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In Exo. 2:12, it is written,

12 So he looked this way and that way, and when he saw no one, he killed the Egyptian and hid him in the sand. NKJV, 1982

יב וַיִּפֶן כֹּה וָכֹה וַיַּרְא כִּי אֵין אִישׁ וַיַּךְ אֶת-הַמִּצְרִי וַיִּטְמְנֵהוּ בַּחוֹל

Black’s Law Dictionary defines “murder” as:

The crime committed where a person of sound mind and discretion (that is, of sufficient age to form and execute a criminal design and not legally “insane”) kills any human creature in being (excluding quick but unborn children) and in the peace of the state or nation (including all persons except the military forces of the public enemy in time of war or battle) without any warrant, justification, or excuse in law. with malice aforethought, express or implied, that is, with a deliberate purpose or a design or determination distinctly formed in the mind before the commission of the act, provided that death results from the injury Inflicted within one year and a day after its infliction.

(I understand the above definition is modern, and thus its application to the time of Moses could be anachronistic, but I don't believe the biblical definition of murder is any different than our modern one, hence my question. For those who believe otherwise, perhaps you could specify how our modern definition of murder is different than the biblical definition.)

Did Moses commit murder?

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3 Answers 3

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Under Jewish law he did not commit murder. The Egyptian was in Talmudic parlance a rodef -- a pursuer; i.e. one who was trying to kill another person or persons. In such instances, the pursued have the right to self-defense. Rava coined the , and third-parties have the right to kill the pursuer. Rava coined the famous Talmudic dictum (Babyl. Talmud, Sanhedrin 72a), "If someone comes to kill you, rise up and kill him first." This principle is not limited to acts of selfdefense, but obligates a third party to save a victim from his pursuant, even if this requires killing the pursuer (Sanhedrin 73a): "If one chases after his fellow to kill him, it is permitted to save the chased at the expense of the life of the pursuer." An important point is that if deadly force is not necessary to stop the pursuer, then the pursued or the third-party are obligated to use appropriate force. See Maimonedes (Mishna Torah, Rotze'ach 1:13). But as noted, if killing the rodef is essential to save another life, then the person who kills the rodef is exempt from punishment because the rodef would have been liable to the death penalty for the murder he intended, and his death is considered his punishment.

Where the verse says that Moses looked in both directions and saw "no man." Rashi says that you could rely on the plain meaning and say he looked to see if there were witnesses before he killed the Egyptian. While killing the Egyptian would be permitted under Jewish law, under the law of Egypt, the Egyptian was within his rights and Moses was not. However, Rashi also points to a midrash which explains that Moses uses his powers of prophecy to see whether the Egyptian would have any significant descendants who were meant to join the Jews, and saw that there were none.

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  • Good answer, Bruce James. According to you (i.e., the sources you cite), the Egyptian was a rodef, I assume, based on the phrase וַיַּרְא אִישׁ מִצְרִי מַכֶּה אִישׁ עִבְרִי in Exo. 2:11, in particular, מַכֶּה, Hif'il conjugation of the verb נָכָה. However, in Exo. 2:13, another event occurs, in which we find the phrase וַיֹּאמֶר לָֽרָשָׁע לָמָּה תַכֶּה רֵעֶךָ, in particular the verb תַכֶּה, again, the Hif'il conjugation of the verb נָכָה.
    – user862
    Commented Nov 5, 2014 at 23:05
  • So, my question is, why was the Egyptian (Exo. 2:11) considered a rodef, and thus killed by Moses, while the one Hebrew [smiting the other Hebrew] (Exo. 2:13) wasn't considered a rodef and killed by Moses when he came upon him, when "third-parties have the right to kill the pursuer," especially under Jewish law?
    – user862
    Commented Nov 5, 2014 at 23:05
  • Simple: the Hebrew men were merely brawling; the Egyptian was possibly killing the Hebrew man. Commented Nov 5, 2014 at 23:13
  • You infer that based on Moses' action, right?
    – user862
    Commented Nov 5, 2014 at 23:19
  • I read Exo. 2:14 and it seems to imply that the actions were the same --- similar enough for the Hebrew man to ask Moses, "הַלְהָרְגֵנִי אַתָּה אֹמֵר כַּאֲשֶׁר הָרַגְתָּ אֶת־הַמִּצְרִי"? (Basically, "Do you intend to kill me like you killed the Egyptian?") Why assume Moses would kill him for just brawling (and not "possibly killing" his brother)? Anyway, just some thoughts I had. The answer was fine though.
    – user862
    Commented Nov 5, 2014 at 23:25
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Why attempt to negate what is obvious? Moses murdered an egyptian murderer. Scan the scriptures. The hebrews were suffering and were treated like slaves. The Bible does not provide all the details but they were suffering, were mistreated, exploited and very likely, some were murdered or died of exhaustion. Moses, by murdering without the order explicit from Jehovah God Almighty, commited sin by breaking God's command: "you shall not commit murder". At that time, Moses did not know God's Law. But in the eyes of God, a murder is a sin, and every sin is a CRIME. Yet we all, being sinfull, God sent our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, who received instead of us the punishment we all deserve. This is to show that God had pity of us, and showed His Love and forgiveness to all those of us who have repented and accepted the Gift of Salvation in Jesus Christ. So God also forgave Moses for that crime because Moses repented.

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God declares Moses as his loyal one, and praises Moses all over the Torah, so how could Moses be a murderer or do something unlawful? I mean how can God praise Moses if he did such unlawful sin?

While it says on God

“...for all his ways are just. He is a reliable God who is never unjust, he is fair and upright.” (Deuteronomy 32:4, NETfree)

Also when Moses sinned by hitting the stone to bring water, that sin counts so much, and the cause for Moses not to enter the Holy Land, but a larger sin like murdering does not count?? And if Moses really sinned by murdering, why isn't it mentioned that he repented?

So you must say that the egyptian was guilty and had sinned, and deserved a death penalty. He was not a "rodef" because it does not seem that he planned to kill that Israelite, he just hit him. How can we know what was the sin of that egyptian? Well the Torah reveals that later on...

“Now an Israelite woman's son whose father was an Egyptian went out among the Israelites, and the Israelite woman's son and an Israelite man had a fight in the camp.” (Leviticus 24:10, NETfree)

We know that there were no inter-martiage between Israelites and Egyptians, so how can it be? The solution is that the egyptian that Moses killed is the same egyptian here, and he came at night and raped that woman, and at day time he bullied the husband, and Moses witnessed it all.

You can find this in Rashi on Leviticus 24:10 and also more detailed in Rashi on Exodus 2:11

Besides of the above, it is well known among the jews (Rashi mentions it.) that Moses killed the egyptian with his mouth, as it says in Isaiah 11:4

“But with righteousness He will judge the poor, And decide with fairness for the afflicted of the earth; And He will strike the earth with the rod of His mouth, And with the breath of His lips He will slay the wicked.” (Isaiah 11:4, NASB)

This is the reason that afterwards when he saw two Israelites fighting, one of them told him (Ex 2:14)

הלהרגני אתה אמר כאשר הרגת את המצרי

Which literally means

"Is it in order to kill me that you say, just like you killed the egyptian."

So I do not think you can call it a murder.

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  • The Bible does not offer explicit judgement on most of the events in its narratives. I don't think we can say that it wasn't murder or that God praised this killing by Moses just because it wasn't the reason Moses was forbidden from entering the land. Indeed, does God praise Moses at this point in time? This is long before Moses had an interaction with God, he may not yet be a follower of God at all. You are positing a rape with no evidence to excuse a wrongful act but Moses.
    – curiousdannii
    Commented Oct 3, 2022 at 8:29
  • I am not inventing this, I explain the rational behind this claim that was made by jewish sages, or it can be even oral tradition. Please see Rashi on Leviticus 24:10 , Exodus 2:22 before you down vote.
    – Kapandaria
    Commented Oct 3, 2022 at 10:28
  • Sorry Exodus 2:11
    – Kapandaria
    Commented Oct 3, 2022 at 10:33
  • @curiousdannii Dannii Willis have you saw Rashi? Can you revert your downvote please?
    – Kapandaria
    Commented Oct 6, 2022 at 16:56
  • Rashi lived some 3000 years later, so I don't consider him a reputable witness for an otherwise unwitnessed event. And you shouldn't accuse others of downvoting, votes are private for good reason
    – curiousdannii
    Commented Oct 6, 2022 at 21:17