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.
Clearly Moses knew that he was born a Hebrew; I wonder whether such identification was an obvious racial characteristic, learned from his mother/nurse, or told him later by his stepmother. The verse seems to hint that this it the first time he sought out (yatsa’) his kinsfolk (‘ach) and recognized (ra’ah) their oppression (c@balah). Certainly he identifies with the man being beaten (nakah) strongly enough to take action:
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.
Simultaneously bold and furtive. He seems to have been intent merely on venting his vengeance, not on jeopardizing his standing as a prince of Egypt or starting a rebellion. But, he does appear to now be feeling a general obligation to defend his people:
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?
Unfortunately his people — at least as represented by this man — aren’t so ready to accept his intervention:
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.
Oops. And in fact his worst fears (yare’) are realized:
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.
Moses had apparently hoped to have it both ways: defending the Hebrews by day, living among the Egyptians by night. But, his rash action has exiled him from both communities, landing him among his Midianite cousins. He is fortunate enough to find a well (@’er), which for some reason seems to be a popular place for Hebrews to meet women (cf. Rebekah and Rachel).
Now the priest of Midian had seven daughters: and they came and drew [water], and filled the troughs to water their father’s flock.
There’s even a little dramatic tension, which gives Moses a chance to show off his manliness:
And the shepherds came and drove them away: but Moses stood up and helped them, and watered their flock.
Which impresses their father (‘ab):
And when they came to Reuel their father, he said, How [is it that] ye are come so soon to day? 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. 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.
Reuel (R@’uw’el, friend of God) must’ve been even more pleased to discover their mysterious benefactor was actually a fellow Hebrew, also descended from Abraham. He invites Moses to be part of the family:
And Moses was content to dwell with the man: and he gave Moses Zipporah his daughter.
And she bare [him] a son, and he called his name Gershom: for he said, I have been a stranger in a strange land.
But, the problems that aroused his rage do not diminish. And if Moses tries to forget, God does not:
And it came to pass in process of time, that the king of Egypt died: and the children of Israel sighed by reason of the bondage, and they cried, and their cry came up unto God by reason of the bondage.
Interesting; I wonder why the death (muwth) of the king (melek) mattered. Perhaps the Israelites had convinced themselves that their suffering was due to one bad king, and that once he died their suffering would end. Perhaps only when that hope proved false did they truly cry (za`aq) unto God. And apparently only when their groaning (n@’aqah ) was explicitly directed towards Him did He pay attention (yada`).
And God heard their groaning, and God remembered his covenant with Abraham, with Isaac, and with Jacob. And God looked upon the children of Israel, and God had respect unto [them].
I have to admit, the whole thing sounds a bit neglectful on God’s part. Why doesn’t he pay attention earlier, before things get this bad? But, I have to remind myself that we never truly understand God’s perspective — we can only record our perception of His perspective. God may well have been concerned, but He couldn’t manifest His concern until His people appealed directly to Him.
It may be unpleasant, and even seem unfair, but frankly its hard to imagine it working any other way. If our ultimate happiness comes from being in right relation to God, then deliverance that doesn’t glorify Him is counter-productive. The vengeance of Moses and the groaning of the Israelites is not sufficient to achieve God’s purpose, if it appears in merely human form. Tragically, God has to wait until we cry out to Him, before He can deliver us in a way that strengthens our relationship with Him — rather than causing us to trust in flesh and kings.
God, I cry out to you, and to you alone. I confess that I have tried to work righteousness by my own strength. I admit that my attempts to build my family, my church, my career — even my own sense of self — are ultimately futile if you are not at work. I have merely cried in pain rather than crying out to you. Father, God, have regard for the groaning of your child. Lead me to wells in the desert, where I might find refuge and acceptance while I wait for you. Teach me humility, dependence, and patience, that I might see your salvation for those I love. Not by my hand, nor without my hand, but by Your hand strengthening mine. In Jesus name. Amen.
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