Exodus 2-4: Raising Up A Leader

Moses may have been raised by Pharaoh's daughter, but it took some shaping and convincing from God to make him the leader we know today.


At some point in time a Pharaoh arose in Egypt who decided to command the population to drown or discard male Hebrews. He thought he was punishing the Hebrews (who I'm sure were grievous over the loss of their children) and curbing their expansion, but what he actually did was pave the way for their escape. This is one of those situations that falls under "God works in mysterious ways"—He takes man's conceit and vulgarity and works it in His favor. If Pharaoh hadn't issued the order to cast out the Hebrew males, Moses would have been raised by his mother as a slave and would have never been able to leave Egypt to talk to God on the mountain, nor would he have been able to request an audience with Pharaoh. Through Pharaoh's evil decree, God made a way for deliverance.

The Early Life of Moses

A woman and a man, both from the house of Levi, give birth to a healthy baby boy. When the mother sees that it is a healthy baby, she hides him away for 3 months until she can no longer hide him. She then makes a floating basket in which she places him and sends him down the river. She sends her daughter to follow the basket to see what becomes of the baby.

The Adoption of Moses

The basket is found by Pharaoh's daughter, who feels only compassion when the baby begins to cry. She pays Moses' mother to nurse him, adopts him as her own son, and names him Moses. It is possible that as the Pharaoh's daughter she was not bound by the law and could not be punished for sparing the Hebrew child. It seems unlikely that she would be able to fake that he was her own son, but it may have been possible that she passed him off as Egyptian.

Was Moses Treated Like A Prince?

That brings us to the question of Moses' upbringing. Unless the Pharaoh's daughter had been pregnant and miscarried around the same time she found Moses, it would have been nearly impossible for her to say the child was her own. If she passed the baby off as Egyptian, it is possible that she could have raised him with the benefits and privileges of a prince. It seems unlikely that the same hospitality would be bestowed upon a Hebrew. Acts 7:22 tells us that Moses was taught all that the Egyptians knew. Whether or not he treated as a prince, he most certainly was given a great education.

When Did Moses Find Out He Was Hebrew?

That brings us to the second question, at what point in life did Moses become privy to the knowledge that he was Hebrew. Obviously at some point Moses comes to terms with the fact that he is Hebrew—we are also shown that Moses knows who his brother and sister are later in the narrative. This could mean Moses knew of his lineage from birth, or it could be something his adoptive mother tells him one day. It is interesting for two reasons. If Moses did not learn of his heritage until later years, it would imply that there was not much difference in the physical characteristics of the Israelites and the Egyptians at that time. Also, it begs the question what prompted his anger at the Egyptian striking the Hebrew (see below). If he knew he was Hebrew all along, why was only just getting angry? Or had he just found out and this act was a part of him coming to terms with his identity?

Moses Kills an Egyptian

When Moses is grown, he goes out to where the Hebrews are and witnesses an Egyptian killing an Hebrew, which angers him. Moses looks around to ensure no one is watching then kills the Egyptian. He hides the body, hoping the no one will discover his act. The next day, Moses witnesses two Hebrews fighting, and confronts them about their treatment of each other. The Hebrew men inquire of Moses who made him "a prince and judge" over them and ask if he will kill them the way he killed the Egyptian. There is much to think about concerning this part of Moses' narrative.

Defining Grown

Moses takes an interest in his Hebrew brothers and kills the Egyptian when he is grown, but what constitutes grown? In modern day, grown would be considered at least 18 years old—possibly older. Acts 7:23 tells us that he goes to see the his Hebrew brothers at the age of 40 years old. This takes us back to the question of when Moses discovered his Hebrew origins: did he know for 40 years and only on that day decide to care? Whatever the case, surely God brought him to that particular moment to witness the cruelty his people were enduring.

Fighting Amongst Brothers

Moses kills the Egyptian with the intent of protecting or avenging the Hebrews, but is disconcerted to find them fighting amongst themselves when he returns. It is interesting to note that this behavior still arises today, whether it is duplicated in along racial or national lines. One of the ways African slaves were kept from rebelling in the Southern states of the U.S. was to put animosity between them. Americans today bicker and kill each other despite the shared allegiance to the same country. Are not these divisions what make us vulnerable to attack? Was Moses not right when he criticized that we should not fight our brothers and sisters the way we fight our enemies?

Life in Midian

When Pharaoh learns that Moses has killed an Egyptian to protect a Hebrew, he desires to punish Moses by death; naturally, Moses flees. Moses ends up in a land called Midian by a well. While at the well, 7 daughters of the priest of Midian come to the well to water there flock, but are stopped by a group of shepherds. Moses intervenes to help them, which allows them to return home quicker than usual. When their father Reuel questions this, the girls say that an Egyptian helped them—note that this reveals something about the Egyptian people. It either establishes the physical similarities to which the Hebrews and Egyptians shared or implies their empire was so diverse people identified them simply by disposition and attire (as America is today).Reuel chides the manners of his daughters, and insists that Moses be invited to the house.

Moses Marries

From this meeting, Reuel gives moses his daughter Zipporah to wife. Apparently the well was prime location for meeting a wife back in the day (this makes sense as the well would have been the central hub of any village/town/city in the desert with no plumbing)! Zipporah gives birth to a son and Moses names him Gershom. Sometime while Moses is living in Midian, Pharaoh dies.

Jehtro vs. Reuel (vs. Hobab)

According to the Bible, Moses has 3 father-in-laws: Reuel (Exodus 2), Jethro (Exodus 3), and Hobab (Numbers 10:29, Judges 4:11). So who was Moses' father-in-law? There are many ways to reconcile these names with various levels of plausibility. Bible deniers will quickly claim this as "evidence" the Bible is false. However, its not that cut and dry.

For starters, this could easily be a case of of typographical errors, which doesn't equate to falsification. Note that in Numbers 10:29 and Judges 4:11, the Hebrew word hoten is used for the phrase "father-in-law." Remember, Semitic Languages like Hebrew (in which the Old Testament was originally recorded) do not have vowels the way we do in English. The original text would read "htn." Is there another word would have been written as "htn"? One sources suggests the word Hatan, which means son-in-law; this would change the phrase from "father-in-law" to "son-in-law"—which isn't really any better since we don't know of any daughters that Moses had to obtain a son-in-law[1]. Most people in the Bible had plenty of children that were not mentioned by name, especially daughters, though generally we are told they "begat sons and daughters." This is plausible, though I would not stake my life on it.

Another proposition is that Reuel is Jethro's father and the patriarch of the clan Moses marries in to. In Genesis 32:9 Jacob calls both Abraham and Isaac his father, but we know that Isaac his is actual father and that Abraham is his grandfather. Similarly in Exodus 2:1 we are told that Moses's mother is a daughter of Levi, we also know that she is a direct descendant of Levi, but not his actual daughter. This was a common practice back then, making it completely plausible that Jethro is actually Reuel's son and thus both are considered the father-in-law of Moses. As the patriarch of the clan, Reuel would have a say in the marriage of Jethro's daughters. Both Reuel and Jethro are referred to as the priest of Midian, but in many cultures priesthood is like royalty and is passed through bloodlines this is a practice even in Israelite culture in the Levites who are set aside to perform priestly duties[2].

So who is Hobab? Numbers 10:29 and Judges 4:11 refers to Hobab as Moses's father-in-law. Though an arguement could be made for Numbers 10:29 as to whether it is Hobab or Raguel (Raguel is a different spelling of Reuel[3]) who is being referred to as Moses's father-in-law, Judges 4:11 clearly states Hobab is the father-in-law of Moses. Some claim that Reuel and Jethro are the same person, that they simply had differnt names like Jacob/Israel and Abram/Abraham and that Hobab is his son and the father of Zipporah. Others believe that “father-in-law” is a mistranslation that actually should be read as “in-law” or “brother-in-law.” Of the 48 English translations, 9 render Judges 4:11 with the translation “brother-in-law” or “in-law” [7]. Opponents question why we were told of God changing Jacob and Abraham's names but not of Reuel's if this is the case. There are many possible answers to this question as well. The Pentateuch (and the Bible in general) focuses on those it deems important, either due to their actions or their bloodline. Reuel is not important other than being the father-in-law of Moses (note that we are reminded of this nearly every time he, Jethro, or Hobab are mentioned; they have no other claim to fame). Also, who said God changed their name? In today's society people change their names of their own free will—Sean Combs/Puff Daddy/P. Diddy, Bruce/Caitlyn Jenner, Ron Artest/Metta World Peace. Perhaps Reuel asked to be called Jethro or Hobab or both (Sean Combs has two names and so does Calvin Broadus Jr. aka Snoop Dogg aka Snoop Lion). The name changes of other people in the Bible were detailed by the authors because God Himself authorized the change.
Now Moses kept the flock of Jethro his father in law, the priest of Midian: and he led the flock to the backside of the desert, and came to the mountain of God, even to Horeb.Exodus 3:1 KJV
And Moses said unto Hobab, the son of Raguel the Midianite, Moses' father in law, We are journeying unto the place of which the Lord said, I will give it you: come thou with us, and we will do thee good: for the Lord hath spoken good concerning Israel.Numbers 10:29 KJV
So what's the truth? Who was Moses's father-in-law? I don't know, and unlike these other sites that take one side or the other and argue away that their theory is right, I refuse to force my interpretation on scripture. God is clear that we are not to tamper with, take away from, or add to His words and there is nothing in the verses I've read so far that I can point to and say "clearly this is what God meant." All possibilities require and assumption, but the point is not who Moses's father in law was. One important takeaway is there are in fact possibilities for resolving who each person is and how they relate to each other and Moses, which means it's not a discrepancy. Just because it is hard to piece together does not make it untrue. Further, it bears no weight on the story itself. Moses's father-in-law was a Midianite, by all accounts, solidifying him as a descendant of Shem and Abraham (Midian is the son of Abraham and Keturah). That's all the lineage we need in the story, though Moses's wife's ancestry is scarcely important in the grand scheme of things. The only reason it is brought up is to bring doubt to believers. However, we have seen there are many explanations, the Bible is not giving us a deceitful account of who Moses's father-in-law is, it's simply given us an account that is hard to understand and could have multiple meanings depending on how it is read. I could pray on the topic and in time as I continue studying the Word, I'm sure God would point me to the right answer, and perhaps He will even without that prayer. However, sorting through the possibilities to determine if these are the same people or father and son does not rank high on my list of need-to-know information. Nothing changes in the story if Jethro is the same person as Reuel versus the son of Reuel. I believe in seeking the absolute truth when the alternatives change the outcome of the narrative, but in this case it seems like a lot of effort for little pay off. Of course if I do discover something new, I will be sure to add the information.

The Burning Bush

While keeping Jethro's flock, Moses ends up at the mountain of God known as Mount Horeb. The angel of the Lord appears as flame in the midst of a bush (the angel of the Lord always refers to God himself—a post containing the compilation of this information will be added to the site soon). Moses was tempted to look at the bush to see how it was that even though the bush was on fire it was not being consumed. God stops Moses from looking at the bush. He instructs Moses to take off his shoes because the place where God stands is holy ground. At the burning bush, God tells Moses that He has heard the cries of Israel and has come down from Heaven to liberate them.

This is the second indication that being this close to God's presence should have an effect on us. The first instance is when Jacob and his family go to Bethel to pray after the rape of Dinah (Genesis 35). In the fist case, Jacob tells his family to purify themselves before going before God. In this instance, Moses is told to remove his shoes. Yet earlier in Genesis, such as when God visits Abraham before the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah, no commands or mentioning of how to present ones' self in God's presence are given. Why is this situation different and what is special about removing shoes?

Face-to-Face with God

One of the things that always struck me was the tone of Moses's meeting with God versus Abraham's meeting with God. Unlike Abraham's visit, Moses's visit seems very formal. One possibility is that when God visited Abraham He was disguised as a man (like the other angels), whereas when He visited Moses He did not disguise Himself. Another thought difference that could have effected this is Moses's relationship with God. Moses was raised Egyptian—though presumably his mother still circumcised him at 8 days old per the covenant. Abraham talked to God often and had built alters to God many times before He came to Him but this was Moses's first interaction with God. Either way it is important to note that God told Moses how to approach Him. We can read about the way people in the Bible approached God for examples, but we can also pray and know that God will stop us the way He stopped Moses if we approach Him the wrong way.

Removing Your Shoes

I remember as a kid, I had relatives that complained when I didn't take my shoes off at their house—not because they're the type that take off their shoes at the door, but because they read a deeper meaning into me keeping my shoes on. Taking off my shoes would have shown that I was comfortable and had made myself at home in their house. It also would imply that I was not in a rush to leave and planned to stay awhile. They took my failure to remove my shoes as a sign of discomfort and tension, or as me being prepared to leave at any time. To this day there are very few places in which I take my shoes off: my apartment, home (my parents' house and the house I grew up in), friends who require me to do so when I enter their house (but I don't visit many people like this). In the Bible, shoes are characterized as profane, something to be contrasted with the holiness of God[4][5]. In the case of Moses casting away his shoes to approach God it is not necessarily about comfort or trust as in the feelings my family had toward me over my shoes, though it is possible that could be part of equation. One pastor suggests that the act was a reminder and symbol of submission to God's holiness[6].

Call to Action

God informs Moses that He will send Moses Pharaoh to bring the Israelites out of captivity, but Moses is doubtful of his ability to fulfill God's mission. Moses questions who he is to command Pharaoh to release the Israelites, but God reminds Moses that He will be the moving force behind this endeavor and that He will join Moses on the mission. It is not Moses who tells Pharaoh to let the Israelites go, but God telling Pharaoh through Moses. This may have convinced Moses that it was ok to bring the matter before Pharaoh, but he didn't know what he should tell the Israelites. Moses worries that when he tells the Israelites the God of their fathers has spoken, they will not know Him and will inquire of God's name. God gives Moses His name—this is the first time God has told the Israelites His name—I Am That I Am. These words remind me of René Descartes saying "I think therefore I am." For mankind, thinking is the highest measure we have of our existence and what we often use to separate us from the animals. However, God not only thinks, He creates; without Him nothing would be, which makes Him the essence of being. The name He gives Moses captures this sentiment perfectly. An interesting note is that in Hebrew, the words used represent both present and future tense which embodies the immortality of God.

God Predicts Pharaoh's Reaction

God tells Moses to ask the king of Egypt to let the Israelites take a 3 day journey into the wilderness to make a sacrifice, but is unlikely to let them go. God explains to Moses that He will do wonders which will eventually cause Pharaoh to let the Israelites go. God also promises that they will not leave empty handed. They are to have jewels of gold and silver when they leave.

The Rod of Moses

Moses is still worried that no one will believe him when he returns to Egypt. Noticing the rod in Moses's hand, God instructs him to throw down the rod which promptly turns into a serpent. Moses recoils from the serpent but God instructs him to grab it by the tail; this act transforms it back into a rod. This is one of three miracles God tells Moses he can use to convince the elders he speaks truth. The second miracle is to afflict Moses's hand with leprosy then heal it and the third miracle is to turn water from the river to blood on dry land.

Eloquent Speech

Moses's final worry is that he is not an eloquent speaker. God reminds Moses that He created Moses's mouth and it is He who will give him words to speak. Even though God is angry with Moses's doubt, he allows Moses to appoint his brother Aaron to be his spokesperson.

The Return to Egypt

God assures Moses that the old Pharaoh (the one who was king when Moses was last in Egypt) and all those who sought to kill him because of his actions in Egypt (killing the Egyptian) are dead. Therefore Moses takes his wife and children on a donkey to return to Egypt.

Words for Pharaoh

God tells Moses to perform wonders before Pharaoh. He is told that God will harden the heart of Pharaoh and that Pharaoh will not let the Israelites go. God calls Israel His first born son and threatens to kill Pharaoh's first born son if he does not release Israel.

Failure to Keep the Covenant

Raised by Egyptians, Moses does not know of the covenant made between God and Abraham and fails to adhere by neglecting the circumcision of his son. This brings God's wrath upon Moses and his family. Zipporah, also a descendant of Abraham, realizes the problem and circumcises her son on her own. Zipporah tells Moses he is a bad husband for his failure.

Convincing Israel

When Moses reunites with Aaron, he recollects his conversation with God. Aaron then speaks to the Israelites and conveys God's message to Moses. Moses and Aaron have no trouble convincing the Israelites, who immediately bow to worship God after they hear His message.


  1. "Jethro". Jewish Virtual Library. 2015
  2. Rich, Tracey R. "Rabbis, Priests, and Other Religious Functionaries". Judaism 101. 2011
  3. "Raguel". BibleStudyTools.com. 2015
  4. Nacht, Jacob. "The Symbolism of the Shoe with Special Reference to Jewish Sources". The Jewish Quarterly Review. Vol. 6, No. 1. pp. 1-22. July 1915
  5. Rozovsky, Lorne E. "Jews and Shoes". Chabad.org. 2013
  6. Roberts, Mark. "Holy Ground, Part 2: Taking Off Your Shoes". The High Calling. May 2009
  7. Comparing Judges 4:11 Translations. BibleGateway.com. 2015

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Author Image Author Image I love reading the Word of God. With prayer God's Word reveals so much: from comfort to temperance, from perspective to affirmation. Digging into the depths of the Word, cross-referencing history, language and time differences, is a passion of mine. In March of 2015 I decided to go back through the Bible doing an in depth study on each section I read. Eventually I decided to share my journal of notes as I partake in this journey. I hope you are blessed by God and inspired to pursue a deeper relationship with Him. I love reading and learning about God, nature, and science. I am interested in how it all connects. The Creator's fingerprints are all over his creation. We can learn so much about Him and how we came to be by exploring the world around us. Join me as I explore the world and draw closer to the One who created it all.
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