Exodus 2:1-10 Moses’s Birth and Adoption

Exodus 2:1-10 Moses’s Birth and Adoption

We are in our 2nd week of a new sermon series on a book in the Bible called, Exodus.  The name comes from a main event in the book, the escape or the “Exodus” of Israel from slavery in Egypt.

Before we read half of Chapter 2 this morning, let’s do a quick review to get oriented.  The back story of Exodus is found in Genesis.  Due to some extraordinary circumstances, the family of Abraham’s grandson, Jacob, ends up in Egypt when Joseph, one of Jacob’s 12 sons rescues the whole family.  Then in Exodus chapter 1 (which we read last week), we find that the descendants of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob are becoming a very large group, now the size of a small nation.  And over a couple hundred years, God blesses them with many, many children, and they are now a formidable group living in this foreign land of Egypt.  The king of Egypt is afraid that these people might turn against him, so he forces them into slave labor. 

When that doesn’t slow down the growth of the people of Israel, the king attempts to kill all the newborn baby boys.  His rationale?  So that the boys won’t become men who are warriors to fight against Egypt.  Ultimately, he commands his own people to throw all the Israelite boys into the river to drown them. 

We must pause to insert ourselves into this story and feel the weight of it all.  The drama.  If those families had a baby boy, the likelihood was quite high that their son was going to die.  We have several Stonebrook families with newborn boys this year.  What kind of concern and fear and anxiety would those families have?  What concern would ALL of us have?  We would be praying.  We would have many sleepless nights.  We would be scheming and dreaming.   How can we hide this child and keep him safe?  How can we keep this kid from crying?  How long can we stay cooped up in our homes?  Should we try to run away with this infant?  All this terror and drama in their days.  And now here in Chapter 2 here in Exodus, the story zooms in on one specific family with a newborn boy.

Vs. 1-10

Exodus 2:1–10 (CSB)

1 Now a man from the family of Levi married a Levite woman.

2 The woman became pregnant and gave birth to a son; when she saw that he was beautiful, she hid him for three months.

3 But when she could no longer hide him, she got a papyrus basket for him and coated it with asphalt and pitch. She placed the child in it and set it among the reeds by the bank of the Nile.

4 Then his sister stood at a distance in order to see what would happen to him.

5 Pharaoh’s daughter went down to bathe at the Nile while her servant girls walked along the riverbank. She saw the basket among the reeds, sent her slave girl, took it,

6 opened it, and saw him, the child—and there he was, a little boy, crying.  She felt sorry for him and said, “This is one of the Hebrew boys.”

7 Then his sister said to Pharaoh’s daughter, “Should I go and call a Hebrew woman who is nursing to nurse the boy for you?”

8 “Go,” Pharaoh’s daughter told her.  So the girl went and called the boy’s mother.

9 Then Pharaoh’s daughter said to her, “Take this child and nurse him for me, and I will pay your wages.” So the woman took the boy and nursed him.

10 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.”

Vs. 1

It’s important to know that Moses was born into the tribe of Levi.  Levi was one of the 12 sons of Jacob.  So Levi became the head of one of the 12 tribes of Israel.  What we will find later in the Pentateuch is that from the tribe of Levi came the priests.

What is a priest?  A priest is a mediator.  A representative to stand between God and the people.   While Moses wasn’t technically a priest like his brother Aaron became…a high priest…Moses certainly served as a mediator between God and Israel.  In that way, Moses was a picture of Jesus.  Jesus was not born of the tribe of Levi, but he became our Great High Priest.   Because of God’s holiness and our sinfulness, we cannot go directly to God.  We must gain access to God only through a Mediator.  Jesus is our Ultimate and Eternal High Priest to mediate between God and us.  And he mediates with his own blood that was shed on the cross to pay for our sins.  The Book of Hebrews talks extensively about this. 

Vs. 2

It’s an interesting comment:  the boy was beautiful.  That by itself is not unusual.  Surely any mother would find her newborn boy wonderful and beautiful.  But apparently she and her husband sensed something special about her son.  Moses’ parents had faith in God to hide him, risking the retribution of the government if they were caught.  We will talk more about their faith later. 

Vs. 3

If you’ve been around kids much, you may have noticed as they get older, they get louder, including their crying.  So as the baby grew, it was harder to hide him from the Egyptians who were bent on murder. 

So she crafted a plan.  Take an ordinary basket.  Cover it with an asphalt material so that it would float on the water.  Put her 3-month old son in it, and place him in the shallow waters of the Nile River and hope that he wouldn’t get eaten by a crocodile, but that some compassionate Egyptian would rescue him and adopt him.  I cannot imagine the emotions of this family.  One way or another, they were giving up their son.  Either to death because of Pharoah’s orders, or to someone else adopting and raising him.  The chances were high they would never see their son again.  This is heartbreaking. 

Also, we note that Moses was placed in the Nile, the very place that was decreed by Pharaoh to be his death.  So ironically, the place of death becomes the place of life.

One interesting point:  the Hebrew word for “basket” that Moses used here is the same word in Genesis used for “ark,” that is, Noah and the ark he built.  The Hebrew word is used nowhere else in the entire OT, except here and in Genesis 6-9.  I wonder if Moses was intentionally but subtly showing similarities between Noah and himself.  Both men are in “vessels” covered with asphalt or bitumen in order to be saved from drowning and then to save humanity.  Both Noah and Moses are Deliverers or Saviors, as well as being saved themselves. 

Vs. 4-9

Moses’ older sister stands watch.  Did she and her mother know that the princess commonly came to this place?  Did they know that Egyptians typically came to the river like this?  Perhaps.  But even if they did know that, they could not know if any Egyptian who found the boy would be willing to defy the king’s decree to murder the boy and then adopt him as their own. 

So in one simple statement, we are told that the princess comes to the Nile to bathe, and she finds this 3-month old.  And instead of murdering him as her father had decreed, she has compassion.

I have often wondered how Pharaoh’s daughter could adopt and raise this boy without Pharaoh knowing and wanting to kill him.  But as is often true of kings in ancient times, he may have had many wives and many children.  One ancient Pharoah is known to have had nearly 60 daughters.  We don’t know these details.  The Lord as the Ultimate Author of the Bible gave us what we needed to know for the story.  However we look at it, for this Egyptian princess to have compassion and not kill this boy, and even more, to adopt him….well, this is simply a stunning development.  This boy, one of the despised Hebrew people, is going to be raised as an Egyptian.

So Moses’ sister is strategically there, and she asks this princess if she should find a nursing mother to take care of this baby.  The Princess says yes, so the girl of course gets her mother…Moses’ own mother.    If we’re reading carefully and slowly, the dramatic moment here hits us:  Moses’ own mother is going to nurse the princess’s newly adopted son!  Mom just gave up her son to the Nile River, assuming with many tears that she would never see him again.  Likely, she was simply hoping he would somehow live.   Now she is standing before a princess of Egypt, being told to nurse this boy.  It’s the best news Mom could ever have hoped for.  To make the deal even sweeter, Moses’ own mother gets PAID to nurse him!

It was not uncommon in ancient times for moms to nurse their children until they were 3 or 4 years old.  So Moses may have spent his first 3-4 years in his Hebrew home.\

Vs. 10

Then eventually the princess adopted him full time, and this little boy was now raised in all the glory and wisdom and splendor of Egypt.  And Moses was named by an Egyptian.   Just by the meaning of his name, Moses grew up knowing he was adopted.  That he was from the despised Hebrews.   Surely he learned of the king’s edict.  Did Moses ever wonder, “Why was I spared from death when so many other of my kinsmen died at the king’s hand?”

So to summarize so far:  In Chapter 1, we are inserted into a tragic story of an ethnic people caught up in a living nightmare.  Slave labor.  Genocide of baby boys.  Now in Chapter 2, we are brought into the home of one of those Hebrew families.  One family of the tribe of Levi.  Nothing unusual yet if we are walking real-time in the story.  Just one family out of several hundred thousand who are in this tragic situation.  And nothing unusual about this mother.  She loves her son, as virtually every mother does.  But this mom schemes a way that could save her son, but even this is fraught with difficulties.  Beforehand, it seems like a ridiculous plan. 

She is hoping that some Egyptian family, hopefully with a mother who may be very compassionate, finds her son, disobeys the king’s edict, and adopts him as her own.

What can we learn from this passage?

One lesson from this brief story:

God works good through the ordinary. 

God is working in this world through ordinary acts of faith and ordinary deeds.   What I mean by “ordinary” is human actions apart from the miraculous.  Throughout this entire story so far, there is nothing supernatural happening.

  • Lightning doesn’t come down from heaven to strike Pharaoh dead and stop his genocidal madness. 
  • This boy isn’t whisked away by angels to another country. 

Such things could have happened.  But they didn’t.   But just because there is no miraculous yet in the story does not at all mean that God is not actively involved.  God worked through “normal” human ways and objects:  e.g., a basket, a river, a princess, a nursing mother.

We could call this scene in Exodus 2 a moment of God’s providence.  Providence is the sustaining, continuing, and very active work of God in his creation….in time, space, people, and events.  Providence is God’s very “hands-on” work in this world.  The word “Providence” is not used in the Bible, but the truth of it is shown from cover to cover.

  • He is active over nations.
  • He is involved over individual’s lives
  • He is engaged in prophecy, both in the giving and the fulfilling
  • He is active in sending sunshine and rain on both the righteous and the unrighteous
  • He works to answer our prayers.

Providence is the opposite of a passive, uninvolved, disinterested, weak God.

Slide Romans 8:28 essentially teaches the Doctrine of Providence.

Romans 8:28 CSB We know that all things work together for the good of those who love God, who are called according to his purpose.

This doctrine teaches us that we are never in the grip of blind forces (like chance, luck, or fate).  All that happens to us is never apart from God’s divine plan.  And each event that comes up calls us then to trust, obey, and rejoice, for we know that it all is for our eternal and spiritual good— somehow, someday, and in some way, God will work it all for our good.  So again, this story is an example of God’s providence.  God is quietly and powerfully working, in this case, he is working to raise up a Deliverer for his suffering people.  But in real time in the story, little of God’s plan was apparent.  Surely the mother and sister and princess could not fathom how this story would turn out, how in 80 years, this boy whom Pharaoh tried to kill will deliver his own oppressed people.  God works good through the ordinary, even when it’s not obvious to us at the moment.  And even though the outcome of the story was unknown to Moses’ parents, they walked by faith during this indescribably stressful time.

We actually get a glimpse into their faith from the NT book, Hebrews.

Hebrews 11:23 CSB  By faith Moses, after he was born, was hidden by his parents for three months, because they saw that the child was beautiful, and they didn’t fear the king’s edict.

They had much they could fear, but instead they trusted that somehow God would be good.

Lessons for us

What can we learn from this brief and remarkable story?

Let us embrace (and not despise) our small acts of faith

Because God is the God of Providence—because he is constantly active and involved in the affairs of this world and of our lives—we can believe that even our small acts of faith matter, because God will make it matter.

  • We want souls to be saved.
  • Lives to be changed.
  • Relationships restored.
  • Diseases healed.
  • Problems solved.

But at times, the problems seem insurmountable, and we wonder, “Does anything I do really matter?  I mean, all I can do are these few small things.”  We can be tempted to despise our small efforts when compared to our great problems.  Moses’ mother was surely very, very desperate.  How could she possibly do anything to stop a great nation from exerting their evil ways on an oppressed people?  What could this simple woman possibly do to save her son?  By faith, she took whatever action she could.  Took a basket.  Coated it with asphalt.  Placed it in the river.  Prayed like mad.  Even the optimists in her family might scoff and say, “That’s not going to work.  Surely there’s a better way.”  At the moment, she didn’t have the luxury of knowing what we know now.  She simply acted by faith.   She didn’t know that 80 years in the future, her son would be a great man of God and deliver Israel through the Red Sea.  In 80 years, Moses’ mother likely was not even alive to witness it all.   God simply called her to trust in him.  To walk by faith.  And by that faith in the God of Providence….by faith in this active, sustaining, working God…he will bring great good out of this tragic situation  Someday.  Somehow.  Some way…he will bring good. 

God calls us to walk by faith in the day-to-day, ordinary, mundane circumstances of life.  We trust him, even though we have no idea of the outcome.  Will the outcome be glorious?  Or will it be devastating?  We don’t know.  We simply trust that he is active and that he is good…. even if the glorious outcome isn’t known for 80 years.  So may we embrace (and not despise) small acts of faith.

One other thing we can learn from this remarkable story:

Rejoice in Christ and the Cross

This story of Moses, the evil of the Egyptians king, and the coming work of the Red Sea should remind us of the gospel of Christ.   Moses is a Deliverer like Jesus Christ.  Pharaoh reminds us of Satan himself who has taken people captive to do his will.  The coming Red Sea miracle reminds us of Jesus’ death and resurrection, a glorious, stunning reversal of fortune to set us free from all that oppressed us.

Throughout Scriptures, God has given us deliverers who give us hints of the Great Deliverance of Christ.  Hints like:

  • Noah saving mankind on a boat.
  • Joseph in Egypt rescuing his own family and the pagan Egyptian nation.
  • Leaders like Gideon and Samson in the Book of Judges rescuing Israel. 
  • Mordecai in the Book of Esther saving all Jews from the evil ruler Haman. 

I like what one author said about our story here in Exodus 2:

“God places Moses in the same Nile that Pharaoh intends for the boy’s harm, brings the boy right to Pharaoh’s doorstep, and has him raised in Pharaoh’s house.  Why?  To defeat the enemy decisively at his own game, at the very heart of his strength.”  (Peter Enns)

Moses reminds us of the beautiful, compassionate, rescuing heart of our God through His Son when he crushed the power of sin and death to set us free unto eternity in glory.  The Son came to bring light in the darkness.  Forgiveness to the unforgiveable.  Mercy to the undeserving.  Life to the dead.  And we rejoice and sing and worship.

As we are going to sing in just a moment, may we come and behold the wondrous mystery of God sending his Son to rescue us from our bondage to sin and death.