Exodus 2

Egypt has been called the Gift of the Nile.  It is the land of the Sphinx and the pyramids, a nation of thirty-one dynasties which covered almost three thousand years before the Roman domination of Egypt began in 30 B.C.

The psalmist referred to the Egyptians as “a people of strange language” (Psalms 115).  That is a mild description for a country that offered such agony of heart to the Israelites through many years of their history.

The second chapter of Exodus contains the account of the birth and young manhood of one of the most important characters in the Old Testament – Moses.  Born to slave parents in poverty and oppression (probably during the reign of Thutmose I), Moses grew up amid the splendor of Pharoah’s court.

Forty years pass between Exodus 2:10-11, and we may assume that Moses spent them in careful training to become a future ruler of Egypt.  Stephen, in his address to the Sanhedrin (Acts 7:22), indicated that Moses was a great prince, highly educated in Egypt’s wisdom.  Archaeologists believe Moses probably knew much about science and literature.  Moses was never allowed to forget that he was a Hebrew, and Exodus 2:11 finds him exploring the plight of his blood brothers.


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 (Exodus 2:11).

What Moses saw that day deeply stirred him.  His heart was touched by the burdens his people were required to bear.  Quite possibly, his mother and father were still alive at this time and he may have actually seen them in the bonds of Egyptian slavery.

Moses sprang into action at the sight of an Egyptian taskmaster beating a Hebrew.  The King James Version uses the word “spied” when referring to this incident, which implies that Moses had to sneak around the land incognito (Exodus 2:11).  Surely the prince of Egypt could go wherever he wanted and watch whatever he wanted.  Perhaps the word “observed” is a better choice.

What Moses felt that day was perfectly right and proper.  Again, we must reason from silence, but it seems safe to assume that Moses’ mother or some other mentor had instructed him in the truth God had revealed up to that time, as well as in the heritage of his people, and had inculcated in Moses’ mind the blood relationship he had with the slaves.

All proper service for God should begin with legitimate concern.  Pastors, elders, Sunday school teachers, and all church leaders should know people’s needs and burdens and allow God to direct their hearts before designing new ministries.


Glancing this way and that and seeing no one, he killed the Egyptian and hid him in the sand.  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?” (Exodus 2:12-13).

Here Moses’ best intentions go awry.  These verses tell us that he checked to see that no one was watching and then killed the Egyptian and hid the body in the sand.  Apparently Moses was quite satisfied with the day’s work, because he went out the next day and raised questions of behavior with two of the Hebrews.

Eight times in Exodus 2:11-12, we read either the name Moses or a personal pronoun referring directly to him. Legitimate concern can be followed by action generated only by the fleshly strength of one’s own nature. We have no record that Moses ever asked God what He wanted done in Egypt. His spiritual understanding seems very shallow, and Moses acted in haste, rather in the way that Peter behaved in the garden when he cut off the ear of the high priest’s servant.

We might contrast this with Nehemiah when he first heard about the problems of his people back in the land of Israel.  From his post in the palace of a pagan king, he began to fast and pray, seeking the mind of God as to what role he should play to aid his brethren.  Fleshly action is never a proper follow-up to legitimate concern.


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” (Exodus 2:14).

Moses was not prepared for criticism of his action.  He expected a hero’s welcome, acclaim as the savior of his people.  But instead the Hebrew he questioned on the second day scolded him for interfering!

But Moses didn’t have time to worry about ingratitude; his mind turned immediately to a new problem.  Everybody in Egypt might now know that he had murdered an Egyptian the day before.  Soon Pharaoh would seek his life; escape was the only solution.

How dependent are you on the praise of others for joy in your Christian life and ministry?  Some church leaders happily go about their tasks week after week as long as someone offers thanks and an occasional word of appreciation.  Better yet if we bring them to the platform and publicly acclaim them as faithful people, important to our congregation.

But human criticism forms part of the package for all of us.  And not just criticism following an improper action, as in the case of Moses.  They criticized Jesus too, and the Apostle Paul.  Christians who are not prepared for a certain amount of complaining will find great difficulty in ministry.  These few words Moses heard from one man were nothing compared to what he would hear from an entire nation during forty years in the desert.


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.  Now a priest of Midian had seven daughters, and they came to draw water and fill the troughs to water their father’s flock.  Some shepherds came along and drove them away, but Moses got up and came to their rescue and watered their flock (Exodus 2:15-17).

Imagine the scene:  Moses, the prince of Egypt, bedraggled, tired, sweaty, and dirty as he sat by a well in the desert.  Probably his head fell between his hands as he muttered to himself, “I have really made a mess of everything.  What do I do now?”  Moses had tried his way to help the children of Israel, and it had been a disaster.  Exodus 2:11-15 never mentions God once.  Trying to go it alone, Moses experienced nothing but failure.  Time to quit.

What a common experience for contemporary Christians!  Trying to serve Christ in the flesh rather than the power of the Holy Spirit can never bring happiness and joy in ministry.  Instead we find discouragement, failure, and the temptation to bail out as soon as possible.

But God had a plan for Moses.  The home of Reuel provided the first stop in a long training program before Moses could really be useful to redeem His people out of Egypt.  Moses settled down with his new wife, and even after the birth of his first son, he still muttered in frustration, “I have been a stranger in a strange land” (Exodus 2:22).


During that long period, the king of Egypt died.  The Israelites groaned in their slavery and cried out, and their cry for help because of their slavery went up to God.  God heard their groaning and he remembered his covenant with Abraham, with Isaac and with Jacob.  So God looked on the Israelites and was concerned about them (Exodus 2:23-25).

“During that long period” (Exodus 2:23) refers to the oppression under which the Lord’s people labored.  All this time God had been aware of their situation.  The omniscience of God should comfort those who trust Him.  God knows our frustrations; He’s in control.

Now the people cried anew to Jehovah for help, and He heard them.  Five times in Exodus 2:24-25 the text mentions God’s name or a pronoun referring to God.  What a contrast between this section and the first part of our passage!  There we find only Moses; now we see only God.  Before, we saw the fleshly action of one man; now the God of the universe will take over.

Moses had no idea what it would take to get the people of Israel out of Egypt.  The Exodus is one of the major miracles of Old Testament history.  Six hundred thousand men besides children and “a mixed multitude” left Egypt at that time (Exodus 12:37-38).  Liberal theologians and commentators have rejected this claim for many years.  But if we believe the Bible, the total number of escapees would have been somewhere between two and three million people.  Someone has estimated that two and a half million people marching in a column of fours would extend for three hundred and fifty miles!

Those who cannot accept the miraculous record of Scripture argue that the number represents a misplaced census from the time of David.  They translate the word “thousand” as “clan” or offer the theory of accommodation and suggest that the Bible writer was anticipating what Israel might become someday rather than stating the literal figure at the time.

But with God all things are possible.  And now He was ready to deliver two and a half million people out of Egypt, to feed them for forty years, and to bring them into the land He had promised to Abraham many decades earlier.  And He would do this through the brash young prince who had started his ministry by killing an Egyptian and hiding the body in the sand.

As in the days of Moses, so today ministry that really glorifies God must function according to His plan and in His power.  Someone has said that knowledge is no substitute for activity and activity is no substitute for spirituality.  Christians who attempt to serve God by fleshly action may someday wake up to discover that they have been doing nothing more than hiding corpses in the sand.


Kenneth O. Gangel is Professor Emeritus of Dallas Theological Seminary and Scholar in Residence at Toccoa Falls College.

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