Stranger in a Foreign Land

Christian MölkFriend of Strangers Leave a Comment

In Exodus chapter 2, we read how Moses the Israelite is rescued by Pharaoh’s daughter and becomes her son.[i] Moses grew up as a prince in Egypt, but knew that he was really an Israelite Hebrew:

10 When the child grew older, she brought him to Pharaoh’s daughter, and he became her son. She named him Moses, “Because,” she said, “I drew him out of the water.” 11One 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. ”

(Ex 2:10-11)

Perhaps Moses thought that one day he would use his influential position as the Pharaoh’s grandson to save his people from Egyptian slavery? If so, in a way Moses was right, it was God’s plan for Moses that God would save Israel through him, but unfortunately Moses jumped ahead of events and took matters into his own hands. It ends in disaster, he kills an Egyptian who had beaten up one of his countrymen, both the Israelites and the Egyptians get upset with him and he is forced to flee to the land of Midian: [ii]

15 When Pharaoh heard of it, he sought to kill Moses. But Moses fled from Pharaoh and stayed in the land of Midian. And he sat down by a well.”

(Ex 2:15)

In the land of Midian, Moses must quickly find food, water, and shelter to survive in the harsh desert climate. He searches for a well and meets seven women there, whom he helps against some troublesome shepherds. If Moses’ pathos of justice were met with skepticism by the Israelites, he is welcomed with open arms by the Midianites.

When the women’s father Jethro, the priest of the land of Midian, hears about Moses the Egyptian, we see once again the culture of hospitality in the Middle East. Jethro invites Moses to his home and, by offering food, shows that Moses is welcome, protected and an accepted part of Jethro’s community. When Moses responds to Jethro’s hospitality by staying with him, he is allowed to marry Jethro’s daughter Zipporah. Together they have a son whom Moses names “Gershom”:[iii]

22 She gave birth to a son, and he called his name Gershom, for he said, “I have been a sojourner in a foreign land.””

(Ex 2:22)

As we saw in chapter 4, the Hebrew word “ger” can be translated as “stranger”, “refugee”, or “guest”, depending on the context. So Moses begins his life by growing up as a prince in the Egyptian palace, becomes a refugee in the land of Midian, is welcomed as a guest by Jethro, but still experiences himself as a stranger. Moses’ choice of name for his firstborn son reveals how deeply the mental journey affected him. Every time Moses called out to his son, he was reminded of his predicament.

In a way, Moses becomes a double refugee, since he had to leave both his homeland Egypt, and the Israelites, the people with whom he identified. Now he is forced to live as a stranger in a foreign land with a foreign religion.

Just as Israel lived as strangers in Egypt for 400 years, Moses will now live the next 40[iv] years of his life as a stranger in Midian. This humbling experience will be for Moses a necessary preparation for the call of God to Moses that will change the entire history of the world:

7 Then the Lord said, “I have surely seen the affliction of my people who are in Egypt and have heard their cry because of their taskmasters. I know their sufferings,8 and I have come down to deliver them out of the hand of the Egyptians and to bring them up out of that land to a good and broad land, a land flowing with milk and honey, to the place of the Canaanites, the Hittites, the Amorites, the Perizzites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites. 9And now, behold, the cry of the people of Israel has come to me, and I have also seen the oppression with which the Egyptians oppress them. 10Come, I will send you to Pharaoh that you may bring my people, the children of Israel, out of Egypt.””

(Ex 3:7-10)

Moses is sent by God back to the palace from which he fled. Moses must confront a pharaoh who wants to kill him and enslave his people. Moses hesitates at first but leaves when he has his brother with him.[v]

But the Moses who returns to the palace he grew up in is a changed man. What did it do to Moses that he had to flee the palace and live as a stranger in another land? What did it do to him to have to leave a well-ordered life, a bright future, and endless resources, and live instead as a poor shepherd in a foreign land?

One thing we can see in Moses’ life is that he was a leader both before and after the escape, but that something changed when he had to flee. Before the flight he was a high representative of the authorities, sent by himself and acting on his own behalf. After the flight he was a representative of the people, sent by God and acting on the Word of God.

Before his escape, he received the best academic leadership training at the Egyptian court from the best teachers the contemporary world had to offer. After the flight, he learned leadership in the desert from the sheep that went looking for water and grass in the land of Midian. Instead of leading and commanding from above as a state authority, Moses became the one who stood on the side of the oppressed and raised his voice for those who had no say in Egyptian society. With the flight, Moses went from being a secular leader of the Egyptians to becoming a spiritual leader of God’s people.

But what would have happened if God had communicated his plan to Moses from the beginning? What if God had told Moses that he would go to Pharaoh and demand Israel’s deliverance by turning a rod into a snake, turning the waters of the Nile into blood, or that all of Israel would walk dry through the Red Sea while Pharaoh’s soldiers drown?

Probably Moses would never have agreed to such a calling because he did not have the patience and it was too strange and distant for a prince of Egypt to behave in such a way. Moses needed to step down from his lofty position and humble himself out in the desert. Moses needed to understand that it was God who would deliver Israel, not Moses.

All Bible stories serve as examples for us today where we can learn how to live our Christian life.[vi] From Moses we can learn that God has a plan for our lives, but that we should not take matters into our own hands, but instead patiently wait for God’s right time. From Moses we can learn that being a refugee humbles us, brings us closer to God and teaches us to lead from the bottom up. We can also learn to trust in God even if we don’t always know exactly everything in his plan, because then we probably wouldn’t have believed in God’s plan for us anyway because it feels too distant. Sometimes God can lead us into a desert period on the run before we are ready to do God’s will and not our own.

You have read a free chapter of my book Friend of Strangers. If you like this book, please consider purchasing the ebook through Amazon. Since English is not my native language, there may be some linguistic inaccuracies. Please contact me if you find any.

Scripture quotations are from The ESV® Bible (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

[i] Ex 2:5–10

[ii] Ex 2:11–15, Ac 7:29

[iii] Probably Gershom became the progenitor of the Levitical house of the Gershonites (Nu 3:21–26).

[iv] Ac 7:30

[v] Ex 4:13–17

[vi] 1Co 10:11

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