15 When Pharaoh heard of it, he sought to kill Moses. But Moses fled from Pharaoh and stayed in the land of Midian. And he sat down by a well.
16 Now the priest of Midian had seven daughters, and they came and drew water and filled the troughs to water their father’s flock. 17 The shepherds came and drove them away, but Moses stood up and saved them, and watered their flock. 18 When they came home to their father Reuel, he said, “How is it that you have come home so soon today?” 19 They said, “An Egyptian delivered us out of the hand of the shepherds and even drew water for us and watered the flock.” 20 He said to his daughters, “Then where is he? Why have you left the man? Call him, that he may eat bread.” 21 And Moses was content to dwell with the man, and he gave Moses his daughter Zipporah. 22 She gave birth to a son, and he called his name Gershom, for he said, “I have been a sojourner[d] in a foreign land.”
23 During those many days the king of Egypt died, and the people of Israel groaned because of their slavery and cried out for help. Their cry for rescue from slavery came up to God. 24 And God heard their groaning, and God remembered his covenant with Abraham, with Isaac, and with Jacob. 25 God saw the people of Israel—and God knew. (Exodus 2:15-25)
As we consider Moses’ time in the land of Midian today, I would first like to briefly remind you that Moses fleeing to the land of Midian was not Moses running away in fear. Moses was instead acting in faith. Hebrews 11:27 says, “By faith he left Egypt, not being afraid of the anger of the king, for he endured as seeing him who is invisible.” With this being the foundation of Moses’ time in Midian, we recognize that this was not Moses running from his responsibilities. We see rather that the hand of God was providentially leading Moses here and preparing Moses for the future tasks that God ordained for him. Certainly Moses’ first actions in Midian show that he was not a man living in fear, but he was a man looking for opportunities from God to live and act as the man he believed he was called to be.
While having just experienced rejection from the Hebrews, he yet did not retreat into passivity. He simply had to learn the lesson to wait on God’s timing, and be useful in the meantime where God puts him.
It is interesting that Moses goes to the land of Midian. Midian was one of Abraham’s other sons that Abraham had by his later wife Keturrah. The children Abraham had through Keturrah was not the line of the promised seed, as that line was carried on through the promised child, Isaac, through Sarah. That line of course being the Hebrew people that were enslaved in Egypt. But I believe that we can even see Moses’ faith in the fact that he goes to these other sons of Abraham. The sons of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob were not yet ready to be delivered by Moses. Moses does not reject these sons of Abraham in return, but instead goes to the other sons of Abraham, by whom he would be trained and taught, in order to return and deliver the children of Israel.
Looking at our text, the last sentence in verse 15 that says Moses sat down by a well, may seem like a random factoid and may be easily passed over. However, if we are tracking with the story of the bible and really thinking like the bible thinks, then major signals should be going off as we read that. Where else have we seen this? Genesis 24, Abraham’s servant goes to find a wife for Isaac, and where does he find a wife for Isaac? At a well. In Genesis 29, where does Jacob first meet Rachel? At a well, where Rachel is bringing her sheep to be watered. So as we read Moses sitting down at this well, we should be hearing wedding bells going off, and indeed we do. These are intentional patterns that we should be picking up on as we read the bible. A well means water, water means life, and weddings are the celebration of new life. So think about then when Jesus is at a well in John 4. Jesus meets the woman at the well. Now of course Jesus did not marry this woman, Jesus had no earthly marriage. But as Pastor Douglas Wilson points out, this woman at the well is typological of the bride of Christ. She is a picture of the bride of Christ – the bride of Christ being the Church. All of those in the Church, that are the body of Christ, were once like her – lost in sin, adulterous peoples, utterly impure and defiled. And yet, it is those people who Christ saves. He saves them, He changes them, He purifies them, He sanctifies them, and as Ephesians 5 says, Christ cleanses His bride with the washing of the water with the word. So Moses sat down by a well.
A Wise Man
Looking at our text, verse 16 mentions that the priest of Midian had seven daughters and they came to this well to water their father’s flocks. Now it should probably catch our eye here that there is a priest of Midian. This is before the establishment of the Levitical priesthood in the Old Covenant. What is this? Some would say this is a pagan priest. Now, out of all that I read, the majority of the reformed commentators would disagree with that. And I would as well. I do not believe Reuel, who also goes by the name Jethro, as we will see in chapter 3, is a pagan priest, but rather a priest of the one true God. Now again, if we are tracking through the story of the Bible from the beginning of Genesis up to this point, this is not the first time we have seen a priest of God, outside of Israel. Recall to mind the priest-king Melchizedek, who Abram met, and who blessed Abram, and who is mentioned in Psalm 110, and also in Hebrews talking about Christ. There were believing people outside of the people of Israel even in the times before Christ. Not only were there believing people, but there were priests of the Most High God. God taught Adam and showed him the necessity of a sacrifice for sin. And clearly that was passed down as we see the sacrifices of Cain and Abel, and sacrifices being made by Noah and the patriarchs. God revealed to Adam a way to worship Him, and that was passed down and spread. Worship of God did not begin with Moses and the establishment of Israel. That simply began a new era of worship in the history of redemption. And we have two prime examples of Melchizedek and Reuel being priests of God before Sinai.
Certainly it becomes even more likely that this is the case with Reuel being a descendent of Abraham. Later on we’ll see godly wisdom and instruction from Jethro as he helps Moses put a system of judges in place for the people of Israel. Jethro sends Moses in peace to go back to Egypt in obedience to God. He specifically praises God later on in Exodus. And certainly it is not a fair judgment of Moses to assume that he would marry into a family of demon priests, since we are told that in faith he refused to be called the son of the daughter of Pharaoh, and in faith fled and endured by looking to Him who is invisible. Moses could certainly sin and did greatly, but this is not one of them.
It is also interesting to note that the Hebrew word used for “priest” here, is also used for “prince” or “governor.” This would indicate to us that Reuel really was like Melchizedek, being a priest-king of his tribe or people. Certainly we see Jethro’s wisdom and ability to govern well in his advice to Moses later on in setting up the judicial system in Israel. So that makes good sense. So Moses goes from the courts of one of the most powerful empires of the world, to although no empire, another kingly, or at least influential and powerful family.
So Moses is here at this well, the seven daughters of Reuel show up with their flocks, and as we read some shepherds show up and they are harassing and driving away the daughters of Reuel. But, verse 17 says, “Moses stood up and saved them, and watered their flock.” So Moses was an absolute unit. I mentioned a few weeks ago Moses’ capabilities as a fighter, obviously we saw him kill a single Egyptian in defense of the Hebrews. And here, Moses most certainly is weary from his journey and there are multiple assailants, we don’t know how many, but he takes them on all by himself and saves these seven daughters of Reuel.
I want to take a brief moment to think about this at an applicational principle level. On that level, Moses was at least two things here. One, he was a dangerous man. He was a strong, fighting, brave man. He had the ability to inflict serious damage on his opponents. And yet he was a good man, humanly speaking. He used his fighting ability and his courage on behalf of others, in the defense of others. With the Hebrews in Egypt, and with the daughters of Reuel here. He was placed in opportunities where he saw weaker people in need, and he stood up and acted manly in their defense. You see, good men, in order to maximize the good they can do for others, need also to be dangerous men. They need to be capable men, so that they are actually able to come to the defense of others.
The second thing here that Moses was, was that he was chivalrous. There were young women who were being harassed by these shepherds, and they couldn’t defend themselves adequately even though there were seven of them. I don’t say that at all making fun of women, I say that recognizing and honoring the fact that God made women the weaker vessel and that’s a good and wonderful thing. Biblical chivalry is just the application of the biblical teaching that God made men and women differently and therefore they are to be treated differently. There are things you do, say, and wear in all male spaces that you ought not in mixed company. It is feminism for a woman to want to be treated the same way as a man and do the jobs of men. And it is disrespect to her womanhood for a man to acquiesce. So Moses treated them like the women that they were in not sitting it out and letting them fight like men, like you probably should do if you happen upon two gangs of men fighting. And he recognized they were women and so stood up to intervene against the male assailants. And he was a godly man in that he didn’t now overtake them with his strength, acting as if they were now his possession. He was chivalrous – he recognized the women were not goods to be taken, and they left there without him.
So Moses now becomes a daughter protector. There is an interesting theme that we see developing here. When Moses went out and intervened with the Hebrews who were being mistreated, they did not recognize that Moses was trying to save and deliver them, as we saw in Acts 7 a few weeks ago. And they end up rejecting Moses. The people that Moses wants to save don’t want to be saved yet, so Moses has to get out of town. He gets out of town and he is immediately presented with another opportunity to save some people, and these daughters are very glad for it as we see them go back and tell their father who is greatly pleased, so much so that he gives Moses one of his daughters in marriage. This is a theme we see throughout the bible – there are gentiles who gladly receive the salvation and rescue that the Hebrews reject. The Hebrews weren’t ready for salvation, so God’s going to go save some Gentiles. That’s such a major theme of the New Testament, isn’t it? Jesus went to His own and His own received Him not. So Jesus sent the Holy Spirit and went and saved the nations, and is doing so.
I can’t help but also see some significance in the fact that it was seven daughters that Moses saved. The Bible doesn’t mention the number seven for no reason. It’s a number representing wholeness, completion, perfection. Certainly I take it to be literally seven daughters, but also it is typological. I think it is typological of Christ standing up in due time and saving the fullness of the nations. Moses is such an obvious type of Christ here, for it is Christ who stands up and saves. It is Christ who defends His people. It is Christ who fights on the behalf of others who cannot defend themselves. Just as it was Moses alone, it is Christ alone who is the savior of the nations. Christ alone takes on all the hordes of hell and all of our enemies, and is strong and powerful to defeat them and so save the fullness of His people. Not one will be lost. The bible talks about Christ not just defeating Satan one on one, but defeating and disarming the rulers, authorities, principalities, and powers of the air. It is a multiplicity of enemies that Christ stands up and fights and defeats. And no matter how many there are of us sinners, we can’t take them ourselves. We are in great need of saving. The powers of the enemy are real and they are powerful and they can devour anyone who is outside of Jesus Christ. We are the ones who need saving. On our own apart from Christ, we cannot even defeat the sinful desires of the flesh within ourselves, let alone the powers of darkness. And if we want to be saved by Christ, then like these young women, we need to let Christ do all the saving. We need trust and totally depend upon Him alone to rescue us. We cannot save ourselves no matter how hard we try, no matter how much we work, no matter how long we live. But Christ was lifted up in the air on the cross, as Athanasius says, to disarm the prince of the power of the air. Then on the third day of being in the grave, He stood up, rising for our justification. And lo and behold, the enemy, the accuser, the sin, the assailants to our soul are gone. They have fled from His sight, they cannot stand the sight of Him, they are trampled underfoot and driven out.
Furthermore, not only in our justification, but in the life of the Church on earth, as Moses drove away the shepherds who sought harm on the daughters, so Christ also protects His Church from wicked shepherds who would seek to do harm upon His Church. Jesus said this about the false shepherds of Israel, and He says it about His Church today.
So we were at a well, and now we are at a wedding. Reuel gives his daughter Zipporah in marriage to Moses.
Moses also gets a job here. He was content to stay there and learn how to be a shepherd, which I believe is interesting because it shows the faith of Moses – Moses refused to be called the son of Pharaoh’s daughter and preferred to suffer with the people of God – and if you recall from the end of Genesis, shepherding was an abomination to the Egyptians – they despised and looked down on it, but that is what the sons of Israel were. And so now that is what Moses is. This also looks so similar to the story of Jacob. Jacob worked as a shepherd for his father in law. Only this time, Moses has a godly father in law, unlike Jacob had in Laban.
We also see Moses’ faith in naming his son Gershom, saying, “I have been a sojourner in a foreign land.” He names his son after the faith he had in the promises of God to His people, that God promised to bring them up out of their sojourning and into the land of promise, as God told Abraham would happen.
But this time that Moses spends working for Reuel is a very important time. Moses’ life is divided into three main time periods: 40 years in Egypt, 40 years in the land of Midian, and 40 years in the wilderness with Israel. Like Egypt, Moses’ 40 years in Midian was a time where God was preparing him and Moses was practicing for what God had for Him. 40 years is a time of preparation for Moses. But we know thematically from the Bible that 40 years is the time of a generation. So I believe that the 40 years is as much about the Hebrews as it is about Moses. Moses tried to save Israel as a prince of Egypt, they rejected it. So they spent a whole generation waiting, waiting for that generation to die, as is symbolized with the king of Egypt dying in verse 23. And that theme is what would happen again for their unbelief in the wilderness – 40 years of wandering so that the unbelieving generation would die before the promise came. And here, Moses is being prepared for that.
In verse 23-25, the King of Egypt dies, that unbelieving generation dies, and the people of Israel now groan and cry out in their distress. And their cries are prayers to God that ascend as incense up to God. This crying out in prayer, shows their faith. It shows their readiness for rescue. God heard their groaning. God remembered his covenant with Abraham, with Isaac, and with Jacob. God saw the people of Israel. And God knew. What beautiful gospel words those are.
Verse 24 says God remembered his covenant. This does not mean that God forgot it, that it slipped from His memory. God is all-knowing. He cannot learn anything new, and He cannot lose any knowledge, even through forgetfulness. In fact, the Hebrew word itself here does not mean that he forgot, it does not mean “recollect” as if He forgot. The word rather means something like “honoring,” or “applying”, or “memorializing.” So we should think more that God honored his covenant or applied his covenant. In other words, God was working His covenant promises to keep them. In other words, all through the groaning and crying out of Israel, God was not sitting on His hands. He was at work preparing their deliverer.
Then it says, God “knew.” That word “knew” is the same Hebrew word used many times throughout the Old Testament that is not speaking merely of containing information in the brain, but it is intimate experiential knowing. God understood what they were going through. God sympathized with their suffering. Indeed God knew them in their suffering.
Let me conclude with these things that God does, and what God does for us through Jesus Christ.
First, God hears. Psalm 4, “Give ear God of my righteousness and hear me when I call. You have given me relief when I was in distress. Be gracious to me and hear my prayer!” God is not deaf. He hears. Through Jesus Christ, as God’s children, your prayers ascend to the throne of grace as incense. Even more, we are seated with Him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus and so come before the throne of grace. Even more, we have an advocate and intercessor before the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous. So when you are in distress, cry out to God in prayer. Indeed, at all times, without ceasing, pray. God hears.
Second, God remembers. God the Father honors, keeps, and applies His covenant to us – He remembers His covenant of Redemption within the trinity, and honors and keeps the work of His Son to save, to forgive, to justify, to redeem, all of those that He gave to the Son. He is a covenant keeping God, and there is no suffering, no distress, no evil, no darkness, that can stop God from remembering and keeping His covenant. If there is one thing we learn throughout the whole Bible, it is that God is a covenant-keeping God. So when God hears it doesn’t go in one ear and out the other. It is one of the means God ordained through which He keeps His promises. When you pray and cry out to God, remind God of His promises that He has made to His people. Not because God needs reminding, but because God wants you to remember that He keeps His promises.
Third, God saw. God sees everything and nothing escapes His eye. This means that God is clear-sighted in judgments. He sees all perfectly and so is able to judge perfectly. All wrong that is done will be made right. God sees the situation perfectly and will do exactly as is right. Whatever it is, you don’t have to worry that God will wrongly assess the situation. He sees it better than you do, so when God doesn’t act as you think He should, remember He sees it all, and will do what is right. And what is most important is that if you have faith in Jesus Christ and belong to Him, then when God looks upon you, He doesn’t see all of your sin and wickedness and rebellion and so punish you and send you to hell. That’s what we all deserve in ourselves. God sees and knows all our sins more than we do. And yet, in Jesus Christ, if we belong to Him, God sees the blood of His Son, that we have been washed in it. God sees us covered in the righteousness of Jesus Christ. Even when you don’t see that, even when you are overwhelmed with your sin and failure and misery, even when the enemy or others only see all your problems, God sees you in His Son. And that is all that matters.
Finally, God knew. Jesus Christ, as our great High Priest, is not unable to sympathize with us in our weakness, for He was in every respect tempted as we are, yet without sin, Hebrews 4:15. Christ knows exactly what you are going through. He knows exactly what you are tempted with. And He is your High Priest before God on your behalf. You have not suffered more than He has. You have not been persecuted more than He has. You have not been wronged more than He has. And God the Father raised Him from the dead and has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. Amen.