When the midwives refused to be part of Pharaoh’s genocide (Exodus 1:15ff), the wickedness escalated. A new policy was instituted requiring all male babies born to be thrown into the Nile. Where surviving birth had meant life, it now meant death.
We can only imagine the sadness and despair that fell upon the Hebrew community. It had to lower the birth rate (which is what Pharaoh was after), since the edict meant that for a young couple there was a fifty percent chance that the government would try to kill their baby. Who would want to have a child under those circumstances?
The answer is a man named Amram and his wife, Jochebed. In the compressed account of Exodus 2 (which covers eighty years in twenty-five verses), we’re given only the scantest details and the rest is left up to our imagination. For example, did they try to hide the fact that Jochebed was pregnant? That would be the easiest way to keep a baby safe after its birth. We’ve all heard of this happening but it usually involves layers of bulky clothes which would have been difficult given Egypt’s climate.
What we do know is that this family of four (Miriam and Aaron were the older siblings), were co-conspirators in hiding Moses for the first three months of his life (v.2). This had to literally be a 24/7 endeavor. Whenever he cried, someone would have to be there immediately or else the authorities would soon be at their doorstep inquiring about the gender of the baby. How long can a family live in a situation like this? Apparently about three months. By then, fatigue, lung strength, diaper accumulation, and who knows what else reach critical mass.
It’s probably worth mentioning at this juncture that the writer of Hebrews speaks of the actions of Jochebed and Amram being “by faith,” (11:23). In the context of that chapter, “by faith,” often involves communication from God (v. 7,8,9,11,17, etc.). Not only is it not unreasonable to assume this happened, I think it helps us to make better sense of the narrative. For example, we’re told by three different writers (Moses, Luke, and the Hebrew writer), that Jochebed and Amram saw Moses was a “fine” child (Exodus) or “no ordinary” child (Acts & Hebrews). What does that mean? Doesn’t every parent think their wrinkled, cone-headed baby is no ordinary child? It’s my understanding that God spoke to Amram and Jochebed in something of the manner that He would later speak to Joseph and Mary. Like Jesus, Moses is going to be the deliverer of his people. I think this was made known to them (see Acts 7:25), along with how they were to conceal him. Additionally, I think there was to be something special about Moses’ appearance that would serve as a sign confirming everything to them. This would explain the emphasis the writers place on his features.
While the Hebrew writer’s pronouncement of faith is given in reference to the initial hiding of Moses during his first three months, that doesn’t exclude us from understanding the remainder of what happens as being divinely guided to the same degree. Jochebed places her baby (according to the Hebrew), in an “ark.” This not only suggests that Moses will be Israel’s Noah and lead them out of their oppression and into a new world, but is a nice foreshadowing of events as any reader of Genesis would know–no one dies in an ark.
Per Pharaoh’s command, Moses is “tossed” into the Nile. Actually he is left in the reeds at a place the princess frequented. As others have pointed out, this location would be known and cordoned off to the public during such occasions. Thus, Jochebed placing Moses there some time prior to the princess’ arrival is as sound of a strategy as leaving Miriam behind to make sure things go according to plan is. Still, everything hinges on the tender heart of an Egyptian princess. Who could have known that? The best answer is God. And isn’t it marvelous that in a palace where a young girl was regularly exposed to the hate filled rantings of her father, her heart remained sensitive and caring? God was at work in the palace long before Moses arrived!
For good measure, God has Pharaoh give Jochebed a government job taking care of her own son. His massive murder campaign is a total failure. The only baby he really needed to kill was the one he bounced on his knee every night (McGuiggan). The most powerful man in Egypt was made to be God’s servant and work His purposes. “By faith” we understand He’s still working His purposes today.