The Legends of the Jews— Volume 2: From Joseph to the Exodus

Author: Louis Ginzberg

Moses Rescued from the Water

Jochebed accordingly took an ark fashioned of bulrushes, daubed it with pitch on the outside, and lined it with clay within. The reason she used bulrushes was because they float on the surface of the water, and she put pitch only on the outside, to protect the child as much as possible against the annoyance of a disagreeable odor. Over the child as it lay in the ark she spread a tiny canopy, to shade the babe, with the words, "Perhaps I shall not live to see him under the marriage canopy." And then she abandoned the ark on the shores of the Red Sea. Yet it was not left unguarded. Her daughter Miriam stayed near by, to discover whether a prophecy she had uttered would be fulfilled. Before the child’s birth, his sister had foretold that her mother would bring forth a son that should redeem Israel. When he was born, and the house was filled with brilliant light, Amram kissed her on her head, but when he was forced into the expedient of exposing the child, he beat her on her head, saying, "My daughter, what hath become of thy prophecy?" Therefore Miriam stayed, and strolled along the shore, to observe what would be the fate of the babe, and what would come of her prophecy concerning him.[46]

The day the child was exposed was the twenty-first of the month of Nisan, the same on which the children of Israel later, under the leadership of Moses, sang the song of praise and gratitude to God for the redemption from the waters of the sea. The angels appeared before God, and spoke: "O Lord of the world, shall he that is appointed to sing a song of praise unto Thee on this day of Nisan, to thank Thee for rescuing him and his people from the sea, shall he find his death in the sea to-day?" The Lord replied: "Ye know well that I see all things. The contriving of man can do naught to change what bath been resolved in My counsel. Those do not attain their end who use cunning and malice to secure their own safety, and endeavor to bring ruin upon their fellow-men. But he who trusts Me in his peril will be conveyed from profoundest distress to unlooked-for happiness. Thus My omnipotence will reveal itself in the fortunes of this babe.[47]

At the time of the child’s abandonment, God sent scorching heat to plague the Egyptians, and they all suffered with leprosy and smarting boils. Thermutis, the daughter of Pharaoh, sought relief from the burning pain in a bath in the waters of the Nile.[48] But physical discomfort was not her only reason for leaving her father’s palace. She was determined to cleanse herself as well of the impurity of the idol worship that prevailed there.

When she saw the little ark floating among the flags on the surface of the water, she supposed it to contain one of the little children exposed at her father’s order, and she commanded her handmaids to fetch it. But they protested, saying, "O our mistress, it happens sometimes that a decree issued by a king is unheeded, yet it is observed at least by his children and the members of his household, and dost thou desire to transgress thy father’s edict?" Forthwith the angel Gabriel appeared, seized all the maids except one, whom he permitted the princess to retain for her service, and buried them in the bowels of the earth.

Pharaoh’s daughter now proceeded to do her own will. She stretched forth her arm, and although the ark was swimming at a distance of sixty ells, she succeeded in grasping it, because her arm was lengthened miraculously. No sooner had she touched it than the leprosy afflicting her departed from her. Her sudden restoration led her to examine the contents of the ark,[49] and when she opened it, her amazement was great. She beheld an exquisitely beautiful boy, for God bad fashioned the Hebrew babe’s body with peculiar care,[50] and beside it she perceived the Shekinah. Noticing that the boy bore the sign of the Abrahamic covenant, she knew that he was one of the Hebrew children, and mindful of her father’s decree concerning the male children of the Israelites, she was about to abandon the babe to his fate. At that moment the angel Gabriel came and gave the child a vigorous blow, and he began to cry aloud, with a voice like a young man’s. His vehement weeping and the weeping of Aaron, who was lying beside him, touched the princess, and in her pity she resolved to save him. She ordered an Egyptian woman to be brought, to nurse the child, but the little one refused to take milk from her breast, as he refused to take it from one after the other of the Egyptian women fetched thither. Thus it had been ordained by God, that none of them might boast later on, and say, "I suckled him that holds converse now with the Shekinah." Nor was the mouth destined to speak with God to draw nourishment from the unclean body of an Egyptian woman.

Now Miriam stepped into the presence of Thermutis, as though she had been standing there by chance to look at the child,[51] and she spoke to the princess, saying, "It is vain for thee, O queen, to call for nurses that are in no wise of kin to the child, but if thou wilt order a woman of the Hebrews to be brought, he may accept her breast, seeing that she is of his own nation." Thermutis therefore bade Miriam fetch a Hebrew woman, and with winged steps, speeding like a vigorous youth, she hastened and brought back her own mother, the child’s mother, for she knew that none present was acquainted with her. The babe, unresisting, took his mother’s breast, and clutched it tightly.[52] The princess committed the child to Jochebed’s care, saying these words, which contained an unconscious divination: "Here is what is thine." Nurse the boy henceforth, and I will give thee two silver pieces as thy wages.[54]

The return of her son, safe and sound, after she had exposed him, was Jochebed’s reward from God for her services as one of the midwives that had bidden defiance to Pharaoh’s command and saved the Hebrew children alive.[55]

By exposing their son to danger, Amram and Jochebed had effected the withdrawal of Pharaoh’s command enjoining the extermination of the Hebrew men children. The day Moses was set adrift in the little ark, the astrologers had come to Pharaoh and told him the glad tidings, that the danger threatening the Egyptians on account of one boy, whose doom lay in the water, had now been averted. Thereupon Pharaoh cried a halt to the drowning of the boys of his empire. The astrologers had seen something, but they knew not what, and they announced a message, the import of which they did not comprehend. Water was, indeed, the doom of Moses, but that did not mean that he would perish in the waters of the Nile. It had reference to the waters of Meribah, the waters of strife, and how they would cause his death in the desert, before he had completed his task of leading the people into the promised land. Pharaoh, misled by the obscure vision of his astrologers, thought that the future redeemer of Israel was to lose his life by drowning, and to make sure that the boy whose appearance was foretold by the astrologers might not escape his fate, he had ordered all boys, even the children of the Egyptians, born during a period of nine months to be cast into the water.

On account of the merits of Moses, the six hundred thousand men children of the Hebrews begotten in the same night with him, and thrown into the water on the same day, were rescued miraculously together with him, and it was therefore not an idle boast, if he said later, "The people that went forth out of the water on account of my merits are six hundred thousand men."[56]


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Chicago: Louis Ginzberg, "Moses Rescued from the Water," The Legends of the Jews— Volume 2: From Joseph to the Exodus, trans. Rodwell, J. M. in The Legends of the Jews—Volume 2: From Joseph to the Exodus Original Sources, accessed July 5, 2022,

MLA: Ginzberg, Louis. "Moses Rescued from the Water." The Legends of the Jews— Volume 2: From Joseph to the Exodus, translted by Rodwell, J. M., in The Legends of the Jews—Volume 2: From Joseph to the Exodus, Original Sources. 5 Jul. 2022.

Harvard: Ginzberg, L, 'Moses Rescued from the Water' in The Legends of the Jews— Volume 2: From Joseph to the Exodus, trans. . cited in , The Legends of the Jews—Volume 2: From Joseph to the Exodus. Original Sources, retrieved 5 July 2022, from