This is the chronology of events. First Pharaoh decrees to throw all boys in the Nile (Exodus 1:22)

Then Pharaoh gave this order to all his people: “Every Hebrew boy that is born you must throw into the Nile, but let every girl live.”

Then in 2:3-4, Moses' mother, Yocheved, hides her baby in a basket and puts it in the Nile,

But when she could hide him no longer, she got a papyrus basket[a] for him and coated it with tar and pitch. Then she placed the child in it and put it among the reeds along the bank of the Nile. 4 His sister stood at a distance to see what would happen to him.

It always bothered me what Yocheved was trying to achieve by putting him in a basket in the Nile. If the decree was to kill all males, then how would putting the baby in a basket save him, as the next Egyptian would find him and kill him anyways (Hebrews were easily recognizable through their outstanding facial features as evident from v. 6).

While I was reading this story for the hundredth time it occurred to me that perhaps this desperate act was actually in accord with Pharaoh's new decree. If we look closely at the text, Pharaoh didn't decree to kill all males, but to throw them in the Nile (which happens to be a very curious way of getting rid of the hebrew males). Perhaps the new law did not explicitly demand drowning the babies (such blatant genocide could not be tolerated even by the Egyptians), but to put them in the Nile, thus giving the Hebrew babies a chance of survival. This would be common procedure for all the Hebrew babies (the Egyptian would violently throw them in baskets in the Nile, giving them little chance of survival), Moses would be luckier than most as he got a cozy and tarred basket that would keep him afloat longer.

Is such an interpretation warranted from the text, or is this reading in too much? Any thoughts would be appreciated.

2 Answers 2


The noise a new born baby makes is not penetrating and does not carry far. But Moses was now three months old and his mother 'could no longer hide him' [KJV]. His strong voice would be giving away that a baby was born.

Also, she was no longer able to pretend that she was still carrying him (in the womb). Presumably there was some kind of registration and surveillance. Presumably she had to give the impression that the birth had not yet occurred. But one cannot keep up that pretence for long.

Now she has a baby with a strong voice. And now she is under increasing obligation to document a birth and whether it is a boy or a girl.

The only legitimate place to be carrying a male child is directly to the river for its disposal. And if she is questioned in the future, she has to be able to give some account of what she has done. 'I took him to the river' she will be able to say.

Pharaoh had demanded they 'cast' the child into the river. She made a little boat and she 'cast' off the boat in the sense of the nautical term.

Yes, she has done as Pharaoh commanded.

I 'cast' him into the river, she can later say, quite truthfully.

The Hebrew verb is shalak, and I am assuming the same idiom exists regarding the 'casting off' of a boat.

If not, then at least, as you say, she can report having 'put' the child into the river.


Also, word for "basket" is the word for "ark" and the word for "put/place" also in creations stories in Gen 2 as well as flood story in Gen 6. So may want to consider we have the beginning of another creation story on our hands. Shalom!


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