11 ¶ 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. 12 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. 13 And when he went out the second day, behold, two men of the Hebrews strove together: and he said to him that did the wrong, Wherefore smitest thou thy fellow? 14 And he said, Who made thee a prince and a judge over us? intendest thou to kill me, as thou killedst the Egyptian? And Moses feared, and said, Surely this thing is known. 15 Now when Pharaoh heard this thing, he sought to slay Moses. But Moses fled from the face of Pharaoh, and dwelt in the land of Midian: and he sat down by a well.
Now, we have evidence that, unlike in a recent movie perversion of this Bible story, Moses’ past and ethnicity were not kept from him. He went out to see the burdens placed on his brethren. He had not grown up ignorant of who he was and where he came from. We don’t know how this played out in his life, if he was mocked or derided because of who he was or if the protection of his adopted mother, Pharaoh’s daughter, prevented that.
He saw an Egyptian hitting a Hebrew, one of his brethren, and thinking no one saw him, killed the Egyptian and buried his body. Clearly, Moses’ upbringing did not keep him from rage at the injustice being done to his brethren. Like one of the slave rebels in the Southern United States before the Civil War such as Nat Turner or Denmark Vesey, to a lesser extent, his rage manifested itself in violence. Moses’ act did not seem to involve premeditation, though, except that he looked first to see if he was being observed and mistakenly thought he was not.
A lesson is learned here for us that even when a member of a despised race is given privilege in the oppressor culture it does not necessarily prevent them from empathizing with their own people in their suffering. It’s a blood thing.
Moses, the next day, cannot understand, as many African-American activists like Malcolm X have commented on, why the Hebrews who are beaten down resort to beating each other. But, instead of understanding he gets the accusation thrown in his face, the acknowledgement that he is guilty of murder. There were witnesses.
Here in verse 14 we have a way the Bible defines itself presented to us as well as evidence of the authority of an ancient ruler to lead and to judge. See in this verse that a prince and a judge are synonyms. Note the cross-reference here as the martyr, Stephen, inserts ruler for prince in this allusion to verse 14;
Acts 7:27 But he that did his neighbour wrong thrust him away, saying, Who made thee a ruler and a judge over us?
This combined the roles of political leader and judge of civil matters is something we have separated in our form of government. The Founders of America, basing the idea of separation of powers on the writings of the French political writer and Enlightenment philosopher Baron de Montesquieu in his book The Spirit of Laws, fell upon this idea as essential to good governing. But, in the ancient world the absolute ruler was not only a leader but he made laws and judged cases. See this reference to God Himself in Isaiah.
Isaiah 33:22 For the LORD is our judge, the LORD is our lawgiver, the LORD is our king; he will save us.
The God of creation is the absolute ruler of the universe from whom flows all the laws of physics and, indeed, all reality, and from whom there is no appeal. We can only seek His favor, His blessing, His kindness, and His mercy.
It probably did not take much to give the Pharaoh a justification to kill this Hebrew upstart whom his daughter saved against his will and command years before. But, Moses fled to the desert, to the land of Midian.
Midian was the son of Abraham and Keturah, his wife after Sarah died. Strong, in his dictionary, calls them Arabs. Some authorities say they dwelt in the northwestern Arabian peninsula on the east coast of the Gulf of Aqaba, on the northeastern tip of the Red Sea. This will be important later for the exodus from Egypt. As the earth continued and continues even today to dry out from the disaster of the Great Flood this desert region may have had more vegetation then than it does today.
Paleoclimatologists who study evidence of ancient weather suggest that it was greener and wetter in years past than it is now. Some of what are thought of as the oldest human remains have been found there.
In the Bible, a desert is a wilderness, with sparse populations of humans or none at all. See the synonymous relationship between desert and wilderness with solitary and dry and desolate.
Exodus 19:2 For they were departed from Rephidim, and were come to the desert of Sinai, and had pitched in the wilderness; and there Israel camped before the mount.
Deuteronomy 32:10 He found him in a desert land, and in the waste howling wilderness; he led him about, he instructed him, he kept him as the apple of his eye.
Isaiah 35:1 The wilderness and the solitary place shall be glad for them; and the desert shall rejoice, and blossom as the rose.
Jeremiah 50:12 Your mother shall be sore confounded; she that bare you shall be ashamed: behold, the hindermost of the nations shall be a wilderness, a dry land, and a desert.
And here, in this passage of prophecy against Israel that defines what without form, and void from Genesis 1:2 means, the unstable and empty earth, a wilderness, we see;
Jeremiah 4:23 I beheld the earth, and, lo, it was without form, and void; and the heavens, and they had no light. 24 I beheld the mountains, and, lo, they trembled, and all the hills moved lightly. 25 I beheld, and, lo, there was no man, and all the birds of the heavens were fled. 26 I beheld, and, lo, the fruitful place was a wilderness, and all the cities thereof were broken down at the presence of the LORD, and by his fierce anger. 27 For thus hath the LORD said, The whole land shall be desolate; yet will I not make a full end.
Today, this area is called the Tabuk province or region, one of the 13 provinces of Saudi Arabia.