Understanding the Old Testament

Moses' Early Life

(All quotations are from the New American Standard Bible translation)

Exodus 1:8 tells us that “a new king arose over Egypt, who did not know Joseph.” That’s not surprising, since approximately 400 years had passed since the time of Joseph. (See Genesis 15:13, Exodus 12:40, Acts 7:6, and Galatians 3:17.)

During that time, the Israelites had become very numerous. Exodus 12:37 says there were 600,000 men, not including children. (The Hebrew could also be translated “600 families,” which would be perhaps 50,000 or 60,000 people. However, Numbers 1:20-46, 2:3-32, and 11:21 seem to support the higher number.)

The Egyptians didn’t like the Israelites. In the time of Joseph, just eating with an Israelite was considered “loathsome to the Egyptians” (Genesis 43:32), as was the Israelite occupation of shepherd (Genesis 46:33-34). But now, 400 years later, fear compounded the Egyptians’ racial prejudice, for Pharaoh worried that in case of war the Israelites would side with the enemy. (Exodus 1:10).

Pharaoh’s solution was to work the Israelites hard. Perhaps Pharaoh thought many would work themselves to death, thereby decreasing the Israelite population. Or maybe he thought they would be too tired or too discouraged to procreate. But his plan didn’t work.

So Pharaoh next ordered that all Israelite baby boys be murdered. The baby girls were to be allowed to live, presumably since only the boys were likely to be threats when grown.

Moses was born into this world, the child of two people from the Israelite tribe of Levi. His mother hid him for three months, but soon he became too big to hide. So she set him in a basket in the Nile River where she knew the Pharaoh’s daughter came to bathe. The plan worked. Pharaoh’s daughter found baby Moses and, when he was weaned, raised him as her own.

Thus, Moses was educated like a wealthy Egyptian. But he never forgot that he was an Israelite. So when he saw an Egyptian beating one of his Hebrew brothers, Moses killed the assailant. Then he fled to Midian, east of the Sinai Peninsula, to escape Egyptian justice. There he married a Cushite woman named Zipporah and had two sons, Gershom and Eliezer. (See Exodus 2:21-22, 18:2-5, and Numbers 12:1. Cush was a son of Ham and a grandson of Noah, per Genesis 10:1 and 10:6.)

In Midian, Moses became a shepherd—until God called him to become one of the greatest Israelite prophets in history.

Question to ponder or discuss: The Egyptian prejudice against shepherds must seem silly to most of us nowadays. What are some of our prejudices that will seem silly to future generations?

Copyright 2017 by Don Davidson

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