Trapped beneath 400 years of Egypt’s injustices, the Hebrew people await deliverance from generations of Egyptian slavery. But while it is still dark, God is at work. Young Jochebed is unaware the Master Weaver is preparing her to mother three formidable leaders: Miriam, Aaron, and Moses. Shiphrah, the half-Egyptian midwife tasked to kill Hebrew male newborns, remembers childhood stories of a merciful God and cannot resist His call on her life.
Two women, each following the dangerous path God has set before them—this is their story.
The Nile’s water teased her as it curled around her feet, jumped up to tickle her ankles, and then slyly soaked the hem of her tunic. Jochebed loved it. The slippery mud between her toes reminding her of a carefree time when Mama made everything right and always knew what to do. Thankfully, Mama would be with her during this newest uncertainty.
Sun stars played hide-and-seek, sparkling on the tips of the wavelets as if they could not wait for evening to make its appearance. Jochebed lifted her shoulders, threw back her head, and breathed in the freshness of a morning breeze. Was this not the most beautiful day?
After talking with Mother this morning, she was sure of her secret. Today she would hug the news to herself. Tonight as they lay together, she would whisper it in her husband’s ear, and tomorrow she would share her secret with Shiphrah and Lili. A little piece of her joy melted away as she thought of Lili. Maybe she should just tell Shiphrah, although it would be wonderful if Lili could be happy for her.
Jochebed scanned the riverbank. She was alone. Facing the opposite bank so no one who happened along could see what she was doing, Jochebed smoothed her hands over her stomach, hoping to feel the roundness beginning to form. No, her belly was the same as it had been yesterday – flat. The incredible change was still invisible.
Surely anyone who saw her today would question the smile on her face. Perhaps she ought to hide at home until she told those who should be the first to know. Jochebed glanced at the sun, knowing it must be time to go back if she hoped to escape scrutiny. Women came early to the river to avoid the heat, and they would arrive soon.
Jochebed returned to her task. She selected the reeds, studying the tips and each stem with care. Alone, a slender reed was fragile; woven together they would be a circle of protection for the little one growing inside her. He could not know it yet, but this would be the finest cradle ever woven in all of Egypt. Mother would twist the strands in an intricate pattern, creating a sturdy bed for her first grandchild and any who followed.
As popular as the Exodus seems to be in Biblical fiction at the moment, this is the first time I have come across a novel featuring Moses’ mother, Jochebed, as a main character. It’s fair to say I was keen to read this story and see where it took me. In the end, I had a mixed response: There were good points, but also aspects that were less satisfying.
First, let me say I enjoyed Texie Susan Gregory’s illustrative writing style. She used very active, descriptive verbs to give colour and motion to her writing, which was also quite poetic in its use of imagery and expression, regularly invoking my senses. There were occasions when it crept into ‘purple prose’ territory – or at least lavender prose – as well as a few instances where the imagery became repetitive; for example, there were two separate occasions when Jochebed likened her doubts to the gnats that she is continually swatting away. But these moments were not frequent, nor did they overwhelm.
On the other hand, I did think the author relied overmuch on the characters’ inner narrative to convey the story, some of which became repetitive and too static. There were also times in the story when it became apparent that we had skipped a certain amount of time, but I was unsure of how much or when it had happened.
In any event, the main source of my disappointment was that I didn’t think either the story or the characters realized their full potential. For a story entitled ‘Jochebed’s Hope’, I felt there was a surprising lack of hope throughout. The only character who exhibited a strong faith in God in the novel was Jochebed’s mother (and Puah, although she appears much less frequently). Even at the end of the novel, it felt as though the characters were hanging on to the hope Jochebed’s mother had (“While it is yet dark, God is at work”) rather than their own assurance that God was with them. I wanted to understand from the story how God comforted and strengthened them in this time, but I didn’t really get that.
Jochebed is only twelve or thirteen at the opening of the story, fatherless, and about to be betrothed to Amram, her father’s kinsman. She is particularly nervous about this transition in her life, and one of the biggest holes in this story for me was missing out on seeing the way in which these two grew into their marriage and love for one another. We’re told of how Amram mourns the death of his first wife and their son every year with the flooding of the Nile, and the way in which this affects Jochebed, but we’re also told that Jochebed appreciated the way in which her husband loved her. Yet we weren’t shown any of this. In fact, we barely saw Amram at all.
Ms Gregory’s Shiphrah is a half Egyptian cripple who struggles with acceptance the whole story through. I was never convinced she found that acceptance, despite the last minute attempt to show otherwise. For the most part, the female characters in this novel (mostly contemporaries of Jochebed and Shiphrah) were petty, catty, whingy, and generally immature, and this didn’t really change as time went on, despite some isolated instances that might have made it appear otherwise.
The inclusion of Ramses (the Pharaoh) as a third point of view character was a bit of a surprise, but it would have worked well if his point of view had included scenes that showed specific incidents that awakened his fear of the growing Hebrew population. Instead, we spent a lot of time meandering in his thoughts, a considerable number of which were occupied with Nefertari (his beloved Great Wife) and his building projects. We got many insights into Egyptian religious beliefs and practises, but not much that moved the story along.
I guess, for me, there just wasn’t a lot to take away from this story. I wasn’t inspired by the characters, although I certainly sympathised with them at times, and I didn’t feel as though it deepened my understanding of God or how He was at work in this difficult time. I also felt some of the details in the Biblical narrative were overlooked – for example, in relation to Pharaoh’s command to kill the baby boys, we are told the midwives, “…feared God and did not do what the king of Egypt had told them to do.” In the novel, this was true of Puah, but the deciding factor for Shiphrah was not her fear of the Lord, but the fact that she couldn’t bring herself to do it. She seemed to fear Pharaoh more than the Lord.
This was not a bad read overall, but neither did it capture me the way I hoped it would. I understand Ms Gregory has other books in the works based on little known Biblical women, and I will be interested to see what comes next.
I received a copy of this book from the publisher. This has not effect the content of my review.
Release date: 1 November 2016
Publisher: Shiloh Run Press
Author’s website: http://www.texiesusangregory.com/