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Moses killed an Egyptian

By Richard Gunther


Ex. 2:12. Moses slew an Egyptian.

Some critics have suggested that Moses was a murderer. From one point of view it appears that they are correct, but from another point of view they are wrong. As some TV crime show character has said on many an occasion, it is easy to make a judgment based on hindsight. But what we ought to do, in order to understand what happened, is to see an event within the context in which it occurred.

Moses the soldier.

If Moses was brought up as a prince in Pharaoh's court, he would have been expected, after his education was completed, to fight Pharaoh's wars, like his brother princes, in one part or another of Pharaoh's empire. Rameses II had a lot of trouble in his border territories, especially along the fringes of the Delta, to the north. He probably began his royal career in Thebes, and from thence moved his throne to Memphis, and later, was forced to go further north to Tanis. Early in his reign, he conducted a fierce 15 year long campaign against the Hittites in Asia Minor. A Libyan campaign on the west of the Delta is also vaguely referred to in the inscriptions. The Ethiopians caused him sporadic trouble. Rameses may well have imposed on Moses the military missions which did not appeal to himself, or to the other princes. If Moses combined great-heartedness with the personal beauty which the Bible describes, Rameses may have found him so popular that the further away he could send him, the better. If all this is true, then Moses would have been innured against killing, and simply done instinctively what any soldier did under reasonable provocation.

Furthermore: the Bible depicts Moses as a soldier more than a lawgiver. Moses knew how to handle great masses, moving through difficult country. Once again. God used secular training to serve His purposes when he called Moses out of Egypt. Having spent 40 years training Moses, God then used this skill to great effect, giving Moses yet another army to lead.

It does not seem likely that with the quick blood and generous impulses which made the character of Moses (i.e. when he helped the Hebrew slave, and when he chased the Midianite men from the well), that he would have been content for any long period knowing that he was an impostor prince of Pharaoh. He went about, and saw the agony of the Hebrews, and probably felt more and more sympathetic towards them. All those years he had been Pharaoh's man, and he had fought his wars for him, drank with him afterwards, possibly even jousted with him, hunted with him for birds and game . . . yet when he "saw an Egyptian smiting an Hebrew, one of his brethren . . ," something snapped.

The killing.

The context is crucial. A great many years of being an Egyptian had made Moses, then, much different from the Moses of the exodus. He had been, up till then, an Egyptian nobleman, with some of the nobleman's indifference to the pain and death in less fortunate people. Possibly, he had been a witness to the slaughter of thousands of enemies to Egypt. Possibly, he had seen the massacre of prisoners of war. He had definitely seen monuments built to commemorate these great slaughters ('victories'), and he had seen thousands of slaves, toiling in the sun, fainting, collapsing, working themselves to death. For Moses, to slay one Egyptian could not have been much more than a symbolic act. A moment of justice, which he had no idea would have such resounding repercussions.

Another point which we ought to consider is the hand of God. It was not ‘flesh and blood” which revealed the affinity which he had to the Hebrew slaves. It was a revelation. Suddenly Moses understood something which had been totally obscure to him for nearly 40 years. Suddenly he knew who he was and what he had to do. Like the “new birth” God gave Moses a new perspective, and Moses acted accordingly.

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