The Birth of Moses: Exodus 2

Exodus 2  •  14 min. read  •  grade level: 9
Exodus 2
This chapter, full of interest, is made more attractive to the spiritual mind by the divine commentary which is given in Hebrews 11 upon its main incidents. Here it is a simple record of the human aide of the actions recorded; there it is rather the divine side, or the estimate which God formed of the deeds of His people. It is only, therefore, by the combination of these two aspects that we can glean the instruction which is thus afforded. As in the case of the birth of our blessed Lord at Bethlehem, so here, little did the parents or the world around understand the significance of the birth of the son of Amram and Jochebed. It is thus that God always works, noiselessly laying the foundation of His purposes, and preparing His instruments until the moment, before determined, arrives for action, and then He makes bare His arm in the display of His presence and power in the face of the world.
But we must trace the events of the chapter. “And there went a man of the house of Levi, and took to wife a daughter of Levi. And the woman conceived, and bare a son; and when she saw him that he was a goodly child, she hid him three months” (vss. 1-2). How simply beautiful this natural scene! And how well our hearts can enter into the feelings of this Jewish mother! The king had commanded that every son that was born should be cast into the river (vs. 1:22); but what mother could consent to give up her child to death? All the affections of her heart would revolt from it. But, alas! there was the inexorable decree of this despotic king; and how could she, a poor, feeble woman, and a feeble woman of a despised race, resist the will of an absolute monarch? Turn to the inspired comment in the New Testament: “By faith Moses, when he was born, was hid three months of his parents, because they saw he was a proper child; and they were not afraid of the king’s commandment” (Heb. 11:2323By faith Moses, when he was born, was hid three months of his parents, because they saw he was a proper child; and they were not afraid of the king's commandment. (Hebrews 11:23)). True, they owed allegiance to their earthly sovereign, but they also owed allegiance to the Lord of lords, and trusting in Him they were lifted above all fear of the king’s commandment, and concealed their child—the child whom God had given to them—for three months. They counted upon God, and they were not confounded; for He never leaves or forsakes them that put their trust in Him. This is a most blessed action of faith, and in a twofold way. With their eye upon God, they dared to be disobedient to the king’s wicked command, and they were fearless of the consequences. Like Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego in a later age, they believed that the God whom they served was able to deliver them out of the king’s hand (Dan. 3:16-1716Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego, answered and said to the king, O Nebuchadnezzar, we are not careful to answer thee in this matter. 17If it be so, our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace, and he will deliver us out of thine hand, O king. (Daniel 3:16‑17)). The rulers of this world are powerless in the presence of those who are linked with God by the exercise of faith.
The time, however, came when this “proper child” could no longer be hid (Ex. 2:33And when she could not longer hide him, she took for him an ark of bulrushes, and daubed it with slime and with pitch, and put the child therein; and she laid it in the flags by the river's brink. (Exodus 2:3)); showing the increasing vigilance of the enemy of God and His people. But faith is never wanting in resources. We accordingly find that “she took for him an ark of bulrushes, and daubed it with slime and with pitch, and put the child therein; and she laid it in the flags by the river’s brink. And his sister stood afar off, to wit what would be done to him” (Ex. 2:3-43And when she could not longer hide him, she took for him an ark of bulrushes, and daubed it with slime and with pitch, and put the child therein; and she laid it in the flags by the river's brink. 4And his sister stood afar off, to wit what would be done to him. (Exodus 2:3‑4)). As with Isaac and Samuel, so likewise with Moses, death must be known, at least in figure, by the parents, both for themselves and for their child before he can become an instrument in service for God. It is not a little remarkable, in this connection, that the word here used for ark is not found elsewhere in the Scriptures, except for the ark in which Noah and his house were brought through the flood. There is another resemblance. The ark of Noah was pitched within and without with pitch. Jochebed daubs this ark with slime and pitch. Noah acted under divine direction, and hence the word there used for pitch means also a ransom (Ex. 30:1212When thou takest the sum of the children of Israel after their number, then shall they give every man a ransom for his soul unto the Lord, when thou numberest them; that there be no plague among them, when thou numberest them. (Exodus 30:12); Job 33:2424Then he is gracious unto him, and saith, Deliver him from going down to the pit: I have found a ransom. (Job 33:24)), shadowing forth the truth that a ransom must be found to deliver from the waters of judgment; but this Hebrew mother used pitch of another kind, and therefore did not know the full truth. Yet she thereby confessed the need of redemption, her faith owned it, and thus her ark of bulrushes, containing its precious freight, floated in safety amid the flags upon this river of death. There may not have been divine intelligence, but there was true faith, and this ever finds a response in the heart of God. Remark, also, that the sister, and not the mother, watches for the issue. This might easily be explained on human grounds, but is there not another solution? The mother believed, and could consequently rest in peace, although the child, dearer to her than life itself, was exposed upon the river. In like manner, Mary, the sister of Lazarus, is not found at the sepulcher in which the Lord of glory lay, because she had entered into the mystery of His death (John 12:77Then said Jesus, Let her alone: against the day of my burying hath she kept this. (John 12:7)).
We now pass on to consider the action of God in response to the faith of His people. “And the daughter of Pharaoh came down to wash herself at the river; and her maidens walked along by the river’s side; and when she saw the ark among the flags, she sent her maid to fetch it” (vs. 5). It is exceedingly beautiful and instructive to see God thus behind the scene arranging all for His own glory. The daughter of Pharaoh was acting from her own inclination, and for her own pleasure, and knew not that she was an instrument of the divine will. But everything—her going down to the river to bathe, the time of her doing so—all was according to the purpose of God in respect of the child who was to be the deliverer of His people. Accordingly she saw the ark, had it fetched, opened it, and saw the child; “and, behold, the babe wept” (vs. 6). Even the tears of the babe had their object, and they were not shed in vain; they excited the compassion of this royal woman, as she said, comprehending the secret, “This is one of the Hebrews’ children” (vs. 6). The sister who had been anxiously watching to see what might become of her baby brother, receives the word of wisdom at this critical juncture, and said, “Shall I go and call to thee a nurse of the Hebrew women, that she may nurse the child for thee? And Pharaoh’s daughter said to her, Go. And the maid went and called the child’s mother” (Ex. 2:7-87Then said his sister to Pharaoh's daughter, Shall I go and call to thee a nurse of the Hebrew women, that she may nurse the child for thee? 8And Pharaoh's daughter said to her, Go. And the maid went and called the child's mother. (Exodus 2:7‑8)). The child Moses, who had been exposed on the river in consequence of the king of Egypt’s decree, is thus restored to his mother under the protection of Pharaoh’s daughter. And there he remained until he had grown, and then Jochebed “brought him unto Pharaoh’s daughter, and he became her son. And she called his name Moses: and she said, Because I drew him out of the water” (vs. 10). His very name shall declare the power of Him who had saved him from death, brought him out of the waters of judgment in His sovereign grace and love. Thus the man of God’s choice, the one He had marked out as His chosen instrument for the deliverance of His people, and to become the mediator of His covenant with them, finds shelter under the roof of Pharaoh. During this period he became “learned in all the wisdom of the Egyptians, and was mighty in words and in deeds” (Acts 7:2222And Moses was learned in all the wisdom of the Egyptians, and was mighty in words and in deeds. (Acts 7:22)).
Another epoch of his life is now presented to us. Forty years had passed away before the incident occurred which is described in the eleventh and following verses. “And it came to pass in those days, when Moses was grown, that he went out unto his brethren, and looked on their burdens: and he spied an Egyptian smiting an Hebrew, one of his brethren. And he looked this way and that way, and, when he saw that there was no man, he slew the Egyptian, and hid him in the sand. And when he went out the second day, behold, two men of the Hebrews strove together: and he said to him that did the wrong, Wherefore smitest thou thy fellow? And he said, Who made thee a prince and a judge over us? intendest thou to kill me, as thou killedst the Egyptian? And Moses feared, and said, Surely this thing is known. Now when Pharaoh heard this thing, he sought to slay Moses. But Moses fled from the face of Pharaoh, and dwelt in the land of Midian: and he sat down by a well” (vss. 11-15) (vss. 11-15; see also Acts 7:2323And when he was full forty years old, it came into his heart to visit his brethren the children of Israel. (Acts 7:23)). As we read this narrative, it might be supposed that the act of Moses, in killing the Egyptian, was nothing beyond the impulse of a generous heart, feeling the injustice which was done, and interfering to avenge it. But what is the interpretation of this act by the Spirit of God? “By faith Moses, when he was come to years, refused to be called the son of Pharaoh’s daughter; choosing rather to suffer affliction with the people of God, than to enjoy the pleasures of sin for a season; esteeming the reproach of Christ greater riches than the treasures in Egypt: for he had respect unto the recompence of the reward. By faith he forsook Egypt, not fearing the wrath of the king: for he endured, as seeing Him who is invisible” (Heb. 11:24-2724By faith Moses, when he was come to years, refused to be called the son of Pharaoh's daughter; 25Choosing rather to suffer affliction with the people of God, than to enjoy the pleasures of sin for a season; 26Esteeming the reproach of Christ greater riches than the treasures in Egypt: for he had respect unto the recompence of the reward. 27By faith he forsook Egypt, not fearing the wrath of the king: for he endured, as seeing him who is invisible. (Hebrews 11:24‑27)).
We must, however, carefully guard ourselves from concluding that the Spirit of God endorses all that the narrative records in Exodus. No doubt Moses acted in the energy of the flesh; but though he had not as yet learned his own nothingness and incompetency, he yet desired to act for God; and it is from the epistle to the Hebrews we learn the true character of his actions before God. That there was failure is clear; but it was the failure of a man of faith, whose actions were precious in the sight of God, because he was enabled, in the exercise of faith, to refuse all that might have tempted the natural man, and to identify himself with the interests of God’s people. But this passage in his life demands a more particular notice. First, then, it was by faith that he refused to be called the son of Pharaoh’s daughter. What else, indeed, could have led to the renunciation of such a splendid position? Besides, he might have argued, he had been placed in it by a most singular and striking providence. Might it not be therefore that he should occupy it, and use the influence connected with it, on behalf of his downtrodden brethren? Why, he might succeed in securing the whole influence of the court on behalf of his nation; would it not be, then, to fly in the face of Providence, to forsake such a vantage-ground? But Providence, as has been often remarked, is our guide to faith. Faith deals with things not seen, and hence seldom agrees with the conclusions that are drawn from providential events and circumstances. No; the influence of the god of this world (Pharaoh) can never be employed to deliver the Lord’s people; and faith can never be sheltered by or identified with it. Faith has God for its object, and must therefore be identified with what belongs to God, and be in antagonism with all that is opposed to God. As another has said, “How many reasons might have induced Moses to remain in the position where he was, and this even under the pretext of being able to do more for the people; but this would have been leaning on the power of Pharaoh, instead of recognizing the bond between the people and God: it might have resulted in a relief which the world would have granted, but not in a deliverance by God, accomplished in His love and in His power. Moses would have been spared much affliction, but lost his true glory; Pharaoh flattered, and his authority over the people of God recognized; and Israel would have remained in captivity, leaning on Pharaoh, instead of recognizing God in the precious and even glorious relationship of His people with Him. God would not have been glorified; yet all human reasoning, and all reasoning connected with providential ways, would have induced Moses to remain in his position; faith made him give it up.” And giving it up, he chose rather to suffer affliction with the people of God. Identification with them had more attractions for his faithful heart than the pleasures of sin; for faith views everything in the light of God’s presence. Yea, he rose still higher; he esteemed the reproach of Christ—the reproach arising from identification with Israel—greater riches than the treasures in Egypt; for he had respect unto the recompense of the reward. Faith thus lives in the future, as well as in the unseen. It is the assurance of things hoped for and the conviction of things not seen; and hence it governed, controlled, the heart and path of Moses.
It was faith, then, that actuated him when “he went out unto his brethren, and looked on their burdens” (vs. 11). And even when, stirred by “seeing one of them suffer wrong, he defended him, and avenged him that was oppressed, and smote the Egyptian,” (Acts 7:2424And seeing one of them suffer wrong, he defended him, and avenged him that was oppressed, and smote the Egyptian: (Acts 7:24)) he “supposed his brethren would have understood how that God by his hand would deliver them” (Acts 7:2525For he supposed his brethren would have understood how that God by his hand would deliver them: but they understood not. (Acts 7:25)). And so it was to be, but the time had not yet arrived, nor could God yet employ Moses-precious as his faith was in His sight. As Peter had to learn that he could not follow Christ in the energy of nature, whatever the affections of his heart (John 13:3636Simon Peter said unto him, Lord, whither goest thou? Jesus answered him, Whither I go, thou canst not follow me now; but thou shalt follow me afterwards. (John 13:36)), so Moses had to be taught that no weapon could be employed in the deliverance of Israel save the power of God. When, therefore, he went out the second day, and seeing two Hebrews striving together, sought to reconcile them, he is taunted with killing the Egyptian, and is himself rejected (vss. 13-14). Pharaoh too heard of what he had done, and sought to slay him. He is thus rejected by his brethren, and persecuted by the world.
From this point he becomes a type of Christ in his rejection; for he is rejected by the people whom he loved, and becomes in his flight separated from his brethren. “By faith he forsook Egypt, not fearing the wrath of the king: for he endured, as seeing Him who is invisible” (Heb. 11:2727By faith he forsook Egypt, not fearing the wrath of the king: for he endured, as seeing him who is invisible. (Hebrews 11:27)). He still trod the path of faith, though that path led him into the desert amongst a strange people. But God provided His servant a home, and a wife in one of the daughters of Jethro (Reuel). Zipporah is thus in figure a type of the church, for she is associated with Moses during the time of his rejection by Israel. But the heart of Moses is still with his people, and hence he names his son Gershom; “for he said, I have been a stranger in a strange land” (vs. 22). Joseph, on the other hand, names his sons Manasseh—“for God hath made me forget all my toil, and all my father’s house;” (Gen. 41:5151And Joseph called the name of the firstborn Manasseh: For God, said he, hath made me forget all my toil, and all my father's house. (Genesis 41:51)) and Ephraim—“for God hath caused me to be fruitful in the land of my affliction” (Gen. 41:5252And the name of the second called he Ephraim: For God hath caused me to be fruitful in the land of my affliction. (Genesis 41:52)). The comparison is most instructive, and shows in what special aspects Joseph and Moses are types of Christ. If Joseph presents us with Christ as raised through death to the right hand of the throne over the Gentiles, and thereon disclosing Himself to, and receiving His brethren, Moses gives us Christ more exclusively as the Redeemer of Israel; and hence, though he marries during the time of his rejection, and is thus in some sort a figure of Christ and the church in this dispensation, his heart is still with the children of Israel, and therefore he is a stranger in a strange land.
The last three verses bring before us the condition of the people, and reveal at the same time the faithfulness and compassion of God. They belong rather to the next chapter.