Was Moses right to kill the Egyptian Man?

In the Old Testament, Moses sees an Egyptian man beating a slave. In order to make him stop, Moses kills the Egyptian. On one hand, the bible says thou shall not kill. On the other hand, if Moses did not do this than it is possible the man might have beaten the slave to death (as well as other slaves in he future).

Here is the text of the encounter: One 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. He looked this way and that, and seeing no one he killed the Egyptian and hid him in the sand. When he went out the next day, behold, two Hebrews were struggling together; and he said to the man that did the wrong, “Why do you strike your fellow?” He answered, “Who made you a prince and a judge over us? Do you mean to kill me as you killed the Egyptian?” Then Moses was afraid, and thought, “Surely the thing is known.” When Pharaoh heard of it, he sought to kill Moses. But Moses fled from Pharaoh, and stayed in the land of Mid’ian. (Exodus 2:11-15) One thought that comes to mind is this: according to Church doctrine, “Someone who defends his life is not guilty of murder even if he is forced to deal his aggressor a lethal blow.] [But if] a man in self-defense uses more than necessary violence, it will be unlawful.” (CCC 2264)

I think that can be extrapolated to when you are defending another person who is in legitimate need of help. Therefore, it seems to follow that Moses’ action could be justified, IF lethal force was necessary to stop the aggressor. If not, then it would appear that this action was not justified.

I don’t think the text by itself gives us sufficient data to determine how necessary lethal force was. If I had to guess, I would guess that it was, because I think that if he tried to tackle the man or merely knock him out, he still would have beat his slave later.

According to St. Clement of Alexandria, writing in 195 A.D., “[For Moses] there was just cause of hostilities [against the Egyptians]. The Hebrews came as suppliants to the Egyptians on account of famine; and they, reducing their guests to slavery, compelled them to serve them after the manner of captives, giving them no recompense.” “[Therefore,] as may be alleged is done in war, [the Israelites] thought it proper [to] exercise…the rights of conquerors…[against] their enemies, as those who have gained the day do from those who are worsted.” (Stromata Book 1 Chapter 23)

St. Clement appears to be justifying the rebellion of the Hebrews against the Egyptians by the Church’s traditional doctrine of just war, in what is an extraordinarily early example of just-war analysis. And it may be possible to consider Moses’ action against the Egyptian man under that light.

Let me know if that is helpful. God bless!

The Zohar is an excellent answer for this. Moses was a very good swordsman. He did spend about 10 years in prison for this. And Ziporah was his first convert.


It was justified.

What on Earth are you babbling about?

Something to keep in mind is that God had not yet given the Ten Commandments to the Israelites at the time Moses killed the Egyptian. (They would be given some time later – after Moses led the Israelites out of the Egypt.)

The covenant laws that were to come later did not prohibit killing for various reasons, and in fact insisted on it.

An aside on this incident: It is one of many details that showed the real picture, the bad side if you will, of the heroes of Judaism. It was for another offense that Moses was not allowed by God to enter the Promised Land.

I’m reading the Pentateuch in a Jewish worship book (parashah – Torah portions – with haftarah – readings from the prophets, interspersed). I just finished Leviticus this evening.
We are not privy to what Moses was thinking when he killed he Egyptian, except that he thought he was unobserved, which he found out was a wrong assumption. But, we see that it is just this man that God chose to be the greatest Hebrew prophet (according to Dt 34:10) and to be “God” to Pharoah.

In another place, you will recall, David, the shepherd boy, kills Goliath.

I don’t think it was justified.

I doubt Jesus would have done it.

Even if the law wasn’t given at the time God put the Law into everyone’s heart before he put it into stone.

Everyone knows it is not good to kill, from Cain to Christ.

Rage and frustration got the better of him, then again I might have done the same thing so I am not judging him just the event.

Would Moses have killed the Hebrew if it was the other way around?

Everyone knows it is wrong to take innocent life. So I guess the question is whether or not the Egyptian would be considered innocent.

(cf Ex 23:7 Keep far from a false charge, and do not slay the innocent and righteous,
also Dt 19:10,13; Dt 21:8,9)

You quoted God commanding not man taking the law/revenge into his own hands.

In the quotes you provide God is talking about accidental death. Manslaughter is what Moses did.

Self defence or the defence of others where the threat of death is real is the only reason I can see of taking a life.

Here are 2 translations of the verse I quoted.
(Revised Standard Version) Ex 23:7 Keep far from a false charge, and do not slay the innocent and righteous, for I will not acquit the wicked.

(New American Bible) Ex 23:7 You shall keep away from anything dishonest. The innocent and the just you shall not put to death, nor shall you acquit the guilty.

Could you explain how/where you understand the verse as referring to accidental death?
Also, how can one forbid someone to commit an accidental death? If it’s accidental, it’s unintended!

The Deut.19 passage explains that to execute a person who accidentally/unintentionally killed someone would be shedding innocent blood.

In the law He gave to the Israelites, God allowed for the taking of life as punishment for certain crimes. Those executions would not have been considered the shedding of innocent blood.

And again, Moses had not yet received the law.

The point of my post was to show that it is not every instance of shedding blood that offends God. Rather, it is the shedding of innocent blood that is offensive to Him.

You said it yourself in the last sentence? Deut.19

Every instance of blood shedding offends God! For there is not one righteous person to carry that out!

If you think God allowed the killing of others without God being the judge then why did Jesus say to the Israelite Priests those without sin cast the first stone?

When it comes to the law it was meant to be a way of life and a deterrent not a license to kill!

God’s law existed in man’s heart before it was put into stone. Do you really think when Cain killed Abel he thought well, there’s nothing wrong with that or do you think weight of guilt was like a large stone over his neck? Does it really need to be written into stone so one feels guilt? The penalty of sin is death (Adam) and that was before it was written in stone.

The execution in the Gospel story you reference was illegal.

DISCLAIMER: The views and opinions expressed in these forums do not necessarily reflect those of Catholic Answers. For official apologetics resources please visit www.catholic.com.