When we are hopeful about an inspired idea, how do we get (unlikely) others on board? The mother of the baby boy was in a desperate position. Having hid her illegal infant for three months, she concocted a scheme to save his life, knowing she might never see him again.
Then Pharaoh gave an order to all his people: “Throw every baby boy born to the Hebrews into the Nile River, but you can let all the girls live.” Exodus 1:22 (CEB)
I wonder how the mother of not-yet-named-Moses restrained herself from watching while her baby floated in the reeds. She would have heard him crying, prompting her milk to let down, but knew she couldn’t be the one to draw him out of the water. His sister watched, a bystander, when the princess came with her women servants to bathe. Pharaoh’s daughter opened the basket; the baby was crying.
And she had pity on him and said, “This is one of the Hebrews’ children.” Ex 2:6b (NASB)
How long had the sister been waiting, watching? At this point, the story could go any direction. What if someone had offered to dispose of the unwanted male so that the princess didn’t have to worry her pretty head about it? A squalling infant is a lot of work, no matter whose it is.
Then the baby’s sister said to Pharaoh’s daughter, “Would you like me to go and find one of the Hebrew women to nurse the child for you?” Ex 2:7 (CEB)
Would you..? For you. Brilliant wording. As if it was the princess’ idea. Creating an opportunity for Pharaoh’s daughter to be the savior, to be the one to name him Moses based on what she accomplished by pulling him out of the water. She got to be the good guy. And Moses was saved. And returned to his anxiously, waiting, praying mother. To do the job she longed for.
Pharaoh’s daughter said to her, “Take this child and nurse it for me, and I’ll pay you for your work.” Ex 2:9 (CEB)
Wait, what? Pay a slave for their labor? Compensate a woman for feeding her own kid? Work she would have gladly done for free, never expecting to be paid for nursing her child.
Pharaoh’s daughter bested us here, on multiple levels. She realized that raising kids is work deserving of wages. She was not compelled to pay anything. Her position of power over the slave woman made her word law. Why pay for work you could get for free? Or that someone would gladly do because they are taking care of their own.
I’ve been thinking about the work that our Black Christian family is doing. In part to take care of their own. To save their children from violence and death. Their baby boys are at highest risk, as if Pharaoh’s edict still hangs over their heads. Many mothers of color are trying to save their children in a society where they are looked upon with “disgust and dread,” like the Egyptians viewed the Hebrews (Ex 1:12).
Sometimes, we have the opportunity to be Pharaoh’s daughter. To help. Perhaps to feel good about saving one child, to name our good deed. We are invited to be part of the story. To be a good guy. Even if the brilliant plan and strategic words come from others. Unnamed women, and girls who seem like random bystanders.
What if the Egyptian princess had resisted her “white savior” role? Rescuing one child didn’t seem like it would make a difference in the system of slavery. She could not have known the impact of that split-second decision at the river. What intrigues me is that she chose to pay for labor that was volunteered.
The Multi-Faith Prayer Service that kicked off the 48 Hours of Peace sponsored by the (predominantly Black church) Ministerial Alliance featured faith leaders across our community. White pastors prayed from the pulpit of Bethel African Methodist Episcopal church, with white mayors and Black police chiefs in attendance. It was an important collaboration, and we got to feel good about being involved. Our presence was appreciated.
Did it occur to us to pay for that labor? Work that our Black family was glad to do, volunteered on behalf of their children and ours. Might Jesus say that Pharaoh’s daughter will “be raised up by God at the judgment with this generation and condemn it” (Mt 12:42) because she paid a slave woman to nurse her baby, while we fail to notice the labor of those with less power among us and to compensate for it?
How might I, like the sister in the story, pose a strategic question to those with power and resources, inviting them into the story? Where it will seem their own idea, and encourage their generosity. To pay for labor that is gladly offered. The women in this story- and it is all women acting and speaking- are brilliant. May their example inspire us to speak and act, wisely and generously, to bring about God’s salvation in our time.