The Power of Service

Now a priest of Midian had seven daughters, and they came and began to draw water and fill the troughs in order to water their father’s flock. When some shepherds came and drove them away, Moses came up and defended them and then watered their flock. So when they came home to their father Reuel, he asked, “Why have you come home so early today?” They said, “An Egyptian man rescued us from the shepherds, and he actually drew water for us and watered the flock!” He said to his daughters, “So where is he? Why in the world did you leave the man? Call him, so that he may eat a meal with us.”

Moses agreed to stay with the man, and he gave his daughter Zipporah to Moses in marriage. When she bore a son, Moses named him Gershom, for he said, “I have become a resident foreigner in a foreign land.”
Exodus 2:16-22

Moses is one of those well-known characters whose fame has remained even as Bible reading has decline. Thanks to major films like The Ten Commandments and The Prince of Egypt, most of us know the Moses story. Not only do we know the story, but if we think to those films and other famous tellings of the events of his life, we will probably remember this scene being a part of it. 

Except… not quite.

In The Prince of Egypt, after Moses sends the men chasing after their camels, he collapses from exhaustion and falls into Jethro’s well, to much comedic effect.

In The Ten Commandments, he does not tell the shepherds to leave; only to wait their turn. And before Moses can draw a single bucket of water, Jethro’s daugher’s jump in, insisting it is their duty to serve him after he stepped in on their behalf.

I took a straw poll of a few folks about what happened at that well. Of those who remembered the scene, exactly zero recalled Moses watering Jethro’s flocks. That survey probably wouldn’t stand up to scientific scrutiny, but I do think it’s representative of how we remember: not just the Moses story, but the stories of many heroes. We recall Moses for the qualities which enabled him to protect those helpless women from those mean shepherds. Surely, he is a hero for having stood up to them.

Jethro’s daughter’s have a different perspective.

When they tell their father what happened at the well, the truly shocking part is not that a man rescued them, it’s that “he actually drew water for us!” This decision of a man to do women’s work for them so impresses Jethro that he invites Moses to dinner, and then gives Moses his daughter in marriage. There may be dozens of men who put on displays of bravery in front of the daughters of the village priest. The man who is worthy of his daughter’s hand, though, is the one who is willing to humble himself and serve them. Because it’s easy to make yourself seem strong. Allowing yourself to be humbled and vulnerable is much harder.

Have you ever been on the receiving end of unexpected service? How did that make you feel? How can you do the same for someone else?