Scripture: Exodus 2:1-10
At some point last year, I discovered the History Channel show, Vikings. It’s an historical fantasy drama of the Norsemen of early medieval Scandinavia. It broadly follows the exploits of the legendary Viking chieftain Ragnar Lothbrok and his descendants in their various expeditions across the sea to find new territories. While the show itself takes a number of liberties in its presentation of actual historical events, it nevertheless accurately depicts the harsh realities of our human condition, which span all times.
Three realities of our human condition stood out for me in this TV show. First, breaking free of deeply engrained ways of living and being as a people by creating a new cultural DNA and instituting new and untested ways of living together is incredibly difficult. The pull to return to what’s known, the proverbial way we’ve always done it, is incredibly strong and compelling.
Second, power has a way of corrupting even the most honorable intentions for seeking that power. History has often showed how the work of maintaining one’s position of power once they’ve reached that point often trumps doing the actual work they genuinely intended to do once in that position.
And third, there are always going to be persons who desire positions of power and influence for the purpose of making a name for themselves, who want to go down in history, so to speak. They want to be remembered for all the great things they accomplished and be someone important who’s never forgotten. And so, to that end many will endeavor to move up the ranks of power and influence by drawing attention to themselves in any way they can.
Two central characters in the show Vikings, both based on real-life Norse explorers, both with legends of their own, represent two distinct legacies of their endeavors which we know of today, some twelve centuries later. The main character is Ragnar Lothbrok. In the show and in real life he was a revered ruler as well as a mighty warrior. As such, he led many battles and oversaw the conquest of new lands. Among all the legendary hero’s of the Viking Age, Ragnar Lothbrok is the one most written about in Norse poetry, sagas, and legends.
The second character is Floki. In the show and in real life his claim to fame was as a shipbuilder. Today, there’s not a lot known about the real-life Floki, but he is credited for being the third Scandinavian to reach the island of Iceland, which he himself named after he spotted a large fjord full of drift ice. However, his legacy takes on heightened significance if you follow many of the storylines in the show, and maybe even in real life, which are a direct result of him being a shipbuilder and explorer. Here’s how one blogger speaks to Floki’s influence in his review of the show’s final episode. (Even if you haven’t watched the show, I think this will make sense to you.) He writes:
“It’s fitting that Floki is there at the show’s end. Without his innovation as a boat maker, Ragnar would never have sailed west and discovered Saxon lands; would never have met Athelstan. Without Floki, the Vikings would never have discovered Iceland, or Greenland, or the New World on whose shores they now sit. Ragnar is the one who will be immortalized in legend, while the world will slowly forget Floki.
“Warriors live on in legend and infamy, while the people who built the world around them and at their backs fade away. But wasn’t it ever thus? Legends change the world; love saves it. And here we see that love is the more important, and more enduring, force of the two, even if we’re sometimes too proud to acknowledge it, or too blind to see it.”
I absolutely love the truth of that last line. Legendary warriors—like Ragnar—do change the world with their swords and guns and missiles; there’s no denying that fact. But love—as represented by Floki’s new merciful approach to dealing with the challenges of human life—is what ultimately saves us. On account of all his political and military might, Ragnar Lothbrok is now a legend. But it was Floki’s love which, at the very end of the show, enabled the small community of Vikings who have just landed in North America (probably, what is now northern Canada) to successfully replace their old violent ways with a new way of grace and mercy.
Because of his life’s endeavors as a king and warrior, much has been written about Ragnar and much is known about him. On the other hand, because Floki’s life wasn’t nearly as eventful and notorious, little was written about him, and little is known about him. But if we had the ability to see all the details of the impact each person’s life has on future generations—the way God can see it—then it’s probably be safe to say that, in the grand scheme of life, the real-life Floki was just as impactful on our world as the real-life Ragnar.
Raise you hand if you know who Jochebed is in the Bible? She’s only mentioned twice by name in the Bible, and yet it’s because of her that we have the Bible in the first place. The fullest account of her life story is only ten verses long, and yet it’s because of her that the story of God’s Chosen People didn’t conclude with them fading into historical oblivion while enslaved in Egypt.
The book of Genesis closes with this statement about the death of Joseph: “So Joseph died at the age of a hundred and ten. And after they embalmed him, he was placed in a coffin in Egypt” (Genesis 50:26). It’s because of Jochebed that this closing line statement is’t the final account of the Israelites. It’s because of Jochebed that it doesn’t close with, “he was place in a coffin in Egypt. The end.”
It’s because of Jochebed that a shrewd response to the original “final solution to the Jewish question” was implemented. If you’re familiar with the story of Moses’ beginning, then you know Jochebed.
If you don’t think you know Jochebed, you may be surprised to learn otherwise. Here’s her story told in first-person as written by our daughter, Rachel Hart.
My story is brief, but my legacy is vast. I assure you, you’ve heard my story, although I don’t expect you to know my name, and the significance it carries. My name is Jochebed. I was born of Levi; the son of Leah, who was unloved by her husband, Jacob. While my grandfather did not show my grandmother favor, God saw her heart and blessed her with many children, including six sons that would become six of the tribes of Israel. It’s from this line, the Levites, that I come, and the line that my children and grandchildren continued. With my husband, Amram, I bore three children: Aaron, Miriam, and Moses. During this time, the Hebrew people were enslaved in Egypt. While I was pregnant with my youngest son, Moses, the Egyptian Pharaoh ordered all Hebrew newborn sons to be thrown in the Nile river in fear that they’d grow up and overthrow him in response to his crimes against us. Rabbinic literature suggests that after this decree, Amram divorced me three months into my pregnancy, only to remarry me after being convinced to do so by our daughter, Miriam. Egyptians would have assumed that I conceived following our re-marriage, which allowed me to hide our son for three months after his birth.
Eventually, despite how much I longed to raise him myself, I realized that it was a danger to continue keeping him hidden. Having to think on my feet and act quickly and decisively, I fashioned a waterproof basket. I laid my baby inside, and set him afloat down the river, trusting that God would provide him the safety that I no longer could. He was rescued by the daughter of the same pharaoh that ordered him killed, and she named him Moses. By the grace of God, I was brought on to be his wet-nurse while he was still an infant. I can only believe that it was because of my faith and trust in God’s provision and promise, that I was blessed with the opportunity to continue to be a mother to my son. And yet, this could not last. When he was old enough, I turned him back over to the Pharaoh’s daughter, to be raised as an Egyptian.
After this, you no longer hear more about me. I’m only named, in passing, twice in the Bible; both times listed in the lineage of my family, as a wife to Amram, and a mother to Aaron, Miriam, and Moses. But what that fails to highlight is that I am the first person in the Bible to bear the shortened form of Yahweh, yah, in my name. Jochebed, in Hebrew, translates to “Yahweh is glory”. This tradition of Yahweh, would eventually be passed down by Moses to the Israelites, after he returned to Egypt to free the Hebrew people from slavery, as written in the book of Exodus.
My story is brief, but my legacy is vast. It’s a story of sacrifice, of surrendering my child from my arms, not once, but twice. It’s a story of trust and great faith, to watch my son’s life unfold according to God’s plan, but not my own. For I had no reason to believe that Moses would be adopted or found; I could only pray. And through the most unlikely of circumstances, my three children found their way back to each other and served the Lord in ways I couldn’t have dreamt of when I set him afloat on the Nile.
If you take anything from my story, I hope it’s that when you surrender completely to the Lord, without question, in obedience to Him, he will carry you through. It will almost never be easy. The next time that you face an unknown and feel the odds are against you, remember my story, and how the Lord blessed His children when they followed Him.
My story is brief, but my legacy is vast. Scripture is full of people with a vast and known story because much has been written about them and by them. Abraham. Isaac. Moses. King Saul. David. Prophets such as Jeremiah and Isaiah. The Twelve Disciples. The Apostle Paul. Each of them in their own way made significant impacts on our world. And today we’re not only able celebrate their achievements but also who they were because of all that’s known about them.
But Jochebed’s life is an important reminder that a life of impact on this world is not measured by notoriety. There are 31,102 verses in the Bible. Of those 31,102 verses, only 10 are dedicated to telling Jochebed’s story. That’s .03%, or three-hundredths of one percent. That’s all she gets. And, by the way, she’s never named in her own story. Rather, she’s referred to as “a Levite woman,” “the baby’s mother,” and “the woman.” Yet, despite her utter lack of notoriety and seeming insignificance within the Scriptural cannon, her impact and legacy are beyond measure.
Many of you listening today may feel like your life doesn’t amount to all that much. Or, if you’re on the back-end of your years, that your life hasn’t amounted to all that much. A lot of us, including myself, find ourselves playing the comparison game. And when we do that, we’re almost always going to come up short.
Who among us doesn’t want to somehow make a positive difference in this life?To one degree or another, we all want to know that when our life comes to a close, we’ve made a positive impact on the lives of others.And so, from time to time we might do a little bit of self-reflection and ask existential questions like: What have I accomplished? What difference am I making? What difference have I made? In and of themselves, these are not bad question to reflect on.But it’s also good to keep in mind that when we ask these types of questions, it’s best to come to the table with the clear recognition that many if not most of the things we do which have a positive impact on others are only known by God!
In addition to that, only God knows how that little, nice thing you did for that stranger in the store 10 years ago—which you forgot about 30 seconds after you did it and have never thought about it since—how that single act of kindness on your part had a ripple effect which touched the lives of 100 people. In fact, what you’re unaware of—but God knows—is how your small act of kindness was a part of a different ripple, and you were the point of those two ripples criss-crossing each other!
Here’s the truth: this world only has so many Bill & Melinda Gates with their foundations which give away billions of dollars. These foundations certainly do make a huge and positive impact on our world. But the fact is, the vast majority of us lead a much more humble existence. It’s much more likely the case that folks like you and I lead a “10-verse life,” like Jochebed. There little to no fanfare made of the things we do which impact our world in a good way. Little to nothing will ever be written about us and recorded for posterity’s sake. Very few of us will become legendary. If we’re lucky, we might be remembered for a generation or two or three after we’re gone, but beyond that we’ll probably be just a name on a gravestone or memorial marker, along with the dates of our birth and death. All that we did in life will be represented by the hyphen between those two dates. But here’s what I want you to remember. God is fully aware of everything that hyphen represents. And even though the world tries to convince us to believe otherwise, we believe God knows our life stories and the ways we’ve impacted this world, and ultimately, that’s all that really counts. So, let me encourage you to keep on going. Keep on with your 10-verse life, knowing that just like Jochebed, your legacy will be far greater than you would ever have imagined. Let’s pray….