Moses in Midian

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Moses grew to be a man of noticeable strength. This strength in fact led him to kill another man. In the Bible, Moses is portrayed as having murdered an Egyptian whom he saw beating one of his Israelite ‘foster’ brothers.

“He went out to his brethren to see how they were being burdened, and saw an Egyptian beating a Hebrew.  So he looked this way and that, and, when he saw that nobody was around, killed the Egyptian and buried him in the sand.” (Exodus 2:11-12)

This account shows that his action, though provoked by what he had seen, had an element of premeditation.  In the Quranic version of the same event, he is portrayed as killing the Egyptian unintentionally when he went to aid his brother Israelite in a fight.

“The one from his own people asked him to help him against his enemy, so Moses struck him with his fist, which killed him.  He said, ‘This is the work of Satan, who is definitely a misleading enemy.’  He prayed, ‘O my Lord, I have wronged myself, so please forgive me!...’” (Quran 28:15-16)

His reaction to killing the Egyptian shows that it was done without having intended it, and he went on to promise never to support a wrongdoer in gratitude for God’s bounties bestowed upon him.  Two things are clear from this.  Moses was a believer in One God, the Lord of the worlds, even before he received revelation, just like both his mothers, and this despite being brought up at court.  Furthermore, he knew he had transgressed when he killed a man, even though, as he supposed, the man was a disbeliever and he did so while supporting a believer.  The next day, however, the same Israelite asked for his help again in a similar situation.  In the Bible, he was fighting another Israelite, but in the Quran it was another ‘enemy to them both.’[1]  This time, as he approached to break up the fight, Moses said to the man asking for help, ‘Verily, you are plainly a misleader.’[2]  Thinking he was about to hit him, the Israelite said:

“O Moses!  Will you slay me today as you slew a living soul yesterday?  You just want to be a tyrant in the land, and shy away from being one of the righteous.” (Quran 28:19)

The Bible says almost the same, the Israelite asking:

“Who made you a Judge or a Prince over us?”[3]

In the Bible, Moses only suspected that the rumor had reached the Pharaoh, but in the Quran, a man came to warn him that the Pharaoh was going to punish him for murder, and advised him to escape.  The result was that he fled Egypt and headed west, to Midian.

Moses in Midian
Upon his arrival, he came across several groups drawing water from a well to water their flocks.  The Bible mentions that seven women customarily came to the well to water their father’s sheep, but were driven away from it on this occasion by some shepherds who wanted to water their sheep first.  The Quran, however, mentions that only two women were present, holding back their sheep.  The reason for holding back would have been twofold, practical and moral: to prevent their sheep from getting mixed up with the men’s flocks, and to modestly refrain from mixing with the men themselves.  Moses asked them:

“‘…What’s the matter?’  The two women said, ‘We cannot draw water until the shepherds have gone away, and our father is a very old man.’” (Quran 28:23)

According to some reports, the shepherds would place a huge stone lid on the well when they were not using it, and this is what they did when they left.  Moses removed that stone (which normally needed several men to shift) alone, watered the women’s sheep for them, and then replaced it.[4]  This feat of extraordinary strength did not escape the notice of the women, who would tell their father of it later.  He then prayed aloud to God:

“…My Lord!  I am in need of any good that You can send me.” (Quran 28:24)

His prayer was answered when the sisters’ father sent for him in order to reward him.  The Quran eloquently describes the invitation:

One of the women he had helped “came walking modestly”.  That is to say, in a genteel manner that concealed, rather than revealed, her physical attractiveness.  She said, “My father invites you so that he may reward you for drawing water for us.”[5]  The Bible leaves the rest of the story of the encounter out, but the Quran gives an extra hint.  The woman said, when they arrived at her home, “O my father, hire him!  Surely he best of employable persons are those who are strong and trustworthy.”[6]  The companions of the Prophet explained that when her father asked her how she knew Moses was as she described, she told him of his feat in lifting the stone lid on and off the well mouth and the fact that, when she began to lead him home, he had told her to walk behind him and throw a pebble into the path he was to follow whenever the trail forked.  This meant that he did not ogle women or even desire to be attracted to their voices, which she took as a sign of trustworthiness.

So the father offered Moses an indenture of eight to ten years as his shepherd in return for room, board and clothing, and to marry him to his daughter, Ziporrah.[7]  According to Ibn Abbas, Moses fulfilled ten years service, and then left with his family.  The Bible, however, says he managed the father’s business for forty years, and then had to seek permission to leave after he had received his first revelation from the burning bush.[8]

God Speaks to Moses
The Quran says:

“When Moses had fulfilled the term (he contracted) and was traveling with his family, he saw a fire in the direction of Mt. Toor.  He said to his family, ‘Wait (here)!  I have seen a fire.  Perhaps I can bring you news from there, or a firebrand to warm yourselves.’  When he reached it, he was called from a tree on the right side of the valley in that blessed place…” (Quran 28:29-30)[9]

The Quran reports the words heard by Moses more fully in certain verses.

“Blessed is whosoever is in the fire, and whosoever is around it, and Glory be to God, the Lord of the worlds.  O Moses.  Verily it is I, God, the Almighty and all-Wise.” (Quran 27:8-9)

“Verily, I am your Lord, so take off your shoes; you are in the sacred valley of Tuwa.  I have chosen you, so listen to that which will be revealed.  Verily, I am God, there is no God but Me; so worship Me and establish the prayer for my remembrance.  Verily, the hour is coming, but My Will is to keep it hidden so that every soul may be rewarded for how it strives (Quran 20:12-15)”

This first revelation for Moses contains a very important lesson about monotheism.  The first duty a believer has is to know there is only One God worthy of receiving worship from his creatures, and that there are no other gods to act as intermediaries or partners.  The second is that humans must single Him out alone in worship.  The third is that the regular establishment of prayer will keep the line of Divine Help open because one will be constantly reminded of God.  The final duty is to make every act for the sake of God, and as if it will be the last act in our life, for upon that we will be judged when the Day of Judgment arrives.  And we do not know when we will die, nor when the Day will be, because it is concealed by God from us.

It is this message that Moses was to be ordered to remind the Children of Israel, and bring to the Pharaoh and his people.  This mission will be the subject of the next part.

[1] Quran 28:19.

[2] Quran 28:18.

[3] Exodus 2:14.

[4] Ibn Kathir Qasas al-Anbiya; English translation, by R.A.Azimi; Pub. Darussalam, 2003; p. 332: The Story of Moses 

[5] Quran 28:25.

[6] Quran 28:26

[7] This is the name given to her in the Bible, Exodus 2:21.

[8] Exodus 4:18.

[9] In the Bible, the address of God to Moses dwells on reminding the children of Israel of their God, and promising to replace their servitude to the Pharaoh with a land of their own ‘flowing with milk and honey’.  When asked Who Moses should say had sent him to them, God told him: “I am that I am … the Lord God of your fathers, Of Abraham, of Isaac and of Jacob: This is my name and this is my memorial forever.” Exodus 3:14-5

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