The Birth of Moses

Exodus 2:1-10

Alan Lewis
Elon, North Carolina
February 2016

We are studying the Book of Exodus.  Last week, we looked at the first chapter.  It is an introduction to the book but today we come to an exciting chapter, as we begin to study a new character in the Bible.  We begin to look at the life of Moses. A lot of things happen in this chapter.  Exodus 2 covers an eighty years.

Today, I just want to look at the first ten verses of the chapter, which covers the birth and infancy of Moses.  It is a very familiar Bible story about baby Moses.  Every child is taught this story in Sunday School but this is the “Digging Deeper Class”.  We are going to look at this story on a much deeper level.  I want you to try to see this chapter in a way you never have before.

This chapter has even changed the law codes in our country. In all fifty states today we have legislation enacted called “Baby Moses Laws”.  These laws say that if a mother can no longer take care of her kids, she can drop them off at a hospital or fire station and not be prosecuted for neglect or abandonment.  It is a way of protecting infants from being dropped off somewhere and left to die.  They are called “Safe Haven Laws”.

These ten verses focus on the birth of Moses. Today, we see Moses the baby.  Moses is a miracle baby. He survives against all odds.  He is born in Egypt to a poor slave family.  He had a death sentence on him. He survives a genocidal decree.  He survives abandonment.  He survives being left alone in a river.  He was completely helpless and vulnerable and exposed to great danger.

Moses will go on to be the deliverer of the Jews but, in this section, the deliverer needs to be delivered.  He is delivered BY WOMEN (Moses’ mother, Moses’ sister and Pharaoh’s daughter). They are the ones who rescue him and save his life. When Pharaoh made his murderous decree, he made one mistake.  He underestimated the power of women.  They are heroes here.

That is interesting.  Most of the heroes in the Bible are men.  The Bible is largely written from a male perspective but women are the heroes here.  Men are associated with death.  Women are associated with life. All of the ones who fought against Pharaoh’s decree were women (Hebrew midwives, Moses’ mother, Moses’ sister and Pharaoh’s daughter, the maidservant who fetched the basket out of the river and brought it to Pharaoh’s daughter).

If they did not do this, there would have been no Exodus from Egypt, because there would have been no deliverer. Today, I want to look at three women who were used by God to deliver the deliverer and what we can learn from each one of them. Today, our focus will not be on Moses.  He does not do much in these verses, except cry.  I want to focus on three special women who God used to deliver Moses in a time of great danger.

Moses’ Mother

The focus here is on Moses’ mother, not his father.  We do not know where he was.  He might have been out making bricks but the one actively involved in the chapter is his mother, not his father.  Moses’ mother was a godly woman.  This chapter gives us a portrait of a godly woman. She is a great example to people today.

She was a LOVING mother.  She loved her baby and tried to protect him as long as she could, even at risk to herself.  She probably fed him all of the time to keep him from crying.  She was COURAGEOUS in deliberately defying Pharaoh’s decree.  She chose life for her son.

Abortion was not an option.  While the world cried out for the death of her son, she chose life.  She put her own life in jeopardy by hiding Moses.  She was CREATIVE in making the floating basket.  She does not just pray, she does something.  She is active, not passive.  She makes a special basket and puts him in the river.

She was a woman of FAITH.  She and her husband are mentioned in Hebrews 11 in the Faith Hall of Fame (Hebrews 11:23).  How does she display incredible faith?  Once she let go of that basket, the child’s welfare and future was completely out of her hands.  She had to trust God.  She had to trust the providence of God.  She had to believe that His will, program and purpose would be carried out.  We could learn from Yoheved here.  We need to trust God with our kids, like she did.

She did what she could to take care of her son.  When she could not take care of him anymore more, she left him in God’s hands.  We need to do that when they go off to college, live in another state or do something else that is completely beyond our control. Some parents never let go of the basket.  They never leave them in God’s hands and trust him. We need to do that when they go off to college, live in another state or do something else that is completely beyond our control.

She was also completely SELFLESS.  She loved Moses and wanted to raise him herself but she gave that dream up if it meant that he would have a better life with someone else.  She didn’t think of herself and her own needs and desires but that of her child.  She didn’t have a choice in this adoption but she did not want her son to grow up as a slave.

He gave her son a better life.  He went from being the son of a slave to the son of a king.  He went from poverty to wealth, from living in a hut to living in a palace.  She knew that Pharaoh’s daughter could give her son a far better life in the palace than she could give him. What she did must have been very hard to do but she at least knew who the mother was and where Moses was at all times.

She is also TRUSTWORTHY.  She made an agreement with Pharaoh’s daughter. Once the child was through nursing, he was to be brought back to her.  She could have changed her mind but she kept the agreement she made whether she wanted to or not.

She was a GOOD PARENT. Moses was not her first child.  He was her third child.  She had an older brother and sister.  Miriam was born first and then Aaron and now Moses.  From this poor slave family came three very important people in Jewish history.

All of them were called prophets.  Miriam was called a prophetess.  She was also a great worship leader in Israel.  Moses frees an entire nation of slaves and delivers the Ten Commandments to the nation.  Aaron was the first high priest in the nation.  He was the founder of the priesthood.  She and her husband must have done something right to have such great kids. God blessed her.

Now a man of the tribe of Levi married a Levite woman, and she became pregnant and gave birth to a son. When she saw that he was a fine child, she hid him for three months (2:1-2).  The chapter begins with a wedding and a birth.  Moses mom and dad get married.  They are not named here but they are named in Exodus 6:20. “Amram took as his wife Jochebed his father’s sister, and she bore him Aaron and Moses, the years of the life of Amram being 137 years” (ESV).

Many scholars say that she was not just mother but just his ancestor but Jewish tradition says that she was his mother (Jubilees 47:8).  Most Bibles read “Jochebed”.  Every preacher calls her “Jock-a-bed” but that was not her name.  Jock-a-bed sounds like someone from the Flintstones.  Hebrew does not have a “j” sound.  It doesn’t exist in Hebrew.  In Hebrew, it is pronounced Yo-kheh-ved. 

Amram married Yoheved.  They were both Levites.  They did not marry Canaanites. They married within the same faith.  They married within the same tribe.  In fact, they married within the same family.  Exodus 6:20 says that Amram married his father’s sister.

His father was named Kohath.  He married his sister which means that he married his aunt which means that Moses’ mom was much older than his dad.  Amram’s aunt as well as his wife, Later in Scripture, a marriage between aunt and nephew was forbidden (cf. Leviticus 18:12) but it was not forbidden at this time.

They get married and have a child but then they find out it is a boy.  If it was a girl, it would have been no problem but Pharaoh ordered all baby boy babies to be thrown into the river. The woman conceived and bore a son, and when she saw that he was a fine child, she hid him three months. 

When was Moses Born?

Did you know that we know the exact year Moses was born? Most people do not know this but the exact year that Moses was born comes right out of the Bible.  Moses was born in 1526 B.C.

How do we know?  This is fascinating. I Kings 6:1 says “In the four hundred and eightieth year after the Israelites came out of Egypt, in the fourth year of Solomon’s reign over Israel, in the month of Ziv, the second month, he began to build the temple of the Lord” (NIV)

Historians know when Solomon ruled.  He built the Temple in 966 BC.  If you add 480 to 966, you get 1446 BC for the date of the Exodus[1].  We know that Moses was eighty years old at the time of the Exodus (7:7).  If you add 80 to 1446, you come up with 1526 BC as the birth date for Moses.

If Moses was born in 1526, we have some idea who the Pharaoh was who issued the decree to throw all of the Jewish baby boys into the river.  We know which Pharaoh was ruling Egypt at that time.  You can look it up.

According to conventional Egyptian chronology, Ahmose I was the one who issued the decree.  He reigned from 1550-1525 BC and his son Amenhotep I reigned from 1525-1504 BC.  If the dates are off by a few years, Amenhotep I could be the baby killing Pharaoh, instead of his father.

When she could hide him no longer, she took for him a basket made of bulrushes and daubed it with bitumen and pitch. She put the child in it and placed it among the reeds by the river bank. (2:2-3). She can’t hide him anymore, so she does something.

She makes a special basket and puts him in the river.  She does not throw him in the river like the king decreed but she does place him in the river, so she at least obeyed the letter of the law.

She puts him in a floating basket and puts the basket in the Nile, which happens to be the longest river in the world.  The word basket is the same word for Noah’s ark (tay-vah).  This is Moses in the Ark. God saved Moses the same way he saved Noah.  Both passed through deadly waters and were saved by an ark. The only other time this Hebrew word is used is of Noah. Noah floated in an ark and Moses floated in an ark as well.

How did Moses’ mom know how to make a boating of papyrus reeds?  How did she know how to make this basket boat over three thousand years ago?  I would not know how to do this today.  I cannot make anything.  I am Jewish and Jesus was the last Jewish carpenter.  How did she know how to do this?  There is a good answer to this question.

She had the technology to do this in her day.  The first boats the early Egyptians built were made from papyrus, not wood.  They were papyrus boats.  These reed boats are among the oldest type of boats.  They waterproofed with some form of tar. The technology to do this existed in Egypt at the time.

Where did she place the basket?  The text says, “She placed the child … among the reeds along the bank of the Nile” (2:3). In the Prince of Egypt the basket is placed in the middle of the river and floats down current right past all kinds of dangerous animals.  It is a great movie but much of it is biblical fiction.

Exodus says Moses was placed among the tall sturdy plants by the edge of the river so it will not float away. As Chuck Swindoll says, “She had faith but it was not foolish faith.”[2] The ark was not placed in the middle of the river but among reeds by the bank of the Nile and his sister watched it at all times.

Why did she put Moses in the river?  Why did she abandon her own child?  Why did she put him at risk?  It is dangerous to put a baby in a river.  There are alligators and crocodiles in the river. She didn’t have a choice.  If she does NOT do this, Moses will die.  Pharaoh had a law and tried to enforce the law, so she put him in the river and left him in the hands of God.

Pharaoh’s Daughter

Now the daughter of Pharaoh came down to bathe at the river, while her young women walked beside the river. She saw the basket among the reeds and sent her servant woman, and she took it. When she opened it, she saw the child, and behold, the baby was crying. She took pity on him and said, “This is one of the Hebrews’ children.” (2:6-7 ESV)

The second hero of the chapter is Pharaoh’s daughter.  In The Prince of Egypt movie, she is not his daughter but his wife.   That idea comes from the Quran.  The Quran describes this woman as Pharaoh’s wife (28:9; 66:11) but that was written two thousand years after Exodus was written.  It is a corrupted version of the story. Exodus is clear that she was his daughter (2:5). It doesn’t say which one of his daughters she was but it clearly says that she was his daughter.

She also happened to be a financial wizard.  She went to the bank of the Nile and drew out a little profit. She was one of the great women in Scripture, Pharaohs’ daughter.  She does a righteous deed and she was not even Jewish. Then, she does something amazing.  She finds this baby floating in the river.  She could have easily drowned him but she decides to save the baby.

Moses’ life is saved by a pagan princess.  She does a good deed here.  It shows incredible bravery.  Her dad decrees to throw all of them into the river and kill them.  She decides to deliberately break the law.  She does not just break the law, she disobeys her parents.  She deliberately disobeys her own father.  It is right to disobey your parents when they command you to din and that is exactly what she does here.

She must have been very different from her father. Her father was a bloodthirsty tyrant.  He was a ruthless killer.  He goes down as one of the top evil people in the Bible.  This daughter of his might have been more like her mother.  She had a love for children, even Hebrew children.  She loved even enslaved Hebrew children.

The big irony is that the Nile does not become an instrument of death but an instrument of life.  God once again turns evil into good.  God is triumphing over evil.  Pharaoh decreed that the river be an instrument of death.  God used it to save the life of Moses.  Pharaoh’s daughter goes beyond that.

She does not just save the baby; she adopts him (which means that he goes from a slave to Pharaoh’s grandson).  She loves him and kisses him, like he was her own son.  Moses gets a new mother.  He gets a new home.  He gets a new family.

What happened here? Pharaoh’s daughter went down to the Nile to bathe.  This was probably not a bath with a bar of soap but a religious ritual.  There were bathtubs in the palace.  She didn’t have to go to the river to bathe.  The Egyptians worshiped the Nile.  They believed it was a god and gave this god a name (Hapi).  She sees something unusual (2:5) and sends a servant to check it out (2:5).  Pharaoh’s daughter was the one who saw the basket but her servant was the one who went and got the basket out of the water.

By God’s providence, Pharaoh’s daughter was in exactly the right place at the right time and sees something unusual and curiosity kicks in, so she sends one of her servants to get it.  She opens it and sees a beautiful baby.  It is a boy baby and he is crying.  She knew instantly that this was a Hebrew baby.

How did she know this? Some believe she knew it was a Hebrew baby by the clothes he was wearing or the circumcision.  Egyptians practices circumcision but they did not circumcise infants. I think she would have known immediately because of her father’s decree about throwing baby boys in the river.

She sees this baby, deserted and abandoned by its parents, exposed to danger.  The Nile River was a dangerous place for a helpless infant.  She was instantly moved with compassion. Her maternal instinct kicked in. This Egyptian princess was touched by the cry of this little Jewish boy. It is love at first sight and may have thought that the river god gave her a child.

When she sees the baby, he is crying.  Jewish commentators in the Middle Ages said that an angel stood there and must have pinched the baby at that time[3].  She sees not only an abandoned baby but a hungry baby.  He is crying.  He needs to eat and you cannot go to the grocery store and buy formula.  That is when Moses’ sister jumped into action.

Moses’ Big Sister

Moses sister functioned as Moses’ baby sitter. We don’t know how old she was.  Jewish tradition says she was about seven.  She might have been ten years older than Moses.  She followed him in the water.  Then his sister said to Pharaoh’s daughter, “Shall I go and call you a nurse from the Hebrew women to nurse the child for you?” (2:7 ESV)

We do not know if this was her idea of if her mom told her to do this.  We definitely see some of her character traits here.  She was LOVING. She loved her baby brother.  She was PROTECTIVE of him.  She was OBEDIENT. The Bible does not say that her mom told her to do this but she probably did.

She was RESPONSIBLE as the older sister.  She was not going to let Moses out of her sight.  She was also very WISE.  She made sure that no one saw her there.  She watched her baby brother “from a distance” (2:4).  She also knew how to think fast in a crisis.  She knew how to think on her feet.  She knew what to say and what not to say to Pharaoh’s daughter.

She did not say anything.  She just asked an innocent question.  She made it sound like she was doing Pharaoh’s daughter a favor.  In reality, she was doing her mom a favor.  She just asks a question: Do you want me to find a nurse for this baby?

She did NOT tell them who she was.  She did NOT say she would go get his mother.  The Bible talks about a word spoken in due season.  Proverbs 15:24 says, “A word fitly spoken is like apples of gold in a setting of silver.” She spoke the right word at the right time to the right person.

And Pharaoh’s daughter said to her, “Go.” So the girl went and called the child’s mother. And Pharaoh’s daughter said to her, “Take this child away and nurse him for me, and I will give you your wages.” So the woman took the child and nursed him. (2:8-9 ESV)

Miriam races home and says to her mom, “You are never going to guess what happened”.  Moses is alive.  Pharaoh’s daughter thinks he is cute.  She wants to adopt him and she is looking for someone to nurse him.  She will pay you to do the job.  Do you want the job”.

Moses’ mom gave her son up and left him in God’s hands.  Now she gets him back and gets paid to nurse him.  God rewards her faith. She gets paid to feed her own baby. She has nursed him for the first three months and now gets paid to continue to nurse him.   Moses’ mother becomes his nanny. His parents were poor slaves and now his mom is about to be put on the government payroll for doing something that she loves to do.

God did exceedingly abundantly above all that she asked or could even imagine.  This was too good to be true.  It is also an example of Proverbs 16:7. When people’s lives please the LORD, even their enemies are at peace with them (NLT).

She went and fed the baby.  Then she got to take him home with her and she nursed him for several years.  When the child grew older, she brought him to Pharaoh’s daughter, and he became her son. She named him Moses, “Because,” she said, “I drew him out of the water.” (2:10).

Pharaoh’s daughter adopted him and even named him.  His mother does not name him.  She does.  She names him Mo.  Moses was an Egyptian name.  It means “son of”.  Ramoses means “son of Ra”.  Tutmoses means “son of Tut”. It was an Egyptian name but it is translated into Hebrew as Moshe which is very similar to the word for draw out (mashah).  It is a pun.  Next week, we will see what happens when Moses grows up.

[1] Liberals have a late date for the Exodus.  They date it around 1270 BC in the 13th century BC.  Conservatives have an early date for the Exodus around 1446 in the 15th century BC based on a literal interpretation of this verse.

[2] Chuck Swindoll, Moses, 24.

[3] Exodus Rabbah (Sec 1, Par, 24)


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