Old Testament thoughts is a weekly post where we’ll be looking at some interesting aspects of some Scripture from the Hebrew Bible (what Christians call the Old Testament). Right now, we are looking at the first two chapters of Exodus.
2:2 of Exodus: “The woman conceived and bore a son; and when she saw how beautiful he was, she hid him for three months.”
This of course begs the question: If Moses was ugly would she have not hidden him and left him to be found by Pharaoh to be killed?
Well, actually, there is much more going on in this verse than the English translations allow. The verse literally says, “Then the woman conceived and bore a son and when she saw him, that he was good (ki-tov), she him him for three months.” This is exactly the phrase we heard over and over at the beginning of Genesis, “and God saw that it was good (ki-tov).” It seems then that the author is taking us back to the creation story and making some sort of connection with Moses.
But what does it mean for Moses’s mom to see “that he is good?” Many translators have tried to decide:
NIV: “When she saw that he was a fine child”
NASB: “When she saw that he was beautiful”
JPS: “When she saw how beautiful he was”
NLT: “She saw that he was a special baby”
KJV: “When she saw that he was a goodly child”
I think that the NLT is probably the closest to the point that the author of Exodus was trying to get across, this Moses is special. It’s not trying to say that he was such a great baby, he never cried, never spit up on his dear parents. Nor is it trying to say that Moses was cute or beautiful. But the point is that God is now engaged in the life of his people and is going to work through a special child, Moses.
But why do so many versions translate the verse as talking about his looks? It actually comes from the Septuagint, or Greek version of Genesis. This would have been the Bible that the writers of the NT would have used since many of them probably didn’t know Hebrew anymore, or at least not nearly as well as they would have known Greek. So they used a Greek translation of the Hebrew Bible, similar to the way we use an English translation.
And in the Greek translation the word is asteion or “handsome.” In fact, this is the word Stephen uses when he recounts to the story of Moses in Acts 7:20.