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Exodus 2:11-15

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.

11. Factum autem est diebus illis, quum adolevisset Moses, ut egrederetur ad fratres suos, et vidit onera ipsorum, viditque virum Aegyptium percutientem quendam Hebraeum ex fratribus suis.

12. And he looked this way and that way, and when he saw that there was no man, he slew the Egyptian, and hid him in the sand.

12. Tunc respexit hue et illuc, et videns quod nemo adesset, percussit Aegyptium, atque abscondit in arena.

13. And when he went out the second day, behold, two men of the Hebrews strove together: and he said to him that did the wrong, Wherefore smitest thou thy follow?

13. Et quum egressus esset postridie, ecce, duo viri Hebraei rixabantur: tunc dixit malefico, Quare percutis propinquum tuum?

14. And he said, Who made thee a prince and a judge over us? Intendest thou to kill me, as thou killedst the Egyptian? and Moses feared, and said, Surely this thing is known.

14. Qui respondit, Quis te constituit principem, et judicem super nos? an ut me occidas tu loqueris, sicut occidisti Aegyptium? Itaque timuit Moses, ac dixit, Certe innotuit haec res.

15. Now when Pharaoh heard this thing, he sought to slay Moses. But Moses fled from the face of Pharaoh, and dwelt in the land of Midian: and he sat down by a well.

15. Pharao etiam audito hoc sermone, quaerebat interficere Mosen. Et fugiens Moses a facie Pharaonis mansit in Madian, seditque juxta puteum.

11. And it came to pass in those days, when Moses was grown. Now did that faith which the Apostle celebrates begin to shew itself, when Moses, despising the pleasures and riches of the Court, chose rather to suffer the reproach of Christ, than to be accounted happy apart from companionship with the chosen people. Nor was it only love for his nation, but faith in the promises, which induced him to undertake this charge, by which he knew that he should incur the hatred of all the Egyptians. For although he did not immediately resign his wealth, and honorable station, and influence, and power, this was, as it were, the preparation for divesting himself of all these deceitful allurements. Whence the Apostle says,

“he refused to be called the son of Pharaoh’s daughter.”
(Hebrews 11:24.)

There is certainly no doubt but that he avowed his desire to return to his true and natural kindred, from whom he had been separated: for we gather from the context, that he did not come to see his brethren only to pity their estate, but to bring them some consolation, and even to share their lot. Nor was the Court so near that he could daily visit them in his ordinary walk. And it is said that “he went out the second day.” Therefore, he privately withdrew himself from the Court, or, having asked permission, preferred to expose himself to enmity, rather than not discover his affectionate regard to his people. But he relates that he looked on their burdens, or troubles, so that their unjust oppression must have naturally aroused him to give them help. He adds, too, another motive, that he “saw an Egyptian smiting an Hebrew.” It is probable that they were harshly treated by their taskmasters if they were slow in their work, and since they were given over to the will of wicked men, that every one might exercise the same cruelty upon them with impunity.

12. And he looked this way and that way. Hence it more evidently appears that Moses came with the design of succouring his unhappy brethren, and of relieving and aiding them with his help, since, by killing the Egyptian, he avenged the injury done indeed to an individual, but having a bearing on the whole nation. But although he was inspired by the Holy Spirit with special courage for the performance of this act, still it was accompanied with an infirmity, which shews that he did not undertake without hesitation what he yet, knew to be his vocation. For Stephen (Acts 7:25) bears witness that Moses was not impelled by a rash zeal to slay the Egyptian, but because he knew that he was divinely appointed to be the avenger and deliverer of his nation. Still he looked about to see whether any one saw him, and dared not punish the wrong-doer, except by a secret blow. Thus we perceive that he was not altogether so bold as he should have been, and that he had to strive against his timidity. Again, we gather from his hesitation that his faith was weak, so that we must not suppose that it was thus praised by the Apostle because it was absolutely perfect. In the first place, then, let us conclude that Moses did not rashly have recourse to the sword, but that he was armed by God’s command, and, conscious of his legitimate vocation, rightly and judiciously assumed that character which God assigned to him. Thence it follows, that private persons would act improperly, and would be by no means countenanced by his example, if they sought to repress wrong by force and arms. Thus far we should imitate Moses in rendering aid to the suffering and oppressed, as far as our means go, and in caring not to incur the ill-will of the wicked, when we oppose ourselves to their oppressions; but we must leave it to the judges, who are invested with public authority, to draw the sword of vengeance. If these do not afford their aid to the innocent when they are unjustly treated, all we can do is to murmur; as not even Moses would have been allowed to proceed further, unless he had been the appointed avenger and deliverer of the people. As to the fear, by which he betrayed his pusillanimity and his present unpreparedness for fulfilling his office, let us learn that the obedience of the saints, which is stained by sin, is still sometimes acceptable with God through mercy; and therefore, although the weakness of the flesh is a draw-back to us in the performance of our duty, still let us cease not to struggle against it; for our assurance of this ought to have no small effect in animating us, when we are persuaded that there is pardon ready for our hesitation, if we do not yield to it.

13. Behold, two men of the Hebrews. This perseverance shews that Moses was firm and determined in his design of returning to his brethren, and abandoning the Court; and that he had advisedly renounced its splendor, its wealth, and comforts, although he was by no means ignorant of the miseries to which he exposed himself, and how painful and disagreeable, nay, how ignominious a condition awaited him. Wherefore we need not wonder if the Apostle says, that he chose

“rather to endure the reproach of Christ,” “and to suffer affliction with the people of God, than to enjoy the pleasures of sin for a season.” (Hebrews 11:25, 26.)

Besides, the sad sight of the tyrant’s violence and of the burdens by which his brethren were oppressed, was anything but an obstacle to his proceeding, because, being prepared by the hope of future recompense to bear the cross, he was superior to present fear. But he does not assume, as before, the character of a judge; but performs a duty, which the law of charity demands of every one, addressing the men who strove together as a peace-maker, and exhorting them both to be reconciled, though he especially blames the wrongdoer. This was not peculiar to Moses, but the common duty of all believers, when the innocent are harshly treated, to take their part, and as far as possible to interpose, lest the stronger should prevail. It can scarcely be done without exasperating those who are disposed to evil; but nothing ought to allow us to be silent, while justice is violated by their forwardness. For in this ease, silence is a kind of consent. Yet Moses reproves moderately, and in kind terms, the man who had assaulted his brother; because he does not so much wish to reproach him with the greatness of his fault, as to find the means of calming his ferocity.

14. Who made thee a prince? No wonder if the headstrong and wicked man repels angrily this mild admonition; for thus are those, who are disposed to injustice, accustomed to rage as soon as they are reproved, and to drive away good advisers with contumely. And certainly it is an uncommon virtue to acknowledge our faults, and patiently to submit to correction. For in proportion to a man’s evil disposition, and to the greatness of his offense, is his rage under admonition, and his violence in altercation; wherefore, whoever undertakes to restrain the wicked must expect to meet with these indignities. Still, we may understand from the petulance of this individual how perverse were the minds of the whole nation. On this account Stephen says that Moses was refused by his own nation, and accuses them all of ingratitude. (Acts 7:35.) But, without being too hard on this people, we learn from this example how rude is the nature of those whom God has not tamed; for their perverseness as firmly repels correction, as an anvil repels the blow of a hammer. When, therefore, they are so stubborn that though ten times reproved they are still hardened, no wonder if God deals with them more roughly, as he declares he will do by the mouth of David. (Psalm 18:27.) Lest we should experience this, let us submit to his rod in time; and since this is not given to all, let us entreat him to make us truly teachable. For what shall we gain by kicking against the pricks? Moreover, a kind of brutal fierceness accompanies this perverseness, as is again seen in this instance. The vile and abject slave asks Moses, Who made him a judge over the Hebrews? as if he, and all his race, were not exposed to universal contumely. If the lowest of the Egyptian rabble had struck him a blow, he would not have dared to murmur; yet he rages as imperiously against this mild admonition, as if he were free from all subjection. What follows is even worse, “Intendest thou to kill me, as thou killedst the Egyptian?” He ought to have received Moses as if he had been an angel of God, on account of such a proof of his zeal and piety; but, turning the benefit into an accusation, he not only hatefully taunts him with what it would have been just to praise, but even threatens him. Meantime, we cannot doubt but that the holy man must have been racked by a sore temptation, when he finds such barbarity in his nation. He knew, indeed, that the Egyptians would have been his professed enemies, if the matter had got abroad; but he never could have expected such an unworthy return from his brethren, whose misery he desired to relieve; and therefore it was a proof of incredible strength of purpose to surmount such an obstacle.

15. Now when Pharaoh heard. Moses acknowledges his fear, though it was not sufficient to withdraw him from the work to which he was called. We said before, that his zeal was mingled with infirmity, but yet prevailed; so that he performed the duty entrusted to him manfully, yet at the same time timidly. But this is another proof of his firmness, that he is not ashamed of what he had done, so as to endeavor to appease the king, but he betakes himself to exile; nor is he so alarmed in this critical time as to sink down in helplessness or despair, but he departs into the land of Midian, and prefers wandering in the Desert, to a reconciliation with the enemies of the chosen people. But although God appears by this circuitous course to decline from his purpose of delivering them, yet he marvelously carries on His work. We have already sufficiently perceived that Moses was certainly not yet ripe for the arduous contests which awaited him; that, having been brought up delicately and luxuriously in the Court, he was not yet accustomed to the great and continual anxieties of which the sequel of the history will shew him the conqueror. Therefore God in a manner withdrew him, that he might gradually render him fit and equal to undertake so difficult a task. For the experience of forty years in such a laborious and ascetic mode of life, did not a little avail to prepare him for enduring any hardships; so that the Desert may well be called the school in which he was taught, until he was invited to his more difficult charge. As to his “sitting down by a well,” I interpret it, that he sat down there to rest from his fatigue about sunset, that he might ask for hospitality from the people, who he hoped would come at eventide to draw water. From this unprosperous beginning he might conjecture what an uncomfortable reception he had to expect.

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