I particularly enjoy digging through our theological ties to adoption. In Christian circles, it’s commonplace to hear references to Moses’ adoption to support modern adoption practices.
By ingesting the whole story of Moses, I think quite a contrary picture forms.
We won’t spend time on the technicalities like Moses being three months before being sent away and the fact that Pharaoh’s daughter allowed Moses to be nursed and initially raised by his own mother and family for a few years.
We will look at Moses as an adult. A Hebrew by birth, wealthy Egyptian by adoption.
Beginning in Exodus 2:11, Moses goes out and sees “his people” the afflicted Hebrews, twice emphasized, and his indignation over their oppression causes him to murder an Egyptian taskmaster. He flees to escape the wrath of Pharaoh.
When he obtains a wife in Midian and has a son, his inner turmoil of identity is revealed as he names him Gershom, for “I have been a sojourner in a foreign land.”
Many years pass and God chooses Moses as the leader through which God’s people, his people, the Hebrews, will be saved. He chooses Moses as the one through whom God will “strike Egypt.” Repeatedly in chapter three God reveals himself as “the God of your fathers, the God of Abraham, of Isaac, and of Jacob.”
When Moses tries to back out, who is called to help him? His brother, his “birth”-brother, Aaron. What trio do we follow throughout the exodus and wandering but Moses, Aaron, and Miriam, “birth”-siblings?
And ultimately, how do the New Testament writers summarize the story of Moses for us?
“By faith Moses, when he was born, was hidden for three months by his parents, because they saw that the child was beautiful, and they were not afraid of the king’s edict. By faith Moses, when he was grown up, refused to be called the son of Pharaoh’s daughter, choosing rather to be mistreated with the people of God than to enjoy the fleeting pleasures of sin. He considered the reproach of Christ greater wealth than the treasures of Egypt, for he was looking to the reward. By faith he left Egypt, not being afraid of the anger of the king, for he endured as seeing him who is invisible. By faith he kept the Passover and sprinkled the blood, so that the Destroyer of the firstborn might not touch them.” – Hebrews 11:23-28
This is not a positive adoption story. This has probably the exact opposite outcome of what any prospective adoptive couple would want as they look into adopting.
We could make a greater case from this story against, rather than for, adoption as a whole, against adoptive families.
But we don’t have to do that.
Because this story is not about adoption.
It’s not about positive adoption and it’s not about negative adoption. It’s about God, his power and sovereignty, it’s about his chosen people, it’s about suffering and providence, it’s about faith, it’s about the gospel. Yes, it is about family and biology because this story is set in a patriarchal culture and God worked through that, highly esteeming the natural lineage and tribe. He creates the natural lineage and tribe and does not take the conception and birthing of the imago dei lightly. He is our Father and he helps us understand that abstract relationship through our tangible family relationships.
If I used this narrative to demonstrate the evil of adoption, I’d be committing eisegesis (the process of interpreting a text or portion of text in such a way that the process introduces one’s own presuppositions, agendas).
If I used this narrative to justify modern adoption practices, I’d be committing anachronistic (erroneously assigning a practice, concept, etc to a time period in which it did not exist) eisegisis.
When we read the Bible, we must discard our lens and agenda and we must not digest stories only in part, but rather in their wholeness and in synthesis with the rest of the biblical narrative, not dissected from it.
Moses was adopted. And his entire significance hinges on his faith in the true God, which was demonstrated by his loyalty to the people of his biological heritage. Moses left his adoptive, wealthy family, choosing to willingly suffer with God’s people.
If there’s one lesson we can takeaway, and we can be sure there are many more than one in this rich story, it’s that Moses hardly has a place in modern adoption platitudes.