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Birth and Youth of Moses


Now a man from the house of Levi went and married a Levite woman. 2The woman conceived and bore a son; and when she saw that he was a fine baby, she hid him three months. 3When she could hide him no longer she got a papyrus basket for him, and plastered it with bitumen and pitch; she put the child in it and placed it among the reeds on the bank of the river. 4His sister stood at a distance, to see what would happen to him.

5 The daughter of Pharaoh came down to bathe at the river, while her attendants walked beside the river. She saw the basket among the reeds and sent her maid to bring it. 6When she opened it, she saw the child. He was crying, and she took pity on him. “This must be one of the Hebrews’ children,” she said. 7Then his sister said to Pharaoh’s daughter, “Shall I go and get you a nurse from the Hebrew women to nurse the child for you?” 8Pharaoh’s daughter said to her, “Yes.” So the girl went and called the child’s mother. 9Pharaoh’s daughter said to her, “Take this child and nurse it for me, and I will give you your wages.” So the woman took the child and nursed it. 10When the child grew up, she brought him to Pharaoh’s daughter, and she took him as her son. She named him Moses, “because,” she said, “I drew him out of the water.”

Moses Flees to Midian

11 One day, after Moses had grown up, he went out to his people and saw their forced labor. He saw an Egyptian beating a Hebrew, one of his kinsfolk. 12He looked this way and that, and seeing no one he killed the Egyptian and hid him in the sand. 13When he went out the next day, he saw two Hebrews fighting; and he said to the one who was in the wrong, “Why do you strike your fellow Hebrew?” 14He answered, “Who made you a ruler and judge over us? Do you mean to kill me as you killed the Egyptian?” Then Moses was afraid and thought, “Surely the thing is known.” 15When Pharaoh heard of it, he sought to kill Moses.

But Moses fled from Pharaoh. He settled in the land of Midian, and sat down by a well. 16The priest of Midian had seven daughters. They came to draw water, and filled the troughs to water their father’s flock. 17But some shepherds came and drove them away. Moses got up and came to their defense and watered their flock. 18When they returned to their father Reuel, he said, “How is it that you have come back so soon today?” 19They said, “An Egyptian helped us against the shepherds; he even drew water for us and watered the flock.” 20He said to his daughters, “Where is he? Why did you leave the man? Invite him to break bread.” 21Moses agreed to stay with the man, and he gave Moses his daughter Zipporah in marriage. 22She bore a son, and he named him Gershom; for he said, “I have been an alien residing in a foreign land.”

23 After a long time the king of Egypt died. The Israelites groaned under their slavery, and cried out. Out of the slavery their cry for help rose up to God. 24God heard their groaning, and God remembered his covenant with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. 25God looked upon the Israelites, and God took notice of them.

1. And there went. I have preferred rendering the verb in the pluperfect tense (abierat, “there had gone”) to prevent all ambiguity; for unless we say that Miriam and Aaron were the children of another mother, it would not be probable otherwise that this marriage was contracted after the passing of the edict. Aaron was three years old when Moses was born; and we may easily conjecture that he was brought up openly and securely. But there is no doubt but that the cruelty was greatest at its commencement. Therefore, if they were uterine brothers, there is no other explanation except to say that, by the figure called ὕστερον πρότερον, he now relates what had happened before. But mention is only made of Moses, because it then first began to be criminal to breed up male infants. The Hebrews use the word for going or departing, to signify the undertaking of any serious or momentous matter, or when they put any proposal into operation. Nor is it superfluous for Moses to say that his father married a wife of his own tribe, because this double tie of kindred should have confirmed them in their attempt to preserve their offspring. But soon afterwards we shall see how timidly they acted. They hide the child for a short time, rather from the transient impulse of love than from firm affection. When three months had elapsed, and that impulse had passed away, they almost abandon the child, in order to escape from danger. For although the mother would have probably come next day, if he had passed the night there, to give him the breast, yet had she exposed him as an outcast to innumerable risks. By this example, we perceive what terror had taken possession of every mind, when a man and his wife, united to each other by close natural relationship, prefer exposing their common offspring, whose beauty moved them to pity, to peril of wild beasts, of the atmosphere, of the water, and of every kind, rather than that they should perish with him. But on this point different opinions are maintained: whether or not it would have been better to discharge themselves of the care of their child, or to await whatever danger attended its secret preservation. I confess, indeed, that whilst it is difficult in such perplexities to come to a right conclusion, so also our conclusions are apt to be variously judged; still I affirm that the timidity of the parents of Moses, by which they were induced to forget their duty, cannot advisedly be excused.

We see that God has implanted even in wild and brute beasts so great instinctive anxiety for the protection and cherishing of their young, that the dam often despises her own life in their defense. Wherefore it is the more base, that men, created in the divine image, should be driven by fear to such a pitch of inhumanity as to desert the children who are intrusted to their fidelity and protection. The reply of those who assert that there was no better course in their desperate circumstances than to repose on the providence of God, has something in it, but is not complete. It is the chief consolation of believers to cast their cares on the bosom of God; provided that, in the meantime, they perform their own duties, overpass not the bounds of their vocation, and turn not away from the path set before them; but it is a perversion to make the providence of God an excuse for negligence and sloth. The parents of Moses ought rather to have looked forward with hope that God would be the safeguard of themselves and their child. His mother made the ark with great pains, and daubed it; but for what purpose? Was it not to bury her child in it? I allow that she always seemed anxious for him, yet in such a way that her proceedings would have been ridiculous and ineffectual, unless God had unexpectedly appeared from heaven as the author of their preservation, of which she herself despaired. Nevertheless, we must not judge either the father or mother as if they had lived in quiet times; for it is easy to conceive with what bitter grief they compassed the death of their child; nay, to speak more correctly, we can scarcely conceive what terrible agonies they suffered. Therefore, when Moses relates how his mother made and prepared an ark, he hints that the father was so overwhelmed with sorrow as to be incapable of doing anything. Thus the power of the Lord more clearly manifested itself, when the mother, her husband being entirely disheartened, took the whole burden on herself. For, if they had acted in concert, Moses would not have assigned the whole praise to his mother. The Apostle, indeed, (Hebrews 11:23,) gives a share of the praise to the husband, and not undeservedly, since it is probable that the child was not hidden without his cognizance and approval. But God, who generally “chooses the weak things of the world,” strengthened with the power of his Spirit a woman rather than a man, to stand foremost in the matter. And the same reasoning applies to his sister, into whose hands his mother resigned the last and most important act, so that while Miriam, who, on account of her tender age, appeared to be exempt from danger, is appointed to watch over her brother’s life, both parents appear to have neglected their duty.

2. And when she saw that he was a goodly child. There is no doubt but that God had adorned him with this beauty, in order the more to influence his parents to preserve him; as it sometimes happens that, when God sees his people slow in the performance of their duty, he spurs on their inactivity by allurements; although it appears from the testimony of the Apostle, that this was not their only motive to have pity on him, but that it was the prop, as it were, of their weak faith; for he tells us (Hebrews 11:23) that “by faith Moses was hid three months of his parents.” If any object that faith and regard for beauty are things not only very different but almost contrary to each other, I reply, that by the wonderful compassion of God, it comes to pass that the very impediment which might darken faith becomes its assistant, though it ought indeed to rest upon the promises alone. Therefore, if faith had shone purely and brightly in their hearts, they would have cared nothing for his beauty; on the other hand, unless the promise had had its power, nay, unless it had occupied the first place, there was no such efficacy in the goodliness of his appearance as would have led them willingly to hazard their lives. We conclude, then, that, since they had good hopes of the deliverance promised to them, their courage was increased by the additional motive of his beauty, and that they were so attracted to pity, that all obstacles were overcome. Thus does God ordinarily work, leading his people in their darkness like the blind, when they are wavering through ignorance and weakness of heart. In fine, the love which his beauty awakened was so far from being a part of faith, that it deservedly detracts from its praise; but God, who, in his wonderful wisdom, makes all things to work for the good of his chosen ones, sustained and strengthened their tottering faith by this support.

4. And his sister stood afar off. It is probable that this was Miriam.2626     “De laquelle il sera ci apres parle plus a plein;” who will presently be more fully spoken of. — Fr. By the fact of her standing to watch what became of him, it appears that his parents had some hope remaining, though it was but small. For it is scarcely doubtful but that whatever Egyptian had come that way would have been his executioner, as well from the command of the king as from the general hatred of the nation against the Hebrews. It seems, then, that Miriam was set by her parents to watch, rather to witness her brother’s murder, than to provide for the safety of the child. But, since we have just seen that, in the darkness of sorrow and despair, some sparks of faith still survived, the mother, exposing her little one on the river’s side, did not abandon all care of him, but desired to commend him to the mercy of any passer-by, and therefore stationed her daughter afar off to act as circumstances arose. For, if she had heard that the child still lay there at night, she would have come secretly to give him the breast. This determination, however, as is often the case in times of perplexity and trouble, was vain, though God miraculously stretched forth his hand for the child’s preservation. For there can be no question but that his secret providence brought the king’s daughter to the river, who had the courage to take up the child and to have it nursed; and that he, too, influenced her mind to the kind act of saving its life, — in a word, that he controlled the whole matter. Indeed, all pious persons will confess that he was the author of her great and uninquisitive kindness in not taking more pains to learn who were the child’s parents, and why a nurse offered herself so immediately, which circumstance might have naturally awakened suspicion. Thus it did not happen without many miracles that the child escaped safely from the ark. Scoffers would say that all occurred accidentally; because perverse delusion has possession of their minds, so that they are blind to the manifest works of God, and think that the human race is governed by mere chance. But we must hold fast to the principle, that whilst God rules all men by his providence, he honors his elect with his peculiar care, and is watchful for their deliverance and support; and if we carefully weigh all the circumstances, reason will easily assure us that all things which led to the preservation of Moses, were disposed by his guidance, and under his auspices, and by the secret inspiration of his Spirit. For to ascribe to fortune such an harmonious combination of various and manifold means, is no less absurd than to imagine with Epicurus that the world was created by the fortuitous conjunction of atoms.2727     “De ce qui apparoist en l’air comme poussiere, quand le soleil luist, sans que Dieu s’en soit mesle;” of that which appears in the air, like dust, when the sun shines, without the interposition of God. — Fr. Assuredly he drew out Moses, who was to be the future redeemer of his people, as from the grave, in order that he might prove that the beginning of the safety of his Church was like a creation out of nothing. And this was the crowning act of his divine mercy, not only that he was given to his mother to be nursed, but that she received wages for it.

10. And the child grew. Here, however, their grief is renewed, when his parents are again obliged to give up Moses, and he is torn as it were from their bowels. For, on this condition, he passed over to the Egyptian nation, not only that he should be alienated from his own race, but that he should increase the number of their enemies in his own person. And certainly it is scarcely credible that he could be long tolerated in the tyrant’s court, and amongst the most cruel enemies of Israel, unless he professed to be a partaker of their hatred. We know of what corrupting influences courts are full; it is well known, too, how great was the pride of the Egyptians, whilst experience teaches us how prone even the best natures are to yield to the temptations of pleasure, wherefore we must wonder the more that, when Moses was engulfed in these whirlpools, he still retained his uprightness and integrity. Certainly the hope of their redemption might seem here again to suffer an eclipse, the course of circumstances being all against it; but thus the providence of God, the more circuitously it appears to flow, shines forth all the more wonderfully in the end, since it never really wanders from its direct object, or fails of its effect, when its due time is come. Nevertheless God, as with an outstretched hand, drew back his servant to himself and to the body of his Church, by suggesting in his name the recollection of his origin; for the king’s daughter did not give him this name without the preventing Spirit of God, that Moses might know that he was drawn out of the river when he was about to perish. As often, then, as he heard his name, he must needs remember of what people he sprang; and the power of this stimulus must have been all the greater, because the fact was known to everybody. The daughter of the king, indeed, could have by no means intended this, and would have rather wished the memory of his origin to be lost; but God, who put words in the mouth of Balaam’s ass, influenced also the tongue of this woman to bear loud and public testimony to the very thing which she would have preferred to conceal; and although she desired to keep Moses with herself, became his directress and guide in returning to his own nation. But should any be surprised that she did not fear her father’s anger in thus publicly recording the violation of his command, it may readily be replied that there was no cause of offense given to the tyrant, who would have willingly allowed any number of slaves to be born to him, so that the name of Israel were abolished. For why did he spare the lives of the female infants, but in order that Egyptian slaves might be born of them? And, regarding Moses in this light, he did not conceive that the act of his daughter had violated his command, nay, he rather rejoiced that the Israelitish nation was thus diminished, and the Egyptian nation numerically increased. One question only remains, viz., how it occurred to the mind of Pharaoh’s daughter to give Moses an Hebrew name,2828     Calvin seems altogether to ignore the opinion of Philo, Clemens Alex., etc., that Moses was an Egyptian name, from Mo, or Moys, water, and Is, or Ises, or Hyse, preserved. when it is certain from Psalm 81:5, that there was a great difference between the two languages: “he went out through the land of Egypt, where I heard a language that I understood not?” And again, we know that Joseph made use of an interpreter with his brethren when he pretended to be an Egyptian. (Genesis 42:23.) We may probably conjecture that she asked the mother of Moses the word which expressed this signification, or we may prefer supposing that he had an Egyptian name, which was interpreted by his Hebrew one, and this I am most inclined to think was the case. When Moses subsequently fled, he again took the name his mother gave him.

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