"Why did Moses kill the Egyptian?"

Exodus 2:11-12 One day, when Moses had grown up, he went out to his people and looked on their burdens, and he saw an Egyptian beating a Hebrew, one of his people. He looked this way and that, and seeing no one, he struck down the Egyptian and hid him in the sand.

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This passage is our first look at Moses as an adult. His first action (from our perspective) is to murder an Egyptian. Our only context for this act is that the Egyptian was beating an Israelite. While this is clearly wrong, was murder a justified response? The israelites were enslaved by the Egyptians, wouldn't this have been a common sight for Moses? Why is this incident different than the innumerable others he probably witnessed growing up? Why, after this act, does God proceed to bless Moses above all others, and choose him as the leader of the Israelites? Does this not contradict the "Thou shall not kill" commandment Moses receives from God? Why doesn't God punish Moses for murdering the egyptian, or even mention it?

Christian Answers:

  • "Moses’ act of killing the Egyptian ... was not a sin. He knew his calling was to lead Israel from Egypt and the bondage of Pharaoh. He knew that this would involve the destruction of the Egyptians. And so, his act of killing the Egyptian was not murder but an act of faith." ... "Nevertheless, there is sin involved. Moses’ sin was not the killing of one of Israel’s oppressors, but his sin was taking matters in his own hands and not waiting for Jehovah to perform the work." ... "Maybe he could not bear any longer the oppression of his beloved brethren. Maybe he mistakenly thought that, now that he was forty years old, he ought to begin his work of delivering Israel." (PRCA: Did Moses Sin In Killing the Egyptian?)
    • Follow-up Question: Why did the Israelite's freedom require the destruction of the Egyptians? Why would God require violence and murder when he specifically forbids it in the ten commandments?
  • Moses was punished for the killing. "Jewish commentators gloss over the act, or even eulogise it as patriotic and heroical. But it was clearly the deed of a hasty and undisciplined spirit. The offence did not deserve death, and if it had, Moses had neither legal office nor Divine call, justifying him in making himself an executioner. The result was, that, by his one wrong act, Moses put it out of his power to do anything towards alleviating the sufferings of his brethren for forty years." (Bible Hub: Exodus 2:12 Commentaries - Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers)

Jewish Answers:

  • "Moses is clearly not without flaw, as later events will show (Numbers 20). He makes mistakes, lets his anger get the best of him, disobeys and ultimately is punished by God for it." (Faith and Leadership: Moses in midrash)

Secular Answers:

  • "The scholarly consensus is that the figure of Moses is legendary, and not historical, although a 'Moses-like figure may have existed somewhere in the southern Transjordan in the mid-late 13th century B.C.' Certainly no Egyptian sources mention Moses or the events of Exodus-Deuteronomy, nor has any archaeological evidence been discovered in Egypt or the Sinai wilderness to support the story in which he is the central figure."(Wikipedia: Moses Historicity)
  • "Moses murders an Egyptian after making sure that no one is looking." This is a violent and unjust punishment for the Egyptian. (Skeptic's Annotated Bible: Exodus 2:12)
  • Christians seem either unfamiliar with these verses or misled by versions of the tale represented in entertainment such as in the animated film, The Prince of Egypt. In the film the killing is portrayed as an accident. Moses does not look "this way and that" to ensure no one would see him, and he does not hide the body in the sand. If the biblical account was accurate and not a sin then why depict it inaccurately? (The Prince of Egypt)

Referenced Verses:
Exodus 2:11, Exodus 2:12