The Scandalous Case of Moses’ Parents

Who is Moses’ father? Do you know the names of Moses’ parents? Probably not, I’d venture. And there’s a reason for that. They are somewhat shrouded in mystery, and revealed only later on, with a scandalous punch. But the message of Moses’ family background is one that brings great hope to us all.
As Moses can tell you, sin in our past and in our families before us need not hold us back any longer in slavery – God is a God of new beginnings!
So back to Moses’ father and mother, and the skeletons in this holy man’s family closet…

Names are important

In English, the first five books of the Bible are named according to the subject matter; Genesis – the beginnings, Exodus – the exit from Egypt, and so on. But in the Hebrew, they are named according to the first words of the book. In Hebrew, the second book is called “Shemot” which means “Names”, because the opening line is “These are the names of the sons of Israel”.
When the book announces itself in this way, “These are the names”, and is titled “Names”, it’s a good idea to pay attention to the names in it!
The book begins by listing the sons of Israel by name – Jacob’s twelve sons, and telling us that in total, “seventy souls came from the loins of Jacob”. We then notice two other names are highlighted in the first chapter – and they are women. It is not often that the Bible mentions women, so when they are named, it’s a hint to take note. These women were the midwives, called Shiphrah and Puah. They took a great personal risk to save many Hebrew babies from death, after Pharaoh had commanded all baby boys to be killed. They have been remembered for their righteousness, courage, and refusal to join in Pharaoh’s genocide. Women worthy of commendation and being remembered by name.
But moving on to our hero in chapter two, we note with some confusion that Moses’ parents are distinctly NOT named. A bit odd in a book called “Names”. The second chapter opens by saying that some guy from the house of Levi marries a woman also from the house of Levi, and that they had a son. Since we know that they also had two other children as well as Moses (Aaron and Miriam) surely one of them would have remembered their parents’ names? Why is this detail omitted, since we’re so busy with everyone’s names? It seems that the writer studiously avoid naming Moses’ father and mother several times throughout chapter two.

The truth comes out: meet Moses’ father and mother

Later on in chapter six, we find a surprise. In verse 14 the naming of names begins again, as the heads of each of the houses of Israel are listed and details given about their offspring. It is only here that we finally discover the names of Moses’ father and mother: Jochebed and Amram. The house of Levi is described, and it is in the house of Levi that Amram, the father, shows up. In verse 16 we learn about his wife too:

“Amram took him Jochebed his father’s sister to wife; and she bore him Aaron and Moses.”

Later the matter is emphasised in verses 26-27, in case we missed it:

“These are that Aaron and Moses, to whom the LORD said: ‘Bring out the children of Israel from the land of Egypt according to their hosts.’ These are they that spoke to Pharaoh king of Egypt, to bring out the children of Israel from Egypt. These are that Moses and Aaron.”

What is going on? Why are their identities hidden at the beginning and then emphasised like this only here and now?
I think the clue is in verse 16, and the unusual nature of their marriage. Amram took his father’s sister to be his wife.
Moses’ father married his own aunt, basically.
This is forbidden in God’s Law, the Torah, that Moses would receive from God only a short while later. Leviticus 18 (verses 12 and 16) makes it quite clear that marrying your aunt is off limits. Clearly Jochebed and Amram married before the prohibition was given, but it is a bit of a shocker that for all those Israelites who knew the law looking back on it with hindsight. Moses, the great law-giver, was born within what would soon be seen as an unlawful union.

Our background is not our destiny

Perhaps the reason that his parents were not named when they first appear is because unlike Shiphrah and Puah, their deeds conflicted with the law of God, as opposed to being examples to follow as the midwives had been. But still, they are named in the end, and what an amazing family they had!
The take away message of the mystery of Moses’ parents could be this: No matter what your background, no matter what happened in your family, or even how it might have left its mark on you today, nothing can stop God’s wonderful plans for you! The sins of the fathers are NOT the sins of the children, and God is able to clean and heal us from everything in our past.

The people of Israel needed to hear this as a nation, and need to hear it today: What your fathers have done does not need to limit God in what he can do with you today! No matter what has been done in the past, God is not only able to deliver you, but he can transform you into his vessels of deliverance for others.

Photo by Jenna Norman on Unsplash

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