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The Presumption of the Deliverer

11 [a] In those days,[b] when[c] Moses had grown up, he went out to his people[d] and observed[e] their hard labor, and he saw an Egyptian man attacking[f] a Hebrew man, one of his own people.[g] 12 He looked this way and that[h] and saw that no one was there,[i] and then he attacked[j] the Egyptian and concealed the body[k] in the sand. 13 When he went out[l] the next day,[m] there were[n] two Hebrew men fighting. So he said to the one who was in the wrong,[o] “Why are you attacking[p] your fellow Hebrew?”[q]

14 The man[r] replied, “Who made you a ruler[s] and a judge over us? Are you planning[t] to kill me like you killed that[u] Egyptian?” Then Moses was afraid, thinking,[v] “Surely what I did[w] has become known.” 15 When Pharaoh heard[x] about this event,[y] he sought to kill Moses. So Moses fled[z] from Pharaoh and settled in the land of Midian,[aa] and he settled[ab] by a certain well.[ac]

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  1. Exodus 2:11 sn Chapter 1 described how Israel was flourishing in spite of the bondage. Chapter 2 first told how God providentially provided the deliverer, but now when this deliverer attempted to deliver one of his people, it turned out badly, and he had to flee for his life. This section makes an interesting study in the presumption of the leader, what Christian expositors would rightly describe as trying to do God’s work by the flesh. The section has two parts to it: the flight from Egypt over the failed attempt to deliver (vv. 11-15), and Moses’ introduction to life as the deliverer in Midian (vv. 16-22).
  2. Exodus 2:11 sn The expression “those days” refers to the days of bondage.
  3. Exodus 2:11 tn The preterite with the vav (ו) consecutive is here subordinated to the next and main idea of the verse. This is the second use of this verb in the chapter. In v. 10 the verb had the sense of “when he began to grow” or “when he got older,” but here it carries the nuance of “when he had grown up.”
  4. Exodus 2:11 tn Heb “brothers.” This term does not require them to be literal siblings, or even close family members. It simply refers to fellow Hebrews, people with whom Moses has begun to feel close ties of kinship. They are “brothers” in a broad sense, ultimately fellow members of the covenant community.
  5. Exodus 2:11 tn The verb רָאָה (raʾah, “to see”) followed by the preposition bet (ב) can indicate looking on something as an overseer, or supervising, or investigating. Here the emphasis is on Moses’ observing their labor with sympathy or grief. It means more than that he simply saw the way his fellow Hebrews were being treated (cf. 2:25).sn This journey of Moses to see his people is an indication that he had become aware of his destiny to deliver them. This verse says that he looked on their oppression; the next section will say that the Lord looked on it.
  6. Exodus 2:11 tn The verb מַכֶּה (makkeh) is the Hiphil participle of the root נָכָה (nakhah). It may be translated “strike, smite, beat, attack.” It can be used with the sense of killing (as in the next verse, which says Moses hid the body), but it does not necessarily indicate here that the Egyptian killed the Hebrew.
  7. Exodus 2:11 tn Heb “brothers.” This kinship term is used as a means of indicating the nature of Moses’ personal concern over the incident, since the appositional clause adds no new information.
  8. Exodus 2:12 tn The text literally says, “and he turned thus and thus” (וַיִּפֶן כֹּה וָכֹה, vayyifen koh vakhoh). It may indicate that he turned his gaze in all directions to ascertain that no one would observe what he did. Or, as B. Jacob argues, it may mean that he saw that there was no one to do justice and so he did it himself (Exodus, 37-38, citing Isa 59:15-16).
  9. Exodus 2:12 tn Heb “he saw that there was no man.”
  10. Exodus 2:12 sn The verb וַיַּךְ (vayyakh) is from the root נָכָה (nakhah, “to smite, attack”) which is used in v. 11. This new attack is fatal. The repetition of the verb, especially in Exodus, anticipates the idea of “eye for eye, tooth for tooth.” The problem is, however, that Moses was not authorized to take this matter into his own hands in this way. The question the next day was appropriate: “Who made you a ruler and a judge over us?” The answer? No one—yet.
  11. Exodus 2:12 tn Heb “him”; for stylistic reasons the referent has been specified as “the body.”
  12. Exodus 2:13 tn The preterite with the vav consecutive is subordinated to the main idea of the verse.
  13. Exodus 2:13 tn Heb “the second day” (so KJV, ASV).
  14. Exodus 2:13 tn The deictic particle is used here to predicate existence, as in “here were” or “there were.” But this use of הִנֵּה (hinneh) indicates also that what he encountered was surprising or sudden—as in “Oh, look!”
  15. Exodus 2:13 tn The word רָשָׁע (rashaʿ) is a legal term, meaning the guilty. This guilty man rejects Moses’ intervention for much the same reason Pharaoh will later (5:2)—he does not recognize his authority. Later Pharaoh will use this term to declare himself as in the wrong (9:27) and God in the right.
  16. Exodus 2:13 tn This is the third use of the verb נָכָה (nakhah) in the passage; here it is the Hiphil imperfect. It may be given a progressive imperfect nuance—the attack was going on when Moses tried to intervene.
  17. Exodus 2:13 sn Heb “your neighbor.” The word רֵעֶךָ (reʿekha) appears again in 33:11 to describe the ease with which God and Moses conversed. The Law will have much to say about how the Israelites were to treat their “neighbors, fellow citizens” (Exod 20:16-17; 21:14, 18, 35; 22:7-11, 14, 26; cf. Luke 10:25-37).
  18. Exodus 2:14 tn Heb “And he”; the referent (the man) has been specified in the translation for clarity.
  19. Exodus 2:14 tn Heb “Who placed you for a man, a ruler and a judge over us?” The pleonasm does not need to be translated. For similar constructions see Lev 21:9; Judg 6:8; 2 Sam 1:13; Esth 7:6.
  20. Exodus 2:14 tn The line reads “[is it] to kill me you are planning?” The form אֹמֵר (ʾomer) is the active participle used verbally; it would literally be “[are you] saying,” but in this context it conveys the meaning of “thinking, planning.” The Qal infinitive then serves as the object of this verbal form—are you planning to kill me?
  21. Exodus 2:14 tn Heb “the Egyptian.” Here the Hebrew article functions in an anaphoric sense, referring back to the individual Moses killed.
  22. Exodus 2:14 tn The verb form is “and he said.” But the intent of the form is that he said this within himself, and so it means “he thought, realized, said to himself.” The form, having the vav consecutive, is subordinated to the main idea of the verse, that he was afraid.
  23. Exodus 2:14 tn The term הַדָּבָר (haddavar, “the word [thing, matter, incident]”) functions here like a pronoun to refer in brief to what Moses had done. For clarity this has been specified in the translation with the phrase “what I did.”
  24. Exodus 2:15 tn The form with the vav consecutive is here subordinated to the main idea that Pharaoh sought to punish Moses.
  25. Exodus 2:15 tn Heb הַדָּבָר (haddavar, “the word [thing, matter, incident]”) functions here like a pronoun to refer in brief to what Moses had done.
  26. Exodus 2:15 tn The vav (ו) consecutive with the preterite shows result—as a result of Pharaoh’s search for him, he fled.
  27. Exodus 2:15 sn The location of Midyan or Midian is uncertain, but it had to have been beyond the Egyptian borders on the east, either in the Sinai or beyond in the Arabah (south of the Dead Sea) or even on the east side of the Gulf of Aqaba. The Midianites seem to have traveled extensively in the desert regions. R. A. Cole (Exodus [TOTC], 60) reasons that since they later were enemies of Israel, it is unlikely that these traditions would have been made up about Israel’s great lawgiver; further, he explains that “Ishmaelite” and “Kenite” might have been clan names within the region of Midian. For a different point of view, see G. W. Coats, “Moses and Midian,” JBL 92 (1973): 3-10.
  28. Exodus 2:15 tn The verb reads “and he sat” or “and he lived.” To translate it “he sat by a well” would seem anticlimactic and unconnected. It probably has the same sense as in the last clause, namely, that he lived in Midian, and he lived near a well, which detail prepares for what follows.
  29. Exodus 2:15 tn The word has the definite article, “the well.” Gesenius lists this use of the article as that which denotes a thing that is yet unknown to the reader but present in the mind under the circumstances (GKC 407-8 §126.q-r). Where there was a well, people would settle, and as R. A. Cole says it, for people who settled there it was “the well” (Exodus [TOTC], 60).