Birth and Adoption of Moses. 1Now a man* of the house of Levi married a Levite woman,a 2and the woman conceived and bore a son. Seeing what a fine child he was, she hid him for three months.b 3But when she could no longer hide him, she took a papyrus basket,* daubed it with bitumen and pitch, and putting the child in it, placed it among the reeds on the bank of the Nile. 4His sister stationed herself at a distance to find out what would happen to him.
5Then Pharaoh’s daughter came down to bathe at the Nile, while her attendants walked along the bank of the Nile. Noticing the basket among the reeds, she sent her handmaid to fetch it. 6On opening it, she looked, and there was a baby boy crying! She was moved with pity for him and said, “It is one of the Hebrews’ children.” 7Then his sister asked Pharaoh’s daughter, “Shall I go and summon a Hebrew woman to nurse the child for you?” 8Pharaoh’s daughter answered her, “Go.” So the young woman went and called the child’s own mother. 9Pharaoh’s daughter said to her, “Take this child and nurse him for me, and I will pay your wages.”* So the woman took the child and nursed him. 10When the child grew,* she brought him to Pharaoh’s daughter, and he became her son.c She named him Moses; for she said, “I drew him out of the water.”
Moses’ Flight to Midian. 11d On one occasion, after Moses had grown up,* when he had gone out to his kinsmen and witnessed their forced labor, he saw an Egyptian striking a Hebrew, one of his own kinsmen. 12Looking about and seeing no one, he struck down the Egyptian and hid him in the sand. 13The next day he went out again, and now two Hebrews were fighting! So he asked the culprit, “Why are you striking your companion?” 14But he replied, “Who has appointed you ruler and judge over us? Are you thinking of killing me as you killed the Egyptian?” Then Moses became afraid and thought, “The affair must certainly be known.” 15When Pharaoh heard of the affair, he sought to kill Moses. But Moses fled from Pharaoh and went to the land of Midian.* e There he sat down by a well.
16Now the priest of Midian had seven daughters, and they came to draw water and fill the troughs to water their father’s flock. 17But shepherds came and drove them away. So Moses rose up in their defense and watered their flock. 18When they returned to their father Reuel,* he said to them, “How is it you have returned so soon today?” 19They answered, “An Egyptian* delivered us from the shepherds. He even drew water for us and watered the flock!” 20“Where is he?” he asked his daughters. “Why did you leave the man there? Invite him to have something to eat.” 21Moses agreed to stay with him, and the man gave Moses his daughter Zipporah in marriage. 22She conceived and bore a son, whom he named Gershom;* for he said, “I am a stranger residing in a foreign land.”f
II. THE CALL AND COMMISSION OF MOSES
The Burning Bush. 23A long time passed, during which the king of Egypt died. The Israelites groaned under their bondage and cried out, and from their bondage their cry for help went up to God.g 24God heard their moaning and God was mindful of his covenanth with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. 25God saw the Israelites, and God knew….*
* [2:3] Basket: the same Hebrew word is used in Gn 6:14 and throughout the flood narrative for Noah’s ark, but nowhere else in the Bible. Here, however, the “ark” or “chest” was made of papyrus stalks. Presumably the allusion to Genesis is intentional. Just as Noah and his family were preserved safe from the threatening waters of the flood in the ark he built, so now Moses is preserved from the threatening waters of the Nile in the ark prepared by his mother. Among the reeds: the Hebrew noun for “reed” is overwhelmingly used in the phrase “Reed Sea,” traditionally translated “Red Sea.”
* [2:9] And I will pay your wages: the idea that the child’s mother will be paid for nursing her child—and by Pharaoh’s own daughter—heightens the narrative’s irony.
* [2:10] When the child grew: while v. 9 implies that the boy’s mother cared for him as long as he needed to be nursed (presumably, between two and four years), the same verb appears in v. 11 to describe the attainment of adulthood. And he became her son: Pharaoh’s daughter adopts Moses, thus adding to the irony of the account. The king of Egypt had ordered the killing of all the sons of the Hebrews, and one now becomes the son of his own daughter! Moses: in Hebrew, mosheh. There is a play on words here: Hebrew mosheh echoes meshithihu (“I drew him out”). However, the name Moses actually has nothing to do with that Hebrew verb, but is probably derived from Egyptian “beloved” or “has been born,” preserved in such Pharaonic names as Thutmoses (meaning approximately “Beloved of the god Thoth” or “The god Thoth is born, has given birth to [the child]”). The original meaning of Moses’ name was no longer remembered (if it was Egyptian, it may have contained an Egyptian divine element as well, perhaps the name of the Nile god Hapi), and a secondary explanation was derived from this story (or gave rise to it, if the drawing from the water of the Nile was intended to foreshadow the Israelites’ escape from Egypt through the Red Sea).
* [2:11] After Moses had grown up: cf. 7:7, where Moses is said to be eighty years old at the time of his mission to Pharaoh. Striking: probably in the sense of “flogging”; in v. 12, however, the same verb is used in the sense of “killing.”
* [2:15] Land of Midian: the territory under the control of a confederation made up, according to Nm 31:8, of five Midianite tribes. According to Gn 25:1–2, Midian was a son of Abraham by Keturah. In view of the extreme hostility in later periods between Israel and Midian (cf. Nm 31; Jgs 6–8), the relationship is striking, as is the account here in Exodus of good relations between Moses and no less than a Midianite priest.
* [2:19] An Egyptian: Moses was probably wearing Egyptian dress, or spoke Egyptian to Reuel’s daughters.
* [2:22] Gershom: the name is explained unscientifically as if it came from the Hebrew word ger, “sojourner, resident alien,” and the Hebrew word sham, “there.” Stranger residing: Hebrew ger, one who seeks and finds shelter and a home away from his or her own people or land.
* [2:25] God knew: in response to the people’s cry, God, mindful of the covenant, looks on their plight and acknowledges firsthand the depth of their suffering (see 3:7). In vv. 23–25, traditionally attributed to the Priestly writer, God is mentioned five times, in contrast to the rest of chaps. 1–2, where God is rarely mentioned. These verses serve as a fitting transition to Moses’ call in chap. 3.