The present picture is thought to have originally formed part of a series of grisaille paintings of Old Testament subjects commissioned for the refectory of the abbey of Affligem in Flanders. Seven surviving canvases from the series are now in the Musées royaux des Beaux-Arts, Brussels (inv. nos. 97-103), and are closely comparable with the present work in terms of their handling, design and their size.
The subject is taken from Exodus (2:16-22), and relates how Moses came upon the seven daughters of Jethro, priest of Midian, at a well and drove away shepherds who were preventing them from watering their father's flock. In doing so, he was received into their father's house and subsequently married one of the daughters, Zipporah.
Martin Josef Geeraerts was the son of a jeweller but studied painting instead under Abraham Godyn (active Antwerp circa 1680-1720). He entered the Antwerp guild of Saint Luke in 1731, and became known as a specialist painter of grisailles and trompe l'oeil depictions of wood reliefs.