The Book of Exodus

Wednesday: Jochabed’s Decision: Exodus 2:1-10

Exodus 2:1-10 In this week’s lessons, we look at the details of Moses’ birth, and remember that God is providentially directing the events of Moses’ life for His glory, just as He does in ours.
Jochabed’s Decision

There are three places in the Bible where Moses is described as being an extraordinarily beautiful or exceptional child. In Exodus 2:2 he is called “a fine child” in our translation. In Acts 7:20 and Hebrews 11:23 he is called “no ordinary child.” Probably a fair rendition of the three different words that occur in the Bible for Moses would be “exceptional,” “divinely fair,” and “wellborn.” You don’t find that said of other children in the Bible, and that probably means that there really was something significant about Moses in his appearance. His parents, and especially Jochebed, saw that and were hopeful, perhaps believing in faith that this is the one God was going to use to deliver the people.

They did what they could to save him. We’re told in Exodus 2:2 that Jochebed hid their child for three months. She kept him in seclusion. But as a child begins to grow, he develops lungs that are rather substantial. After three months a child’s cries can be rather loud.

Moses’ mother was very well aware of the idea that one day, one of the soldiers of the pharaoh would come by and hear this child, and then take him and throw him into the river. So she did what she could. We’re told that she took this little basket, and covered it with tar and pitch so it wouldn’t leak. Then she put Moses in it, and set it in the reeds by the river. It’s interesting that the word that’s used for that little papyrus basket in Hebrew occurs only one other place in the Bible, and that is as a description for Noah’s ark. So what she did was make a little ark for Moses, and God used that little ark to save Moses (and hence the people), just as He used the big ark to save Noah, his family, and all the animals from the great flood.

Then she put Miriam, Moses’ sister, up on the hillside a little bit away to see what was going to happen. I suggest that the psychology of that is an indication that she really expected God to deliver the baby somehow. She didn’t expect to be able to keep him; she was giving him up. But somehow she didn’t expect him to die. If she expected him to be thrown to the crocodiles in the river by some passerby, she wouldn’t put her daughter there to watch it. So she expected him to be delivered somehow.

This story of Moses in the bulrushes has a somewhat parallel account in the story of another great king of antiquity. His name was Sargon of Akkad, and he ruled much of western Asia during the twenty-fourth century BC. He was the son of a princess and, for one reason or another, she got rid of him and put him by the bulrushes. And then he was found by a poor canal worker whose name was Akki, who raised him as his son. Eventually Sargon became a great king.

Liberal scholars look at the similarity between the two stories and say that the story of Sargon was floating around and was part of the mythology of the ancient Near East. So the Jews picked it up and made it true of Moses who was their great deliverer. But the Akkadian story is essentially the exact opposite of Moses’ story. Moses was born to poor parents and he becomes the son of pharaoh’s daughter. Sargon was the son of the princess and he fell into the hands of the poor. The similarities do not prove any kind of borrowing. All it really says is that this was a convenient way of getting rid of unwanted children in the ancient world, sort of their equivalent of putting the baby on the courthouse steps or dropping them on the door of the church, knowing somebody there would take care of the child. As a matter of fact, the Sargon story tends to anchor the story of Moses in what was apparently a common practice in antiquity. In other words, it adds authenticity to it, rather than taking away from the truth of the story.

God is the God of providence. He’s the God of every circumstance, however great or small. And in this case, God directed the steps of Pharaoh’s daughter down to the Nile, and did it at exactly that time and exactly that place. It’s interesting to speculate on who this princess was. The early church historian Eusebius calls her Merris. The rabbinic tradition calls her Bithiah, and Josephus calls her Thermutis. We don’t have evidence of anybody by those names, and the names do not mean very much. Perhaps we cannot know who this woman actually was.

There is a possibility of knowing, however. If the oppression of the Jews began under the rule of Thutmose I (who was certainly one of the strongest and greatest of the pharaohs), and if it continued under the reign of Thutmose III, whose son, Amenhotep II, would have been the pharaoh of the exodus, then the princess may have been somebody we know very well: a woman named Hatshepsut, who reigned as queen during the minority of Thutmose III. We know a lot about her because she built a great mortuary temple near Thebes today, a magnificent columned building erected against the cliff.

This princess came down to the water, where she saw the little ark. Her slave girls were there, and she sent them to fetch it. When they opened it up there was a child, and the child was crying. Seeing this touched the heart of this woman. And so the God of providence, who had ordered the steps of the princess to the Nile at the very time that Moses was there in the basket (having been placed there by his mother), caused the baby to cry and touch the heart of the woman. And He softened the heart of this high-born lady toward the Hebrew child. Proverbs 21:1 says, “The king’s heart is in the hand of the LORD, and he directs it like a watercourse wherever he pleases.” It’s not only the king’s heart, it’s the king’s daughter’s heart, too. And that’s what He did on this occasion.

Study Questions
  1. From the lesson, by putting Miriam in a location where she could see what would happen to Moses, what suggestion was made about what Jochebed believed would happen?
  2. Compare the two stories of the baby in the bulrushes. Why are liberal scholars wrong to conclude that the similarities show that the Moses story is a piece of mythology?

Reflection: How have you seen the Lord’s providence in your life? How has He directed and provided for you? Praise Him for his goodness, grace, and mercy.

For Further Study: Download for free and listen to Philip Ryken’s message, “The Birth of a Savior.” (Discount will be applied at checkout.)

For Further Study: Order your copy of James Boice’s hardcover book, The Life of Moses, and receive 20% off the regular price.

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