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Rebirth of Moses Moses Is Born The Infancy and Early Career of Moses The Birth of Moses The Birth of Moses
2:1-4 2:1-4 2:1-4 2:1-4 2:1-4
2:5-10 2:5-10 2:5-10 2:5-6 2:5-10
Moses Flees to Midian ; Moses Escapes to Midian Moses Escapes to Midian
2:11-14 2:11-15 2:11-15a 2:11-13 2:11-15
Moses Escapes to Midian 2:14-15a
2:15 2:15b-22 2:15b-18
2:16-22 2:16-25 2:16-22
The Call of Moses (2:23-4:17) 2:21-22 God Remembers Israel
2:23-25 2:23-25 2:23-25 2:23-25

READING CYCLE THREE (see "Bible Interpretation Seminar")


This is a study guide commentary, which means that you are responsible for your own interpretation of the Bible. Each of us must walk in the light we have. You, the Bible, and the Holy Spirit are priority in interpretation. You must not relinquish this to a commentator.

Read the chapter in one sitting. Identify the subjects. Compare your subject divisions with the five translations above. Paragraphing is not inspired, but it is the key to following the original author's intent, which is the heart of interpretation. Every paragraph has one and only one subject.

  1. First paragraph
  2. Second paragraph
  3. Third paragraph
  4. Etc.


  1. Like the book of Esther, the unseen hand of God (cf. Heb. 11:27) is active to fulfill His plans for Israel and the world (See SPECIAL TOPIC: YHWH'S ETERNAL REDEMPTIVE PLAN).
    Remember, Israel's plight was not a result of disobedience but God's unfolding plan (cf. Gen. 15:12-21).
  2. Moses is the third child of a slave family, yet, he will become God's strategic leader, teacher, and organizer.
    In the ANE the first child had preeminence (see SPECIAL TOPIC: FIRSTBORN), but God often chose another child to show He was in control. This same theology is reflected by the barren wives of the Patriarchs having children.
  3. Moses had the best possible education of his day (i.e., the court of Pharaoh, cf. Acts 7:22).
    1. law and order (other ANE cultures)
    2. military
    3. academic (i.e., geography, literature, math, science, medicine, etc.)
    4. desert survival (Egyptian culture and life in Midian)
  4. Where Moses learned of the monotheistic (see SPECIAL TOPIC: MONOTHEISM) covenant-making (see SPECIAL TOPIC: COVENANT) God, YHWH (see SPECIAL TOPIC: NAMES FOR DEITY), is uncertain but possibly from
    1. his mother while at home (most likely option)
    2. information from his Egyptian teachers about the slaves' religion
    3. Jethro, a descendant of Abraham and priest of Midian
  5. There are several Egyptian words in this chapter that reflect a true historical setting.
    1. "ark"/"basket" (BDB 1061), Exod. 2:3
    2. "bulrushes" (BDB 167), Exod. 2:3
    3. "reeds" (BDB 693 I), Exod. 2:3
    4. "by the bank of the Nile" (lit. "the lip of the river"; although the root is widely known in several Semitic languages), Exod. 2:3
  6. The last paragraph is such a great text about the character of God and His commitment to His word and His people (see SPECIAL TOPIC: CHARACTERISTICS OF ISRAEL'S GOD (OT)!
  7. Moses' birth and life are discussed in Acts 7:17-39 and Heb. 11:23-31.


1Now a man from the house of Levi went and married a daughter of Levi. 2The woman conceived and bore a son; and when she saw that he was beautiful, she hid him for three months. 3But when she could hide him no longer, she got him a wicker basket and covered it over with tar and pitch. Then she put the child into it and set it among the reeds by the bank of the Nile. 4His sister stood at a distance to find out what would happen to him.

2:1 Both parents of Moses were from the tribe of Levi (they are named in Exod. 6:20; Num. 26:59), from which the priests and Levites would later come.

2:2 "bore a son" We learn from other texts that Moses had an older brother and sister (cf. Exod. 7:7). This shows Hebrew historical narrative is not a western history. See SPECIAL TOPIC: OT HISTORICAL NARRATIVE and

▣ "she saw that he was beautiful" Has any mother not felt this way? The Hebrew ADJECTIVE (BDB 373) means "fair looking" (cf. Gen. 6:2; 1 Sam. 9:2; 1 Kgs. 20:3; Dan. 1:15).

▣ "she hid him for three months" Why this time period is mentioned is uncertain. Possibly it is just a way to say she hid him as long as possible (Exod. 2:3).

  1. he cried too much (Alan Cole)
  2. he was too big (F. B. Huey)
  3. Egyptians and their spies were becoming more active in seeking out male children
NASB, JPSOA  "a wicker basket"
NKJV  "an ark of bulrushes"
NRSV, NJB  "a papyrus basket"
TEV  "a basket made of reeds"
Peshitta  "an ark made of acacia wood"
The MT has "a basket of" (BDB 1061) CONSTRUCT "papyrus" (BDB 167). The word "papyrus" comes from the VERB "to swallow" (BDB 167), thereby, a plant that sucks up water. Isaiah 18:2 mentions ships made of papyrus reeds woven together.
The term "basket" is used of Noah's ark. It may be an Egyptian root for "chest."

▣ "tar and pitch" Both (BDB 330 and 278) are petroleum based (cf. Gen. 11:3; 14:10), sticky substances (NIDOTTE, vol. 2, p. 711), which were liquid enough when heated to plaster over the woven papyrus reeds to form a water tight seal.

The last sentence of Exod. 2:3 implies a purposeful plan of Moses' mother to have her child found by an Egyptian princess (cf. Exod. 2:4-7).

2:4 "his sister" We learn from Exod. 15:20 that her name is Miriam (cf. Exod. 7:7; Num. 26:59; NIDOTTE, vol. 4, pp. 942-943).

5The daughter of Pharaoh came down to bathe at the Nile, with her maidens walking alongside the Nile; and she saw the basket among the reeds and sent her maid, and she brought it to her. 6When she opened it, she saw the child, and behold, the boy was crying. And she had pity on him and said, "This is one of the Hebrews' children." 7Then 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?" 8Pharaoh's daughter said to her, "Go ahead." So the girl went and called the child's mother. 9Then 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. 10The child grew, and she brought him to Pharaoh's daughter and he became her son. And she named him Moses, and said, "Because I drew him out of the water."

2:5 The Nile was considered a god (i.e., Hapi, who was responsible for the annual life-giving floods) in Egyptian mythology. To bathe in it was a religious act.

2:6 The princess responded to a child in a characteristically expected way! She must have known immediately why the child was in the Nile. Moses' sister was standing by ready to offer help!

▣ "child. . .boy. . .children" There are two different terms used to describe Moses.

  1. child - BDB 409 (SINGULAR)
  2. boy - BDB 654
  3. children - BDB 409 (PLURAL)

NIDOTTE, vol. 3, p. 125, shows the wide range of ages the term "boy" (BDB 654) can carry.

  1. unborn child - Jdgs. 13:5,7,8,12
  2. newborn - 1 Sam. 4:21
  3. three months old - Exod. 2:6
  4. child not weaned - 1 Sam. 1:22
  5. weaned child - 1 Sam. 1:24
  6. seventeen year old - Gen. 37:2
  7. thirty year old - Gen. 41:12,46

2:8 "girl" This is the word almah (BDB 761), which means a young woman of marriageable age. In the ANE this could be 12 and up. This is the word used in Isa. 7:14 (see full notes online). Miriam would have been a virgin but this word is also used of young married women of child-bearing age (NIDOTTE, vol. 3, pp. 415-419).

2:9 How long Moses stayed with his mother is not specified. Women in the ANE nursed their children for many years. How much she told Moses about Israel's God and Israel's predicament is also unspecified. She must have told him something because he knew his ethnic origin and had compassion for their plight.

▣ "I will give you your wages" This is a literary touch of divine irony!

2:10 "she named him Moses" The princess gave the "basket child" an Egyptian name, "Moses" (BDB 602, KB 642). The name

  1. is formed on the root (mosheh) for "born of" in Egyptian but with the connotation of "begotten or preserved by a god." Which god is not specified (KB); lit. "son of. . ." (i.e., Thut-Moses).
  2. is formed on the sound of the Hebrew PARTICIPLE mashah ("he who draws out," cf. 2 Sam. 22:27; Ps. 18:16; NIDOTTE, vol. 2, p. 1120). This fits the comment in Exod. 2:10 better.

11Now it came about in those days, when Moses had grown up, that he went out to his brethren and looked on their hard labors; and he saw an Egyptian beating a Hebrew, one of his brethren. 12So he looked this way and that, and when he saw there was no one around, he struck down the Egyptian and hid him in the sand. 13He went out the next day, and behold, two Hebrews were fighting with each other; and he said to the offender, "Why are you striking your companion?" 14But he said, "Who made you a prince or a judge over us? Are you intending to kill me as you killed the Egyptian?" Then Moses was afraid and said, "Surely the matter has become known."

2:11-12 There have been two distinct ways to view Moses' drastic actions.

  1. Jewish commentators see it as positive
  2. Christian commentators (some) see it as negative

One wonders if this was a failed attempt by Moses to help alleviate the pain of his people. This may be reading too much into the motives of Moses. His compassionate act which resulted in the death of an Egyptian caused Moses to flee Egypt and dwell in the desert for 40 years. Was this

  1. divine preparation for his later task (cf. Acts 7:25)
  2. punishment for attempting to accomplish a divine promise in human strength

Moses' actions are affected by

  1. his own feelings of compassion for his people
  2. his feelings of betrayal by a bombastic Hebrew slave
  3. his fear of Pharaoh (Josephus, Antiq. 2.10.11)

2:11 Moses' age is not specified but he is said to be "grown up" (BDB 152). The term is used of

  1. Isaac being weaned in Gen. 21:8
  2. in Gen. 25:27 it is used of young manhood
  3. in Gen. 38:11,14 it means "marriageable age" (probably around 13)
  4. in Stephen's sermon in Acts 7:23, he says Moses was 40 years old at this time
It seems (at least from tradition) that Moses' life can be divided into three forty-year periods.
  1. up to Exod. 2:11 he was part of the royal family of Egypt (i.e., thought he was "somebody")
  2. lived with Jethro in exile until 80 years of age (i.e., Exod. 2:23; 7:7; thought he was a "nobody")
  3. from 80-120 years old he learned what God could do with a "nobody"


▣ "looked on their hard labor" This implies a sense of deep compassion on Moses' part. A feeling so deep he will act to his own ruin.

Notice the different ways this is expressed.
  1. forced labor - Exod. 1:1
  2. hard labor - Exod. 2:11
  3. work - Exod. 5:4,5
  4. yoke - Exod. 6:6,7

2:12 This shows Moses realized he was doing something dangerous to himself! Yet, still he acted (cf. Heb. 11:24-27)!

2:13-14 Moses' compassion is again obvious. However, his previous action was not secret but well known. Someone had seen and told!

15When Pharaoh heard of this matter, he tried to kill Moses. But Moses fled from the presence of Pharaoh and settled in the land of Midian, and he sat down by a well.

2:15 The tension at Pharaoh's court is obvious. Pharaoh was not concerned about the death of a taskmaster or assistant but it gives him an opportunity to remove Moses from his family.

▣ "Midian" This name is used of different people/places in the OT.

  1. a child of Abraham by Keturah sent away to the east (cf. Gen. 25:1-6; 1 Chr. 1:32)
  2. a group of traders associated with the Ishmaelites (cf. Gen. 37:25-36)
  3. some part of the Sinai peninsula where Moses fled (Exodus 2-4; esp. 3:1-2)
  4. somewhere in the southern trans-Jordan area (1 Kgs. 11:18)
  5. in Num. 22:4,7, its leaders are associated with Moab's leaders
  6. enemies of Gideon in Judges (cf. Judges 6-8)
  7. their five kings are listed in Jos. 13:21, which implies a city-state society, like the Philistines in the southern trans-Jordan area south to the eastern Gulf of Aqaba area

16Now the priest of Midian had seven daughters; and they came to draw water and filled the troughs to water their father's flock. 17Then the shepherds came and drove them away, but Moses stood up and helped them and watered their flock. 18When they came to Reuel their father, he said, "Why have you come back so soon today?" 19So they said, "An Egyptian delivered us from the hand of the shepherds, and what is more, he even drew the water for us and watered the flock." 20He said to his daughters, "Where is he then? Why is it that you have left the man behind? Invite him to have something to eat." 21Moses was willing to dwell with the man, and he gave his daughter Zipporah to Moses. 22Then she gave birth to a son, and he named him Gershom, for he said, "I have been a sojourner in a foreign land."

2:16 "the priest of Midian" This man goes by several names/titles in the OT.

  1. Reuel ("friend of El," Exod. 2:18)
  2. Jethro ("pre-eminence," Exod. 3:1; 4:18; 18:2,5,6,9,10,12)
  3. Jether (a variant spelling of Jethro, both appear in Exod. 4:18)
  4. Hobab ("beloved," Num. 10:29; Jdgs. 4:11)

There is a tradition that he is from the Kenites, not the Midianites, Jdgs. 1:16; 4:11.

▣ "seven daughters" One wonders:

  1. did he have no sons
  2. is "seven" a symbolic number (see SPECIAL TOPIC: SYMBOLIC NUMBERS IN SCRIPTURE)
  3. why send all seven to draw water I think the third question has two options.
    1. the herd needed lots of water
    2. the girls were fearful of others needing water (apparently they always had trouble with the local shepherds, cf. Exod. 2:18)

2:17 "Moses stood up" This VERB (BDB 877, KB 1086, Qal IMPERFECT with waw) could mean

  1. he was sitting and now stood to his feet
  2. he took action to stop the shepherds and help the young women
    1. stopped the shepherds' interference
    2. watered the animals himself
      (1) drew the water

      (2) carried it to the troughs

Notice how silent the text is on Moses' exact actions. This is not traditional ANE folklore. Moses is portrayed as the kind of person who tried to help others (cf. Exod. 2:11,17).

2:19 "an Egyptian" Moses dressed and spoke as an Egyptian. These young women did not detect any subtle racial differences between Semites and Egyptians.

NASB, NKJV, TEV, NJB  "he even drew the water"
NKJV  "he drew enough water"
This is an INFINITIVE ABSOLUTE and a PERFECT TENSE VERB from the same root (BDB 194, KB 222), which denotes intensity, or here, fullness of an act. Moses protected them and performed their task.

2:20 This reflects typical ANE hospitality. The immediate welcome turned into a long term relationship.

2:21-22 These verses are a brief summary of a long relationship between Moses and this family (cf. Exod. 2:23). Exodus 3:1 implies a long period of time has elapsed.

2:21 "Zipporah" This term (BDB 862, KB 1047) may denote a type of little bird.

2:22 "Gershon" This name (BDB 177) comes from two Hebrew words, ger sham ("a stranger there," in NASB margin; this word, "stranger," BDB 85 II, occurs in Exod. 12:48). This firstborn son of Moses is listed several times in the OT (cf. Exod. 2:22; 18:3; 1 Chr. 23:15,16; 26:24).

23 Now it came about in the course of those many days that the king of Egypt died. And the sons of Israel sighed because of the bondage, and they cried out; and their cry for help because of their bondage rose up to God. 24So God heard their groaning; and God remembered His covenant with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. 25God saw the sons of Israel, and God took notice of them.

2:23 "the king of Egypt died" I think this would refer to Seti I (1309-1290 B.C.). This is only an educated guess (see Intro. V).

▣ "the sons of Israel sighed because of the bondage, and they cried out" This information is repeated in Exod. 2:25; 3:7,9; Deut. 26:7; also note James 5:4. Their prayer affected God (cf. Exod. 2:24; see SPECIAL TOPIC: INTERCESSORY PRAYER).

2:24 "heard. . .remembered" We are forced to use human terms and categories to describe the God of Israel. We call this anthropomorphic language. See SPECIAL TOPIC: GOD DESCRIBED AS HUMAN. God heard His people cry out (cf. Exod. 3:7,9; 6:5; Deut. 26:7) and He still does!

▣ "God remembered His covenant with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob" God's promises to Abraham (esp. Gen. 15:12-21) are going to be a reality because of

  1. God's character
  2. God's promises
  3. Abraham's act of faith (Gen. 22:16-18)
  4. Israel's prayers
  5. Israel's acts of faith, even mixed with acts of unbelief
This is every believer's hope/trust that YHWH remembers His promises (and forgets our sins).

NASB, NRSV, JPSOA  "took notice of them"
NKJV  "acknowledged them"
LXX, TEV footnote, Moffatt trans.  "he became known to them"
Peshitta  "noticed their oppression"

The MT has "and knew God." The VERB "know" (BDB 393, KB 390, Qal IMPERFECT with waw refer to
  1. God acknowledged their situation (follows an Arabic root).
  2. God revealed Himself to them (by His acts).
  3. God had an intimate love for His covenant people (see SPECIAL TOPIC: KNOW).
  4. The footnote of the Jerusalem Bible (p. 81, K.) suggests the MT is missing the conclusion to the sentence ("and he knew. . ."). The VERB has no OBJECT. The LXX supplies "them."


This is a study guide commentary which means that you are responsible for your own interpretation of the Bible. Each of us must walk in the light we have. You, the Bible, and the Holy Spirit are priority in interpretation. You must not relinquish this to a commentator.

These discussion questions are provided to help you think through the major issues of this section of the book. They are meant to be thought-provoking, not definitive.
  1. Was it a sin for Amram to marry his aunt?
  2. Did Moses' mother plan for Pharaoh's daughter to find the baby or was it an accident?
  3. What does the name "Moses" mean?
  4. Who is Jethro and why is he called by four different names?
  5. Did Moses truly try to deliver his people in his own strength?
  6. Where is Midian?

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