Moses as a third-culture kid—Exodus 2:7-10

Did Moses know that he was a Hebrew? Contrary to some of the movies we see (including my beloved Prince of Egypt!), he presumably did. In many periods in Egypt’s history, Asians could serve in the Egyptian court. Disloyalty to Egypt, however, would be harshly punished. A Hebrew less than fully assimilated in Egyptian culture and too Egyptian to be trusted by many of his fellow Hebrews, Moses was like what we call today a “third culture kid” (like many children of immigrants, refugees, missionaries, diplomats or other cross-cultural settings, and sometimes like children in bicultural homes). (Midianites who met him viewed him as Egyptian, Exod 2:19.)

In some cultures a child can identify with multiple cultures, but Moses grew up in a setting of prejudice where his Hebrew identity would have counted as a liability. So Moses grew up as a Hebrew, but also in Egyptian culture. This experience continued until he grew up (Exod 2:11).

Miriam interceded for Moses when she saw the compassion of Pharaoh’s daughter, offering to secure a Hebrew wetnurse for the child (Exod 2:7). The period of nursing might take two years, and the nurse needed to be one who could provide milk for the child—in this case, Moses’s own mother, who now got paid to nurse her own baby (2:8-9).

Although Moses’s mother was able to nurse him, once he was weaned she had to return him to Pharaoh’s daughter, who adopted Moses as her own son. The new mother also named him “Moses,” commemorating her finding him and drawing him from the water (2:10). “Moses” is not an unusual component of an Egyptian name, but Pharaoh’s daughter may have used a wordplay on the Hebrew words for drawing him out of the water because the child was a Hebrew. (Although the Hebrews lived in close proximity, in Goshen, in state servitude but living in their own mud-brick homes, she may have had to consult with Hebrew servants or others to find the right wordplay.) The providential irony here is that under Moses’s leadership God would someday deliver all his people through water.

Moses thus grew up in privilege, yet was also aware that he was Hebrew. Moses belonged to two cultures, but an event would soon force him to choose one at the expense of the other—in the short term costing him both (Exod 2:11-15).

(For other posts on Exodus, see

Where was God when tragedy happened?—Exodus 1:22

Sometimes in the midst of history, injustice seems to prevail. In light of a longer view, and especially an eternal view, however, justice will win out. This becomes evident over the span of a generation in the ensuing context of our present passage.

Before Pharaoh decided to oppress Israelites, they multiplied and became very strong (Exod 1:7). This was why the king decided to enslave them to begin with (1:8-11). But as he afflicted them, they multiplied still more (1:12)! So the king’s next strategy was to kill newborn Israelite males secretly, leaving any possible blame in the event of discovery on the Hebrew midwives (1:15-16). Yet this strategem, too, failed (1:17-19), and the refrain continues: the people multiplied and became very strong (1:20).

Finally Pharaoh now decides to take action more directly. The Hebrew midwives had not killed Israelite babies at birth, so Pharaoh ordered his own people to kill newborn Israelite males (1:22). (Aaron was three years older than Moses, and would not be among the children affected by the king’s decree; see 7:7.)

Ironically and unknown to Pharaoh, however, his own daughter would undermine his decree out of compassion for a Hebrew baby (2:6-10)—Israel’s future deliverer. God does not always prevent tragedy—but he does ensure his plan for the future of his people and for ultimate justice.

Indeed, Exodus resounds with the recognition that God, while not always stopping human wickedness, does not look the other way: Consider how God would return against the next generation of Egyptians what Pharaoh had done. Pharaoh drowned Israel’s babies in the Nile (1:22); the first plague would turn the Nile to blood (7:20). Pharaoh drowned Israel’s babies in the Nile (1:22); the last plague would strike Egypt’s firstborn children (12:29). Pharaoh drowned Israel’s babies in the Nile (1:22); God would drown Egypt’s army in a sea of reeds (14:28). Though long delayed, justice would come. As we often say in the African-American church, “God doesn’t always come when you want Him to, but He’s always right on time.”

(For other posts on Exodus, see

God loves atheists (2-minute video)

For those who prefer text, it appears below the video:

God loves atheists, and so do I. Jesus calls his followers to love our neighbors as ourselves. While some atheists are spiteful in denouncing the Lord we love, and all of us his followers, as simple-minded, Jesus also told us to love our enemies and even modeled this love for us by laying down his life and forgiving his executioners. He urges us to pray for those who persecute us. Moreover, some Christians on the internet have denounced atheists no less spitefully, though 2 Timothy urges us to be kind toward all, responding with patience and gentleness if we respond at all. If you’re an atheist, please forgive our people who have treated you with hostility. Not all atheists are hostile to believers; some simply do not find reason to believe, and they are sincere in their unbelief. I know, because I was once an unchurched atheist, and would never have known that there is good reason to believe had I not met the Lord for myself. Alister McGrath, William Lane Craig and some other Christian scholars who engage atheists most fruitfully were themselves once atheists, and therefore are able to care about engaging atheists in a way that some other Christians don’t. If you’re a Christian who doesn’t love atheists, I urge you to consider your heart. God loves atheists. If he hadn’t, I never would have come to know his love in Christ.

Is lying ever right?—Exodus 1:19-21

In the 2013 film, Return to the Hiding Place (, Eusi, a Jewish cantor staying with the Ten Booms, argues that saving a life is far more important than telling the truth. An ethical debate ensues; one of Corrie’s sisters insists that lying is always wrong. The issue is, of course, a very live one for Eusi: he is a secret refugee in the Ten Booms’ home, and telling truth to the Nazis would mean his death and that of other Jewish fugitives.

Is lying ever right? Very rarely, but in the present passage the Hebrew midwives lied to protect their lives, and God blessed their ruse designed to protect the Hebrew babies (as discussed in the previous lesson). As the previous study noted, God blessed the midwives for protecting the Hebrew babies, defying Pharaoh’s order. That God blesses midwives despite their lie might seem strange to some modern readers, but that may say more about how we have read some biblical principles too narrowly and ignored examples of extreme situations in some biblical narratives.

That people of truth should not lie is an important biblical principle (Prov 6:17, 19; 8:7; 10:18; 12:17, 19, 22; 14:5, 25; 17:7; 19:5, 9; 21:28; 24:28; 25:18; 26:19, 28; 30:8). Lies for personal gain (19:22; 20:17; 21:6) or what we would wrongly think is for God’s glory are always wrong (cf. Rom 3:7-8).

But lying to protect spies during some war circumstances was right. God had commanded warfare against Canaan (on which see;;, and Rahab was right to side with God’s people against her own and to give refuge to Israelite spies (Josh 2:4-5). After Absalom’s treacherous and deceptive revolt against King David, David’s allies were right to lie as spies or to hide and protect spies (2 Sam 16:16-19; 17:7-13, 20)

One also cannot blame Michal for lying even to her own father to save David’s life (1 Sam 19:14; 20:28-29) or her own (19:17). Saul was perpetrating great evil, and giving David more time to make good his escape was the right thing to do. That Michal showed loyalty to her husband over her own father could make some sense (cf. Gen 2:24), but what makes it definitively right here, whether Michal already understood this or not, is that David rather than Saul was God’s current chosen instrument. In his plan to take life unjustly, Saul forfeited his right to the truth. In a similar way, Bonhoeffer was right to insist that lying to the Nazi regime was acting truthfully before God, because the Nazis forfeited their right to the truth.

God sometimes handed people over to deadly deception because they did not merit truth (1 Kgs 22:22-23; 2 Thess 2:10-12). But did God himself ever endorse human deception? He barely ever does so, but there are exceptions. In some cases God allowed partial truth that could be construed as deceptive regarding real intentions. God gives Samuel a cover for his actions (1 Sam 16:2-3) that do not reflect his real mission; if Saul knew that Samuel were really going to Bethlehem to anoint a new king, Saul would try to kill Samuel (for meddling in politics!) Although Jesus does not lie in John 7:6-10, his carefully chosen words may mislead his brothers: he goes to a festival secretly after telling his brothers that he could not go with them.

But a more explicit case is 2 Kings 8:10: Elisha instructs Hazael to inform Ben-Hadad, king of Aram, that he would recover—when in fact Elisha knew that he would surely die, and tells Hazael as much. Prophets usually had to tell the truth even at the risk of their own lives, but sometimes wicked tyrants so forfeit their right to truth that subverting them is an act of truth and justice. In the biblical world, it could seen as playing the game of cunning and winning. I could not play that game even in dangerous circumstances, lacking the requisite skills. But where it is a matter of life and death, God can sometimes grant people cleverness and the upper hand.

That observation brings us back to Exodus, which took place in a culture that valued such cunning. Pharaoh thought he was dealing cleverly with the Hebrews to keep them from multiplying (Exod 1:10). Instead, he is outwitted by the Hebrew midwives, at least in the first round (1:19). They could not prevent Pharaoh’s subsequent actions against other newborns, but they could protect at least the infants they were responsible for.

By the end of the chapter, Pharaoh seems to have the upper hand. But later in the narrative, when (a different) Pharaoh is willing to let the Israelites go worship in the wilderness, he wants to hold their animals hostage to guarantee their return. He is being clever. Moses, who knows that they will not return, insists that they must take their animals for sacrifice, and they won’t know until they reach their destination which animals they will need. Pharaoh knows that Moses is playing with him, and Moses knows that Pharaoh knows this; but it is a game of wit and power, and it becomes increasingly clear, as God continues to act, that Moses has the upper hand, and Pharaoh’s pretense of power is collapsing before YHWH.

Is lying ever right? Almost all the positive biblical examples reflect cases of protecting life, the deceiver’s or someone else’s. Most are also lies to those who have acted against the truth in such a way as to forfeit their right to truth. Scripture seems clear that if lying protects innocent fugitives from aggressors, it is the far more ethical course to lie than to betray those fugitives merely to recount the full truth to their enemies.

The Hebrew term for truth, emeth, involves especially integrity, genuineness, and faithfulness; faithfulness protects lives, not betrays them. These examples do not justify falsehood and dishonesty in our basic, everyday dealings with others; the normal biblical principle, reiterated in Proverbs, is valuing truth. But in some circumstances, truth and integrity require subverting a regime of falsehood. In Return to the Hiding Place, Eusi, joined by Corrie Ten Boom, was right.

Seek the common good (89-second video)

The video appears here; the text follows if you prefer to read it

Sometimes religious people, like some other people, have wanted to be in charge of society. Of course, in a democracy we’re all responsible for public welfare and should work for our society’s good, including in working for justice and truth in the public square. We should intelligent articulate and advocate for values that will help people, and the more people who share these values, the healthier society can be. But theocracy like existed at times in ancient Israel is not the model God has given us for our period in salvation history. Instead, Paul asks in 1 Cor 5:12, “What do I have to do with judging those outside?” Moreover, as many ethicists point out, New Testament writers speak of us as resident aliens, harking back to the Israelites’ experience in exile. God’s people in the Persian empire were a minority in a pluralistic society; although some hated them (consider the book of Esther), God often blessed them with favor and wisdom. As the Lord commanded his people in Jer 29:7, “seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the Lord on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare” (NRSV).