1 ¶ And there went a man of the house of Levi, and took to wife a daughter of Levi. 2 And the woman conceived, and bare a son: and when she saw him that he was a goodly child, she hid him three months. 3 And when she could not longer hide him, she took for him an ark of bulrushes, and daubed it with slime and with pitch, and put the child therein; and she laid it in the flags by the river’s brink. 4 And his sister stood afar off, to wit what would be done to him.
Here is described a marriage between a man and a woman from the tribe of Levi, the family of Levi, or, as it says here, the house of Levi. The son she bore was healthy and strong, a goodly child. To keep him from being murdered she hid him as long as she could and when it was impossible to hide him she built a small waterproof container and placed him in the river near the bank with his older sister watching from a safe distance. There is a reason for her actions and she is not just abandoning the child. Remember the Ark that carried Noah and his family through the worst natural catastrophe to hit the earth, the great Flood.
5 ¶ And the daughter of Pharaoh came down to wash herself at the river; and her maidens walked along by the river’s side; and when she saw the ark among the flags, she sent her maid to fetch it. 6 And when she had opened it, she saw the child: and, behold, the babe wept. And she had compassion on him, and said, This is one of the Hebrews’ children. 7 Then said his sister to Pharaoh’s daughter, Shall I go and call to thee a nurse of the Hebrew women, that she may nurse the child for thee? 8 And Pharaoh’s daughter said to her, Go. And the maid went and called the child’s mother. 9 And Pharaoh’s daughter said unto her, Take this child away, and nurse it for me, and I will give thee thy wages. And the woman took the child, and nursed it. 10 And the child grew, and she brought him unto Pharaoh’s daughter, and he became her son. And she called his name Moses: and she said, Because I drew him out of the water.
It doesn’t say that the Pharaoh’s daughter immersed herself or went swimming. It says that she came down to wash herself. As there were several gods associated with the Nile River, which allowed Egypt to exist as a great civilization in the desert, she may have been performing a ritual ablution. We can’t be sure, going by the literal text. It is not likely that the Pharaoh’s daughter would be swimming naked in the river especially considering the animals that lived in the river. We will learn later the religious significance of washing oneself in the Law given to Moses. In any event, she and her attendants were walking by the river’s side when they saw the little ark, like a small boat, sitting in the reeds.
The word flags refers to the reeds and rushes from which they derived papyrus, early paper for documents.
Job 8:11 Can the rush grow up without mire? can the flag grow without water?
Isaiah 19:6 And they shall turn the rivers far away; and the brooks of defence shall be emptied and dried up: the reeds and flags shall wither.7 The paper reeds by the brooks, by the mouth of the brooks, and every thing sown by the brooks, shall wither, be driven away, and be no more.
Isaiah 35:7 And the parched ground shall become a pool, and the thirsty land springs of water: in the habitation of dragons, where each lay, shall be grass with reeds and rushes.
She easily identified the baby as a Hebrew child but had mercy on the child. The baby’s sister, who had been watching close by, offers to get a nurse for the child, seeing the Pharaoh’s daughter wanted to save the baby. So, in this way the baby’s mother was able to nurse him and care for him for the Pharaoh’s daughter until he was weaned. He became the son of Pharaoh’s daughter, who named him Moses because he was drawn out of the river and that’s what the name means, drawn out.
The son of Pharaoh’s daughter would have, in all likelihood, been raised and educated with all of the worldly learning of the Egyptian royalty. Some authorities say that Egyptian children stayed with their mothers until around the age of four. The Prince’s school in ancient Egypt, according to a source I read, taught history, writing, and math based on a ten point system. It taught arithmetic, geometry, astronomy, and music, as well. Geography, science, and medicine rounded out the lessons. The hieroglyphic, picture style of writing was very important. You have seen this type of writing where the characters were, as in Chinese and Aztec, pictographs. In this writing there was a tremendous religious significance rather than just a utilitarian one of communication. While this is, perhaps, an oversimplification, this is a general way to understand the general concept of writing. This will become very important in a few chapters.
Moses was most likely raised in the arts of war and peace and in governing. The Egyptian leadership was a top-down organization with the Pharaoh the supreme authority and we have seen the tendency toward government control of everything by what happened in Joseph’s time. Keep these things in the back of your mind as we move forward in Exodus. While we don’t know for certain from the text what Moses was taught we can be sure he wasn’t raised in a box.
Here, in this passage we can see God's hand in moving His ministry of reconciling mankind to Himself forward in small steps, using mankind's choices whether good or bad to further His plan.