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At that time Moses was born, and he was no ordinary child.
For three months he was cared for in his father’s house. When he was placed outside, Pharaoh’s daughter took him and brought him up as her own son. Moses was educated in all the wisdom of the Egyptians and was powerful in speech and action.
Acts 7: 20–22
IT SEEMS QUITE REMARKABLE that the great man who was to be God’s agent in leading His chosen people Israel out of slavery in Egypt, should have been the adopted son of the great Pharaoh’s daughter. Adopted son? Yes, and his story illustrates the love of two women ― his birth mother and his adoptive mother.
Jochebed and Amram were happy at the birth of a second son, a brother for Miriam and Aaron, but fearful for his life, as the ruthless Egyptian Pharaoh had recently ruled that all male children born to Hebrew women must be drowned. This was a period of great oppression, when the Egyptians, concerned at the phenomenal increase of the immigrant people in their midst, ‘made their lives bitter with hard labour in brick and mortar and with all kinds of work in the fields; in all their hard labour the Egyptians used them ruthlessly’ (Exodus 1: 14). Pharaoh’s edict was an effort to halt the increase of the Hebrew families, regarded as a threat to the native population.
Moses’ mother had not complied with the command, but it became increasingly difficult to keep the child hidden. Fearing his abduction by the Egyptian authorities, she prayed for God’s guidance, and constructed a basket of papyrus reeds, made it waterproof with tar, put her baby comfortably inside and placed the little craft among the reeds along the bank of the Nile, leaving her daughter to watch from a distance to see what would happen to the baby.
Miriam crouched among the reeds and waited. Soon she heard laughter and saw the princess, daughter of the Pharaoh, coming down to the river to bathe, accompanied by her maid servants. Perhaps Jochebed had deliberately chosen the spot, or was directed by God where to place the cradle, and its discovery by the princess was certainly no accident. She realised the child was a Hebrew, but being childless herself, her motherly longings were immediately drawn to the beautiful baby, and her mind was made up. He would be hers!
Miriam was old and wise enough to think quickly, and running out suggested that the princess might want a nurse to care for the child. She agreed, and of course it was the baby’s mother who was entrusted with that responsibility. So Jochebed nursed her baby boy through his infancy and was even paid for the privilege. After a few years she took him to Pharaoh’s daughter, and he became her son. She named him Moses, which means ‘drawn out’ ― because ‘I drew him out of the water’, she said (Exodus 2: 8–10).
As the son of an influential woman in the dynasty ruling in Egypt at that time, Moses was accorded all the privileges and honours of nobility ― the finest linen clothing, the richest diet, a staff of slaves to attend his every need. In luxurious palace surroundings his was a princely existence. Tutors were appointed to educate the adopted prince in all the arts and sciences of the Egyptians, a learned and accomplished people, and though he was born a slave, Moses earned the respect and acclaim of many in his adoptive nation as he grew to manhood.
Yet there would be some who resented the elevation of a slave boy to the status of a future ruler, potentially even to the office of Pharaoh. In royal circles also, Moses was watched suspiciously, and his survival of any schemes to remove him from his privileged position indicates the immense power of his princess mother, and a real fear of her revenge if Moses were harmed.
It is reasonable to believe that throughout those years he was permitted to visit the Hebrew woman who had nursed him through infancy, and he would be fully aware of his humble origins. Jochebed and Amram would instruct their son in the knowledge of the true God, tell him of their forefathers and of the divine promises to Abraham and his descendants. Moses would perhaps wonder in those years what God’s purpose might be in placing him in a strange situation, among a people worshipping various false gods and goddesses, and it proved to be many years before he would have the answer to his questions.
The extensive building ambitions of the Pharaohs in those years still kept the Hebrew slaves in hard labour. As Moses toured the building sites in his chariot he grieved to see the suffering of his kinsmen sweating in the scorching sun, whipped by their Egyptian masters, but he felt powerless to change the situation.
But a day came when Moses witnessed an Egyptian supervisor beating up a Hebrew slave, and his anger drove him to drastic action. Glancing around and believing he was unobserved, he killed the Egyptian bully and buried his body in the sandy ground.
Back on the site the next day, Moses intervened when he saw two Hebrews fighting each other. He parted them and asked the one who started it, ‘Why are you hitting your fellow Hebrew?’ The man retorted, ‘Who made you ruler and judge over us? Are you thinking of killing me as you killed the Egyptian?’ In sudden alarm, Moses realised that what he had done had become known. Now his own life was in danger!
The Bible record simply states that when Pharaoh heard of it, he tried to kill Moses.
Though Moses’ high status would protect him from punishment for the murder of a mere overseer, Pharaoh and other ambitious Egyptians may have viewed the incident as a means of removing the Hebrew prince from his privileged position. They asserted that Moses killing the man for carrying out his duties to Pharaoh would brand him a rebel against the king, and accordingly, Pharaoh ordered his execution.
Escape to Midian
Moses surely had some help in making his escape from Egypt ― a sturdy horse, a supply of food and water, some basic tools, and perhaps a few items precious to himself as tokens of the love of family and friends. His journey took him south-east along the Sinai Peninsula, passing through terrain usually referred to as wilderness, wild grass grown spaces with hardy shrubs, crossed by the few tracks used by nomadic tribes and occasional travelling tradesmen.
Moses had covered perhaps two hundred miles when his journey ended in the land of Midian, either by his own choice, or by the guidance of God. The Midianites were in fact distant relatives of the Hebrews, and a surprising event earned for Moses the gratitude and respect of a family of herdsmen settled in the area at that time. Approaching a well and needing to replenish his water supply, he found seven young women trying to draw water for their father’s flocks, but being harassed and pushed away by some rough shepherds. With his habitual sense of justice, Moses challenged the bullies and made them wait their turn at the well while he drew water for the girls, who then hurried home to tell Reuel, their father what had happened.
Moses had found a new home, a new life and a wife who loved him ― Zipporah, Reuel’s eldest daughter. Once a prince in Egypt, he became a hard-working, humble shepherd. For forty long years in Midian he wondered about God’s purpose in putting a Hebrew slave boy through such strange experiences. But the time was coming when he would be faced with a greater challenge than he could ever have imagined. That must be the subject of another story, and it will prove that Moses, who had been no ordinary child, in his old age proved himself to be no ordinary man.
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