Pharaoh’s Daughter: A Heroine of Peacemaking

by | Jul 11, 2016 | 7 Peacemakers


Pharaoh’s daughter comes to bathe, but builds a bridge.

Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God (Matthew 5:9).
With her book, Set Them Free: The Other Side of Exodus, Laurel Dykstra offers a gift. It’s not a bunch of flowers, but the spiritual equivalent of a gym membership, building up with social and spiritual exercise. She interprets Exodus as a story of people like us, but not as Israelites.  Rather, she likens us to Egyptians.  Dykstra pulls no punches in reminding us of our complicity in evils that parallel those of the Egyptians who benefited from Israelite slaves.
But she offers hope. We can find our freedom in solidarity with the marginalized. She offers examples of privileged people who risk their comforts build social bridges to the oppressed and marginalized.
My favorite is Pharaoh’s daughter.  Check Exodus 2:1-10.  In his paranoia that the Israelite slaves will continue growing more numerous and threatening, Pharaoh commands the midwife corps to kill all male Israelite babies at birth.  Hoping to spare her son, an Israelite mother crafts a seaworthy basket and hides him in it among reeds at the riverbank.
Pharaoh’s daughter comes to bathe, hears the baby cry, and sizes up the situation. On surveillance duty, the baby’s sister steps forward and offers to fetch another slave woman to nurse him.  Pharaoh’s daughter follows the slave girl’s lead, and she hands the infant back to his mother with a promise of wages to care for him.  Later she adopts him as her son and names him Moses.
Dykstra comments:

These early chapters of Exodus tell of a contest between gods: Pharaoh and YHWH. In this cosmic struggle Pharaoh’s daughter takes sides.  She acts for Israel and on behalf of life.  Pharaoh’s daughter is clearly on the side of the good; she is compared to God and contrasted sharply with both her father and the pharaoh who succeeds him.  When her father orders all Hebrew infant males thrown into the Nile, Pharaoh’s daughter takes an Israelite infant out of the Nile.  Pharaoh’s daughter recognizes the Israelite child who will become God’s messenger, yet Pharaoh refuses to recognize God in the signs or plagues.  Pharaoh’s daughter conspires and collaborates; her father commands.  The pharaohs deal death, while Pharaoh’s daughter guards life.  Pharaoh hardens his heart, but Pharaoh’s daughter has compassion.  Because of her compassion she acts in knowing defiance of Pharaoh, her father, her king, and her god.[1]

Love not only led Pharaoh’s unnamed daughter to act charitably but to cast aside the blinders of privilege and recognize the injustice that landed that infant in the reeds. She did not make peace on power’s terms but on love’s terms.  Maybe she knew her father all too well.  Maybe, without knowing the name, she knew the Holy One of Israel well enough.
[1] Laurel A. Dykstra, Set Them Free: The Other Side of Exodus. (Maryknoll, New York: Orbis Books, 2002), 148.


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