Moses’ Ark

1Now a man of the house of Levi married a Levite woman, 2and she became pregnant and gave birth to a son. When she saw that he was a fine child, she hid him for three months. 3But when she could hide him no longer, she got a papyrus basket for him and coated it with tar and pitch. Then she placed the child in it and put it among the reeds along the bank of the Nile. 4His sister stood at a distance to see what would happen to him.

5Then Pharaoh’s daughter went down to the Nile to bathe, and her attendants were walking along the river bank. She saw the basket among the reeds and sent her slave girl to get it. 6She opened it and saw the baby. He was crying, and she felt sorry for him. "This is one of the Hebrew babies," she said. 7Then his sister asked Pharaoh’s daughter, "Shall I go and get one of the Hebrew women to nurse the baby for you?"

8"Yes, go," she answered. And the girl went and got the baby’s mother. 9Pharaoh’s daughter said to her, "Take this baby and nurse him for me, and I will pay you." So the woman took the baby and nursed him. 10When the child grew older, she took him to Pharaoh’s daughter and he became her son. She named him Moses, saying, "I drew him out of the water."

Pharaoh’s hatred of the Israelites, as we saw in the previous chapter, has reached a pinnacle, as he gave this order to the Egyptian people: "Every boy that is born you must throw into the Nile, but let every girl live" (Ex. 1:22). At this very time, Moses was born: "Now a man of the house of Levi married a Levite woman, and she became pregnant and gave birth to a son" (vss. 1-2). "Observe the beauty of providence: just at the time when Pharaoh’s cruelty rose to this height, the deliverer was born, though he did not appear for many years after" [Henry, on vss. 1-4].

Though unnamed here, the parents of Moses deserve to have their names known to everyone, because of their faith and bravery. Moses’ father was Amram, and his mother was Jochebad (see Ex. 6:20). After seeing their beautiful new son, they could not obey the Pharaoh’s evil command: "When she saw that he was a fine child, she hid him for three months" (vs. 2). For this act of bravery (for surely they would have been severely punished had Pharaoh found out), they are honored in the hall of faith in Hebrews 11: "By faith Moses’ parents hid him for three months after he was born, because they saw he was no ordinary child, and they were not afraid of the king’s edict" (Heb. 11:23). Because this act of bravery is depicted as a special act of faith, we can infer that most of the Hebrew women submitted to the Pharaoh’s edict. It also seems that, before Moses was born, Jochebad was prepared to submit to Pharaoh. She already had two other children (a daughter Miriam, and a son Aaron), and so, she possibly thought that obeying the Pharaoh was necessary to protect these children. But she saw, in some sort of prophetic way, something special in the infant Moses. We are not told exactly what she saw, except that she saw that he was "a fine child" (vs. 2). This small prophetic sign was enough to strengthen her in her faith and courage, and cause her to defy Pharaoh. "Note, a lively active faith can take encouragement from the least intimation of divine favor; a merciful hint of Providence will encourage those whose spirits make a diligent search" [Henry, on vs. 2].

There came a point when Jochebad could no longer hide Moses, presumably because his cries were loud enough for easy detection: "But when she could hide him no longer, she got a papyrus basket for him and coated it with tar and pitch. Then she placed the child in it and put it among the reeds along the bank of the Nile. His sister stood at a distance to see what would happen to him" (vss. 3-4). The word translated here as "basket" is the word "ark", as in Noah’s Ark. This was Moses’ Ark. As Noah was cast into the waters in his ark, with only the providence of God to guide and protect him, so was Moses.

This ark of Moses’ could very easily have become his coffin, but we can infer from the care that Jochebad took in building the ark, as she "coated it with tar and pitch"—I say, we can infer from this that Jochebad had faith that God would somehow intervene so as to save her son. She did all she could to keep Moses safe, by making a seaworthy ark for Moses. The rest was up to God. "Duty is ours, events are God’s" [Henry, on vs. 3].

This sea-voyage of Moses presents an interesting symbolic picture-lesson for all parents. Just as Jochebad showed faith in sending her son into the river, so all parents, at some point in time, must have faith and send their children out into the river of the world. We must pray, and then trust that God will take care of them. Oh yes, just as Jochebad prepared the ark with tar and pitch, we do our best to prepare our children for that journey. Even so, at some point, we put them in the river, and let the current take them where it will. "The mother whose child goes to earn her living among strangers; the father whose son must leave the quiet homestead for the mighty city; the parents who, as missionaries, are unable to nurture their children on the mission-field, because of the pernicious moral climate; or those who on their death-beds must part with their babes to the care of comparative strangers, may all learn a lesson from the faith that cast the young child on the providence of God, even more absolutely than on the buoyancy of the Nile. God lives, and loves, and cares. More quick and tender than Miriam’s, His eye neither slumbers nor sleeps" [Meyer, 27].

Jochebad received the fruits of her faith, for God took care of Moses: "Then Pharaoh’s daughter went down to the Nile to bathe, and her attendants were walking along the river bank. She saw the basket among the reeds and sent her slave girl to get it. She opened it and saw the baby. He was crying, and she felt sorry for him" (vss. 5-6). "It was neither by chance nor accident that Pharaoh’s daughter went down to the river that day, for there are no accidents nor chance happenings in a world presided over by the living God" [Pink, 18]. Who can help but see God’s providence in this episode? God’s providence is seen first in bringing the princess down to the river bank at the critical moment. Then also, God’s providence is seen in the compassion she showed for the Hebrew child. It was a God-given compassion, no doubt. Her own father, Pharaoh, hated the Hebrew children enough to give orders to kill them.

Pharaoh’s daughter rebelled against this hatred, and not only rescued Moses, but cared for him: "‘This is one of the Hebrew babies,’ she said. Then his sister asked Pharaoh’s daughter, ‘Shall I go and get one of the Hebrew women to nurse the baby for you?’ ‘Yes, go,’ she answered. And the girl went and got the baby’s mother. Pharaoh’s daughter said to her, ‘Take this baby and nurse him for me, and I will pay you.’ So the woman took the baby and nursed him" (vss. 6-9). Moses’ sister (presumably Miriam) showed great courage here in offering to "get one of the Hebrew women to nurse the baby." She must have seen true compassion in the princess’s eyes. As for Jochebad, her faith was greatly rewarded. She not only got to nurse her son, but she also got paid for doing so! Ah, the goodness of God!

The princess’s compassion for Moses was not a temporary gift of God; it grew into an attachment to the child, so that she took Moses as her own son: "When the child grew older, [Jochebad] took him to Pharaoh’s daughter and he became her son. She named him Moses, saying, ‘I drew him out of the water’" (vs. 10). Now, it was certainly difficult for Jochebad to part from Moses a second time, but at least she knew that he would be safe in the king’s household. And given that Moses would grow up in the king’s household, she certainly believed (as any mother would) that great things were in store for Moses.

We can most assuredly see here the hand of God in preparing Moses for the works of service he would render later. "Many who, by their birth, seem marked for obscurity and poverty, by surprising events of Providence are brought to sit at the upper end of the world, to make men know that the heavens do rule" [Henry, on vss. 5-10]. Moses would be given the best education that anyone of that time would get. He would become familiar with the ways and customs of the Egyptians. And he would have access to the future Pharaoh, from whom he would eventually secure the freedom of his people. "Those whom God designs for great services He finds out ways to qualify and prepare beforehand" [Henry, on vss. 5-10]. Such preparation for service, though maybe not on so grand a scale, is performed in all of our lives. As Paul tells us: "For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do" (Eph. 2:10).

Most likely by the influence of the Holy Spirit, Pharaoh’s daughter gave the child a name, Moses, based on a Hebrew word: "She named him Moses, saying, ‘I drew him out of the water.’" (vs. 10). The name Moses sounds like the Hebrew word that means "draw out". Interestingly, we do not know what name (if any) that Jochebad, his mother, gave to Moses. Perhaps she thought that the name that Pharaoh’s daughter gave him was quite appropriate, for whenever Moses heard his name, he would be reminded of the providence of God. Moses owed everything to God, who put in the heart of Pharaoh’s daughter to "draw him out" of the water, and have compassion on him, and take him for her own son, rather than cast him (without ark) back into the Nile, as per Pharaoh’s edict.

A great irony is that Pharaoh’s edict to kill the Hebrew boys was in a large manner responsible for the freeing of the Israelites later on. If the edict was not made, Moses would have grown up as a Hebrew, rather than an Egyptian. He would have been a Hebrew slave, rather than the son of a princess. As a Hebrew slave, he would not have been given the skills and access that he was given in the royal household. "Whilst Pharaoh was urging forward the extermination of the Israelites, God was preparing their emancipation. According to the divine purpose, the murderous edict of the king was to lead to the training and preparation of the human deliverer of Israel" [K&D, on 2:1-10].

Ah, the glorious providence of God! Moses’ ark could very easily have become his coffin. Instead, through it, Moses was given life in the Egyptian world. Though Moses was not of that world, he used the advantages given him in that world to prepare for the works of service to the Most High God. Yes, believer, this is our story, as well. We too have been given new life, and we too have emerged from the waters of baptism into a world that is not our true home. Nevertheless, we can use our advantages here to prepare us for works of service to our God.

Yes Lord, prepare us for that service, and guide us that we may be steered toward those works of service for which You have prepared us. We praise You that we can serve the Most High God. May we always consider it an honor. In the name of Jesus, we pray these things, Amen.

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