Chapter 2

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The Levite (“man from the house of Levi” or a descendant of Jacob’s son Levi) was Amram. He married Jochebed who also was a descendant of Levi. According to the Hebrew text of Exodus 6:20, Jochebed was the sister of Amram’s father or Amram’s aunt. This may explain the comments in Targum Jonathan. It says that, on account of the decree of Pharaoh, Amram had separated from his wife and when they were again reunited she was 130 years old. By a miracle, she returned to the years of her youth and became pregnant. In the Septuagint, however, Iochabed (Jochebed) is identified as the daughter of the brother of Amram’s father or Amram’s cousin. (2:1)

Upon giving birth to her son, Jochebed saw what a fine or beautiful baby her son was, and she hid him for three months. The Septuagint rendering indicates that both parents recognized the beauty of the baby. When circumstances made it impossible for the baby to remain concealed and thus saved from being tossed into the Nile River to perish, Jochebed constructed a waterproof “ark”or a covered basket, placed her baby in it, and positioned the container among the reeds growing along the banks of the Nile. At a distance from where the basket had been placed, Miriam (the baby’s sister), undoubtedly at her mother’s direction (as Josephus wrote specifically [Antiquities, II, ix, 4]), watched to see what would happen to her baby brother. (2:2-4) Targum Jonathan says that the baby could not be hidden any longer because the Egyptians had become aware of his existence. (See the Notes section.)

Acts 7:20 refers to the baby as “beautiful to God,” which suggests exceptional beauty and may also indicate that this exceptional beauty indicated that he would become God’s special instrument for delivering his people from Egyptian enslavement. In his Antiquities (II, ix, 6), Josephus commented on the three-year-old boy’s beauty when others saw him. They were amazed at seeing the “beauty of his countenance.” Upon seeing him carried along the road, they would turn, stop their labors, and stand still for a great while to look at him. “The beauty of the child was so remarkable and natural to him on many accounts that it detained the spectators and made them stay longer to look upon him.”

Accompanied by her female servants, the daughter of Pharaoh came to the Nile to bathe. Noticing the basket among the reeds, she sent one of her servants to get it. Upon opening it, she saw the crying baby boy and took pity on him, concluding that the infant was one of the children of the Hebrews. (2:5, 6) Josephus wrote that Pharaoh’s daughter was named Thermuthis and that she wanted to keep the infant as her own. She asked her servants to bring her a wet nurse, but the infant refused to suckle the breast of any of the women whom they brought. Miriam approached Pharaoh’s daughter but made sure not to appear as though she had been there on purpose. She is quoted as telling Pharaoh’s daughter, “It is in vain that you, O queen, call for these women to nourish the child, [women] who are in no way related to it, but still, if you would order one of the Hebrew women to be brought, perhaps it may admit the breast of one of its own nation.” (Antiquities, II, ix, 5)

Both the extant Hebrew text and the Septuagint mention that Miriam asked Pharaoh’s daughter whether she should call one of the Hebrew women to nurse the child for her. Miriam was requested to do so, and she brought her mother to Pharaoh’s daughter, who then requested that she function as the wet nurse for the infant and said that she would pay her wages for the service. (2:7-9) Josephus added that the mother was not known to anyone there and that the infant “gladly admitted [her] breast and seemed to stick close to it.” (Antiquities, II, ix, 5)

Probably when her son no longer needed to be nursed, Jochebed brought him to the daughter of Pharaoh. It was the daughter of Pharaoh who then named the child Moses, saying, “For I drew him out of the water.” The Hebrew text appears to link the name Moses to the Hebrew verb mashah (“draw out”). (2:10) This association with mashah, however, may simply be a way to express what the daughter of Pharaoh meant by the name she gave to the infant, for she would not have been a speaker of Hebrew. Josephus indicated that the name Moses is derived from two Egyptian words. He wrote that the word for water that the Egyptians used was mou, (mo), and they called persons who were saved out of water eses. (uses). Josephus then indicated that the combination of the two words was the basis for the name Moses. (Antiquities, II, ix, 6)

In ancient Egypt, women enjoyed many of the same rights as did men, including the right to adopt children. One early case involved a woman named Nau-nakht. She adopted and raised the freed children of her female servant because of the kindness they had shown to her. So there appears to have been nothing extraordinary about the daughter of Pharaoh adopting Moses as her own son. (See the Notes section regarding the comments of Josephus about what Moses did while still a small child.)

The Exodus account makes no mention of any developments in the life of Moses as a member of the household of Pharaoh until circumstances forced him to flee from Egypt. Although there is no reference to the age of Moses when he fled from Egypt, Stephen, a devoted disciple of Jesus Christ, said that Moses was 40 years old. In his defense before the Jewish high court, the Sanhedrin, Stephen also stated that Moses was educated in “all the wisdom of the Egyptians” and was “powerful in his words and works.” (Acts 7:22, 23) What Moses said must have reflected exceptional insight, and his accomplishments must have been significant. (See the Notes section about what was believed in the first century CE about the instruction Moses received and for an example of his impressive deeds.)

Although Moses had been primarily reared in the royal surroundings of Egypt, he did not forget his ties to his fellow Hebrews. When, on one occasion, he left the royal dwelling to see what his “brothers” or fellow descendants of his ancestor Jacob were enduring as persons subjected to bearing burdens, he witnessed an Egyptian taskmaster submitting a Hebrew to violent abuse, and came to the defense of the victim. After looking around to see that no one was in sight, Moses killed the Egyptian who had been beating the Hebrew and then hid the dead body in the sand. (2:11, 12; Acts 7:23, 24) Apparently to justify what he did, Targum Jonathan says that Moses, through the operation of the holy spirit, came to know that there would never come to be a proselyte from the line of the Egyptian abuser, and so he killed him. In his Antiquities (II, xi, 1), Josephus makes no mention of the incident but attributes the flight of Moses to plots that were directed against him. He wrote: When Moses “learned beforehand what plots there were against him, he went away privately; and because the public roads were watched, he took his flight through the deserts and where his enemies could not suspect he would travel.” (See the Notes section.)

In view of his having taken action for his people, Moses thought that they would “understand that, by his hand, God was granting them deliverance, but they did not understand [this].” (Acts 7:25) The next day their failure to recognize a divinely chosen deliverer became apparent. When Moses saw two Hebrews fighting with each other, he tried to effect a reconciliation so that they would be at peace. To the one who wronged his fellow Hebrew, Moses said, “Why do you strike your fellow?” The man responsible for the mistreatment responded angrily and dismissively, “Man, who made you prince and judge over us? Do you mean to kill me like you killed the Egyptian [yesterday (LXX)]?” Upon hearing this angry retort, Moses perceived that his killing of the Egyptian had become known. It was this development that led him to flee from Egypt. Moreover, the report about the slaying of the Egyptian reached Pharaoh, who then determined to kill Moses, prompting him to make his escape. He fled to the land of Midian (probably a region east of the Gulf of ’Aqaba in the northwestern part of Arabia.) Apparently tired from the journey, Moses seated himself by a well in the area. (2:14, 15; see the Notes section.)

While Moses was seated there, the seven daughters of Reuel (Ragouel [LXX]; Ragouelos [Josephus]), the priest of Midian, arrived to draw water from the well to water their father’s flock. The nature of Reuel’s priesthood is not disclosed in the account. Possibly his role was that of a chieftain who led his household in worship. He was also known as Jethro (Iothor [LXX]; Ietheglaios [Josephus], 3:1) and Jether (Iothor [LXX], 4:18) This could mean that he had several names or that his personal name was Reuel and that the designation Jethro (Jether) functioned as his title. (2:16)

As Reuel’s daughters were in the process of watering the sheep, shepherds arrived and drove them away. Moses stood up and came to the aid of the women, helping them to water their flock. Josephus expands on the reason Moses came to their assistance. “Thinking it would be a terrible reproach on him if he overlooked the young women under unjust oppression and should permit the violence of the men to prevail over the right of the maidens, he drove away the men” who wanted more than their share of the water. (Antiquities, II, xi, 2) Aware of what his daughters usually faced at the well, Reuel asked them how it happened that they had returned so quickly. They explained that an Egyptian had delivered them from the “hand” or power of the shepherds and had watered the flock for them. Likely the daughters assumed that Moses was an Egyptian on the basis of his appearance and attire, for they did not know that he was a Hebrew. After asking where the man who had helped them was and why they had left him standing, Reuel asked his daughters to invite him for a meal. (2:17-20)

Josephus (Antiquities, II, xi, 2) represents Reuel’s invitation for Moses to come as having been prompted by the daughters. They entreated their father that “he would not let this generous action be done in vain, nor go without a reward. Now the father took it well from his daughters that they were so desirous to reward their benefactor and asked them to bring Moses into his presence that he might be rewarded as he deserved.”

Moses was willing to stay with Reuel, and he gave him his daughter Zipporah (Sepphora [LXX]) to be his wife. She became pregnant and gave birth to a son whom Moses named Gershom (Gersam [LXX]). This name indicted that Moses found himself as a resident alien in a foreign land. Gershom is linked to the Hebrew expression ger sham, which may be translated a “resident alien there.” (2:21, 22)

After a long time had passed, the Pharaoh who sought to kill Moses died, but this brought no relief from oppression for the descendants of Jacob (the “sons of Israel”). They cried out to God for his help, and he “heard their groaning” and “remembered his covenant with Abraham, with Isaac, and with Jacob.” God took note of the mistreatment they were enduring and he remembered or purposed to take action in harmony with the covenant he had concluded with their ancestors. He “saw” what the people of Israel were experiencing and he “knew” or was fully aware of their plight and took notice of it. According to the Septuagint, “God looked upon the sons of Israel and made himself known to them.” (2:23-25)


In his Antiquities (II, ix, 2-7), Josephus added numerous details about the early life of Moses but did not identify the sources on which he based his comments. Whereas the Hebrew text and the Septuagint focus on what Jochebed did, Josephus wrote much more about Amram her husband. While Jochebed was pregnant, Amram was fearful about what would happen to the nation on account of Pharaoh’s decree for the baby boys to be killed and the resultant future lack of young men. Not knowing what to do, he prayed. In answer to his prayer, God revealed the following to him: “I shall provide for you all in common what is for your good, and particularly for yourself what shall make you famous; for that child, out of dread of whose nativity the Egyptians have doomed the Israelite children to destruction, shall be this child of yours and shall be concealed from those who watch to destroy him. [See the Note section for chapter 1.) … When he is brought up in a surprising way, he will deliver the Hebrew nation from the distress they are under from the Egyptians.” (Antiquities, II, ix, 3)

After having successfully hidden and cared for the infant in their home, Amram feared that he would be discovered and incur Pharaoh’s displeasure, leading to his own death and that of his son and jeopardizing the fulfillment of God’s promise. Therefore, he determined to entrust the “safety and care of the child to God” and not “to depend on his own concealment of him.” Amram “believed that God” would see to the safety of the child so that the “truth of his own predictions” would be secure. Both he and his wife participated in constructing a waterproof ark, laid their son inside it, and set it afloat on the Nile River, leaving “its preservation to God.” (Antiquities, II, ix, 4)

Pharaoh’s daughter adopted Moses, for she had no child of her own. She thought of her adopted son as her father’s successor to the throne. Josephus quoted her as telling her father the following on one occasion: “I have brought up a child who is of divine form and of a generous mind. As I have received him from the bounty of the river in a wonderful manner, I thought proper to adopt him for my son and the heir of your kingdom.” She then placed the infant in her father’s hands, and he embraced him close to his breast. On account of his daughter, he put his diadem on the boy’s head. “Moses threw it down to the ground” and “trampled upon it with his feet.” The scribe who had foretold that one of the Hebrew children to be born “would bring the Egyptian dominion low” recognized, by what Moses did, that he was this child and, therefore, urged that he be killed. Pharaoh’s daughter snatched the boy away and prevented him from being slain. (Antiquities, II, ix, 7)

The comments of the Jewish philosopher Philo provide some insight regarding what was believed in the first century CE regarding the kind of instruction Moses received. “His mother [Jochebed], who was also his nurse, came to bring him back to the princess who had given him to her, inasmuch as he no longer required to be fed on milk, and as he was now a fine and noble child to look upon. And when the king’s daughter saw that he was more perfect than could have been expected at his age, and when from his appearance she conceived greater good will than ever towards him, she adopted him as her son.”

“The child being now thought worthy of a royal education and a royal attendance, was not, like a mere child, long delighted with toys and objects of laughter and amusement, even though those who had undertaken the care of him allowed him holidays and times for relaxation, and never behaved in any stern or morose way to him; but he himself exhibited a modest and dignified deportment in all his words and gestures, attending diligently to every lesson of every kind which could tend to the improvement of his mind. And immediately he had all kinds of masters, one after another, some coming of their own accord from the neighboring countries and the different districts of Egypt, and some being even procured from Greece by the temptation of large presents. But in a short time he surpassed all their knowledge, anticipating all their lessons by the excellent natural endowments of his own genius; so that everything in his case appeared to be a recollecting rather than a learning, while he himself also, without any teacher, comprehended by his instinctive genius many difficult subjects; for great abilities cut out for themselves many new roads to knowledge.

“And just as vigorous and healthy bodies which are active and quick in motion in all their parts, release their trainers from much care, giving them little or no trouble and anxiety, and as trees which are of a good sort, and which have a natural good growth, give no trouble to their cultivators, but grow finely and improve of themselves, so in the same manner the well-disposed soul, going forward to meet the lessons which are imparted to it, is improved in reality by itself rather than by its teachers, and taking hold of some beginning or principle of knowledge, bounds, as the proverb has it, like a horse over the plain. Accordingly he speedily learned arithmetic, and geometry, and the whole science of rhythm and harmony and meter, and the whole of music, by means of the use of musical instruments, and by lectures on the different arts, and by explanations of each topic; and lessons on these subjects were given him by Egyptian philosophers, who also taught him the philosophy which is contained in symbols, which they exhibit in those sacred characters of hieroglyphics, as they are called, and also that philosophy which is conversant about that respect which they pay to animals which they invest with the honors due to God.

“And all the other branches of the encyclical education he learned from Greeks; and the philosophers from the adjacent countries taught him Assyrian literature and the knowledge of the heavenly bodies so much studied by the Chaldaeans. And this knowledge he derived also from the Egyptians, who study mathematics above all things, and he learned with great accuracy the state of that art among both the Chaldaeans and Egyptians, making himself acquainted with the points in which they agree with and differ from each other — making himself master of all their disputes without encouraging any disputatious disposition in himself — but seeking the plain truth, since his mind was unable to admit any falsehood, as those are accustomed to do who contend violently for one particular side of a question; and who advocate any doctrine which is set before them, whatever it may be, not inquiring whether it deserves to be supported, but acting in the same manner as those lawyers who defend a cause for pay, and are wholly indifferent to the justice of their cause.” (On the Life of Moses, I, v, 18-24)

According to Josephus (Antiquities, II, x, 1, 2), Moses was a mature man when the Ethiopians invaded Egypt and succeeded in conquering many of the cities. On account of an oracle, Moses was appointed as the general to deal with this serious military threat. In command of the Egyptian forces, Moses defeated the Ethiopians, “deprived them of the hopes they had of success against the Egyptians, and went on to overthrow their cities.”

Among the Romans, a man’s coming to the defense of a severely mistreated slave and killing the cruel taskmaster would have been regarded very unfavorably. Possibly, therefore, Josephus chose to omit the reference to what Moses did for his abused fellow Hebrew. (2:11, 12)

In the Septuagint, the wording of the angry response to Moses in Exodus 2:14 is the same as that in Acts 7:27, 28.