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Bible Commentaries
Exodus 2

Coffman's Commentaries on the BibleCoffman's Commentaries


Dominating this chapter is the record of the birth of one of the most important men ever born, that of Moses the great lawgiver of Israel, the deliverer of the Jewish race from Egyptian slavery and the great hero of the Jewish people for more than 4,000 years! His importance, however, pertains not merely to Judaism, but to worldwide Christianity as well, standing in the Old Testament as an outstanding type of the Lord Jesus Christ. The story of his birth (Exodus 2:1-10) is followed by an account of his killing of an Egyptian and the flight to Midian (Exodus 2:11-16). A summary of his forty years in Midian is given (Exodus 2:12-22), and the last three verses (Exodus 2:23-25) set the stage for Exodus 3.


The account of Moses’ birth is related so simply, so casually and matter-of-factly that it becomes quite easy to overlook the over-ruling providence of God which underlies and controls every little detail of it. “On the surface it all seems to hang on accident and circumstance, but woven into the theme is the unmistakable finger of God.”(F1)

Verses 1-2

“And there went a man of the house of Levi, and took to wife a daughter of Levi. And the woman conceived and bare a son, and when she saw him that he was a goodly child, she hid him three months.”

“Of the house of Levi” This means “a descendant of Levi,” but not actually a literal son of Levi who had been dead for centuries as the time of the exodus approached. Levi was the head of the tribe which later became the Levites and who had charge of the religious life of Israel. The names of the parents, not given here, are recorded in Exodus 6:1 as Amram and Jochebed. There were two older children: Miriam, already a young woman of about 15 years of age and Aaron who was some three years older than Moses. Both of these had been born before Pharaoh’s cruel edict to destroy all the male children. The fact of Moses’ birth being recorded here without mention of the birth of any older children is due solely to the importance of Moses. Certainly, we may set aside the critical claim that, “It is implied in Exodus 2:2 that Moses was the firstborn, but in Exodus 4:8 he has a grown-up sister!(F2) Of course, Exodus 2:2 carries no such implication.

“He was a goodly child” This appears to be based upon the extraordinary and captivating beauty of the child Moses, an endowment given to him by Almighty God and designed to produce just such a reaction in a gracious woman’s heart as that which occurred when Pharaoh’s daughter saw him. Jewish writers recount the most fantastic incidents based upon the beauty of the infant Moses. Such great beauty might also have lain behind the determination of his parents to defy the edict of Pharaoh. “The very beauty of the child was to her a token of divine approval, and a sign that God had some special design concerning him.”(F3) This could have been the special factor that sent Amram and Jochebed to their knees in prayer to God, which prayer God no doubt answered. The very fact that their defiance of Pharaoh’s order was an act of faith (Hebrews 11:23) has the meaning that their actions were based upon God’s commandments.

Verses 3-4

“And when she could no longer hide him, she took for him an ark of bulrushes, and daubed it with slime and with pitch; and she put the child therein, and laid it in the flags by the river’s brink. And his sister stood afar off, to know what would be done to hint”

“And when she could no longer hide him” There is no use to ask “why” hiding the child soon became impossible. The lusty lungs of a three-months old boy would certainly have revealed him; and, besides that, as Fields quaintly put it, “The clothesline would have betrayed them!.”(F4)

“She took for him an ark of bulrushes” It is not stated here that Jochebed “made” this ark, but that she “took it.” “This was a chest made of the stalks of the papyrus reed which grows profusely along the banks of the Nile.”(F5) Papyrus was widely used in the manufacture of such things as baskets, boats, mats, ropes, sails, and even paper. We may be sure that Jochebed picked out a good one in preparing to place little Moses in it. “The slime, used as a watertight coating for the ark, was bitumen, imported into Egypt …from the vicinity of the Dead Sea.”(F6) This substance was also employed as mortar in building and as a preservative in the process of embalming. Rawlinson speculated that Jochebed’s reason for placing the ark in the reeds was “that it might not float away out of sight.”(F7) However, we believe more was intended. It is quite evident that Jochebed knew where the royal daughter usually bathed herself in the river and placed the ark strategically with the design of making it likely that she would see it. Since such a site would not have been generally known, it may also be assumed that Jochebed might have been a domestic employee in Pharaoh’s establishment, thus having access to information that aided her plans.

“In the flags by the river’s brink” “River’s brink” is an Egyptian idiom with the literal meaning of, “The lip of the river.”(F8) Some like to make a big thing out of the meaning of the Hebrew word here rendered “flags” or “reeds.” The word is [~cuwph], the same term used to describe the Red Sea, or Reed Sea in Exodus 13:18. However, as Fields pointed out, “This does not prove that there were reeds growing in the Red Sea. The term [~cuwph] also refers to seaweeds; note its use in Jonah 3:5.”(F9)

Verses 5-6

“And the daughter of Pharaoh came down to bathe at the river; and her maidens walked along by the river-side; and she saw the ark among the flags, and sent her handmaid to fetch it. And she opened it, and saw the child: and, behold, the babe wept. And she had compassion on him, and said, This is one of the Hebrews’ children.”

“Daughter of Pharaoh came down to bathe” This action does not conform to the behavior of royal daughters in modern times, but it was indeed an event common enough in the times of Pharaoh, a fact attested by the depiction on the ancient monuments of such scenes with as many as four handmaids in attendance.(F10)

The Nile was worshipped; and bathing in its waters was supposed to enrich, protect, and/or heal such bathers. It is probable that special secluded areas along the river were prepared, protected from sharks, and set aside for the private use of such persons as Pharaoh’s daughter. Evidently Jochebed knew, not only WHERE the princess would bathe, but WHEN. In this connection, it is interesting that Cook affirmed that sharks are never found in that area of the Nile river.(F11)

“And behold the babe wept” The child’s tears went straight to the heart of the daughter of Pharaoh, “reaching the common humanity that lies below all differences of race and creed, and she pitied it.”(F12) How precise and exactly all of the elements of this astounding narrative are dovetailed, synchronized, and fitted together! However incidental or accidental it may appear to have been, it all came about exactly as God had ordained!

It is especially interesting that the “Egyptians regarded tenderness to an infant as a condition of acceptance on the day of reckoning.”(F13) There was a line in their funeral ritual which claimed on behalf of the dead that, I have not withheld milk from the mouths of sucklings.”(F14)

The use of the word “ark” for the little chest or basket in which Moses was launched was thought by Keil to have been for the purpose of “calling to mind the ark in which Noah was saved.(F15) Another ark mentioned in Scripture is “the ark of the covenant.” All three were vitally related to the divine purpose of human redemption.

We cannot identify this daughter of Pharaoh. Josephus called her Thermutis, and Eusebius called her Merris.(F16) Unger suggested that her name might have been Hatshepsut.(F17) She was the only woman known to have become a Pharaoh, but until ancient Egyptian history is much more than the patchwork of guesses that it is today, the certain identification is impossible.

Verses 7-9

“Then said his sister to Pharaoh’s daughter, Shall I go and call thee a nurse of the Hebrew women, that she may nurse the child for thee? And Pharaoh’s daughter said to her, Go. And the maiden went and called the child’s mother. And 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.”

Some scholars like to point out what they call resemblances between this Biblical event and other stories of similar rescues of children cast into rivers, but there can be no way that this narrative is in any manner whatever dependent upon any such myths or legends. This is not a myth. The truth of what is related here has been preserved and memorialized in the history of more than four millenniums, and there is no other way that the power and influence of Moses has ever been explained. The existence of Israel proves this narrative. “No tale of romance ever described a plot more skillfully laid, or more full of interest in the development.”(F18)

What a bundle of miracles is here! With all of the precision and skill required to land a man on the moon, God here landed the future deliverer of Israel in the very palace of the evil ruler who had become God’s antagonist. Not only was Moses’ life saved, he was endowed with royalty, became a presumptive heir to the throne of Pharaoh himself, received the most thorough and exalted education available in the world of that era, and in infancy was nursed by his own mother who received wages (!) for the service. Surely God Himself ordered every detail of this episode!

“And the woman took the child, and nursed it” We may discount and reject many Jewish tales about Moses’ infancy, such as, for instance, his refusal to nurse Egyptian women, thus making necessary a Hebrew nurse. There are enough wonders here without reliance upon such tales.

How long did Jochebed nurse Moses? She would have kept him at least until he was weaned, and in those times that may well have been three years or even more. It is a fact that this writer’s grandfather (paternal) was not weaned until he was seven (in the Shenandoah valley of Virginia), and certainly Moses was exposed to the teachings of his mother long enough to receive and accept fully all of the vital truth regarding Israel in the plan of Redemption.

We are grateful to Fields for his pointing out the importance of women in the life and development of Moses. Jochebed, Miriam, and the daughter of Pharaoh all played extremely important roles in his rise to power.

All honor to the women of all ages who fear the Lord. Moses’ wise mother knew what some emancipated women of our times do not know, namely, that service at home to her family will have more powerful influence on the world than competing with men for authority. Who had a more lasting and powerful influence on the world? The Egyptian Queen Hatshepsut, or Jochebed, the mother of Moses?(F19)

Verse 10

“And the child grew, and she brought him unto Pharaoh’s daughter, and he became her son. And she called his name Moses, and said, Because I drew him out of the water.”

“She called his name Moses” This was, of course, an Egyptian name. “They called water MO, and those who are rescued from water USES.”(F20) But also it was a word capable of being transliterated into Hebrew. The name is almost exactly the same in both Egyptian and in Hebrew.(F21) The name in Egyptian meant “rescued from the water,” but in Hebrew it meant “brought forth,” thus having a double meaning. The Hebrew name suggested that he would be the one who “brought forth” the children of Israel from slavery. Again, the providence of God is seen in the very name given to the infant. The unreasonable and illogical denials of critics that Moses actually has the meanings here noted usually resemble that of Noth, who wrote: “The explanation does not quite fit the story, as the boy was not literally `drawn out of the water.”’(F22) Indeed, indeed! What a quibble that is!

“He became her son” It was from this circumstance that Moses received the royal education mentioned by Stephen (Acts 7:22). As Ellison pointed out, “If we deny the truth of this story, it is virtually impossible to understand how Moses could ever have reached his influential position.”(F23)

Verses 11-15

“And it came to pass in those days, when Moses was grown up, that he went out unto his brethren, and looked on their burdens: and he saw an Egyptian smiting a Hebrew, one of his brethren. And he looked this way and that way, and when he saw that there was no man, he smote the Egyptian, and hid him in the sand. And he went out the second day, and, behold, two men of the Hebrews were striving together: and he said to him that did the wrong, Wherefore smitest thou thy fellow? And he said, Who made thee a prince and a judge over us? thinkest thou to kill me, as thou killedst the Egyptian? And Moses feared, and said, Surely this thing is known. Now 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”

“He went out unto his brethren” At this point, the key decision had already been made. Moses had already determined to take the part of the enslaved and oppressed. His action in killing an Egyptian was, of course, sinful. He had no right whatever to enforce his unilateral judgment in such a capital decision. Nevertheless, we must admire the boldness and courage with which he took on the behalf of his brethren. In his mind, Moses was ready then to deliver God’s people, but it was necessary for him to learn that it would not be by his hand that deliverance would be achieved, but by the hand of God! He needed the long and humiliating discipline by which God would school him for the eventual rescue of the Chosen race. Although one of the great types of the Christ, it appeared quite early that only Christ was without sin, and that in this one great particular, at least, Moses could not stand as a type of the Lord.

“Pharaoh sought to slay him ….” It was impossible for Pharaoh to do this immediately, because of Moses’ position. It would have been a major event in royal life if Pharaoh had been able to do it. Moses took no further chances but fled to Midian. “No Egyptian king would have left such an offence unpunished, but the position of Moses as the adopted son of a princess made it necessary for even a despotic sovereign to take unusual precautions.(F24)

“In the land of Midian” This area was located in the southeast portion of the Arabian peninsula at some distance not too far from Mount Horeb, because Jethro’s sheep were driven to that location, or near there, a fact impossible to reconcile with any other location. It is a fact that this was not the land often cited as that of the “Midianites,” but it should be remembered that they were nomadic people and often migrated to areas far removed from their normal habitat. Racially, they were akin to the Hebrews through Abraham’s secondary wife Keturah.

Moses’ act in slaying the Egyptian placed him in open rebellion against Pharaoh. “He thus renounced his adoptive state, but his concern was not immediately obvious to the chosen people … Moses was not yet ready for the task.”(F25) It would require forty years of God’s discipline to prepare him fully for the task.

“And he sat down by a well” The actual meaning of this is, that, “He dwelt by a well,”(F26) i.e., he took up a temporary residence there. This portion of the land of Midian was an offshoot of the greater Midian beyond the gulf, but God was with Moses in this choice of a place to rest from the wrath of Pharaoh. Reuel (Jethro), a true believer in the One God, lived in that vicinity. “The attempt to confine the Midianites to one area and to locate Mount Sinai east of Aqaba does not agree with Scripture,”(F27) and is therefore untenable.

“Who made thee a prince and a judge over us …?” Just as the true Saviour, of whom Moses was a type, would be rejected by his brethren, so Moses was also rejected by his. This is one of many typical events in Moses’ life. (See the note on this at end of this chapter.) Stephen referred to this in Acts 7:27.

Verses 16-22

“Now the priest of Midian had seven daughters: and they came and drew water, and filled the troughs to water their father’s flock. And the shepherds came and drove them away; but Moses stood up and helped them, and watered their flock. And when they came to Reuel their father, he said, How is it that ye are come so soon today? And they said, An Egyptian delivered us out of the hand of the shepherds, and moreover he drew water for us, and watered the flock. And he said unto his daughters, Where is he? Why is it that ye have left the man? Call him, that he may eat bread. And Moses was content to dwell with the man.’ and he gave Moses Zipporah his daughter. And she bare a son, and he called his name Gershon,’ for he said, I have been a sojourner in a foreign land.”

What a comprehensive summary we have here! Moses, because of the conflict at the well, in which he defended the young women against the shepherds, was taken into Reuel’s home, perhaps upon such an arrangement as that between Laban and Jacob, received Zipporah for his wife, and, in time, became the father of Gershon. Moses’ status for the ensuing forty years would be that of a subordinate in the home of the priest of Midian.

“Priest of Midian” We believe that Reuel was a priest of the one true God, [~’Elohiym], as indicated by his name, Reuel. “This name is given as Raguel in Numbers 10:29, but the Hebrew spelling is the same in both places. The word means `friend of God,’ and implies monotheism.”(F28) As for the name Jethro, as applied to Moses’ father-in-law elsewhere in Scripture, (this is disputed), “If Reuel be identified with Jethro, then Reuel was his proper name, and Jethro, which means Excellency, was his official designation.”(F29) There is no reason to suppose, as some have done, that Moses learned of Jehovah (Yahweh) from the Midianites.”(F30)

In the Tyndale Bible, we find this footnote: “The Reuel mentioned here is not Jethro, but the father of Jethro, the grandfather of Zipporah, and also the priest of Midian.(F31) If this is correct, it would explain why the grandfather did not himself help his daughters (granddaughters) against the shepherds, due to his age. Jethro might have been absent at the time.

Despite Moses having received Zipporah for a wife, the bitterness and loneliness of Moses in his long residence far from his own people seems to have been acute, as attested by the name he gave his firstborn Gershon, which means “Banishment.”(F32) The name of Moses’ second son was Eliezar, meaning, “The God of my father is my help, and has delivered me from the sword of Pharaoh.”(F33) The proud arrogance in which Moses had first offered himself as a champion of the Chosen People was at last broken down by his long and trying discipline, and, as indicated by the names of these sons, he was approaching the time when he would be fully qualified to “draw out from” Egypt the Israel of God. “This preparatory sojourn of Moses in Midian may be compared to that of John the Baptist in the wilderness (Luke 1:80), and that of Paul in Arabia (Galatians 1:17).”(F34)

Verses 23-25

“And it came to pass in the course of many days, 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. And God heard their groaning, and remembered his covenant with Abraham, with Isaac, and with Jacob. And God saw the children of Israel, and God took knowledge of them.”

As many have pointed out, these verses are actually the introduction to the following chapter. Doubtless the children of Israel had hoped with the death of Pharaoh that a more mild and tolerant Pharaoh might succeed him, but no such relief came. In utter despair, they cried mightily unto God, and God heard their cry.

“And God heard … and remembered” These words express in human terms God’s determination to relieve the suffering of Israel and to deliver them from their shameful and oppressive bondage. Of course, God, in no sense, had “forgotten” either his Chosen Nation, or the glorious promises to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. What is indicated is that the time had almost arrived when God would act decisively to aid and deliver them. As Ellison put it, “This is a classic example of the attribution of human terms and attributes to God, who, in fact, never forgets a promise,”(F35)


It is the relation of Exodus to Jesus Christ that resolves all uncertainties and corroborates our conviction that we have here a divinely inspired book. In this chapter alone, note the following:

Both Jesus and Moses were the sons of virgin princesses;
Jesus by miraculous birth, Moses by adoption.
Both forsook great joys to be identified with the poor.
Jesus forsook heaven; Moses left Pharaoh’s palace.
Both were rejected, Jesus by his own nation, Moses by his brethren.

Many other examples of this phenomenon will be pointed out in our subsequent studies of this wonderful book.

Bibliographical Information
Coffman, James Burton. "Commentary on Exodus 2". "Coffman's Commentaries on the Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/bcc/exodus-2.html. Abilene Christian University Press, Abilene, Texas, USA. 1983-1999.
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