Exodus 2:11
And it came to pass in those days, when Moses was grown, that he went out unto his brethren, and looked on their burdens: and he spied an Egyptian smiting an Hebrew, one of his brethren.
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(11) In those days.—Notes of time are used with considerable latitude by the sacred writers. (Comp. Genesis 38; 2Kings 20:1.) According to the tradition followed by St. Stephen (Acts 7:23), Moses was “full forty years old “when he took the step here indicated. We might have expected him to have come forward sooner; but there may have been difficulties in his so doing. It is remarkable that he does not tell us anything of his life during youth or early manhood. Later tradition was full of details (Stanley, Lectures on the Jewish Church, pp. 107-9), which, however, are worthless.

He went out unto his brethren.—It is probable that Pharaoh’s daughter had never concealed from Moses that he was not her own child, but one of the oppressed race. She may even have allowed him to hold communication with his family. It is not, however, a mere visit that is here spoken of, but a complete withdrawal from the palace, and renunciation of his position at the court. “By faith, Moses, when he was come to years, refused to be called the son of Pharaoh’s daughter, choosing rather to suffer affliction with the people of God than to enjoy the pleasures of sin for a season” (Hebrews 11:24-25). It is the first sign of that strong sympathy and tender affection for his people which characterises him throughout the narrative, and culminates in the pathetic cry, “Forgive them; and if not, blot me out of thy book” (Exodus 32:32).

Looked on their burthensi.e., examined into their condition, watched their treatment, made himself acquainted with it by personal inspection.

He spied an Egyptian smiting a Hebrew.—Probably a taskmaster chastising one of the labourers, whom he accused of idling. St. Stephen regards the act as one of “oppression” and “wrong-doing” (Acts 7:24). Moses must certainly have viewed it in this light, or he would not have been so moved to indignation as to kill the Egyptian. Though not a cruel nation, the Egyptians, no doubt, like other slave-drivers, occasionally abused their power, and treated the unfortunate labourers with cruelty.

Exodus 2:11-12. When Moses was grown, he went out unto his brethren, and looked on their burdens — As one that not only pitied them, but was resolved to venture with them and for them. He slew the Egyptian — Probably it was one of the Egyptian task-masters, whom he found abusing his Hebrew slave. By special warrant from Heaven (which makes not a precedent in ordinary cases) Moses slew the Egyptian, and rescued his oppressed brother. The Jews’ tradition is, that he did not slay him with any weapon, but, as Peter slew Ananias and Sapphira, with the word of his mouth.

2:11-15 Moses boldly owned the cause of God's people. It is plain from Heb 11. that this was done in faith, with the full purpose of leaving the honours, wealth, and pleasures of his rank among the Egyptians. By the grace of God he was a partaker of faith in Christ, which overcomes the world. He was willing, not only to risk all, but to suffer for his sake; being assured that Israel were the people of God. By special warrant from Heaven, which makes no rule for other cases, Moses slew an Egyptian, and rescued an oppressed Israelites. Also, he tried to end a dispute between two Hebrews. The reproof Moses gave, may still be of use. May we not apply it to disputants, who, by their fierce debates, divide and weaken the Christian church? They forget that they are brethren. He that did wrong quarreled with Moses. It is a sign of guilt to be angry at reproof. Men know not what they do, nor what enemies they are to themselves, when they resist and despise faithful reproofs and reprovers. Moses might have said, if this be the spirit of the Hebrews, I will go to court again, and be the son of Pharaoh's daughter. But we must take heed of being set against the ways and people of God, by the follies and peevishness of some persons that profess religion. Moses was obliged to flee into the land of Midian. God ordered this for wise and holy ends.Went out unto his brethren - At the end of 40 years. The Egyptian princess had not concealed from him the fact of his belonging to the oppressed race, nor is it likely that she had debarred him from contact with his foster-mother and her family, whether or not she became aware of the true relationship.

An Egyptian - This man was probably one of the overseers of the workmen, natives under the chief superintendent Exodus 1:11. They were armed with long heavy scourges, made of a tough pliant wood imported from Syria.

Ex 2:11-25. His Sympathy with the Hebrews.

11. in those days, when Moses was grown—not in age and stature only, but in power as well as in renown for accomplishments and military prowess (Ac 7:22). There is a gap here in the sacred history which, however, is supplied by the inspired commentary of Paul, who has fully detailed the reasons as well as extent of the change that took place in his worldly condition; and whether, as some say, his royal mother had proposed to make him coregent and successor to the crown, or some other circumstances, led to a declaration of his mind, he determined to renounce the palace and identify himself with the suffering people of God (Heb 11:24-29). The descent of some great sovereigns, like Diocletian and Charles V, from a throne into private life, is nothing to the sacrifice which Moses made through the power of faith.

he went out unto his brethren—to make a full and systematic inspection of their condition in the various parts of the country where they were dispersed (Ac 7:23), and he adopted this proceeding in pursuance of the patriotic purpose that the faith, which is of the operation of God, was even then forming in his heart.

he spied an Egyptian smiting an Hebrew—one of the taskmasters scourging a Hebrew slave without any just cause (Ac 7:24), and in so cruel a manner, that he seems to have died under the barbarous treatment—for the conditions of the sacred story imply such a fatal issue. The sight was new and strange to him, and though pre-eminent for meekness (Nu 12:3), he was fired with indignation.

In those days, whilst Moses lived at court, and was owned as the son of Pharaoh’s daughter, and, as some write, designed to succeed Pharaoh in the throne. Moses was grown to maturity, being forty years old, Acts 7:23.

He went out unto his brethren; partly by natural affection and inclination, that he might learn the state of his brethren, and help them, as occasion should offer itself; and partly by Divine instigation, and in design that he might give some manifestation to them that he was raised and sent of God to deliver them; as may be gathered from Acts 7:25.

And it came to pass in those days, when Moses was grown,.... To man's estate; some of the Jewish writers say he was eighteen, others twenty years of age (e), but Stephen, who is most to be credited, says he was full forty years of age, Acts 7:23,

that he went out unto his brethren the Hebrews: whom he knew to be his brethren, either by divine revelation, or by conversing with his nurse, who was his mother; who, doubtless, instructed him while he was with her, as far as he was capable of being informed of things, and who might frequently visit her afterwards, by which means he became apprised that he was an Hebrew and not an Egyptian, though he went for the son of Pharaoh's daughter, which he refused to be called when he knew his parentage, Hebrews 11:24 now he went out from Pharaoh's palace, which in a short time he entirely relinquished, to visit his brethren, and converse with them, and understood their case and circumstances:

and looked on their burdens; which they were obliged to carry, and were very heavy, and with which they were pressed; he looked at them with grief and concern, and considered in his mind how to relieve them, if possible:

and he spied an Egyptian smiting an Hebrew, one of his brethren; the Egyptian was, according to Jarchi, a principal of the taskmasters of Israel, who was beating the Hebrew for not doing his work as he required, and the Hebrew, according to him, was the husband of Shelomith, daughter of Dibri, Leviticus 24:11, though others say it was Dathan (f).

(e) Shalshalet Hakabala, fol. 5. 2.((f) lbid.

And it came to pass in those days, when Moses was {d} grown, that he went out unto his brethren, and looked on their burdens: and he spied an Egyptian smiting an Hebrew, one of his brethren.

(d) That is, was forty years old; Ac 7:23.

11. in those days] The days of the Egyptian oppression.

was grown up] According to tradition, 42 (Jubilees 48:1:, comp. with 47:1), or 40 (Acts 7:23) years old (half of the 80 of Exodus 7:7).

looked on] i.e. contemplated with sympathy or grief (Genesis 21:16; Genesis 29:32; Genesis 44:34 Heb.). More than merely ‘saw.’

burdens] as Exodus 1:11.

an Egyptian] Perhaps one of the ‘task-masters,’ or superintendents of the labour-gangs (Exodus 3:7).

11–14. The first acts of Moses’ manhood. He chivalrously interposes, first on behalf of an Israelite maltreated by an Egyptian, and then in a quarrel between two Israelites. On account of his slaughter of the Egyptian, he is obliged to flee to Midian. Cf., in St Stephen’s speech, Acts 7:23-29.

Verses 11-15. - FIRST ATTEMPT OF MOSES TO DELIVER HIS NATION, AND ITS FAILURE. After Moses was grown up - according to the tradition accepted by St. Stephen (Acts 7:23), when he was "full forty years old" - having become by some means or other acquainted with the circumstances of his birth, which had most probably never been concealed from him, he determined to "go out" to his brethren, see with his own eyes what their treatment was, and do his best to alleviate it. He had as yet no Divine mission, no command from God to act as he did, but only a natural sympathy with his people, and a feeling perhaps that in his position he was bound, more than any one else, to make some efforts to ameliorate what must have been generally known to be a hard lot. It is scarcely likely that he had formed any definite plans. How he should act would depend on what he should see. Thus far, his conduct deserves nothing but praise. It only perhaps a little surprises us (if St. Stephen's tradition accords with fact) that he did not earlier in his life take some steps in the direction here indicated. We are bound to recollect, however, that we know very little of the restraints under which he would have been laid - whether a severe law of etiquette, or the commands of his benefactress, may not have hampered him, and caused the long delay which strikes us as strange. Living with the court - in Tunis probably - he would have been required to make a strong effort - to break through an established routine, and strike out for himself a new and unheard-of course, if he quitted the princess's household to make a tour of inspection among the enslaved Hebrews. The author of the Epistle to the Hebrews seems to consider that his act in "going out" to "look upon the burdens" of his people involved a renunciation of his court life - a refusal to be called any more the son of Pharaoh's daughter (Hebrews 11:240; a casting-in of his lot with his brethren, so as thenceforth to be a sharer in their afflictions (ib. ver. 24). If this were so, we can well understand a long period of hesitation before the resolve was made to take the course from which there was no retreating. Verse 11. - When Moses was grown. "When he had become a mall of vigour and intelligence" (Kalisch). He went out. The expression is emphatic, and accords with the view above exhibited - that a complete change in the life of Moses was now effected, that the court was quitted, with its attractions and its temptations, its riches and its pleasures; and the position of adopted child of a princess forfeited. He spied an Egyptian smiting a Hebrew. It is not certain that this was one of the "taskmasters" (Exodus 1:11); but most probably he was either a taskmaster, or one of the officers employed by them. Such persons are on the Egyptian monuments represented as armed with long rods, said to be "made of a tough pliant wood imported from Syria" (Chabas, 'Voyage d'un Egyptien,' p. 119). It was their right to employ their rods on the backs of the idle, a right which was sure to degenerate in many cases into tyrannous and cruel oppression. We may assume that it was an instance of such abuse of power that excited the anger of Moses; "seeing one of them suffer wrong, he defended him, and avenged him that was oppressed" (Acts 7:24). For a light fault, or no fault at all, a heavy chastisement was being inflicted. Exodus 2:11Flight of Moses from Egypt to Midian. - The education of Moses at the Egyptian court could not extinguish the feeling that he belonged to the people of Israel. Our history does not inform us how this feeling, which was inherited from his parents and nourished in him when an infant by his mother's milk, was fostered still further after he had been handed over to Pharaoh's daughter, and grew into a firm, decided consciousness of will. All that is related is, how this consciousness broke forth at length in the full-grown man, in the slaying of the Egyptian who had injured a Hebrew (Exodus 2:11, Exodus 2:12), and in the attempt to reconcile two Hebrew men who were quarrelling (Exodus 2:13, Exodus 2:14). Both of these occurred "in those days," i.e., in the time of the Egyptian oppression, when Moses had become great (יגדּל as in Genesis 21:20), i.e., had grown to be a man. According to tradition he was then forty years old (Acts 7:23). What impelled him to this was not "a carnal ambition and longing for action," or a desire to attract the attention of his brethren, but fiery love to his brethren or fellow-countrymen, as is shown in the expression, "One of his brethren" (Exodus 2:11), and deep sympathy with them in their oppression and sufferings; whilst, at the same time, they undoubtedly displayed the fire of his impetuous nature, and the ground-work for his future calling. It was from this point of view that Stephen cited these facts (Acts 7:25-26), for the purpose of proving to the Jews of his own age, that they had been from time immemorial "stiff-necked and uncircumcised in heart and ears" (Acts 7:51). And this view is the correct one. Not only did Moses intend to help his brethren when he thus appeared among them, but this forcible interference on behalf of his brethren could and should have aroused the thought in their minds, that God would send them salvation through him. "But they understood not" (Acts 7:25). At the same time Moses thereby declared that he would no longer "be called the son of Pharaoh's daughter; and chose rather to suffer affliction with the people of God, than to enjoy the pleasures of sin for a season; esteeming the reproach of Christ greater riches than the treasures of Egypt" (Hebrews 11:24-26; see Delitzsch in loc.). And this had its roots in faith (πίστει). But his conduct presents another aspect also, which equally demands consideration. His zeal for the welfare of his brethren urged him forward to present himself as the umpire and judge of his brethren before God had called him to this, and drove him to the crime of murder, which cannot be excused as resulting from a sudden ebullition of wrath.

(Note: The judgment of Augustine is really the true one. Thus, in his c. Faustum Manich. l. 22, c. 70, he says, "I affirm, that the man, though criminal and really the offender, ought not to have been put to death by one who had no legal authority to do so. But minds that are capable of virtues often produce vices also, and show thereby for what virtue they would have been best adapted, if they had but been properly trained. For just as farmers, when they see large herbs, however useless, at once conclude that the land is good for growing corn, so that very impulse of the mind which led Moses to avenge his brother when suffering wrong from a native, without regard to legal forms, was not unfitted to produce the fruits of virtue, but, though hitherto uncultivated, was at least a sign of great fertility." Augustine then compares this deed to that of Peter, when attempting to defend his Lord with a sword (Matthew 26:51), and adds, "Both of them broke through the rules of justice, not through any base inhumanity, but through animosity that needed correction: both sinned through their hatred of another's wickedness, and their love, though carnal, in the one case towards a brother, in the other to the Lord. This fault needed pruning or rooting up; but yet so great a heart could be as readily cultivated for bearing virtues, as land for bearing fruit.")

For he acted with evident deliberation. "He looked this way and that way; and when he saw no one, he slew the Egyptian, and hid him in the sand" (Exodus 2:12). Through his life at the Egyptian court his own natural inclinations had been formed to rule, and they manifested themselves on this occasion in an ungodly way. This was thrown in his teeth by the man "in the wrong" (הרשׁע, Exodus 2:13), who was striving with his brother and doing him an injury: "Who made thee a ruler and judge over us" (Exodus 2:14)? and so far he was right. The murder of the Egyptian had also become known; and as soon as Pharaoh heard of it, he sought to kill Moses, who fled into the land of Midian in fear for his life (Exodus 2:15). Thus dread of Pharaoh's wrath drove Moses from Egypt into the desert. For all that, it is stated in Hebrews 11:27, that "by faith (πίστει) Moses forsook Egypt, not fearing the wrath of the king." This faith, however, he manifested not by fleeing - his flight was rather a sign of timidity - but by leaving Egypt; in other words, by renouncing his position in Egypt, where he might possibly have softened down the kings' wrath, and perhaps even have brought help and deliverance to his brethren the Hebrews. By the fact that he did not allow such human hopes to lead him to remain in Egypt, and was not afraid to increase the king's anger by his flight, he manifested faith in the invisible One as though he saw Him, commending not only himself, but his oppressed nation, to the care and protection of God (vid., Delitzsch on Hebrews 11:27).

The situation of the land of Midian, to which Moses fled, cannot be determined with certainty. The Midianites, who were descended from Abraham through Keturah (Genesis 25:2, Genesis 25:4), had their principal settlements on the eastern side of the Elanitic Gulf, from which they spread northwards into the fields of Moab (Genesis 36:35; Numbers 22:4, Numbers 22:7; Numbers 25:6, Numbers 25:17; Numbers 31:1.; Judges 6:1.), and carried on a caravan trade through Canaan to Egypt (Genesis 37:28, Genesis 37:36; Isaiah 60:6). On the eastern side of the Elanitic Gulf, and five days' journey from Aela, there stood the town of Madian, the ruins of which are mentioned by Edrisi and Abulfeda, who also speak of a well there, from which Moses watered the flocks of his father-in-law Shoeib (i.e., Jethro). But we are precluded from fixing upon this as the home of Jethro by Exodus 3:1, where Moses is said to have come to Horeb, when he drove Jethro's sheep behind the desert. The Midianites on the eastern side of the Elanitic Gulf could not possibly have led their flocks as far as Horeb for pasturage. We must assume, therefore, that one branch of the Midianites, to whom Jethro was priest, had crossed the Elanitic Gulf, and settled in the southern half of the peninsula of Sinai (cf. Exodus 3:1). There is nothing improbable in such a supposition. There are several branches of the Towara Arabs occupying the southern portion of Arabia, that have sprung from Hedjas in this way; and even in the most modern times considerable intercourse was carried on between the eastern side of the gulf and the peninsula, whilst there was formerly a ferry between Szytta, Madian, and Nekba. - The words "and he sat down (ויּשׁב, i.e., settled) in the land of Midian, and sat down by the well," are hardly to be understood as simply meaning that "when he was dwelling in Midian, he sat down one day by a well" (Baumg.), but that immediately upon his arrival in Midian, where he intended to dwell or stay, he sat down by the well. The definite article before בּאר points to the well as the only one, or the principal well in that district. Knobel refers to "the well at Sherm;" but at Sherm el Moye (i.e., water-bay) or Sherm el Bir (well-bay) there are "several deep wells finished off with stones," which are "evidently the work of an early age, and have cost great labour" (Burckhardt, Syr. p. 854); so that the expression "the well" would be quite unsuitable. Moreover there is but a very weak support for Knobel's attempt to determine the site of Midian, in the identification of the Μαρανῖται or Μαρανεῖς (of Strabo and Artemidorus) with Madyan.

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