Moses thought he was alone. He took the time to look around and see if anyone was watching which speaks to the premeditated aspect of his act. His anger towards the Egyptian that was mistreating the Hebrew might have started off as an act of passion. But Moses didn't act out of that passion rather he acted out of something deeper. He acted out of a deep hatred for the way that the Egyptian people were treating the Israelites. And I think that it is very easy to understand that hatred as a one that might even be righteous. There was an injustice in the way that the Egyptian people were treating the Israelites and who wouldn't be angry about that.
"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. He looked this way and that, and seeing no one, he struck down the Egyptian and hid him in the sand. 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?' 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.' 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."
The book of Exodus starts off by telling us that the Egyptians no longer remembered all that Joseph did to save Egypt from a great famine. Exodus 1:8-14 says:
But it didn't end there. Exodus 1:15-22 continues:
"Now there arose a new king over Egypt, who did not know Joseph. And he said to his people, 'Behold, the people of Israel are too many and too mighty for us. Come, let us deal shrewdly with them, lest they multiply, and, if war breaks out, they join our enemies and fight against us and escape from the land.' Therefore they set taskmasters over them to afflict them with heavy burdens. They built for Pharaoh store cities, Pithom and Raamses. But the more they were oppressed, the more they multiplied and the more they spread abroad. And the Egyptians were in dread of the people of Israel. So they ruthlessly made the people of Israel work as slaves and made their lives bitter with hard service, in mortar and brick, and in all kinds of work in the field. In all their work they ruthlessly made them work as slaves."
So not only were the Egyptian people oppressing the Israelites in forced labor but they were also actively trying to kill all of the Israelites' male babies. This is genocide and so it makes it easy to understand Moses' deep anger towards the Egyptians. We instinctively recoil when we think of the atrocities in Rwanda, Cambodia, Sudan and Darfur just to name a few recent examples. I was so angry that I wanted to lash out at the TV when I was watching Hotel Rwanda. So it is no wonder that Moses lashed out when he was watching an Egyptian beating a Hebrew.
"Then the king of Egypt said to the Hebrew midwives, one of whom was named Shiphrah and the other Puah, 'When you serve as midwife to the Hebrew women and see them on the birthstool, if it is a son, you shall kill him, but if it is a daughter, she shall live.' But the midwives feared God and did not do as the king of Egypt commanded them, but let the male children live. So the king of Egypt called the midwives and said to them, 'Why have you done this, and let the male children live?' The midwives said to Pharaoh, 'Because the Hebrew women are not like the Egyptian women, for they are vigorous and give birth before the midwife comes to them.' So God dealt well with the midwives. And the people multiplied and grew very strong. And because the midwives feared God, he gave them families. Then Pharaoh commanded all his people, 'Every son that is born to the Hebrews you shall cast into the Nile, but you shall let every daughter live.'"
But the fact that Moses looked around before acting is a pretty good indicator that he knew that what he was doing wasn't the right thing. Now this is not to say that force–including deadly force–to stop genocide and oppression is wrong. Quite often it is the only way to stop those that are perpetrating these crimes. But there is a difference between fighting back and a single act of revenge. Moses was taking revenge. And it is also likely that Moses was acting out of shame as well as anger. Moses was living as an Egyptian. He had been adopted by Pharaoh's daughter when he was a baby. Moses was living as a prince of Egypt while his fellow Hebrews were being oppressed by the Egyptians.
This story from Moses life is a good reminder that anger and shame are very powerful emotions that can cause us to lash out in very inappropriate ways. We need to constantly be aware of what emotions are driving us which is often much easier said than done. It is through the help of the Holy Spirit that we can act out of patience and self-control instead of anger and shame.
Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version® (ESV®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.