11 One day, when Moses had grown up, he went out to his people and looked on their burdens, and he saw an Egyptian beating a Hebrew, one of his people. 12 He looked this way and that, and seeing no one, he struck down the Egyptian and hid him in the sand. 13 When he went out the next day, behold, two Hebrews were struggling together. And he said to the man in the wrong, “Why do you strike your companion?” 14 He answered, “Who made you a prince and a judge over us? Do you mean to kill me as you killed the Egyptian?” Then Moses was afraid, and thought, “Surely the thing is known.” 15 When Pharaoh heard of it, he sought to kill Moses. But Moses fled from Pharaoh and stayed 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 The shepherds came and drove them away, but Moses stood up and saved them, and watered their flock. 18 When they came home to their father Reuel, he said, “How is it that you have come home so soon today?” 19 They said, “An Egyptian delivered us out of the hand of the shepherds and even drew water for us and watered the flock.” 20 He said to his daughters, “Then where is he? Why have you left the man? Call him, that he may eat bread.” 21 And Moses was content to dwell with the man, and he gave Moses his daughter Zipporah. 22 She gave birth to a son, and he called his name Gershom, for he said, “I have been a sojourner in a foreign land.” 23 During those many days the king of Egypt died, and the people of Israel groaned because of their slavery and cried out for help. Their cry for rescue from slavery came up to God. 24 And God heard their groaning, and God remembered his covenant with Abraham, with Isaac, and with Jacob. 25 God saw the people of Israel—and God knew.
I spent Monday through Wednesday of last week in Nashville where I attended a training seminar for pastors on developing disciples in the life of the church. In preparation for that, we were asked to read a book entitled Transformational Discipleship. I don’t know that I would have naturally picked up that book, but I actually enjoyed it very much. It challenged me to think more deeply about the task of forming disciples.
The basic premise of the book is that discipleship is an act of transformation in the life of the believer. As we walk with Jesus, we are transformed into disciples. But that process usually involves, the authors say, three realities. First, the people of God must be in a posture to receive the truths of God leading to transformation. Second, there must be a leader who is equipped to impart these transforming truths to the rightly-postured people. Third, there must be the divine truth that transforms. Where these three truths overlap and converge – truth, receptivity to the truth, and a leader to lead in the truth – they create what the authors of the book call “the transformational sweet spot.” I know that sounds like jargon, but the point is simple: we are transformed when we reach a point where we’re ready for transformation, when there is a leader to lead us through the process, and when that leader has life-changing truth from God.
After I read Exodus 2:11-25 and outlined what I saw in this passage, I was struck by the fact that my three points tonight represent those three realities.
- A posture of receptivity on the part of God’s people: Israel’s suffering and longing for God.
- The presence of a leader to lead through the process of transformation: Moses.
- Divine, life-transforming truth: God’s covenant faithfulness.
In these verses, we do not see the full convergence of these three into “the transformational sweet spot,” but we do see these three elements beginning to come together. The people are suffering and yearning for divine help. Moses begins to break free from his life as an Egyptian and move toward his call to be a leader. And God, as always, is mindful of His covenant promises with Israel. I’ve entitled this “Ascent, Pain, and Remembrance.” I am referring there to the ascent of Moses to leadership, the pain of God’s people, and God’s covenant faithfulness to Israel.
Let us observe the slow convergence of these three realities.
I. The Rise of Moses (v.11-22)
First, we begin to see the rise of Moses to leadership. It is a difficult and, seemingly, circuitous rise that involves his own personal flight from Egypt and eventual return to lead Israel out of bondage. He has, up until verse 11, been living in the palace of Pharaoh. One day, however, events conspire that lead to his break with his former life.
11 One day, when Moses had grown up, he went out to his people and looked on their burdens, and he saw an Egyptian beating a Hebrew, one of his people. 12 He looked this way and that, and seeing no one, he struck down the Egyptian and hid him in the sand. 13 When he went out the next day, behold, two Hebrews were struggling together. And he said to the man in the wrong, “Why do you strike your companion?” 14 He answered, “Who made you a prince and a judge over us? Do you mean to kill me as you killed the Egyptian?” Then Moses was afraid, and thought, “Surely the thing is known.” 15 When Pharaoh heard of it, he sought to kill Moses. But Moses fled from Pharaoh and stayed in the land of Midian. And he sat down by a well.
We could debate, perhaps, the ethics of Moses’ actions. Was he wrong to kill the Egyptian? It is an interesting question, but, for our purposes, not the primary question. The primary question is, what does this act of violence reveal about Moses? What it reveals is Moses’ initial ascent to leadership. How so?
First, we see Moses’ initial ascent into leadership in his choice to break free from his life as an Egyptian in favor of embracing his life as a Hebrew. I mentioned earlier that events conspired that facilitated this break. In fact, the break with Egypt happened before Moses encountered the brutal Egyptian. Before this happened, Moses determined to be free of Pharaoh’s house. How do we know this? Our text this evening does not say it. Fortunately, in the great “Hall of Faith” of Hebrews 11, we are given insights into Moses’ spiritual and mental condition.
24 By faith Moses, when he was grown up, refused to be called the son of Pharaoh’s daughter, 25 choosing rather to be mistreated with the people of God than to enjoy the fleeting pleasures of sin. 26 He considered the reproach of Christ greater wealth than the treasures of Egypt, for he was looking to the reward.
The Holy Spirit revealed to the writer of Hebrews that Moses (1) “refused to be called the son of Pharaoh’s daughter” and (2) “cho[se] rather to be mistreated with the people of God than to enjoy the fleeting pleasures of sin.” Furthermore, while Moses would not have known the name “Jesus” at the time of the events recorded in Exodus 2, Moses nontheless “considered the reproach of Christ greater wealth than the treasures of Egypt, for he was looking to the reward.”
What does this mean? It means that, behind the events we read of in Exodus 2, there was a spiritual awakening in the life of Moses. He has set his feet on the path of obedience and leadership. He does so, of course, roughly and with limited understanding. He will receive greater understanding soon. But, for now, there is an agitation in his soul, a sense that a mantle of responsibility has been placed on his shoulders concerning the Israelites. He acts on the basis of what he can understand, but the significant thing is that Moses acts.
Second, Moses killing the Egyptian reveals an internal concern for justice. Basil the Great, in commenting on Moses’ behavior, said that Moses possessed “naturally a love for justice.” Perhaps so, but we also see the hand of God in this, a supernatural grace of concern for the oppressed, we might say. It is not that Moses did not naturally care, but that, undoubtedly, the Spirit of God pricked His heart at the sight of a Hebrew being unjustly beaten by an Egyptian.
His behavior, then, whether right or wrong, revealed a deep spirit of concern. It was the concern of a leader. Regrettably and surprisingly, the Hebrews did not interpret it this way, asking instead, “Who made you a prince and a judge over us” (v.14a)? John Chrysostom rightly said that the Hebrew asking Moses what right he had to leadership over Israel was similar to somebody asking a man who had just performed successful, skilled surgery on another man’s diseased arm what right he had to be a physician. Chrysostom imagines the doctor responding, “It is my art, my good sir, and your own ailment.” Moses had the heart of leadership and Israel had the need.
Third, Moses’ actions showed, more specifically, a concern for the Israelites in particular. We are assisted here by some comments that Deacon Stephen made in Acts 7 about this situation. This was the sermon, you might remember, that led to Stephen’s martyrdom. In it, he said this about Moses:
23 “When [Moses] was forty years old, it came into his heart to visit his brothers, the children of Israel. 24 And seeing one of them being wronged, he defended the oppressed man and avenged him by striking down the Egyptian. 25 He supposed that his brothers would understand that God was giving them salvation by his hand, but they did not understand. 26 And on the following day he appeared to them as they were quarreling and tried to reconcile them, saying, ‘Men, you are brothers. Why do you wrong each other?’ 27 But the man who was wronging his neighbor thrust him aside, saying, ‘Who made you a ruler and a judge over us? 28 Do you want to kill me as you killed the Egyptian yesterday?’ 29 At this retort Moses fled and became an exile in the land of Midian, where he became the father of two sons.
Significantly, Stephen says that “it came into his heart to visit his brothers, the children of Israel.” What this means is that Moses was not just casually strolling along when he happened upon the Egyptian beating the Israelite. However, while he did not necessarily know that he would encounter this exact scene, he certainly knew of the oppression of Israel. Most importantly, he was driven to visit the Israelites because he saw the Israelites as “his brothers.”
Leadership among God’s people requires a love for God’s people. Moses visited the Israelites out of a growing love for and sense of solidarity with them. He killed the Egyptian, rightly or wrongly, out of that same sense of love. It was not the vague, if sincere, interest of a sympathetic observer. It was the love of a leader. It was an awakening.
Moses flees Egypt to Midian. This is important for a number of reasons, but let me mention two in particular. For one thing, it prefigures the Exodus itself. Moses must have his own exodus to be prepared for Israel’s. He must know the necessity of fleeing Egypt to be prepared to lead Israel to do the same.
Secondly, he shows a continued maturation into leadership in his protection of Jethro’s (he is called Reuel here) daughters.
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 The shepherds came and drove them away, but Moses stood up and saved them, and watered their flock.
“Moses stood up and saved them.” He is entrusted with leadership in great things because he was faithful in smaller things, like saving Jethro’s daughters from the shepherds. We might also see this reality in the fact that God gives Moses leadership over a family in Midian.
18 When they came home to their father Reuel, he said, “How is it that you have come home so soon today?” 19 They said, “An Egyptian delivered us out of the hand of the shepherds and even drew water for us and watered the flock.” 20 He said to his daughters, “Then where is he? Why have you left the man? Call him, that he may eat bread.” 21 And Moses was content to dwell with the man, and he gave Moses his daughter Zipporah. 22 She gave birth to a son, and he called his name Gershom, for he said, “I have been a sojourner in a foreign land.”
His decision to leave the house of Pharaoh, his decision to check on the Hebrews, his act of violence against the Egyptian, his attempt to mediate a dispute between two Hebrews, his saving of the daughters of Jethro, his watering of their flock, his marriage, his becoming a father: these are the stepping stones of Moses’ ascent to great leadership.
II. The Pain of Israel (v.23)
The second element that we see converging toward the collision of these three elements that will culminate in the grand transformation of the people of God that we call “the Exodus” is the tragic element of Israel’s pain.
23 During those many days the king of Egypt died, and the people of Israel groaned because of their slavery and cried out for help. Their cry for rescue from slavery came up to God.
In his novel, Intruder in the Dust, William Faulkner writes that “the whole chronicle of man’s immortality is in the suffering he has endured, his struggle toward the stars in the stepping-stones of his expiations.” That is an overstatement (though not as much of one as we would like for it to be), but it is less of one when applied particularly to the Jews who have suffered in immeasurable ways. Keeping in mind our introductory comments about how suffering affects our spiritual posture in general, making us open to the transforming touch of God, as well as our comments on Exodus 1 two weeks ago about the unintended (on Pharaoh’s part) benefits of his oppression on Israel as far as breaking them free from Egyptian enculturation is concerned, we can only weep with Israel over the immense suffering they have endured.
Pharaoh dies, but this fact is not reported in a hopeful way. It is not offered to suggest that perhaps a better Pharaoh will take the throne and free the Israelites. No, the people of God are suffering and, ostensibly, will continue to suffer even more. They therefore cry out to God for mercy and for help, begging Him to move His saving hand.
He will do precisely that.
III. The Faithfulness of God (v.24-25)
The third element is the most crucial: the faithfulness of God.
24 And God heard their groaning, and God remembered his covenant with Abraham, with Isaac, and with Jacob. 25 God saw the people of Israel—and God knew.
We have already discussed God’s covenant faithfulness, but it is at the very heart of this great story, so it will be mentioned frequently. God makes a covenant promise. God remembers His covenant promise. God hears the cries of His people. God acts. Here are the components of the faithfulness of God.
It is significant that God “heard their groaning.” When David had been delivered from the murderous hand of Saul in 2 Samuel 22, he sang this: “In my distress I called upon the Lord; to my God I called. From his temple he heard my voice, and my cry came to his ears.”
The Lord hears the cries of His people and is faithful to act. The book of Exodus is simply a chronicle of that fact. We will see how this works out, but let me end now by applying this truth to us all for our encouragement.
God hears you.
God knows you.
God loves you.
God remembers you.
God will not forget His promises to you.
God will not abandon you.
God has not left you.
Cry to the Lord and know that He hears.
He heard Israel.
He hears you.
He is faithful to deliver.
He is faithful to deliver.
 Fretheim’s comments are helpful here and, in my opinion, persuasive: “Moses ‘strikes’ the Eyptian. Moses’ first ‘seeing’ is an Egyptian…beating a Hebrew, with death-dealing blows. Moses responds in kind, shown by the use of nakah (‘strike’) in both verses. ‘Striking’ may or may not be fatal…but Moses’ response in kind suggests that the Egyptian had fatally beaten the Hebrew (or was bent on doing so)…This action of Moses is often judged to be excessive…It is important to note, however, that nakah is also used of God’s actions toward the Egyptians…When God ‘strikes,’ the result is often death…The use of the same verb suggests that Moses’ action was not considered inappropriate by the narrator (cf. Acts 7:23-29), but it anticipates God’s rather than Israel’s activity…In effect, Moses’ response is a form of capital punishment and may anticipate 21:12…” Terence E. Fretheim, Exodus. Interpretation (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2010), p.42-43.
 Joseph T. Lienhard, ed. Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy. Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture. Old Testament III. Gen. ed. Thomas C. Oden (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2001), p.7.
 Ibid, p.7.
 William Faulkner. Intruder in the Dust. (New York: Vintage Books, 1991), p.151.