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2. The Birth of Moses

And there went a man of the house of Levi, and took to wife a daughter of Levi. 2And the woman conceived, and bare a son: and when she saw him that he was a goodly child, she hid him three months. 3And when she could not longer hide him, she took for him an ark of bulrushes, and daubed it with slime and with pitch, and put the child therein; and she laid it in the flags by the river’s brink. 4And his sister stood afar off, to wit what would be done to him.

5And the daughter of Pharaoh came down to wash herself at the river; and her maidens walked along by the river’s side; and when she saw the ark among the flags, she sent her maid to fetch it. 6And when she had opened it, she saw the child: and, behold, the babe wept. And she had compassion on him, and said, This is one of the Hebrews’ children. 7Then said his sister to Pharaoh’s daughter, Shall I go and call to thee a nurse of the Hebrew women, that she may nurse the child for thee? 8And Pharaoh’s daughter said to her, Go. And the maid went and called the child’s mother. 9And Pharaoh’s daughter said unto her, Take this child away, and nurse it for me, and I will give thee thy wages. And the woman took the child, and nursed it. 10And the child grew, and she brought him unto Pharaoh’s daughter, and he became her son. And she called his name Moses: and she said, Because I drew him out of the water.

11And it came to pass in those days, when Moses was grown, that he went out unto his brethren, and looked on their burdens: and he spied an Egyptian smiting an Hebrew, one of his brethren. 12And he looked this way and that way, and when he saw that there was no man, he slew the Egyptian, and hid him in the sand. 13And when he went out the second day, behold, two men of the Hebrews strove together: and he said to him that did the wrong, Wherefore smitest thou thy fellow? 14And he said, Who made thee a prince and a judge over us? intendest thou to kill me, as thou killedst the Egyptian? And Moses feared, and said, Surely this thing is known. 15Now when Pharaoh heard this thing, he sought to slay Moses. But Moses fled from the face of Pharaoh, and dwelt in the land of Midian: and he sat down by a well. 16Now the priest of Midian had seven daughters: and they came and drew water, and filled the troughs to water their father’s flock. 17And the shepherds came and drove them away: but Moses stood up and helped them, and watered their flock. 18And when they came to Reuel their father, he said, How is it that ye are come so soon to day? 19And they said, An Egyptian delivered us out of the hand of the shepherds, and also drew water enough for us, and watered the flock. 20And he said unto his daughters, And where is he? why is it that ye have left the man? call him, that he may eat bread. 21And Moses was content to dwell with the man: and he gave Moses Zipporah his daughter. 22And she bare him a son, and he called his name Gershom: for he said, I have been a stranger in a strange land.

23And it came to pass in process of time, that the king of Egypt died: and the children of Israel sighed by reason of the bondage, and they cried, and their cry came up unto God by reason of the bondage. 24And God heard their groaning, and God remembered his covenant with Abraham, with Isaac, and with Jacob. 25And God looked upon the children of Israel, and God had respect unto them.

23. And it came to pass in process of time.3434     The Commentary here refers to Calvin’s Latin Translation. He uses the demonstrative pronoun to mark the forty years in which God kept his servant in suspense, as if he had forsaken him. By adding “many,” he expresses the approaching end of the interval. When, therefore, he had reached his eightieth year, and had married and grown old in the land of Midian, the intolerable cruelty of their tyrannical masters extorted new sighings and cries from the children of Israel; not that they began then first to grieve and lament, but because they became more alive to their woes, and their duration made them to be felt more acutely. We know that the hope of a happier issue is soothing to our woes; and the hope that some one more kind would succeed the dead tyrant, in some measure softened the misery of the afflicted people. But when the change of kings in no wise lightened their oppression, their sorrow was increased, and forced them to cry out more loudly than before. Thus, then, I understand the words of Moses, that when the tyrant was dead, the children of Israel were not treated more humanely, and therefore cried out more vehemently. Although it is not likely, I think, that the Pharaoh who had at first afflicted them with burdens and taxes, and had commanded their children to be killed, lived till this time; because in that case he would have reigned more than eighty years, which is not usual. Before the birth of Moses, the Israelites had already been sorely oppressed for many years. Nor had (the king) proceeded at once to so great an atrocity as to command all the males to be killed; but when he found that his cruel edicts availed nothing, he advanced to this extremity. From the birth of Moses until the time here spoken of, about eighty years had passed; and hence we may suppose that, before their deliverance drew near, there had been one or more successive kings. When these various changes of circumstances left the condition of the people unchanged, or even made it worse, extreme necessity drew forth this unwonted lamentation, and despair itself drove them to pray, not that there had been an entire neglect of supplication to God before, but because they looked also in other directions, until all earthly means being entirely cut off, they were forcibly drawn to seek in earnest for help from above. From this example we learn that, although the pressure of our tribulations weighs us down with sorrow and pain, yet that our prayers are not straightway directed to God, and that much is required to stimulate our sluggish hearts. Moses also infers that it was no wonder if God’s assistance was not earlier afforded, since the children of Israel were stupified in their misery. Let this example, then, teach us to flee to God at once, in order that he may make haste to bestow his grace.

And their cry came up. Moses magnifies the mercy of God by this circumstance, that he took not vengeance on their slowness, as it deserved, but graciously inclined to their tardy cries. In fact, we may observe in this history what is described in Psalm 106, that the most stubborn and hard-hearted in their extremity turn their prayers at length to God, rather from the exceeding greatness of their trouble than from the well-regulated exercise of faith. He says, “by reason of the bondage;” because it is the attribute of God to succor the oppressed, to deliver the captives, and to raise up them that are brought low; and this office he constantly performs. As to what is added, that “God remembered his covenant,” it is the explanation of the cause why he heard their groaning, viz., that he might ratify his gratuitous promise made to Abraham and his descendants. He expressly mentions the three patriarchs, because God lodged his covenant with them, that it might continue firm for perpetual generations. And, indeed, since God is inclined towards us to help us of his own free mercy, so he offers himself, and invites us voluntarily; and therefore confidence in prayer must only be sought for in his promises. Thus the copula here should be resolved into the illative particle, that “God heard their groaning, because he remembered his covenant.” How far remembrance is possible with God, we must learn from its contrary. God is said to forget when he does not really and openly appear, and stretch forth his hand to help; therefore, when we say he “remembers,” we mark our apprehension of his aid; and both expressions have relation to effect. In the same way he is said “to behold,” and its opposite, “to turn his back,” because we then perceive that he beholds us when he actually succours us.


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