Did Moses Murder?
By: William J Jackson – https://www.facebook.com/CenterforTanakhBasedStudies
So while witnessing a Hebrew man being beaten by an Egyptian, Moses steps in and kills the Egyptian (Exodus 2:11-12). Isn’t this “murder”, isn’t this against the 6th Commandment? Over the years I have seen this topic “kicked around” but today I just wanted to lay out some facts.
The word used in Exodus 2:11 is “nakah” which is to strike or to smite (Strong’s 5221)
Whereas in Exodus 20:13 when the Lord says “Thou shalt not kill.” the word used is “ratsach” which means to murder or to slay (Strong’s 7523)
Although the use of ratsach and nakah are a convenient way to separate the meanings of intentional killing vs unintentional killing – there are a few exceptions to this rule in Torah. A couple of examples are Duet 4:42 which expresses ratsach as unintentional killing while in Numbers 35:16 nakah is explained as intentional killing. In these cases the specific Hebrew word does not decide between intentional killing and unintentional killing, yet the context does, so in those cases it makes it a contextual issue. It is the same way we use our word killed – i.e. “The Police Officer killed the criminal” verses “the perpetrator killed his victim”. The context delivers the purpose, not the word.
What Moses did, as is determined by the context, was unintentional rather than intentional.
So, what is unintentional killing compared to intentional killing?
Unintentional killing falls into the same category as a word that we see used in our own legal system. Manslaughter – “it’s the crime of killing a person without intending to do so” (Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary 2015)
Whereas; the word “murder” in and of itself, actually means “the unlawful premeditated intentional killing of one human being by another.” (Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary 2015)
Going to a much higher authority than Webster’s, we’ll now turn to Torah. In Numbers 35:16-21 the perimeters for intentional killing are established, whereas Numbers 35:22-23 establishes the rules for unintentional killing.
I find it interesting that these events with Moses foreshadow HaShem’s Laws that will be delivered 40 years latter.
For example in Exodus 2:15 Pharaoh wanted Moses put to death for the killing of the Egyptian man that Moses struck and killed. Moses flees to a city that becomes his refuge. Four decades later this method of protection for unintentional killing is instituted in Exodus 21:13, Duet 4:42 and Numbers 35:25.
Also another point that mimics future events, is Moses returning to Egypt. In Exodus 2:23 Moses’ accuser Pharaoh dies and in Exodus 4:29 we see Moses returning to Egypt. Forty years later in Numbers 35:28 it is instructed that the “slayer” (the one who committed -nakah) goes to his city of refuge and remain there until death of the high priest. At this point the slayer (the one who committed -nakah) may return home.
It is amazing to see how HaShem’s Laws predated it’s delivery at Mount Sinai and how it influenced our law some 3,000 plus years later.
In summary, I believe that Moses’ escape clause is Exodus 21:13 “If it was not premeditated; but an act of God, then I will designate for you a place to which he can flee”
So to wrap this up, our answer is a resounding, No, Moses did not “intentionally” kill the Egyptian man, therefore; Moses is not a murder.