Thermouthis (Exodus 2)
Thermouthis* lay curled on her bed, staring out at the brightening sky. She had been awake for hours, sleep was elusive these days. The door to her chamber opened quietly as her maids entered. One of them was carrying a tray laden with a delectable selection of fruits, meat, and bread. Thermouthis glanced at them before turning her gaze back to the rising sun.
“Take it away,” she said, “I’m not hungry.”
“My lady,” one of them protested, “you must eat.”
“I said take it away.” She responded flatly.
Sighing, the maid turned reluctantly and left the room. The others stood quietly gazing at the prone figure on the bed. Thermouthis had been like this for months; ever since the death of her husband and infant daughter to fever. She barely ate and seldom left her chamber. Her maids, many of whom had cared for her since she was a child, were worried. None had ever seen her so despondent. The once bright and vibrant Thermouthis, daughter of Pharoah, was wasting away.
“My lady,” one finally spoke, “we thought perhaps you would like to bathe in the river today? The heat has already begun to rise and the waters will be cool and refreshing.”
Thermouthis lay silently and continued to stare blankly out the window.
“Please, my lady,” said another. “Your father would be so pleased to know you were up and about.”
At the mention of her father, Thermouthis back stiffened and her hands clenched. Her maids had worked hard to shield her from the goings on at court, yet word had reached her of her father Pharoah’s latest decree.
In order to control the ever-increasing numbers of Hebrews living to the north, her father had ordered all the male children born to Hebrew women killed. Thermouthis, herself cared little about the fate of the enslaved Hebrews, but the killing of children sat ill with her.
It was this anger which finally roused Thermouthis from her bed. That, and the re-kindled memory of her own child, lying dead in her arms as she sobbed uncontrollably. She needed a distraction from the painful memories now overtaking her and, with no other ideas in mind, she decided to take the advice of her maids. Soon, she and her retinue were making their way down to a secluded glen on the banks of the Nile where she had bathed since she was a child.
But Thermothis had forgotten the other memories waiting for her in this familiar spot. Visions of happy days spent with her husband and daughter on these very banks quickly overwhelmed her. Turning away from the river as her eyes filled with tears, she was preparing to order her retinue back up to the palace, when something strange caught her eye. She stopped, curiosity overwhelming her grief for a moment, and walked back toward a stand of tall reeds at the river’s edge.
There, floating in a sheltered space created by the reeds, was a large, lidded basket. It was simply made, but strong and water-tight, the kind of basket one would use to hold something precious. “How strange,” she thought, “who would throw such a useful item into the river.”
She took a step closer, her feet sinking into the mud. Bending down, she was reaching her hand out for the lid when one of her maids cried out, “No, my lady! Don’t touch it!”
She turned, startled by her maid’s outcry. “Why not?”
“Because, my lady, it is a Hebrew basket,” her maid responded, fear tinging her voice. “Surely it was hidden here as a trap, designed to harm or even kill whoever is foolish enough to touch it!”
“Are you calling me foolish,” Thermouthis’ responded imperiously.
“No, my lady, never. I just fear for your safety. Those Hebrews are violent and cunning. Who knows what evil they are capable of.”
“I highly doubt anyone, much less a Hebrew, has been sneaking onto the palace grounds just to hide a basket in the reeds on the off chance someone might come near it. And look around, there’s no footprints, no sign anyone has been here for ages but us.” In response to Thermouthis’ raised voice, a muffled sound began to echo from the basket—a baby crying.
Thermouthis’ head snapped around. Ignoring her maid’s continued cries to stop, she pushed quickly through the reeds. Reaching down, she lifted the lid off the basket and gasped in shock; a baby lay swaddled, safely ensconced inside.
The child was only a few months old. What had begun as a whimper turned into a full-blown wail as the bright light of the sun struck the child’s eyes. Thermouthis reached down and gently lifted the babe to her chest. Cradling it close, she quickly made her way back to firmer ground, all the while speaking gently to the crying child until, slowly, it relaxed in her arms.
Her maids drew closer as Thermouthis lowered herself and the child to the ground. It was a boy, and a healthy one at that. Her initial shock and worry melted away, replaced by joy as the babe began to kick his chubby legs and babble at her.
“A Hebrew boy,” one of her maids whispered, looking around to see if anyone else was watching them.
“My lady, we must dispose of it,” said another, disgust filling her voice.
“What?” said Thermouthis, distracted by the wriggling child before her. “Wait, what did you just say? Did you just say dispose of it?” anger swelled within her.
“Yes, my lady. It’s a Hebrew,” her maid repeated, her usually kind face distorted by fear and loathing.
“Stop calling him it” Thermouthis said coldly. “He’s a child, a baby, a human! You will not call him it and if I hear other word about ‘disposing’ of him, I will ‘dispose’ of you.” As she spoke, she gently lifted the child and held him protectively against her chest. “This child has been sent to me to protect. He is mine, I don’t care if he’s Hebrew or Egyptian, he is human. And from this moment on, he is my son!”
With that, Thermouthis stood and pushed her way past her incredulous maids. “Come, my son, my Moses, let’s go home.”
Questions to ponder
What was your favorite part of the story?
Where did you see God in the story?
What is God inviting you to try on today in light of the story?
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*Thermouthis is one of the traditional names for “Pharoah’s daughter.”