A Little Ark: The Infant Baptism of Moses

I find that . . . even before the Incarnation of our Lord, the ancient Scripture everywhere prefigured the likeness of our regeneration . . . Baptism [was] shown forth by action and by word. Let us recall its types . . . . Again, the great Moses, when he was a goodly child, and yet at the breast, falling under the general and cruel decree which the hard-hearted Pharaoh made against the men-children, was exposed on the banks of the river — not naked, but laid in an ark, for it was fitting that the Law should typically be enclosed in a coffer. And he was laid near the water . . . 1

— St. Gregory of Nyssa, On the Baptism of Christ

So she called his name Moses, saying, “Because I drew him out of the water.” (Exodus 2:10)

Nearly a thousand years had passed since Noah’s flood, and the world had again descended into widespread sin. The Egyptian Pharaoh was cruel to God’s chosen people, and the peoples in the land of Canaan had fallen into such sin that the time of God’s judgment was drawing near.2 God remembered the covenant3 He had made with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and He proceeded to bring about the salvation of Israel (and the destruction of Egypt and Canaan) through a man named Moses.

Moses was born at a dangerous time.  Pharaoh was worried that the Israelites would multiply4 to such a great number that their force would rival that of Egypt, so he determined to reduce their numbers and weaken them, putting all of their male children to death. As such, Pharaoh commanded the Israelites to throw all of their infant sons into the river.5

Moses’ parents were not afraid of the king’s command, so in faith they hid him for three months.6 Then his mother made an ark7 of bulrushes for him, daubed it with asphalt and pitch (as had been done with Noah’s ark),8 put the child inside, and laid it in reeds by the river’s bank.

While Pharaoh had ordered the murder of Israelite children, his own daughter rescued this young Israelite baby. She drew him out of the water, therefore giving him the name “Moses”. (In Hebrew, the name “Moses” literally means “drawn out”). As one author has observed, Moses “entered the water a slave, and came out a free man.”9

Moses was like Noah in multiple ways:

  • Like Noah, Moses was plunged into the same waters which killed others in his generation.10
  • Like Noah, Moses passed through the waters safely, because of an ark which had been ordained by God and prepared in faith.
  • Like Noah, baptism carried Moses from death into life. By undergoing this baptism, Moses passed from the danger of condemnation into the freedom of palace living. He went from being the son of a slave to being the son of a princess.
  • Like Noah, Moses became the leader of God’s people.
  • As baptism had changed Noah into a type of new Adam, baptism also brought about a change in this child’s name. His identity was tied to the water itself. For the rest of his life he was called “Moses,” reminding him that he had been drawn out of the water.11 Every time he heard his new name, it was a reminder of his baptism.

With this story in mind, let us proceed to answer four questions:

  • How do we know that Moses received a type of baptism?
  • Who were the recipients of this baptism?
  • How was this recipient of baptism chosen?
  • What was accomplished by the infant baptism of Moses?

How do we know that Moses received a type of baptism?

Moses’ salvation through water is a close parallel to Noah’s salvation through water. Since the apostle Peter called Noah’s experience a type of baptism,12 it is reasonable to make the same claim for Moses. And the Hebrew word for “ark” in this biblical account is the same Hebrew word used for “ark” in Noah’s flood.13 Thus, Scripture suggests a parallel between the two. St. Gregory of Nyssa also comments on this passage, identifying it as a type of baptism.14

Who were the recipients of this baptism?

Moses was the only recipient.

How was this recipient of baptism chosen?

In general, God was being faithful to His covenant people. God’s people were the descendants of Seth, Enoch, Noah, Shem, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. This is why Moses — a descendant of God’s covenant people — was baptized, rather than a Canaanite or Egyptian child. But more specifically, why was Moses put in the ark, instead of some other Israelite child? According to Scripture, Moses’ life was spared because of the faith of his parents.15

What was accomplished by the infant baptism of Moses?

The baptism of Moses carried him from death to life, from condemnation to acceptance, from slavery to royalty. His baptism conferred upon him a new identity, a new future, and a new name.

The baptism of Moses did not merely symbolize these things — it actually brought about these things:

  • Without the waters of Moses’ baptism, the ark would not have floated and carried him to safety, away from the danger of condemnation and death.
  • Without the waters of Moses’ baptism, he never would have gone from being the child of a slave to the child of a princess.
  • Without the waters of Moses’ baptism, he never would have received his new identity as “Moses” — one who has been “drawn out” of water.

The baptism of Moses did not merely symbolize new life. His baptism brought about new life — not only for him, but also for all of God’s people. Moses would eventually grow up and lead Israel out of Egypt.

The baptism of Moses is an excellent example of infant baptism, performed because of the faith of the parents. It is also a good example of baptismal efficacy. Baptism is not merely symbolic. Baptism accomplishes something.

1  St. Gregory of Nyssa. On the Baptism of Christ. http://www.newadvent.org/fathers/2910.htm (accessed November 5, 2015).

2  For example, see Genesis 15:16 and Leviticus 18:24-25.

3  Exodus 2:24

4  Exodus 1:10

5  Exodus 1:22

6  Hebrews 11:23

7  Exodus 2:3 — The word for “ark” here is the same Hebrew word Scripture uses in reference to Noah’s ark.

8  Genesis 6:14

9  Bachicha, Marty. The Baptism of Baby Moses: An Old Testament Type of Infant Baptism.  http://www.ourladyswarriors.org/moses.htm (accessed November 5, 2015).

10  Exodus 1:22

11  Exodus 2:10

12  1 Peter 3:20-21

13  The Hebrew word for “ark” is “תֵּבָה”, and can be reviewed in this online lexicon: https://www.blueletterbible.org/lang/lexicon/lexicon.cfm?Strongs=H8392&t... (accessed November 5, 2015).

14  St. Gregory of Nyssa, On the Baptism of Christ

15  Hebrews 11:23