Exodus 2:17
And the shepherds came and drove them away: but Moses stood up and helped them, and watered their flock.
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EXPOSITORY (ENGLISH BIBLE)
(17) The shepherds came.—Those of the neighbourhood. The rule of the desert is that those who come to a well take their turns in the use of the water in the order of their arrival. But these rude shepherds declined to wait for their turn. It appears later on, by the question of Reuel, “How is it that ye are come so soon to-day?” that this rude and unfair conduct of the shepherds was habitual.

Moses stood up and helped them.—Moses is again the champion of the oppressed, but has learnt wisdom by the past, and uses no unnecessary violence. His air and manner intimidated the wrong-doers, and they allowed the maidens sheep to be watered first.

Exodus 2:17. Stood up and helped them — This he did, because wherever he was, as occasion offered itself, he loved to be doing justice, and appearing in the defence of such as he saw injured. He loved to be doing good: wherever the providence of God cast us, we should desire and endeavour to be useful; and when we cannot do the good we would, we must be ready to do the good we can.2:16-22 Moses found shelter in Midian. He was ready to help Reuel's daughters to water their flocks, although bred in learning and at court. Moses loved to be doing justice, and to act in defence of such as he saw injured, which every man ought to do, as far as it is in his power. He loved to be doing good; wherever the providence of God casts us, we should desire and try to be useful; and when we cannot do the good we would, we must be ready to do the good we can. Moses commended himself to the prince of Midian; who married one of his daughters to Moses, by whom he had a son, called Gershom, a stranger there, that he might keep in remembrance the land in which he had been a stranger.The Priest of Midian - Reuel Exodus 2:18. His name, and the detailed notices in Exodus 18, prove that he was a priest of the one true God who was known to the patriarchs especially under the name El. The great bulk of his tribe, certainly those who lived farther north and more closely in contact with the Hamites of Canaan, were already plunged in idolatry. The conduct of the shepherds Exodus 2:17 may indicate that his person and office were lightly regarded by the idolatrous tribes in his immediate neighborhood. 16-22. the priest of Midian—or, "prince of Midian." As the officers were usually conjoined, he was the ruler also of the people called Cushites or Ethiopians, and like many other chiefs of pastoral people in that early age, he still retained the faith and worship of the true God.

seven daughters—were shepherdesses to whom Moses was favorably introduced by an act of courtesy and courage in protecting them from the rude shepherds of some neighboring tribe at a well. He afterwards formed a close and permanent alliance with this family by marrying one of the daughters, Zipporah, "a little bird," called a Cushite or Ethiopian (Nu 12:1), and whom Moses doubtless obtained in the manner of Jacob by service [see Ex 3:1]. He had by her two sons, whose names were, according to common practice, commemorative of incidents in the family history [Ex 18:3, 4].

The shepherds drove them away, that they might enjoy the fruit of their labours, and make use of the water which they had drawn for their own cattle.

Moses helped them; either by persuading them with fair words, or by force; for Moses was strong, and full of courage and resolution, wherewith the shepherds were easily daunted. And the shepherds came and drove them away,.... The daughters of the priest of Midian, and their flock likewise; these were shepherds of some neighbouring princes or great men, who were so rude and slothful, and to save themselves a little trouble of drawing water, brought up their flocks to drink of the water those virgins had drawn, and to do this forced them and their flocks away:

but Moses stood up and helped them, and watered their flock; moved to see such rude and uncivil treatment of the weaker sex, rose up from the ground on which he sat, and took their parts, and obliged the shepherds to give way, and brought up their flock to the troughs, and drew water for them, and gave them it; either he did this alone, or together with the servants that waited upon the priest's daughters, perhaps alone; and if it be considered that shepherds being usually not of a very martial spirit, and these also in a wrong cause, and Moses a man of an heroic disposition, and had doubtless the appearance of a man of some eminence and authority, they were the more easily intimidated and overcome.

And the shepherds came and drove them away: but Moses stood up and helped them, and watered their flock.
EXEGETICAL (ORIGINAL LANGUAGES)
17. drove them away] wishing to water their own flocks first. But Moses chivalrously comes forward (cf. vv. 12, 13) to assist the girls.Verse 17. - The shepherds came and drove them away. There is not much "natural politeness" among primitive peoples. The right of the stronger prevails, and women go to the wall. Even the daughters of their priest were not respected by these rude sons of the desert, who would not wait their turn, but used the water which Reners daughters had drawn. The context shows that this was not an accidental or occasional circumstance, but the regular practice of the shepherds, who thus day after day saved themselves the trouble of drawing. (See the next verse.) Moses stood up and helped them. Ever ready to assist the weak against the strong (supra, vers. 12, 13), Moses "stood up" - sprang to his feet - and, though only one man against a dozen or a score, by his determined air intimidated the crowd of wrong-doers, and forced them to let the maidens' sheep drink at the troughs. His dress was probably that of an Egyptian of rank; and they might reasonably conclude from his boldness that he had attendants within call. Flight 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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