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Shemot/Exodus 2:12 He turned this [way] and that and saw that there was no man, and he smote the Egyptian and he hid him in the sand.
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Who can this be, acting in this furtive and underhand manner? Who is perpetrating this gross skullduggery? No less than Moshe! Having decided to visit his own people, the Israelites, from the heights of Pharaoh's palace, he finds an Egyptian - possibly an overseer or taskmaster - beating one of his kinsmen. With a quick cry of, "I say, take that, you bounder," Moshe terminates the beating by killing the Egyptian, hiding the body in the conveniently nearby sand. The only apparent witness to the whole affair was the Israelite who was being beaten and he wasn't going to tell anyone, was he? The very next day Moshe is out visiting the Israelites again and discovers that already his act of mercy is common knowledge, and that he needs to flee from Pharaoh, out of Egypt and away into the Sinai desert where he will stay, keeping sheep, for the next forty years. Hardly the hallmark of a man who should be called to lead our people out of Egypt, take us to meet withHaShem at Mt. Sinai, teach us HaShem's commandments and statutes, and then guide us through the desert for forty years. HaShem obviously thought otherwise, so the classic commentators go out of their way to gloss the event and turn it into an shining example of why Moshe was just the right person for the job.
Samson RaphaelHirsch explains that the act of looking around before committing the offence was a sign of measured or calculated humility - exactly what was needed in a leader. "He looked in all directions to be sure that he was unobserved and could dare to do the deed. This trait of Moshe's character is of most decisive importance. He has a deep feeling of duty which makes him jump to the aid of any innocent person who he sees mishandled ... But he is far from that daring boldness which rushes without thinking into danger, so that he is far from that attractive and infectious daring which would be necessary for a leader to put himself at the head of a great multitude ... to such a man it would not occur in a dream to become the saviour and leader of his people." According to Hirsch, then, it is the cautious but deliberate nature of the killing that demonstrates the lack of self-aggrandisement that makes Moshe suitable to lead the Israelites out of Egypt.
Umberto Cassuto1, on the other hand, suggests that it is Moshe's commitment to justice that makes him so suitable as the Israelite's putative agent of redemption. "He looked this way and that, and seeing no-one that might testify, or, no-one that could come to the Hebrew's aid, acted." Cassuto cites HaShem's words - "Then I looked, but there was none to help; I stared, but there was none to aid - So My own arm wrought the triumph, and My own rage was My aid" (Isaiah 63:5, JPS) - to justify Moshe's actions, then adds this that this was measure for measure justice: "The Egyptian smote (v. 11), therefore justice demanded that he, too, should be smitten. By this act Moshe showed the qualities of a man who pursues justice and is quick to save the oppressed from the hand of the oppressor ... he was worthy to become G-d's messenger to deliver Israel from the bondage of Egypt and to smite their oppressors with ten plagues [lit. 'smitings']."
Nechama Leibowitz collects a number of ancient and modern commentators. Rabbi Yaakov Tzvi Mecklenburg2 said: "Moshe saw that there was no real man amongst them, no-one who took an interest in his brothers' misfortune." Moshe could see that neither among the Egyptians or the Israelites was there anyone else who was interested enough to do something. Rabbi Naphtali Zvi Yehuda Berlin, the Netziv, explains, "Moshe sought to find a way to bring the Egyptian to justice for his criminal and inexcusable conduct. 'He saw there was no man' - to whom he could appeal for justice, since they were all enemies of Israel. Realising that the law would not protect the Jew in Egypt, he took the law into his own hands." Leibowitz suggests both these comments are based on the Midrash, where Rabbi Yehuda said, "He saw that there was no-one ready to champion the cause of the Holy One, Blessed be He" (Vayikra Rabbah 32:4). She cites a text from Isaiah using the same Hebrew phrase - "The L-RD saw and was displeased that there was no redress. He saw that there was no man, He gazed long, but no one intervened. then His own arm won Him triumph, His victorious right hand supported Him" (Isaiah 59:15-16, JPS) and quotes Hillel: "Where there is no man, try to be one" (m. Pirke Avot 2:5 and b. Berachot 63a).
Nahum Sarna comments, "Outraged, Moshe at once goes to the aid of the victim. His initial caution is dictated by the knowledge that, in the eyes of Egyptian law, he is about to commit a mutinous act. With this act, he will also sever his ties to the aristocratic society in which he was raised." Sarna seems to be saying that although the Egyptian's life was taken, it was not without cost to Moshe as well. Knowing that it would mean a huge and necessary change in his own life, he nevertheless decided that the cost was worth it and went ahead to help his kinsman. Can we perhaps see an early prefiguring of Yeshua here?
During the Last Supper, Yeshua told the disciples, "Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends" (John 15:13, ESV). He was about to give up His own life not just for the disciples but for all of mankind who would turn to G-d and find reconciliation, forgiveness for sin and healing of relationship. This fulfilled not only the words of the prophets - "He was wounded because of our sins, crushed because of our iniquities. He bore the chastisement that made us whole, and by his bruises we were healed" (Isaiah 53:5, JPS) - but also John the Baptist, Yeshua's cousin and forerunner: "Look! The Lamb of G-d who takes away the sin of the world!" (John 1:29, NLT). In the ancient world, it was uncommon but not unheard of for one person to sacrifice their life so that another might live. This would need huge courage and a conviction that the exchange was worth it. This is the background behind Rav Sha'ul's comment: "It is a rare event when someone gives up his life even for the sake of somebody righteous, although possibly for a truly good person one might have the courage to die" (Romans 5:7, CJB); the person offering to give up their life would have to be convinced that the other person was really worth saving and had something tremendously important or valuable to do in this life. The shock of the next verse could not be greater: "But G-d demonstrates his own love for us in that the Messiah died on our behalf while we were still sinners" (v. 8, CJB). Sinners were worthless, already condemned to death for their sin and yet Messiah died for us so that we might be redeemed and forgiven.
Unlike Moshe who, according to our text and all the commentators, looked around him to make sure that no-one would see and then hid the body in the sand, Yeshua's act of sacrifice was made out in the open for all to see. Publicly executed on a Roman cross, outside the gates of Jerusalem, then placed in tomb, there was no hiding what Yeshua had done. Three days later, He rose from the dead and was publicly seen for the next forty days; on at least one occasion by over five hundred people. No hole in the corner operation here, this was a transparent and open event accompanied by undeniable signs and wonders - six hours of darkness, an earthquake, tombs being opened and dead people brought back to life in Jerusalem - and all at one of the busiest feasts in the Jewish calendar, Pesach, when Jerusalem would have been filled to capacity with Jews from all over the known world. Moshe didn't want to make a point about what he did; G-d wanted to make sure that no-one missed the point about what He did!
Rav Sha'ul could often be blunt and direct when it came to speaking the gospel; it was close to his heart and he often wore it on his sleeve. He wrote that, "he message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of G-d" (1 Corinthians 1:18, NIV) How foolishness? "A stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles" (v. 23, NIV)! Moshe's act of murder looks like madness: throwing away a position of power and influence at the heart of Egyptian society and court, that he could have used to improve the position of his people. But that took him out of Egypt into the desert training camp where he would learn to be a shepherd and a father for forty years. Yeshua's act of surrender to the powers of Satan, working through the Jewish and Roman leaders, looked worse than insanity, but it was the means by which G-d reconciled the world to Himself (2 Corinthians 5:19) and will yet bring many sons to glory (Hebrew 2:10). Do you get the point?
1. - Umberto Cassuto, A Commentary on the Book of Exodus, Magnes Press, Jerusalem, 1983, 965-223-456-7
2. - 1785-1865; born Posen, Germany; rabbi of Koenigsburg from 1831 until his death, author of HaKetav v'HaKabbalah
Further Study: Ephesians 5:1-2; 2 Corinthians 2:15-17
It is easy to be academic and scholarly about the Bible, but head knowledge
is no substitute for heart knowledge. Do you really know Yeshua, or do you
just talk about Him?
© Jonathan Allen, 2012
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© Jonathan Allen, 2012
Your turn - what do you think of the ideas in this drash ?Like most print and online magazines, we reserve the right to edit or publish only those comments we feel are edifying in tone and content.