The second chapter of Exodus contains an all-too-familiar story. Our hero, taken from his rightful home grows up in the house of his enemy. Once he discovers who he truly is, he protects his people at incredible cost. Upon fleeing the situation, he finds peace in a place truly foreign to him. As he grows into the man he was always supposed to be, his true purpose finally comes calling.
Great heroes have come from the pages of Scripture. Great stories, adventures, and iconic characters dot the landscape of God’s story from the very beginning. Moses and his adventures are genuinely epic. As we examine his humble roots, may we truly stand in awe of all that God did?
First and foremost, we must understand that God always wanted mankind to have compassion towards one another, to live in harmony, and to seek out our better nature. Unfortunately, we often find those wishes difficult to live out on a daily basis. It’s no wonder God told us twelve different times in the New Testament to “love one another” (see John 13:34-35; 1 Thessalonians 4:9; 1 John 4:7). In the Old Testament, God gave the idea of caring for a stranger due diligence. As He gave the law to the people of Israel, He forbid them in Exodus 22:21 and 23:9 from “mistreating or oppressing a stranger for you were strangers in the land of Egypt.” Psalm 146:9 even says,
The Lord watches over the strangers; He relieves the fatherless and widow.
It seems fairly obvious to me that God wanted Israel to treat foreigners better than foreigners had treated them. That principle is delivered at its simplest by Jesus in Luke 6:31, when He says, “and just as you want men to do to you, you also do to them likewise.”
As we dig into the story of the Exodus, we see generations of Israelites tortured, mistreated, and marginalized for nothing more than being Jews. That bigotry, hatred, and prejudice wore the Israelites down and left them bruised, battered, and beaten. Exodus 1:13-14 gives us a small glimpse at the Israelite burden in Egypt:
So the Egyptians made the children of Israel serve with rigor. And they made their lives bitter with hard bondage – in mortar, in brick, and in all manner of service in the field. All their service in which they made them serve was with rigor.
In that cruel and unrelenting world, it’s refreshing to see someone who stood up to their oppressors with such bravery. The birth of Moses and his parent’s subsequent faith in the God who delivers is truly impressive. Hope is something that no one can take from you, its something you have to give up on your own. To see them remain hopeful in the face of insurmountable odds should be inspiring to us still today. Exodus 2:1-2 says:
And a man of the house of Levi went and took as wife a daughter of Levi. So the woman conceived and bore a son. And when she saw that he was a beautiful child, she hid him three months.
We should not forget the great compliment the author of Hebrews gave those parents at 11:23. It says there:
By faith Moses, when he was born, was hidden three months by his parents, because they saw he was a beautiful child; and they were not afraid of the king’s command.
I am amazed at how similar this story is to that of Samuel and his birth in First Samuel 1-2. Samuel’s mother Hannah also did the unthinkable. She gave her son away after barely knowing him at all. What’s even more ironic about their story is the similarity that we can overlook if we’re not careful. Do not honor that they gave them away, honor who they gave them to. Both sets of parents trusted God and gave their son to Him wholeheartedly. That meant someone else would raise them. They gave what’s most precious to God so that His Will could be done. One did it knowingly and the other with all the hope they could muster. There is a great lesson to be learned there for parents of any age.
Something that also deserves attention as we read the text is the compassion of Pharaoh’s daughter upon the baby. In an ironic twist, she is the one who disobeys her father’s command by saving baby Moses (see Exodus 1:22). She set a terrible example by allowing the boy to live and allowing a Jewish woman to nurse him. She showed compassion when most wouldn’t by loving an innocent boy destined for greatness. Exodus 2:6 says:
And when she opened it, she saw the child, and behold, the baby wept. So she had compassion on him, and said, “This is one of the Hebrews’ children.”
I can’t help but wonder why. Perhaps she was barren and unable to have children of her own. Perhaps she grew tired of the constant slaughter. Perhaps she was merely a better person than her father. Even though we’ll never know the reasons behind her compassion, I encourage you to celebrate it. Caring for the innocent is simple, yet as a society, we often forget how to love one another, especially those who need it the most. Never forget the words of Jesus’ half-brother in James 1:27:
Pure and undefiled religion before God and the Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their trouble and to keep oneself unspotted from the world.
That verse is about caring for those who everyone else overlooks. She cared for a boy most Egyptians would have left to die. It was extraordinary, but it was also Godly. She loved without expecting anything in return. May we honor her choice, far too many would have chosen differently.
In this world, “the only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men (and women) to do nothing” (quote attributed to Edmund Burke, a 17th-century English politician). How well does that thought connect to this story? All she had to do was nothing and harm or even evil may have befallen that boy. When she chose to do something, evil lost. On that day, a baby’s tears (and a princess’s response) were the first weapons God used in His war against Egypt (and evil).¹
In the grand scheme of things, these moments seem ordinary, but they are nothing of the sort. They are the moments that give Moses an opportunity to live and grow in Pharaoh’s house. They give him a unique perspective and truly helped shape him into the man God called many years later.
I urge you to consider the following details that come out of the text of Exodus chapter 2. They are sometimes mundane, but always a part of God’s plan. In verses 1-4, we learn of Moses’ parents and their rebellion against Pharaoh. When their child was born a boy, “they hid him three months, but when she could no longer hide him, she made an ark of bulrushes…” (2:2-3). They were breaking the law of Egypt (see Exodus 1:15-17) by keeping their boy alive, but how could we expect anything else? Parents are literally made in the image of God. They give life to an innocent child and raise that boy or girl from the time of infancy to adulthood. Loving their son and protecting him wasn’t just the right thing to do, it was the only thing to do. It should be pointed out that while she technically obeyed the Pharaoh’s commands by throwing him into the river, she disobeyed him by building the basket.
Verses 3-4 describe the care Moses’ mother put into his “basket.” It says she “daubed it with asphalt and pitch and laid it in the reeds by the river bank.” The word used to describe it is “ark” and only used elsewhere to describe Noah’s great boat (see Genesis 6:14). Every Hebrew reading this story would have caught the significance of that word. Just as God’s hand of grace was on Noah, a deliverer, bringing salvation, so it was with the deliverer Moses.² Those details do not describe a careless woman, instead, they describe someone with a plan. Doing this would have been common in the ancient world. In fact, it was the equivalent of leaving a baby on the steps of an orphanage or hospital today.³
On a side note, I must say their faith in God is beyond anything I can imagine. Giving that boy over to God and His protection is easy to talk about, but almost unimaginable in real life. I don’t believe I could have stomached watching him float away. I don’t imagine I could have watched him grow up in the palace without anger and resentment boiling over within me. I can’t imagine making that choice and I am thankful every day I don’t have to. I will freely admit today, I want to be a father like that man. I want to trust in God enough to let my son go and know my Lord is protecting him.
It also seems fairly obvious to me that she hoped God would care for the boy and someone (anyone) would find him unharmed and have compassion. As we see this scene unfold, we must ask this question, “did his mother know Pharaoh’s daughter and her maidens would be near that part of the river in 2:5-6?” I have a hard time believing her choice of launching points is coincidental. One other question I would then ask is, “did she have confidence in this woman?” Unfortunately, a full understanding of those questions is lost to history. If the answers are true, it says something about Pharoah’s daughter and the quality of her life.
In 2:7, we see the how important this young boy’s sister and her vested observance of his fate truly was. After Pharaoh’s daughter finds Moses amongst the reeds, his sister volunteers to help her find a “nurse” for the boy. In verses 8 and 9, God’s providence rears itself once again. Not only does Moses’ mother get to nurse her now-protected son, she gets paid to do it. Is there any explanation for these chain-of-events outside of God’s hand?
Notice in verse 10 that Pharaoh’s daughter names our hero Moses, “because I drew him out of the water.” He grows up to be her adopted son with all the perks and prominence that would be bestowed upon a member of the royal family. Acts 7:22 says, “Moses was learned in all the wisdom of the Egyptians, and was mighty in words and deeds,” so it seems obvious that his education and training was top notch. It’s also clear according to verse 11 that Moses knew he was a Hebrew. It says there, “when Moses was grown, that he went out to his brethren and looked at their burdens. And he saw an Egyptian beating a Hebrew, one of his brethren.” Evidently, his mother, stepmother or the Pharaoh told him at some point while he was a young man.
I have no doubt that his real parentage brought about some feelings of confusion. We see in verses 11-14 that anger got the better of him as he observed an Egyptian mistreat an Israelite. It says, “he went out to his brethren and looked at their burdens.” Acts 7:23 tells us he was forty years old when he went to “visit his brethren.” We can not assume he willingly turned a blind eye or deaf ear to the mistreatment of his people all those previous years, we just don’t know what happened. No matter the excuse, nothing can rightfully excuse the murder of the Egyptian taskmaster. It was a sinful act, not some accident according to verse 12 which says “he looked and when he saw no one, killed the Egyptian and hid him in the sand.” While it was in defense of an Israelite, it was still murder. The reality of his feelings are revealed in Hebrews 11:24-26. It says there:
By faith Moses, when he became of age, refused to be called the son of Pharaoh’s daughter, choosing rather to suffer affliction with the people of God than to enjoy the passing pleasures of sin, esteeming the reproach of Christ greater riches than the treasures in Egypt; for he looked to the reward.
It is possible that the Egyptian officer wasn’t just disciplining the Jewish slave, but was instead beating him to death. The Hebrew word there can imply that, so potentially Moses interfered to save a man’s life.4 While I certainly hope that’s the case, the Scripture leaves those details somewhat ambiguous. When it comes to this instance, let’s not read between the lines. We know what we know. An Egyptian slavemaster was killed by the adopted grandson of the Pharaoh and that left Moses in quite a predicament.
In yet another hasty act, highlighting his need to grow up, Moses fled to the wilderness of Sinai in fear of punishment and met the family of Reuel.5 He was a priest, tribal leader, and willing to give Moses his daughter Zipporah as wife (see 2:16-21). While we don’t know much about Moses’ time in the land of Midian other than his job (shepherd) and his family (wife and a son named Gershom), we do know this time helped groom him into the man to finally lead God’s people out of Egypt. By living in the wilderness, he learned to rely on God. By having a family, he learned to lead, guide, and discipline those he loved. By working with Jethro and his family he developed skills to help him lead the Israelites out of their enslavement. 6
In the end, I want you to realize that the early life of Moses is one that’s truly remarkable. God’s divine hand of providence is all over the relationships Moses found himself in. From his parents, his adopted family, and even his father-in-law, God brought people into his life that forever impacted him. We must be aware of the similarities in our lives also. God doesn’t leave our lives up to chance. He orchestrates grand opportunities for us to be His and serve Him, just like Moses.
¹ Warren W. Wiersbe, Be Delivered, (Colorado Springs, CO: David C. Cook, 1998), 21.
² Tony Merida, Exalting Jesus in Exodus, (Nashville, TN: Holman Reference, 2014), 13.
³ R. Alan Cole, Exodus, (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1973), 64.
4 Wiersbe, Be Delivered, 22.
5 This is the same man named Jethro according to 4:18. There are other instances of someone being addressed as two different names in Scripture such as Gideon/Jerubbaal in Judges 7:1, 8:29.
6 Merida, Exalting Jesus in Exodus, 15.
All Scripture is taken from the New King James Version. Copyright (c) 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by Permission. All rights reserved.
Originally published on February 22, 2018. Written by Neal Mathis.