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Why Did Moses' Parents Hide Him? — Heb. 11.23

During Moses’ generation, the Egyptian Pharaoh infamously commanded the Hebrews to kill their sons (Ex. 1.16). However, Moses’ parents thwarted this command.


Hebrews 11.23 reads:


“By faith Moses, when he was born, was hidden three months by his parents, because they saw he was a beautiful child; and they were not afraid of the king’s command.”


Some ambiguity surrounds the meaning of the word “beautiful.” It comes from the word asteios, which means “of that which befitted the town” (Vine, p. 54). The infant was elegant as opposed to rustic. Something was appealing about the baby Moses. 


The issue is this. Did Moses’ parents hide the baby merely because of his physical beauty, or was it more because they saw he was a spiritually “beautiful child?” Consider these points.


First, Moses’ parents hid the child “by faith.” In biblical teaching, “faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God” (Rm. 10.17). 


This indicates that Moses’ parents did not base their actions purely on superficial reasons. Instead, they were acting in response to something God had revealed to them


Second, in his address to the Jewish council in Jerusalem, Stephen affirmed that the infant Moses was asteios to theo — literally, “beautiful to God” (Acts 7.20). The NKJV renders the phrase: “…well pleasing to God.” The ESV reads: “…beautiful in God’s sight.” 


It is possible that the phrase — although written in Greek — was intended to reflect a Hebrew idiom, meaning something like: He was ‘so divine’ (i.e., exceedingly exceptional). This explains why neither the KJV, ASV, nor the NIV mention “God” in their translations, for they decided to take a more dynamic approach to this phrase — i.e., they approximated the way the audience might have received the passage originally instead of the way it formally reads.


If taken as written in Greek, the phrase suggests his parents saw that God smiled upon the baby. Indeed, even though the NIV does not translate theo (“God”), it still appears to capture the spiritual essence of the passage: “He was no ordinary child.” 


Perhaps the best rendition is this: “He was exceptional to God.” This also suggests a spiritual attractiveness. 


Third, faith is based either on historical claims God has made about the past (cf. 1 Cor. 15.1ff), present timeless truths (cf. Heb. 11.6), or future promises that have yet to come to fruition.


In that light, one possibility is that Moses’ parents “hid” their boy simply because it was the right thing to do — per God’s moral precepts. 


Against that notion, however, the text reveals that Moses’ parents “hid” the infant due to the exceptional qualities of Moses himself — not merely because it is wrong to murder infants in general. A better explanation is warranted. 


Return to the passage in Hebrews 11. The chapter argues that faith takes God’s promises at his word and lives life with such promises in view as if they were already a present reality (cf. Heb. 11.13, 17, 20, 26, 39). 


Therefore, perhaps when Moses’ parents “saw he was an exceptional little child” — again “by faith” — they had “seen” some of God’s future plans involving Moses — e.g., that he would be a great leader for Israel; that he would lead them out of Egyptian bondage; that he would give them a law to govern them as a people; etc. Hence, when Moses’ parents “saw he was a beautiful child” “by faith,” they had 

“perhaps…been given some hint of the destiny of the child” (Jackson, p. 514). 

Unfortunately, there is no explicit record in the OT of Moses’ parents receiving any verbal revelation or vision from God concerning the future of their baby.


Fourth, the Hebrew word for “beautiful” (towb) denotes that which is pleasant. Brown (et. al.) suggests that the term in Exodus 2.2 is used with reference “to the senses” (Brown, #2896, p. 373) — i.e., physical attractiveness. This brings us to another plausible explanation. 


Perhaps the unusual physical appearance of the baby in and of itself was how God conveyed his favor to his parents. Keil and Delitzsch put it like this:

“The very beauty of the child was to her a peculiar token of divine approval, and a sign that God had some special design concerning him" (Keil and Delitzsch, 2024).

This explanation, then, takes both the physical and the spiritual beauty of Moses into account. Indeed, whether they received a specific communication from God or a generic sign, Moses’ parents did not act merely because they were physically attracted to their baby and wanted to keep him. Rather, they were motivated ultimately by spiritual interests. Hence, they acted “by faith.” 


Finally, though Hebrews 11.23 alludes to the faithful actions of Moses’ parents (cf. Ex. 1.8ff), the broader section is about Moses’ faith (Heb. 11.23-29) — hence, the author says: “By faith Moses…” The subtle point is this. Right from the beginning, Moses was surrounded by faith. Indeed, his

“whole life is marked by awareness of the presence and power of the unseen God, and believing obedience to His word” (Bruce, p. 316). 

Moses’ parents were not neglectful of Moses’ spiritual upbringing. They appreciated the importance of teaching their child — however young — about God. Eventually, by divine providence, his mother was able to raise him in Pharaoh’s palace (cf. Ex. 2.8ff). 


The Bible frequently urges parents to start their children off right with both spiritual and moral training (cf. Gen. 18.19; Dt. 6.7; 11.19; Ps. 78.4; Prov. 22.6; 2 Tim. 3.15; Eph. 6.1-4).


Conclusion

Moses was indeed a physically handsome baby. But his parents were more interested in matters of faith than matters of the flesh


Since they “saw” “by faith” that Moses was an “exceptional child in God’s sight” — whether based on the “sign” of his handsome appearance or based on some specific revelation from God — they hid him from the king. 


May every parent likewise prepare their children to live in pursuit of spiritual excellence, so that their children too may become “exceptional to God.”


Resources
Brown, F., S. Driver, & C. Briggs. The Brown-Driver-Briggs Hebrew and English Lexicon. Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers, 2001.

Bruce, F. F.  Hebrews. Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1984. 

Jackson, Wayne. New Testament Commentary. Jackson, TN: Christian Courier Publications, 2019. 

Keil, C. F. and F. Delitzsch. “Exodus 2,” in Biblical Commentary on the Old TestamentBiblehub.com. Accessed: January 11, 2024. https://biblehub.com/commentaries/kad/exodus/2.htm

Vine, W. E.  Complete Expository Dictionary of Old and New Testament Words. Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1985.

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