God Heard Their Groaning | Exodus 2

Chapters 2 and 3 of Genesis set the scene for the remainder of the book of Genesis as well as the Bible as a whole. Chapter 2 establishes how the world was created to be, the garden paradise that we still yearn for. Chapter 3, however, purposely mirrors chapter 2 because it reveals how paradise was lost to humanity. These first two chapters of Exodus form a similar, though reverse, picture. In chapter 1, we saw the enslavement of God’s people under the wicked hand of Pharaoh, yet when enslavement failed to sufficiently beat down the Israelites, Pharaoh resorted to infanticide. Chapter 2 mirrors chapter 1, giving us a glimpse of how God will rescue His people from their oppression through how God rescues Moses as their future leader. Just as chapter 1 ended with Pharaoh’s attempted infanticide, chapter 2 begins with God’s preservation of Moses in the midst of that slaughter. The account of Israel’s enslavement in chapter 1 then contrasts with Moses’ exodus from Egypt in chapter 2. Finally, just as chapter 1 began with the names of the patriarchs to remind us of God’s providence in bringing them into Egypt, chapter 2 ends with God preparing to deliver His people from their slavery.


These first nine verses continue the battle between the Serpent and the woman that was being waged in Egypt. Just as the plans of Pharaoh were undone by the faithfulness of two Hebrew midwives in chapter 1, so too are they thwarted again by three women here.

First, we see the faithfulness of Moses’ mother, later identified as Jochebed (6:20). She begins by seeing that her child was a fine child, which might literally be translated as “she saw that he was good.” There certainly seems to be an echo of God’s pronouncement of the goodness of His creation in these words. If so, this clues us into the fact that Moses’ mother had a godly vision of the value of her child, in contrast to the Satanic anti-natal vision of Pharaoh.

But, of course, it is not enough to simply see the value in what God has made, we must also act in a godly manner. And Moses’ mother did just that. She hid her child for three months, which, given how much newborns cry, must have been an utterly terrifying experience. Nevertheless, she was faithful to protect her child as long as she could, and when she could hide him no longer, she cast him into the Nile. Of course, she did not do so in the manner that Pharaoh had commanded. Instead, she built a basket, although the Hebrew word is the same word used for Noah’s ark and surrendered him into the hand of God. And just as God kept Noah safe from the waters within the ark, so too did he keep Moses safe from the waters of the Nile within his own ark.

Second, we see the faithfulness of Moses’ sister, Miriam, who followed her little brother from the riverbank and then was bold enough to speak of Pharaoh’s daughter. Stuart writes of her bravery, saying that “Miriam’s oversight of Moses as he floated among the rushes of the Nile and her quick thinking in proposing an Israelite nurse for the baby (knowing full well she would “recruit” his own mother) helped preserve Moses for her family and for Israel’s salvation.”[1]

Finally, we see the faithfulness of Pharaoh’s daughter, which is surprising because she was almost certainly not a believer in the LORD. She was, nevertheless, faithful to God’s creational design for women to be givers and nourishers of life, especially toward children. Moses’ crying stirred up pity within her heart that led to her blatant rejection of her father’s command, since she knew immediately that the baby was one of the Hebrews’ children.[2]

Thus, through three women, one of whom was still a child, Pharaoh’s plan was undone, and the future savior of the Israelites was saved from death. And he was saved by being brought into Pharaoh’s own house and educated on his dime. It is also significant that these women defeated the most powerful man in the world by simply doing what they were naturally designed to do. Moses’ mother took care of her child. His sister looked after her younger brother. Pharaoh’s daughter rescued a crying baby. These were three women who faithfully continued to be women, even as the Serpent hissed his threats their way.

Two thoughts.

First, this is a glorious example of God overturning the strong through the weak. Not only were these three women physically weaker than Pharaoh; they also had radically less authority. God, however, chose to work through their lack of strength and lack of authority, giving us a foretaste of how utterly powerless Pharaoh is before the Almighty. Let us not grow weary of doing good nor of being faithful in the ordinary course of life. God very often uses such ordinary faithfulness to overthrow the grandest schemes of the devil.

Second, I pointed out last week that our society has taken up the satanic attack on children via abortion, yet we need to also broaden out our focus to see how we have largely taken the wrong side in the war between the Serpent and the woman. You see, for all the rants against the patriarchy and toxic masculinity, our culture does not respect women; it abhors them. Conservative commentator Matt Walsh recently got suspended from Twitter for making this very point. He tweeted:

The greatest female Jeopardy champion of all time is a man. The top female college swimmer is a man. The first female four star admiral in the Public Health Service is a man. Men have dominated female high school track and the female MMA circuit. The patriarchy wins in the end.[3]

Apparently since the ‘future is female,’ the patriarchy just decided to become female, and in our Gnostic age where the body is nothing more than a machine to be molded as we see fit, why not become female? Feminists bear a significant amount of the blame because rather than fighting for society to place more value upon femininity, they fought for the right to act like and be treated like men (and often the worst kind of men). They ushered in a world where a woman is lauded for doing anything as long as it is not the one thing that only women can do: bearing children. The coming population bust[4] is a direct result of our devaluing of motherhood.

In Eden, God gave Adam the task of working the garden and Eve the task of bearing children. Together, they would fulfill the Creation Mandate of being fruitful, multiplying, filling the earth, and subduing it (Genesis 1:28), which itself is a reflection of how God created the world by forming (masculine) and then filling (feminine). Yet notice that three words are used for the same action of bearing children (fruitful, multiply, and fill the earth), while only one word is given for Adam’s task of working the ground (subdue it). Just as God formed the earth on days 1-3 in order to fill the earth on days 4-6, so too are men called to subdue the earth to make ready to be filled by women and the children that they bear.

Now do not hear what I am not saying. A woman that never gives birth is not a lesser woman. Especially under the New Covenant, we now have an even greater mandate to make disciples of all nations. I am speaking, instead, on a societal level, and a society that has rejected the value of the uniquely feminine work of motherhood is a society that has abandoned the Creation Mandate and has taken the Serpent’s side. May God grant us repentance rather than the judgment that we so rightly deserve!


Verse 11 jumps to Moses as an adult.

One day, when Moses had grown up, he went out to his people and looked on their burdens, and he saw an Egyptian beating a Hebrew, one of his people. He looked this way and that, and seeing no one, he struck down the Egyptian and hid him in the sand.

In order to better understand these verses, we should listen to what Stephen had to say about them in his sermon before the council:

When he was forty years old, it came into his heart to visit his brothers, the children of Israel. And seeing one of them being wronged, he defended the oppressed man and avenged him by striking down the Egyptian. He supposed that his brothers would understand that God was giving them salvation by his hand, but they did not understand.

Acts 7:23–25

These two passages clearly show us that Moses grew up in the household of Pharaoh knowing that his true ethnicity, whether that came from his birth mother or from his adopted mother. And at the age of forty, he wanted to a better look at the oppression of his people. He desired to see firsthand their suffering, which is exactly what he saw. Ryken points out that “the Hebrew language does not distinguish very precisely between beating and killing; the verb nakah refers to both. Thus the word used to describe what the Egyptian did and what Moses did to the Egyptian are one and the same. This suggests that the slave driver intended to beat his slave to death.”[5]

Hebrews 11:24-26 further describes the righteous heart of Moses here:

By faith Moses, when he was grown up, refused to be called the son of Pharaoh’s daughter, choosing rather to be mistreated with the people of God than to enjoy the fleeting pleasures of sin. He considered the reproach of Christ greater wealth than the treasures of Egypt, for he was looking to the reward.

Moses’ intentions were clearly good. He saw the pain of his people and longed to deliver them. Sadly, Moses was also clearly taking matters into his own hands and playing the vigilante. Even if the Egyptian intended to beat his slave to death, Moses actually carried out that act by beating the Egyptian to death. He was making himself both judge and executor, without being given either function yet by God.

Moses’ error was that he attempted to a work for God according to the wisdom of the world, but as we noted last week, God does not operate according to the wisdom of the world. The LORD was not going to deliver His people through the might of Moses but through His own miraculous wonders. If we do not take care, we can easily find ourselves in the same spot, zealously attempting to serve God yet doing so with worldly methods that do not glorify Him. An example of this are the many sermons today that more resemble TED Talks than they do the proclamation of God’s Word. The reasoning is most often to make the message more palatable to modern ears. Yet a light treatment of God’s Word makes light-weight disciples that will be easily “carried about by every wind of doctrine” (Ephesians 4:14). It is not enough to have good intentions; we must also use God-ordained methods.

Verses 13-15 should be read as God mercifully keeping Moses away from self-earned success:

When he went out the next day, behold, two Hebrews were struggling together. And he said to the man in the wrong, “Why do you strike your companion?” He answered, “Who made you a prince and judge over us? Do you mean to kill me as you killed the Egyptian?” Then Moses was afraid, and thought, “Surely the thing is known.” When Pharaoh heard of it, he sought to kill Moses. But Moses fled from Pharaoh and stayed in the land of Midian. And he sat down by a well.

God drove Moses into the wilderness, which throughout the Bible is where God regularly meets with His people. In the next chapter, we will see exactly how God met with Moses; first, however, God gave Moses an opportunity to be a deliverer in the right way.

Now the priest of Midian had seven daughters, and they came and drew water and filled the troughs to water their father’s flock. The shepherds came and drove them away, but Moses stood up and saved them, and watered the flock. When they came home to their father Reuel, he said, “How is it that you have come home so soon today?” They said, “And Egyptian delivered us out of the hand of the shepherds and even drew water for us and watered the flock.” He said to his daughters, “Then where is he? Why have you left the man? Call him, that he may eat bread.”

In this scene, Moses again intervened on behalf of people who were being oppressed (this time a group of young women being harassed by a group of shepherds). The evidence of Moses’ growth is twofold. First, he evidently did not kill any of the shepherds. Second, the former prince of Egypt drew water for these shepherdesses. This was unusual because women typically served men rather than the other way around and because shepherds were abominations to Egyptians (Genesis 46:34). Thus, we have Moses no longer playing the hero, and prefiguring the condescension of Christ instead.

Finally, we are told that Moses settled down in Midian, where he would spend the next forty years of his life.

And Moses was content to dwell with the man, and he gave Moses his daughter Zipporah. She gave birth to a son, and he called his name, Gershom, for he said, “I have been a sojourner in a foreign land.”

The foreign land to which Moses refers is clearly Midian. Since he was raised with the best that Egypt had to offer, Moses would have very easily felt at home in Egypt. Even though the suffering of his people eventually drove him away from the palace, it was still important for Moses to feel the ache of being a foreigner, a sojourner in a foreign land, for he was better able to understand the plight of the Hebrews. Indeed, if we observe the chapter as a whole, Moses’ life is very purposely meant to foreshadow God’s redemption of Israel. Ryken explains how this is hinted at in the naming of Moses:

Pharaoh’s daughter seems to have known some Hebrew, for it was she who “named him Moses, ‘Because,’ she said, ‘I drew him out of the water’” (2:10). Her Hebrew needed a little work, however, because Moses literally means “he who draws out of.” Unwittingly, Pharaoh’s daughter gave the child a name that hinted at his destiny. Just as Moses himself was drawn out of the water, so he would later draw God’s people out of Egypt through the sea.[6]

Yet the parallels continue on. Just as Pharaoh’s daughter took pity on the crying Moses, we are about to read about God hearing the cry of His people. Moses’ forty years in Pharaoh’s house parallel the four hundred years that Israel spent under Pharaoh’s hand. Moses then spent forty years in the wilderness, which is, of course, exactly what was also going to happen to the Israelites. Thus, Moses is clearly meant to sort of represent Israel collective in one man.

Of course, that would actually be accomplished through the greater Moses that was to come, for Jesus did not merely live a life that imitated the suffering of His people rather He entered into our sin and shame by becoming one of us. Although He never once sinned Himself, He nevertheless “in every respect has been tempted as we are,” making Him a high priest who is able “to sympathize with our weaknesses” (Hebrews 4:15). Indeed, because He is without sin, He knows the true weight and burden of sin far better than we who live in it as a fish lives in water. The writer of Hebrews goes on to counsel us: “Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need” (Hebrews 4:16), which we also receive a picture of in the final three verses of this chapter.


The chapter concludes with these words:

During those many days the king of Egypt died, and the people of Israel groaned because of their slavery and cried out for help. Their cry for rescue from slavery came up to God. And God heard their groaning, and God remembered his covenant with Abraham, with Isaac, and with Jacob. God saw the people of Israel—and God knew.

For all of Pharaoh’s efforts to break down the Israelites, to slaughter their infants, and finally to kill their future deliverer, he went to the grave, just like the poorest beggars and lowest slaves in his kingdom. Although he called himself the son of a god, his mortality was the irrefutable proof that he was no less human than anyone else. And like so many men who let themselves swell with pride, God subverted all of his greatest efforts and in the end took back the breath that He had given.

But even with that Pharaoh dead, a new Pharaoh took his place, and the slavery of Israel continued. Now, however, Moses lifts the scene away from Egypt and the even the earth entirely. As the people cried out and groaned for help, their cry for rescue from slavery came up to God. Notice that we are then given four active verbs relating to God: heard, remembered, saw, and knew. And God heard their groaning, and God remembered his covenant with Abraham, with Isaac, and with Jacob. God saw the people of Israel—and God knew.

None of this is meant to suggest that God had been deaf and blind to the cries of His people for four hundred years. No, God certainly saw every strike upon their backs and every tear that fell from their eyes. Yet in His providential plan, God allowed them their suffering to continue on for four generations, just as He foretold to Abraham in Genesis 15:13. Instead, what these verbs are highlighting is God’s intention to act on behalf of His people. “God does not simply see as a passive bystander,” writes John Piper. “As God, he is never merely an observer. He is not a passive observer of the world—and not a passive predictor of the future. Wherever God is looking, God is acting.”[7] And that is exactly what this text is indicating. The time of God permitting His people to suffering bondage had come to an end. He was now stepping in to answer the cries of His chosen people.

Few have given a better comment on this verse than Spurgeon, so I will allow him to speak:

I wish I knew how to preach on this verse. He looked on the children of Israel, and he did not remember their sins—their practically becoming Egyptians, their loving Egypt and Egypt’s idols—but he did remember his friend, Abraham. He remembered Jacob whom he loved, and he remembered how he had promised to bless them and to make them a blessing—not because of any merit in the Israelites but for the sake of those whom he had loved and honored. For the sake of the covenant that he had made with them, he said, “I will break the power of Pharaoh, and I will bless my people; I will bring them out of bondage and set them at liberty.” If God were to look on a sinner for all eternity, he could not see anything in him but what he is bound to punish. But when he looks on his dear Son whom he loves—and remembers how he lived and loved, and bled and died, and made atonement for the guilty—and when he remembers his covenant with his well-beloved, he says, “I will bless these people whom I gave to him by an everlasting covenant. I promised that he would see the travail of his soul, and so he will. I will break the power of sin, and I will set these captives free to the praise of the glory of my grace. And they will be accepted in the beloved.[8]

Brothers and sisters, is this not the great hope that we have in the gospel? We are indeed able to boldly approach God’s throne, laying our burdens, cries, and groans before Him with the steadfast hope that He will hear, He will see, and He will know. And this hope is rooted, not in God’s remembrance of any good that we have done, for as Jonathan Edwards (I believe) rightly noted that we contribute nothing to our salvation except the sin that made it necessary. Instead, we know God looks favorably upon us as His children through His remembrance of Christ and the covenant that He made through His blood.

[1] Douglas Stuart, Exodus, 85.

[2] If we wonder why Pharaoh would have allowed his own daughter to do such a thing, we should remember that Pharaoh had multiple wives and likely had dozens of daughters, and he probably spoke very little, if at all, to any of them. Thus, it would not have been unimaginable for a Hebrew to have been raised in Pharaoh’s palace under his very nose.

[3] Matt Walsh Suspended From Twitter Over Transgender Tweets. Here’s What Twitter Has Censored. | The Daily Wire

[4] Darrell Bricker and John Ibbitson paint this picture of the population bust in their book Empty Planet: The Shock of Global Population Decline: “A child born today will reach middle age in world in which conditions and expectations are very different from our own. She will find the planet more urban, with less crime, environmentally healthier but with many more old people. She won’t have trouble finding a job, but she may struggle to make ends meet, as taxes to pay for health care and pensions for all those seniors eat into her salary. There won’t be as many schools, because there won’t be as many children” (pp. 3-4).

[5] Philip Ryken, Exodus: Saved for God’s Glory, 52.

[6] Ryken, Exodus, 44.

[7] John Piper, Providence, 31.

[8] Charles Spurgeon, The Spurgeon Study Bible, 74-75.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s