Just Moses

Scripture: Exodus 2:11-22

Title: Just Moses


  • Introduction
  • Punitive justice
  • Restorative justice
  • Social justice
  • Conclusion


“Peace without justice is tyranny”  [1]

Please turn with me to Exodus chapter 2, verse 11, page 60, near the beginning of your pew Bibles

  • Today we continue our series on Moses in the book of Exodus
  • I’ve given this morning’s sermon the title ‘Just Moses’
  • Partly because we see Moses on his own quite a bit in this reading
  • But also because, in this passage, Moses realises that the peace Egypt enjoys is a false peace – it is in fact tyranny for it is peace without justice
  • From verse 11 of chapter 2 we read…

 Read Exodus 2:11-22


May the Spirit of Jesus illuminate this Scripture for us

In this reading Moses demonstrates three kinds of justice…

  • Punitive justice, restorative justice and social justice

Punitive justice:

Scales of Justice

On the wall here is a picture of a woman (a virgin actually) holding a sword in one hand and set of scales in the other

  • Who can tell me what this symbolises? [Wait]
  • Yes, that’s right – it is a symbol of justice

The virgin woman represents purity and innocence

  • While the scales represent even handedness or fairness – the idea of weighing the evidence equitably so that justice is served
  • But also the idea of making sure the punishment measured out is in balance with the crime committed
  • The sword represents not only the power to punish but also the precision to clearly separate the issues in dispute


This image finds resonance with the Bible in a number of respects…

Quite often in the Bible wisdom is personified as a woman

  • And wisdom is what is needed for rulers to exercise justice
  • Hence it is a woman (the symbol of wisdom) holding the scales of justice

The Bible also talks about the importance of using honest scales and in not going overboard with punishment

  • In Matthew’s gospel Jesus indicated that God’s justice fits the crime, when he said…
  • The measure you use for others is the measure God will use for you  [2]

Likewise, in the book of Hebrews, God’s word is described as a double edged sword separating the thoughts and attitudes of the heart, [3] so an accurate and fair judgment can be made

  • And of course, the sword is also a metaphor of punishment
  • In his letter to the Romans, Paul talks about the government having a God given role in executing punitive justice…
  • For he does not bear the sword for nothing. He [the government] is God’s servant, an agent of wrath to bring punishment on the wrong doer.

In Exodus 2 we read how an adult Moses went out to visit his people

  • Moses you will remember had been raised with the royal Egyptian family after Pharaoh’s daughter took him under her wing to protect him
  • Moses’ upbringing had been a relatively privileged one
  • He received the best education available and never wanted for a thing
  • So he wasn’t treated like a slave as his Hebrew kin were
  • And this was probably necessary for God’s purpose
  • To be effective in leading Israel out of slavery Moses needed to think like a freeman – not like a slave

It is quite significant really that Moses sent himself

  • He could have stayed in the comfort of the palace
  • He could have sent a servant to check things out and bring back a report
  • He could have given money
  • But he didn’t – Moses gave himself and that takes courage

This reminds us of Jesus who left heaven and came to earth to give himself

When Moses saw the suffering of his own people

  • And when he saw an Egyptian kill a Hebrew he felt compelled to act
  • In quite a deliberate & premeditated way Moses looked around to see no one was watching & then killed the offender, hiding his body in the sand

Some people are a bit hard on Moses at this point – they say he was an angry young man or that he was impetuous and lacked self-control

  • I don’t think we should be too quick to judge Moses though
  • The text doesn’t actually say Moses was angry – although it is reasonable to infer that he was
  • It takes a lot to kill a man and it is hard to imagine Moses not feeling anything here
  • Whatever he may have felt I don’t think Moses had a problem with anger
  • I think he had a problem with injustice – he had no tolerance for it
  • And that is actually a good thing. As Benjamin Franklin said…

Justice will not be served until those who are unaffected are as outraged as those who are.”

Many of us were brought up with this idea that anger is always bad and we must never get angry because that suggests we are bad

  • And to be fair, anger is bad when it’s misplaced – when we take our rage out on some innocent third party
  • But outrage is not wrong in itself – it can be an appropriate response to injustice
  • If you cut yourself you bleed, if you see injustice you feel angry
  • I think God made us like himself, to be disturbed by injustice
  • So that we will be motivated to do something about it

It appears Moses was affected by the injustice he saw

  • He wanted to restore some balance to the scales of justice
  • So he killed the Egyptian as a punishment
  • We might call this punitive justice – justice which makes things even by taking something away

The Law of Moses would later include elements of punitive justice

  • An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth
  • The idea here is not so much to enforce a punishment as it is to limit the extent of the punishment
  • To ensure that people don’t go overboard in carry out their vengeance

Punitive justice is not ideal in that it takes something away

  • It’s a lose / lose scenario – no one wins
  • ‘An eye for eye will make the whole world blind’ [4] – as they say

Having said that, punitive justice will probably always be necessary, at least until Christ returns

  • It can be a deterrent for many people
  • And it may placate people’s anger for a time
  • But it doesn’t have the power to transform people
  • Punitive justice, by its very nature, influences people by external force
  • Genuine transformation comes from the inside, not from the outside

By killing the Egyptian Moses didn’t really achieve much – there would be plenty more task masters just as brutal to replace the one Moses eliminated

  • And the result for Moses was a loss of freedom
  • Moses was forced into exile and obscurity by his actions

Restorative justice:

Earlier we showed a classic image of justice – a woman carrying balanced scales in one hand and a sword in the other

  • Here’s another image of justice…

Or a couple of images actually

  • One of two people shaking hands
  • And the other of a group of people sitting in a circle talking
  • These are images of restorative justice

The image of a woman carrying scales and a sword is quite impersonal

  • Justice isn’t merely a mechanism – like scales or a sword
  • Nor is it an end in itself
  • Justice is an inter-personal relationship – justice must serve relationship

The next day, after killing the Egyptian, Moses returned and saw two Hebrew men fighting

  • Once again Moses is confronted with an injustice and finds himself unable to resist getting involved – he says to the one in the wrong,
  • “Why are you beating up a fellow Hebrew?”

What we notice here is that Moses takes a different approach from the day before – Moses doesn’t resort to violence, instead he uses his words

  • He tries to restore the relationship by talking about it

Punitive justice takes something away – Restorative justice puts it back

So for example, if someone steals your car and crashes it, then punitive justice takes something away from the offender without giving anything to the victim

  • Neither the offender nor the victim get a say in the matter – it’s lose / lose
  • Restorative justice though, gives the victim a voice and the offender the opportunity to make it right – it’s potentially win / win

On the wall here is a table comparing & contrasting punitive justice & restorative justice…


Punitive Justice Restorative Justice [5]

What rule has been broken?

What happened?

Who is to blame?

Who has been affected and how?

What will the punishment be?

What needs to be done to put things right?

There is no redemption in punitive justice but there is opportunity for redemption with restorative justice

The Law of Moses would later include elements of restorative justice

  • Leviticus 6, for example: If anyone cheats his neighbour out of his stuff then he must return what was lost or stolen and add 20% to it

Later Jesus would give strong emphasis to a restorative approach

  • When Peter came to him and asked, ‘Lord, how many times should I forgive my brother? Seven times?’
  • Jesus replied, ‘No, not seven times, but seventy times seven’ – meaning as often as it takes

Moses may have had the right idea in acting as a peace-maker and trying to restore the relationship between the two Hebrew men, but his input wasn’t appreciated

  • The man in the wrong answered, “Who made you our ruler and judge? Are you going to kill me just as you killed that Egyptian?”
  • Moses was only trying to help but he was rejected by his own people
  • I think this would have hurt Moses – it would have left its mark on him

This was Jesus’ experience too

  • When Jesus challenged the religious leaders by asking…
  • Why are you laying heavy burdens on your own people,
  • Why are you beating them up with unnecessary shame & guilt,
  • Why are you making their lives harder?
  • They crucified him

After Moses learned that Pharaoh was trying to have him killed, he fled for his life to the land of Midian

Social justice:

So far we have looked at two different kinds of justice: punitive & restorative

  • God is interested in a third kind also – what we might call social justice


‘Equality does not mean justice’

  • Giving everyone the same box to stand on doesn’t make it fair because not everyone is the same height
  • The tall guy doesn’t need a box to see over the fence
  • The short guy needs two boxes
  • Distributing resources & opportunities so everyone has what they need to see over the fence is social justice

One day, after running away from Egypt, Moses finds himself sitting by a well when seven young women come along to draw water for their flocks

  • As they do this some other (male) shepherds drive the women away
  • Once again Moses is confronted with an injustice

You’ve probably heard the saying,

  • ‘Give a man a fish and he will eat for a day. Teach a man to fish and he will eat for a lifetime’
  • Well that’s okay but what if the man doesn’t have fair access to fishing equipment or to the fish pond itself?
  • Then we have a social justice issue

Driving the women away from the well so they couldn’t water their flocks was a social justice issue

  • And as one who can’t stand to see people abusing power Moses takes action to help correct the imbalance
  • This time though he doesn’t use violence or diplomacy
  • He doesn’t try to punish the shepherds nor does he try to restore the broken relationship
  • This time Moses simply waters the flocks for the women

Now there may be some who would say, ‘That’s a poor solution because it doesn’t empower the women to do it themselves – and it reinforces unhelpful stereotypes about women not being able to cope without men’

Well, that’s not how I see it

  • If the goal is to bring about social change, so that women shepherds are allowed fair access to the well for watering their flocks, then the change needs to come from inside the male shepherds
  • I’m talking about changing attitudes and values and mind-sets
  • Internal change comes about by being with someone who embodies that change – experiencing someone who is a living example of the change

Just outside the Wellington railway station there is a statue of Mahatma Ghandi with the quote, “Be the change you want to see in the world

  • I wonder if this is what Moses was aiming for when he watered the women’s flock
  • Yea he was doing it for them – but perhaps he was also making a statement to the other male shepherds
  • Perhaps his act of chivalry would have made them stop and think about their actions so they felt a little ashamed for how they had behaved
  • Maybe next time they would remember Moses’ example and allow the women access to the well – who knows?

What we do know is that Moses found acceptance and a family for his efforts

Whether Moses was able to change attitudes by his example or not the Law of Moses would later include elements of social justice

  • In the book of Numbers (chapter 27) the five daughters of Zelophehad asked for an inheritance in the Promised Land because their father had no sons and Moses granted it to them
  • Social justice you see – giving everyone fair access to the fish pond, giving everyone the means to see over the fence.


This morning we’ve considered three different kinds of justice…

  • Punitive justice – where people are punished by having something taken away from them
  • Restorative justice – where the loss (and hopefully the relationship) are restored
  • And social justice – where everyone gets fair access to the fish pond, or the watering well

There is a true story which illustrates all of these kinds of justice at once

  • Many of you would have heard it already but it’s worth retelling

Fiorello LaGuardia was mayor of New York City during the worst days of the Great Depression and all of WWII

  • He was a colourful character who used to ride the New York City fire trucks, take entire orphanages to baseball games, and whenever the New York newspapers were on strike, he would go on the radio and read the Sunday funnies to the kids.

One bitterly cold evening in January of 1935, the mayor turned up at a night court that served the poorest ward of the city

  • LaGuardia dismissed the judge for the evening and took over the bench himself
  • Within a few minutes, a tattered old woman was brought before him, charged with stealing a loaf of bread
  • She told LaGuardia that her daughter’s husband had deserted her, her daughter was sick, and her two grandchildren were starving

But the shopkeeper, from whom the bread was stolen, refused to drop the charges

  • “It’s a real bad neighbourhood, your Honour.” the man told the mayor. “She’s got to be punished to teach other people around here a lesson.”

LaGuardia sighed. He turned to the woman and said “I’ve got to punish you. The law makes no exceptions—ten dollars or ten days in jail.”

  • But even as he pronounced sentence, the mayor was already reaching into his pocket. He extracted a bill and tossed it into his famous sombrero saying: “Here is the ten dollar fine which I now remit; and furthermore I am going to fine everyone in this courtroom fifty cents for living in a town where a person has to steal bread so that her grandchildren can eat. Mr. Baliff, collect the fines and give them to the defendant.”

Everyone in the court room gave the mayor a standing ovation [6]

Mayor LaGuardia made sure the requirements of punitive justice were met and at the same time attempted some social justice

  • The woman was also restored in that she now had money in her pocket with which to pay the grocer for the bread she had stolen

There was someone else of course who managed to satisfy the requirements of punitive, restorative and social justice all at once & that was Jesus, on the cross

  • He took our punishment
  • He made it possible for us to be restored to right relationship with God
  • And he provided access for everyone to drink from the well of life
  • For [in Christ] there is no difference between Jew and Gentile – the same Lord is Lord of all and richly blesses all who call on him, for, ‘Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.’ [7]  

[1] Attributed to William Allen White

[2] Matthew 7:1-2

[3] Hebrews 4:12

[4] This is often attributed to Mahatma Ghandi although it is unclear if he actually said it

[5] http://www.restorativeschools.org.nz/restorative-practice

[6] Brennan Manning, The Ragamuffin Gospel, pages 91-2

[7] Romans 10:12