Moses, from baby to daddy
Baby Moses floats1 A man from Levi’s extended family of Levi married a woman from the same tribe. 2 His wife got pregnant and gave birth to a boy. He was so beautiful that she decided to hide him for three months so he wouldn’t be killed. 3 When she realized she couldn’t protect him this way any longer, she hatched a plan. She got a wicker basket and sealed it with waterproofing tar. She put her baby in the basket. Then she set the basket in the Nile River, anchored among the papyrus reeds by the riverbank. 4 His big sister positioned herself as lookout. She watched from a distance, to see what would happen to him.
Princess bathing in the Nile5 Pharaoh’s daughter came there to take a bath in the Nile. While her servants waited and walked along the bank, the princess noticed the basket floating among the reeds. She sent her female slave to get it. 6 When the princess looked inside, she saw the little boy, crying. Her heart melted with pity. She said, “He must be a Hebrew baby.” 7 By this time, the baby’s sister had made her way over to Pharaoh’s daughter. The girl asked, “Would you like me to find a Hebrew woman who could nurse the baby for you?” 8 “Yes,” Pharaoh’s daughter said. So, the girl got the baby’s mother. 9 Pharaoh’s daughter told the Hebrew woman, “Take the baby and feed him. I’ll pay you for it.” 10 When the boy grew up, his mother gave him back to Pharaoh’s daughter, who claimed him as her son. She named him Moses. She gave him that name, she said, “Because I lifted him out of the water.”
Moses murders an Egyptian11 After Moses grew into a man, he took a walk out among his Hebrew people. He saw the kind of work they were doing. And he saw an Egyptian beating one of the Hebrews—his relatives. 12 He looked around to see if anyone else was there. When it looked clear, he killed the Egyptian and buried him in the sand. 13 The next day, Moses went out to see his people again. He found two of them fighting. He said to the one throwing the punches, “Hey, why are you hitting one of your own people?” 14 The man shot back, “Who died and made you king? What are you going to do, kill me like you killed the Egyptian?” That’s when Moses realized his secret was out. He said, “If this guy knows, everyone’s going to know.”
Moses, a shepherd on the lam15 When Pharaoh heard what Moses did, he decided to give Moses a taste of his own medicine, and kill him. Moses fled. He traveled to Midian and sat down beside a well. 16 Midian’s priest had seven daughters. They brought their father’s flock to the well, and started filling the nearby water troughs, so their animals could drink. 17 But some other shepherds showed up and tried to chase them off. Moses stepped in and helped the women water their sheep. 18 When the women got home to their father, Reuel, he said, “That was fast. How’d you manage that?” 19 They said, “There was an Egyptian man at the well. He stood up for us against the other shepherds. He helped us water our sheep.” 20 Their father said, “Really? Where is he, then? Why did you leave him there? Go invite him to eat with us.” 21 Moses later agreed to stay with the man and his family. Moses married one of Reuel’s daughters, Zipporah. 22 She gave birth to their son. Moses named the boy Gershom. He said he did it because, “I’m a stranger in a foreign land.”
New king brings the misery23 Egypt’s king died. The new king made life so miserable for the Israelites that they started praying for God to rescue them—and free them from this slavery. Their prayers reached heaven. 24 God heard their complaints and remembered the agreement he had made with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. 25 God kept his eye on the Israelite people. They were important to him.
Levi was one of the 12 sons of Jacob, who was also known as Israel and whose families became 12 tribes of Israel. Levi’s descendants, Levites, as they were called, became the nation’s spiritual leaders: priests and their associates in ministry.
The word used for basket in the original Hebrew text is tevah, which is the same word used for Noah’s ark.
In Genesis we are told that God destroyed all life on earth with a great flood. Only the people and animals that Noah took aboard a kind of boat called an ark survived. Here, in Exodus, all male Hebrew infants are killed except for Moses, who is placed in an ark on the River Nile. This is a clear reference back to the Genesis story. When Moses’ mother put her child into the waters of the Nile, she was complying with the king’s order to put the Hebrew baby boys in the Nile River. But she arranged for her baby to float.
It may be a fair guess that the baby’s mother knew when and where the king’s daughter took a bath. What happened next may have been the mother’s best-case scenario, with a bonus: getting paid to be a mother.
That doesn’t seem to be the only reason, Egyptologists say. “Moses” might sound like the Hebrew verb that means to lift something, as in pulling it out of the water. But it was also the Egyptian word for “son.” Many Egyptian kings had a form of “Moses” in their names. “Thutmose” meant “son of the god Thut.” “Rameses” meant “son of the god Ra.” Just plain “Moses” might have meant “son” of who knows? Or worse, “son of no one worth mentioning.”
Moses was 40 when this happened, according to Acts 7:23. But 40 was sometimes a generic way of describing someone as a full-grown and fully responsible man. If Moses wasn’t literally 40, he was responsible for what he was about to do.
Midian was a nation along the northeast bank of the Red Sea, in what is now northwestern Saudi Arabia.
Also known as Jethro (3:1).
“Gershom” is linked to the Hebrew words ger sham, meaning “stranger there.”
Another name for the Hebrew people, ancestors of Jewish people today.
Often translated as a “covenant,” it was a formal agreement between God and each of the three men, and, by extension, their descendants. God promised that the Hebrew people would grow into a nation and that he would protect them, help them prosper, and give them a homeland where they could settle. In return, the people would become God’s people, obeying his rules for living. God reconfirmed this to the elderly Jacob, assuring him it was okay to go to Egypt to escape a drought, because the people would eventually return home. Earlier, God had told Abraham much the same. See Genesis 26:2-5; 46:3-4.
BY ROBERT V. HUBER
The heart-warming story of how Moses’ mother saved her infant’s life by setting the child afloat in the Nile River in a basket seems simple, but a subtle hint in the language connects it with other biblical themes. The Hebrew word tevah, which is used for the basket that Moses floated in, is the same word used in Genesis for Noah’s ark. What do you make of that?
It is hard to think of Moses as a murderer, but here it is staring up at us out of the Bible. His killing of the Egyptian is clearly premeditated murder and Moses clearly knows it, for the text tells us he looked around to see if anyone was watching before he killed the man. He took time to think about what he was doing before he did it. Then he killed the man and quickly buried the body. Do you think that Moses was justified in committing this murder?
When Moses sees two Hebrew slaves fighting, he tries to separate them. In response, one of the brawlers snarls, “Who died and made you king?”—in other words, who gave you the authority to tell us what to do? The obvious answer is nobody. At this point, God has not yet appointed Moses to save his people. In fact, as many Bible scholars have pointed out, God is not even mentioned in this chapter of Exodus until the last three verses. However, the Egyptian king’s cruelty to the Hebrews has been savage, and no one is taking the side at the abused slaves. Someone needed to act, but why Moses? Was he right to step in? Choose from among the following thoughts or come up with your own view:
- Moses should have minded his own business. The fight had nothing to do with him.
- This scene sets a pattern. It tells of only the first of many rebukes Moses will get from his people for trying to help them. During the upcoming exodus to freedom Moses’ people will continually blame him when anything doesn’t go their way.
- In the absence of any system of justice, Moses was simply trying to be responsible and establish a modicum of peace.
- Moses’ inability to bring justice and peace to his people without God’s help paves the way to the next chapter of Exodus, where God actually does call him to save his people. Moses is indeed destined to bring law and order to his community, but he can do so only under God’s direction and with God’s help.
Moses meets a group of young women at a well, fights off some shepherds who are bullying them, and ends up marrying one of the girls. Moses is as pugnacious as ever but, in this case, he is definitely in the right. He was defending the weak against bullies—without breaking any laws.
Moses is not the first biblical figure to meet his wife at a well. Wives for Isaac and Jacob had also been found at a well. This is not surprising, as wells were traditional places to get together. If these stories were moved to our time, the couples might meet in a bar or at a cocktail party or at square-dancing classes. But there are major differences in these ancient stories of wooing. If you remember the other stories, what do you think are some of the differences? How does the story of Moses and his wife Zipporah compare with the stories in Genesis about how Isaac became engaged to Rebecca and how Jacob met Rachel, the love of his life?
When we jump from Genesis to Exodus, there’s one big difference. The Book of Genesis is full of family. There’s the story of the first human family of Adam and Eve. And there’s the family of Noah, which survived after the great Flood. And there’s the extended family of Abraham and his children and grandchildren and great grandchildren. Then comes Exodus, which centers on Moses, but says very little about his family. All we know of his father is that he is from the family of Levi, one of Jacob’s sons. The only record we have about the parents of Moses is in a long genealogy (Exodus 6:20). Moses’ only other close family members are an older brother, Aaron, and an older sister, Miriam, who is actually introduced by name as the sister of Aaron, not Moses (Exodus 15:20). Miriam and Moses are never seen talking, and even though Aaron will later work closely with Moses he could be any Hebrew; he need not be a relative. Later, Moses marries a foreigner and has sons, but almost nothing is said about the wife and kids. Moses, then, is a strangely solitary figure. Why do you think that is? Why did the writer isolate him like that, in a day when families were so important?
At the very end of the chapter, God finally wakes up to what is going on with the Israelites in Egypt. What do you think took him so long?