The Hebrew people are the seed of the woman. Pharaoh is the seed of the serpent. This is fitting since you often see the Pharaohs depicted with a serpent’s headdress. The new Pharaoh did not have a good relationship with Joseph or his kinsmen (he did not “know” Joseph) but the irony of ironies is that we do not know the name of this Pharaoh. This is surely intentional because Pharaoh defies God and the seed of the woman first by enslaving the Israelites, then by asking the midwives to kill the Hebrew children, and finally by ordering all of the new children to be thrown into the Nile. But it also reveals a tendency of the book to strategically use or leave out names. The threat of drowning in the Nile points us back to creation where the waters separate and dry land comes forth as well as new creation in the Exodus where the waters separate and dry land appears.
Enter Moses (Exodus 2:1ff). We know something special is about to occur because a Levite married a Levite and she conceived and bore him a son (like John the Baptist in Luke 1:5). This child is being depicted as the firstborn son and literally what she sees is new creation language “that it/he was good” (Exo 2:2) like we saw in Genesis 1. And when she could not hide him any longer she put him in an ark (the same word as the ark that Noah built and both have pitch) and placed him among the reeds. This was a traditional way to introduce a hero, like the Legend of King Sargon of Akkad who also was put in a reed basket treated with bitumen and found by a drawer of water who raised him as her own. We know that Moses will do great things. This story points us forward to the Exodus event in the Sea of Reeds. All you have to do to the word reed in Hebrew is move the dot for the vowel and you have the word extinction. This is the threat of the Nile — extinction for Israel and this is the threat of the Sea of Reeds, the Sea of Extinction, at the Exodus event. But Moses and Israel will come through these waters as new creation.
Then all of the sudden we find out that despite the earlier portrayal Moses has an older sister. He also has an older brother but this information is conveniently left out. In Exodus 7:7, Moses is eighty and Aaron is eighty-three. So there must be a theological reason that Moses is portrayed as the firstborn son (perhaps the same reason that God would call Israel his firstborn son later in this section). And the account does not tell us anyone’s names, not Moses’ parents, or sister, or the name of Pharaoh’s daughter, because it is driving us to the naming of Moses (2:10). And the explanation of the name is “because I drew him out of the water.” Moses puts this theological meaning of his name on the lips of Pharaoh’s daughter because she unknowingly points to the Exodus event in naming him something that sounds like “draw out” in Hebrew. In reality, the name Moses in Egyptian means “to give birth to” because she was claiming that he was her own son.
Moses through all of this points us forward to Jesus Christ. Jesus was the firstborn son of Mary and Joseph. He was the seed of the woman. And Herod, the new Pharaoh and seed of the serpent, would try to kill the children under two. But Joseph and Mary would flee the new Egypt (literally Israel, see Matthew 2:15). Jesus went through this Exodus from Egypt now as an individual, again at his baptism as an individual, and later would again on behalf of His people. The last time He did so as the ark of salvation for a greater Exodus.
Moses also went through three exodus events. The first was as an individual being drawn out of the water by the daughter of Pharaoh. The last was the Exodus event of his people. But the other time he went through an exodus as an individual was precipitated by a fight between two Hebrew people. First Moses sees an Egyptian beating a Hebrew and Moses acts as the savior of Israel. This was not murder just as what God would do later was not murder. Moses was acting as God’s anointed deliverer ahead of time. And then he saw one of the Hebrews doing the same thing to another one of the Hebrews (the word kill in Exo 2:12, NIV is the same as hit in Exo 2:13, NIV — see Exo 2:12-13, ESV). And we get a preview of Israel’s rebellion and rejection of Moses — two themes that will continue and will recur for Jesus.
So Moses flees (exodus) to the Midianites (remember it was the Midianites who brought Joseph into Egypt at the start of Book Ten of Genesis). It is not accidental that when Moses delivered Israel by killing the Egpytian they grumbled and when he delivered the daughters of Jethro they sing his praises. Jesus would receive the same kinds of reception from Israel and the Gentiles. And the passage ends with God remembering His covenant, God seeing the people, “and God knew.” Pharaoh may not have known Joseph but God knew. This is also an allusion to Sodom (Gen 18:21). God saw and God knew. He was going to come down. And ultimately He did in the person of Jesus Christ.
We have stressed the first two chapters in this post to get you to slow down and see the connections. What follows are some notes on the rest of the section to help you do the same with the other chapters.
First note that the burning bush is a suspension of the normal properties of nature. We are going to see creation reversal and other suspensions of normal properties of nature throughout the book of Exodus.
Second, the name of God, YHWH, was undoubtedly already known to the people of Israel. What is new is the theological explanation of the meaning of the name.
Also, Moses acts as a shepherd, which prepares him to be the shepherd of God’s people. The first sign is a snake that Moses must grab in faith — a snake like Pharaoh. The second sign shows that God can make the unclean Hebrews clean. Moses complains that he is not eloquent. No matter what God does, Moses acts like Israel and grumbles. So as a judgment the office is split in two and Moses shares the glory of God with Aaron. The point of all this is that I Am and not Moses will deliver Israel. And all of these things point us to Jesus.
The genealogy is interesting. It slows down for Levi. Again the names mentioned are significant. The women point us to the focus of the genealogy. Moses is not the focus, Aaron is. This is because Aaron has just been chosen to help Moses. And the genealogy points to Aaron’s worthiness by showing his Levitical heritage and that he is the grandfather of Phinehas who would be a hero in Numbers (and later in Joshua).
There is also something significant going on with the age of Moses. Moses was probably forty when he fled Egypt the first time (according to tradition he was), He was eighty when he led the Exodus of Israel (Exo 7:7). Thus Moses spent forty years in the wilderness after his own personal exodus and forty years in the wilderness after the Exodus event. He died at 120 years old (40+40+40).
In any case, this section of Exodus foreshadows the plagues and the Exodus event and therefore also foreshadows the work of Jesus climaxing in His exodus. Thus salvation from the land of Egypt, the house of slavery foreshadows salvation from slavery to sin.
All of my posts on Exodus include things that I originally learned from Dr. Peter Enns about four years ago. I highly suggest that you read his commentary on Exodus in the NIV Application Commentary series. They are more immediately based on my notes on Exodus for a class I taught at Roxborough Presbyterian on how Exodus points us to Jesus. Any mistakes are my own.