The Divine Lamp

The unfolding of thy words gives light; it imparts understanding to the simple…Make thy face shine upon thy servant, and teach me thy statutes

My Notes on Exodus 2:1-15

Posted by Dim Bulb on July 14, 2013

As is usually the case I did not have a lot of time to devote to these notes. I’ve included a few suggested resources at the end of the post for those seeking more.

1 AFTER this there went a man of the house of Levi; and took a wife of his own kindred.
2 And she conceived, and bore a son: and seeing him a goodly child, hid him three months. 

After this refers to the events narrated in chapter one, especially Pharaoh’s attempts at subduing, enslaving, and reducing the number of God’s people. His actions have laid the foundation for much of the story of Moses early life and prophetic/leadership career. Pharaoh’s attempt to get the Hebrews to kill of their own male children via the Hebrew mid-wives proved unsuccessful (Ex 1:15-21), and so the Pharaoh appealed to his own people (Ex 1:22).

The went a man of the house of Levi; and he took a wife of his own kindred. The parents of Moses are not named until Ex 6:20. In the present verse the focus is on their tribal ancestry, they both belong to the tribe of Levi. The levitical descent of Aaron, the brother of Moses (not mentioned in the present text) will become important later in the Pentateuch (Ex 6:14-20; Num 3:1-10; Num 26:57-61).

She conceived and bore a son. An ominous event in light of Pharaoh’s machinations, but the mother, seeing him a goodly child, hid him three months. Having enjoyed the creational blessing of God (“be fruitful and multiply”-Gen 1:28), the mother views the child from God’s perspective, seeing him as goodly (“and God saw that it was good”-Gen 1:4, 10, 12, 18, 21, 25, 31).
3 And when she could hide him no longer, she took a basket made of bulrushes, and daubed it with slime and pitch: and put the little babe therein, and laid him in the sedges by the river’s brink,

The mother’s action in regard to her son (who would become the God’s deliverer of his people) recalls in some ways the account of Noah (who brought relief to his people-Gen 5:28-29). The word basket used here is the same word used in the story of Noah for the ark or boat that carried him and his family over the destructive waters to safety (see Gen 6:14-9:18 where the word occurs 27 times). The water that Pharaoh tried to use as an instrument of death for the Hebrew boys (Gen 1:22), becomes a way deliverance for Moses; just as the flood waters that punished sinful humanity helped deliver the righteous Noah (Gen 6:9, 1 Pet 2:5).

And laid him in the sedges by the river’s bank. The Hebrew word here translated as sedges can refer to rushes, reeds (Isa 19:6), or seaweed (Jonah 2:5). Here the meaning is obviously “reeds,” or “rushes.” The placing of the basket in these reeds would keep it from floating away.

4 His sister standing afar off, and taking notice what would be done.

Pharaoh’s decree allowed the Hebrew daughters to live (Ex 1:16, 22), and now one of those Hebrew daughters (along with Pharaoh’s own daughter!) is about to become instrumental in delivering the future deliverer of God’s people (see verses 5-10 below)

The text show us that Moses had an older sister, but whether this is the sister later identified as Miriam is uncertain (Ex 15:20; Num 12:1-15). Aaron is named before Moses in the family genealogies of (Ex 6:20, Num 26:59 and 1 Chron 5:29), indicating that he was older than Moses. The fact that no mention is made of Aaron in these early chapters keeps the focus on the women in the story (mid-wives, mother of Moses, sister of Moses, Pharaoh’s daughter). Also, note that no mention is made of the father of Moses in regard his being put into the basket on the river.

5 And behold the daughter of Pharaoh came down to wash herself in the river: and her maids walked by the river’s brink. And when she saw the basket in the sedges she sent one of her maids for it: and when it was brought,
6 She opened it, and seeing within it an infant crying, having compassion on him, she said: This is one of the babes of the Hebrews.

“No doubt the mother knew where Pharaoh’s daughter used to bathe and counted on her compassion to save the life of the child” (A Catholic Commentary on Holy Scripture).

Came down…saw…seeing…crying. The verbs used here in reference to pharaoh’s daughter are used in Ex 3:7-9 to describe God’s actions towards his people. God, like the daughter, comes down (Ex 3:8); sees (Ex 3:7); and hears crying (Ex 3:9). The actions of Pharaoh’s daughter preserves the life of Moses, allowing God to later used Moses to free people to serve him rather than Pharaoh.

The maids were probably Hebrew servant girls, lending further irony to the Pharaoh’s decision to allow the girls to live (see comment on verse 4).  At the bidding of the daughter of Pharaoh, these daughters of Hebrew slaves save Moses from what was supposed to be-according to Pharaoh’s instructions-the instrument of death for Hebrew boys.

Having compassion on him. The Hebrew word here translated as compassion is חמל (châmal), a word connoting softness and, by implication, pity, compassion, a will to spare. Perhaps we should see her attitude here in contrast to that of a later Pharaoh (her own son?) who would harden his heart towards the people of God (Ex 3:19; Ex 7:13, 22, Ex 8:19, Ex 9:2, etc).

7 And the child’s sister said to her: Shall I go, and call to thee a Hebrew woman, to nurse the babe?
8 She answered: Go. The maid went and called her mother.
9 And Pharaoh’s daughter said to her: Take this child, and nurse him for me: I will give thee thy wages. The woman took and nursed the child: and when he was grown up, she delivered him to Pharaoh’s daughter.

Pharaoh’s daughter said…take this child and nurse him for me. There is an interesting word play here in Ex 2:9 with the Pharaoh’s command to cast the Hebrew boys into the river in Ex 1:22. Cast= שׁלך (shâlak, pronounced shaw-lak’), Take= הלך (hâlak, pronounced haw-lak’). Once again the daughter is portrayed as the antithesis of her father.

When he was grown up. Not a reference to adulthood (as it is in verse 11), here, rather, it means the age his weaning (nursing) ended (see the parallel between growth and weaning in Gen 21:8). Typically weaning ended sometime during the child’s third year (see 2 Macc 7:27).

10 And she adopted him for a son, and called him Moses, saying: Because I took him out of the water.

Pharaoh’s daughter took the child “then adopted it as her own son, and called it Moses (מֹשֶׁה): “for,” she said, “out of the water have I drawn him” (מְשִׁיתִהוּ). As Pharaoh’s daughter gave this name to the child as her adopted son, it must be an Egyptian name. The Greek form of the name, Μωΰσῆς (lxx), also points to this, as Josephus affirms. “Thermuthis (the name of Pharaoh’s daughter in Jewish tradition),” he says, “imposed this name upon him, from what had happened when he was put into the river; for the Egyptians call water Mo, and those who are rescued from the water Uses” (Ant. ii. 9, 6, Whiston’s translation). The correctness of this statement is confirmed by the Coptic, which is derived from the old Egyptian.

“(Note: Josephus gives a somewhat different explanation in his book against Apion (i. 31), when he says, “His true name was Moüses, and signifies a person who is rescued from the water, for the Egyptians call water Moü.” Other explanations, though less probable ones, are attempted by Gesenius in his Thes. p. 824, and Knobel in loc.)“~Keil and Delitzsch

Because I took him out of the water. That water which was made an instrument of death by her own father’s decree.

According to Acts 7:22 this act of adoption led to Moses’ being instructed in all the wisdom of the Egyptians.

11 In those days, after Moses was grown up, he went out to his brethren: and saw their affliction, and an Egyptian striking one of the Hebrews, his brethren.
12 And when he had looked about this way and that way, and saw no one there, he slew the Egyptian and hid him in the sand.

After Moses was grown up. According to Acts 7:23 he was at least 40 years of age at this time.

He went out to his brethren: and saw their affliction. Moses’ act of seeing recalls the seeing of Pharaoh’s daughter (see note above on verses 5-6). It foreshadows God’s seeing his people’s afflictions in (Ex 2:25; Ex 3:7, 9; Ex 4:31; Ex 5:19).

And an Egyptian striking one of the Hebrews, his brethren…he slew the Egyptian. The same word נכה (nâkâh) is used for the striking of the Hebrew by the Egyptian (11) and the slaying of the Egyptian by Moses (12). The word itself is rather ambiguous, denoting anything from a light tap to a lethal blow. Moses probably did not intend to kill the Egyptian, but that is in fact what transpired. In verse 15 the word used to describe Pharaoh’s desire to kill Moses is quite strong,  הרג (hârag), meaning to strike or smite with deadly intent.

And he looked this way and that. Moses’ checking to see that there were no witnesses before acting implies that he is knowingly taking his life into his own hands by acting against what was allowed by law. Moses is acting here by his own authority, not Pharaoh’s, not God’s (see comment on verses 13-14 below).

13 And going out the next day, he saw two Hebrews quarrelling: and he said to him that did the wrong: Why strikest thou thy neighbour?
14 But he answered: Who hath appointed thee prince and judge over us? wilt thou kill me, as thou didst yesterday kill the Egyptian? Moses feared, and said: How is this come to be known?
15 And Pharaoh heard of this word, and sought to kill Moses: but he fled from his sight, and abode in the land of Madian, and he sat down by a well.

Who appointed thee prince and judge over us? wilt thou kill me, as thou didst…kill the Egyptian? Moses has no authority to act as judge or leader of his people and therefore cannot justify his intervention with the Egyptian, or with the Hebrew. Who is Moses after all?

This is the very question Moses put to God at his call: And Moses said to God: Who am I that I should go to Pharao, and should bring forth the children of Israel out of Egypt? (Ex 3:11). Having no authority to strike the Egyptian, or, for that matter, to act as a mediator between two fighting Hebrews, Moses was forced to flee from Egypt; Who indeed is he? He is the one God will empower and authorize to lead the Hebrews; and the one through whom God will strike the Egyptians for their acts of injustice (see Ex 7:14-21, espcially verses 17 & 20 which use the same word נכה (nâkâh) which was used in verses 11 & 12. See comments there).

Moses’ experience in verses 11-15 thus prepare for his commissioning in chapter 3

And Pharaoh heard…and sought to kill Moses. As noted above in the comments on verses 11-12 the Pharaoh’s intent to “smite” Moses is deadly, hence the translation kill.

But he fled from his sight and abode in the land of Madian (Midian). Provides a transition into 2:16-25 and chapter 3


THE GOD OF FREEDOM AND LIFE by Stephen J. Binz. Catholic. A brief and very readable commentary on 147 pages.


PENTATEUCH: NAVARRE BIBLE COMMENTARY. Catholic. The Navarre Bible Commentary was the brain-child of St Josemaria Escriva. Its purpose is “to elucidate the spiritual and theological message of the Bible” (Preface).

THE PENTATEUCH AS NARRATIVE: A BIBLICAL-THEOLOGICAL COMMENTARY by John H. Sailhamer. Protestant. This work “focuses on the narrative and literary continuity of the Pentateuch as a whole” (from the back cover).

HANDBOOK ON THE PENTATEUCH by Victor P. Hamilton. Protestant. Very useful.


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