In our popular consciousness, we sometimes picture Moses as a stand-alone superhero. Images of Charleton Heston’s portrayal of Moses in the classic movie “The Ten Commandments” even show him with his hair wind-tossed and his robes blown back behind him as the sea parts to make way for the Hebrew people to pass to safety.
While Moses usually takes center stage in our imaginations, he is rarely depicted as a solitary figure in Scripture. From beginning to end, he is paired with others, and like flint upon stone they all have a role in shaping his character.
First, Moses is paired with two women whose heroic and clever measures preserve him from death at the moment of birth. The pharaoh of Egypt has grown paranoid about the growing power of the slave population and orders that all male children be drowned in the Nile at birth. The midwives, Shiprah and Puah, are likely Egyptian themselves, but the Scriptures tell us that they “feared God” (Exodus 1:12). They are in awe of God in a way that overcomes any fear of the pharaoh. Their swift and moral action provides a place for Moses in the world.
Moses is then paired with two more females, his mother Jochabed (named in Numbers 26:59) and his sister Miriam. Hidden by his mother for three months, presumably in the home, Moses is then hidden among the reeds on the edges of the mighty river (see Exodus 2:1-4). Imagine a mother desperately fashioning a floating basket to protect her infant son, not knowing for sure what might happen next. And then imagine an older sister, herself a child, who would have fretted about him there along the banks of the river. Their ingenuity and daring are echoed in every family across the globe who takes desperate measures to provide safety for their children.
The next pairing for Moses is with the daughter of Pharaoh, the woman whose culture and status and lifestyle could not have been more different than the family of his birth. Arriving at the river with her entourage, she notices the basket and finds within it the crying baby boy (Exodus 2:5-10). Just as God will later rescue the Hebrew people from the waters of the sea when they escape, the Egyptian princess rescues this little one from the waters of the Nile and provides for his future.
All these pairings in Moses’ young life undoubtedly prepared him for the most important pairing of all — the one that would lift him out of obscurity, lift a people out of slavery and lift a world out of despair. In his partnership with the great I AM of the desert, Moses could draw on the bravery of the midwives who delivered him, the determination and ingenuity of his mother, the watchfulness and cleverness of his sister and the benevolence of his rescuer at the edges of the Nile.
God partnered with Moses for the liberation of the oppressed and prepared Moses all along, not in secrecy or isolation, but through the grace-filled pairings that shaped even his early life. Moses is not a super-hero who stands alone in the face of evil; immersed in a web of relationships, he confronts evil from within the midst of God’s people.
Catherine Upchurch is the general editor of the Little Rock Catholic Study Bible and contributes to several biblical publications. She writes from Fort Smith.
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