Moses, a leader of Egyptians and Hebrews? He would be this to both of “his people”—you know, those two nations of which he was a grand leader over yesterday, but in which he would also never belong? Yeah. Those nations. He just failed both of their grandeur expectations and took on the label of “outlaw”: “Now when Pharaoh heard [of the Egyptian taskmaster’s death], he sought to slay Moses. But Moses fled from the face of Pharaoh, and dwelt in the land of Midian” (Exodus 2:15). In fact, he fled immediately, “at the saying” of the Hebrew who told him the event was witnessed (Exodus 2:14; Acts 7:29), meaning, immediately. He didn’t gather his belongings, hug his favorite palace servants, brush his hair, roll up a sleeping bag, or kennel the cat for travel. Right then, right there, he fled as a criminal.
From now on, or for at least the next forty years of his life (exactly double his current age), he would remain far away, second-guessing what he might have done differently. What he might have been. Because, if he, as Acts 2:75 states, already truly believed in his heart that there was a mutual deliverance understanding between himself and Israel, then the sudden redirect in his life would have no doubt been devastating…for both Moses and the Hebrews. One day he’s preparing to inherit the throne and commit the land to a social reformation (as far as they may have believed or expected), and the next, he’s a wanted man, running from the law, incapable of ever rising to power in Egypt again.
But hold on. Just because others obviously would have perceived him as a coward because he fled “from the face of pharaoh,” is that really who Moses was? Might there be another layer of beefy character to Moses that doesn’t depicting him as pulling a total weasel-move and abandoning everyone at this point in his life?
To be fair, there is that bit in Hebrews that comes into play at this point as well. Note that the reflection into Hebrew and Greek that we have maintained up to this point has assisted us in in the clarity-brackets below:
By faith Moses, when he was come to years [a full grown man; the Greek here is “when he became great,” or fully matured in judgment], refused [rather, self-denied] to be called the son of Pharaoh’s daughter [much like a legal emancipation; he did not carry this out formally—he didn’t “sign any papers”—but he never came back to the palace as a son of Bithiah]; Choosing rather to suffer affliction with the people of God, than to enjoy the pleasures of sin for a season [that is, the palace lifestyle would have been a sin had he continued to stay, now that he felt convicted to leave; this should not be interpreted to suggest that his life in the palace during his youth was a sinful arrangement]; Esteeming the reproach of Christ [that is, the forthcoming Messiah, at the time of Moses] greater riches than the treasures in Egypt: for he had respect unto the recompence of the reward. By faith he forsook Egypt, not fearing the wrath of the king: for he endured, as seeing him who is invisible. (Hebrews 11:24–27)
So…which was it? Was he a coward, fleeing “from the face of pharaoh” on a murder charge, leaving his poor bloodline to wallow in slavery and doing nothing about it to save his own hide? Or was he, like Hebrews states, “not fearing the wrath of the king,” suddenly and boldly choosing to cast off the pleasures of the palace, become a pious ascetic, and throw himself into the afflictions of his people like a martyr…all while he just so happened to coincidently, conveniently, need to find a place and lay low for a while?
Well, that isn’t exactly what Hebrews states. And no, there’s more to it than that. This does puzzle some, though, so let’s look at the timing.
Briefly, understand the context. Hebrews chapter 11 is called the “Hall of Faith” or “Faith Hall of Fame” for a reason. The writer reflects on quite a few heroes of the Old Testament in a long list, blasting the audience with one triumphant act of faith after another by those whose reliance upon God assisted in building our very religion. The writer starts with Abel (the first martyr) and goes through the biggies—Enoch, Noah, Abraham, Sarah, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, our man Moses, Joshua, Rahab, Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, David, and Samuel—before addressing several others through their stories, though not by name. All of these in one chapter of the Word. These moments of transitioning from one character to another, and therefore one epoch of time to another, are marked by the words, “By faith.” So, as you’re reading, each time you see “By faith,” you know you’ve jumped considerably in the timeline.
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So yes, Moses did fear the face of pharaoh, but in healthy context of what Scripture describes, the reason he feared the king was because Moses’ own death would have cut off the deliverer from his people! By the time we get to verse 27 in the Hall of Faith, we are no longer talking about a forty-year-old Moses who just left (as we were the last three verses, 24–26); we are seeing a new era when Moses, age eighty now, has now completely forsaken all of Egypt and what it stands for in light of an invisible God whose wrath is far more fearsome than that of the pharaoh. Put more simply: 1) Moses feared the pharaoh at the events described in Hebrews 11:24–26; 2) then we took a time leap, marked by the words “By faith”; 3) then Moses no longer feared the pharaoh during the events described in Hebrews 11:27 (forty years later), which we have yet to talk about. (As a quick aside: For the skeptics online who got excited when they thought they found “a contradiction in the Bible,” we want to encourage you: If at first you don’t succeed, try and try again. The longer you look and the harder you try means the more convicting Word of God you’ve put into your mind, and that can’t ever be a bad thing. Just one pointer, though… You may want to research your claim at least a little before you make videos about it, if you want to be taken seriously.)
As for why Moses is depicted in Hebrews as choosing to leave Egypt as a matter of conviction and Exodus 2:15 depicting it as a “flee” situation, the answer isn’t actually as hard to locate as we may initially think. Scholars have long since figured this out, and the short answer is linked to a key event: Exodus 2:11.
Remember earlier when we talked about how Moses, though obviously aware of the slavery and the torment of his people, had no idea how bad it was until he visited them, “looked on their burdens,” and then saw that beating? Scripture doesn’t allow for any time between “looking on burdens” (realizing the extent of their torment) and taking in that shocking “Egyptian smiting an Hebrew” event. Moses is blasted with a lot of very demoralizing information all at once, then he outright kills a guy, which could mess with anybody. But as we are told by Exodus 2:11’s parallel verse over in Acts 7:23, none of this was Moses’ idea: “And when he was full forty years old, it came into his heart to visit his brethren the children of Israel.” It wasn’t Moses just casually out for a stroll. The event was preordained. Of every research material we could exhaustively quote from on this end, it’s unanimous that the means by which “it came into his heart” to check on his people was the Spirit of God, not by any ordinary human impulse driven by emotion or curiosity. It was Moses’ Divine calling as a deliverer to the people that he would be led to them on this day, be encumbered instantly on the inside by the sight of their burden, then have this imprint stamped in his mind by the sight of a brother killed under the scourge.
God showed him this. Jehovah Almighty inspired Moses to go out and see the state that his slave brethren were in. (Note that we are not saying God led Moses to kill.)
From there, the Word says, Moses had an entire night to think about it. All night to process, and to consider the evils of the world that he had seen enacted upon his poor people. Every moment, from the time he hid that body in the sand to the time he knew his crime had been witnessed, was a moment he had to think about who he was: who he was to God, to the Egyptians, to the Israelites, to his mother and father Jochebed and Amram, to Bithiah, to the royals in the court of pharaoh…to everyone he had ever known, each of whom, Moses knew, had their own expectations. As the sun went down on one day and rose on another, Moses, who was led by the Spirit of God to see the oppression he saw, was still being convicted by that same Lord. There is no doubt in the minds of these authors (and many within the current and past world of academia) that the emotional and spiritual posture of Moses as described in Hebrews 11:24–26 had been taken on during this brief interlude of time. (Realistically speaking, that is the only place in the timeline this realization can take place. He wouldn’t have chosen to leave before the event in Exodus 2:11, because he wasn’t yet aware of what he would need to be deeply aware of in order to take on the maturity of his feelings as described in Hebrews 11:24–26. But he couldn’t have chosen to leave after the murder was discovered, as he left immediately and was on the run.)
So, beautifully, albeit indirectly, we are here given a sneak peek into the evening of that tragic day…
He had never known before how bad it was out there for his brothers and sisters, and now he had his wake up call. He was ready now—even before he went to see the Hebrews again, he had begun to feel the winds of change rising within him, his spirit and heart alerting his senses that it was time to stop waiting and do something about Israel. While he was a child, he talked like a child and perceived like a child, but now a man of forty, a man of fully matured judgment, he was obligated for the sake of God and man to put away childish things and concede to the duty bound through the deeper knowledge of these dual cultures in which he had been divinely exposed to for a lifetime. No longer could he stay in the palace while they were whipped and beaten outside. No longer could he accept being referred to as “the prince of Egypt,” unless that title produced lasting relief for God’s elect. The time had come, as he now felt in his spirit, that if it meant he would have to suffer, submitting himself to the afflictions of his people, he would rather that than to be enticed to stay for a promise of palace-life convenience.
Such would be sin. And the weight of that realization was dawned.
So, that very grave night, the same day that Moses witnessed a murder and himself ended a life in retort, he chose to either leave Egypt or use his office for the purpose of deliverance. The thoughts of either challenging the head of Egypt, or emancipating himself from them, had taken deep root, and now it would be a matter of enacting what he was convicted to do.
The next day, before he had a chance to make any other move, it was brought to his attention that someone had seen him kill, and pharaoh would be out for blood. He feared for his life with a holy fear, a profound desperation to ensure that the action he had taken with the slave driver couldn’t cut short the deliverer of all Israel…
…and then—and only then, after he had already made the decision to act upon his fresh convictions—did he flee from the face of pharaoh.[i]
Why do you readers think he left so instantaneously? He was ready for such a departure…and in such a way that “ready” would never depend on a suitcase.
But despite the strong convictions behind it, his choice to leave most definitely created a buzz in both the Egyptian and the Israelite camps. It may not be expressly written in Scripture, but how could that not be what happened?
Here you have an entire nation of slaves watching one of their own grow up in the palace of the man who has the authority to free them, waiting and wondering of this Mr. Drawn from the Water guy just might be the means by which their deliverance from hell-on-earth will come, and then he kills someone and runs away. Not only that, but word on the street—at least from one Hebrew whose comment led to Moses’ retreat—is that the kill was a murder! Moses wasn’t going to stick around and explain himself while the pharaoh was in hot pursuit, so we can assume that even if there were groups of Hebrews that refused to believe their anointed deliverer was capable of homicide, there were others who were probably tearing their clothes and cursing the day Moses was born. The massive disappointment some of them must have felt is beyond anything we can think to compare in our modern, Western world.
And according to the Egyptians, there was no doubt what their laws would decide of what Moses had done. They neither had, nor would’ve cared, about rules/laws of justification that the Jews followed. No doubt, the story they were telling was that their prince had murdered a fellow Egyptian in cold blood and fled the country.
Whether it was true or not—and biblically the case has been made that it was not true—Moses was now Mr. Coward.
The deliverer of the slave-nation was a killer and a coward.
The Ten Commandment-man—the very man who would go on to deliver “Thou shalt not kill” as both a law and a means of proving one’s integrity to God—was wanted for murder.
(Have we mentioned yet that Moses was a misfit?)
UP NEXT: And that was only the beginning…
[i] Though this order can’t be proven, if these authors are wrong in our breakdown of what happened, how it happened, and when it happened in this fuzzy, Hebrews-versus-Exodus section on Moses’ life, then so are a collection of about fifty authors/scholars/theologians whose books and writings were consulted before we made these estimates. Rather than to create a lengthy and distracting list of citations here, which would involve at least another “chapter’s length” of what we found and where, who compared to who in the academic world, how denominational interpretations differed and led us to other conclusions and so on, the readers are encouraged to look back on all the citations we have provided in this area. These are all readily available, free online, and—though they often to not specifically state the conclusion we made about the night of Moses’ murder being the same night he took on the posture of Hebrews 11:24–26—the collectively come to nearly identical conclusions once the whole of their writings on Moses are considered.