Gateway to the Classics: Moses and the Exodus by Rev. J. Paterson Smyth
Moses and the Exodus by  Rev. J. Paterson Smyth

Lesson II

The Training of the Deliverer

Read Exodus II. 1-10.
Acts VII. 17-22.

§ 1. Moses' Infancy

Do you remember in Uncle Tom's Cabin  the little slave hut of Uncle Tom and Aunt Chloe, with their merry little boys Mose and Pete? I am thinking now of a slave hut like it out by the brick-fields of Tanis 3000 years ago, where another godly slave man and his wife tried to bring up their children in the fear of the Lord. What were their names? Of what tribe? (Daughter=descendant, no reason for the common notion that Jochebed was elderly and was Amram's aunt.) Perhaps in more prosperous days they belonged to high family in the tribe, but now all was changed. I can fancy this poor slave father working naked in the hot brick-fields or at the canal, and coming home at night weary and bleeding from the overseer's whip, and perhaps for the moment inclined to doubt in his sore heart if God saw or cared at all.

Why should we think it was a religious home? Were all the Israelites in Egypt religious? No (Joshua xxiv. 14;  Ezekiel xx. 5-9). But here, when we see all God's providential care afterwards for the bringing up and training of the Deliverer, we can hardly doubt he would be born into a religious home. And also in the New Testament we hear of the faith of his parents (Hebrews xi. 23). What other children? Miriam, the first Mary in the Bible, about fifteen, and a little boy Aaron, three years old (ch.  vii. 7), able to run about and delight his mother with his funny baby talk. I wonder how he escaped being thrown into the river? Probably because he was born before this cruel order, and that it applied only to babies.

Now into this home, with the cruel order hanging over the people, a little boy was born. Was he ugly? (see ch.  ii. 2;  Acts vii. 20;  Hebrews xi. 23). I dare say his mother would have thought him lovely in any case. They always do. But this baby was especially so, and his mother was all the more drawn to him. Generally great joy about a new baby. Was it so here? Why not? Oh, what an awful dread they had of the king's inspectors, and the dark river, and the horrible crocodiles waiting for their prey! What did Jochebed do? Hid the baby. Children warned not to tell. How long hidden? A baby three months old with healthy lungs is not easy to hide. So the poor distracted mother had to find some other plan. Do you think she prayed and trusted God about it? (Hebrews xi. 23).

What was her plan? Yes; we are told by Josephus, the Jewish historian, that Pharaoh's daughter, the Princess Thermuthis, was married and childless, and greatly longed for a child. If it was so, the quick-witted mother would know it. At any rate it was her only chance. And so we can picture her in the early dawn stealing along with her baby, terrified lest he should cry and betray her, till she got to the reeds in the secluded water where the princess went down to bathe. We can see her placing the little ark in the reeds and passionately kissing her little boy and lifting her streaming eyes to Heaven as she commends him to God's care. We know exactly what such a mother would do. Then the wise little sister was set to watch.

Now tell me what happened? How did she guess it was a Hebrew child? Perhaps the features and dress and the knowledge that only a Hebrew mother would risk her baby's life like this. See the simple way, like mere chance, in which God answered the poor mother's prayers. The princess was childless, and the baby was very beautiful, and when he looked at her and cried in his helplessness and fright, her heart went out at once to the little crying child. I think Moses, who tells the story, likes to dwell on her kindness and compassion. I daresay he loved her a good deal, and that she was dead when he wrote the story, and he liked to think of her kindly heart. People who are not accustomed to thinking of God in human affairs would call these things chance. Do you think so? Do you not think the parents' prayers and faith and God's high purpose for the child had something to do with it?

Tell me now of Miriam's clever little plan. Do you think the princess suspected it? I should not wonder if she did, especially when she saw how the mother held and looked at her child. But if the princess suspected she held her tongue about it, and sent the child away to be nursed for her. I suppose she would not dare to take it to the palace. How glad that little mother was that night as she carried home her baby safe and secure, and how her faith would be strengthened, and how she and her husband and children would bow down before God in thankfulness for His answer to their prayers.

§ 2. His Boyhood, His Mother's Bible

So during his early years the boy remained at home with his mother. How would this affect God's plan for his future? Don't you see? The early years of a child are the most important time with regard to his religion. The teaching and the feelings about God and the habit of prayer and trust acquired in our childhood sink more deeply into us than any later teaching. We can remember best of all the hymns and prayers learnt in our childhood. So you see, instead of the child being taught to worship the sacred hawk and the black bull in the big red temple of Pharaoh, he was here in his earliest years in the hands of a mother who loved and trusted God, and who would teach him to love and worship God as she did herself. That was the grand foundation for the religion of his after life.

Did you ever wonder what Bible Moses' mother had, and how did he and Joseph and the ancient Israelites learn about God? As far as we can learn there existed, long before a word of Genesis was written, a sort of "Bible before the Bible." There was the Creation Story, The Story of the Fall, The Story of the Flood, etc. Perhaps they were written down before Abraham's day, when writing was well known. More probably they were handed down from father to son, and preserved in memory in the folk lore of the people without any writing. So Moses may well have learned them from his mother in the slave hut. (See my Introduction to Genesis in this series.)

Of course, as the child grew up he had to leave his mother and go to live in the palace to play with princely companions, and be waited on by courtly attendants, and be surrounded by all the refinement and luxury of the most refined and luxurious court in the world. There would doubtless be much of servile flattery and obedience to his every whim. There is always much in the position of a young prince to spoil his nature, whether in Egypt or anywhere else. And I fear in Egypt Moses would see much that was not good for a boy to see. Don't you think it was a good thing for him that he had been brought up by a religious mother? Ah! that is about the best thing God can give to any of us.

As I look at Dr. Petrie's photographs of what he found in the buried city where Moses had lived, and still more as I see the strange old pictures of Egyptian life that have come down to us from the time of Moses, I can picture the sights around the boy as he looked from the palace roof, or drove in his little chariot through the city, the streets swarming with gaily-dressed crowds, the river crowded with barges in full sail, the music and song, the procession of priests down that long avenue of sphinxes to the great temple of Ptah; and sometimes, on more exciting days, the return of the king from some triumphant expedition with his kilted soldiers and bright swift chariots, and the long rows of captives dragged through the streets. Wonderful sights in that ancient city of Tanis, where Moses was a boy, with the grey mysterious desert stretching away behind, a wonderful delightful life for a boy, flattered and petted and admired like this young prince Moses. I wonder if he ever saw the darker side of that life—the hot brick-fields in the blazing sun, and the slaves sweating at their tasks and crying out under the cruel lash. I wonder too if the little mother who so loved him and prayed for him was ever allowed to see him in his palace days, or was the new royal mother so jealous of his love that she shut out the poor parents from him altogether? Did the poor mother die without her child beside her? Was Amram flogged to death in the brick-fields before the boy grew up? And had they to wait till they passed into the Waiting Life beyond the grave to understand God's high plans for their son in the palace? I should not wonder if it were so.

§ 3. His Education, His Copybook

One thing at any rate was well attended to in King Rameses' days—the education of boys of high rank. In his boyhood Moses would be taught reading and writing, but not so simply as they are taught in our country to-day. His books were like rows of curious pictures. When he was learning to read the old writings and the inscriptions and monuments he found that an eagle meant a,  and an owl was m,  a chicken was u,  a hawk stood for hur,  and a vulture for mut.  But when he had to write them in his copybook he found that the pictures had to change their forms a good deal for the convenience of rapid writing. Should you like to see one of Moses' copybooks? I cannot show you that, but I can show you one like it. Here is the reproduction from a photograph of one.


Photograph of an Egyptian boy's copybook about the time of Moses (Anastasian Papyri,  5, 16). The left-hand word of the first line, asha  (="much") is corrected as not written well enough. From Erman's Ancient Egypt.

It was not written by Moses, but by another Egyptian boy of about the same period or a little earlier. There are several of them in the museums, for when a boy of high rank died, his copybooks, the only achievement of his youthful powers, were frequently buried with him. An Egyptian copybook is easily recognized from its size and shape and often from the writing-master's corrections over the line. In this photograph you can see how at one end of the first line the boy had written badly the word 'asha'  which means much,  and how the teacher had corrected it just above. I can even tell you how many pages of copybook one Egyptian boy had to do each day. For one copybook is dated on one page the 24th of the month Epiphi, and three pages back is the 23rd, and three pages forward the 25th Epiphi. So that boy had to write three pages a day.

I think boys were pretty much the same in Moses' time as they are to-day. I notice that at the back of the copybooks are all sorts of scribbling and queer boyish pictures of houses and cows and drawings of men in that sort of high art which belongs to idle schoolboys from time immemorial, with round head and dots for the eyes and hands sticking out like garden rakes. Only I think the idle boys in Moses' day got a little more flogging than such boys do now. For here are some of the schoolmasters' opinions and advice. "The youth has a back he attends when it is beaten."  "Spend no day in idleness or thou wilt be flogged; for the ears ef a boy are placed on his back and he hears when it is flogged." And so one is not surprised to read that "at noon the children rushed out of school shouting for joy!"  I dare say Moses was much the same sort of boy as yourselves, only I don't think he was idle, else he could hardly have been so "learned in all the wisdom of the Egyptians." Besides, reading and writing he would learn also arithmetic and music, and what probably he liked better, games of wrestling and fencing, games of draughts, and the various games of ball depicted in Egyptian paintings.

§ 4. His Youth and Manhood

And when he grew up he was of course sent to one of the two great ancient universities—the Oxford and Cambridge or the Harvard and Yale of Egypt. Tradition says that On or Heliopolis was his college city. You remember it was there that Joseph met his wife, "Asenath, daughter of Potipherah, priest of On." (Genesis xli. 45).

Here in this college they taught all the higher branches of learning. They taught chiefly religion as it was understood in Egypt—a wonderful religion, with its popular side for the common crowd, its sacred hawks, and bulls, and crocodiles to be worshipped—and yet behind all that, the belief in one God great and good, who was behind and above all these, and who demanded that men should be righteous and true. They had a wonderful book, the "Book of the Dead," which surely must have been an inspiration from God, telling of a future life and the Judgment of the Soul. It helps us to understand that the Spirit of God was not confined to the Jews only; that in all the nations of the earth God left not Himself without witness in some degree. Besides religion, they taught Astronomy, Law, and Medicine, and Literature, and the art of writing poetry, which Moses made such good use of in after days (Exodus xv.; Deuteronomy xxxii.).

Do you think he attended to his studies? See what St. Stephen says (Acts vii. 22), "learned in all the wisdom of the Egyptians." And what else?—"and mighty in word and in deed." In his days, as in our own, the only way in which a prince could be mighty in deeds was by joining the army. It is what we should expect of a prince of Egypt. The Pharaohs were great warriors and led their own soldiers in person. We have several pictures of this king Rameses of Moses' day at the head of his army, and accordingly Jewish tradition tells us that Moses was a soldier, that he became a great warrior and led an expedition against the Ethiopians, from which he came back in triumph. Probably he served too in the Hittite wars of King Seti and King Rameses, and all this experience would be most useful in later days when he had to marshal the great Israelite host. Again you see God's hand preparing him for his future. His study of Law and his knowledge of literature helped him to legislate for Israel. His acquaintance with the Egyptian religion helped him in his appeals to Pharaoh's conscience. His experience of war made him a fit leader of men. In his boyish lessons and his college studies and his drill in the Egyptian barracks, he probably had no idea that he was preparing himself for the future which God had before him; yet because he did them well he was more useful. So with our boys too. They have their lessons to learn and their work to do, and their business is just to do their best at them—looking forward to the future and trying to make themselves thoroughly fitted to do useful work for God. But chiefly I want you to see here the wonderful way in which God by ordinary means got his great plans worked out. For He is doing just the same to-day. Next chapter tells of Moses' great life decision.

Questions for Lesson II

Who were (1) Aaron, (2) Miriam, (3) the Princess?

Who was the child born in the slave hut?

What great danger was he in and how was he saved?

God had a plan for Moses' life. How was it helped by (1) being with his mother, (2) by his training in college and in the army?

While he was a young prince in the palace where was his family?

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