Moses—in Egypt and Midian

Exodus 2:11-25

Danny Olinger

On the surface, in examining the respective accounts of Moses in Egypt in Exodus 2:11-15 and Moses in Midian in Exodus 2:16-21, it appears that in contrast to all the hardships that faced him in Egypt, Moses finally finds a home in Midian. In fact, everything that went wrong for him in Egypt, seemingly goes right for him in Midian.

We arrive at this preliminary conclusion upon viewing these two accounts in which Moses witnesses an injustice and attempts to bring deliverance to the oppressed. In examining vv. 11-15, we read about Moses visiting his brethren and looking upon their hard labor. Upon witnessing an Egyptian unfairly beating a Hebrew slave, Moses decides to intercede and attempts to deliver the one oppressed. He looks one way and then he looks the other way before he strikes down the Egyptian. Finally, to cover his deed, he buries the slain Egyptian in the sand.

That is the initial act. What is the result of this attempted deliverance? When he attempts to reconcile two Hebrews who were fighting the next day, Moses is mocked for what he has done. From Stephen's speech in Acts 7:27, we know that he is literally pushed away at the same time that the words are shouted at him, "Who made you a prince or a judge over us? Are you intending to kill me as you killed the Egyptian?" And as Stephen further makes clear in Acts 7:35, Moses is disowned and rejected by his brethren at this point for his efforts.

Disowned by his brethren, Moses is next rejected by Pharaoh. Pharaoh hears of the slain Egyptian and seeks to bring judgment against Moses. Moses, however, does not wait for the sword to come. He flees from Pharaoh's presence and travels to the land of Midian where he comes to a well and sits down.

Summarizing the key points, then, from vv. 11-15: (1) Moses sees the hard labor of the Hebrews; (2) he witnesses an injustice against those laboring; (3) he decides to intercede and to attempt to deliver the oppressed; (4) the attempted deliverance brings mockery and rejection to Moses; (5) the judgment of Pharaoh comes upon him; (6) Moses departs to another land.

Now, with this summary in mind, notice what happens in vv. 16-21. In v. 16, we read that the seven daughters of the priest of Midian were laboring at the well where Moses sat down. They were drawing water (a strenuous task in ancient times) to fill the troughs in order to water their father's flock. In parallel fashion, then, to the events in Egypt, Moses witnesses those doing hard labor. Again, as he looks upon those laboring, an injustice takes place. In this case, evil shepherds who had waited at a distance prey upon the defenseless daughters. After the water is drawn and the hard labor is completed, they drive the daughters away to take advantage of the daughters's work. Egyptian oppression of the defenseless Hebrew is matched by the wicked shepherd's oppression of the defenseless in Midian. Witnessing this injustice as he had done previously in Egypt, Moses intercedes and attempts to deliver those oppressed. Here in Midian, he stands up and helps the daughters by scattering the evil shepherds.

So far things have been quite similar in the two accounts, but now notice how things change. For example, before Moses intercedes in Egypt and strikes down the Egyptian, we are told that he looked this way and that before he acted. Then, after slaying the Egyptian, Moses immediately becomes preoccupied with his own situation. He is worried about what the consequences of his action might be. He fears being caught and he hides the body of the slain man in the sand.

In Midian, the deliverance takes on a much different nature. In Midian, Moses intercedes, scatters the evil shepherds, and then serves those who had been oppressed. Moses stands up and helps the daughters. He intercedes for them, but he does not stop there. He continues by serving them. He takes to himself their hard labor. He draws the water and he waters their father's flock.

This is the initial act. What is the response of those in Midian who had been delivered from oppression? At first, the daughters run back to their father, Reuel. Upon their arrival, he asks them why they have returned home so soon. They respond, "An Egyptian delivered us from the hand of the shepherd; and what is more, he even drew the water for us and watered the flock." The daughters are stunned by the graciousness of the man as they tell the good news to their father. This man delivered us from the shepherds—and on top of that, he drew the water for us—and on top of that, he watered the flock for us.

Thus, the response of the father is not the mockery and rejection that greeted Moses in Egypt. Rather, having heard the good news, the response is punctuated by gratitude and thanksgiving. Reuel tells his daughters to go back and get this man so that he might dine with him in fellowship. Previously, in Egypt, when the actions of Moses recounted in vv. 11-14 become known to Pharaoh (the head of the Egyptian household and the father of the one who had drawn Moses out of the water), Moses was threatened with death. But, now, in Midian, Reuel offers Moses the opposite of the sword. Now, in Midian, Reuel offers Moses life and fellowship in his home, for in having heard from his daughters of the action of Moses recounted in vv. 16-17, Reuel is thankful.

Rejected, disowned and cursed in Egypt by both his Hebrew brethren and his adopted royal family, Moses is now brought into a filial relation in Midian. The blessing of Midian displaces the judgment of Egypt, and in contrast to his fleeing Egypt and Pharaoh's presence, Moses now dwells securely in Midian in Reuel's presence.

The reversal is staggering! The parallelism is undeniable! Truly, everything that goes wrong for Moses in Egypt seemingly goes right for him in Midian. In Midian, the deliverance is no longer tainted by the dubious and illegitimate character of the deliverance in Egypt. In Midian, Moses does not become preoccupied with himself, but gives himself over to others. In Midian, thanksgiving and adoption replace mockery and rejection. In Midian, blessing replaces judgment. And in Midian, instead of fleeing for his life from the head of one household, Moses is invited by the head of another household to dwell securely with him. And that dwelling is with a man who worships the true and living God (note Exodus 18 where Reuel, whom we know better as Jethro, worships and serves the living God).

But there is even more for Moses in Midian. In Midian, Reuel gives Moses his daughter, Zipporah. According to Acts 7:29, Moses and Zipporah are blessed in that place with two sons.

Is not Midian great for Moses!

What more could he possibly ask for? He is safe from the persecution of Pharaoh and blessed abundantly—blessed to be able to worship the living God, blessed with a wife and two sons, blessed with a wonderful father-in-law. What more could his heart desire? That which was lacking in Egypt seems fulfilled in Midian. Midian seems glorious—so glorious, in fact, it is as if in moving from Egypt to Midian, Moses moves from darkness into the kingdom of light. That is how stupendous the change is! It is as if the kingdom of God had dawned for Moses. It is as if old things had passed away and all things had become new. The mockery, rejection, and judgment of the old world replaced by the praise, adoption and blessing of the new world.

And what of the transition for Moses himself? In keeping with the changed environment, there is a seemingly new Moses. In Midian, we are not looking at the same man. The events of Egypt have humbled Moses. A new Moses, a humbled Moses, appears in Midian. The new Moses surrenders to God. The new Moses learns to die to self; and in doing so—he rises! Moses learns that only by his surrender to God could he deliver the people of God and be a type of the promised deliverer to come. Moses learns to die, and in doing so—he stands up! And having stood up, he helps and he serves.

Do you not see Jesus Christ standing behind Moses here? Do you not see Christ informing Moses as to the true nature of the deliverance in store for the people of God in all ages—not just the upcoming deliverance of Israel from Egypt, but the greater Exodus that would come with the greater Moses. For you see, Jesus Christ humbles himself to the point of death giving himself over to those oppressed by sin. Jesus Christ humbles himself to deliver those who could not save themselves. And after having delivered them, he serves them. Jesus Christ did not stop his work two thousand years ago when he died and rose again. He delivered his elect by his blood and continues to serve them in heaven. There at the right hand of God the Father in heaven, the glorified Christ serves his own as he makes available to them all the merits of his work upon the cross, and that for all eternity.

Moses endures in Midian because by faith he sees the one who is unseen. In doing so, he now knows that he is no longer central. The God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob is central. And so Moses dies, and in dying, he lives. In dying, he lives, and in giving himself over to God, he serves. Pointing forward to the work of Jesus Christ, Moses, the Old Testament mediator, delivers; he serves, and the blessings flow.

Yes, it appears that life is great for Moses in Midian. He is even blessed during his stay there with children. Thus, with the birth of his first son, Moses, in naming his son, has the opportunity to express all that weighed upon his mind while in Midian. In naming his son, Moses has the occasion to reveal the history of his seemingly blessed stay in Midian. Yet he names his firstborn son, Gershom, "stranger there." When it comes to revealing the history and character of his stay in Midian, Moses tells all through the naming of his firstborn son. Moses was a stranger in Midian!

Obviously the question becomes, why this name? Everything seemed to be going Moses' way in Midian, yet to commemorate the occasion he names his son "stranger there." With the naming of his son, Moses reveals his grasp of the biblical hope. He reveals with this name his knowledge that the goal had not been reached in Midian. He reveals with this name that as good as Midian had been to him in certain respects, it was not his final destination. By the grace of God, Moses knows that there must be a further movement for him, and he is a stranger there until that day comes.

The transition for Moses from Egypt to Midian appears most blessed as the respective accounts are matched up, and then v. 22 stops the reader in his tracks. It makes one consider what has happened previously. In fact, it makes one consider how the story of Moses begins. In a real sense, v. 22 brings one back to the beginning of Exodus 2 while at the same time wrapping things up. Verse 22 takes the reader back to vv. 1-10 where the birth and naming of Moses occurs, but it also sums up the chapter with the birth and naming of Gershom. This means that Exodus 2 begins with the miraculous salvation of one child who is drawn out of the water of death and ends with the naming of the second child by the one who is both delivered and yet a stranger at the same time.

Thus, the history of the people of God short of the consummation is before one's eyes in the story of Moses in Exodus 2. Supernaturally saved from death, the redeemed of the Lord, short of the goal of heaven—like Moses in Midian—short of the goal of the promised land, find themselves both delivered and yet strangers in this sojourn on earth. For Moses in the historical setting of the Old Testament in which he found himself, the fulfillment of the promise made to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob rested with the deliverance of the people of God into the promised land of Canaan.

Life in Midian therefore, could not be the final goal or resting place. Moses in his exodus to Midian (which precedes the grand Exodus of the people of God from Egypt), knows not to make Midian the final goal. By faith, Moses knows that he and the Old Testament people of God must press on to the day of Christ and his coming. No matter how temporally blessed things might be for Moses in Midian or later for Israel in Canaan, the hope is eschatological. The hope is the coming of Christ, his Kingdom and his glory. To be content to live short of Christ's coming, either his first coming (in the case of Old Covenant believers), or his second coming (in the case of New Covenant believers), is to live in poverty no matter how blessed one's life might seem to be. In fact, if Moses had rested contentedly in Midian, Midian would have become Egypt to him just as Jerusalem becomes Egypt in the day of Christ—that place, according to Revelation 11:8, where the Lord is crucified.

Exodus 2 is, in fact, a microcosm of the history and the goal of the people of God in the Old Covenant. Their history and their goal are seen in Moses who goes before them experiencing all things for them. They are to be conformed to Moses as he is conformed to the one who is to come.

Thus, in coming to vv. 23-25, where we are told that Israel has cried out to God, and God has heard their groanings and remembered covenantally to redeem, the implied question becomes: will Israel know not to make the land of Canaan the final goal of their existence? Or, in other words, will Israel's life conform to the life of Moses, the mediator of the Old Covenant, as he finds his life in the promise of the mediator of the New Covenant, Jesus Christ? And will their goal when they reach Canaan be the same as Moses' goal in Midian? Will their goal be to transcend the earthly and reach for the heavenly, because in reaching for the heavenly, they reach for God himself? To the extent that Israel in the Exodus is willing to surrender to God, and to recognize that they are strangers as they wait for the coming of the Messiah even while dwelling in the temporal blessings of the promised land of Canaan, to that extent they glorify the God of their fathers.

These questions apply with equal force to the church of Jesus Christ which finds herself living between the times waiting for the Lord's return and the consummation of all things. The church's hope is not any city in this creation. The church's hope is heavenly as she seeks the fulfillment of the promise of God—that where the risen Lord dwells bodily, he has prepared a place for her. Like Moses then, the church is eschatologically oriented because of the promise of God. Like Moses, the church's desire for a better place is directed by the covenantal word of God. The church's desire is positive for she seeks that place where God has promised to be with his people. That is the church's hope and it defines the church's journey through this life as she follows after Jesus Christ, that prophet greater than Moses who has preceded his own in the great drama of redemption.

Grace Orthodox Presbyterian Church

Sewickley, Pennsylvania