Eve and the Dragon
We have arrived at the beginning of the book of Exodus. The children of Israel have grown and increased in the land. Seventy direct descendants of Jacob had entered the land, but they had since become a mighty nation. It is worth recalling a point that we have made on a number of occasions before: Jacob, like the other patriarchs before him, was the leader of a large sheikhdom. Each of his sons would have had their own large company of servants and workers. In Genesis 38:12 we read that Judah had sheepshearers. In Genesis 34:25-29, Simeon and Levi kill all of the males in a city, capture their wives and children and plunder all of the livestock and possessions. We can presume that they had a few hundred trained fighting servants to help them in this venture, and were not acting alone. By the time that they enter into Egypt, they have to be given the entire land of Goshen for their flocks and people, and are probably still active in Canaan at the time. By the point of the beginning of the book of Exodus, the number and power of the children of Israel had grown so much that they had become a threat to the Egyptians, being ‘more and mightier’ than the people of Pharaoh.
Throughout Exodus 1 we see the fertility and liveliness of the children of Israel and the thwarted efforts of Pharaoh to arrest their growth. First, Pharaoh afflicts the Israelites, setting taskmasters over them, and forcing them to build supply cities. Later on the description of the process of making bricks will recall the building of Babel in Genesis 11. Pharaoh then speaks to the Hebrew midwives, instructing them to kill the sons and spare the daughters. The killing of the sons prevented the children of Israel from defending themselves or challenging the Egyptians, while the daughters would be spared for Egyptian men. Once again we see a threat to the promised seed and to the woman by the serpent/dragon figure. The dragon wants to kill the seed that threatens him and use the woman to produce his own seed.
The Hebrew midwives, like the godly women of Genesis, deceive and lie to the tyrant. The women of the Hebrews are contrasted with the Egyptian women, who lack their vigour. The sense is of a divinely given life that is continually outpacing the death-dealing tyrant that is fruitlessly seeking to overtake and arrest it. Having failed with the midwives, Pharaoh then instructs his people to kill every Hebrew baby boy, while saving the daughters alive. The fact that midwives are mentioned should also alert us to the fact that Israel is about to undergo a national birth.
It is important that we recognize that this story, as in the case of other great stories of Exodus, focus at their outset on faithful women (Rachel and Leah, Hannah, Mary and Elizabeth). Exodus 1 and 2 are all about women and especially daughters – the Hebrew midwives, the Hebrew mothers, the daughters of the Israelites, Jochebed, the daughter of Levi (2:1), Miriam, the daughter of Jochebed (v.4), Pharaoh’s daughter and her maidens (v.8), and the seven daughters of Midian (2:16). Our attention is typically on the slain sons and on Moses, and we miss the crucial role that the women play in the story.
It is the women who outwit the serpent, Pharaoh, and mastermind the salvation of the Hebrew boys. It is Jochebed and Miriam who bring about Moses’ salvation and the daughter of Pharaoh who rescues him. The place of women in the narrative will be important as we go along. Having registered the importance of this detail, we will remark upon its presence at various points as we proceed.
The women and the seed are in direct conflict with the tyrant because the story of the Exodus grows out of the enmity established between the woman and her seed and the serpent and his seed in Genesis 3:15. Until Moses grows up, the only man really active within Exodus is the greater serpent, the dragon Pharaoh. Exodus 1:15—2:10 is a story of Eve and the dragon.
The Deliverance of Moses
Jochebed sees that Moses is a beautiful child (2:2). Reference to the physical beauty or remarkable appearance of a person is seldom made without good reason. Moses’ beauty is a sign that he is a child with a peculiar destiny in the salvation of his people, like Noah (Genesis 5:29) or Joseph (Genesis 39:7), and consequently especially threatened and desired by the dragon. Jochebed sees something in Moses that marks him out as different. The fact that the story begins with the birth of Moses, rather than with his actions as a grown man, suggests that, as a person, he bears a greater significance and destiny, fulfilling a purpose that is more than instrumental. It also suggests that the actions of the many women who orchestrate his deliverance and the deliverance of other Hebrew boys are important actresses in the drama of God’s salvation and not just bit parts or extras.
Moses is hid for three months, after which there is a transformation of his circumstances and a deliverance (the number three is significant in such contexts). Jochebed builds an ‘ark’ for Moses – the only time that this word is used outside of the Flood account. Taken together, Jochebed and Moses function as a new Noah. The waters of death that destroy the other baby Hebrew boys (Exodus 1:22) are the waters through and from which Moses will be saved, much as the waters of the Flood that destroy the earth are those through which Noah is saved.
Once again, the detail that is given to us concerning the construction of Moses’ ark is not unimportant. Peter Leithart observes that the description of its construction is connected both to the construction of Noah’s ark, but also of the Tower of Babel (the same word for ‘tar’ is used in Exodus 2:3 as is used in Genesis 11:3). Jochebed’s modest construction project also contrasts with the ongoing hubristic construction projects of Pharaoh in 1:11. We should recall our earlier point that Babel was designed as a sort of false ark. Just as the ark was the embryo of a new world that God would build, so Jochebed’s ark and the child within it is the initial stage of God’s new building project in answer to Pharaoh: the climax of the book of Exodus is the construction of the tabernacle.
The daughter of Pharaoh sees the child’s ark by the river side, and sends her maid to get it (2:5). When she opens it, the baby cries and she has compassion on him. This is similar to the way that YHWH will later hear the cry of his people and have compassion upon them. She recognizes that the child is one of the Hebrew’s children. Miriam, the child’s sister suggests that she find a Hebrew woman to nurse the child and calls Jochebed, her mother. Pharaoh’s daughter adopts the child and gives the child to Jochebed to nurse.
Pharaoh’s daughter is a neglected character in many readings of this passage. She knows the command of her father, yet spares and even adopts the Hebrew child as her own, taking the child under her protection. A faithful daughter of an unfaithful father, she should remind us of Rachel, who deceived and resisted Laban, and Michael, who deceived Saul and saved David from her father’s clutches (1 Samuel 19:11-17). Rahab of Jericho is another instance of a faithful woman who resists and deceives her rulers to spare the lives of Israelites. In Pharaoh’s daughter we see that God raises up enemies for the dragon from his own household and makes them willing instruments of his salvation. Pharaoh’s daughter even names the child, calling him Moses. Through what YHWH will accomplish through Moses, all of the world will be blessed. The fact that he uses an Egyptian princess as one of his means to accomplish his salvation is a sign that even the Egyptians will be included.
The name of Moses is given to him as he was drawn out of the water (like Jacob, the water-crossing is associated with a naming event). Moses’ deliverance anticipates the later deliverance of Israel, for whom being drawn out of the waters of the Red Sea would prove a definitive experience for the forging of their identity. Moses was rescued from the reeds, just as Israel would be delivered at the Sea of Reeds. Moses was saved through the waters of death, just as Israel would be saved through the waters that would drown the Egyptians. Israel would be established in a new identity and set of relationships after the Red Sea, just as Moses was given a new identity following his deliverance from the Nile. Miriam is an important witness of the events in both accounts (cf. 15:20-21). Just as Moses was drawn out of a situation of slavery and the threat of death to a status of royalty, so Israel were drawn out of the water where they entered as an enslaved people in deadly peril and raised up to become a royal priesthood.
Moses is the head of Israel and his deliverance is the deliverance that the body will be brought into. His life anticipates that of Israel, something that will become even clearer as we proceed.
Moses’ First Visitation
Like in the case of Joseph, the story of Moses’ exodus begins with him going out to visit his brethren. Moses as a member of the royal family is qualified to act as a judge and, when he sees an Egyptian beating one of his Hebrew brethren, he takes matters into his own hands and kills the Egyptian. The next day, he discovers that his action has become known. Moses has to flee from the face of Pharaoh, just as Israel would later do. This is Moses’ first visitation of the children of Israel. The second visitation will lead to the slaying of many Egyptians and the release of innumerable burdened Hebrews.
Moses, like Joseph, is rejected by his brethren: ‘who made you a prince and a judge over us?’ (2:14). This rejection anticipates the later rejection that he will experience at his second visitation. Joseph, while rejected the first time, was accepted when he made himself known to his brothers at their later encounter. An infancy exodus, followed by an exodus when the character comes of age should also remind us of Jesus’ exoduses in the book of Matthew: first an exodus to/from Egypt and deliverance from the wrath of Herod, and then an exodus at the start of his public ministry through John’s baptism and the forty days in the wilderness.
As in the exodus of Jacob, where he met the shepherdess Rachel at a well with other shepherds, Moses encounters women at a well, seven shepherdess daughters of the priest of Midian (the seven women at the well might be connected with the seven ewes of Beersheba in Genesis 21:28-31). These daughters are threatened by violent shepherds, much like the shepherd brothers of Joseph. Moses resists the shepherds and waters the flocks. At this point Moses becomes more than the one drawn from the water: he is also the one who gives water in the wilderness and the true shepherd who stands up to the false shepherds. Moses’ later ministry in Egypt will involve resisting the false shepherd, Pharaoh, using a shepherd’s staff. Standing up to the shepherds at the well is a foreshadowing and preparation for his later calling as a fighting shepherd.
Moses in Midian
Jethro’s daughters tell him of their encounter with Moses and what he did for them. Moses goes on to live with Jethro and to marry his daughter, Zipporah. The Midianites were descended from Abraham and Keturah (Genesis 25:1-6) and were also associated with the Ishmaelites (e.g. Genesis 37:25-28) – they were all descendants of Abraham who did not bear the covenant destiny of Israel. While related through Abraham, they were considered foreigners (while Laban and his family were more close relatives). YHWH here prepares the bearer of his salvation in the land of the wilderness sons of Abraham (we will later explore the connections between this story and that of Elijah). Fleeing from the face of the persecutor and sitting down by the well might recall Hagar in Genesis 16:6-7. YHWH has not forgotten the other sons of Abraham and it is them that he uses to prepare and instruct the great leader of his people.
The fact that Moses, once rejected by his brethren, goes out to these nations, gives water/bread (symbols of life), and marries a foreign daughter of a high priest, with whom he has two sons (cf. Genesis 41:50-52; Exodus 18:3-4) also echoes the story of Joseph. Once again, we see the life of the covenant spreading to and blessing other peoples before it returns to the children of Israel who despised it at first.
Moses, like Jacob, keeps the flock of his father-in-law (3:1). He spends forty years as a shepherd in the wilderness of Midian (cf. Acts 7:23; Exodus 7:7), much as he will later spend forty years shepherding Israel. The Angel of YHWH appears to Moses in the burning bush at Mount Sinai/Horeb, and commissions him to deliver his people, telling him that he will later return with them to worship on that mountain (3:12), where they too will be commissioned as the royal priesthood. Moses’ first encounter with YHWH in a burning bush anticipated his later encounter with YHWH, when the whole mountain would bear the fire of YHWH’s presence (19:18). YHWH performs signs for Moses, much as he will perform signs in Egypt and the wilderness. Moses shows unbelief and YHWH’s wrath is kindled against him, much as it later will be with Israel (4:14).
YHWH reveals his identity to Moses (3:14). The connection between the revelation of divine identity and the Exodus is a very important one. The identity of God is revealed in fuller measure at key moments of deliverance, most fully in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Exoduses are times when the identity of God is revealed in a new way, and when his people are brought into a new identity and role, becoming new people. These two things always go together: a profoundly new encounter with God will always leave us radically changed.
Moses is instructed to return to Egypt, and informed that all of those who sought his life have since died. On the way back he has a threatening night encounter, where God comes to kill, his firstborn son has to be circumcised and the blood displayed – a proleptic Passover and Red Sea crossing (see Appendix F of this for a defence of this reading) – also reminiscent of Jacob’s struggle with the Angel at Jabbok (it could also be related to encounter with the Commander of the army of YHWH in Joshua 5, following the circumcision of the wilderness generation and the celebration of the Passover). He then meets with his brother, Aaron, who has come out to meet him, much as Esau came out to meet the returning Jacob.
The Split Personality of Laban
I have commented at some length on the relationship between the story of Jacob’s sojourn in Haran and the story of the Exodus. Laban plays the role of Pharaoh, reducing the people of YHWH to servitude, mistreating them, oppressing the women, being steadily dispossessed by YHWH in ten setbacks, having his gods humiliated, having YHWH judging between him and his fleeing servant, etc.
However, the character of Laban in the story of the Exodus seems to undergo something akin to a typological bifurcation. While he is typologically associated with the character of Pharaoh as I have pointed out, he also bears no less clear a typological symmetry to the character of Jethro. Like Jacob, Moses flees to the east from his home and a threat of death (Exodus 2:15; cf. Genesis 27:43-45; 29:1), comes to the aid of women at a well and waters their flock (Exodus 2:16-19; cf. Genesis 29:1-10), marries one of the them, has children, and keeps the flock for his father-in-law (Exodus 2:21-22; 3:1), receives a vision where God tells him to leave (Exodus 3:2ff.; cf. Genesis 31:11-13), has a threatening encounter with YHWH on the way (Exodus 4:24-26; cf. Genesis 32:24-32), before being reunited with a brother whom he hasn’t seen for many years who has journeyed to meet him (Exodus 4:27-28; cf. Genesis 33), and returning home with the original threat that occasioned the departure removed (Exodus 2:23; 4:19).
Within this abbreviated and lightly sketched exodus pattern, Jethro plays the role of the good father-in-law, who gives his daughter in marriage without trickery or deceit, provides refuge, welcomes his son-in-law as a full member of his family and freely blesses him on his departure (Exodus 4:18), a striking contrast to Laban’s dishonourable treatment of Jacob in Genesis.
Exodus 1-2 presents us with the struggle of the faithful Eve against the dragon, Pharaoh. Eve, in her many expressions in the narrative – the Hebrew mothers, the midwives, Shiprah and Puah, Jochebed, Miriam, and Pharaoh’s daughter – successfully protects the seed from the dragon’s attacks, making possible all that follows, eighty years later. Moses is delivered from the waters of death through a new ark and protected by a faithful Gentile woman, a Rahab in Pharaoh’s house.
Moses, when he comes of age, visits his brethren who, like Joseph’s brothers, reject his rule over them. At this point Moses undergoes another exodus, an exodus that leads him to Midian and Mount Sinai/Horeb. James Nohrnberg writes:
It was in the mountain that it was revealed to Moses that he was to return to Israel in Egypt, and that this Israel would return to the mountain and to the territorial Israel. This pattern is one more of the blueprints that God shows Moses in the mountain. Moses shares the life of his people, and so shares his life with them. His life is thus converted to Israel’s while its life is converted to his. He preparticipates in the life of his people in Egypt and Midian, then repossesses that life through the stories in Exodus.
Moses’ exoduses serve to mark him out as the head of the people. As the head of the people, he is the one who sets the pattern, the one into whom they must mature and participate. As the Apostle Paul will later remark, the Israelites were ‘baptized into Moses’ in the cloud and the sea (1 Corinthians 10:1-2). His life and story became their life and story. His deliverance was the blueprint and prototype for theirs. In these opening chapters of Exodus, we see Moses, as the future leader of the nation, living out the destiny of the people in advance. He takes up the typological roles originally performed by the patriarchs, and brings them to a new level.