A classic Seinfeld episode has the famous quartet at a friend’s house, who continually insists, “Jerry, you gotta see the ba-by!” The baby’s mother thinks the child is beautiful, but everyone else has a very different opinion.
Hebrews 11:23 tells us that Moses’s parents hid him for three months after his birth, “because they saw that the child was beautiful” (all Scripture references in ESV). This raises the question: what if Moses were ugly? Would they have been less inclined to keep him? Is that really what the Preacher (the author of Hebrews) wants us to understand here?
A better way to look at this situation is to understand it as an allusion to Exodus 2:2 – “The woman conceived and bore a son, and when she saw that he was a fine child, she hid him three months.” Moses’s mother recognized that he was a “fine child.”
The author of Hebrews typically uses the LXX (Septuagint – the Greek translation of the Old Testament) when he quotes or alludes to the OT. In Hebrews 11:23, he uses the word asteios to describe the child, meaning “beautiful.” The LXX of Exodus 2:2 uses the same word. This word is not used many times at all in Scripture, only twice in the NT (Acts 7:20; Heb 11:23) and only 3x in the LXX (Exod 2:2; Num 22:32; Judg 3:17; it is also used 3x in the Apocrypha, which was part of the LXX; Judt 11:23; 2 Macc 6:23; Sus 1:7). That this is a rare word heightens the likelihood that the Preacher was making an intentional allusion to its use in Exodus 2:2.
If so, the Hebrew behind the LXX helps us understand the meaning of the phrase. The Hebrew literally reads, “and when she saw him, that he was good” (my translation). The text of Exodus 1–2 packs in creational imagery (see my sermons on those chapters for specifics). This is no exception. Moses’s mother looks at him, and in a similar way that God looked at Creation and declared it “good,” she recognized Moses as a wonderful mini creation that was also “good.” Theologically, she was abiding by the creational mandate (rather than the order of the Pharaoh) to “guard” God’s creation (see Gen 2:15, which uses the word “guard” – usually translated “keep”).
So Moses’s parents weren’t determined to keep him just because he was “good looking.” Exodus 2 isn’t really a statement on the beauty of Moses as much as it is a statement on the beauty of Creation.
So guard your children carefully. Even the ugly ones.