Monday: Moses’ Early Education: Exodus 2:11-25

Sermon: Doing the Wrong Thing in the Wrong Way

Scripture: Exodus 2:11-25

In this week’s lessons, we look at Moses’ early failure, but see that God still used Moses to achieve His divine purposes for His people.

Theme: Moses’ Early Education

Between Exodus 2:10 and 2:11 there is a gap of approximately forty years. Now we don’t know that from Exodus. Exodus only tells us that Moses was about 80 years old when he appeared before Pharaoh. But in Acts 7, in that great speech of Stephen before those who actually condemned him to death and killed him, he said that Moses was about forty years old when he decided to visit his fellow Israelites and witnessed one them being mistreated by an Egyptian.

Stephen says something else about Moses. He says that by the time he was forty, he had already been educated in all of the wisdom of the Egyptians. Now there is a lot of tradition that’s available about these early years of Moses. We are not told anything in Exodus about his training, but we do learn something from the Egyptian historian Manetho, the Jewish historian Josephus, and Eusebius, a historian of the early church. Now nothing that they have to say is scriptural, and therefore we don’t regard it as authoritative or inerrant. But presumably it captures something of what happened, since they were far closer to the events of the time than we are. According to tradition, Moses was educated at Heliopolis. That is where many thousands of the youth of the nobility were educated, not only of Egypt but also from other nations. This enabled them to maintain ties with their neighbors. It is interesting to note that when Joseph was in Egypt, we went on to marry a woman named Asenath, who was the daughter of Potiphera, a priest at Heliopolis. So at least Joseph had a connection with the city, and it certainly is reasonable to conclude that Moses did as well.

What did Moses do as he was growing up? Like children today, Egyptian children made toys. And in those days, they apparently made them out of sticks and stones, and made little figures out of mud. Some of these homemade toys have been found. The wealthier families actually provided toys for their children, which was a luxury because they were made by hand and would be expensive. We’ve found some of them, too. There is, for example, a toy that has a little row of dwarfs on a stick, and they jump up and down when you pulled a string. Young Egyptian children were taught to swim, and it was also very important to ride horses, shoot a bow, and hunt. All of that would have been Moses’ experience. 

Moses’ formal training would have begun at a very early age. The Egyptians were well along in writing and mathematics. Their mathematics includes geometry, trigonometry and the ability to measure and lay out land. They studied history, medicine, music, as well as the art of military combat and war. They seem to have known how to use various mechanical devices, such as the wedge, the lever and the inclined plane. They also had blowpipes, bellows, siphons, and other instruments. They made objects out of bronze, and later, after the Hyksos period, they used iron. They had musical instruments, too, and there are pictures in the tombs which show slave girls presumably performing on harps, lyres, tambourines, flutes, and cymbals. 

Moses undoubtedly knew how to read and write in hieroglyphs. He would have known Akkadian, too, which was the trade language of that period. Of course, he knew Hebrew. He would have learned that from his mother in his home. So he really was a linguist! It’s not surprising, therefore, to realize that he spent a great deal of the forty years in the wilderness writing the books that we know as the Pentateuch, the first five books of the Bible. 

Moses must have been taught about law—Egyptian law, of course, but also the laws of other nations. One of the most famous law codes of the day was the Law Code of Hammurabi of Babylon. It’s set up in a treaty structure. The king enters into an agreement with the people and he is going to protect them, and they agree to obey his laws. The scholars point out that the Old Testament laws, particularly the Ten Commandments, are based more or less on that same kind of treaty formulation. The people have to obey God and do what He says because He is the God that brought them out of Egypt. And so you see some parallels between these earlier law codes and how the Mosaic law is presented.

Moses was also mighty in speech and action, as Stephen says in Acts 7. Josephus says that Moses was a military commander, which is not surprising since a high-born Egyptian son would be expected to fight in wars. Josephus also tells us that he captured the cities of Hermopolis and Saba. It would certainly explain Moses’ role as the general over Joshua during the battles that they sometimes faced in the wilderness. 

Moses’ educational background was important, and God gave that to prepare him for the work He had for Moses. Yet it was overshadowed by the education he received in his early years in his home from his slave mother. She taught him about God. We already saw that this was a godly family, and apparently for several generations.

What would she have taught him? Well she would certainly have taught him about his miraculous deliverance by the hand of God when Pharaoh was killing all the Egyptian boys. She would have taught him, in other words, the sovereignty of God and providence. She would have taught him about the patriarchs Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and God’s revelation to them, and the promises that God had made to His people. Here was a believing mother who knew that those were part of the traditions of the people, things that God had given, and she would have passed that on. Maybe she even indicated to him her hope that, because the four hundred years were nearly over, that this was the time God was going to deliver His people, and perhaps Moses was the one.

Study Questions:

  1. In what subjects or areas would Moses have been educated or informally instructed? How does any of that prepare him for the work God will later give him to do?
  2. What more important instruction did he receive at home before living in Pharaoh’s palace?

For Further Study: Download and listen for free to Philip Ryken’s message, “Moses Takes Matters into His Hand.” (Discount will be applied at checkout.)

Think and Act Biblically from James Boice is a devotional of the Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals. It is supported only by its readers and gracious Christians like you. Please prayerfully consider supporting Think and Act Biblically and the mission of the Alliance.