You may not have thought about it this way before, but the Bible paints a very interesting picture of the character of Moses before his calling. Of course, the evidence we have comes from the first five books of the Bible – written by Moses himself – but what I would like to look at here is the way Moses is portrayed: the characteristics he displayed and chose to record as opposed to any other traits he may have had. Remember that Moses tells us nothing about his childhood and youth apart from the fact that he was raised by Pharaoh’s daughter (Exodus 2:10). The first time we are given a glimpse into the adult life of this future leader we are told that:
“One day, after Moses had grown up, he went out to where his own people were and watched them at their hard labor. He saw an Egyptian beating a Hebrew, one of his own people. Looking this way and that and seeing no one, he killed the Egyptian and hid him in the sand” (Exodus 2:11-12).
Fighting injustice on the work site
We must understand that this was no simple homicide on Moses’ part. When the text tells us he “looked this way and that and saw no one,” it probably does not mean that he checked to see that he could get away with intervening, but rather that he saw there was no one who would help the man and so intervened himself. We are not given the details, but the furious slave driver may then have turned on Moses who may have killed him in self-defense as well as defense of the slave who was being ruthlessly beaten. We should remember also that the word used of the slave driver’s “beating” of the Hebrew man is makeh – which can have very strong connotations involving injury and even death. Moses stepped in and halted a tyrannical situation that may well have been life-threatening for the man he protected.
Fighting injustice on the street
The very next day we are told that a similar situation arose in which Moses attempted to intervene in an unjust situation: “The next day he went out and saw two Hebrews fighting. He asked the one in the wrong, “Why are you hitting your fellow Hebrew?” (Exodus 2:13). Note that in this case there was no casual argument involved. The expression translated “the one in the wrong” (NIV) in the Hebrew is literally “the wicked one” – clearly an individual who was wrongfully assaulting another Hebrew. But once again Moses stepped in as soon as he saw the altercation and realized what was happening was an unjust situation.
Fighting injustice at the well
Exodus tells us that Moses fled to Midian after this event, when the Pharaoh found out that he had killed an Egyptian taskmaster (Exodus 2:15). In Midian the next recorded incident is that Moses steps in to defend and help a group of women – the daughters of a local shepherd – when they tried to draw water from a well for their sheep: “Some shepherds came along and drove them away, but Moses got up and came to their rescue and watered their flock” (Exodus 2:17).
This is the third and final glimpse we are given into the life and character of Moses before God appears to him in the burning bush and calls him to lead his people out of Egypt. Although this event occurs quite some time after Moses arrived in Midian (see Exodus 2:23, a “long period”), we are not told anything more about his actions during that time – whether he worked hard or cared well for the flocks in his charge or anything else. What we are told – and all we are told – about the life of Moses before God called him to the great work he was given to do is that on three occasions Moses stepped in to fight injustice under various circumstances.
But notice that these incidents do not run from the least to the greatest – they do not show the growing heroism of Moses as an individual. Instead, they run from the most serious offense to the least, so they show his gradual coming to awareness of and willingness to stand up against even small injustices that he encountered.
Perhaps there is a lesson in this. Perhaps Exodus is telling us that God called Moses to free his people because of his growing commitment to fight injustice. Perhaps God knew he could use such a person to fight the great injustice of the slavery of the Hebrews in Egypt. If this is the case, then this is a prime example of how the more we grow in our desire to fight what is wrong and to support what is right, the more God can use us, too.