The Birth of Moses

Exodus 2:1-10 – The Holy Bible (KJV)

1 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 women 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.

When Moses was born, there were a huge number of Israelites and the Pharaoh was afraid that they might outnumber the Egyptians. Newborn Israelite boys like Moses were to be killed according to the Pharaoh’s order. It is clear from this extract that Moses’s mother did not want to part with her child. As shown in the second verse, she hid him for as long as she could. This shows Moses’s mother’s natural maternal instinct to resist the king’s command. However, she had no other choice, but to give him up in the end.

In the third verse, Moses’s mother places him in ‘an ark’. The infant’s basket is called tevah, which is the same word used for Noah’s ark. Noah’s ark is to protect his family and all the creatures from the flood – and here, this ark protects Moses from water. Both these arks keep them from sinking. Later in the Book of Exodus, there is also the Ark of the Covenant, which carries the two stone tablets of the Ten Commandments. Putting something in an ark is an act of protection to something valuable.

It is unknown what Moses’s original name is or whether he is given a name, but this child was given a new name after he is found by the Pharaoh’s daughter. In verse 10 tells the readers that he is given the name Moses because he is drawn out of the water. This name has significance in both Egyptian and Hebrew languages. The word ‘mose’ in Egyptian names are related to ‘bear, produce, bring forth’ whilst for Hebrew speakers, this name sounds like to ‘draw out’. This foreshadows Moses leading the Israelites out of Egypt. As an infant, Moses is saved from Pharaoh’s order of drowning the newborn boys in the River Nile because he is drawn out of water. As he grows, he saves the Israelites by drawing them out of the Red Sea.

Much of the focus in this scripture is put on Moses and his mother. His father, however, does not play an important role here. Moses’s father only appears in the first line of the extract and is only mentioned as ‘a man of the house of Levi’, not named. The second verse’s focus has already shifted to the mother as the narrator uses ‘she’ instead of ‘they’ here. In Hebrew 11:23, it says ‘when he was born, was hid three months of his parents’. Although in some parts of the Bible both parents are mentioned, this kind of narrative in the book of Exodus is not common when describing the birth of an important biblical figure. This suggests that the mother plays a more pivotal role in Moses’s birth and childhood.

The narrative of this scripture mainly focuses on the actions of female figures. Except for Moses himself, the other figures mentioned here – including Moses’s mother, his older sister and the Pharaoh’s daughter – are all female. Such focus could be because of the narrator’s intention to emphasise female nature. When Moses was seen by the Pharaoh’s daughter, she said ‘this is one of the Hebrews’ children’, which suggests that he had quite distinctive features of a Hebrew child. Despite Pharaoh’s order to kill newborn Israelites, his daughter is described to ‘have compassion on him’. Pharaoh’s daughter could have left the baby, but instead she chose to bring him to the palace. Moses’s sister also makes a decisive intervention of asking the child’s mother to be his wet nurse. The three female figures here make vital decisions that will affect Moses’s fate. They are also resisting the male authority.

In the last verse of this extract, Moses is adopted by the Pharaoh’s daughter, but unlike most other foundlings, his birth mother gets to be his wet nurse. However, the irony here is that despite his mother can watch him grow, she cannot really fulfil a mother’s role or even identify as the child’s mother. She also sees her own child being adopted by someone, but she has to keep this secret to protect her son.

The thumbnail of this extract is the painting of Moses which was in the art collection of the Foundling Hospital in London. The painting has particular significance to the Hospital as it shows that the foundling is being received and cared for. Moses turned out to be a successful, heroic figure and this is in line with the Hospital principle of caring for the children – they would be nursed, brought up and educated as useful citizens.

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