The details of this next section in Exodus are worth careful attention. Moses was put into a “basket” made of bulrushes and then set afloat on the river. Interestingly, the Hebrew word for “basket” in 2:3 is the same word for “ark” in the Noah narrative in Genesis. Just as the life of Noah’s family was bound to Noah, so also was the hope of Israel bound to Moses. Though Moses was only a child, he would be the future deliverer of Israel, and in a certain sense, it would be right to say that as went Moses, so went the hope of the people of Israel. In ancient Near Eastern theology, water was symbolic of judgment. According to the Egyptians, both the Nile River and the creatures in it possessed divine qualities. But the God of Israel is the one true God, and He is able to preserve the life of His people and to triumph over the gods of this world and even to overcome death itself. Thus, neither Pharaoh’s death decree nor the Nile could harm baby Moses, whose life was beautiful in the sight of God. The Hebrew word translated as “beautiful” is also a rich term. At first, it appears to simply refer to the physical features of Moses as seen through the eyes of Moses’ parents. However, in Acts 7:20, we are told that Moses was beautiful “in God’s sight.” This suggests that more than physical things are in view. God knew His beautiful plan for the people of Israel—to preserve them alive—and that this plan involved Moses. Moses was “beautiful” in the sight of God as one who would be Israel’s future redeemer.
This also explains the remarkable providence that follows. Moses drifted away from the hands of his sister along the bank of the Nile, and according to God’s perfect plan, Moses floated right into the arms of the daughter of Pharaoh, who showed compassion for the child. Moses’ sister reentered the scene, offering to go find a nurse to care for the child—who just happened to be Moses’ mother! Only God could orchestrate such a remarkable story. And yet He who watches over His people is the most remarkable artist and author ever. He preserved the life of Moses in the most tender of ways—restoring him to his mother who birthed him and preserved his life at the risk of her own. Our God does amazing things because life is beautiful.
It would be regrettable simply to marvel at the providential preservation of the life of Moses without seeing the big picture of God’s redemptive plan. In Moses’ birth narrative, we see a preview of the history of Israel. When Moses reached adulthood, Pharaoh would again seek to destroy the people of Israel. But God would destroy the gods of Egypt, including Pharaoh’s chief god—Pharaoh himself. The watery grave from which Moses was spared previewed the crossing of the Red Sea when again God would preserve the life of His people as they passed safely through, but the Egyptians would drown in a gulp of divine judgment. The life of Israel was clearly bound up in the life of Moses, her future deliverer. As went the one, so went the many.
A similar stage would be set many years later. Another child would be born under the threat of a Pharaoh-like death decree. Once more the life of God’s people would be bound to a child whom God would preserve alive for the sake of God’s people. It would be hard to miss the similarities between the birth narratives of Jesus and Moses. Jesus is the Savior whose life is bound to the lives of His people. The salvation He brings far surpasses that of Moses, as the ministry Jesus brings is more excellent in every way. This is the point of the book of Hebrews and the point of Hebrews 11. Jesus is the Author and Finisher of the story begun in Moses. Jesus is the One who alone can preserve us alive in the face of death. He is much more than just a beautiful child; He is truly a “Beautiful Savior” as the old hymn goes, who comes into this world to lay down His life in union with ours that we might find life in union with His. The lengths to which God goes in order to save us through His Son, Jesus Christ, are as remarkable as they are poetic. It is the greatest story ever told. It is the love story of the gospel. And it pleased God as a loving Father to save us in Jesus Christ because life is beautiful.