Exodus: Moses Among His People

Moses, the son of a slave woman, grew up in the palace of the king of Egypt. As the adopted son of an Egyptian princess, Moses received all the education and intellectual training offered to the princes of Egypt. There is no doubt that Moses was educated at the Egyptian court and that he received superior training.

Moses Killing the Egyptian
Credit: Picassa

Moses’ Intellectual Preparation

The New Testament states that Moses received an Egyptian education and that he “was taught in all the wisdom of the Egyptians” (Acts 7: 22). Egyptian documents describe school education in Egypt in great detail. According to the traditional way of educating the king’s high officials, Moses was educated in mathematics, history, geography, music, and medicine. He also received instruction in Egyptian religion, practices, and doctrines.

This intellectual preparation made Moses a skilled and learned man. But Moses never forgot that he was the son of slaves. Before receiving intellectual training at the Egyptian court, Moses received his first education in the home of his mother. Through his mother Jochebed, his sister Miriam, and his brother Aaron, Moses was exposed, at a very early age, to the religion of the God of his parents and in the religious traditions of his people.

After Moses grew up, it is likely that Moses heard the story circulating among the people of Israel that one day a promised savior was coming to free the people from the yoke of servitude and lead them to the land that the God of their ancestors had promised. For forty years Moses lived with the Egyptian royalty preparing, unconsciously, for the work that would affect his people and future generations of Israelites.

Moses is one of the most important persons in the history of the world. He became a giant among the men of the past and his reputation surpasses the barrier of time. Moses was transformed by the divine power that works in the lives of Yahweh’s faithful servants and for this reason, his wonderful talents and his exceptional ability were used by God to deliver Israel from their servitude in Egypt. Through service to God, Moses reached his full potential.

But Moses was human like any other human being. As a man, Moses was impatient and “subject to passions like ours” (James 5:17). Moses’ transformation occurred when he met God on Mount Sinai. But we cannot understand the effectiveness of Moses if we do not understand how Moses found himself in Egypt. In Egypt, Moses recognized his human limitations and the consequences of being a slave with strong emotions.

Today’s post is a study of the beginning of Moses’ transformation. This article teaches how God, by his love and power, helped Moses recognize his limitations and find the identity that allowed him to fulfill the divine purpose for his life. Moses did great works and reached a high position in history because he knew how to recognize his limitations and his own humanity.

Moses Among His Brothers

“Many years later, when Moses had grown up, he went out to visit his own people, the Hebrews, and he saw how hard they were forced to work. During his visit, he saw an Egyptian beating one of his fellow Hebrews. After looking in all directions to make sure no one was watching, Moses killed the Egyptian and hid the body in the sand. The next day, when Moses went out to visit his people again, he saw two Hebrew men fighting. ‘Why are you beating up your friend?’ Moses said to the one who had started the fight. The man replied, ‘Who appointed you to be our prince and judge? Are you going to kill me as you killed that Egyptian yesterday? Then Moses was afraid, thinking, ‘Everyone knows what I did’” (Exodus 2:11–14 NLT).

According to the New Testament, Moses spent forty years in Pharaoh’s palace (Acts 7:23), and now, the child who was taken from the river, is an adult facing the reality of the oppressive policies of Egypt. He had come of age and now he is a strong man. Although he was educated in the schools of Egypt, Moses had his heart in Goshen, where his people lived oppressed by the Egyptians. Moses’ identification with the people of his true origin acted as a voice in his conscience. No doubt Moses thought about the sad condition of his people, how they worked hard, how their lives were made bitter because of the backbreaking work in mortar and bricks and every kind of work in the fields. Moses was aware that all the jobs the Egyptians gave to the Hebrews were brutally hard. His people were slaves of Pharaoh, citizens without rights in the society where they lived.

One day Moses left the palace to observe with personal interest the condition of his people. This is the first “exodus” of Moses, his first departure from Egypt. Moses came out of the midst of those who oppressed his people to be in the midst of an oppressed people. Although the Egyptians were his protectors and even his friends, they were not “his brothers.” A common culture cannot produce siblings. Those are brothers who by faith God makes them as such (John 1:12).

Moses observed the inhumane treatment that his brothers received from the Egyptians and he saw them at work in their hard labor. There among the oppressed, Moses saw an Egyptian in charge of the work, mistreating one of the Hebrews. This fact ignited in the heart of Moses the desire for the liberation of his people.

Moses Kills the Egyptian

When Moses saw the foreman of the work beating one of his brothers, Moses was outraged with what the Egyptian was doing. Moses took matters into his own hands. He looked around and when he did not see anyone near him, he killed the Egyptian and hid the body in the sand.

The fact that Moses looked around to see if anyone was watching his action indicates that Moses was not planning to openly rebel against the Egyptians. In his crime we can see the impetuous character of Moses. Without premeditation, he killed the Egyptian. Moses was not able to control his anger. He was impatient and impulsive; he did not evaluate the correctness of his action nor did he think about the consequence of his decision. Moses hid the body in the sand because he knew the consequences of his crime.

We must not judge Moses’ action in light of Christian morality. He acted on his own account, apart from the direction and approval of God. God did not ask Moses to kill the Egyptian nor did God give him any words of approval. In his action Moses was demonstrating his patriotic ardor and was fighting for the rights of his people. We also cannot boast in his act. His desire to save his people was noble, but his action was wrong. Each person must learn from Moses’ mistake.

Because of his impatience, Moses committed a crime and had to flee Egypt for forty years. Christians must think and calculate the consequences of their decisions. A negative action can affect their effectiveness in the society in which they live for many years.

The next day, Moses once again returned to see the situation of his people. What he had done the day before he had done in secret, but the news had been spread to other people without his knowledge. But on this occasion, Moses experienced something that broke his heart, a painful fact that made him understand the current oppressive situation of his people. Moses was deeply affected when he saw two of his brothers fighting like enemies. Moses could understand how the Egyptian could fight with a Hebrew, but it was incomprehensible to see two Hebrew brothers fighting.

Moses asked the one who was mistreating his brother the reason for the fight. The culprit did not want to accept the admonition of Moses, while probably the one being abused with joy accepted the intervention of Moses as a criminal accepts an advocate.

The Hebrew rejected Moses’ intervention, blaming him for his crime committed the day before. His compatriot does not accept him even as a prince or as judge of the people. The word “prince” in Hebrew means an official of the court of Pharaoh; the judge was a person who had the authority to pronounce a sentence and the authority to execute it.

Moses’ attempt to reconcile the fighting Hebrews shows that his action of the previous day had been misinterpreted by the Hebrews. The Hebrew man does not recognize Moses’ authority over the Israelites. The man feared that Moses was one of the enemies of the people and that he was going to kill him just as he had killed the Egyptian. Unfortunately, he could not understand that Moses’ action in killing the Egyptian was a resignation forever from his position in the Egyptian court.

Stephen, explaining Moses’ action, said that Moses “supposed that his kinsfolk would understand that God through him was rescuing them, but they did not understand” (Acts 7:25). It is likely that the Israelites believed that Moses was a renegade and a traitor of his people; for many Israelites, Moses was an enemy, not a friend.

When Moses heard the word from the Hebrew, he feared what the Egyptians would do to him. He had violated Egyptian law by killing the Egyptian. If news of his crime had reached the Egyptian court, then his life was in danger. Moses had no other solution than to flee Egypt and disappear immediately.

Moses left Egypt and went to live in Midian.

Series on the Exodus

1 Exodus: The Oppression of Israel

2 Exodus: The Birth of Moses

3 Exodus: Moses Among His People

4 Exodus: Moses in Midian

NOTE: For other studies on Moses, read my post Studies on Moses.

Claude Mariottini
Emeritus Professor of Old Testament
Northern Baptist Seminary

If you enjoyed reading this post, you will enjoy reading my books.



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This entry was posted in Book of Exodus, Egypt, Exodus, Moses, Oppression and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Exodus: Moses Among His People

  1. spiritplumber says:

    So you reckon that Moses was a historical figure rather than a cultural hero?


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