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Did Moses Sin in Killing the Egyptian?

“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. 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” (Ex. 2:11-12).

“And seeing one of them suffer wrong, he defended him, and avenged him that was oppressed, and smote the Egyptian: for he supposed his brethren would have understood how that God by his hand would deliver them: but they understood not” (Acts 7:24-25).

A brother asks, “Was it right of Moses to kill the Egyptian in the light of Acts 7:24-25 or was it murder?”

The question is an interesting one and has some elements to it that are of special significance.

The first point of interest, though only indirectly related to the question, is the fact that the instruction Moses received from his parents, when still only a small child, was used by God to protect Moses spiritually in all his years in Pharaoh’s palace. It could not have been more than four years after Moses’ birth that he went to live with Pharaoh’s daughter. And he was in the palace for almost forty years. Yet he remained faithful to Jehovah. Hebrews 11:24-26 makes that clear: “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; esteeming the reproach of Christ greater riches than the treasures in Egypt: for he had respect unto the recompence of the reward.”

Undoubtedly, his parents taught him when he was a baby or little child that Israel was God’s chosen people and the object of His love; that Jehovah would deliver Israel from the bondage of Egypt some day; that God would fulfil the promises He made to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, and that he (Moses) was destined to play an important part in Israel’s deliverance (Heb. 11:23). That instruction, though given when he was a child, persisted in Moses for nearly forty years and kept him faithful. This certainly underscores for us the importance of covenantal instruction for our children from the time they are born.

Moses’ act of killing the Egyptian, therefore, was not a sin. He knew his calling was to lead Israel from Egypt and the bondage of Pharaoh. He knew that the warfare he and the nation had to fight was the destruction of the enemies of Israel. He knew that this would involve the destruction of the Egyptians. And so, his act of killing the Egyptian was not murder but an act of faith. That is, he thought that he would begin his work when he saw one of his brethren wrongfully misused.

Acts 7:25 is clear. Moses was expressing his faith described in Hebrews 11; he was to defend his brethren, one of God’s people. He “avenged” his brethren by smiting the Egyptian because he knew Jehovah Himself would destroy the Egyptians, for he understood the principle laid down by Isaiah many years later: Zion is redeemed through judgment (Isa. 1:27). Thus, I consider the killing of the Egyptian to be an act of faith.

Nevertheless, there is sin involved. Moses’ sin was not the killing of one of Israel’s oppressors, but his sin was taking matters in his own hands and not waiting for Jehovah to perform the work. After all, God had specifically said that He would deliver His people (Gen. 15:13-14).

Whatever may have gone through Moses’ mind is unknown to us. Maybe he could not bear any longer the oppression of his beloved brethren. Maybe he mistakenly thought that, now that he was forty years old, he ought to begin his work of delivering Israel. It seems from Acts 7:25 that he thought his brethren would understand that he was signalling the beginning of the revolt that would lead to Israel’s deliverance. Maybe he was impatient and thought that God was waiting too long, and that he ought to take matters into his own hands. And maybe, even, he had too high an opinion of his own ability to lead Israel out of bondage.

But whatever may have gone through his mind, he failed to do what Scripture tells us we ought to do: Wait on the Lord (cf. Ps. 27:14). The work of delivering Israel had to demonstrate that deliverance is wholly God’s work. How crucial that was for Moses and is now for us. The deliverance of Israel from Egypt was a type of the deliverance of all God’s people from the bondage of sin. To understand this, all we need to do is read the introduction to the law, which law is still valid for us, and in which the Most High reminds His people: “I am the Lord thy God, which have brought thee out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage” (Ex. 20:2).

Only God can do that. He may be pleased to use a man, as He did with Moses. But He does not need any human help in this great work. He can do it all by Himself if He so wishes. What can Moses do? He needed deliverance as much as all Israel. If Jehovah were pleased to give Moses a minor role in this great drama of the ages, even the role Moses would fill could be carried out by him only through the power of faith.

Thus we read in Hebrews 11:27: “By faith he forsook Egypt, not fearing the wrath of the king: for he endured, as seeing him who is invisible.” Although the king sought to execute him for killing an Egyptian, that did not frighten Moses nor cause him to flee. He now understood that it was not yet God’s time to deliver Israel and he was not spiritually ready for such a task. So God sent him far away to Midian so that for forty years he could be moulded and prepared to fulfil his calling when Jehovah Himself would perform His mighty work. Finally, God even had to become angry with him to force Moses to go to Egypt to start his work (Ex. 4:14). When Moses shrunk back from the heavy responsibility of God’s role for him, then Moses was ready to play a part in the Lord’s work. What powerful lessons for us!

Last modified on 26 December 2017
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Additional Info

  • Volume: 14
  • Issue: 7
Hanko, Herman

Prof. Herman Hanko (Wife: Wilma)

Ordained: October 1955

Pastorates: Hope, Walker, MI - 1955; Doon, IA - 1963; Professor to the Protestant Reformed Seminary - 1965

Emeritus: 2001


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