered by their fathers.   Amram and Jochebed, poor and imperfect as they were, were fully capable of rearing Moses without the princess's patronage, if his very existence didn't  trigger a lethal response from the “helpful” authorities of the state.

On the one hand, Moses would grow up with opportunities no Hebrew child had known since the days of Joseph.  He would be educated by the greatest tutors of the age, trained in politics, the sciences, the arts, philosophy, mathematics, and military strategy.  He would always have plenty of food, the best clothes, and the latest chariots.   A slave baby left in a river would be called a prince of Egypt.

On the other hand, Moses’s parents didn’t even get to choose their youngest child’s name.  Pharaoh’s daughter called him Moses, so it didn't matter what name had been given him at birth.  They had to teach him to answer to “Moses.”   After a few years of  government aid  the the Women Infants and Children in Amram's and Jochebed's houshold, the system took Moses from his mother and gave him to the rich Egyptian lady who wanted him.

For centuries, White people in America and Europe “saved” Native American, Black, African, and Asian babies by taking them from their “disadvantaged” families and raising them as their own.    

On the one hand, being willing to love a child born by a stranger from a foreign culture indicates a heart of deep compassion.  That's godly love.    

On the other hand, millions of those foster and adoptive parents felt it was their Christian and/ or American duty to save those colored babies from all the heathen vestiges of their inferior birth culture whether the babies' parents wanted them saved or not .
Because of compassion, Pharaoh's daughter wanted to give the poor, cute Hebrew baby a better life.  But because of her PRIVILEGE, she didn’t confront her father about the conditions that made being a young Hebrew male so dangerous.   

Ecclesiastes 3:9-10  9       That which has been is what will be,
That which is done is what will be done,
And there is nothing new under the sun.
10             . . .It has already been in ancient times before us.

From the princess’s perspective, she was adopting a poor minority baby and giving him a good life.  From Moses’mother’s perspective, the government had tried to kill her baby and when that failed they came and took her baby away. 

Pharaoh’s daughter was oblivious to her privilege.  But Moses’ mother and sister were not.  They understood that she didn’t understand, and they did what the underprivileged have always done.  They used the social blindness of their oppressors to their advantage.  Moses’ family  gained 3 or years with the child they expected to mourn 3 months after he was born.  AND they got Pharaoh to pay for the childcare. 

Somewhere in those 3 scammed years of being a whole family, Mama and Miriam  indoctrinated Moses with an un-shakeable sense of his Hebrew-ness.  They built a connection to the community that stayed in Moses through all the years of assimilation and indoctrination in the palaces of the king of Egypt.

Moses’ family were oppressed and exploited, AND they were smart enough to outwit the royal family.  Pharaoh’s daughter was genuinely compassionate AND she was obliviously privileged. 

3 Lessons to Take Away from the Story of Baby Moses:
1.   No matter their social class, people are complicated.  
2.  The privileged are not as smart as they think they are, and the “under-classes” are not as dumb as they’re thought to be.
3.  Compassion is a perfect starting point, but compassion isn’t the end of the conversation. 

--Anderson T. Graves II   is a writer, community organizer and consultant for education, ministry, and rural leadership development.

Rev. Anderson T. Graves II is pastor of Miles Chapel CME Church in Fairfield, Alabama. He writes a blog called A Word to the Wise at

Follow me on twitter @AndersonTGraves 

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