11 One day, when Moses had grown up, he went out to his people and looked on their burdens, and he saw an Egyptian beating a Hebrew, one of his people.[c] 12 He looked this way and that, and seeing no one, he struck down the Egyptian and hid him in the sand. 13 When he went out the next day, behold, two Hebrews were struggling together. And he said to the man in the wrong, “Why do you strike your companion?” 14 He answered, “Who made you a prince and a judge over us? Do you mean to kill me as you killed the Egyptian?” Then Moses was afraid, and thought, “Surely the thing is known.” 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. (Exodus 2:11-15)
This passage, which may seem like a smaller piece in the Moses/Exodus story, is actually one of the critical moments in the narrative. It is one of those small hinges upon which large doors swing. It reveals a great deal to us about Moses, the Hebrew people, and God’s plan of redemption. One of the reasons we know this is because there are at least two New Testament passages which reference these specific verses and shed even greater light upon them, offering for us divinely inspired commentary and insight on the importance and meaning of this passage. One such passage is Acts chapter 7, where Stephen has been arrested and is before the High Priest, and in his speech before the High Priest he speaks on this passage, filled with the Holy Spirit. We will refer to that passage throughout this message.
Moses’ Growth in Egypt (v. 11) (Acts 7:22)
I would first like us to consider the time Moses spent growing up in the royal court of Egypt. Exodus 2 verse 11 just tells us that “when Moses had grown up, he went out to his people…” It may seem like nothing, but I believe it is something, that Moses grew up in Egypt in the house of Pharaoh. In Stephen’s speech in Acts 7:21-22, He says this, “…and when he was exposed, Pharaoh’s daughter adopted him and brought him up as her own son. And Moses was instructed in all the wisdom of the Egyptians, and he was mighty in his words and deeds.” So the New Testament gives us inspired commentary on Moses’ growing up in Egypt. Furthermore, in Acts 7:23 Stephen tells us that Moses was 40 years old when he went out to visit his people. So Moses had 40 years in Egypt, during which time he was instructed in all the wisdom of the Egyptians, and was mighty in his words and deeds.
The Ancient Egyptian civilization was highly knowledgeable and advanced for their time, they had great riches, wealth, learning, and technology. Moses, being the king’s adopted grandson, received the best education Egypt had to offer. Philo the Jew says that Moses learned arithmetic, geometry, and every branch of music, the hieroglyphics, the Assyrian language, and the Chaldean knowledge of the heavens (stars and planets – their patterns and signs), and the mathematics; yet he was not a magician, or skilled in unlawful arts, as was part of the false religion and demonic worship of the Egyptian people and religion.
Not only was Moses instructed in all the wisdom of the Egyptians, but he also was mighty in his words and deeds. We know later on in Exodus that Moses was not confident in his speech for he had a stutter. But despite that, he was mighty in his words in the content, truth, and wisdom of what he said, particularly among the Egyptian people. Not only in words, but in deeds, was Moses mighty. Remember, he was 40 years old when the event in our passage in Exodus takes place. He had plenty of years as a strong young man to display mighty deeds among the Egyptians. You can find some of those things in ancient Jewish histories, like Josephus. In fact, as one example, Josephus tells of an expedition of Moses against the Ethiopians, while he was in Pharaoh’s court, in which he obtained victory over them, when the Egyptians had been greatly oppressed by them; in which his prudence and fortitude were highly commended.
Moses was not a spoiled little brat, nor was he timid and weak. He was a highly educated, greatly accomplished, and powerful fighting man in one of the most powerful civilizations on earth. Matthew Henry even says that Moses was a prime minister in Egypt. I am not sure if he gets that from ancient histories, or just from inference in the text, so take that for what you will.
There are several points to be made from all this. One is that it reminds us of one of the themes and patterns of God’s people in Egypt. Both with Abraham, Isaac, Joseph, the Hebrews – one of the themes is that you go down into Egypt, you face persecution, but you gain riches while you are there. We will see later on the Hebrew people plunder the Egyptians in the Exodus, but Moses does personally as well here. Gaining riches doesn’t just have to do with money and possessions, but Moses plundered a great wealth of knowledge, wisdom, skills, and experience from the Egyptians. Certainly those things would have come of great use during the 40 years in the wilderness with Israel.
There is certainly something for us to consider here. If Egypt may represent the modern world in which we live, in the West, with the wealth and technology and access to education, there is much to be plundered here. Even though it seems we are beginning the crumbling and rotting stage due to our moral degeneracy and rejection of Christ, we live in one of the wealthiest times and places in history. Certainly we talk a lot here about the necessity of distinctly Christian education, jurisdiction of education, the myth of neutrality in education, and all of those sorts of things. Holding all of those principles firmly, there are riches of instruction and learning to be plundered from the world in our society that can be gained and wielded for the cause of Christ, the advance of the Church, and the recovery and rebuilding of Christian society. We don’t want to obliterate everything and start from ground zero – that is not a Christian view of history and society. We reject the pagan, the irredeemable, the demonic, as Moses did – throw out the bad; but salvage, redeem, and build upon the good, for all of it belongs to our God.
Another thing to take from Moses’ training in Egypt is this: though he was highly educated, raised in the courts of Egypt, lacking nothing, and not under the burdens of enslavement, he did not despise his own people, which would have certainly been a great temptation. Though he was wealthy, wise, and powerful, he did not despise his lowly and downcast brethren. Though he came from the royal courts, he did not despise the slaves. This is certainly one reason why the Hebrew people did not like Moses – they were envious, jealous, or bitter that he did not suffer in the same way as them, and that he had more than them. This is so much of Israel’s history in the wilderness. The people disobey, disrespect, and rebel against Moses and God.
But how we see a beautiful picture of Christ here in Moses. Christ also descended from the royal courts of heaven, yet did not despise the rebels and slaves on earth He came to save. Though all the wealth and riches of the universe and all knowledge are His, Christ does not despise His lowly and downcast people.
As a type of Christ, Moses’ instruction and growth also reminds us of the boy and the young man Jesus. Luke 2:52 says that Jesus grew, or “increased in wisdom and stature and in favor with God and man.”
Just as Moses learned and grew in wisdom on behalf of his people, when they could not, so Christ also is our wisdom and representative in the royal court of heaven, when we cannot be wise unto salvation in ourselves.
Moses the Judge
The next issue which we will concern ourselves in the text of Exodus chapter 2 is the issue of Moses killing the Egyptian. Many Christians have quickly condemned Moses for murder at this point, yet they have not heard the case of the other side. Certainly Moses had his sins and faults, but I believe a careful reading of the text and the New Testament, will prove that murder, in this case, is not one of those sins, and thinking that it is hinders our understanding of the story. To make this case let us first read and listen to the inspired New Testament account of this event.
22 And Moses was instructed in all the wisdom of the Egyptians, and he was mighty in his words and deeds.
23 “When he was forty years old, it came into his heart to visit his brothers, the children of Israel. 24 And seeing one of them being wronged, he defended the oppressed man and avenged him by striking down the Egyptian. 25 He supposed that his brothers would understand that God was giving them salvation by his hand, but they did not understand. 26 And on the following day he appeared to them as they were quarreling and tried to reconcile them, saying, ‘Men, you are brothers. Why do you wrong each other?’ 27 But the man who was wronging his neighbor thrust him aside, saying, ‘Who made you a ruler and a judge over us? 28 Do you want to kill me as you killed the Egyptian yesterday?’ 29 At this retort Moses fled and became an exile in the land of Midian, where he became the father of two sons. (Acts 7:22-29)
The first thing to notice is what Stephen says in verse 23 that it came into his heart to visit his brothers. By this, I would understand that God put it into his heart, for this was a good and righteous desire. It is good and right for men to desire to be with their people, and with the people of God. Since it is a natural and godly desire we can say that God put it into his heart.
Second, let us note that in neither Exodus or Acts, nor anywhere else in Scripture is Moses condemned for Murder of this Egyptian. If Scripture doesn’t talk about it that way, then we should at least be very careful before we do.
Furthermore, not only is Moses not condemned in Scripture for striking down this Egyptian, but he is commended for it! Acts 7:24, “And seeing one of them being wronged, he defended the oppressed man and avenged him by striking down the Egyptian.” So, the Holy Spirit, through Stephen, says that Moses was defending the oppressed man and avenged him. Defense is not murder. Defense is a righteous and godly action and even a responsibility, particularly for men who have authority and responsibility for others. It cannot be both defense and murder, it’s either one or the other, and Scripture says defense and doesn’t say murder.
Furthermore, consider Acts 7:25, “He supposed that his brothers would understand that God was giving them salvation by his hand, but they did not understand.” Recall how God had promised Abram in Genesis 15 that his descendants would be afflicted as sojourners in a land that was not theirs for 400 years, but that God would bring them out with great possessions. Faithful Hebrews would have received that promise and would have been looking for a deliverer and hoping in the promises of God, as well as the Genesis 3:15 promise. Moses, who was a very learned and wise man, supposed the Hebrews would’ve known, believed, and been looking for a deliverer, yet they did not. It was not yet the complete time for them to be delivered, though Moses was indeed right about God establishing him as the one to deliver the Hebrew people.
I find it interesting that Stephen does not say that Moses was wrong in supposing that God would give the Hebrews salvation by his hand, but rather he says that the Hebrews did not yet understand it.
When Moses struck down the Egyptian, he did so as a judge of Israel. When Moses goes out the next day and confronts the two Hebrews struggling together, the one in the wrong says, “Who made you a prince and a judge over us?” Stephen answers this question in Acts 7:35-36, saying, “This Moses, whom they rejected, saying, ‘Who made you a ruler and a judge?’ – this man God sent as both ruler and redeemer by the hand of the angel who appeared to him in the bush.” Stephen calls him a redeemer instead of a judge – but what were the judges of Israel in the book of Judges? They were redeemers. They delivered the people of Israel from their enemies by striking them down in various ways. They were types of Christ patterned after Moses. Notice as well how in both cases with the Egyptian and then the two Hebrews fighting, Moses properly judges the situation and who was wrong. The Scripture confirms that the Egyptian was oppressing the Hebrew. And with the two Hebrews fighting, Moses addresses the Hebrew who was in the wrong. And of course the guilty Hebrew who is in the wrong rejects Moses’ righteous judgment, preferring the rule of Egypt to God’s righteous rule, so that he can continue to beat his fellow man. This incident shows that the Hebrew people were not yet ready to be delivered.
Moses acts as a judge and deliverer appointed by God in striking down the Egyptian who was oppressing and beating the Hebrew slave. We also must recognize that in this case the Egyptians were illegitimate rulers over the Israelites. They wrongly enslaved the people and were slaughtering their children – this is just the type of situation which God would send judges to deliver his people from. If someone is kidnapping and murdering baby boys, lethal action needs to be taken to stop it.
Consider as well the biblical law on treating slaves. Even though this would come later, it reveals to us the unrighteous nature of the Hebrews’ enslavement. Exodus 21 contains laws about slaves. First, slaves were to be given opportunity for freedom in the seventh year. This was not the case for the Hebrews in Egypt. Or this, Exodus 21:20, “When a man strikes his slave, male or female, with a rod and the slave dies under his hand, he shall be avenged.” Now we aren’t told whether this specific slave died at the hand of the Egyptian, but certainly this happened in general. When that happens, biblically, they were to be avenged, which is exactly what Stephen said that Moses did, “…he defended the oppressed man and avenged him by striking down the Egyptian.” I would actually contend that since Stephen says Moses avenged him, that that implies the man did die – that is why it is said he was avenged – otherwise there is nothing to avenge.
When Exodus 2 says that Moses looked this way and that, struck down the Egyptian, then buried him in the sand, some commentators will point to that to show that Moses had a guilty conscience and knew what he did was wrong and so he tried to hide it. Based on all the other evidence to the contrary, I would say that it shows Moses using wisdom, knowing that Pharaoh would not be happy were he to find out. We should be able to understand that, even by experience in our own country, that with the use of obvious self-defense you may very still find yourself in a dangerous court-case facing serious possible consequences. So using wisdom is essential. That has been one of the main themes we have seen and discussed – out-smarting the dragon.
Having considered this, we have seen that Moses struck down this Egyptian in the specific context of the unjust slaughter of his people, and also having been appointed a ruler and a judge by God. This passage does not give us permission to take the sword into our own hands and seek vengeance, for vengeance is mine, sayeth the Lord. By way of application, there is certainly a righteous time for defense, but the passage is teaching us that we are to wait on our Redeemer to deliver us from the tyranny of our own sin and the kingdom of darkness. And that when he comes, we are not to reject Him, but to be ready to receive Him and recognize the redemption that comes by His right hand. And that Redeemer has come. Like Moses, He came to His own and His own received Him not. Like Moses, our Redeemer spent 40 days in the wilderness compared to Moses’ 40 years. When Christ returned from the wilderness, He was eventually put to death by His own people who rejected Him. He then rose from the dead and brought them out of their bondage and darkness. That’s you and that’s me. Though every Christian at one time rejected our Redeemer, He has delivered us still. And that salvation was totally undeserved. We deserved the judgment, but yet received the salvation. We deserved to remain enslaved to sin and darkness, yet we have been freed and transferred to the Kingdom of Light by God’s amazing grace.
Moses’ Compassion and Love for His People (v. 11)
Like Moses, Jesus had great compassion for His people. In Exodus 2:11 Moses went out to his people and looked on their burdens. I can’t help but think of Jesus, as the crowds of people flocked around Him, the gospels say that Jesus looked upon the crowds and had compassion on them. They were like sheep without a shepherd, just like the ancient Hebrews in Egypt. Sheep without a shepherd are looked on with compassion and love by the one who comes to redeem them.
Your burdens, your afflictions, your pain, your sorrow, your heartache, are not unseen by the Lord. He sees, He knows, He is filled with compassion and love, and He has indeed come to redeem you from your burdens. He already has come. He suffered and bled and died for you, that your sins that afflict you would be forgiven, that you would be freed from the power of sin and the evil one over you, that you would be delivered from the penalty of the law that you are guilty of. And every providential affliction that you endure, He has purchased for you the promise that every last bit of it will work out for good for those who love God and are called according to His purpose.
Do not reject your Redeemer. Belief His Word and Promises. Believe what He says and does, unlike the guilty Hebrews. You are guilty of sin and rebellion to a Holy God and there is blood on your hands, but you can be washed and cleansed and your guilty conscience can be freed and cleared, for that is why Christ shed His blood on the cross. Or you can refuse Christ’s way of salvation and be terrorized with guilt and die a slave.
Jesus sees and knows your guilt and will judge righteously. But He also died and rose again that He might forgive and redeem profusely. And He has come out to you today and looked upon you with compassion, as through His Word, He calls out to you – judging and showing you that you are a sinner worthy of death – but also showing you His nail-pierced hands of redemption that are strong to save and kind to forgive.
Praise, Honor, and Glory be given to the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.