2. The Preservation and Preparation of Israel’s Deliverer (Exodus 2)
A number of years ago, liberal students of the Scriptures determined that their calling was not to interpret the Bible as it was but to “demythologize” it so that the text could be restored to what it should be. The evangelical community was outraged, and rightly so. We believe that the Bible AS IT IS is the revealed Word of God: inspired, inerrant, and authoritative. Deeply committed to these fundamental presuppositions, I have no desire to “demythologize” the text which we are about to study. I do, however, intend to “demythologize” some of our assumptions as to what this text actually says, for many of our views of the events in Exodus 2 are more the product of our own imagination than the result of a careful study of the passage itself, along with the New Testament commentary on its message and meaning.
Few stories in the Bible are more familiar to us than that of Moses who is set afloat in the waters of the Nile and rescued by the daughter of Pharaoh. The interesting thing about this incident in Exodus 2 is that Christians today think of this chapter largely in terms of that little papyrus “ark,” while the New Testament writers almost completely pass over this aspect of the event to focus on other matters, which we must conclude are more important. In Acts 7:21 Stephen simply says that Moses “was placed outside.” The writer to the Hebrews passes over the basket episode altogether, choosing to call our attention to the three previous months when the parents of Moses hid him in their house, defying the order of Pharaoh.
As we approach our study, we shall seek to better understand the events of the chapter and then explore the meaning of these events as recorded for our edification and instruction (cf. 1 Cor. 10:11; 2 Tim. 3:16-17).
In the first chapter of the Book of Exodus, we saw the hand of God providentially working to fulfill His promises to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. This He had done by bringing Joseph to Egypt and by their prospering and growth during the time of Pharaoh’s favor. While Egypt was being reduced to servitude (Gen. 47:20-21), the household of Jacob was prospering (Gen. 47:11-12, 27; Exod. 1:7). The phenomenal numerical growth of Israel continued, even after the rise to power of a new king who established a policy of cruelty and oppression toward the Israelites (Exod. 1:8ff). In Exodus 1 we saw the faith of the Hebrew midwives evidenced in their determination to save the boy babies contrasted with the Pharaoh’s fervent efforts to kill them.
In chapter 2, we find God’s hand at work in the history of Israel, preserving the life of one child who will become Israel’s deliverer. There are three incidents in Moses’ life portrayed in this chapter. First is the birth of Moses and his divinely ordained deliverance (vss. 1-10). The second is Moses’ attempt to deliver some of his Hebrew brethren from the oppression of an Egyptian slave master (vss. 11-15). The third event is his help being offered the daughters of Reuel at the well which led to his marriage and sojourn in Midian (vss. 16-25). In each of these incidents, there is a common thread showing Moses as a deliverer of the oppressed. Let us look at each of the three events in the life of Moses, and seek to discover the message which God has for us in this divinely inspired record of them.
Moses—Out of the Water
The previous chapter ended with the decree of Pharaoh to all of his people: “Every boy that is born you must throw into the river, but let every girl live” (Exod. 1:22). This command is the backdrop for the first 10 verses of chapter 2, where Moses, a newborn Hebrew baby boy, is “thrown into the Nile” in a basket, in token obedience to the Pharaoh, and taken out of the river by none other than the Pharaoh’s daughter.
It may seem needless to say, but the account is not only portrayed as history,30 but it is history and not myth. Unfortunately, some “scholars” find themselves unable to accept the biblical account as accurate and authoritative.31
We are told that a particular Hebrew man of the tribe of Levi married a woman who was also of the same tribe (v. 1). Later on, we learn that the man’s name is Amram and the mother’s is Jochebed (Exod. 6:20). The fact that both the man and his wife are of the tribe of Levi is a point which Moses wants us to view as significant.32
To this couple, a child was born. The mother is said to have sensed something special about the child which prompted her to hide him for three months. Verse 2 is rendered several ways by translators: “… he was a fine child” (NIV), “… he was beautiful” (NASB), “… he was exceptionally well-formed” (Berkeley), “… he was a goodly child” (King James). In the New Testament we find the child described thus: “… he was no ordinary child” [margin: “was fair in the sight of God”] (NIV), “… no ordinary child” (Heb. 11:23).
The problem which I have with these translations is that they do not accurately convey the meaning of the original terms, and they do not provide us with an acceptable reason for the actions of Moses’ parents which could thus be considered a commendable act of faith. The two principle explanations of the statement in verse 2 are: (1) that the child was exceedingly well-formed and beautiful; and (2) that the parents somehow perceived that God had a special purpose for this child.
The first suggestion seems to be a takeoff on the old song that goes something like this: “You must have been a beautiful baby …” But dare we conclude that the baby Moses was simply too good looking to throw to the crocodiles? Does this mean that all of the other parents were justified in casting their ugly (and what parent has ever viewed their baby as ugly) babies into the Nile? Surely good looks is not the basis of Moses’ deliverance. The writer to the Hebrews tells us that the parents of the child acted on faith which must preclude outward appearances such as good looks. That Moses was simply “a beautiful baby” is not a satisfactory explanation for the action which his parents took.
Other renderings (e.g. “no ordinary child”) suggest that the parents of Moses saw beyond the child’s good looks to something even more special in him. His parents, we are told, believed God had a special purpose for the child. As Gispen puts it,
The mother … saw that he was ‘a fine child’ … that is, attractive, well-formed, but here perhaps also: robust, promising. The mother saw something special in the child (a future savior?). … The Jewish historian Josephus mentions a separate revelation of God to Amram concerning Moses’ future greatness, but it is not necessary to accept this.33
Thus, Moses’ parents would not kill their child because he was special, one for whom God had great plans. But is it commendable to save a child simply because God has certain plans for it? Does not God have a special purpose for every child? If Moses’ parents were motivated by this kind of reasoning, it would seem to justify killing every child for whom greatness was not ordained. Many are the abortions performed with such logic. No, there must be a better explanation.
In Exodus 2:2 the text could simply be rendered, “she saw that he was good.” The Hebrew word rendered “good” is frequently used by Moses in the five books of the Law, and in most it has the sense of goodness which is the result of being made (or given) by God, and/or of being declared good by Him. Thus, the frequent expressions in Genesis 1 and 2, “it was good,” employ the same term. The same sense is suggested by Arndt and Gingrich in their Greek lexicon for the Greek word which refers to the child.34 Stephen’s words, “he was good, to God” (Acts 7:20), points us in this same direction.
I would therefore suggest that Moses is not telling us that God moved his parents to hide him because they were convinced that there was something very special (either in appearance or in purpose) about him as a particular child, but rather that they saw something special about him as a child, period. You see, the biblical perspective is that children come from God (cf. Ps. 127). Every child is the product of divine creation (cf. Ps. 139:13-14), and thus is “good” in the eyes of God. Moses’ parents refused to put their child to death because God had created him, and because this meant that this child (like every other child ever born) was good in God’s eyes.
How far short of this kind of faith and obedience modern day parents come when they choose to abort the child which God has brought into existence and which therefore is good in God’s sight. The abortionist would have us believe that many children are really not “good” at all and should thus be terminated. This is simply a refusal to see children as God sees them. It may be a bit more sophisticated to vacuum a child from its mother’s womb, or to cut it out, but it is no different from throwing the child into the Nile, to be devoured by a crocodile.
Moses’ parents35 feared the God who created their son more than the Pharaoh who wished to kill him. Thus they hid the child in their home for the first three months of his life (Exod. 3:2). Keeping the boy-child from being discovered eventually became impossible.36 The time came when something different had to be done. The result was a feigned obedience to the letter of the Law of Pharaoh.37 Moses was “thrown into the Nile” but in a woven “ark,” which was sealed with tar.38 The sister of Moses39 was tasked to stand at a distance to “see what would happen to the child” (Exod. 2:4).
In the providence of God, Pharaoh’s daughter40 arrived at the banks of the Nile to bathe. She saw the basket, sent one of her maids to fetch it, and discovered a Hebrew baby boy inside. At this point we should remember the order which the Pharaoh, this woman’s father, had given to all of those in his kingdom which would include his daughter: “Every boy that is born you must throw into the river …” (Exod. 1:22).
The Pharaoh could sit upon his throne and pass down edicts which caused untold sorrow, suffering, and death without ever being touched by the consequences of his decisions. Now, the Pharaoh’s daughter came face to face with the implications of her father’s policy of genocide. Looking into that basket, she saw a Hebrew baby—there was no mistaking its identity (v. 6). The child was crying, perhaps already having been adversely affected by his period of exposure. Nevertheless, this was a pathetic sight, one that tugged at the compassion and maternal instincts of this woman.
What her father, the Pharaoh, had commanded was not only unthinkable; it was undoable. No doubt she was pondering what she would do with the child when Moses’ sister arrived with the solution. How gracious of God to give this child back to his parents for a time and even to pay the mother wages for keeping him. This must have given a year or two, or more,41 during which they enjoyed their son with the protection of Pharaoh’s daughter. Depending on the age of Moses and the amount of ongoing contact his parents had with him, they must have had some opportunity to instruct him in the ways of the Lord.42 Let us not forget, however, that God’s plan for the education of Moses included years of instruction at the feet of pagan Egyptians, too (cf. Acts 7:22), which greatly facilitated his future leadership.
When Moses was weaned, he was taken into the household of Pharaoh, where he became her son. She named the boy Moses,43 a name rooted in the event of her finding him as a baby at which time she “drew him out” of the Nile.
The deliverance of Moses is significant in several ways. First, his deliverance is a beautiful illustration of the truth which we find declared most clearly in the New Testament: “Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory …” (Eph. 3:20-21a).
God gave the parents of Moses more than they ever thought possible. Not only was their son spared and now protected by none other than Pharaoh’s daughter’s love, but they were allowed to keep him for a time, train him in the ways of their God, and then, in addition to all these blessings, they were paid for it. What a rebuke to our unbelief! What a challenge to the limits of our faith! What a gracious God we serve!
The second observation which must be made is that the placing of Moses in the river is not the high point of faith in the lives of his parents. Most often this text has been interpreted romantically rather than realistically. We readily choose to believe that the “putting out” (exposing to die) of Moses by his parents was an act of faith, but a little bit of thought raises some serious questions. Why was the baby put “among the reeds” of the Nile? I believe that the reason was to hide the baby from sight. If the parents had cast their son into the Nile, surely no other Hebrew family would want to run the risk of saving the child. Any Egyptian who encountered the child would have been inclined to throw the child into the river, either out of personal prejudice and animosity, or at least out of a fear of disobeying the Pharaoh’s command.
I personally believe that Moses’ sister gasped when she saw the Pharaoh’s daughter spot the basket in the reeds and commanded her servants to bring the basket to her. Of all the people in Egypt, who would you least want to find that baby than a member of the Pharaoh’s household? My concerns are not a matter of mere conjecture, however, for the New Testament commentary confirms what I have suggested. I urge you to think through the biblical commentary on this event before you reject what I am about to suggest.
The writer to the Hebrews chose to cite the hiding of Moses for the first three months of his life as an evidence of his parents’ faith, but virtually ignored the incident of the tar-covered ark in which Moses was put in the Nile: “By faith Moses’ parents hid him for three months after he was born, because they saw he was no ordinary child, and they were not afraid of the king’s edict” (Heb. 11:23). Accepting these verses as divinely inspired and authoritative, I came to the conclusion that the act of Moses’ parents in hiding him for three months was a matter of greater faith than their act of putting him in the basket in the Nile.
But this does not go far enough when we take into account the words of Stephen:
“Then another king, who knew nothing about Joseph, became ruler of Egypt. He dealt treacherously with our people and oppressed our forefathers by forcing them to throw out their newborn babies so that they would die. At that time Moses was born, and he was no ordinary child. For three months he was cared for in his father’s house. When he was placed outside, Pharaoh’s daughter took him and brought him up as her own son” (Acts 7:18-21, NIV, emphasis mine).
Stephen, like the writer to the Hebrews, refers to the three month period when Moses was hidden in the house of his parents. Unlike Hebrews, Stephen does obliquely refer to the placing of the ark in the Nile but in such a way as to suggest a very distressing thought: this was more an act of unbelief than it was an act of faith.44 The translation of the NIV blunts Stephen’s point by translating the same Greek term by two different words (“throw out,” v. 19; “placed outside,” v. 21). The NASB brings the force of Stephen’s words home much more literally and precisely by rendering the same term “expose” in both verses. The point, disturbing as it may be, is this: Just as Pharaoh commanded that Hebrew boy babies be “put out to die,” Moses’ was “put out to die” by his parents.
No wonder the writer to the Hebrews chose not to include the placing of Moses in the River Nile as an example of Old Testament faith, which we should strive to imitate. Moses’ parents were at first unwilling to put their child to death, hiding him at home in defiance of Pharaoh’s decree. But, when this seemed impossible, they weakened to the point where they were willing to put their child in the Nile, in partial obedience to Pharaoh’s order. They were unwilling to put their child to death and thus put him in that woven basket. In their hearts, I believe that there was some hope that something might happen to save their child’s life, but mostly there was the fear that he would die (to which Stephen refers).45 The writer to the Hebrews thus rightly passes over this occasion, for it is not a model of biblical faith.
Third, described in these verses is not just “the deliverance of the deliverer,” but the deliverance of the Hebrew boy babies for drowning in the Nile. Not only did God deliver Moses, but through his deliverance it appears that the Pharaoh’s policy of genocide was set aside. Pharaoh had decreed that every boy baby born to an Israelite was to be cast into the Nile, but Pharaoh’s own daughter defied this order, thereby making it virtually impossible for the Pharaoh to enforce his own decree.
Think about it for a moment. Pharaoh’s daughter refused to abide by her father’s orders by taking Moses out of the water, and then she takes a Hebrew child home with her as her son. Now, in the palace of the Pharaoh whose orders were, “Throw them in the water!”, there is a Hebrew boy whose name means “Taken from the water.” There is, in my mind, no way that Pharaoh could have enforced his decree when his own daughter disobeyed it when living testimony of this disobedience (namely Moses) lived in the palace of Pharaoh, under his protection. Once again, Pharaoh’s efforts to destroy the people of God are turned inside-out, resulting in the fulfillment of His promises concerning the blessing of His people, Israel.
Once again, God has providentially preserved and prospered His people. Moses has been spared, and so have the other Israelite boy babies; now there is a Hebrew living in the palace, part of the royal family.
Moses—In Hot Water
Verse 11 passes over nearly 40 years (cf. Acts 7:23), taking up the story of Moses as an adult. Preceding the events of verses 11 and following is, I believe, a decision which is made by Moses described in the Book of Hebrews:
By faith Moses, when he had grown up, refused to be known as the son of Pharaoh’s daughter. He chose to be mistreated along with the people of God rather than to enjoy the pleasures of sin for a short time. He regarded disgrace for the sake of Christ as of greater value than the treasures of Egypt, because he was looking ahead to his reward (Heb. 11:24-26).46
This seems to mean that Moses had already made the critical decision to identify with his people, before he went out to observe the affliction of his brethren.47 Hebrews informs us that the reason Moses visited his brethren was due to his decision to identify with them and even to suffer with them. Thus, Moses did not lose his status as a son of Pharaoh’s daughter by the killing; he gave that up before the killing.48 Moses’ visit to his brethren backfired, in one sense, but it was used providentially to prepare him for his future calling.
We dare not seek to defend Moses in the murder of the Egyptian, no matter how cruel he may have been. Moses’ act was in defiance of the authority of Egypt, and it was premeditated murder (“he looked this way and that,” v. 12). While Moses’ method of dealing with this problem was wrong, we can see that his motivation was commendable. Moses sought to defend the oppressed. When he sought to rebuke his Hebrew brother for wrongly mistreating another Hebrew (v. 13), Moses revealed, once again, the disposition of a deliverer. As Stephen’s message highlighted, the rejection of Moses’ leadership by this Israelite typified Israel’s hardness of heart and rebellion against God (cf. Acts 7:23-29).
Moses’ motivation was right, but his methods and his timing were altogether wrong. What seemed to start out with a bang (the deliverance of Moses and his rearing in the palace), appears to have ended with a whimper. Instead of rising to power and delivering his people, Moses ran for his life, away from his people, to the land of Midian.49
Fleeing to the land of Midian, Moses ended up at a well, to which the daughters of Reuel,50 a Midianite,51 had come to water their father’s flocks. At this well, the character of Moses as a deliverer of the oppressed is once again manifested.52
What took place on this particular day was typical, not unusual.53 The seven daughters of Reuel arrived at the well, where they apparently waited in line for the well to be opened (cf. Gen. 29:2-3). It would seem that these women arrived earlier than the other shepherds who came later, knowing they could “bully” their way ahead of the women who would end up watering their flocks last. Moses did not like what he saw at all. One way or the other, Moses enforced the policy of “ladies first.” The oppressed were once again “delivered.” Moses could not look the other way, even when advantage was being taken of strangers.
Noting their early arrival, Reuel asked his daughters what had happened. When they had told him the story of their rescue, Reuel gently chastised his daughters for not extending the hospitality of a meal to this stranger who to them was an “Egyptian.” No doubt his speech and dress led to this conclusion. Regardless of his nationality, he should have been extended hospitality, especially due to his kindness.
With great economy of words, Moses briefly records that this “chance encounter” led to a lengthy stay in Midian, his marriage to Zipporah,54 and the birth of a son, Gershom. What is significant is the naming of his son. Moses named the child Gershom55 because, he said, “I have become an alien in a foreign land” (v. 22).
This statement is very significant in describing Moses’ state of mind at this point in time. In Midian, a land closer to Canaan than Egypt, Moses thought of himself as an alien and a sojourner. He still thought of his homeland as Egypt, not Canaan. I personally see this as an indication of a rather low point in the spiritual state of Moses. He has fled from Egypt to Midian. He has married a non-Israelite (technically, at least, although Zipporah was certainly more closely related than an Egyptian woman would have been). From Moses’ point of view, Egypt, his homeland, is far away. One can hardly think of this time as that of great faith or purpose in Moses’ life. This becomes even more evident when God’s call of Moses is described in chapters 3 and 4. The great faith and commitment to the people of God with which verse 11 began has somehow eroded into something far less.
If one were reading this account for the first time, without any knowledge of what was ahead, one would have a great sense of letdown here. Israel’s future seemed dim, threatened by Pharaoh’s oppressive measures, and now the command to kill every Israelite baby boy. Moses is providentially delivered and becomes the son of Pharaoh’s daughter, but this status is renounced, and when Moses sought to deliver his brother, he simply got himself into trouble. Moses fled the country, married into a Midianite family, and seemed to fade out of the picture entirely. We expect Moses’ life to end in obscurity.
In spite of all these appearances, God is very much at work as is stated in the final verses of the chapter:
During that long period, the king of Egypt died. The Israelites groaned in their slavery and cried out, and their cry for help because of their slavery went up to God. God heard their groaning and he remembered his covenant with Abraham, with Isaac and with Jacob. So God looked on the Israelites and was concerned about them (Exod. 2:23-25).
To me, this final paragraph reads like the expression, “Meanwhile, back at the ranch …” The point of it is to remind us that, in spite of all appearances to the contrary, God is very much at work. Humanly speaking, it looks as though everything is working against Israel, but this paragraph reminds us that God is very much informed, involved, and intent upon fulfilling His purposes and promises with respect to Israel. On the one hand, God is aware of Israel’s affliction,56 and He has heard their cries for help. On the other hand, God is mindful of His covenant with Abraham, which is also with his offspring (Isaac and Jacob, and the twelve resulting tribes). No matter how bad things may appear to be, God’s purposes are being realized. This section ties together the agony of God’s people in Egypt (described in chapter 1, but overshadowed by the personal account of Moses in chapter 2) with the deliverance about to take place in the following chapters.
This portion reminds us that God’s intervention into Israel’s history is due to God’s compassion and His faithfulness to His covenant. It also hints to the fact that God’s salvation is not the result of Israel’s faithfulness but rather is in spite of her spiritual state. The text here does not speak of Israel’s praises, but only of her groanings. While these groanings must have been expressed in prayer (cf. Deut. 26:7), God responded to them as a cry for His intervention. But lest we have an exaggerated view of Israel’s spirituality at this point in time, allow me to remind you of their idolatry and false worship while in Egypt which had to be dealt with later: “Now fear the Lord and serve him with all faithfulness. Throw away the gods your forefathers worshiped beyond the River and in Egypt, and serve the Lord” (Josh. 24:14; cf. Ezek. 20:5-10; 23:2ff.).
As we conclude this lesson, there are several truths underscored in our text which I would like to highlight.
(1) The fallibility of men and women of faith. We can easily acknowledge the fallibility of men in general, especially those who do not know or serve God. Thus, for example, we are not at all surprised by the cruelty of the Pharaoh or of the Egyptian taskmasters. But having acknowledged the depravity of man in general, I want to point out to you the fallibility of the faithful. Remember that both Moses and his parents are listed in the “hall of faith” in Hebrews 11, and yet both Moses and his parents failed, in spite of their faith.
Moses’ parents began well, refusing to obey the command of Pharaoh to kill their baby boy. This was obviously an act of great faith, one that is commended in the Scriptures. But after hiding their son for three months, they were willing to concede to the point of placing their son in a woven basket and risking (at the least) his death. I do not think that this incident, no matter how much we have glorified it, is one that Amran and Jochebed will want to remember as one of the high points of their faith. And so we see the fallibility of this couple who were noted for their faith.
Moses failed as well. He started very well when he determined to divest himself of the privileges and power of being known as the son of Pharaoh’s daughter. He did very well in seeking to identify with the suffering of his brethren. But what began well quickly fell apart (or so it would seem). He failed badly in trying to deliver his brethren from Egyptian oppression, murdering the offender and thus resorting to violence and cruelty himself. Standing up to Pharaoh at first soon deteriorated to fleeing from Pharaoh because of the slaying of the Egyptian. And, finally, we find Moses in a “foreign land” married to a “foreign wife” and seemingly forever derailed as far as his original commitments are concerned.
The people of God are not faring so well either. There have been great “flashes of faith” in Israel’s past, but now all that we see is suffering and oppression, and all that we hear is groaning. Far from trusting in God and serving Him only, they are engaged in idolatry and false worship.
The point of this account, when all of the erroneous romantic sentimentalism is stripped away, is that men are fallible, even men and women of faith. This should surely serve to humble us, for it reminds us that no matter how “high” we may be spiritually at a given point in time, there are likely to be “lows” as well. This we should see from the Hebrew midwives (chap. 1) and from Moses and his parents (chap. 2). Our Christian growth and development, like that of Israel as a nation, has its ups and downs, its highs and lows. If we think otherwise we do not know human nature very well, and we read the Scriptures romantically rather than realistically.
Knowing the fallibility, even of the faithful, should help us to weather the storms of life and the failures of others, as well as ourselves. God has not chosen to save perfect people (after all, such people don’t really need saving—if there were such people), but He has chosen to perfect imperfect people, over time, and ultimately in eternity. We should not excuse the failures of ourselves or others, but we should not be surprised when people of faith fail. We often suffer from very unrealistic expectations, both of ourselves and of others. The Bible consistently describes the saints as fallible people.
(2) The Grace of God. This chapter in Exodus, like all of the Scriptures, is oozing with the grace of God. God saved Moses in spite of the lapse in the faith of his parents, and in spite of the determined opposition of the Pharaoh. God continued to work in the life of Moses, preserving his life and preparing him for his future role as deliverer, even when Moses miserably failed at his own efforts to deliver his people. Israel was graciously heard and delivered, in spite of her disobedience, because of the grace of the God who called her and who promised to bring her into the land of Canaan. God’s hand is evident throughout this chapter, and it is always at work due to His grace, not due to the faithfulness and perfect obedience of men. The fallibility of men, even men and women of faith, is the occasion for grace, and so while men persist in failing, God persists in preserving and in delivering His people. When we are overcome by our own fallibility, let us remember that our standing before God, our salvation, our sanctification, our service is all a matter of His grace, not our goodness.
(3) The Providence of God. The grace of God is often worked out in the lives of men through the providence of God. God’s providence is His work that is often unseen or undetected by men at the time of its outworking. God’s providence is God’s purpose being worked out in ways that we would never have expected and through people whom we would not have chosen to use. Often this may be through disobedient people, such as Jonah, or through unbelievers, such as Pharaoh or his daughter. The providence of God is that unseen work of God which moves men and history toward the goal which God has foreordained, and which He has purposed and promised.
Think through the events of this chapter in Exodus, using the grid of providence. Pharaoh’s decree that every boy baby should be cast into the Nile endangered the life of Moses and all the Hebrew boy babies, but it resulted in the preservation of Moses and all boy babies, and in the preparation of Moses for his role as Israel’s deliverer. Pharaoh’s daughter, who was probably the most unwanted “finder” of the basket, turned out to be the one who could most effectively be used of God to further His purposes for Moses and for Israel. Even the slaying of the Egyptian, Moses’ flight to Midian, his “chance encounter” at the well and his marriage to Zipporah were all of a part of God’s providential workings.
Every detail of your life, every incident, every failure, is employed by God providentially to further His purposes. While this should in no way make us lax in our desire to know God’s will and to be obedient to Him, it should serve to assure us that even when we fail, He does not. Even our failures (which will have painful consequences to us) are a part of God’s providential working in our lives. Thus, Joseph could forgive his brothers and praise God for the time when they sold him into slavery, for he knew that what they intended for evil, God intended for good (Gen. 50:20).
The real issue is this: are you identified with God and with His purposes, or have you set yourself against Him? Moses, his parents, and all of the other fallible saints were ultimately blessed of God because they looked to Him in faith to fulfill His promises. Pharaoh and all of disobedient Egypt were providentially used of God but were destroyed because they did not trust in Him. May the truths of your fallibility, of God’s grace and of His providential dealing be of comfort to you because you have placed your faith in Him, trusting in Him alone for the forgiveness of your sins and for eternal salvation. If you have not yet placed your faith in Him, and trusted Him alone for the forgiveness of your sin, may today be the day of your salvation.
30 “The biblical story has unique features. It has no mythological elements but is told as if it were history.” J. P. Hyatt, Exodus (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1980), p. 62.
31 Note some of the comments made by Hyatt: “This narrative is a legend and should be read as such, not as history. Similar stories were widespread in the ancient world with the principals sometimes being gods, sometimes human beings, and sometimes both” (p. 62). “The story here involves belief that a special providence watches over the child from his birth, although the Deity is not mentioned in it” (p. 62). “The legend represents the Egyptian princess as knowing Hebrew!” (p. 65).
Hyatt’s last statement is, perhaps, the most telling. It is one thing for a liberal scholar to view the Bible stories as myth, like that of the pagans; it is another to scoff at what is said, as though it were ridiculous. What is so incredible about believing that Pharaoh’s daughter might know some Hebrew. Remember, she may well have had Hebrew slave girls as some of her servants (cf. Exod. 2:5). With so many Hebrew people in the land of Egypt, it would have been very likely for this woman to have known a few words. I have friends who once lived on the border between Mexico and the United States. Since this woman had Mexican servants, she determined to learn Spanish, at which she became quite fluent.
32 “Levi had no priestly associations in the early days, as can be seen from Genesis 49:5-7 where, with Simeon, he comes under his father’s curse for a bloodthirsty attack on Shechem (Gn. 34). The curse will be fulfilled: but in the case of Levi it will be turned into blessing, for Levi will be ‘scattered’ as the priestly tribe (Nu. 35:7,8).” R. Alan Cole, Exodus: An Introduction and Commentary (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 1973), p. 56.
33 W. H. Gispen, Exodus (trans. by Ed van der Maas (Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, 1982), p. 39. F. B. Meyer also seems to combine the idea of an unusual beauty and a special calling when he writes, “Something in the babe’s lovely countenance appeared to the mother’s eye as the halo of special Divine affection. A voice whispered to her heart that her child was specially dear to God. Was not its smile the result of the Divine embrace? And did not those limpid eyes look into the face of the Angel of the Covenant? She was, therefore, encouraged to brave the royal edicts, and screen the little taper from the gale of destruction that was sweeping through the land.” F. B. Meyer, Devotional Commentary on Exodus (Grand Rapids: Kregel Publications [reprint], 1978), p. 25.
34 While Arndt and Gingrich mention that the Greek word may have the meaning “beautiful, well formed,” they seem to favor the rendering, “acceptable, well-pleasing,” which much more accurately conveys the sense of its Hebrew counterpart. William F. Arndt and F. Wilbur Gingrich, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1957), p. 117.
35 I am choosing here to speak in terms of both parents, rather than just of his mother. That both parents were involved is evident from the statement of the writer to the Hebrews (“By faith, Moses’ parents hid him,” Heb. 11:23). Stephen emphasized this fact as well in Acts 7:20, where he indicates that Moses was nurtured in “his father’s house.”
36 Most commentators make much of the fact that the child’s crying would be heard at the age of three months. Frankly, I have heard a younger child make just as much noise. Furthermore, it was not wrong to have a baby girl, only a baby boy. I cannot help but wonder if she did something like put Moses in pink dresses, with cute little bows in his hair, or whatever, to conceal his sex, not his existence. Sooner or later, however, the diapers would come off and the truth would be known. Another factor may have been involved which relates to the “three month” crisis. The Israelite men and women were oppressed and cruelly forced to labor. Is it possible that mothers were given a three month “leave” from work, until their babies were old enough to be given to others to care for? If so, one can understand the problem which suddenly occurred at three months. These conjectures at least expand the possibilities as to what might have occurred, and caution us about too quickly accepting any one explanation.
37 “Jochebed’s act, like Abram’s claim to be the brother of Sarai in Genesis 12, is just within the Law. She had indeed thrown her son into the river as ordered, but in a wicker basket.” Cole, p. 57.
38 The word for “ark” here is found elsewhere in the Old Testament only in Genesis 6 and 7, with reference to Noah’s “ark.” The “tar” with which the ark was coated is the same as that mentioned in Genesis 11:3.
39 The “sister” of Moses appears to be Miriam (Exod. 15:20; Num. 12; 20:1), but she is not named. Some have suggested that since the appearance is that this is the first child of the couple, the brother and sister may have been of a previous or other wife (cf. Cole, p. 57, who mentions this option, but does not favor it).
40 “The identity of this daughter of Pharaoh is subject to speculation. If Thutmose I were the Pharaoh of 1:22 then his daughter, the famous queen Hatshepsut who later assumed kingship, may have been this daughter. This view has been suggested by a number of writers. While this view is entirely possible, it is equally possible that Moses was reared in one of the royal harems which were common to the New Kingdom period.” John J. Davis, Moses and the Gods of Egypt (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1971), p. 52.
The best brief description of Hatshepsut is to be found in Gispen, who writes that Hatshepsut was: “…one of the most remarkable women in the history of Egypt, and indeed of the world. She was the daughter of Thutmose I (1539-1514 B. C.) who I believe to the king who issued the order that all boys be drowned. … Hatshepsut was her father’s favorite and after his death became very influential under her weak husband Thutmose II (1514-1501 B.C.), even to the extent that her brother (or stepson?) Thutmose III (1501-1447 B.C.) had no say at all during her lifetime, no matter how famous he later became … She ruled Egypt from 1501-1479 B.C. Monuments of Hatshepsut still exist, although Thutmose III later tried to eradicate her name. She ruled in peace, built temples, and sponsored expeditions; her grave has been found. When Moses was born she was still only ‘Pharaoh’s daughter,’ yet she had sufficient influence to be able to keep Moses alive.” Gispen, p. 40.
I once imagined the scene in the palace to be something like this, when Pharaoh’s daughter appeared with the boy and the basket: The Pharaoh sternly ordered his daughter to take the boy back to the river and throw him in, just as he had decreed to the entire nation. Copious amounts of tears began to well up and flow from the big brown Egyptian eyes of his daughter. “But, Daddy,” she pleaded, “can’t I keep him?” In fatherly fashion, the Pharaoh melts at the sight of his daughter’s tears.
Having read the account of Hatshepsut, a totally different scenario came to mind. Resolutely, the Pharaoh’s daughter marched into the palace, announcing her decision to keep the child, daring her father to try to harm him, defying his order to kill the boy and demanding that this order be retracted—immediately! Ah, the providence of God—how sweet it can be.
41 “After the child grew, which is interpreted by some to mean the weaning period of about two or three years, or perhaps as much as twelve years, he was brought back to Pharaoh’s daughter to receive the full training as one who was a member of the royal household.” (Davis, p. 54).
42 “No doubt it was in these early years that Moses learnt of the ‘God of the fathers’ (Ex. 3:15) and realized that the Hebrews were his fellow countrymen (Ex. 2:11).” Cole, p. 58.
43 There is a fair bit of discussion in the commentaries as to who named Moses (his mother, or Pharaoh’s daughter), and the derivation of the name. I don’t such speculation is that of great value. The significance of Moses’ name is given in the text itself. There is clear irony here, since the Pharaoh gave the order to “throw Hebrew boy babies in Nile” and yet the name Moses means to “draw out”. The Pharaoh’s decree: “throw out”; Pharaoh’s daughter’s declaration of the name of her son: “draw out.” Cf. Davis, pp. 54, 55 for a summary of the various views of the naming of Moses.
44 This is contrary to the views of most commentators, as exemplified in this statement: “And now we see the confidence of his mother’s faith. She waterproofed a basket, made of the sticky papyrus found along the Nile, with tar (a bitumen imported in Egypt from Palestine) and pitch.” Gispen, p. 39.
45 I believe that we make too much out of Moses’ sister’s watching to “see what would happen” to the child, assuming that she was looking expectantly for their plan (to save the child) to work. I suspect that while this was a genuine hope, she was tasked to watch the child and to report, if necessary, its death to the parents. The child would not be allowed to perish alone. I do not rule out the fact that there was some hope, some faith, but I do believe that there was also much fear, and gloomy expectations. The faith of Moses’ parents at this stage has thus been greatly exaggerated. A bold faith at such a time, of course, is what we would prefer to believe.
46 I understand Hebrews 11:27 to be referring to Moses’ exodus from Egypt with the people of God, rather than his “escape” from Egypt, described in Exodus 2:15. I cannot imagine the writer to the Hebrews describing a flight based upon the fear of Pharaoh as a departure motivated by faith, not fear. In Hebrews 11:29, the writer then takes up the faith of the entire nation as they passed through the Red Sea.
47 “This phrase means more than ‘to see.’ It means ‘to see with emotion,’ either satisfaction (Gn. 9:16) or, as here, with distress (Gn. 21:16). Moses is one who shares God’s heart. God too has seen what the Egyptians are doing to the Israelites, and He will come to deliver (Ex. 3:7,8). It was not Moses’ impulse to save Israel that was wrong, but the action that he took.” Cole, p. 59.
48 There are three reasons why I find it necessary for Moses’ decision, as described in Hebrews, to be made prior to the events of Exodus 2:11ff.: (1) Only at this point is this a great act of faith, worthy of mention in Hebrews 11. One can hardly commend Moses for fleeing for his life later on. (2) To make this decison before verse 11 explains Moses’ visit to see the affliction of his brethren. Having chosen to identify with his brethren, he went to see them. (3) The rejection of Moses’ authority by his Hebrew brother in verse 14 would be explained best by Moses decison at the time I have suggested. If Moses had previously set aside his power and privileges, it is easy to understand why the Hebrew failed to accept his authority. If Moses still had the status of “the son of Pharaoh’s daughter” no one would dare to challenge his right to interfere, as this man had.
49 Midian “… is usually located on the east shore of the Gulf of Aqabah, to the south of Palestine. This is where Ptolemy, geographer of the second century A.D., and later Arab geographers located Madiana or Madyan. However, the OT represents the Midianites as nomads who ranged over a wide territory to the south and east of Palestine; therefore we should not seek to locate them precisely to a specific territory. According to Gen. 25:2, Midian was a son of Keturah, wife of Abraham; verse 6 says that Abraham sent her sons away ‘eastward to the east country.’” Hyatt, p. 66.
50 “The … Midianites were descendants of Abraham by Keturah (Gen. 25:1-2) and may have remained to some extent worshippers of the true God. The man with whom he stayed (Reuel) may have been a priest of the true God (cf. 18:12-23). The identity of this “priest of Midian” is referred to a number of ways in Scripture. In verse 18 he is named Reuel (cf. Num. 10:20). Later he is given the name Jethro (3:1; 18:1), and Raguel (Num. 10:29). At one place he is identified as a Midianite (Exod. 18:1). Later, however, he is associated with the Kenites (Judg. 1:16).” Davis, p. 57.
51 “In 3:1 and chapter 18 he is called ‘Jethro the priest of Midian,’ and in 4:18 ‘Jether’ (some Hebrew MSS. have Jethro). In Num. 10:29 he is ‘Hobab the son of Reuel the Midianite.’ In Jg. 4:11 he is ‘Hobab,’ one of the Kenites; and in Jg. 1:16 he is called simply ‘the Kenite,’ with some MSS. of the LXX inserting the name ‘Hobab.’” Hyatt, p. 67.
“All this means either that several variant traditions survived as to the identity of Moses’ father-in-law, or that he had at least two names. There is of course no problem in supposing him to have two (or more) names, since double names are known from South Arabic sources. In such cases the biblical editor sometimes specifies both names together, as in ‘Jerubabbaal (that is, Gedeon)’ (Judg. 7:1): but sometimes both are used independently within a few verses (Judg. 8:29f.).” Cole, p. 61.
52 In Genesis before, and now in Exodus, the “well” serves as an occasion to portray the character of the one who has come to it. Cf. Gen. 24:10-21; 26:17ff.; 29:1-20. To pursue this further, I recommend Robert Alter, The Art of Biblical Narrative (New York: Basic Books, 1981), pp. 47-62.
53 Reuel asked his daughters, “Why have you returned so early today?” (v. 18, emphasis mine). This suggests that they arrived late every day, and for the same reasons—the bullies made them water their flocks first.
54 “Zipporah is the feminine form of the noun meaning ‘bird.’” Hyatt, p. 68.
“We might translate as ‘warbler’ or, less kindly, ‘twitterer’; it is the name of a small bird.” Cole, p. 61.
55 “The name contains a pun by assonance, for it is translated as though it were the Hebrew ger sam, ‘a resident alien there.’ Philologically, it is probably an old noun meaning ‘expulsion,’ from the verb garas; the general sense is thus much the same. As often in the Old Testament, the remark is rather a commentary on the meaning of the name rather than an exact translation (cf. Exod. 2:10).” Cole, pp. 61-62.
56 It may be noteworthy that the same term is used here (rendered “looked on,” v. 25, NIV) as was employed in verse 11 (2 times, rendered “watched” and “saw”). The comment in footnote 18 thus applies here, too. Moses’ heart was a reflection of the heart of God, when he looked with compassion and pity on the afflicted.