Written by: Daniel Gordan

Noble Moses

Often, a person asks God for one thing but does not receive exactly what is desired. However, after people analyze God’s answers to their prayers, they discover that God is wise and all-powerful. They realize that Adonai knows better what they need.

The example of Moses in the book of Exodus clearly demonstrates how this principle works.

Moses' Brothers

The story of Moses' birth and miraculous deliverance is followed by his own account of his encounter with Egyptian violence.

Exod. 2:11 Now it came about in those days, when Moses had grown up, that he went out to his brethren and looked on their hard labors, and he saw an Egyptian beating a Hebrew, one of his brethren.

Exod. 2:12 So he looked this way and that, and when he saw there was no one around, he struck down the Egyptian and hid him in the sand.

Exod. 2:13 He went out the next day, and behold, two Hebrews were fighting with each other, and he said to the offender, “Why are you striking your companion?”

Exod. 2:14 But he said, “Who made you a prince or a judge over us? Are you intending to kill me as you killed the Egyptian?” Then Moses was afraid and said, “Surely the matter has become known.”

Stereotypically, this text is perceived as the first grave sin of Moses. Very often, the reader imagines Moses losing patience. They perceive the text as if it describes Moses rushing at the offender and committing the sin of murder. Even rabbis are inclined to see in this act a partial explanation of the reason why Moses was not allowed to enter the Promised Land. I propose, nevertheless, to look carefully at what Moses himself tells us in the text of the Torah.

The biblical authors always use words sparingly, so any repetition is equivalent to italicized or highlighted text. Our passage has two repetitions at the beginning: “he went out to his brethren” and “he saw an Egyptian beating a Hebrew, one of his brethren” (italicized by the author of the article). This text highlights the Hebrew background of Moses three times: Moses (1) went out to the brethren, and (2) the background of the person who was beaten was given, he was a Hebrew. Finally, the narrative comes to the fact that this man was (3) “one of his brethren.”

Importantly, verse 11 begins with the words, “Now it came about in those days, when Moses had grown up.” The fact that Moses grew up is crucial. Moses has grown up, and this leads him from the palace of luxury to the street of suffering. Previous verses describe Moses as a child adopted by an Egyptian princess, but Moses did not become an Egyptian; he remained a Hebrew.

Next, we read that the Egyptian was “beating a Hebrew,” and Moses killed the Egyptian for it.

However, in Hebrew, we find an important detail.

Here is a more accurate translation: “And he saw an Egyptian smiting (נָכָה) a Hebrew, one of his brethren… he smote (נָכָה) the Egyptian" (Darby). The English word "smite" is the most appropriate choice to convey the meaning of the Hebrew word נָכָה (nāḵāh). In Hebrew, there are a number of verbs such as הרג ,חלל ,חרב, and others to describe violent death, but Moses chooses נָכָה and repeats it twice; in other words, he did exactly the same thing to the Egyptian that the Egyptian did to the Hebrew. It is likely that the Egyptian was about to kill the slave, which prompted Moses to act so decisively. He was driven not by emotions but by love and the desire to save his brothers.

Acts 7:24 and seeing a certain one wronged, he defended [him], and avenged him for being oppressed, smiting the Egyptian.

Acts 7:25 For he thought that his brethren would understand that God, by His hand, was giving them deliverance. But they understood not.

In the speech given in the book of Acts, we read that in the time of Yeshua, people saw a deep motive in the action of Moses: “he thought that his brethren would understand that God by his hand.” Salvation is the key idea of the episode.

In Exile

The dramatic narrative moves on to the next scene. Pharaoh learned what Moses had done and “tried to kill Moses.” It was not an abstract “want,” but a real attempt. Couldn’t the matter have been “hushed up” in this situation? We see that Pharaoh was the main initiator of the death penalty for Moses. Why? The Apostle Paul answers this question:

Heb. 11:24 By faith, Moses, when he had grown up, refused to be called the son of Pharaoh’s daughter.

An Egyptian who killed an Egyptian is not the same as a Hebrew who killed an Egyptian. By refusing to be called the son of Pharaoh's daughter, Moses automatically deprived himself of an opportunity to receive protection. The only way was to run away. And God miraculously saved him.

In the land of his exile, Moses again gets involved in a fight.

Exod. 2:16 And the priest of Midian had seven daughters, and they came and drew [water] and filled the troughs to water their father’s flock.

Exod. 2:17 And the shepherds came and drove them away, but Moses rose and helped them and watered their flock.

It would be very naive to assume that Moses simply said, “Dear shepherds, please do not offend the ladies.” The Hebrew text very strongly supports this view; it says, “וַיָּקָם מֹשֶׁה וַיּוֹשִׁעָן.” Vayakam may simply mean “rose up,” but when a biblical text conveys an action, it usually means “rose up” in the sense of “actively defend.”

The Hebrew text is very colorful. It literally says, “And Moses rose and saved...”. This nuance is preserved in the ESV. From this, we see that Moses was a noble knight. He did not think at all about the fact that the shepherds were stronger and more numerous, that they could have called for help or taken revenge later.

Moses is presented in the Torah as the one who saves. And this is the key element of his personality.


Daniel Gordan

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