Moses The Sojourner
1. Last week, we read about the episode dealing with the birth of Moses. [In] today's passage of scripture is recorded the events around when Moses was grown up. By what turn of events would he become the liberator of Israel? With that question in mind as we read this, we will happen upon a very exceptional detail in the text. It is believed that this Moses, who would later come to do a great work, had received an advanced education in Egypt in his younger years and also received strict military training. But one thing here is not said in the text about how he had grown as such a skilled and capable person. What we do have in the text instead is an incident of a murder Moses committed and then his abandonment of the corpse. He fled as a murderous criminal to the land of Midian. And until he was eighty years old he was to remain there as a sojourner. Why has something like this been written in the scriptures?
The Beginning Of His Battle
2. So, it would be a good decision for us to read the events described here in a realistic and careful way. Before we consider what [had happened in] this account of murder, I'd like for us to consider what [did] "not."
3. First, it is clear that this is not an impulsive murder due to violent emotions in Moses. He didn't get angry and kill an Egyptian. He calmly looked around and made sure no one was there. And then after he killed the man, he concealed the body within a brief period. It must have been a sandy soil that was easy to dig a hole in. But even if it was sandy, it wasn'tn easy to bury the body of an adult. Since he probably didn't bury him with his bare hands, he had to arrange for a shovel or some digging tool. And then on the next day he was walking around like nothing happened. He was acting under the presumption that his crime wouldn't come out into the light! From this we see that Moses did to an extent systematically murder an Egyptian.
4. Second, it is incorrect to see Moses' actions as stemming from sympathetic emotions or an awareness of his kinship with the beaten down Hebrews. On the second day, he got involved in a dispute between neighboring Hebrews. It looked to Moses that one was obviously wrong. He was rebuking that wrong. Also, when he was fleeing to Midian Moses was rescuing some daughters who had been receiving unfair treatment from some bullying shepherds. The women were not Hebrews. As we look at this we see that Moses' concern was not simply related to race issues, but that he was more broadly concerned with the fulfillment of justice. It seems that his actions were such that he was seeking for the fulfillment of God's righteousness in a world where Hebrews were unfairly oppressed and forced into excessive hard labor.
5. As we've seen then, in this incident we might be looking at the beginning of his first battle. His battle to save the Hebrews who were being oppressed and resistant to the mighty ruler of Egypt was the beginning of his battle for righteousness. The text says, "About the time Moses was grown up, he went out to his compatriots and saw that they had hard labor imposed on them," (verse eleven). Of course, he must have seen a lot of cases of Hebrews at forced labor by now. But, on this day, what he saw was a decisive chance to kick off a plan that had been brewing in him.
6. In regard to Moses' actions, a later christian would make the following statement, "When Moses turned forty, he began to think of helping the children of Israel, his brothers. In seeing that one of them was being mistreated, he helped him, he struck down dead his Egyptian counterpart and avenged the grudge of the man who had been having a hard time," (Acts 7:23-24). This timing, that Moses was forty, doesn't appear in The Book Of Exodus but comes from the traditional point of view that divides Moses' life of one hundred and twenty years into three parts. If we go by this, we see that the decision Moses made at this time included a great sacrifice wherein he refuses life as part of pharaoh's house where he had been for so long up to this point and he decides to suffer with the people of Israel. It was surely for Moses a decision of finality that he suffered over for a long time with his unique identity as a Hebrew raised in pharaoh's courts and having been strongly connected to both the oppressors and the oppressed. So, to fulfill the salvation of those who were oppressed and to fulfill righteousness, in God's sight he took his first step fully realizing that he was forsaking all that he had.
Frustration And Flight
7. So, what kind of results did his decision lead to? In Stephen's sermon that I quoted earlier it continues as follows: "They were thinking that they understood that God would deliver the brothers through Moses by his hand. But, they didn't understand. The next day, as Moses happened to come along where some Israelites were arguing with each other, he spoke to them about making peace with each other, 'Aren't you brothers? Why are you hurting each other?' Whereupon, the one man injuring the other pushed Moses off and said, 'Who made you our leader and judge? Are you going to kill us like you killed that Egyptian yesterday?' In hearing these words Moses fled; then after settling into the region of Midian, he had begotten two sons," (Acts 7:25-29).
8. Moses must have been looking for like minded souls to join the battle, to understand the fight that he had begun. But there was no one to join him. It made no sense either. Because even though he was a Hebrew same [as they were], while they all suffered, only Moses had no hard labor imposed on him but instead had lived in the luxury of the court as a child of pharaoh's daughter. Moses was, after all, only another Egyptian to the Hebrews. They didn't recognize Moses' leadership just as the one Hebrew who was fighting with his neighbor had said.
9. But still, the important part is clear. Unable to gain the kindred spirit of the others for the battle, his killing of the man had become known by everyone the day after. He became a person wanted by pharaoh for the crime of treason. He was far from being the deliverance of the Hebrews. To preserve his life it was unavoidable that he live on the run.
10. He was a failure. He was frustrated. Though it was a great sacrifice that he paid, though it was an act whereby he gave himself for others, it ended all for nothing. It was an act on his part that simply happened in the pursuit of righteousness and fairness. Of course, the murder itself he committed can't be condoned. But he in no way did it to work out any self interests or self gain. It is definitely true that he was not seeking for praise from others. It is also true that he didn't give himself halfway or make some half-hearted effort. Even still, he didn't get the support of anyone, nor did they understand and join in, but just the debt of the results of his actions remained with him. He had to live bearing it all alone and in vain. We really see this man inside out for who he is and of course Moses' frustration is nothing new for us either.
11. Rock bottom it would seem that all that Moses did was in vain. Within him the heart in pursuit of righteousness still lived. In the land of Midian where he found himself upon fleeing the hand of pharaoh, he took notice of some foul play. When these seven daughters were trying to draw water at the well and give their father's flock of sheep something to drink, some shepherds came and drove the women off. Moses stood up for the women. Moses fought for the weak. He saved these women.
12. From this occasion Moses got to know the father of the [seven] daughters of Midian. As long as he was with him Moses was safe. He makes the decision to stay with Reuel. Moses marries Zipporah, one of Reuel's daughters and builds her a home there. Many quiet days come his way. But, Moses' heart was not in the land of Midian. His heart thinks far away to Egypt. He thinks of his country men and women suffering in excessive hard labor in Egypt. Therefore, he named the child that was born to him Gershom. The etymology of that name is explained as: for Moses "said I am a sojourner in a foreign country (gar)," (verse twenty-two). At this point in time, he still had not abandoned his battle. He still had youth [left] in him. Up to this point all kinds of strength had been cultivated in him. He was awaiting the opportunity to take a stand for the battle again.
13. However, the kind of days Moses had later are summarized in the phrase in verse twenty-three of "from then the long months and years passed by." How long were "the long months and years?" Actually, the next time Moses is on the scene is when he is eighty! We don't know the circumstances of those years. Maybe he didn't get a chance. Maybe Moses lost his awareness of the battle very early on. Who knows for sure I don't know, but a lot of time went on by where he had been off the scene. And those lost days were lost for good. His youth was also gone. Moses' strength was almost spent completely.
14. Oh, he was down to nothing. God uses what's next to nothing. Way back when, if I may speak metaphorically, Moses used to look like a torch bursting into flames. If God was going to use Moses and make things happen, why not back then? Why now? He looks like burned out ashes. Please listen to Moses' own words at eighty. He says to God, "Who am I? How should I go to pharaoh and worse how should I lead the people of Israel out of Egypt?," (3:11). If they are not the words of a spent man then what are they?
15. However, though things looked done and over with as seen from a human perspective, things are not necessarily finished when seen from God's eyes. Indeed, when things look over with in human eyes, it's time for God to start. That's the way it is, [the way] Moses is from here on out is important to God. His youth, his skill, his passion, his self sacrifice - all of it had been a preparation for him. But, they were worth little. All of these things were seen as necessary for him to be able to do something, but once he was crushed, once he was burnt out and spent up, [then Moses was really ready.] Moses indeed, having been prepared after such a manner, was a vessel that God could use as a deliverer of the people. That was what God wanted, but it wasn't to be realized through man's sense of righteousness or his passions but rather through God's righteousness and passions.