Old Testament Study:
From Egyptian to Hebrew
11One day, after Moses had grown up, he went out to where his own people were and watched them at their hard labor. He saw an Egyptian beating a Hebrew, one of his own people. 12Glancing this way and that and seeing no one, he killed the Egyptian and hid him in the sand. 13The next day he went out and saw two Hebrews fighting. He asked the one in the wrong, “Why are you hitting your fellow Hebrew?”
14The man said, “Who made you ruler and judge over us? Are you thinking of killing me as you killed the Egyptian?” Then Moses was afraid and thought, “What I did must have become known.”
15When Pharaoh heard of this, he tried to kill Moses, but Moses fled from Pharaoh and went to live in Midian, where he sat down by a well. 16Now a priest of Midian had seven daughters, and they came to draw water and fill the troughs to water their father’s flock. 17Some shepherds came along and drove them away, but Moses got up and came to their rescue and watered their flock.
18When the girls returned to Reuel their father, he asked them, “Why have you returned so early today?”
19They answered, “An Egyptian rescued us from the shepherds. He even drew water for us and watered the flock.”
20“And where is he?” he asked his daughters. “Why did you leave him? Invite him to have something to eat.”
21Moses agreed to stay with the man, who gave his daughter Zipporah to Moses in marriage. 22Zipporah gave birth to a son, and Moses named him Gershom, saying, “I have become an alien in a foreign land.”
The history of Moses continues: “One day, after Moses had grown up, he went out to where his own people were and watched them at their hard labor. He saw an Egyptian beating a Hebrew, one of his own people. Glancing this way and that and seeing no one, he killed the Egyptian and hid him in the sand” (vs. 11). It is a little frustrating for us to see the words, “…after Moses had grown up….” We would have loved to have more information about what happened to Moses as he was growing up in the Egyptian palace. But, alas, we are told nothing else about Moses’ childhood here in Exodus. However, in the book of Acts, we are told by Stephen that Pharaoh’s daughter “brought [Moses] up as her own son”, and that he “was educated in all the wisdom of the Egyptians and was powerful in speech and action” (Acts 7:22). In fact, Moses’ first forty years were spent as an Egyptian. “Egypt seems the least likely place for God to start training a leader, but God’s ways are not our ways” [Wiersbe, 14].
At some point, Moses, though brought up as an Egyptian, realized that he was a Hebrew. We are not told when or how this happened. He may have known all his life that he was the natural child of Hebrew parents; or quite possibly, as movie renditions tend to dramatically depict, his Hebrew parentage was revealed to him after he was grown. Whatever the case, Moses seemed to have been shielded and separated from the children of Israel, for here we are told that, as a grown man, Moses “went out to where his own people were and watched them at their hard labor. He saw an Egyptian beating a Hebrew, one of his own people. Glancing this way and that and seeing no one, he killed the Egyptian and hid him in the sand” (vs. 11-12). At this point in time, Moses apparently considered himself more a Hebrew than an Egyptian. In fact, Stephen tells us that a motive for killing the Egyptian was that Moses saw himself as being a God-appointed savior for the Israelites: “Moses thought his people would realize that God was using him to rescue them, but they did not” (Acts 7:25). “One day he made a courageous decision to help his people, even if it meant losing his noble position as the adopted son of the royal princess. The pleasures and treasures of Egypt faded from view as he saw himself helping to liberate God’s chosen people” [Wiersbe, 15]. This was a great act of faith by Moses, as we are told in the book of Hebrews: “By faith Moses, when he had grown up, refused to be known as the son of Pharaoh’s daughter. He chose to be mistreated along with the people of God rather than to enjoy the pleasures of sin for a short time. He regarded disgrace for the sake of Christ as of greater value then the treasures of Egypt, because he was looking ahead to his reward” (Heb. 11:24-26).
Moses found out the next day that the Egyptians were not the only problem that the Israelites faced. The Israelites could not get along with each other: “The next day he went out and saw two Hebrews fighting” (vs. 13). In the very place they are persecuted by the Egyptians, they persecute each other. This is typical of many of us. Even if we got rid of bad external influences, we would find that there remained a problem amongst and within ourselves. “When God raises up instruments of salvation for the church they will find enough to do, not only with oppressing Egyptians, to restrain them, but with quarrelsome Israelites, to reconcile them” [Henry, on vs. 13].
Moses tried to bring peace to the situation: “He asked the one in the wrong, ‘Why are you hitting your fellow Hebrew?’ The man said, ‘Who made you ruler and judge over us? Are you thinking of killing me as you killed the Egyptian?’” (vss. 13-14). The man that Moses addressed did not take Moses’ peacemaking kindly. This is not unusual. “For in proportion to a man’s evil disposition, and to the greatness of his offense, is his rage under admonition, and his violence in altercation; wherefore, whoever undertakes to restrain the wicked must expect to meet with these indignities” [Calvin, on vs. 14].
The man’s retort to Moses was ironic: “Who made you ruler and judge over us?” God had not done so, yet; but of course, Moses would be the ruler and judge of the children of Israel. The man’s retort was also inappropriate. Moses was not playing the role of “ruler” or “judge”, but was playing the role of a faithful brother, giving admonition where it was warranted. Moses was performing “a duty, which the law of charity demands of every one, addressing the men who strove together as a peace-maker, and exhorting them both to be reconciled, though he especially blames the wrongdoer. This was not peculiar to Moses, but the common duty of all believers, when the innocent are harshly treated, to take their part, and as far as possible to interpose, lest the stronger should prevail” [Calvin, on vs. 13]. “A man needs no great authority for the giving of a friendly reproof, it is an act of kindness; yet this man interprets it as an act of dominion, and represents his reprover as imperious and assuming. Thus when people dislike good discourse, or a seasonable admonition, they will call it preaching, as if a man could not speak a word for God and against sin except that he took too much upon him” [Henry, on vs. 14].
Moses’ killing of the Egyptian was a significant event in Moses’ life, for it served to permanently break Moses’ tie to the Egyptians: “When Pharaoh heard of this, he tried to kill Moses, but Moses fled from Pharaoh and went to live in Midian, where he sat down by a well” (vs. 15). So began Moses’ exile. As we have seen, Israel was not ready for a deliverer. Nor was Moses ready to be the deliverer. God used his time in exile to prepare him for the great role of leadership he would assume, as deliverer of the children of Israel from the bonds of the Egyptians. “God ordered this for wise ends. Things were not yet ripe for Israel’s deliverance. The measure of Egypt’s iniquity was not yet full; the Hebrews were not sufficiently humbled, nor were they yet increased to such a multitude as God designed: Moses is to be farther fitted for the service” [Wesley, on vs. 15]. “Like Joseph’s thirteen years as a slave in Egypt and Paul’s three years’ hiatus after his conversion (Gal. 1:16-17), Moses’ forty years of waiting and working prepared him for a lifetime of faithful ministry. God doesn’t lay hands suddenly on His servants but takes time to equip them for their work” [Wiersbe, 16]. “Egypt accomplished him for a scholar, a gentleman, a statesman, a soldier, all which accomplishments would be afterwards of use to him; but yet lacketh he one thing, in which the court of Egypt could not befriend him. He that was to do all by divine revelation must know, what it was to live a life of communion with God, and in this he would be greatly furthered by the retirement of a shepherd’s life in Midian” [Wesley, on vs. 21].
When Moses arrived in Midian, his courage, and his heart for the oppressed, was once again demonstrated: “Now a priest of Midian had seven daughters, and they came to draw water and fill the troughs to water their father’s flock. Some shepherds came along and drove them away, but Moses got up and came to their rescue and watered their flock” (vss. 16-17). The harassment of the daughters must have been a regular occurrence, for their father was surprised at how early they returned from watering on the day Moses came to their rescue: “When the girls returned to Reuel their father, he asked them, ‘Why have you returned so early today?’” (vs. 18). Moses’ garb, appearance and language must have led the daughters to believe that he was an Egyptian: “They answered, ‘An Egyptian rescued us from the shepherds. He even drew water for us and watered the flock’” (vs. 19).
Moses’ good deed for the priest’s daughters turned into another life-changing event, for it introduced him to his wife: “Moses agreed to stay with the man, who gave his daughter Zipporah to Moses in marriage. Zipporah gave birth to a son, and Moses named him Gershom saying, ‘I have become an alien in a foreign land’” (vss. 21-22). The name “Gershom” sounds like the Hebrew word for alien or stranger. By naming his son Gershom, Moses demonstrated that he missed being with his people, and showed that he did not consider Midian his true home. It’s as if Moses named him thus in order to communicate to his wife and father-in-law that he would some day return to his people enslaved in Egypt.