This godly man towers above all other persons in the Old Testament period because he was God's instrument for the introduction of covenant law in Israel. In his long life he also acted on behalf of God to bring into being an enduring nation, while functioning as a prophet, judge, recorder of God's pronouncements, intercessor, military leader, worker of miracles, and tireless shepherd of the unruly Israelite tribes. By the time of his death he had welded his people into a highly efficient military force that would occupy the land promised by God to Abraham ( Gen 12:7 ).
All that is known about Moses is found in the Bible. There are no surviving monuments to him, although some may have existed prior to his abrupt departure from Egypt ( Exod 2:15 ). It is therefore impossible to prove that he ever lived, as far as evidence from statues and inscriptions is concerned. But his existence cannot be disproved, either, since other prominent Old Testament figures have neither names nor monuments, as, for example, the Pharaoh with whom Moses contended, and the Egyptian princess who rescued the infant Moses from the Nile.
Moses is so strongly interwoven with the religious tradition involving God's plan for human salvation through Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and ultimately the Davidic Messiah, and attested to as an authoritative figure for Hebrew culture even in the New Testament period, that he could not possibly have been an invention or a fictional character used as an object of religious or social propaganda. Unquestionably he stood head and shoulders above all other Hebrews, and was for the Old Testament period what Paul was for the New.
Perhaps out of deference to his stature there was nobody else in the Old Testament named Moses. There has been some debate about the meaning of his name, with some scholars relating it to a root "to bear, " and found in such Egyptian names as Ahmose and Thutmose. In Exodus 2:10, the name given to him by the princess is connected with a Hebrew verb meaning "to draw out" (cf. 2 Sam 22:17 ), but it could also have come from an Egyptian term meaning "son."
The Book of Exodus divides Moses' life into three periods of forty years each. The first of these deals with his birth in Egypt and his education as a prince of the royal harem (cf. Acts 7:21-22 ). The second phase occurs in Midian, where he fled for refuge after murdering an Egyptian ( Exod 2:15 ). The final stage involves him liberating the enslaved Hebrews, establishing God's covenant with them in the Sinai desert and leading them to the borders of the promised land. The Scriptures indicate that two-thirds of Moses' life served as a preparation for the crucial final third, which was so important for the divine plan of salvation. Accordingly we will focus on Moses' ministry as a mediator and teacher of God's revealed Word, since theology was henceforth to be the basis of Israelite life ( Exod 19:6 ).
While Moses may have learned about his ancestral God from Jethro, his father-in-law, the "priest of Midian" ( Exod 3:1 ), his first encounter with the Lord is at Mount Horeb, where he observes a bush burning with fire, and hears God's announcement that he is the God of Moses' ancestors. Moses is given a commission to return to Egypt and lead out the captive Hebrew people. God reveals to him the new name by which God will become known: "I am who I am." Moses is to say to the Hebrews that "I am" had sent him, and this name is to empower all subsequent pronouncements. Not surprisingly it has also been a matter of debate, and many explanations of its meaning have been advanced. It certainly points to God's eternal existence, self-sufficiency, and continued activity in human history. Intensely dynamic in nature, it transcends and fulfills all other forms of being.
This description of the divine name is supplemented by an additional revelation of his name as Yahweh ( Exod 6:3 ). So sacred is this designation that its pronunciation has not survived; the Hebrew consonants have been vocalized from another word, "lord, " to produce the classic "Jehovah." Modern attempts to vocalize the original consonants are uncertain at best. Nevertheless, this mysterious Name and its power sustain Moses as he struggles with Pharaoh for the liberation of the Hebrew slaves. The conflict ends with the first Passover celebration, which coincides with the death of Egypt's firstborn ( Exod 12:29 ).
Dramatic though the crossing of the Re(e)d Sea is for the destiny of the Hebrews, the peak of Moses' career is attained on Mount Sinai, when God appears to him and delivers the celebrated Ten Commandments as the basis of Israel's covenant law. In conjunction with this revelation, God enters into a binding agreement with the twelve tribes that in effect welds them into one nation. God promises to provide for all their needs and give them the land promised long ago to Abraham if they, for their part, worship him as their one and only true God.
God's purpose for his newly created nation is that the Israelites should be visible among their contemporaries as a priestly kingdom and a holy people ( Exod 19:6 ; Lev 11:44 ). Every man in Israel is to live as though he has been consecrated to the high and sacred office of a priest in God's service, and be holy and pure in all his doings. He is to abstain from the iniquitous ways of pagan neighboring nations, and be to them an example of what God himself is by nature ( Exod 34:6-7 ). Moses Acts on behalf of God at the covenant ratification ceremony ( Exod 24:6-8 ) and thereafter is the recipient of instructions concerning the building of a sacred national shrine known as the tabernacle.
Of high theological significance for the Israelites, this structure was rectangular in shape and contained a tent where the cultic structure known as the covenant ark was housed. God's presence rested upon the ark, which was so sacred that the Israelites were prohibited from even seeing it. When the Israelite tribes were camped in order around the tabernacle, God's presence was indeed in their midst.
During the wilderness period Moses receives from God other laws dealing with sacrifices and offerings, rules governing social behavior, prohibitions against idolatry and immorality, and positive promises of God's blessings upon the Israelites, provided always that they keep the covenant obligations that they had assumed under oath.
From what has been said already it will be clear that Israelite life under Moses and his successors was grounded upon divine revelation and its accompanying theology. Distinctiveness in society as God's people, strictness of living in obedience to his laws, and unswerving trust in his power to save and keep were to be the hallmarks of Hebrew life. God's people were to be holy as he is holy ( Lev 11:44 ), and any deviations from these requirements would result in severe punishment. In mediating this theology and setting an example of it in his own life of dedication to God and fellowship with him, Moses serves as the exemplar of spirituality for all Israel to observe.
In dealing with the chosen people, Moses periodically Acts as an intercessor with God, so as to avert divine displeasure with Israel ( Exod 33:12-16 ; Num 12:13 ). The call that he had received from God involves his acting in the capacity of prophet to the nation, wherein he serves as God's spokesperson to Israel. So effective is he in this function that God promises to raise up other prophets after his death who will also serve as spokespersons ( Deut 18:15-18 ), thus indicating that God regards Moses as the standard by which his successors will be judged.
Yet despite his deeply spiritual life and his sense of commitment to covenantal ideals, Moses is still a human being. The task of organizing community living among people of a seminomadic disposition is formidable. In the wilderness he bears the brunt of complaints ( Num 11:1-25 ) and feels the crushing weight of his responsibilities ( Num 11:14 ). When he is overwhelmed by the numbers of people coming to him for legal decisions ( Exod 18:13 ), he willingly follows the advice of Jethro as to how he should conduct his judicial responsibilities ( Exod 18:24-26 ). Under obvious stress he goes beyond God's instructions in dealing with the complaining Israelites ( Num 20:10-12 ), and is forbidden to lead the conquering Israelites into the promised land. Yet he is recognized as being "a very humble man, more humble than anyone else on the face of the earth" ( Num 12:3 ), which has been urged commonly as a testimony to his humility in the service of Israel's most holy God. It is probable, however, that the term rendered "meek" actually means "more long-suffering than, " "more tolerant than, " which places a rather different construction upon the explanatory phrase.
In New Testament times the law of Moses constituted the standard of faith and conduct for the Christian church, which was commanded to observe Old Testament obligations of holiness ( 1 Peter 1:16 ). At the transfiguration of Christ, Moses appears with Elijah and converses with Jesus, signifying the harmony of law, prophecy, and the gospel ( Mark 9:4 ). The sermon of Stephen before the Sanhedrin quotes Moses several times ( Acts 7:20-44 ). Moses is referred to authoritatively in the Epistles, and is celebrated as a man who lived by faith ( Heb 11:23-29 ). In Revelation, the victorious saints chant the song of Moses ( Exod 15:1-19 ).
R. K. Harrison
Bibliography. O. T. Allis, God Spake by Moses; M. Buber, Moses; R. A. Cole, Exodus; R. K. Harrison, Numbers; F. B. Meyer, Moses the Servant of God.
For usage information, please read the Baker Book House Copyright Statement.
drawn (or Egypt. mesu, "son;" hence Rameses, royal son). On the invitation of Pharaoh ( Genesis 45:17-25 ), Jacob and his sons went down into Egypt. This immigration took place probably about 350 years before the birth of Moses. Some centuries before Joseph, Egypt had been conquered by a pastoral Semitic race from Asia, the Hyksos, who brought into cruel subjection the native Egyptians, who were an African race. Jacob and his retinue were accustomed to a shepherd's life, and on their arrival in Egypt were received with favour by the king, who assigned them the "best of the land", the land of Goshen, to dwell in. The Hyksos or "shepherd" king who thus showed favour to Joseph and his family was in all probability the Pharaoh Apopi (or Apopis).
Thus favoured, the Israelites began to "multiply exceedingly" ( Genesis 47:27 ), and extended to the west and south. At length the supremacy of the Hyksos came to an end. The descendants of Jacob were allowed to retain their possession of Goshen undisturbed, but after the death of Joseph their position was not so favourable. The Egyptians began to despise them, and the period of their "affliction" ( Genesis 15:13 ) commenced. They were sorely oppressed. They continued, however, to increase in numbers, and "the land was filled with them" ( Exodus 1:7 ). The native Egyptians regarded them with suspicion, so that they felt all the hardship of a struggle for existence.
In process of time "a king [probably Seti I.] arose who knew not Joseph" ( Exodus 1:8 ). (See PHARAOH .) The circumstances of the country were such that this king thought it necessary to weaken his Israelite subjects by oppressing them, and by degrees reducing their number. They were accordingly made public slaves, and were employed in connection with his numerous buildings, especially in the erection of store-cities, temples, and palaces. The children of Israel were made to serve with rigour. Their lives were made bitter with hard bondage, and "all their service, wherein they made them serve, was with rigour" ( Exodus 1:13 Exodus 1:14 ). But this cruel oppression had not the result expected of reducing their number. On the contrary, "the more the Egyptians afflicted them, the more they multiplied and grew" ( Exodus 1:12 ).
The king next tried, through a compact secretly made with the guild of midwives, to bring about the destruction of all the Hebrew male children that might be born. But the king's wish was not rigorously enforced; the male children were spared by the midwives, so that "the people multiplied" more than ever. Thus baffled, the king issued a public proclamation calling on the people to put to death all the Hebrew male children by casting them into the river ( Exodus 1:22 ). But neither by this edict was the king's purpose effected.
One of the Hebrew households into which this cruel edict of the king brought great alarm was that of Amram, of the family of the Kohathites ( Exodus 6:16-20 ), who with his wife Jochebed and two children, Miriam, a girl of perhaps fifteen years of age, and Aaron, a boy of three years, resided in or near Memphis, the capital city of that time. In this quiet home a male child was born (B.C. 1571). His mother concealed him in the house for three months from the knowledge of the civic authorities. But when the task of concealment became difficult, Jochebed contrived to bring her child under the notice of the daughter of the king by constructing for him an ark of bulrushes, which she laid among the flags which grew on the edge of the river at the spot where the princess was wont to come down and bathe. Her plan was successful. The king's daughter "saw the child; and behold the child wept." The princess (see PHARAOH'S'S DAUGHTER ) sent Miriam, who was standing by, to fetch a nurse. She went and brought the mother of the child, to whom the princess said, "Take this child away, and nurse it for me, and I will give thee thy wages." Thus Jochebed's child, whom the princess called "Moses", i.e., "Saved from the water" ( Exodus 2:10 ), was ultimately restored to her.
As soon as the natural time for weaning the child had come, he was transferred from the humble abode of his father to the royal palace, where he was brought up as the adopted son of the princess, his mother probably accompanying him and caring still for him. He grew up amid all the grandeur and excitement of the Egyptian court, maintaining, however, probably a constant fellowship with his mother, which was of the highest importance as to his religious belief and his interest in his "brethren." His education would doubtless be carefully attended to, and he would enjoy all the advantages of training both as to his body and his mind. He at length became "learned in all the wisdom of the Egyptians" ( Acts 7:22 ). Egypt had then two chief seats of learning, or universities, at one of which, probably that of Heliopolis, his education was completed. Moses, being now about twenty years of age, spent over twenty more before he came into prominence in Bible history. These twenty years were probably spent in military service. There is a tradition recorded by Josephus that he took a lead in the war which was then waged between Egypt and Ethiopia, in which he gained renown as a skilful general, and became "mighty in deeds" ( Acts 7:22 ).
After the termination of the war in Ethiopia, Moses returned to the Egyptian court, where he might reasonably have expected to be loaded with honours and enriched with wealth. But "beneath the smooth current of his life hitherto, a life of alternate luxury at the court and comparative hardness in the camp and in the discharge of his military duties, there had lurked from childhood to youth, and from youth to manhood, a secret discontent, perhaps a secret ambition. Moses, amid all his Egyptian surroundings, had never forgotten, had never wished to forget, that he was a Hebrew." He now resolved to make himself acquainted with the condition of his countrymen, and "went out unto his brethren, and looked upon their burdens" ( Exodus 2:11 ). This tour of inspection revealed to him the cruel oppression and bondage under which they everywhere groaned, and could not fail to press on him the serious consideration of his duty regarding them. The time had arrived for his making common cause with them, that he might thereby help to break their yoke of bondage. He made his choice accordingly ( Hebrews 11:25-27 ), assured that God would bless his resolution for the welfare of his people. He now left the palace of the king and took up his abode, probably in his father's house, as one of the Hebrew people who had for forty years been suffering cruel wrong at the hands of the Egyptians.
He could not remain indifferent to the state of things around him, and going out one day among the people, his indignation was roused against an Egyptian who was maltreating a Hebrew. He rashly lifted up his hand and slew the Egyptian, and hid his body in the sand. Next day he went out again and found two Hebrews striving together. He speedily found that the deed of the previous day was known. It reached the ears of Pharaoh (the "great Rameses," Rameses II.), who "sought to slay Moses" ( Exodus 2:15 ). Moved by fear, Moses fled from Egypt, and betook himself to the land of Midian, the southern part of the peninsula of Sinai, probably by much the same route as that by which, forty years afterwards, he led the Israelites to Sinai. He was providentially led to find a new home with the family of Reuel, where he remained for forty years ( Acts 7:30 ), under training unconsciously for his great life's work.
Suddenly the angel of the Lord appeared to him in the burning bush ( Exodus 3 ), and commissioned him to go down to Egypt and "bring forth the children of Israel" out of bondage. He was at first unwilling to go, but at length he was obedient to the heavenly vision, and left the land of Midian ( 4:18-26 ). On the way he was met by Aaron (q.v.) and the elders of Israel (27-31). He and Aaron had a hard task before them; but the Lord was with them (ch. 7-12), and the ransomed host went forth in triumph. (See EXODUS .) After an eventful journey to and fro in the wilderness, we see them at length encamped in the plains of Moab, ready to cross over the Jordan into the Promised Land. There Moses addressed the assembled elders ( Deuteronomy 1:1-4 ; 5:1-26:19; ; 27:11-30:20), ), and gives the people his last counsels, and then rehearses the great song ( Deuteronomy 32 ), clothing in fitting words the deep emotions of his heart at such a time, and in review of such a marvellous history as that in which he had acted so conspicious a part. Then, after blessing the tribes (33), he ascends to "the mountain of Nebo (q.v.), to the top of Pisgah, that is over against Jericho" ( 34:1 ), and from thence he surveys the land. "Jehovah shewed him all the land of Gilead, unto Dan, and all Naphtali, and the land of Ephraim, and Manasseh, and all the land of Judah, unto the utmost sea, and the south, and the plain of the valley of Jericho, the city of palm trees, unto Zoar" ( Deuteronomy 34:2-3 ), the magnificient inheritance of the tribes of whom he had been so long the leader; and there he died, being one hundred and twenty years old, according to the word of the Lord, and was buried by the Lord "in a valley in the land of Moab, over against Beth-peor" ( 34:6 ). The people mourned for him during thirty days.
Thus died "Moses the man of God" ( Deuteronomy 33:1 ; Joshua 14:6 ). He was distinguished for his meekness and patience and firmness, and "he endured as seeing him who is invisible." "There arose not a prophet since in Israel like unto Moses, whom the Lord knew face to face, in all the signs and the wonders, which the Lord sent him to do in the land of Egypt to Pharaoh, and to all his servants, and to all his land, and in all that mighty hand, and in all the great terror which Moses shewed in the sight of all Israel" ( Deuteronomy 34:10-12 ).
The name of Moses occurs frequently in the Psalms and Prophets as the chief of the prophets.
In the New Testament he is referred to as the representative of the law and as a type of Christ ( John 1:17 ; 2 co 3:13-18 ; Hebrews 3:5 Hebrews 3:6 ). Moses is the only character in the Old Testament to whom Christ likens himself ( John 5:46 ; Compare Deuteronomy 18:15 Deuteronomy 18:18 Deuteronomy 18:19 ; Acts 7:37 ). In Hebrews 3:1-19 this likeness to Moses is set forth in various particulars.
In Jude 1:9 mention is made of a contention between Michael and the devil about the body of Moses. This dispute is supposed to have had reference to the concealment of the body of Moses so as to prevent idolatry.
taken out; drawn forth
(Heb. Mosheh , "drawn," i.e. from the water; in the Coptic it means "saved from the water"), the legislator of the Jewish people, and in a certain sense the founder of the Jewish religion. The immediate pedigree of Moses is as follows: Levi was the father of: Gershon -- Kohath -- Merari Kohath was the father of: Amram = Jochebed Amram = Jochebed was the father of: Hur = Miriam -- Aaron = Elisheba -- Moses = Zipporah Aaron = Elisheba was the father of: Nadab -- Abihu -- Eleazar -- Ithamar Eleazar was the father of: Phineas Moses = Zipporah was the father of: Gershom -- Eliezer Gershom was the father of: Jonathan The history of Moses naturally divides itself into three periods of 40 years each. Moses was born at Goshen, In Egypt, B.C. 1571. The story of his birth is thoroughly Egyptian in its scene. His mother made extraordinary efforts for his preservation from the general destruction of the male children of Israel. For three months the child was concealed in the house. Then his mother placed him in a small boat or basket of papyrus, closed against the water by bitumen. This was placed among the aquatic vegetation by the side of one of the canals of the Nile. The sister lingered to watch her brothers fate. The Egyptian princess, who, tradition says, was a childless wife, came down to bathe in the sacred river. Her attendant slaves followed her. She saw the basket in the flags, and despatched divers, who brought it. It was opened, and the cry of the child moved the princess to compassion. She determined to rear it as her own. The sister was at hand to recommend a Hebrew nurse, the childs own mother. here was the first part of Moses training, --a training at home in the true religion, in faith in God, in the promises to his nation, in the life of a saint, --a training which he never forgot, even amid the splendors and gilded sin of Pharaohs court. The child was adopted by the princess. From this time for many years Moses must be considered as an Egyptian. In the Pentateuch this period is a blank, but in the New Testament he is represented as "learned in all the wisdom of the Egyptians," and as "mighty in words and deeds." ( Acts 7:22 ) this was the second part of Moses training. The second period of Moses life began when he was forty years old. Seeing the sufferings of his people, Moses determined to go to them as their helper, and made his great life-choice, "choosing rather to suffer affliction with the people of God than to enjoy the pleasures of sin for a season; esteeming the reproach of Christ greater riches than the treasures in Egypt." ( Hebrews 11:25 Hebrews 11:26 ) Seeing an Israelite suffering the bastinado from an Egyptian, and thinking that they were alone, he slew the Egyptian, and buried the corpse in the sand. But the people soon showed themselves unfitted as yet to obtain their freedom, nor was Moses yet fitted to be their leader. He was compelled to leave Egypt when the slaying of the Egyptian became known, and he fled to the land of Midian, in the southern and southeastern part of the Sinai peninsula. There was a famous well ("the well,") ( Exodus 2:15 ) surrounded by tanks for the watering of the flocks of the Bedouin herdsmen. By this well the fugitive seated himself and watched the gathering of the sheep. There were the Arabian shepherds, and there were also seven maidens, whom the shepherds rudely drove away from the water. The chivalrous spirit which had already broken forth in behalf of his oppressed countrymen broke forth again in behalf of the distressed maidens. They returned unusually soon to their father, Jethro, and told him of their adventure. Moses, who up to this time had been "an Egyptian," ( Exodus 2:19 ) now became for a time an Arabian. He married Zipporah, daughter of his host, to whom he also became the slave and shepherd. ( Exodus 2:21 ; 3:1 ) Here for forty years Moses communed with God and with nature, escaping from the false ideas taught him in Egypt, and sifting out the truths that were there. This was the third process of his training for his work; and from this training he learned infinitely more than from Egypt. Stanely well says, after enumerating what the Israelites derived from Egypt, that the contrast was always greater than the likeness. This process was completed when God met him on Horeb, appearing in a burning bush, and, communicating with him, appointed him to be the leader and deliverer of his people. Now begins the third period of forty years in Moses life. He meets Aaron, his next younger brother, whom God permitted to be the spokesman, and together they return to Goshen in Egypt. From this time the history of Moses is the history of Israel for the next forty years. Aaron spoke and acted for Moses, and was the permanent inheritor of the sacred staff of power. But Moses was the inspiring soul behind. he is incontestably the chief personage of the history, in a sense in which no one else is described before or since. He was led into a closer communion with the invisible world than was vouchsafed to any other in the Old Testament. There are two main characters in which he appears --as a leader and as a prophet. (1) As a leader, his life divides itself into the three epochs --the march to Sinai; the march from Sinai to Kadesh; and the conquest of the transjordanic kingdoms. On approaching Palestine the office of the leader becomes blended with that of the general or the conqueror. By Moses the spies were sent to explore the country. Against his advice took place the first disastrous battle at hormah. To his guidance is ascribed the circuitous route by which the nation approached Palestine from the east, and to his generalship the two successful campaigns in which Sihon and Og were defeated. The narrative is told so briefly that we are in danger of forgetting that at this last stage of his life Moses must have been as much a conqueror and victorious soldier as was Joshua. (2) His character as a prophet is, from the nature of the case, more distinctly brought out. He is the first as he is the greatest example of a prophet in the Old Testament. His brother and sister were both endowed with prophetic gifts. The seventy elders, and Eldad and Medad also, all "prophesied." ( Numbers 11:25-27 ) But Moses rose high above all these. With him the divine revelations were made "mouth to mouth." ( Numbers 12:8 ) Of the special modes of this more direct communication, four great examples are given, corresponding to four critical epochs in his historical career. (a) The appearance of the divine presence in the flaming acacia tree. ( Exodus 3:2-6 ) (b) In the giving of the law from Mount Sinai, the outward form of the revelation was a thick darkness as of a thunder-cloud, out of which proceeded a voice. ( Exodus 19:19 ; 20:21 ) on two occasions he is described as having penetrated within the darkness. ( Exodus 24:18 ; 34:28 ) (c) It was nearly at the close of these communications in the mountains of Sinai that an especial revelation of God was made to him personally. ( Exodus 33:21 Exodus 33:22 ; Exodus 34:5 Exodus 34:6 Exodus 34:7 ) God passed before him. (d) The fourth mode of divine manifestation was that which is described as beginning at this juncture, and which was maintained with more or less continuity through the rest of his career. ( Exodus 33:7 ) It was the communication with God in the tabernacle from out the pillar of cloud and fire. There is another form of Moses prophetic gift, viz., the poetical form of composition which characterizes the Jewish prophecy generally. These poetical utterances are --
mo'-zez, mo'-ziz (mosheh; Egyptian mes, "drawn out," "born"; Septuagint Mouse(s)). The great Hebrew national hero, leader, author, law-giver and prophet.
1. Son of Levi
2. Foundling Prince
3. Friend of the People
4. Refuge in Midian
5. Leader of Israel
II. WORK AND CHARACTER
1. The Author
2. The Lawgiver
3. The Prophet
The traditional view of the Jewish church and of the Christian church, that Moses was a person and that the narrative with which his life-story is interwoven is real history, is in the main sustained by commentators and critics of all classes.
It is needless to mention the old writers among whom these questions were hardly under discussion. Among the advocates of the current radical criticism may be mentioned Stade and Renan, who minimize the historicity of the Bible narrative at this point. Renan thinks the narrative "may be very probable." Ewald, Wellhausen, Robertson Smith, and Driver, while finding many flaws in the story, make much generally of the historicity of the narrative.
The critical analysis of the Pentateuch divides this life-story of Moses into three main parts, J, E, and the Priestly Code (P), with a fourth, D, made up mainly from the others. Also some small portions here and there are given to R, especially the account of Aaron's part in the plagues of Egypt, where his presence in a J-document is very troublesome for the analytical theory. It is unnecessary to encumber this biography with constant cross-references to the strange story of Moses pieced together out of the rearranged fragments into which the critical analysis of the Pentateuch breaks up the narrative. It is recognized that there are difficulties in the story of Moses. In what ancient life-story are there not difficulties? If we can conceive of the ancients being obliged to ponder over a modern life-story, we can easily believe that they would have still more difficulty with it. But it seems to very many that the critical analysis creates more difficulties in the narrative than it relieves. It is a little thing to explain by such analysis some apparent discrepancy between two laws or two events or two similar incidents which we do not clearly understand. It is a far greater thing so to confuse, by rearranging, a beautiful, well-articulated biography that it becomes disconnected--indeed, in parts, scarcely makes sense.
The biographical narrative of the Hebrew national hero, Moses, is a continuous thread of history in the Pentateuch. That story in all its simplicity and symmetry, but with acknowledgment of its difficulties as they arise, is here to be followed.
1. Son of Levi:
The recorded story of Moses' life falls naturally into five rather unequal parts:
"And there went a man of the house of Levi, and took to wife a daughter of Levi" (Exodus 2:1). The son of Levi born of that union became the greatest man among mere men in the whole history of the world. How far he was removed in genealogy from Levi it is impossible to know. The genealogical lists (Genesis 46:11; Exodus 6:16-20; Numbers 3:14-28; 26:57-59; 1 Chronicles 6:1-3) show only 4 generations from Levi to Moses, while the account given of the numbers of Israel at the exodus (Exodus 12:37; 38:26; Numbers 1:46; 11:21) imperatively demand at least 10 or 12 generations. The males alone of the sons of Kohath "from a month old and upward" numbered at Sinai 8,600 (Numbers 3:27,28). It is evident that the extract from the genealogy here, as in many other places (1 Chronicles 23:15; 26:24; Ezra 7:1-5; 8:1,2; compare 1 Chronicles 6:3-14; Matthew 1:1-17; Luke 3:23-38) is not complete, but follows the common method of giving important heads of families. The statement concerning Jochebed: "And she bare unto Amram Aaron and Moses, and Miriam their sister" (Numbers 26:59) really creates no difficulty, as it is likewise said of Zilpah, after the mention of her grandsons, "And these she bare unto Jacob" (Genesis 46:17,18; compare 46:24,25).
The names of the immediate father and mother of Moses are not certainly known. The mother "saw him that he was a goodly child" (Exodus 2:2). So they defied the commandment of the king (Exodus 1:22), and for 3 months hid him instead of throwing him into the river.
2. Foundling Prince:
The time soon came when it was impossible longer to hide the child (Josephus, Ant, II, ix, 3-6). The mother resolved upon a plan which was at once a pathetic imitation of obedience to the commandment of the king, an adroit appeal to womanly sympathy, and, if it succeeded, a subtle scheme to bring the cruelty of the king home to his own attention. Her faith succeeded. She took an ark of bulrushes (Exodus 2:3,4; compare ARK OF BULRUSHES), daubed it with bitumen mixed with the sticky slime of the river, placed in this floating vessel the child of her love and faith, and put it into the river at a place among the sedge in the shallow water where the royal ladies from the palace would be likely to come down to bathe. A sister, probably Miriam, stood afar off to watch (Exodus 2:3,4). The daughter of Pharaoh came down with her great ladies to the river (Exodus 2:5-10). The princess saw the ark among the sedge and sent a maid to fetch it. The expectation of the mother was not disappointed. The womanly sympathy of the princess was touched. She resolved to save this child by adopting him. Through the intervention of the watching sister, he was given to his own mother to be nursed (Exodus 2:7-9). "And the child grew, and she brought him unto Pharaoh's daughter, and he became her son" (Exodus 2:10). Thus, he would receive her family name.
Royal family names in Egypt then were usually compounded of some expression of reverence or faith or submission and the name of a god, e.g. "loved of," "chosen of," "born of," Thoth, Ptah, Ra or Amon. At this period of Egyptian history, "born of" (Egyptian mes, "drawn out") was joined sometimes to Ah, the name of the moon-god, making Ahmes, or Thoth, the scribe-god, so Thothmes, but usually with Ra, the sun-god, giving Rames, usually anglicized Rameses or Ramoses.
It was the time of the Ramesside dynasty, and the king on the throne was Rameses II. Thus the foundling adopted by Pharaoh's daughter would have the family name Mes or Moses. That it would be joined in the Egyptian to the name of the sungod Ra is practically certain. His name at court would be Ramoses. But to the oriental mind a name must mean something. The usual meaning of this royal name was that the child was "born of" a princess through the intervention of the god Ra. But this child was not "born of" the princess, so falling back upon the primary meaning of the word, "drawn out," she said, "because I drew him out of the water" (Exodus 2:10). Thus, Moses received his name. Pharaoh's daughter may have been the eldest daughter of Rameses II, but more probably was the daughter and eldest child of Seti Merenptah I, and sister of the king on the throne. She would be lineal heir to the crown but debarred by her sex. Instead, she bore the title "Pharaoh's Daughter," and, according to Egyptian custom, retained the right to the crown for her first-born son. A not improbable tradition (Josephus, Ant, II, ix, 7) relates that she had no natural son, and Moses thus became heir to the throne, not with the right to supplant the reigning Pharaoh, but to supersede any of his sons.
Very little is known of Moses' youth and early manhood at the court of Pharaoh. He would certainly be educated as a prince, whose right it probably was to be initiated into the mysteries. Thus he was "instructed in all the wisdom of the Egyptians" (Acts 7:22), included in which, according to many Egyptologists, was the doctrine of one Supreme God.
Many curious things, whose value is doubtful, are told of Moses by Josephus and other ancient writers (Josephus, Ant, II, ix, 3; xi; CAp, I, 31; compare DB; for Mohammedan legends, see Palmer, The Desert of the Exodus, Appendix; for rabbinical legends, see Jewish Encyclopedia). Some of these traditions are not incredible but lack authentication. Others are absurd. Egyptologists have searched with very indifferent success for some notice of the great Hebrew at the Egyptian court.
3. Friend of the People:
But the faith of which the Epistle to the Hebrews speaks (Hebrews 11:23-28) was at work. Moses "refused to be called the son of Pharaoh's daughter" (Exodus 2:11-14; Acts 7:24). Whether he did so in word, by definite renunciation, or by his espousal of the cause of the slave against the oppressive policy of Pharaoh is of little importance. In either case he became practically a traitor, and greatly imperiled his throne rights and probably his civil rights as well. During some intervention to ameliorate the condition of the state slaves, an altercation arose and he slew an Egyptian (Exodus 2:11,12). Thus, his constructive treason became an overt act. Discovering through the ungrateful reproaches of his own kinsmen (Acts 7:25) that his act was known, he quickly made decision, "choosing rather to share ill treatment with the people of God," casting in his lot with slaves of the empire, rather than "to enjoy the pleasures of sin for a season," amid the riotous living of the young princes at the Egyptian court; "accounting the reproach of Christ" his humiliation, being accounted a nobody ("Can any good thing come out of Nazareth?") as "greater riches than the treasures of Egypt" (Hebrews 11:25,26; Acts 7:25-28). He thought to be a nobody and do right better than to be a tyrant and rule Egypt.
4. Refuge in Midian:
Moses fled, "not fearing the wrath of the king" (Hebrews 11:27), not cringing before it or submitting to it, but defying it and braving all that it could bring upon him, degradation from his high position, deprivation of the privileges and comforts of the Egyptian court. He went out a poor wanderer (Exodus 2:15). We are told nothing of the escape and the journey, how he eluded the vigilance of the court guards and of the frontier-line of sentinels. The friend of slaves is strangely safe while within their territory. At last he reached the Sinaitic province of the empire and hid himself away among its mountain fastnesses (Exodus 2:15). The romance of the well and the shepherdesses and the grateful father and the future wife is all quite in accord with the simplicity of desert life (Exodus 2:16-22). The "Egyptian" saw the rude, selfish herdsmen of the desert imposing upon the helpless shepherd girls, and, partly by the authority of a manly man, partly, doubtless, by the authority of his Egyptian appearance in an age when "Egypt" was a word with which to frighten men in all that part of the world, he compelled them to give way. The "Egyptian" was called, thanked, given a home and eventually a wife. There in Midian, while the anguish of Israel continued under the taskmaster's lash, and the weakening of Israel's strength by the destruction of the male children went on, with what more or less rigor we know not, Moses was left by Providence to mellow and mature, that the haughty, impetuous prince, "instructed in all the wisdom of the Egyptians," might be transformed into the wise, well-poised, masterful leader, statesman, lawgiver, poet and prophet. God usually prepares His great ones in the countryside or about some of the quiet places of earth, farthest away from the busy haunts of men and nearest to the "secret place of the Most High." David keeping his father's flocks, Elijah on the mountain slopes of Gilead, the Baptist in the wilderness of Judea, Jesus in the shop of a Galilean carpenter; so Moses a shepherd in the Bedouin country, in the "waste, howling wilderness."
5. Leader of Israel:
(1) The Commission.
One day Moses led the flocks to "the back of the wilderness" (Exodus 3:1-12; see BUSH, BURNING. Moses received his commission, the most appalling commission ever given to a mere man (Ex 3:10)--a commission to a solitary man, and he a refugee--to go back home and deliver his kinsmen from a dreadful slavery at the hand of the most powerful nation on earth. Let not those who halt and stumble over the little difficulties of most ordinary lives think hardly of the faltering of Moses' faith before such a task (Exodus 3:11-13; 4:1,10-13). "Thus shalt thou say unto the children of Israel, I AM hath sent me unto you" (Exodus 3:14), was the encouragement God gave him. He gave him also Aaron for a spokesman (Exodus 4:14-16), the return to the Mount of God as a sign (Exodus 3:12), and the rod of power for working wonders (Exodus 4:17).
One of the curious necessities into which the critical analysis drives its advocates is the opinion concerning Aaron that "he scarcely seems to have been a brother and almost equal partner of Moses, perhaps not even a priest" (Bennett, HDB, III, 441). Interesting and curious speculations have been instituted concerning the way in which Israel and especially Pharaoh were to understand the message, "I AM hath sent me unto you" (Exodus 3:13,14; compare 6:3). They were evidently expected to understand this message. Were they to so do by translating or by transliterating it into Egyptian? Some day Egyptologists may be able to answer positively, but not yet.
With the signs for identification (Exodus 4:1-10), Moses was ready for his mission. He went down from the "holy ground" to obey the high summons and fulfill the great commission (Exodus 4:18-23). After the perplexing controversy with his wife, a controversy of stormy ending (Exodus 4:24-26), he seems to have left his family to his father-in-law's care while he went to respond to the call of God (Exodus 18:6). He met Aaron, his brother, at the Mount of God (Exodus 4:27,28), and together they returned to Egypt to collect the elders of Israel (Exodus 4:29-31), who were easily won over to the scheme of emancipation. Was ever a slave people not ready to listen to plans for freedom?
(2) The Conflict with Pharaoh.
The next move was the bold request to the king to allow the people to go into the wilderness to hold a feast unto Yahweh (Exodus 5:1). How did Moses gain admittance past the jealous guards of an Egyptian court to the presence of the Pharaoh himself? And why was not the former traitorous refugee at once arrested? Egyptology affords a not too distinct answer. Rameses II was dead (Exodus 4:19); Merenptah II was on the throne with an insecure tenure, for the times were troubled. Did some remember the "son of Pharaoh's daughter" who, had he remained loyal, would have been the Pharaoh? Probably so. Thus he would gain admittance, and thus, too, in the precarious condition of the throne, it might well not be safe to molest him. The original form of the request made to the king, with some slight modification, was continued throughout (Exodus 8:27; 10:9), though God promised that the Egyptians should thrust them out altogether when the end should come, and it was so (Exodus 11:1; 12:31,33,39). Yet Pharaoh remembered the form of their request and bestirred himself when it was reported that they had indeed gone "from serving" them (Exodus 14:5). The request for temporary departure upon which the contest was made put Pharaoh's call to duty in the easiest form and thus, also, his obstinacy appears as the greater heinousness. Then came the challenge of Pharaoh in his contemptuous demand, "Who is Yahweh?" (Exodus 5:2), and Moses' prompt acceptance of the challenge, in the beginning of the long series of plagues (see PLAGUE) (Exodus 8:1; 12:29-36; 14:31; compare Lamb, Miracle of Science). Pharaoh, having made the issue, was justly required to afford full presentation of it. So Pharaoh's heart was "hardened" (Exodus 4:21; 7:3,13; 9:12,35; 10:1; 14:8; see PLAGUE) until the vindication of Yahweh as God of all the earth was complete. This proving of Yahweh was so conducted that the gods of Egypt were shown to be of no avail against Him, but that He is God of all the earth, and until the faith of the people of Israel was confirmed (Exodus 14:31).
(3) Institution of the Passover.
It was now time for the next step in revelation (Exodus 12; 13:1-16). At the burning bush God had declared His purpose to be a saviour, not a destroyer. In this contest in Egypt, His absolute sovereignty was being established; and now the method of deliverance by Him, that He might not be a destroyer, was to be revealed. Moses called together the elders (Exodus 12:21-28) and instituted the Passover feast. As God always in revelation chooses the known and the familiar--the tree, the bow, circumcision, baptism, and the Supper--by which to convey the unknown, so the Passover was a combination of the household feast with the widespread idea of safety through blood-sacrifice, which, however it may have come into the world, was not new at that time. Some think there is evidence of an old Semitic festival at that season which was utilized for the institution of the Passover.
The lamb was chosen and its use was kept up (Exodus 12:3-6). On the appointed night it was killed and "roasted with fire" and eaten with bitter herbs (Exodus 12:8), while they all stood ready girded, with their shoes on their feet and their staff in hand (Exodus 12:11). They ate in safety and in hope, because the blood of the lamb was on the door (Exodus 12:23). That night the firstborn of Egypt were slain. Among the Egyptians "there was not a house where there was not one dead" (Exodus 12:30), from the house of the maid-servant, who sat with her handmill before her, to the palace of the king that "sat on the throne," and even among the cattle in the pasture. If the plague was employed as the agency of the angel of Yahweh, as some think, its peculiarity is that it takes the strongest and the best and culminates in one great stunning blow and then immediately subsides (see PLAGUE). Who can tell the horror of that night when the Israelites were thrust out of the terror-stricken land (Exodus 12:39)?
As they went out, they "asked," after the fashion of departing servants in the East, and God gave them favor in the sight of the over-awed Egyptians that they lavished gifts upon them in extravagance. Thus "they despoiled the Egyptians" (Exodus 12:36). "Moreover the man Moses was very great in the land of Egypt, in the sight of Pharaoh's servants, and in the sight of the people" (Exodus 11:3; 12:35,36).
(4) The Exodus.
"At the end of 430 years, even the selfsame day it came to pass, that all the hosts of Yahweh went out from the land of Egypt" (Exodus 12:41). The great oppressor was Rameses II, and the culmination and the revolution came, most probably, in connection with the building of Pithom and Raamses, as these are the works of Israel mentioned in the Bible narrative (Exodus 1:11). Rameses said that he built Pithom at the "mouth of the east" (Budge, History of Exodus, V, 123). All efforts to overthrow that statement have failed and for the present, at least, it must stand. Israel built Pithom, Rameses built Pithom; there is a synchronism that cannot in the present knowledge of Egyptian history even be doubted, much less separated. The troubled times which came to Egypt with the beginning of the reign of Merenptah II afforded the psychological moment for the return of the "son of Pharaoh's daughter" and his access to the royal court. The presence and power of Yahweh vindicated His claim to be the Lord of all the earth, and Merenptah let the children of Israel go.
A little later when Israel turned back from the border of Khar (Palestine) into the wilderness and disappeared, and Merenptah's affairs were somewhat settled in the empire, he set up the usual boastful tablet claiming as his own many of the victories of his royal ancestors, added a few which he himself could truly boast, and inserted, near the end, an exultation over Israel's discomfiture, accounting himself as having finally won the victory:
"Tehennu is devastation, Kheta peace, the Canaan the prisoner of all ills;
"Asgalon led out, taken with Gezer, Yenoamam made naught;
"The People of Israel is ruined, his posterity is not; Khar is become as the widows of Egypt."
The synchronisms of this period are well established and must stand until, if it should ever be, other facts of Egyptian history shall be obtained to change them. Yet it is impossible to determine with certainty the precise event from which the descent into Egypt should be reckoned, or to fix the date BC of Moses, Rameses and Merenptah, and the building of Pithom, and so, likewise, the date of the exodus and of all the patriarchal movements. The ancients were more concerned about the order of events, their perspective and their synchronisms than about any epochal date. For the present we must be content with these chronological uncertainties. Astronomical science may sometimes fix the epochal dates for these events; otherwise there is little likelihood that they will ever be known.
They went out from Succoth (Egyptian "Thuku," Budge, History of Egypt, V, 122, 129), carrying the bones of Joseph with them as he had commanded (Exodus 13:19; Genesis 50:25). The northeast route was the direct way to the promised land, but it was guarded. Pithom itself was built at "the mouth of the East," as a part of the great frontier defenses (Budge, op. cit., V, 123). The "wall" on this frontier was well guarded (Exodus 14), and attempts might be made to stop them. So they went not "by the way of the land of the Philistines .... lest peradventure the people repent when they see war" (Exodus 13:17). The Lord Himself took the leadership and went ahead of the host of Israel in a pillar of cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night (Exodus 13:21). He led them by "the way of the wilderness by the Red Sea" (Exodus 13:18). They pitched before Pi-hahiroth, over against Baal-zephon between Migdol and the sea (Exodus 14:2). Not one of these places has been positively identified. But the Journeys before and after the crossing, the time, and the configuration of the land and the coast-line of the sea, together with all the necessities imposed by the narrative, are best met by a crossing near the modern town of Suez (Naville, Route of the Exodus; Palmer, The Desert of the Exodus), where Ras `Ataka comes down to the sea, upon whose heights a migdhol or "watch-tower," as the southern outpost of the eastern line of Egyptian defenses, would most probably be erected.
Word was carried from the frontier to Pharaoh, probably at Tanis, that the Israelites had "fled" (Exodus 14:5), had taken the impassioned thrusting out by the frenzied people of Egypt in good faith and had gone never to return. Pharaoh took immediate steps to arrest and bring back the fugitives. The troops at hand (Exodus 14:6) and the chariot corps, including 600 "chosen chariots," were sent at once in pursuit, Pharaoh going out in person at least to start the expedition (Exodus 14:6,7). The Israelites seemed to be "entangled in the land," and, since "the wilderness (had) shut them in" (Exodus 4:3), must easily fall a prey to the Egyptian army. The Israelites, terror-stricken, cried to Moses. God answered and commanded the pillar of cloud to turn back from its place before the host of Israel and stand between them and the approaching Egyptians, so that while the Egyptians were in the darkness Israel had the light (Exodus 14:19,20). The mountain came down on their right, the sea on the left to meet the foot of the mountain in front of them; the Egyptians were hastening on after them and the pillar of cloud and fire was their rearward. Moses with the rod of God stood at the head of the fleeing host. Then God wrought. Moses stretched out the rod of God over the sea and "Yahweh caused the sea to go back by a strong east wind all the night" (Exodus 14:16-21). A pathway was before them and the sea on the right hand, and on the left was a "wall unto them," and they passed through (Exodus 14:21,22). Such heaping up of the waters by the wind is well known and sometimes amounts to 7 or 8 ft. in Lake Erie (Wright, Scientific Confirmations of the Old Testament, 106). No clearer statement could possibly be made of the means used and of the miraculous timing of God's providence with the obedience of the people to His command to Moses. The host of Israel passed over on the hard, sandy bottom of the sea. The Egyptians coming up in the dark and finding it impossible to tell exactly where the coastline had been on this beach, and where the point of safety would lie when the wind should abate and the tide come in again, impetuously rushed on after the fleeing slaves. In the morning, Yahweh looked forth and troubled the Egyptians "and took off their chariot wheels, and they drove them heavily" (Exodus 14:24,25). The wind had abated, the tide was returning and the infiltration that goes before the tide made the beach like a quicksand. The Egyptians found that they had gone too far and tried to escape (Exodus 14:27), but it was too late. The rushing tide caught them (Exodus 14:28). When the day had come, "horse and rider" were but the subject of a minstrel's song of triumph (Exodus 15:1-19; Psalms 106:9-12) which Miriam led with her timbrel (Exodus 15:20). The Bible does not say, and there is no reason to believe, that Pharaoh led the Egyptian hosts in person further than at the setting off and for the giving of general direction to the campaign (Exodus 15:4). Pharaoh and his host were overthrown in the Red Sea (Psalms 136:15). So Napoleon and his host were overthrown at Waterloo, but Napoleon lived to die at Helena. And Merenptah lived to erect his boastful inscription concerning the failure of Israel, when turned back from Kadesh-barnea, and their disappearance in the wilderness of Paran. His mummy, identified by the lamented Professor Groff, lies among the royal mummies in the Cairo Museum. Thus at the Red Sea was wrought the final victory of Yahweh over Pharaoh; and the people believed (Exodus 14:31).
(5) Special Providences.
Now proceeded that long course of special providences, miraculous timing of events, and multiplying of natural agencies which began with the crossing of the Red Sea and ended only when they "did eat of the fruit of the land" (Joshua 5:12). God promised freedom from the diseases of the Egyptians (Exodus 15:26) at the bitter waters of Marah, on the condition of obedience. Moses was directed to a tree, the wood of which should counteract the alkaline character of the water (Exodus 15:23-25). A little later they were at Elim (Wady Gharandel, in present-day geography), where were "twelve springs of water and three score and ten palm trees" (Exodus 15:27). The enumeration of the trees signifies nothing but their scarcity, and is understood by everyone who has traveled in that desert and counted, again and again, every little clump of trees that has appeared. The course of least resistance here is to turn a little to the right and come out again at the Red Sea in order to pass around the point of the plateau into the wilderness of Sin. This is the course travel takes now, and it took the same course then (Exodus 16:1). Here Israel murmured (Exodus 16:2), and every traveler who crosses this blistering, dusty, wearisome, hungry wilderness joins in the murmuring, and wishes, at least a little, that he had stayed in the land of Egypt (Exodus 16:3). Provisions brought from Egypt were about exhausted and the land supplied but little. Judging from the complaints of the people about the barrenness of the land, it was not much different then from what it is now (Numbers 20:1-6). Now special providential provision began. "At even .... the quails came up, and covered the camp," and in the morning, after the dew, the manna was found (Exodus 16:4-36).
See MANNA; QUAIL.
At Rephidim was the first of the instances when Moses was called upon to help the people to some water. He smote the rock with the rod of God, and there came forth an abundant supply of water (Exodus 17:1-6). There is plenty of water in the wady near this point now. The Amalekites, considering the events immediately following, had probably shut the Israelites off from the springs, so God opened some hidden source in the mountain side. "Then came Amalek, and fought with Israel" (Exodus 17:8). Whether the hand which Moses lifted up during the battle was his own hand or a symbolical hand (Exodus 17:9-12), thought to have been carried in battle then, as sometimes even yet by the Bedouin, is of no importance. It was in either case a hand stretched up to God in prayer and allegiance, and the battle with Amalek, then as now, fluctuates according as the hand is lifted up or lowered (Exodus 17:8-16).
Here Jethro, Moses' father-in-law, met him and brought his wife and children to him (Exodus 18:5,6; compare Numbers 10:29). A sacrificial feast was held with the distinguished guest (Exodus 18:7-12). In the wise counsel of this great desert-priest we see one of the many natural sources of supply for Moses' legal lore and statesmanship. A suggestion of Jethro gave rise to one of the wisest and most far-reaching elements in the civil institutions of Israel, the elaborate system of civil courts (Exodus 18:13-26).
(6) Receiving the Law.
At Sinai Moses reached the pinnacle of his career, though perhaps not the pinnacle of his faith. (For a discussion of the location of Sinai, see SINAI; EXODUS.) It is useless to speculate about the nature of the flames in theophany by fire at Sinai. Some say there was a thunderstorm (HDB); others think a volcanic eruption. The time, the stages of the journey, the description of the way, the topography of this place, especially its admirable adaptability to be the cathedral of Yahweh upon earth, and, above all, the collocation of all the events of the narrative along this route to this spot and to no other--all these exercise an overwhelming influence upon one (compare Palmer, The Desert of the Exodus). If they do not conclusively prove, they convincingly persuade, that here the greatest event between Creation and Calvary took place
Here the people assembled. "And Mount Sinai, the whole of it, smoked," and above appeared the glory of God. Bounds were set about the mountain to keep the people back (Exodus 19:12,13). God was upon the mountain:
"Under his feet as it were a paved work of a sapphire stone, and as it were the very heaven for clearness" (Exodus 19:16-19; 24:10,16,17), "and God spake all these words" (Exodus 20:1-17). Back over the summit of the plain between these two mountain ridges in front, the people fled in terror to the place "afar off" (Exodus 20:18), and somewhere about the foot of this mountain a little later the tabernacle of grace was set up (Exodus 40:17). At this place the affairs of Moses mounted up to such a pinnacle of greatness in the religious history of the world as none other among men has attained unto. He gave formal announcement of the perfect law of God as a rule of life, and the redeeming mercy of God as the hope through repentance for a world of sinners that "fall short." Other men have sought God and taught men to seek God, some by the works of the Law and some by the way of propitiation, but where else in the history of the world has any one man caught sight of both great truths and given them out?
Moses gathered the people together to make the covenant (Exodus 24:1-8), and the nobles of Israel ate a covenant meal there before God (Exodus 24:11). God called Moses again to the mountain with the elders of Israel (Exodus 24:12). There Moses was with God, fasting 40 days (Exodus 34:28). Joshua probably accompanied Moses into the mount (Exodus 24:13). There God gave directions concerning the plan of the tabernacle:
"See .... that thou make all things according to the pattern that was showed thee in the mount" (Hebrews 8:5-12, summing up Exodus 25:40; 26:30; 27:8). This was the statement of the architect to the builder. We can only learn what the pattern was by studying the tabernacle (see TABERNACLE). It was an Egyptian plan (compare Bible Student, January, 1902). While Moses was engaged in his study of the things of the tabernacle on the mount, the people grew restless and appealed to Aaron (Exodus 32:1). In weakness Aaron yielded to them and made them a golden calf and they said, "These are thy gods, O Israel, which brought thee up out of the land of Egypt" (Exodus 32:2-6; compare CALF, GOLDEN). This was probably, like the later calf-worship at Bethel and Dan, ancient Semitic bull-worship and a violation of the second commandment Exodus 20:5; compare Bible Student, August, 1902). The judgment of God was swift and terrible (32:7-35), and Levi was made the Divine agent (32:25-29). Here first the "tent of meeting" comes into prominence as the official headquarters of the leader of Israel (33:7-11). Henceforth independent and distinct from the tabernacle, though on account of the similarity of names liable to be confused with that building, it holds its place and purpose all through the wanderings to the plain of Moab by Jordan (Deuteronomy 31:14). Moses is given a vision of God to strengthen his own faith (Exodus 33:12-23; 34:1-35). On his return from communion with God, he had such glory within that it shone out through his face to the terror of the multitude, an adumbration of that other and more glorious transfiguration at which Moses should also appear, and that reflection of it which is sometimes seen in the life of many godly persons (Matthew 17:1-13; Mark 9:2-10; Luke 9:28-36).
Rationalistic attempts to account for the phenomena at Sinai have been frequent, but usually along certain lines. The favorite hypothesis is that of volcanic action. God has often used natural agencies in His revelation and in His miracles, and there is no necessary obstacle to His doing so here. But there are two seemingly insuperable difficulties in the way of this naturalistic explanation:
one, that since geologic time this has not been a volcanic region; the other, that volcanic eruptions are not conducive to literary inspiration. It is almost impossible to get a sane account from the beholders of an eruption, much less has it a tendency to result in the greatest literature, the most perfect code of laws and the profoundest statesmanship in the world. The human mind can easily believe that God could so speak from Sinai and direct the preparation of such works of wisdom as the Book of the Covenant. Not many will be able to think that Moses could do so during a volcanic eruption at Sinai. For it must be kept in mind that the historical character of the narrative at this point, and the Mosaic authorship of the Book of the Covenant, are generally admitted by those who put forward this naturalistic explanation.
(7) Uncertainties of History.
From this time on to the end of Moses' life, the materials are scant, there are long stretches of silence, and a biographer may well hesitate. The tabernacle was set up at the foot of the "mountain of the law" (Exodus 40:17-19), and the world from that day to this has been able to find a mercy-seat at the foot of the mountain of the law. Nadab and Abihu presumptuously offered strange fire and were smitten (Leviticus 10:1-7). The people were numbered (Numbers 1:1). The Passover was kept (Numbers 9:1-5).
(8) Journey to Canaan Resumed.
The journey to Canaan began again (Numbers 10:11-13). From this time until near the close of the life of Moses the events associated with his name belong for the most part to the story of the wanderings in the wilderness and other subjects, rather than to a biography of Moses. (compare WANDERINGS OF ISRAEL; AARON; MIRIAM; JOSHUA; CALEB; BRAZEN SERPENT, etc.). The subjects and references are as follows:
The Complaining (Numbers 11:1-3)
The Lusting (Numbers 11:4-6,18-35)
The Prophets (Numbers 11:16)
Leprosy of Miriam (Numbers 12:1-16)
(9) The Border of the Land:
Kadesh-barnea (Numbers 13:3-26)
The Spies (De 1:22; Nu 13:2,21; 23:27,28-33; 14:1-38)
The Plagues (Numbers 14:36,37,40-45)
(10) The Wanderings:
Korah, Dathan and Abiram (Numbers 16:1-35)
Death of Miriam (Numbers 20:1)
Unfriendliness of Edom (Numbers 20:14-21)
Death of Aaron (Numbers 20:22-29)
Arad (Numbers 21:1-3)
Compassing of Edom (Numbers 21:4)
Murmuring (Numbers 21:5-7)
The Jordan (Numbers 21:10-20)
Sihon (Numbers 21:21-32)
Og (Numbers 21:33-35)
Pollution of the People (Numbers 25:6-15)
Numbering of the People (Numbers 26)
Joshua Chosen (Numbers 27:15-23)
Midianites Punished (Numbers 31)
(12) Tribes East of Jordan (Numbers 32)
(13) Moses' Final Acts.
Moses was now ready for the final instruction of the people. They were assembled and a great farewell address was given (De 1:1-30:20). Joshua was formally inducted into office (Deuteronomy 31:1-8), and to the priests was delivered a written copy of this last announcement of the Law now adapted to the progress made during 40 years (Deuteronomy 31:9-13; compare 31:24-29). Moses then called Joshua into the tabernacle for a final charge (Deuteronomy 31:14-23), gave to the assembled elders of the people "the words of this song" (Deuteronomy 31:30; 32:1-43) and blessed the people (Deuteronomy 33). And then Moses, who "by faith" had triumphed in Egypt, had been the great revelator at Sinai, had turned back to walk with the people of little faith for 40 years, reached the greatest triumph of his faith, when, from the top of Nebo, the towering pinnacle of Pisgah, he lifted up his eyes to the goodly land of promise and gave way to Joshua to lead the people in (Deuteronomy 34). And there Moses died and was buried, "but no man knoweth of his sepulchre unto this day" (Deuteronomy 34:5,6), "and Moses was a hundred and twenty years old when he died" (Deuteronomy 34:7).
This biography of Moses is the binding-thread of the Pentateuch from the beginning of Exodus to the end of Deuteronomy, without disastrous breaks or disturbing repetitions. There are, indeed, silences, but they occur where nothing great or important in the narrative is to be expected. And there are, in the eyes of some, repetitions, so-called doublets, but they do not seem to be any more real than may be expected in any biography that is only incidental to the main purpose of the writer. No man can break apart this narrative of the books without putting into confusion this life-story; the one cannot be treated as independent of the other; any more than the narrative of the English Commonwealth and the story of Cromwell, or the story of the American Revolution and the career of Washington.
Later references to Moses as leader, lawgiver and prophet run all through the Bible; only the most important will be mentioned:
The place held by Moses in the New Testament is as unique as in the Old Testament, though far less prominent. Indeed, he holds the same place, though presented in a different light. In the Old Testament he is the type of the Prophet to be raised up "like unto" him. It is the time of types, and Moses, the type, is most conspicuous. In the New Testament the Prophet "like unto Moses" has come. He now stands out the greatest One in human history, while Moses, the type, fades away in the shadow. It is thus he appears in Christ's remarkable reference to him:
"He wrote of me" (John 5:46). The principal thing which Moses wrote specifically of Christ is this passage: "Yahweh thy God will raise up unto thee a prophet from the midst of thee, of thy brethren, like unto me" (Deuteronomy 18:15,18). Again in the Epistle to the Hebrews, which is the formal passing over from the types of the Old Testament to the fulfillment in the New Testament, Jesus is made to stand out as the Moses of the new dispensation (Hebrews 3; 12:24-29). Other most important New Testament references to Moses are Matthew 17:3; Mark 9:4; Luke 9:30; John 1:17,45; 3:14; Romans 5:14; Jude 1:9; Revelation 15:3.
II. Work and Character.
So little is known of the private life of Moses that his personal character can scarcely be separated from the part which he bore in public affairs. It is the work he wrought for Israel and for mankind which fixes his place among the great ones of earth. The life which we have just sketched as the life of the leader of Israel is also the life of the author, the lawgiver, and the prophet.
1. The Author:
It is not within the province of this article to discuss in full the great critical controversies concerning the authorship of Moses which have been summed up against him thus:
"It is doubtful whether we can regard Moses as an author in the literary sense" (HDB, III, 446; see PENTATEUCH; DEUTERONOMY). It will only be in place here to present a brief statement of the evidence in the case for Moses. There is no longer any question concerning the literary character of the age in which Moses lived. That Moses might have written is indisputable. But did he write, and how much? What evidence bears at these points?
(1) "Moses Wrote."
The idea of writing or of writings is found 60 times in the Pentateuch It is definitely recorded in writing purporting to be by Moses. 7 times that Moses wrote or was commanded to write (Exodus 17:14; 34:27; 39:30; Numbers 17:2,3; Deuteronomy 10:4; 31:24) and frequently of others in his times (Deuteronomy 6:9; 27:3; 31:19; Joshua 8:32). Joshua at the great convocation at Shechem for the taking of the covenant wrote "these words in the book of the law of God" (Joshua 24:26). Thus is declared the existence of such a book but 25 years after the death of Moses (compare Bible Student, 1901, 269-74). It is thus clearly asserted by the Scriptures as a fact that Moses in the wilderness a little after the exodus was "writing" "books."
(2) Moses' Library.
There are many library marks in the Pentateuch, even in those portions which by nearly all, even the most radical, critics are allowed to be probably the writings of Moses. The Pentateuch as a whole has such library marks all over it.
On the one hand this is entirely consistent with the known literary character of the age in which Moses lived. One who was "instructed in all the wisdom of the Egyptians" might have had in his possession Egyptian records. And the author of this article is of that class to whom Professor Clay refers, who believe "that Hebraic (or Amoraic) literature, as well as Aramaic, has a great antiquity prior to the 1st millennium BC" (Clay, Amurru, 32).
On the other hand, the use of a library to the extent indicated by the abiding marks upon the Pentateuch does not in the least militate against the claim of Moses for authorship of the same. The real library marks, aside from the passages which are assigned by the critics to go with them, are far less numerous and narrower in scope than in Gibbon or in Kurtz. The use of a library no more necessarily endangers authorship in the one case than in the other.
(3) The Moses-Tradition.
A tradition from the beginning universally held, and for a long time and without inherent absurdity, has very great weight. Such has been the Moses-tradition of authorship. Since Moses is believed to have been such a person living in such an age and under such circumstances as might suitably provide the situation and the occasion for such historical records, so that common sense does not question whether he could have written "a" Pentateuch, but only whether he did write "the" Pentateuch which we have, it is easier to believe the tradition concerning his authorship than to believe that such a tradition arose with nothing so known concerning his ability and circumstances. But such a tradition did arise concerning Moses. It existed in the days of Josiah. Without it, by no possibility could the people have been persuaded to receive with authority a book purporting to be by him. The question of the truthfulness of the claim of actually finding the Book of the Law altogether aside, there must have been such a national hero as Moses known to the people and believed in by them, as well as a confident belief in an age of literature reaching back to his days, else the Book of the Law would not have been received by the people as from Moses. Archaeology does not supply actual literary material from Israel much earlier than the time of Josiah, but the material shows a method of writing and a literary advancement of the people which reaches far back for its origin, and which goes far to justify the tradition in Josiah's day. Moreover, to the present time, there is no archaeological evidence to cast doubt upon that tradition.
(4) The Pentateuch in the Northern Kingdom.
The evidence of the Pentateuch in the Northern Kingdom before the fall of Samaria is very strong--this entirely aside from any evidence from the Sam Pentateuch. Although some few insist upon an early date for that book, it is better to omit it altogether from this argument, as the time of its composition is not absolutely known and is probably not very far from the close of the Babylonian exile of Judah. But the prophets supply indubitable evidence of the Pentateuch in the Northern Kingdom (Hosea 1:10; 4:6; 8:1,13; 9:11; 12:9; Amos 5:21,22; 8:5; compare Green, Higher Criticism and the Pentateuch, 56-58).
(5) Evidence for the Mosaic Age.
Beyond the limit to which historical evidence reaches concerning the Mosaic authorship of the Pentateuch, internal evidence for the Mosaic age as the time of its composition carries us back to the very days of Moses. Egyptian words in the Pentateuch attest its composition in the Mosaic age, not because they are Egyptian words, for it is quite supposable that later authors might have known Egyptian words, but because they are Egyptian words of such marked peculiarities in meaning and history and of such absolutely accurate use in the Pentateuch, that their employment by later authors in such a way is incredible. The list of such words is a long one. Only a few can be mentioned here. For a complete list the authorities cited must be consulted. There is ye'or, for the streams of Egypt; achu, for the marshy pasture lands along the Nile; shesh, for the "fine white linen" of the priests; "the land of Rameses" for a local district in lower Egypt; tsaphenath pa`neach, Joseph's Egyptian name, and acenath, the name of Joseph's Egyptian wife, and many other Egyptian words (see Lieblein, in PSBA, May, 1898, 202-10; also The Bible Student, 1901, 36-40).
(6) The Obscurity of the Doctrine of the Resurrection in the Pentateuch.
This obscurity has been urged against the Mosaic authorship of the Pentateuch. Because of the popular belief concerning the doctrine of the resurrection among the Egyptians, this objection to the Mosaic authorship of the Pentateuch becomes the most forcible of all the objections urged by critics. If the Pentateuch was written by Moses when Israel had just come out of Egypt, why did he leave the doctrine of the resurrection in such obscurity? The answer is very simple. The so-called Egyptian doctrine of the resurrection was not a doctrine of resurrection at all, but a doctrine of resuscitation. The essential idea of resurrection, as it runs through Scripture from the first glimpse of it until the declaration of Paul:
"It is sown a natural body; it is raised a spiritual body. If there is a natural body, there is also a spiritual body" (1 Corinthians 15:35-45), is almost absolutely beyond the Egyptian vision of the future life. With the Egyptians the risen body was to live the same old life on "oxen, geese, bread, beer, wine and all good things" (compare for abundant illustration Maspero's Guide to Cairo Museum). The omission of the doctrine of the resurrection from the Pentateuch at the later date assigned by criticism is very hard to account for. In view of some passages from the Psalms and the Prophets, it appears inexplicable (Job 19:25-27; Psalms 16:10; 49:15; Isaiah 26:19; Ezekiel 37; Daniel 12:2). The gross materialism of the Egyptian doctrine of the rising from the dead makes the obscurity of the doctrine of the resurrection in the Pentateuch in Moses' day perfectly natural. Any direct mention of the subject at that time among a people just come out of Egypt would have carried at once into Israel's religion the materialism of the Egyptian conception of the future life. The only way by which the people could be weaned away from these Egyptian ideas was by beginning, as the Pentateuch does, with more spiritual ideas of God, of the other world and of worship. The obscurity of the doctrine of the resurrection in the Pentateuch, so far from being against the Mosaic authorship, is very cogent reason for believing the Pentateuch to have come from that age, as the only known time when such an omission is reasonably explicable. Lord, in his lectures, though not an Egyptologist, caught sight of this truth which later work of Egyptologists has made clear (Moses, 45). Warburton had a less clear vision of it (see Divine Legation).
(7) The Unity of the Pentateuch.
Unity in the Pentateuch, abstractly considered, cannot be indicative of particular time for its composition. Manifestly, unity can be given a book at any time. There is indisputably a certain appearance of unity in narrative in the Pentateuch, and when this unity is examined somewhat carefully, it is found to have such peculiarity as does point to the Mosaic age for authorship. The making of books which have running through them such a narrative as is contained in the Pentateuch which, especially from the end of Genesis, is entangled and interwoven with dates and routes and topographical notes, the history of experiences, all so accurately given that in large part to this day the route and the places intended can be identified, all this, no matter when the books were written, certainly calls for special conditions of authorship. A narrative which so provides for all the exigencies of desert life and so anticipates the life to which Israel looked forward, exhibits a realism which calls for very special familiarity with all the circumstances. And when the narrative adds to all this the life of a man without breaks or repetitions adverse to the purpose of a biography, and running through from beginning to end, and not a haphazard, unsymmetrical man such as might result from the piecing together of fragments, but a colossal and symmetrical man, the foremost man of the world until a greater than Moses should appear, it demands to be written near the time and place of the events narrated. That a work of fiction, struck off at one time by one hand, might meet all these requirements at a later date, no one can doubt, but a scrap-book, even though made up of facts, cannot do so. In fact, the scraps culled. out by the analysis of the Pentateuch do not make a connected life-story at all, but three fragmentary and disconnected stories, and turn a biography, which is the binding-thread of the books, into what is little better than nonsense.
The unity of the Law, which also can be well sustained, is to the same effect as the unity of the narrative in certifying the narrative near to the time and place of the events narrated. The discussion of the unity of the Law, which involves nearly the whole critical controversy of the day, would be too much of a digression for an article on Moses (see LAW; LEVITICUS; DEUTERONOMY; also Green, Higher Criticism and the Pent; Orr, POT; Wiener, Biblical Sac., 1909--10).
Neither criticism nor archaeology has yet produced the kind or degree of evidence which rationalism demands for the Mosaic authorship of the Pentateuch. No trace has yet been found either of the broken tablets at Mt. Sinai or of the autograph copy of the Law of the Lord "by the hand of Moses" brought out of the house of the Lord in the days of Josiah. Nor are these things likely to be found, nor anything else that will certify authorship like a transcription of the records in the copyright office. Such evidence is not reasonably demanded. The foregoing indications point very strongly to the production of the Pentateuch in the Mosaic age by someone as familiar with the circumstances and as near the heart of the nation as Moses was. That here and there a few slight additions may have been made and that, perhaps, a few explanations made by scribes may have slipped into the text from the margin are not unlikely (Numbers 12:3; Deuteronomy 34), but this does not affect the general claim of authorship.
Psalms 90 is also attributed to Moses, though attempts have been made to discredit his authorship here also (Delitzsch, Commentary on the Psalms). There are those who perhaps still hold to the Mosaic authorship of the Book of Job. But that view was never more than a speculation.
2. The Lawgiver:
The character of Moses as lawgiver is scarcely separable from that of Moses as author, but calls for some separate consideration.
(1) The extent of the Mosaic element in the Pentateuch legislation has been so variously estimated that for any adequate idea of the discussion the reader must consult not only other articles (LAW; COVENANT, BOOK OF THE; PENTATEUCH) but special works on this subject. In accord with the reasons presented above for the authorship of the Pentateuch in Mosaic times, the great statesman seems most naturally the author of the laws so interwoven with his life and leadership. Moses first gave laws concerning the Passover (Exodus 13). At Sinai, after the startling revelation from the summit of the mountain, it is most reasonable that Moses should gather the people together to covenant with God, and should record that event in the short code of laws known as the Book of the Covenant (Exodus 24:7). This code contains the Moral Law (Exodus 20:1-17) as fundamental, the constitution of theocracy and of all ethical living. This is followed by a brief code suitable to their present condition and immediate prospects (Exodus 20:24-26; 21-23). Considering the expectations of both leader and people that they would immediately proceed to the promised land and take possession, it is quite in order that there should be laws concerning vineyards and olive orchards (Exodus 23:11), and harvests (Exodus 23:10-16) and the first-fruits (Exodus 23:19). Upon the completion of the tabernacle, a priest-code became a necessity. Accordingly, such a code follows with great minutiae of directions. This part of the Law is composed almost entirely of "laws of procedure" intended primarily for the priests, that they might know their own duties and give oral instruction to the people, and probably was never meant for the whole people except in the most general way. When Israel was turned back into the wilderness, these two codes were quite sufficient for the simple life of the wanderings. But Israel developed. The rabble became a nation. Forty years of life under law, under the operation of the Book of the Covenant in the moralities of life, the Priestly Code in their religious exercises, and the brief statutes of Leviticus for the simple life of the desert, prepared the people for a more elaborate code as they entered the promised land with its more complex life. Accordingly, in Deuteronomy that code was recorded and left for the guidance of the people. That these various codes contain some things not now understood is not at all surprising. It would be surprising if they did not. Would not Orientals of today find some things in Western laws quite incomprehensible without explanation?
That some few items of law may have been added at a later time, as some items of history were added to the narrative, is not at all unreasonable, and does in no way invalidate the claim of Moses as the lawgiver, any more than later French legislation has invalidated the Corsican's claim to the Napoleonic Code.
The essential value of the Mosaic legislation is beyond comparison. Some of the laws of Moses, relating as they did to passing problems, have themselves passed away; some of them were definitely abrogated by Christ and others explicitly fulfilled; but much of his legislation, moral, industrial, social and political, is the warp and woof of the best in the great codes of the world to this day. The morality of the Decalogue is unapproached among collections of moral precepts. Its divinity, like the divinity of the teachings of Jesus, lies not only in what it includes, but also in what it omits. The precepts of Ptah-hotep, of Confucius, of Epictetus include many things found in the Decalogue; the Decalogue omits many things found among the maxims of these moralists. Thus, in what it excludes, as in what it includes, the perfection of the Decalogue lies.
(2) It should be emphasized that the laws of Moses were codes, not a collection of court decisions known to lawyers as common law, but codes given abstractly, not in view of any particular concrete case, and arranged in systematic order (Wiener, Biblical Sac., 1909-10). This is entirely in harmony with the archaeological indications of the Mosaic and preceding ages. The Code of Hammurabi, given at least 5 centuries before, is one of the most orderly, methodical and logical codes ever constructed (Lyon, JAOS, XXV, 254).
3. The Prophet:
The career and the works and the character of Moses culminate in the prophetic office. It was as prophet that Moses was essentially leader. It was as prophet that he held the place of highest eminence in the world until a greater than Moses came.
(1) The statesman-prophet framed a civil government which illustrated the kingdom of God upon earth. The theocracy did not simulate any government of earth, monarchy, republic or socialistic state. It combined the best elements in all of these and set up the most effective checks which have ever been devised against the evils of each.
(2) The lawgiver-prophet inculcated maxims and laws which set the feet of the people in the way of life, so that, while failing as a law of life in a sinful world, these precepts ever remain as a rule of conduct.
(3) The priest-prophet prepared and gave to Israel a ritual of worship which most completely typified the redemptive mercy of God and which is so wonderfully unfolded in the Epistle to the Hebrews, as it has been more wonderfully fulfilled in the life and atoning death of Christ.
(4) In all the multiform activities of the prophetic career he was a type of Christ, the type of Christ whose work was a "tutor unto Christ."
Moses' revelation of God ever transcends the speculations of theologians about God as a sunrise transcends a treatise on the solar spectrum. While the speculations are cold and lifeless, the revelation is vital and glorious. As an analysis of Raphael's painting of the transfiguration belittles its impression upon the beholder, while a sight of the picture exalts that scene in the mind and heart, so the attempts of theologians to analyze God and bring Him within the grasp of the human mind belittle the conception of God, dwarf it to the capacity of the human intellect, while such a vision of Him as Moses gives exalts and glorifies Him beyond expression. Thus, while theologians of every school from Athanasius to Ritschl come and go, Moses goes on forever; while they stand cold on library shelves, he lives warm in the hearts of men.
Such was the Hebrew leader, lawgiver, prophet, poet; among mere men, "the foremost man of all this world."
Commentaries on the Pentateuch; for rabbinical traditions, compare Lauterbach in Jewish Encyclopedia; for pseudepigraphical books ascribed to Moses, see Charles, Assumption of Moses; for Mohammedan legends, compare DB; Ebers, Egypten und die Bucher Mosis; for critical partition of books of Moses, compare the Polychrome Bible and Bennett in HDB; for comprehensive discussion of the critical problems, compare POT.
M. G. Kyle
These files are public domain.