29 October 2014

Exodus 2:1-10

“She named him Moses” (v. 10)


If the book of Exodus begins with a story of oppression, it's quickly followed by a story that subverts that oppression. "Pharaoh commanded all his people" (Exodus 1:22), but this chapter tells of the ways in which Pharaoh gets his come-uppance. Moses' mother (not named here) is wily and inventive in her determination to do her best for her baby boy. His sister acts with considerable courage as she waits to see what will happen, and it is her cheeky suggestion (verse 7) that leads to her mother being paid for nursing her own baby. And - the supreme irony - it is Pharaoh's own daughter who takes the final step in ensuring that Pharaoh's will is thwarted. His malicious plan is defeated by three women, two of them completely powerless and marginalised, and a baby; and so begins the chain of events that will, eventually, leave the cream of his army dead on the seashore (Exodus 14:30). Mary's song, hundreds of years later, resonates with this theme: "he has brought down the powerful from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly" (Luke 1:52).

The story has many echoes with other Old Testament stories. The Hebrew word for the basket is used at only one other place, describing the Ark in the story of Noah (Genesis 6:14-15). There, the ark protected every species God created. Here, it protects one tiny baby. And yet the outcomes are parallel. God's protection leads to new beginnings, as evil is swept away by the waters and good prevails. The baby is laid in the reeds ('suph') for protection, and the Hebrew word is echoed in the phrase 'yam suph', Sea of Reeds, which is known to us as the Red Sea (Exodus 13:18), where the Israelites found God's protection as the waters parted.

This story comes to its climax with the name given to the baby, the only name recorded in the whole narrative. Moses is a complex name with roots in both Egyptian and Hebrew. The Egyptians used the word 'mose'in names to mean 'child of', while for the Israelites it means 'drawn out of'. Moses would grow up in both Hebrew and Egyptian worlds, and this dual heritage would shape his life and ministry.


To Ponder

  • How far is it just blind optimism to say that God has a bias to the poor, or does your experience of God at work support the story told here? Why?
  • What strands have come together to contribute to your heritage? Would you say they have shaped your life or ministry? If so, how?

Bible notes author

The Revd Caroline Wickens

Caroline is a Methodist presbyter, currently serving as superintendent of the Dudley and Netherton Circuit just outside Wolverhampton. She is married to Andrew, an Anglican priest, and has two teenage children.