The Young Moses

Seven times Moses is referred to as a “child” (Hebrew yeled) in the narrative of 2:1-10. The number seven is no accident, and it most certainly emphasizes the seemingly vulnerable state the child was in. The question arises as to what will the child be, an Egyptian or a Hebrew? Nursed by a Hebrew slave, his natural mother, and raised by an Egyptian princess, it would seem obvious that he would embrace his great destiny as an Egyptian. But a Hebrew reader would clearly see something what others, even the Egyptians themselves, could not see. The princess most probably gave him the Egyptian name Mōse, meaning “son,” but the narrative has it as “Mōšeh” the Hebrew active participle “he draws out.” It seems a stretch to believe that the princess knew Hebrew well enough to make this pun. It is likely that the Hebrew narrator is giving him the Hebrew name in the mouth of the princess, along with the explanation “because I drew him out” in a prophetically ironic way. Though named and raised by the Egyptian princess, she ultimately had no authority over Moses, for though she “drew him out” of the Nile, Moses will ultimately draw his people out of the Egypt and the Red Sea.

The verb “to grow” (Heb. yigdal) is a key word transitioning the infancy and childhood narrative (2:1-10) with his youthful act of killing the Egyptian (2:11-15). In verse 10 we see that Moses “grew up” and took his placed in the Egyptian court, but in verse 11 we see that Moses “grew up,” or entered into early manhood, as a Hebrew. The text explicitly identifies him with the abused Hebrew as “one of his people.” We must conclude that Moses acted out of solidarity with the Hebrew and not so much out of justice, for it is clear that the Egyptian only “beat” the Hebrew while Moses killed the Egyptian (contra Lex Talionis, an eye for an eye, Ex. 21:24). Moses is therefore a criminal in the eyes of Egypt, but also by the Law God will give him. Moreover, his own brethren saw him as a killer and did not want to be identified with him.

In our last post we suggested that Moses is symbolic of the deepest part of the soul, which the eastern theologians call the “intellect.” Because for us westerners “intellect” is most usually associated with our reasoning and analytic powers, I will identify Moses with the “spirit” of a person. The “spirit” is that by which we ultimately will and act, the mysterious core of our being. It is that which is behind all the powers of the soul such as reason, imagination, memory, emotions, and especially our wills. Moses here represents a nascent spirit just awakening. He is full of zeal, but knows next to nothing. He identifies himself correctly as a Hebrew, but has no clue what this means. Just coming into manhood, feeling his physical strength, he instinctively resorts to force. He is living from the outside in, and not from the inside out, which means that his spirit has not mastered the powers of his soul, and even more externally his body, through which he commits a crime, though he intended to do what was right.

Moses, like the young Joseph before him, has a lot to learn. He must flee from his roots, both Hebrew and Egyptian, and find himself somewhere else. He is a young man (Hebrew “gibbôr” rather than a zaqēn, a wise elder), the stuff soldiers are made of. It is only appropriate to do what he is wired to do, play the hero, defend the girls, marry one, and procreate. Nothing more can be expected of him at this point. In time we see that he is content to dwell with his wife and father-in-law (2:21). This contentment is the beginning of wisdom.

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