Exodus 2-4: The Birth and Call of Moses

Welcome back! This is part two of Exodus and will be discussing the birth and call of Moses.

Overview: Moses is born. His mother puts him in a basket and sends him down the river in hopes that this will save him and it does. The pharaoh’s daughter finds him and decides to be his new mom. Moses has to leave the palace and ends up with a family outside of Egypt and then is visited by God.

Of course, that’s just the short version, let’s take a look at some details!


Chapter two

You might recall from part one that Pharaoh has commanded all of his people to throw Hebrew baby boys into the Nile. The order was apparently followed well enough for at least one Levite mother to be worried about the birth of her new son, though not so much that it precluded the Pharaoh’s own daughter from disobeying it. When she plucked a Hebrew boy child out of the water of a river, she felt no need to drown him or leave him to die there. She even arranged for him to be nursed and kept healthy. She probably didn’t know she was paying the child’s birth mother to do this, but it appears to have worked out for everyone.

There is a mention in one of the commentaries of the bravery of the sister, so far unnamed, to just walk up to the pharaoh’s daughter and start the conversation that leads to this arrangement, but it doesn’t say that she needed to be worried or that anyone moved against her, so I’m not so sure. It would improve the “story” for this to be true and a little more historical context would be nice, but I don’t really have that for this. Both of my main commentaries diverge here into separate crazy places where Stanton focuses solely on that none of these women are named and Wesley goes on poetically about how it is just when the cruelty of the oppressors reaches the height of killing babies that their eventual liberator is born and some other stuff. He seems to want it more than it is written.

However this moment came to be, the sister just walks up and talks to the pharaoh’s daughter and offers to have the boy looked after. From here there is a significant time jump and the next paragraph begins:

One day, when Moses had grown up, he went out to his people and looked on their burdens, and he saw an Egyptian beating a Hebrew, one of his people.

From this we can guess that Moses knew he was “adopted”. He knew that the Hebrews were his people. We also know that he had been returned to the pharaoh’s daughter for him to “become her son” as some point as well, so we can guess that he had lived among the royals as one. It leaves me to wonder how often Moses had done this. Had he gone out and looked before or did he just then realize he should?

It can be easy, when living in any form of privilege, to ignore the plight of those who don’t have it. It can be easy to assume that it’s not so bad. Privilege is funny like that, it makes lesser privileges almost entirely invisible and greater privileges shine brighter every time we look on them. Moses may or may not have gone out before, but it was this time that a significant thing happened.

He kills an Egyptian who is beating a Hebrew and then just buries the body and hopes that no one would find out. This doesn’t work out for him, as it never seems to work out for anyone. Eventually the cat gets out of the bag, and Moses flees for his life. He meets up with the priest of Midian after having saved his daughters from some shepherds who came and attempted to oust them from the watering hole. Interestingly, they all assume that he is Egyptian at first. It doesn’t seem outside of reason to assume that he was dressed like one since he was raised among them rather than his own people.

He marries the priest’s daughter, Zipporah, and they have a son.


Chapter three

Here comes the famous burning bush. My husband, who has been helping in my reading and research, calls this Moses’ “hold my beer” moment because he kinda throws caution to the wind when he saw it. Neither of us had seen before that the burning bush was actually quite far from Moses and that he saw it and was curious about it before it ever spoke. It was when he decided to check out this curious site that the Lord spoke to him. What would have happened if he had seen this sight and just kept going? Or was more afraid than curious? It was when God “saw that he turned aside” as in went to check it out, that God revealed Himself in the bush. For some reason, I had always thought it was right next to him and not that he had to go see what was going on over there.

The conversation that ensues begins with God introducing Himself and telling Moses that He knows what’s going on over in Egypt. I recall from Genesis* that God likes to go check things out too, or at least send some angels when He doesn’t go Himself. This implies that God may have done just that at some point before speaking to Moses on it. He then tells Moses to get over there and liberate his people from pharaoh. But, of course, it’s never so easy with people and Moses pushes back, insisting that he is not the right person for this. The question has consistently been different versions of the same question. “Who am I to get this done?”

I like the way God is just like, you’re the one I’m talking to. He again presents the truth as that it is not the person who God chooses that gets it done, so it doesn’t matter how little you think yourself able to do it. God will get it done through you, chill out. He does go on to be pretty specific about what He wants Moses to say but then cryptic about what these “wonders” are going to be that’ll convince the new pharaoh to let all his free labor go. At the same time, the Hebrews weren’t enslaved for financial gain, they were enslaved so as to diminish their number and keep them from being seen as a possible ally to any surrounding nations. Freeing them ruins this just as much, because its obvious that the old pharaoh’s plan didn’t work and there are plenty of adult males who should have died as children were his order to throw all baby boys in the river been adhered to and persisted. God even tells Moses that He knows it’ll be hard:

But I know that the king of Egypt will not let you go without being compelled by a mighty hand.

The other interesting thing that is still in chapter three is that God says:

you shall not go empty, but each woman shall ask of her neighbor, and any woman who lives in her house, for silver and gold jewelery, for clothing. You shall put them on your sons and on your daughters. So you shall plunder the Egyptians.

It’s the “ask of her neighbor” part that I’d like to focus on for a minute here. Neighbor? The Egyptians are their taskmasters. They are the slavers. Why would God call them neighbors? Why would non-Hebrews live in their houses? Yet again, there are no great answers for this. Some assume that there was some intermixing based on this and that the decree in chapter one supposes that Egyptians would see infant Hebrew boys, but there wasn’t anything conclusive on it that I came across.

Also, asking and plundering aren’t exactly synonyms. When I looked at some parallel translations and the Strong’s concordance, I did find that both words can also be translated to be “deliver” and that several translations say that they would “strip Egypt of their wealth” instead of plunder. It may seem like semantics on the one hand, but let us not forget the importance of words and meaning. This is the method by which the Hebrews will cause the Egyptians to be not so rich, which is not the same as simply plundering them. I have my doubts as to the placidity of the request rather than an insistence, as well. Perhaps the Hebrew women are to insist that they be compensated and therefore the Egyptians will be less wealthy than before. This makes more sense, but could just as easily be me rationalizing what I want it to say. Let me know what you think of it!

I’m also not thrilled with this wealth taking being done exclusively by women at this point, but perhaps the men are being saved for something else. Let us get into chapter four and see!


Chapter four

The conversation continues into this chapter with Moses flat out asking God to send someone else. There’s a little more back and forth before he agrees to just do it with the help of his brother Aaron. There are two disturbing things that happen after this.

First, God lets Moses in on that he will “harden” pharaoh’s heart so that he won’t let the people go at first. I have heard this one before and it’s so messed up. It’s one thing to know who someone is in their heart and know what they will do, but it’s entirely different to intentionally make them a worse person than they are. Is he going to get punished for things done with this hardened heart? It doesn’t make sense to me and doesn’t feel consistent with chapter three’s assertion that it will take a mighty hand for pharaoh to relent. This would be God making it so that it takes a mighty hand.There is an alternate explanation that I found, which still affords the pharaoh free will but I leave it to you to see what you think about it. Here it is.

Second, God comes to kill Moses over his son not being circumcised? If He had that big a problem with it, why not just ask someone else in the first place? Or how about telling Moses to get it done before he goes to save the Hebrew nation from the Egyptians? Why must it be on Zipporah to intuit that God is coming to kill Moses because his son wasn’t circumsized and get the job done herself? And what’s with touching the foreskin to Moses’ feet? Gross and confusing.

After that, Moses meets up with Aaron after he was called and they go together to see the Hebrews where Aaron does all the talking anyway. I’ve gotta admit, this chapter has been the weirdest one I’ve read so far.

So there are my feelings and impressions on the first chapter of Exodus. Have you read it? What do you think?


Chapter links go to the ESV translations at Biblehub.com but I’m reading from the ESV Global Study Bible, which is available for free on the Kindle Reading App.

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