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The Blue Letter Bible

David Guzik :: Study Guide for Exodus 2

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Exodus 2 – Moses’ Birth and Early Career

A. Moses’ birth and childhood.

1. (Exo 2:1-2) Moses is born – a beautiful child, of the tribe of Levi.

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.

a. So the woman conceived and bore a son: The baby Moses opened his eyes to an unfriendly world. He was born in a powerful nation, but was of a foreign, oppressed race during a time when all babies such as himself were under a royal death sentence. Nevertheless, Moses had something special in his favor: he was the child of believing parents.

i. Moses was not the firstborn in his family. He had at least an older brother (Aaron) and an older sister (Miriam).

b. A man of the house of Levi went and took as wife a daughter of Levi: Exodus 6:20 tells us the names of Moses’ parents: Amram and Jochebed. Fanciful Jewish legends say that Moses’ birth was painless to his mother, that at his birth his face was so beautiful that the room was filled with light equal to the sun and moon combined, that he walked and spoke when he was a day old, and that he refused to nurse, eating solid food from birth.

c. She hid him three months: The parents of Moses did not do this only because of the natural parental instinct; they did it also out of faith in God. Hebrews 11:23 describes the faith of Moses’ parents: 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.

2. (Exo 2:3-6) Pharaoh’s daughter finds Moses.

But when she could no longer hide him, she took an ark of bulrushes for him, daubed it with asphalt and pitch, put the child in it, and laid it in the reeds by the river’s bank. And his sister stood afar off, to know what would be done to him. Then the daughter of Pharaoh came down to bathe at the river. And her maidens walked along the riverside; and when she saw the ark among the reeds, she sent her maid to get it. And when she had 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.”

a. Laid it in the reeds by the river’s bank: In a literal sense, Moses’ mother did exactly what Pharaoh said to do: put her son into the river (Exodus 1:22). However, she took care to put him in a waterproofed basket and strategically floated him in the river.

i. “The word for ‘papyrus basket’ is used only here and for Noah’s ark.” (Kaiser) “The Hebrew would be better translated by ‘papyrus basket’; the word is used elsewhere only of Noah’s ark.” (Cole)

ii. But more so, this was a great example of trusting the child’s welfare and future to God alone. When Moses’ mother let go of the boat made of bulrushes, she gave up something precious, trusting that God would take care of it, and perhaps find a way to give it back to her.

b. The baby wept. So she had compassion on him: In God’s guidance, Pharaoh’s daughter found baby Moses. She was conditioned by her culture and upbringing to reject the Hebrews, but the cry of baby Moses melted her heart.

i. God had this beautifully planned for the deliverance of both Moses, and eventually for the people of Israel. He skillfully guided the parents of Moses, the currents of the Nile, and the heart of Pharaoh’s daughter to further His plan and purpose.

3. (Exo 2:7-10) Pharaoh’s daughter cares for and raises Moses.

Then his sister said to Pharaoh’s daughter, “Shall I go and call a nurse for you from the Hebrew women, that she may nurse the child for you?” And Pharaoh’s daughter said to her, “Go.” So the maiden went and called the child’s mother. Then 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. And the child grew, and she brought him to Pharaoh’s daughter, and he became her son. So she called his name Moses, saying, “Because I drew him out of the water.”

a. Take this child away and nurse him for me, and I will give you your wages: Using both the clever initiative of Moses’ family and the need of Pharaoh’s daughter, God arranged a way for Moses’ mother to train him in his early years and be paid for it.

i. God rewarded the faith of Moses’ mother, both as she trusted Him in hiding Moses for three months, and also as she trusted God by setting Moses out on the river.

ii. “No doubt it was in these early years that Moses learnt of the ‘God of the fathers’ (Exodus 3:15) and realized that the Hebrews were his fellow countrymen (Exodus 2:11).” (Cole)

b. And he became her son: Being the adopted son of Pharaoh’s daughter, Moses was in the royal family. The ancient Jewish historian Josephus wrote that Moses was heir to the throne of Egypt and that while a young man he led the armies of Egypt in victorious battle against the Ethiopians.

i. Certainly, he was raised with both the science and learning of Egypt. Acts 7:22 says, Moses was learned in all the wisdom of the Egyptians, and was mighty in words and deeds. Egypt was one of the most academic and scientific societies among ancient cultures. It is reasonable to think that Moses was instructed in geography, history, grammar, writing, literature, philosophy, and music.

ii. Since he was of the royal family, we expect that as Moses went anywhere, he went in a princely chariot and his guards cried out “bow the knee!” If he floated on the Nile, it was in a magnificent ship with musical accompaniment; he lived the royal life. We also know that Moses’ Hebrew mother had an influence on his life, so he was certainly raised in the Hebrew heritage of his mother.

iii. An ancient Christian writer named Origen had a fanciful allegorical way of interpreting the Scriptures, and what he does with this account of Moses and Pharaoh’s daughter is a good example of the peril of over-allegorizing the Scriptures. In Origen’s take on this passage:

· Pharaoh represents the devil
· The male and female Hebrew children represent the animal and rational aspects of the soul
· The devil wants to kill the rational character of man, but keep alive his animal character
· The two midwives are the Old and New Testaments
· Pharaoh wants to corrupt the midwives so that the rational character of man will be destroyed
· Because the midwives were faithful, God builds houses of prayer all over the earth
· Pharaoh’s daughter represents the church, and gives refuge to Moses – who represents the law
· The waters of the Nile represent the waters of baptism
· When we come to the waters of baptism and take the law into our heart – the royal palaces – then the law grows up into spiritual maturity

iv. Clarke rightly says of this kind of interpretation: “Every passage and fact might then be obliged to say something, any thing, every thing, or nothing, according to the fancy, peculiar creed, or caprice of the interpreter.”

B. Moses’ escape from Egypt.

1. (Exo 2:11) Moses grows and gains sympathy for his fellow Israelites.

Now it came to pass in those days, 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.

a. When Moses was grown: Acts 7:23 says this happened when Moses was forty years old. Up until then, he was trained and groomed to become the next Pharaoh of Egypt (according to Josephus), all the while aware of his true origins because of his mother.

i. Looked at their burdens: “The phrase means more than ‘to see’. It means, ‘to see with emotion’, either satisfaction (Genesis 9:16) or, as here, with distress (Genesis 21:16). Moses is one who shares God’s heart.” (Cole)

ii. Hebrews 11:24-26 tells us some of what happened in the heart and mind of Moses as he looked at their burdens. It says that by faith, Moses deliberately decided to identify with the people of Israel rather than his Egyptian prestige and opportunity:

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. (Hebrews 11:24-26)

iii. Moses knew who he was. As much allure and ease there was in life as an Egyptian, he knew “That’s not me.” His faith in the God he served helped him to know who he was.

b. He saw an Egyptian beating a Hebrew, one of his brethren: Because Moses had a heart filled with sympathy and brotherhood (his brethren) toward his people, he could not stand by while one of his fellow Israelites endured a beating.

2. (Exo 2:12) Moses murders an Egyptian.

So he looked this way and that way, and when he saw no one, he killed the Egyptian and hid him in the sand.

a. He looked this way and that way: These are the actions of a man who knew he was about to do wrong. Moses had several reasons for doing what he did, but his concern to hide what he did shows a troubled conscience.

b. He killed the Egyptian: The Bible itself explains some of Moses’ thinking behind this action. Acts 7:23-25 explains that Moses did this to defend and avenge the beaten Israelite, but also with the expectation that his fellow Israelites would recognize him as their deliverer.

i. Now when he was forty years old, it came into his heart to visit his brethren, the children of Israel. And seeing one of them suffer wrong, he defended and avenged him who was oppressed, and struck down the Egyptian. For he supposed that his brethren would have understood that God would deliver them by his hand, but they did not understand. (Acts 7:23-25)

ii. Just like Jesus, Moses could not deliver when he lived in the palaces of glory. He had to come down off the throne, away from the palace and into a humble place before he could deliver his people.

3. (Exo 2:13-14) Moses is rejected by his own people.

And when he went out the second day, behold, two Hebrew men were fighting, and he said to the one who did the wrong, “Why are you striking your companion?” Then he said, “Who made you a prince and a judge over us? Do you intend to kill me as you killed the Egyptian?” So Moses feared and said, “Surely this thing is known!”

a. Why are you striking your companion? Moses had reason to believe that his education, royal background, success, and great sympathy for the people of Israel would give him credibility among them. He here tried to intervene in a violent dispute between two Hebrew men.

i. We could say that Moses was first a murderer, and then a meddler.

b. Who made you a prince and a judge over us? Moses seemed to act like a prince given his royal background. He acted like a judge in that he determined that one of these men did the wrong. He seemed to be the perfect prince and judge for Israel, but they did not want him.

i. A prince has the right to rule and expects your loyalty. A judge has the right to tell you what to do, and to punish you if you don’t do it. In rejecting Moses they said to him, “We don’t want you to rule over us or tell us what to do.” People reject Jesus on the same thinking, and just like Moses Jesus was rejected at His first coming.

ii. Both Moses and Jesus were:

· Favored by God from birth
· Miraculously preserved in childhood
· Mighty in words and deed
· Offered deliverance to Israel
· Rejected with spite
· Rejected in their right to be prince and a judge over Israel

iii. Just like Jesus after him, Moses could not deliver when he lived in the palaces of glory. He had to come down off the throne, away from the palace and into a humble place before he could deliver his people.

iv. Moses planned the deliverance of Israel the way any man would, and logically saw himself as the key man – because of his royal background, education, success, and sympathy for his people.

v. Moses had his plans, and they made sense from his perspective. Yet God’s plan was radically different. 40 years later, God led Moses and his brother Aaron to Pharaoh with a special stick that turned into a snake. Moses asked Pharaoh to let Israel go back to Canaan; Pharaoh said no, so God brought plagues of blood, frogs, mosquitoes, flies, cattle disease, boils, hail, locusts, and darkness. Finally God judged stubborn Pharaoh and Egypt with a plague on the firstborn of Egypt, Israel escaped across the Red Sea. The waters of the Red Sea came back and killed the Egyptian army, and the Israelites crossed the wilderness and came to Canaan. Such an unlikely plan would never come from man.

4. (Exo 2:15-19) Moses escapes to Midian.

When Pharaoh heard of this matter, he sought to kill Moses. But Moses fled from the face of Pharaoh and dwelt in the land of Midian; and he sat down by a well. Now the priest of Midian had seven daughters. And they came and drew water, and they filled the troughs to water their father’s flock. Then the shepherds came and drove them away; but Moses stood up and helped them, and watered their flock. When they came to Reuel their father, he said, “How is it that you have come so soon today?” And they said, “An Egyptian delivered us from the hand of the shepherds, and he also drew enough water for us and watered the flock.”

a. Moses fled from the face of Pharaoh: Moses, fleeing for his life, probably felt that God’s plan for his life was completely defeated. He probably believed that every chance he ever had to deliver his people was now over and there was nothing he could do. At this point, Moses was right where God wanted him.

i. Moses probably had little idea of it at the time, but he was too big for God to use. Moses tried to do the Lord’s work in man’s wisdom and power and it didn’t work. After 40 years of seemingly perfect preparation, God had another period of preparation for both Moses and the people of Israel, to make them ready to receive Moses.

b. Dwelt in the land of Midian: If Moses went into the area of Canaan and Syria, he would have found no refuge – there was a treaty between Rameses II and the Hittite king to the effect that fugitives along the northern route to Syria would be arrested and extradited. So Moses went southeast instead, to Midian.

i. In that day Midian described the area on both the west and east sides of the Reed Sea, land that today is both Saudi Arabia (on the east of the Reed Sea) and Egypt (on the Sinai Peninsula, on the west of the Reed Sea).

c. The priest of Midian had seven daughters: Finally coming to Midian, Moses met the daughters of a priest of Midian – likely a descendant of one of Abraham’s other children through Keturah named Midian (Genesis 25:1-2).

i. Because of this connection with Abraham, we have good reason to believe he was a true priest, and worshipped the true God. God led Moses to this specific family at this specific time.

ii. Trapp on they came and drew water, and they filled the troughs to water their father’s flock: “They were not so delicately bred as our dainty dames are now-a-days, but did earn before they eat.”

d. Moses stood up and helped them, and watered their flock: In Egypt Moses enjoyed life as one of the royal family and was waited on hand and foot. In the distant desert of Midian, Moses finally had an opportunity to be a servant and he did a good job, working hard to help water the flocks of Reuel’s daughters.

i. “Since Moses still had his Egyptian clothing on, they judged him to be Egyptian in nationality.” (Kaiser)

5. (Exo 2:20-22) Moses is accepted into the family of the priest of Midian.

So he said to his daughters, “And where is he? Why is it that you have left the man? Call him, that he may eat bread.” Then Moses was content to live with the man, and he gave Zipporah his daughter to Moses. And she bore him a son, and he called his name Gershom; for he said, “I have been a stranger in a foreign land.”

a. Moses was content to live with the man: By taking a wife and having a son, Moses seems to give up on Egypt and his hope of being a deliverer for Israel. Moses was content with where God put him, even though Midian was very different from Egypt.

ii. Zipporah: “We might translate as ‘warbler’ or, less kindly, ‘twitterer’; it is the name of a small bird.” (Cole)

b. He called his name Gershom: This name – meaning “stranger” – was evidence of some loneliness, living apart from either the Egyptians or the Hebrews.

i. We make a mistake when we think that the years in Midian were a “waiting” time for Moses. They were instead, working years; he had never worked this hard in his life! God trained him, shaping him for his future calling, but Moses was certainly not “on the shelf.”

ii. In Egypt Moses learned how to be somebody. In Midian he learned how to be nobody. “Much he had learned in Egypt, but more in Midian.” (Trapp)

6. (Exo 2:23-25) God remembers Israel and turns His attention to them.

Now it happened in the process of time that the king of Egypt died. Then the children of Israel groaned because of the bondage, and they cried out; and their cry came up to God because of the bondage. So God heard their groaning, and God remembered His covenant with Abraham, with Isaac, and with Jacob. And God looked upon the children of Israel, and God acknowledged them.

a. So God heard their groaning, and God remembered: If Moses “forgot” about Israel in Egypt (in the sense of turning his active attention away from them), God did not. God remembered (again, in the sense of turning His active attention towards them) Israel and their affliction.

i. When Israel groaned because of the bondage, it could be said, “Misery finally found a voice.” (Kaiser)

b. God remembered His covenant with Abraham, with Isaac, and with Jacob: God did not turn His attention to Israel because they were such good people, but because of the covenant He made with them. He gives His love and attention to us on the same basis – the covenant relationship we have with God through Jesus.

©2013 David Guzik – No distribution beyond personal use without permission
[A previous revision of this page can be found here]

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