Acts 7:21

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Wednesday, 27 April 2022

But when he was set out, Pharaoh’s daughter took him away and brought him up as her own son. Acts 7:21

Note: You can listen to today’s commentary courtesy of our friends at “Bible in Ten” podcast. (Click Here to listen).

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Stephen had just previously said that Moses was brought up in his father’s house for three months. He next notes, “But when he was set out.” That refers to what is stated in the narrative of Exodus 2 –

“But when she could no longer hide him, she took an ark of bulrushes for him, daubed it with asphalt and pitch, put the child in it, and laid it in the reeds by the river’s bank. And his sister stood afar off, to know what would be done to him.” Exodus 2:3, 4

The brevity of Stephen’s words in relation to the Exodus narrative shows that the story of Moses was universally known. Instead of giving the details, he simply acknowledges the account in the simplest of words. The events themselves would automatically be mentally filled in by each member of the council.

The word translated as “But when he was set out” means that he was exposed. The same word is used three more times in Acts where it means to explain, such as when Peter explained events that occurred (Acts 11:4), or when Paul explained the significance of the kingdom of God (Acts 28:23). Stephen continues with, “Pharaoh’s daughter took him away.”

Again, the few words of Stephen are much more detailed in Exodus –

“Then the daughter of Pharaoh came down to bathe at the river. And her maidens walked along the riverside; and when she saw the ark among the reeds, she sent her maid to get it. And when she opened it, she saw the child, and behold, the baby wept. So she had compassion on him, and said, ‘This is one of the Hebrews’ children.’
Then his sister said to Pharaoh’s daughter, ‘Shall I go and call a nurse for you from the Hebrew women, that she may nurse the child for you?’
And Pharaoh’s daughter said to her, ‘Go.’ So the maiden went and called the child’s mother. Then Pharaoh’s daughter said to her, ‘Take this child away and nurse him for me, and I will give you your wages.’ So the woman took the child and nursed him.” Exodus 2:5-9

The word translated as “took him away” is quite interesting. It is anaireó. It is almost always translated as kill, end life, murder, put to death, and so on. For example, it is used this way in Acts 7:28. In one instance, Hebrews 10:9, it is used to signify the taking away of the Old Covenant as it is replaced with the New. It is a compound verb coming from ana, a word giving the sense of upwards, and haireó, meaning to choose or take.

In this, Vincent’s Word Studies notes –

“Used among Greek writers of taking up exposed children; also of owning new-born children. So Aristophanes: ‘I exposed (the child) and some other woman, having taken it, adopted (ανείλετο) it’ (‘Clouds,’ 531). There is no reason why the meaning should be limited to took him up from the water (as Gloag).”

In other words, some (like Gloag) might think, “This is referring to Pharaoh’s daughter taking Moses up from the water of the Nile.” But it is surely signifying more than this. It is the ending of one part of his life and the entrance of a new aspect. She “took him up” from his life as a Hebrew “and brought him up as her own son.”

This is noted in Exodus 2 as well –

“And the child grew, and she brought him to Pharaoh’s daughter, and he became her son. So she called his name Moses, saying, ‘Because I drew him out of the water.’” Exodus 2:10

The meaning of Stephen’s words is that Moses was both nourished and educated as a member of Pharaoh’s home. What is ironic, and what may (?) be on Stephen’s mind, is that just as Moses was taken away from his life as a Hebrew in order to become the deliverer of Israel, so Moses (the law) must be taken away in order for Israel to be delivered from the law’s bondage. As noted, the word used to describe this is also found in Hebrews 10 –

Previously saying, ‘Sacrifice and offering, burnt offerings, and offerings for sin You did not desire, nor had pleasure in them’ (which are offered according to the law), then He said, ‘Behold, I have come to do Your will, O God.’ He takes away the first that He may establish the second. 10 By that will we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all.” Hebrews 10:8-10

Whether this was on Stephen’s mind or not, the ironic nature of the use of the word to signify the changes concerning Moses (representative of the law) is remarkable.

Life application: The words of Exodus, as confirmed here, show us that Pharaoh’s daughter was an exceptional financier. We can deduce this because she went down to the bank of the Nile and drew out a little prophet.

Sometimes, a little humor is a good thing.

Lord God, what a treasure Your word is. It is filled with wisdom, history, poetry, irony, and revealed glory. In it, we find the answer to our needs. In it, we find rest for the weary soul. In it, we find Jesus. Thank You for this wonderful, beautiful word. Amen.