3. A False Start; and a Vision of God
Prince of Egypt though he had become, Moses could not forget that he was a son of Israel first. He had come to forty years, when his heart moved him to go forth among his own people and see their troubles; so he went out among the builders and the brick moulders, and always, as he saw their heavy lot, his anger grew the hotter. Now it happened that one day in a solitary place that he came upon a Hebrew toiling; and the Egyptian overseer lifted his rod and struck the slave. The anger of Moses flared up, and glancing quickly around to see that no one was in sight, he slew the Egyptian and hid his body in the sand. But his hasty deed had been noted never¬theless; for next day, when he attempted to allay a quarrel between two Hebrews, the wrong-doer of the two answered him: “Who made you a prince and a judge over us? Do you intend to kill me, as you killed the Egyptian?”
When Moses heard that, he knew that his life was in peril, for Pharaoh’s rage would be hot against him. Therefore he fled for his life beyond the great frontier wall of Egypt, and southwards into the desert of Sinai. Weary with his journey, he sat and rested by a well-side in the land of Midian. As the evening fell, there came along to the well the seven daughters of Jethro, the priest of Midian, to water their father’s flock; but when they had filled the troughs, some rude, ill-bred shepherds drove the girls away with their sheep. Moses came to the help of the shepherdesses, and put the rough-necks to flight, and watered the sheep; and when the priest’s daughters returned home, they told their father how a strange Egyptian had helped them. “Why have you not brought the man?” said the old priest. “Call him to come and eat with us.”
So Moses came into the house of Jethro, and dwelt there. Eventually the priest wedded him to his daughter Zipporah, and they had a son whom Moses called “Gershorrf,” which means “a stranger here,” because he knew that Midian was only his shelter for a while, and not his home. Many a year he who had been a prince in Egypt dwelt as a shepherd in the land of Midian. Day by day he led the flocks of Jethro to the pastures in the narrow valleys that run up among the splintered cliffs and frowning hills of Sinai. All the time his heart was with his own people in Egypt, and he thought of their misery and their cruel toil. But one greater than he was thinking of them also; and in His own time God showed His servant that He remembered the promises which He had made to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.
This is how it occurred. Moses had brought the flock of Jethro to a valley in the mighty range of Horeb, and, as he sat in the sunlight, and dreamed of the sorrows of his enslaved people, he saw, against the burnt rocks of the mountain-side, the flicker of a moving flame. It rose and fell and waved among the branches and leaves of an acacia bush; yet no branch or leaf seemed the worse for the fire that flickered around them. Then said Moses, “I will turn and see this wonder, why the bush is not burnt.” But as he drew near, the voice of God came from the midst of the burning. “Do not come any closer; take off your sandals, for you are standing upon holy ground.” And Moses knew that the Lord was in the flame.
He covered his face, for he dared not look upon God; and the Lord’s voice spake again. “I have seen the affliction of My people in Egypt, and their sorrows; and I have come down to deliver them and to lead them out of Egypt into a good land, a land flowing with milk and honey. Come, now, and I will send you to Pharaoh that you may bring forth My people, the children of Israel, out of Egypt.”
When Moses heard that word his heart sank, for though the stern and cruel Ramses was dead, yet he knew how terrible a thing it was to face any King of Egypt, who held himself to be a god among human beings. But, in spite of his hesitation, God commanded him go, and meet with the headmen of Israel, and tell them of God’s promise, and urge them to demand from Pharaoh leave to go three days’ journey into the wilderness to sacrifice to the LORD. “I Know”, said the Lord, “that Pharaoh will not let you go, except by force; but I will do wonders upon him and his land, till he dare not keep you.”
In spite of all God’s promises, Moses hung back from this great task, pleading one excuse and then another, until the Lord’s anger was kindled against him. At last he yielded, and God had him take Aaron, his brother, as his companion and his spokesman. So Aaron, at God’s command, came forth from Egypt and met in the wilderness the brother whom he had not seen for so many years; and together, old men now, both of them (for Aaron was eighty-three, and Moses, eighty), set out for Egypt on their great adventure.