Text: Exodus 2:1-10
And a man of the house of Levi went and took as wife a daughter of Levi. So the woman conceived and bore a son. And when she saw that he was a beautiful child, she hid him three months. But when she could no longer hide him, she took an ark of bulrushes for him, daubed it with asphalt and pitch, put the child in it, and laid it in the reeds by the river’s bank. And his sister stood afar off, to know what would be done to him.
Then the daughter of Pharaoh came down to bathe at the river. And her maidens walked along the riverside; and when she saw the ark among the reeds, she sent her maid to get it. And when she opened it, she saw the child, and behold, the baby wept. So she had compassion on him, and said, “This is one of the Hebrews’ children.”
Then his sister said to Pharaoh’s daughter, “Shall I go and call a nurse for you from the Hebrew women, that she may nurse the child for you?” And Pharaoh’s daughter said to her, “Go.” So the maiden went and called the child’s mother. Then Pharaoh’s daughter said to her, “Take this child away and nurse him for me, and I will give you your wages.” So the woman took the child and nursed him. And the child grew, and she brought him to Pharaoh’s daughter, and he became her son. So she called his name Moses, saying, “Because I drew him out of the water.”
Do you believe in coincidences? What do you think about things that just seem to “line up” just right? Consider a few of the more incredible coincidences from American history. Many people know that both Thomas Jefferson and John Adams died on the same day, and that it was a July 4th. That’s pretty neat all on its own. But did you know that James Monroe also died on a July 4th? James Madison died five years later, in late June. His doctors offered to give him extra stimulants to keep him alive until July 4th. He declined.
Things get weirder. John Wilkes Booth’s brother Edwin Booth once saved the life of Abraham Lincoln’s oldest son Robert. For his part, Robert Lincoln went on to be present at two later presidential assassinations, those of James Garfield and of William McKinley. Robert Lincoln joked, “there is a certain fatality about the presidential function when I am present.”
Things like this cause most people to wonder if there’s not some higher power orchestrating it all. Now, with ordinary world events, we aren’t given special guidance to understand them. But with the Bible, we are given special guidance. The Bible comments upon itself, and many verses explain the deeper meaning. Even when they don’t explicitly tell us, they often paint the picture clear enough that we can understand the deeper points, especially as we compare them with the theme of the story. Thus, we do not believe there are any coincidences in the Bible everything happens exactly as it should, and everything happens to show us about God.
Consider the coincidences in our text today. Pharaoh has ordered the death of the Hebrew boys. Thus Moses’ mother has to give him away. She places him in the Nile, the very river that he would have been drowned in had Pharaoh gotten to him. And who finds him? Why, it’s Pharaoh’s daughter! And she adopts Moses! He become Pharaoh’s son.
This morning we will see that there are no coincidences when it comes to God’s salvation. God has placed every bit of this story where it needs to be, and He has even foreshadowed our own deliverance. Even Moses’ name tells the story. It means “drawn out.” Moses, the boy drawn out of the water, will go on to draw Israel out of the water. So too, Jesus will draw us out and into our eternal salvation. This morning, let’s see how God puts it all into place for our sake.
Into the Water: Moses’ Mother
Exodus 2 begins with Moses parents. They are both descendants of Levi (vs. 1). Moses is described as “beautiful” at birth. The word is actually simply tov or “good.” It doesn’t mean that Moses is such a pretty boy. Instead it’s supposed to make us think of God’s evaluation of creation. “She saw that he was good.”
Moses’ mother keeps him secret as long as she can, but as he gets older, his crying is louder and more vigorous. In desperation she comes up with a plan. She makes an “ark,” which is to say a box-like boat, and she places him in the river. This word for “ark” is only used in one other place, the story of Noah and the flood, and so we are expected to make that connection. Moses’ mother is not trying to kill him. She is trying to save him. And in this event, we are given a sort of picture of miraculous divine deliverance.
Notice also the way she puts the ark in the river. She sets it among the reeds and “by the river’s bank” (vs. 3). She has made it as waterproof as possible. And she sets Moses’ sister out to watch. She’s trying to save Moses’ life, and apparently has some sort of plan.
Out of the Water: Pharaoh’s Daughter
Then, what do you know, it just so happens that Pharaoh’s daughter comes here to bathe!
It was not unusual, in ancient Egypt, for the daughter of the king to bathe in the river. In fact, this would have been somewhat predictable, especially considering the fact that she would be accompanied by an official court, as she is here. We are supposed to understand, then, that Moses’ mother knew this ahead of time. She wanted this to happen.
Pharaoh’s daughter sees the ark, opens it, discovers that it’s a baby, and she has compassion on it (vs. 6). She knows it’s a Hebrew baby. This is because Hebrew baby boys had an obvious physical marker. Incredibly, Pharaoh’s daughter does not turn the baby in to be killed but instead plans to take care of him. And right away, Miriam springs into action, “Shall I go and call a nurse for you from the Hebrew women, that she may nurse the child for you?” (vs. 7).
This is also rather incredible. Miriam speaks to Egyptian royalty! It would have taken courage, no matter what, but she has enough to make a rather ingenious pitch, “Can I find a Hebrew lady to help take care of this baby?” Of course, she goes and gets the actual mother! And what does Pharaoh’s daughter say about all of this? Why, she finances it! “Take this child away and nurse him for me, and I will give you your wages” (vs. 9).
Moses was weaned by his actual birthmother and raised by a Hebrew until he was old enough to be adopted and educated as an Egyptian. Moses knew he was a Hebrew the whole time and lived something of a “double life” from an early age. Then “the child grew, and she brought him to Pharaoh’s daughter, and he became her son” (vs. 10).
Again, let’s take all of this in. What amazing ironies. What incredible coincidences. The daughter of the man who would have killed Moses by throwing him into the Nile discovers Moses in the Nile and adopts him as her own son. Moses becomes a son of Pharaoh! And yet, at the same time, Moses also retains a connection with his birth family, as both his mother and sister play a pivotal role in his earliest years.
Are these really coincidences? Hardly. We know that God has placed all of these people in these places. He has ordained it all to work just as it does. Moses’ mother had to trust God’s sovereignty to attempt her plan. That’s why Hebrews calls it an act of faith. “By faith Moses, when he was born, was hidden three months by his parents, because they saw he was a beautiful child; and they were not afraid of the king’s command” (Heb. 11:23). This is the kind of fait that the majority of Israel notably lacks during the Exodus story. It is the kind of faith we are called to have, but which we often struggle to maintain, especially when hardships befall us. When that happens, remember all of these divine coincidences. Let them strengthen your own faith today. There are no coincidences. God is behind all of this. Every bit of it.
As we have seen, this passage of Exodus is full of literary devices. There are the ironic parallels. There’s the role of the Nile River, what was meant to kill Moses became a means of saving him. And then there’s his name. Names almost always have deep significant in the bible, but on this occasion we are directly told so. “So she called his name Moses, saying, ‘Because I drew him out of the water’” (vs. 10). Moses’ own name refers to a sort of deliverance.
There’s an added layer here. Commentators all point out that the name “Moses” literally means “to draw out.” It’s in the active voice. But Moses was not the one who did the drawing out. Pharaoh’s daughter explains it as Moses being the one drawn out. Well, so what? There’s a double meaning here. The one who was drawn out will be the one who draws out.
What’s more, he will draw Israel out of Egypt, and he will do so by means of water, through the Red Sea. The original means of Israel’s destruction again becomes a means of their salvation. In fact, the water will end up killing Egypt instead!
This shows us how God works. It’s a prediction of the very nature of salvation.
Isaiah 63 makes exactly this sort of play on Moses name. Turn there in your bibles if you can. Starting in vs. 11, we read:
God remembered the days of old,
Moses and his people, saying:
“Where is He who brought them up out of the sea
With the shepherd of His flock?
Where is He who put His Holy Spirit within them,
Who led them by the right hand of Moses,
With His glorious arm,
Dividing the water before them
To make for Himself an everlasting name,
Who led them through the deep,
As a horse in the wilderness,
That they might not stumble?” (Is. 63:11-13)
The overall idea is plain. God saved His people through Moses, and He did so by drawing them out of the sea, dividing the water before them. God drew out the drawn-out one, and then He used that drawn-out one to draw out His people. God ordained and used the means which would deliver Israel from Egypt, and He did this from the very beginning.
All of these very interesting parallels, double meanings, and ironies have lead non-believing critics to say that the Exodus story is clearly a literary product. It’s an epic tale, not terribly different from other near-Eastern legends and Greek myths. Everything fits perfectly, right down to Moses’ name. But for those of who believe that the Bible is the Word of God, that “all scriptures are breathed-out by God” (2 Tim. 3:16), this not an option. Additionally, both Jesus and Paul assume that the Exodus story if real history and a trustworthy account. So what does that leave us?
It leaves us with the belief that it is indeed a story but a story whose author is God. In fact, God is writing His story in real life. He places His characters exactly where they need to be, and he uses older character to teach later characters how to read the story. This story continues even today, and those of us reading it now are actually living in it.
When we read Exodus, we do read it as history. But we read it as history in the great divine story, and we understand that if we leave out the literary connections, we are reading it incorrectly. God wants us to see how the deliverer is himself delivered and how the waters transform from death to life. God wants us to see the experience of Israel as the experience of the Church, and He wants all of this to lead us to Jesus.
As Christians, what is our water-deliverance? From what are we drawn out of? Who brings us up from bondage, slavery, and death? All of these components are types of New Covenant realities, are they not? They should point us to Christ, His work, and the new markers He implements in His church. This will be something that continues throughout Exodus, but we should see that we are not being fanciful for reading it this way. Exodus demands that we see its author’s hand and literary craft, and that author is God Himself.
God puts His literary craft into His creation, and it is still in this world. We learn to read it aright by first reading His word. Then we can read our stories in light of His. As we said, there are no coincidences. God is putting all into place.
And so what’s going on in your story now? What dramatic ironies or reversals are at work? Is some great trial bearing down upon you? What can you learn from it? Where can you see God in it? These are the questions you should be asking every day, for these are the questions God’s word trains us to ask.
Let us pray.