The Birth of Moses
“And there went a man of the house of Levi, and took to wife a daughter of Levi. And the woman conceived, and bare a son: and when she saw him that he was a goodly child, she hid him three months. 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. And his sister stood afar off, to wit what would be done to him. 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. 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. 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? And Pharaoh’s daughter said to her, Go. And the maid went and called the child’s mother. 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. 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.” (Exodus 2:1-10)
In these ten verses God the Holy Spirit has preserved for us the historic account of Moses’ birth. Here, he shows us how God raised up the man by whom he would deliver Israel. This passage gives us a good picture of the way God always works in providence, noiselessly accomplishing his eternal purpose, and secretly preparing his instruments for their appointed work. Then, at the time he has appointed, he makes bare his mighty arm and performs his wondrous work, displaying his presence, power, and glory in the salvation of chosen sinners to the praise of his glory and the confusion of the whole world.
We do not have to guess what the spiritual instruction of these ten verses might be. God the Holy Spirit has given us that in Hebrews 11:23. — “By faith Moses, when he was born, was hid three months of his parents, because they saw he was a proper child; and they were not afraid of the king’s commandment.”
“And there went a man of the house of Levi, and took to wife a daughter of Levi. And the woman conceived, and bare a son: and when she saw him that he was a goodly child, she hid him three months” (vv. 1-2).
What a natural, beautiful, tender scene this is! Our hearts immediately enter into joy and the concern of this Jewish mother. Pharaoh had commanded that every son that was born in Israel be cast into the river (Ex. 1:22). But what mother could endure such cruelty upon her newborn child? All the affections of her heart must have revolted at the thought of the tyrant’s decree. But, how could she, a poor, feeble woman of a despised race resist the will of an absolute monarch? We have read the answer already. Both she (Jochebed, whose name means “Jehovah is Glory” — Ex. 6:20) and her husband (Amram, whose name means “exalted people” — Ex. 6:18) believed God (Heb. 11:23).
Not only was the king’s decree repulsive to Moses’ parents, indescribably more importantly, it would have required them to wilfully defy their God. Trusting him they defied the king and overcame what must have been an indescribable fear of his wrath and power. By faith they hid their child, the child God had given them, for three months. Believing God, who never leaves and never forsakes those who trust in him, they were not confounded.
With the eye of faith fixed upon God our Savior, they dared to disobey Pharaoh’s wicked command, and they were fearless of the consequences. Like Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego in Daniel’s day, they believed that the God whom they served was able to deliver them out of the king’s hand (Dan. 3:16-17). May God give us grace to learn that the rulers and powers of this world are powerless before our God and powerless before his people. The gates of hell have never prevailed, and can never prevail, against the church of Christ.
We are told that Moses was a “goodly child.” He was, as we are told in Acts 7:20, “exceeding fair,” a beautiful baby. There was much in his outward appearance that was attractive to the eye. Yet, we read that our Lord Jesus, the Son of God, our Savior, had no form nor comeliness, that there was no beauty in him that would cause any who saw him to desire him (Isa. 53:2). If there is meaning in those contrasting physical features of Moses and the Savior (and I am sure there is), the meaning should be obvious. — The law (salvation by works) is “goodly” and “exceeding fair” in the eyes of every natural man. But Christ and the gospel of God’s free grace in him (salvation by grace alone) is repulsive to all natural men. Once a sinner is given life by God the Holy Spirit, he sees things differently. To every regenerate soul, the law is alarming and the gospel is “goodly” and “exceeding fair.”
After three months, Jochebed and Amram could no longer hide their baby. They had done all they could. Now, they must cast him into the arms of God. How wisely, how confidently, how calmly they seem to have cast all their care upon him who ever cares for his own!
“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. And his sister stood afar off, to wit what would be done to him” (vv 3-4).
Just as Abraham sacrificed Isaac to the Lord, and Hannah gave Samuel to him, Jochebed and Amram, by an act of confident faith, gave Moses to the Lord. What a blessed privilege it is for parents to cast their children into the Savior’s arms, giving up all parental claims to God and his grace, trusting him alone for their everlasting good! What a blessed child that child is whose parents give it up to God! What a blessed and joyous thing it is for parent and child, when the Lord God graciously receives the gift!
Jochebed took her child, by an act of faith, believing God, trusting Christ, and cast him into an ark. That this was an act of faith in Christ will be obvious if we consider that this ark was itself a type of Christ and our salvation by him. There are three arks spoken of in the Word of God. Each was a place of refuge, shelter, and safety. And the word “ark” used to describe them means both “vessel” and “coffin.” Each ark was a vessel in which something was safely carried; and each was a coffin, connecting it with death. Each of these three arks was typical of the Lord Jesus Christ, and God’s salvation in and by him.
The ark that Noah built secured those who were in it from the vengeance and violent wrath of an angry God. That is Christ our Substitute. Noah and his family suffered all the anger and fury of God’s holy wrath that the rest of the world suffered, but no anger and fury touched them. The ark absorbed it all. And they were saved when all the world was drowned in the wrath of God. That is what Christ did for all God’s elect. He absorbed all the fury of God’s holy wrath for us, and extinguished it for us forever! In Christ all God’s elect shall be eternally saved when all the world is drowned forever.
The ark of the covenant sheltered the two tables of God’s holy law, and, being covered with blood, was the place of atonement, mercy, and acceptance with God for sinners through the sacrifice and death of an innocent lamb. Where the ark went God went. That ark is Christ our Mercy-seat. In him we have perfect righteousness and complete atonement. He kept the law for us in his life of obedience to God as our Substitute, and satisfied its justice by his death in our place at Calvary as the Lamb of God. If we are in the Ark, Christ Jesus, God is reconciled to us and we are reconciled to him
The ark in which Moses was hidden was a basket made of bulrushes. It protected Moses, God’s chosen, from the murderous designs of the wicked ruler, Pharaoh. That ark is Christ, into whom chosen sinners were placed by our loving Father from eternity. As that ark of bulrushes was the means by which Moses was saved from drowning in the Egyptians’ river, God’s elect are saved from drowning in that infernal lake of his wrath, which burns forever with fire and brimstone.
Pitch and Pitch
This ark of bulrushes was “daubed with slime and pitch.” There is something important here that I must mention. The word translated “ark” Exodus 2:3 is exactly the same as the word used to speak of the ark Noah built. We are told in Genesis 6:14 that Noah covered his ark, inside and out, with pitch, just as Jochebed did this ark. But the word translated “pitch” in Genesis 6:14 and the word translated “pitch” in Exodus 2:3 are not the same. Noah, acting by divine direction, used a pitch that was different. The word translated “pitch” in Genesis 6:14 comes from a word that means “ransom.” It is the word commonly translated “ransom” in the Old Testament (Ex. 30:12; Job 33:24), and is used with reference to the atonement. That pitch clearly had reference to the redemption of our souls by Christ. Moses’ mother used pitch of another kind. The word used for “pitch” in Exodus 2:3 is the word we would expect. It means “tar.”
She, too, was acting by faith in Christ, as we are told in Hebrews 11:23; but she did not have as full a revelation of the matter, or did not understand the revelation she had as clearly as Noah did. By her act of faith, she confessed her need of a deliverer and her confidence that God would send her a deliverer. In fact, I am confident that Amram and Jochebed understood that Moses was the deliverer God would send.
Their deed in hiding Moses was not so much a parental act of love as it was the act of two people who believed God. That which motivated the faith of these godly parents was that which the Lord God had made known to them. — “They saw he was a proper child.” The Holy Spirit is not merely telling us that Moses was a physically beautiful child, too good looking to murder! This was an act of faith. They saw that Moses’ was beautiful to God, chosen of God to be Israel’s deliverer (Acts 7:20). The word “proper” means more than “good looking.” Its fuller meaning is “precious and favored.”
It is obvious in the latter part of this chapter that they taught him this from his youth. Had this not been a matter of divine revelation, something specifically made known to them by God, it would not have been an act of faith, but of desperation to hide him. They believed God’s word, the promise he had given to Abraham and Joseph, and had confirmed to them. Yet, it appears that they did not clearly understand that the deliverance brought by Moses typically and the deliverance to be accomplished by Christ involved blood atonement. I do not suggest that they did not believe in blood atonement; but that they simply did not grasp the fulness of it as Noah did.
Yet, Jochebed, being moved by faith in Christ, just as Noah was, made an ark of bulrushes, daubed it with slime and pitch, and sent him floating away, amid the flags in the river of death. She may have had less knowledge than Noah, but her faith was the same and was fixed upon the same Deliverer, our Lord Jesus Christ.
Great faith is often found where there appears to be much less knowledge. I do not mean to cast any evil aspersion upon, or in any way vilify knowledge. Knowledge is always good. ¾ The more the better. But let no one imagine that a person must have great knowledge and understanding to have great faith. What we have before us in this passage is a clear display of great faith, faith by which Jochebed calmly left her infant son Moses in the care of her omnipotent God alone. “This she did,” wrote John Trapp, “by the force of her faith; casting the child upon God, and against hope believing in hope."
That is remarkable faith! Faith that God alone can give and sustain! Notice in verse 4 that Moses’ “sister stood afar off, to wit what would be done to him,” but not his mother, and not his father. Believing God, having committed their darling son to him, they seem to have calmly walked away in peace. That baby boy was dearer to them than life itself, but they left him exposed to all the dangers and beasts of the wild in an ark (in the arms of Christ), and walked home in peace, resting in him (Matt. 11:28-30; Isa. 26:3).
Will we ever learn that absolute faith and confidence in our great God is always sensible and well-founded? Let me show you how the Lord God intervened, how he always intervenes for his weak, helpless, defenseless people in this world.
“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. 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” (vv. 5-6).
It is always wise and instructive to observe how our God works unseen and behind the scene, arranging everything according to his own purpose, for his own glory and for the salvation of our souls. Pharaoh’s daughter came down to take a bath, I suppose, because she needed one. But there was another reason why she came at this time and came to this place.
The Lord God had ordained to make her one of the instruments by which he would save his people. She was totally ignorant of it. No doubt she is cursing him for it in hell to this day; but she was no less God’s appointed instrument, accomplishing his good pleasure, than Gabriel himself! It was according to God’s blessed purpose and by the direction of his sovereign providence that “the daughter of Pharaoh came down to wash herself at the river,” that she “walked along by the river’s side,” looking for a good place to take a bath, that as she did, “she saw the ark among the flags,” and that, when she opened the ark, “the babe wept!”
Even the tears of the baby had their object; and they were not shed in vain. Moses’ crying stirred the compassion of Pharaoh’s daughter toward “one of the Hebrews’ children.” Moses was not only to be preserved from danger, but to be preserved by the daughter of the very man who sought his life. — “Whoso is wise, and will observe these things, even they shall understand the lovingkindness of the LORD” (Ps. 107:43).
While we admire and adore the goodness of God causing Pharaoh’s daughter to be moved with compassion toward Moses’ by the irresistible cry of a baby, we ought to remember the far greater compassion of our God and Savior toward us, when we were cast out to perish, when no eye pitied us but his, in our lost estate. His compassion was not moved toward us by our cry for him. His compassion was moved by his compassion. It was his love, his compassion toward us that gave us life and caused us to cry after him (Ezek. 16:5-6).
Moses’ sister, who had been anxiously watching to see what might become of her baby-brother, was moved by the Spirit of God to speak with God-given wisdom to Pharaoh’s daughter (vv. 7-8).
“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? And Pharaoh’s daughter said to her, Go. And the maid went and called the child’s mother” (vv. 7-8).
Moses, who had been exposed to horrible danger by Pharaoh’s decree, is now restored to his mother under the protection of Pharaoh’s daughter. And there he remained until he was grown. Anyone who is not blind can see God’s wisdom and sovereign goodness in this, graciously arranging everything for his glory, Jochebed’s joy, and the salvation of his chosen people.
What an unexpected blessing this was! Jochebed received her child back from the dead. She hoped confidently that God would save him, but never dreamed she would nurse him and raise him. That is a pretty clear picture of the unexpected recovery of every lost sinner. Watched over by divine providence throughout the days of spiritual death, “sanctified in Jesus Christ” (Jude 1:1), each one is unexpectedly restored by omnipotent grace, when called of God (Luke 15:32). I can almost see Jochebed smothering Moses with kisses, just as our heavenly Father smothers returning sinners with the kisses of his love and grace (Luke 15:20). Can’t you?
“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” (v. 10).
When Moses was grown, his mother brought him to Pharaoh’s daughter, and she named the young man “Moses,” because she drew him out of the water. His name means, “Drawn Out,” or “Saved out of Water.”
Again, the Spirit of God here gives us a beautiful and blessed picture of God’s free, sovereign, saving grace in Christ. God, who had saved Moses from death, brought him out of the waters of judgment by his sovereign grace and love. Thus, the man of God’s choice, the one he had ordained as his chosen instrument for the deliverance of Israel, the man he had chosen to be the mediator of his covenant, finds shelter under the roof of Pharaoh. During this period he became “learned in all the wisdom of the Egyptians, and was mighty in words and in deeds” (Acts 7: 22).
As Moses was drawn out of death to save Israel, so our Lord Jesus Christ was drawn out of death to save the Israel of God. As Moses was drawn out of death by the most unlikely means, so the Lord God draws chosen, redeemed sinners out of death by the most unlikely means imaginable to man, by that which all men think is utter foolishness, —by the preaching of the gospel (Rom. 10:17; 1 Pet. 1:23-25). And as Moses found shelter under Pharaoh’s roof, so the Lord God causes the very world that would destroy his people to supply us with all our needs.
May God the Holy Spirit give us such faith, and such joy in believing, that we may cast all our care upon our God who cares for us, and find sweet rest for our souls in our God and Savior.