2:22 When she bore 4 a son, Moses 5 named him Gershom, for he said, “I have become a resident foreigner in a foreign land.” 6
1 tn The verb is the preterite of גָּדַל (gadal), and so might be rendered “and he became great.” But the context suggests that it refers to when he was weaned and before he was named, perhaps indicating he was three or four years old (see Gen 21:8).
2 tn The idiomatic expression literally reads: “and he was to her for a son.” In this there are two prepositions lamed. The first expresses possession: “he was to her” means “she had.” The second is part of the usage of the verb: הָיָה (haya) with the lamed (ל) preposition means “to become.”
3 sn The naming provides the climax and summary of the story. The name of “Moses” (מֹשֶׁה, mosheh) is explained by “I have drawn him (מְשִׁיתִהוּ, mÿshitihu) from the water.” It appears that the name is etymologically connected to the verb in the saying, which is from מָשָׁה (mashah, “to draw out”). But commentators have found it a little difficult that the explanation of the name by the daughter of Pharaoh is in Hebrew when the whole background is Egyptian (U. Cassuto, Exodus, 20). Moreover, the Hebrew spelling of the name is the form of the active participle (“the one who draws out”); to be a precise description it should have been spelled מָשׁוּי (mashuy), the passive participle (“the one drawn out”). The etymology is not precise; rather, it is a wordplay (called paronomasia). Either the narrator merely attributed words to her (which is unlikely outside of fiction), or the Hebrew account simply translated what she had said into Hebrew, finding a Hebrew verb with the same sounds as the name. Such wordplays on names (also popular etymology) are common in the Bible. Most agree that the name is an Egyptian name. Josephus attempted to connect the biblical etymology with the name in Greek, Mouses, stating that Mo is Egyptian for water, and uses means those rescued from it (Ant. 2.9.6 [2.228]; see also J. Gwyn Griffiths, “The Egyptian Derivation of the Name Moses,” JNES 12 : 225). But the solution to the name is not to be derived from the Greek rendering. Due to the estimation Egyptians had of the Nile, the princess would have thought of the child from the river as a supernatural provision. The Egyptian hieroglyphic ms can be the noun “child” or the perfective verb “be born.” This was often connected with divine elements for names: Ptah-mose, “Ptah is born.” Also the name Rameses (R’-m-sw) means “[the god] Re’ is he who has born him.” If the name Moses is Egyptian, there are some philological difficulties (see the above article for their treatment). The significance of all this is that when the child was named by the princess, an Egyptian word related to ms was used, meaning something like “child” or “born.” The name might have even been longer, perhaps having a theophoric element (divine name) with it – “child of [some god].” The name’s motivation came from the fact that she drew him from the Nile, the source of life in Egypt. But the sound of the name recalled for the Hebrews the verb “to draw out” in their own language. Translating the words of the princess into Hebrew allowed for the effective wordplay to capture the significance of the story in the sound of the name. The implication for the Israelites is something to this effect: “You called him ‘born one’ in your language and after your custom, but in our language that name means ‘drawing out’ – which is what was to become of him. You drew him out of the water, but he would draw us out of Egypt through the water.” So the circumstances of the story show Moses to be a man of destiny, and this naming episode summarizes how divine providence was at work in Israel. To the Israelites the name forever commemorated the portent of this event in the early life of the great deliverer (see Isa 63:11).
4 tn The preterite with the vav (ו) consecutive is subordinated to the next clause, which reports the naming and its motivation.
5 tn Heb “and he called”; the referent (Moses) has been specified in the translation for clarity.
6 sn Like the naming of Moses, this naming that incorporates a phonetic wordplay forms the commemorative summary of the account just provided. Moses seems to have settled into a domestic life with his new wife and his father-in-law. But when the first son is born, he named him גֵּרְשֹׁם (gerÿshom). There is little information available about what the name by itself might have meant. If it is linked to the verb “drive away” used earlier (גָרַשׁ, garash), then the final mem (מ) would have to be explained as an enclitic mem. It seems most likely that that verb was used in the narrative to make a secondary wordplay on the name. The primary explanation is the popular etymology supplied by Moses himself. He links the name to the verb גּוּר (gur, “to sojourn, to live as an alien”). He then adds that he was a sojourner (גֵּר, ger, the participle) in a foreign land. The word “foreign” (נָכְרִיּה, nokhriyyah) adds to the idea of his being a resident alien. The final syllable in the name would then be connected to the adverb “there” (שָׁם, sham). Thus, the name is given the significance in the story of “sojourner there” or “alien there.” He no doubt knew that this was not the actual meaning of the name; the name itself had already been introduced into the family of Levi (1 Chr 6:1, 16). He chose the name because its sounds reflected his sentiment at that time. But to what was Moses referring? In view of naming customs among the Semites, he was most likely referring to Midian as the foreign land. If Egypt had been the strange land, and he had now found his place, he would not have given the lad such a name. Personal names reflect the present or recent experiences, or the hope for the future. So this naming is a clear expression by Moses that he knows he is not where he is supposed to be. That this is what he meant is supported in the NT by Stephen (Acts 7:29). So the choice of the name, the explanation of it, and the wordplay before it, all serve to stress the point that Moses had been driven away from his proper place of service.