When Pharaoh’s daughter finds a Hebrew baby in the river, she names him “Moses (משה; mosheh) because, she said, ‘I drew him out (משיתהו; meshitihu) of the water’” (Exodus 2:10). According to Pharaoh’s daughter, Moses gets his name because it sounds like the Hebrew for “to draw out.” Yet, there is likely another reason why she made this choice: Moses was a common Egyptian name that gives us a clue into Moses’ identity and mission as God’s earthly representative.
In Egyptian, “Moses” means “child of” and formed pharaonic names like Thutmose (Thot + moses), a child “born of” the Egyptian god Thoth. When Pharaoh’s daughter names the Hebrew baby “child of,” it leaves the reader asking, “A child of whom?” Along with being the child of his earthly parents, Moses is a child of God whose clash with Pharaoh highlights his relationship with his heavenly Father.
Most scholars identify the pharaoh of Exodus as Rameses II (1279-1213 BCE), who built the capital city of Pi-Ramesses in Goshen. This building project aligns with the Bible’s description of the Israelites building the “storage cities named Pithom and Rameses for Pharaoh” (Exodus 1:11) while they lived in the “land of Goshen” (8:22; 9:26). The name “Rameses” (Ra + moses) means “child of Ra,” the Egyptian sun god. Thus, when Moses confronts Pharaoh, we have a showdown between Rameses the “child of Ra” and Moses the “child of Israel’s God”: the Moses of Ra vs. the Moses of the Lord. As the leader of Israel, Moses represents the people whom God calls “my firstborn son” (Exodus 4:22). The God of Israel uses Moses as a “son” who defeats the son of Ra and, in turn, brings divine “judgment on all the gods of Egypt” (Exodus 12:12; Num 33:4).