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Moses defending the daughters of Jethro - Sebastien Bourdon (about 1650)

After Moses reached adulthood, he went to where his own people were and watched them work at hard labor. He saw an Egyptian beating a Hebrew, one of his own people. He looked around, and seeing no one, he struck the Egyptian dead and hid his body in the sand.

Moses and the Daughters of Jethro - Ciro Ferri (about 1650)The next day, Moses went out and saw two Hebrews fighting each other. He asked the one in the wrong, “Why are you hitting your fellow Hebrew?” The man snarled, “Who made you the ruler and judge over us? Are you thinking of killing me like you killed the Egyptian?”

Moses was afraid that what he had done had become known to others. When Pharaoh heard this, he tried to kill Moses, but Moses fled to Midian where he lived by a well. He was sitting by the well when the daughters of a priest of Midian who had seven daughters came to draw water to fill their troughs. Shepherds came and drove them away, but Moses defended them and even watered their flock for them.

When the girls returned to Reuel, their father, he asked them, “Why have you returned so early today?”

The daughters answered, “An Egyptian rescued us from the shepherds. He even drew water for us and watered the flock.”

“And where is he?” Reuel asked his daughters. “Why did you leave him? Invite him to eat with us.”

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Moses agreed to stay with the man who gave his daughter Zipporah to Moses in marriage.

Zipporah gave birth to a son. Moses named him Gershom saying, “I have become a foreigner in a foreign land.”

What the story means to us today

An introduction to the deliverer of the Israelites – Moses sins and pays the price

Moses defending the daughters of Jethro - Eugene Roger (1837)A lot happens during our introduction to Moses – good and bad. We meet a man, the God-assigned deliverer of the Israelites, who murders another and pays the price when fear of retaliation drives him from his country. But we see a good man too, one that tries to pacify his fellow Hebrews when they fight among themselves and a man that defends and assists the women in need.

We also glean foresight into Moses’ future as the deliverer of Israel when the fighting Hebrew asks him, “Who made you ruler and judge over us?” As of this moment in time, no one tasked Moses with judging the Egyptian man – thus the predicament Moses finds himself in when he steps in and strikes the man. Nor did anyone task Moses with protecting the daughters when the shepherds tried to drive them from the well. Moses acts on his own, without guidance, which both helps and hurts him.

Additional thoughts and considerations

Moses fails at his first attempt to “deliver” a Hebrew from injustice

Moses defending the daughters of Jethro - Ciro Ferri (about 1660)At some point prior to this event, we can infer that despite being adopted by Egyptians, Moses learned that he was a Hebrew. He was probably around 40 years old when he killed the Egyptian for beating a fellow Hebrew

Ironically, Moses, the deliverer of the Israelites, fails at his first attempt to “deliver” a Hebrew from abuse. His inclination to enforce justice is already apparent but his impulsive reaction leads him to attempt to do “God’s work in the flesh”, an ill-advised act that forces him to leave his home out of fear for his life. But God is not finished with Moses. He will receive about 40 years of education before God tasks him with delivering Israel from bondage.

Who is the father of the seven daughters – Reuel or Jethro?

Exodus 2:16 labels the seven women as daughters of a priest of Midian. We are then told the daughters went home to their father, “Reuel”. Later, Exodus 3;1 says Moses was shepherding a flock of his father-in-law and names him “Jethro, the priest of Midian”. Indeed, Reuel and Jethro appear to be the same person.

Various theories have been proposed for the change in name. Some theorize that Reuel is actually a clan name, not a specific person name. Others propose Jethro is not a name but rather, is an official designation. We must remember though, in ancient times, dual names for the same person were very common in Arabic literary sources, especially when a significant event changed a person’s life. We see this frequently in the Bible with Abram/Abraham, Jacob/Israel, Eliakim/Jehoiakim, Naomi/Mara, Sarai/Sarah, Simon/Peter, and Saul/Paul. To ancient readers, the variant names would not seem unusual.

Moses strikes an Egyptian dead – is Moses’ action a crime?

Punishment in Ancient Egypt - Wall painting (1,500 BC)The original Hebrew used to describe Moses’ murder of an Egyptian implies the man was struck dead. Was Moses in the wrong?

In ancient times, beating a slave was not illegal. In fact, even killing a slave only required monetary reparations to the owner. But an underling murder of a native of the country would surely be a capital offense. Moses further buries the body in the sand, demonstrating that he knew he had committed a serious crime.

As discussed in the translation notes below, the Bible does not explicitly tell us Moses murdered the man out of spite. Nor do we know if Moses’ action was premeditated. Thus we are unable to determine if Moses’ action was purposeful murder or accidental murder while trying to save another man’s life. Either way, his actions become a part of God’s long-term plan for the Israelites.

The science and history behind the story

Where was Midian and who were the Midianites?

The Bible tells us Moses fled to “Midian”. Midian is named after the son of Abraham and Keturah. The Bible tells us Abraham sent them “to the land of the east”. It is believed the Midianites lived in southeastern Sinai and northwestern Arabia on the east shore of the Gulf of Aqaba on the Red Sea. The area was never extensively settled until around 800 BC, so it is believed the Midianites were a nomadic tribe.

Notes on Biblical translation

“Gershom”

Moses names his son “Gershom” noting that “I have become a resident foreigner in a foreign land”. The name Gershom derives from the Hebrew word “garash” which means “to drive out”. The word “garash” is used several times in the Moses narrative including the earlier verse where the shepherds drove away Reuel’s daughters from the well.

Moses strikes the Egyptian

The calling of Moses - Sandro Botticelli (1481)Most translations say “Moses killed the Egyptian”. The original Hebrew word however, is simply “strike”, “beat”, or “attack” as in “Moses struck the Egyptian.” The next verse describes Moses hiding the body in the sand and shows that the man was killed by Moses’ action.

Moses looked this way and that

Most translations say “Moses looked this way and that and saw that no one was there”, then he attacked the Egyptian who was beating the Hebrew slave. The original Hebrew says, “Moses turned thus and thus”. The natural assumption is that Moses looked around to see if anyone was looking and finding no observer, took matters into his own hands and killed the Egyptian. However, some argue that Moses may have been looking around for someone else to stop the beating of the Hebrew. Seeing nobody was going to help the poor man, Moses stepped in and struck the Egyptian.

Bible Text

NIV

11 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. 12 Looking this way and that and seeing no one, he killed the Egyptian and hid him in the sand. 13 The next day he went out and saw two Hebrews fighting. He asked the one in the wrong, “Why are you hitting your fellow Hebrew?”

14 The 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.”

15 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. 16 Now a priest of Midian had seven daughters, and they came to draw water and fill the troughs to water their father’s flock. 17 Some shepherds came along and drove them away, but Moses got up and came to their rescue and watered their flock.

18 When the girls returned to Reuel their father, he asked them, “Why have you returned so early today?”

19 They answered, “An Egyptian rescued us from the shepherds. He even drew water for us and watered the flock.”

20 “And where is he?” Reuel asked his daughters. “Why did you leave him? Invite him to have something to eat.”

21 Moses agreed to stay with the man, who gave his daughter Zipporah to Moses in marriage. 22 Zipporah gave birth to a son, and Moses named him Gershom, c saying, “I have become a foreigner in a foreign land.”

The New International Version. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2011. Print.

Moses Slays the Egyptian - Charles Foster (1883)The NET Bible

2:11  In those days, when Moses had grown up, he went out to his people and observed their hard labor, and he saw an Egyptian man attacking a Hebrew man, one of his own people. 2:12 He looked this way and that and saw that no one was there, and then he attacked the Egyptian and concealed the body in the sand. 2:13 When he went out the next day, there were two Hebrew men fighting. So he said to the one who was in the wrong, “Why are you attacking your fellow Hebrew?”

2:14 The man replied, “Who made you a ruler and a judge over us? Are you planning to kill me like you killed that Egyptian?” Then Moses was afraid, thinking, “Surely what I did has become known.” 2:15 When Pharaoh heard about this event, he sought to kill Moses. So Moses fled from Pharaoh and settled in the land of Midian, and he settled by a certain well.

2:16 Now a priest of Midian had seven daughters, and they came and began to draw water and fill the troughs in order to water their father’s flock. 2:17 When some shepherds came and drove them away, Moses came up and defended them and then watered their flock. 2:18 So when they came home to their father Reuel, he asked, “Why have you come home so early today?” 2:19 They said, “An Egyptian man rescued us from the shepherds, and he actually drew water for us and watered the flock!” 2:20 He said to his daughters, “So where is he? Why in the world did you leave the man? Call him, so that he may eat a meal with us.”

2:21 Moses agreed to stay with the man, and he gave his daughter Zipporah to Moses in marriage. 2:22 When she bore a son, Moses named him Gershom, for he said, “I have become a resident foreigner in a foreign land.”

Biblical Studies Press. The NET Bible First Edition; Bible. English. NET Bible.; The NET Bible. Biblical Studies Press, 2006. Print.

New King James Version

11 Now it came to pass in those days, when Moses was grown, that he went out to his brethren and looked at their burdens. And he saw an Egyptian beating a Hebrew, one of his brethren. 12 So he looked this way and that way, and when he saw no one, he killed the Egyptian and hid him in the sand. 13 And when he went out the second day, behold, two Hebrew men were fighting, and he said to the one who did the wrong, “Why are you striking your companion?”

14 Then he said, “Who made you a prince and a judge over us? Do you intend to kill me as you killed the Egyptian?”

So Moses feared and said, “Surely this thing is known!” 15 When Pharaoh heard of this matter, he sought to kill Moses. But Moses fled from the face of Pharaoh and dwelt 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 they filled the troughs to water their father’s flock. 17 Then the shepherds came and drove them away; but Moses stood up and helped them, and watered their flock.

18 When they came to Reuel their father, he said, “How is it that you have come so soon today?”

19 And they said, “An Egyptian delivered us from the hand of the shepherds, and he also drew enough water for us and watered the flock.”

20 So he said to his daughters, “And where is he? Why is it that you have left the man? Call him, that he may eat bread.”

21 Then Moses was content to live with the man, and he gave Zipporah his daughter to Moses. 22 And she bore him a son. He called his name Gershom, for he said, “I have been a stranger in a foreign land.”

The New King James Version. Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1982. Print.

The Message

11–12 Time passed. Moses grew up. One day he went and saw his brothers, saw all that hard labor. Then he saw an Egyptian hit a Hebrew—one of his relatives! He looked this way and then that; when he realized there was no one in sight, he killed the Egyptian and buried him in the sand.

13 The next day he went out there again. Two Hebrew men were fighting. He spoke to the man who started it: “Why are you hitting your neighbor?”

14 The man shot back: “Who do you think you are, telling us what to do? Are you going to kill me the way you killed that Egyptian?”

Then Moses panicked: “Word’s gotten out—people know about this.”

15 Pharaoh heard about it and tried to kill Moses, but Moses got away to the land of Midian. He sat down by a well.

16–17 The priest of Midian had seven daughters. They came and drew water, filling the troughs and watering their father’s sheep. When some shepherds came and chased the girls off, Moses came to their rescue and helped them water their sheep.

18 When they got home to their father, Reuel, he said, “That didn’t take long. Why are you back so soon?”

19 “An Egyptian,” they said, “rescued us from a bunch of shepherds. Why, he even drew water for us and watered the sheep.”

20 He said, “So where is he? Why did you leave him behind? Invite him so he can have something to eat with us.”

21–22 Moses agreed to settle down there with the man, who then gave his daughter Zipporah (Bird) to him for his wife. She had a son, and Moses named him Gershom (Sojourner), saying, “I’m a sojourner in a foreign country.”

Peterson, Eugene H. The Message: The Bible in Contemporary Language. Colorado Springs, CO: NavPress, 2005. Print.

King James Version

11 And it came to pass in those days, when Moses was grown, that he went out unto his brethren, and looked on their burdens: and he spied an Egyptian smiting an Hebrew, one of his brethren. 12 And he looked this way and that way, and when he saw that there was no man, he slew the Egyptian, and hid him in the sand. 13 And when he went out the second day, behold, two men of the Hebrews strove together: and he said to him that did the wrong, Wherefore smitest thou thy fellow? 14 And he said, Who made thee a prince and a judge over us? intendest thou to kill me, as thou killedst the Egyptian? And Moses feared, and said, Surely this thing is known. 15 Now when Pharaoh heard this thing, he sought to slay Moses. But Moses fled from the face of Pharaoh, and dwelt 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 And the shepherds came and drove them away: but Moses stood up and helped them, and watered their flock. 18 And when they came to Reuel their father, he said, How is it that ye are come so soon to day? 19 And they said, An Egyptian delivered us out of the hand of the shepherds, and also drew water enough for us, and watered the flock. 20 And he said unto his daughters, And where is he? why is it that ye have left the man? call him, that he may eat bread. 21 And Moses was content to dwell with the man: and he gave Moses Zipporah his daughter. 22 And she bare him a son, and he called his name Gershom: for he said, I have been a stranger in a strange land.

The Holy Bible: King James Version. Electronic Edition of the 1900 Authorized Version. Bellingham, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc., 2009. Print.

Sources: NIV, The Message, The NET Bible, King James Version, NET Bible Notes, Faithlife Study Bible, The Apologetics Study Bible, The Bible Knowledge Commentary, Jamieson, Fausset, Brown Commentary, The Bible Reader’s Companion, Matthew Henry’s Commentary, Holman Concise Bible Commentary, The Bible Exposition Commentary, The Teacher’s Bible Commentary, The Teacher’s Commentary, The Bible Guide, Word Studies in the New Testament, Holman Bible Handbook, Calvin Commentaries, Wiersbe’s Expository Outlines, The New Manner and Customs of the Bible, Holman Illustrated Bible Dictionary, The Lexham Bible Dictionary, Easton’s Bible Dictionary, Harper’s Bible Dictionary, Baker Encyclopedia of the Bible, The Archaeological Encyclopedia, Biblical Archaeology Review, The New Bible Dictionary, The Lexham Analytical Lexicon, Glossary of Morpho-Syntactic Database

 

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