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Baby Moses is discovered on the Nile (artist unknown)

A man from the tribe of Levi married a Levite woman. The woman became pregnant and gave birth to a son. Fearful of the Israelite’s growing power, Pharaoh had issued orders to his people – every Hebrew child born must be killed. When the woman saw he was a fine child, she hid him away for three months. Eventually she could hide him no longer, so she placed him in a papyrus basket that she had coated with tar and pitch. She placed the child in it and put it among the reeds along the bank of the Nile. The child’s sister stood at a distance to see what would happen to him.

Baby Moses in a basket on the NileThe Pharaoh’s daughter went down to the Nile to bathe. Her attendants walked along the riverbank. She saw the basket among the reeds and sent her female assistant to get it. She opened it and saw the baby. He was crying and she felt sorry for him. “This is one of the Hebrew babies,” she said.

Then the boy’s sister approached Pharaoh’s daughter and asked her, “Should I go and get one of the Hebrew women to nurse the baby for you?”

“Yes, go,” she answered.

The girl went and got the baby’s real mother. Pharaoh’s daughter said to her, “Take this baby and nurse him for me and I will pay you.” So, Moses’ mother took her baby back and nursed him.

When the child grew older, his mother took him to Pharaoh’s daughter, and he became her son. She named him Moses saying, “I drew him out of the water”.

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What the story means to us today

God’s providence is clear as the most influential person in history survives certain death

When Moses is discovered, his sister Miriam steps out and offers assistance. Not only is the child given back to the mother for care, but the mother is now paid by Pharaoh for her efforts! The time they will spend together allows Moses’ parents to teach him Old Testament values.

The bible tells us that Moses was a “fine child”, healthy and proper. Even as a baby, it appears he was no ordinary child. He will go on to become one of the most influential persons in human history. There is no question this was God’s plan all along. God’s providence is clear.

Additional thoughts and considerations

Identifying Moses’ parents

Although we are not given the names of Moses’ parents in these verses, we will later find they are Amram (father) and Jochebed (Amram’s aunt). They had two other children – Miriam and Aaron (who was three years older than Moses).

The story of Sargon of Akkad

Moses saved from the waters - Orazio Gentileschi (1633)An older story, dating back to the third millennium BC, called Sargon of Akkad, follows a storyline similar to the biblical account of Moses. Some propose the story of Moses derived from the legend of Sargon. However, there are far more differences in the two stories than similarities.

Sargaon of Akkad states that Sargan was placed in a basket in the Nile and discovered by a gardener. The similarities to the story of Moses end there.

Unlike Moses, Sargon was an illegitimate child, the son of a priestess and an unknown male. Possibly Moses’ mother was familiar with the legend and used the knowledge to come up with the idea of putting Moses in a basket by the Nile. More likely however, is the abandonment of children was common in Moses’ day. The reason for the abandonments is not clear. Possibly, like Sargon, many children in Moses day were illegitimate. Or possibly families could not afford to care for their children and knew that placing them by the Nile river, were citizens congregated for water needs, would ensure the child was quickly found.

Why place a child near a dangerous body of water?

In ancient times, the Nile was the center of life. People obtained their drinking water there, bathed in it, and used its waters for irrigation. It was the center of the society. There would have been no better place to hide a child with confidence it would be found.

Who was the princess who rescued Moses?

Several outside sources record the name of the princess that rescued Moses. She may be the Eighteenth-Dynasty princess/queen Hatshepsut who was known to have a temperament that would have allowed her to countermand her father’s decree. Eusebius says the princess’ name was Merris. Josephus calls her Thermuthis. Other potential names include Tharmugh, Bityah, and Bithiah.

When did the Pharaoh’s daughter adopt Moses?

The verses tell us “when the child grew older, she (Moses’ mother) took him to Pharaoh’s daughter and he became her son”. The original words translate more accurately to “when he became great”. He was given to the Pharaoh’s daughter after he was weaned but before he was named. This hints that Moses was 3-4 years old when he became Pharaoh’s daughter.

Will Moses be kept hidden from Pharaoh?

Baby Moses on the Nile (artist unknown)Pharaoh had ordered the death of all Hebrew babies. How could his daughter keep Moses hidden from him? It’s quite possible she did not. Pharaoh may have been unable to tell Moses was a Hebrew child. Or possibly he could tell Moses was a Hebrew but decided to allow him to live and become a part of the family anyway. There are many instances in ancient texts of foreign males being raised and educated by royal families. Ultimately, God’s plan ensures Moses remains alive. We will soon see that Pharaoh will promote his adopted grandson to an influential leadership position.

The role of women in Moses’ protection

There were many women who contributed to Moses’ safety. The midwives disobeyed Pharaoh’s orders. Moses’ mother refused to turn him over to be killed. They Egyptian princess saved and protected Moses even though she recognized he was a Hebrew baby. And Moses’ sister, Miram, stepped in to take the baby from Pharaoh’s daughter, ensuring Moses could be raised by his Hebrew mother. Although women in the Bible often remain anonymous because of social customs of the day, they played a prominent role in many biblical stories. In this case, they saved the life of the man who would produce a profound impact on humanity.

The science and history behind the story

Infant mortality and adoption in ancient Egypt

In ancient Egypt, infant mortality was common. Because of that, adoptions generally did not take place until the child was weaned, usually around 2-3 years of age. This is what we see with the adoption of Moses by Pharaoh’s daughter. Moses’ mother cares for him until he is weened, then he is handed over to Pharaoh’s daughter for adoption.

Notes on Biblical translation

The name “Moses”

Moses was said to be named by the Pharaoh’s daughter because she “drew him out of the water”. Technically, if his name meant “drawn out of water”, he would have been called Mashuey. Moses (or moseh) is translated to “one who draws out”. As we will soon see, Moses will “draw out” the Israelites from Egypt and deliver them from oppression. Thus, his name itself is a near-prophetic statement regarding Moses’ later works.

Bible Text

The Child Moses on the Nile - Gustave DoreNIV

Now a man of the tribe of Levi married a Levite woman, 2 and she became pregnant and gave birth to a son. When she saw that he was a fine child, she hid him for three months. 3 But when she could hide him no longer, she got a papyrus basket for him and coated it with tar and pitch. Then she placed the child in it and put it among the reeds along the bank of the Nile. 4 His sister stood at a distance to see what would happen to him.

5 Then Pharaoh’s daughter went down to the Nile to bathe, and her attendants were walking along the riverbank. She saw the basket among the reeds and sent her female slave to get it. 6 She opened it and saw the baby. He was crying, and she felt sorry for him. “This is one of the Hebrew babies,” she said.

7 Then his sister asked Pharaoh’s daughter, “Shall I go and get one of the Hebrew women to nurse the baby for you?”

8 “Yes, go,” she answered. So the girl went and got the baby’s mother. 9 Pharaoh’s daughter said to her, “Take this baby and nurse him for me, and I will pay you.” So the woman took the baby and nursed him. 10 When the child grew older, she took him to Pharaoh’s daughter and he became her son. She named him Moses, saying, “I drew him out of the water.”

The New International Version. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2011. Print.

The NET Bible

2:1  A man from the household of Levi married a woman who was a descendant of Levi. 2:2 The woman became pregnant and gave birth to a son. When she saw that he was a healthy child, she hid him for three months. 2:3 But when she was no longer able to hide him, she took a papyrus basket for him and sealed it with bitumen and pitch. She put the child in it and set it among the reeds along the edge of the Nile. 2:4 His sister stationed herself at a distance to find out what would happen to him.

2:5 Then the daughter of Pharaoh came down to wash herself by the Nile, while her attendants were walking alongside the river, and she saw the basket among the reeds. She sent one of her attendants, took it, 2:6 opened it, and saw the child—a boy, crying!—and she felt compassion for him and said, “This is one of the Hebrews’ children.”

2:7 Then his sister said to Pharaoh’s daughter, “Shall I go and get a nursing woman for you from the Hebrews, so that she may nurse the child for you?” 2:8 Pharaoh’s daughter said to her, “Yes, do so.” So the young girl went and got the child’s mother. 2:9 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 child and nursed him.

2:10 When the child grew older she brought him to Pharaoh’s daughter, and he became her son. She named him Moses, saying, “Because I drew him from the water.”

Biblical Studies Press. The NET Bible First Edition; Bible. English. NET Bible.; The NET Bible. Biblical Studies Press, 2006. Print.

New King James Version

2 And a man of the house of Levi went and took as wife a daughter of Levi. 2 So the woman conceived and bore a son. And when she saw that he was a beautiful child, she hid him three months. 3 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. 4 And his sister stood afar off, to know what would be done to him.

5 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. 6 And when she 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.”

7 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?”

8 And Pharaoh’s daughter said to her, “Go.” So the maiden went and called the child’s mother. 9 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. 10 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.”

The New King James Version. Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1982. Print.

The Message

3 2 A man from the family of Levi married a Levite woman. The woman became pregnant and had a son. She saw there was something special about him and hid him. She hid him for three months. When she couldn’t hide him any longer she got a little basket-boat made of papyrus, waterproofed it with tar and pitch, and placed the child in it. Then she set it afloat in the reeds at the edge of the Nile.

4–6 The baby’s older sister found herself a vantage point a little way off and watched to see what would happen to him. Pharaoh’s daughter came down to the Nile to bathe; her maidens strolled on the bank. She saw the basket-boat floating in the reeds and sent her maid to get it. She opened it and saw the child—a baby crying! Her heart went out to him. She said, “This must be one of the Hebrew babies.”

7 Then his sister was before her: “Do you want me to go and get a nursing mother from the Hebrews so she can nurse the baby for you?”

8 Pharaoh’s daughter said, “Yes. Go.” The girl went and called the child’s mother.

9 Pharaoh’s daughter told her, “Take this baby and nurse him for me. I’ll pay you.” The woman took the child and nursed him.

10 After the child was weaned, she presented him to Pharaoh’s daughter who adopted him as her son. She named him Moses (Pulled-Out), saying, “I pulled him out of the water.”

Peterson, Eugene H. The Message: The Bible in Contemporary Language. Colorado Springs, CO: NavPress, 2005. Print.

King James Version

2 And there went a man of the house of Levi, and took to wife a daughter of Levi. 2 And the woman conceived, and bare a son: and when she saw him that he was a goodly child, she hid him three months. 3 And 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. 4 And his sister stood afar off, to wit what would be done to him. 5 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. 6 And when she had opened it, she saw the child: and, behold, the babe wept. And she had compassion on him, and said, This is one of the Hebrews’ children. 7 Then 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? 8 And Pharaoh’s daughter said to her, Go. And the maid went and called the child’s mother. 9 And Pharaoh’s daughter said unto her, Take this child away, and nurse it for me, and I will give thee thy wages. And the woman took the child, and nursed it. 10 And the child grew, and she 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.

The Holy Bible: King James Version. Electronic Edition of the 1900 Authorized Version. Bellingham, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc., 2009. Print.

Sources: NIV, The Message, The NET Bible, King James Version, NET Bible Notes, Faithlife Study Bible, The Apologetics Study Bible, The Bible Knowledge Commentary, Jamieson, Fausset, Brown Commentary, The Bible Reader’s Companion, Matthew Henry’s Commentary, Holman Concise Bible Commentary, The Bible Exposition Commentary, The Teacher’s Bible Commentary, The Teacher’s Commentary, The Bible Guide, Word Studies in the New Testament, Holman Bible Handbook, Calvin Commentaries, Wiersbe’s Expository Outlines, The New Manner and Customs of the Bible, Holman Illustrated Bible Dictionary, The Lexham Bible Dictionary, Easton’s Bible Dictionary, Harper’s Bible Dictionary, Baker Encyclopedia of the Bible, The Archaeological Encyclopedia, Biblical Archaeology Review, The New Bible Dictionary, The Lexham Analytical Lexicon, Glossary of Morpho-Syntactic Database
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