Who was Moses?
The Name Moses
The name "Moses" comes from the Hebrew Mosheh, from an Egyptian root, "son" or "brought forth," namely, out of the water. The name was also borne by an Egyptian prince, viceroy of Nubia under the 19th dynasty. In the part of the Exodus narrative which deals with Egypt, words are used purely Egyptian or common to Hebrew and Egyptian.
Manetho in Josephus (contra Apion 1:26,28,31) calls him Osarsiph, i.e. sword of Osiris or saved by Osiris. "The man of God" in the title Ps. 90, for as Moses gave in the Pentateuch the key note to all succeeding prophets so also to inspired psalmody in that the oldest psalm. "Jehovah's slave" (Num. 12:7; Deut. 34:5; Josh. 1:2; Ps. 105:26; Heb. 3:5). "Jehovah's chosen" (Ps. 106:23). "The man of God" (1 Chr. 23:14).
Besides the Pentateuch, the Prophets and Psalms and New Testament (Acts 7:9,20-38; 2 Tim. 3:8,9; Heb. 11:20-28; Jude 1:9) give details concerning him. His Egyptian rearing and life occupy 40 years, his exile in the Arabian desert 40, and his leadership of Israel from Egypt to Moab 40 (Acts 7:23,30,36).
The Family of Moses
Son of Amram (a later one than Kohath's father) (which see) and Jochebed (whose name, derived from Jehovah, shows the family hereditary devotion); Miriam, married to Hur, was oldest; Aaron, married to Elisheba, three years older (Exo. 7:7, compare Exo. 2:7); next Moses, youngest. By Zipporah, Reuel's daughter, he had two sons: Gershom, father of Jonathan, and Eliezer (1 Chr. 23:14,15); these took no prominent place in their tribe.
A mark of genuineness; a forger would have made them prominent. Moses showed no self-seeking or nepotism. His tribe Levi was the priestly one, and naturally rallied round him in support of the truth with characteristic enthusiasm (Exo. 32:27,28). Born at Heliopolis (Josephus, Ap. 1:9,6; 2:9,) at the time of Israel's deepest depression, from whence the proverb, "when the tale of bricks is doubled then comes Moses."
The Birth and Early Life of Moses
Magicians foretold to Pharaoh his birth as a destroyer; a dream announced to Amram his coming as the deliverer (Josephus, Ant. 2:9, section 2,3). Some prophecies probably accompanied his birth. These explain the parents' "faith" which laid hold of God's promise contained in those prophecies; the parents took his good looks as a pledge of the fulfillment. Heb. 11:23, "by faith Moses when he was born was hid three months of his parents, because they saw he was a proper (good-looking: Acts 7:20, Greek `fair to God') child, and they were not afraid of the king's commandment" to slay all the males. For three months Jochebed hid him.
Then she placed him in an ark of papyrus, secured with bitumen, and laid it in the flags (tufi, less in size than the other papyrus) by the river's brink, and went away unable to bear longer the sight. (H. F. Talbot Transact. Bibl. Archrael., i., pt. 9, translates a fragment of Assyrian mythology: "I am Sargina the great king, king of Agani. My mother gave birth to me in a secret place. She placed me in an ark of bulrushes and closed up the door with slime and pitch. She cast me into the river," etc. A curious parallel.)
Miriam lingered to watch what would happen. Pharaoh's daughter (holding an independent position and separate household under the ancient empire; childless herself, therefore ready to adopt Moses; Thermutis according to Josephus) coming down to bathe in the sacred and life giving Nile (as it was regarded) saw the ark and sent her maidens to fetch it. The babe's tears touched her womanly heart, and on Miriam's offer to fetch a Hebrew nurse she gave the order enabling his sister to call his mother.
Tunis (now San), Zoan, or Avaris near the sea was the place, where crocodiles are never found; and so the infant would run no risk in that respect. Aahmes I, the expeller of the shepherd kings, had taken it. Here best the Pharaohs could repel the attacks of Asiatic nomads and crush the Israelite serfs. "The field of Zoan" was the scene of God's miracles in Israel's behalf (Ps. 78:43). She adopted Moses as "her son, and trained him "in all the wisdom of the Egyptians," Providence thus qualifying him with the erudition needed for the predestined leader and instructor of Israel, and "he was mighty in words and in deeds."
This last may hint at what Josephus states, namely, that Moses led a successful campaign against Ethiopia, and named Saba the capital Meroe (Artapanus in Eusebius 9:27), from his adopted mother Merrhis, and brought away as his wife Tharbis daughter of the Ethiopian king, who falling in love with him had shown him the way to gain the swamp surrounding the city (Josephus Ant. 2:10, section 2; compare Num. 12:1).
However, his marriage to the Ethiopian must have been at a later period than Josephus states, namely, after Zipporah's death in the wilderness wanderings. An inscription by Thothmes I, who reigned in Moses' early life, commemorates the "conqueror of the nine bows," i.e. Libya. A statistical tablet of Karnak (Birch says) states that Chebron and Thothmes I overran Ethiopia. Moses may have continued the war and in it wrought the "mighty deeds" ascribed to him.
The Call of Moses
When Moses was 40 years old, in no fit of youthful enthusiasm but deliberately, Moses "chose" (Heb. 11:23-28) what are the last things men choose, loss of social status as son of Pharaoh's daughter, "affliction," and "reproach." Faith made him prefer the "adoption" of the King of kings. He felt the worst of religion is better than the best of the world; if the world offers "pleasure" it is but "for a season." Contrast Esau (Heb. 12:16,17).
If religion brings "affliction" it too is but for a season, its pleasures are "forevermore at God's right hand" (Ps. 16:11). Israel's "reproach" "Christ" regards as His own (2 Cor. 1:5; Col. 1:24), it will soon be the true Israel's glory (Isa. 25:8). "Moses had respect unto" (Greek apeblepen), or turned his eyes from all worldly considerations to fix them on, the eternal "recompense."
His "going out unto his brethren when he was grown and looking on their burdens" was his open declaration of his taking his portion with the oppressed serfs on the ground of their adoption by God and inheritance of the promises. "It came into his heart (from God's Spirit, Prov. 16:1) to visit his brethren, the children of Israel" (Acts 7:23).
An Egyptian overseer, armed probably with one of the long heavy scourges of tough pliant Syrian wood (Chabas' "Voyage du Egyptien," 119,136), was smiting an Hebrew, one of those with whom Moses identified himself as his "brethren." Giving way to impulsive hastiness under provocation, without regard to self when wrong was done to a brother, Moses took the law into his own hands, and slew and hid the Egyptian in the sand. Stephen (Acts 7:25,35) implies that Moses meant by the act to awaken in the Hebrews a thirst for the freedom and nationality which God had promised and to offer himself as their deliverer.
But on his striving to reconcile two quarreling Hebrews the wrong doer, when reproved, replied: "who made thee a prince (with the power) and a judge (with the right of interfering) over us? (Luke 19:14, the Antitype.) Intendest thou to kill me as thou killedst the Egyptian?" Slavery had debased them, and Moses dispirited gave up as hopeless the enterprise which he had undertaken in too hasty and self-relying a spirit. His impetuous violence retarded instead of expedited their deliverance. He still needed 40 more years of discipline, in meek self-control and humble dependence on Jehovah, in order to qualify him for his appointed work.
A proof of the genuineness of the Pentateuch is the absence of personal details which later tradition would have been sure to give. Moses' object was not a personal biography but a history of God's dealings with Israel. Pharaoh, on hearing of his killing the Egyptian overseer, "sought to slay him," a phrase implying that Moses' high position made necessary special measures to bring him under the king's power.
Moses fled, leaving his exalted prospects to wait God's time and God's way. Epistle to the Hebrews (Heb. 11:27) writes, "by faith he forsook Egypt, not fearing the wrath of the king." Moses "feared" (Exo. 2:14,15) lest by staying he should sacrifice his divinely intimated destiny to be Israel's deliverer, which was his great aim. But he did "not fear" the king's wrath which would be aggravated by his fleeing without Pharaoh's leave. He did "not fear the king" so as to shrink from returning at all risks when God commanded. "Faith" God saw to be the ruling motive of his flight more than fear of personal safety; "he endured as seeing (through faith) Him who is invisible" (Luke 12:4,5).
Despondency, when commissioned at last by God to arouse the people, was his first feeling on his return, from past disappointment in not having been able to inspire Israel with those high hopes for which he had sacrificed all earthly prospects (Exo. 3:15; 4:1; 10-12). He dwells not on Pharaoh's cruelty and power, but on the hopelessness of his appeals to Israel and on his want of the "eloquence" needed to move their stubborn hearts.
He fled from Egypt to southern Midian because Reuel (his name "friend of God" implies he worshipped EL) or Raguel there still maintained the worship of the true God as king-priest or imam (Arabic version) before Israel's call, even as Melchizedek did at Jerusalem before Abraham's call. The northern people of Midian through contact with Canaan were already idolaters. Reuel's daughters, in telling of Moses' help to them in watering their flocks, called him "an Egyptian," judging from his costume and language, for he had not yet been long enough living with Israelites to be known as one; an undesigned coincidence and mark of genuineness.
Moses "was content to live with Reuel" as in a congenial home, marrying Zipporah his daughter. From him probably Moses learned the traditions of Abraham's family in connection with Keturah (Gen. 25:2). Zipporah bore him Gershom and Eliezer whose names ("stranger," "God is my help") intimate how keenly he felt his exile (Exo. 18:3,4). The alliance between Israel and the Kenite Midianites continued permanently. HOBAB (which see), Moses' brother-in-law, was subsequently Israel's guide through the desert. In the 40 years' retirement Moses learned that self discipline which was needed for leading a nation under such unparalleled circumstances. An interval of solitude is needed especially by men of fervor and vehemence; so Paul in Arabia (Acts 24:27; Gal. 1:17).
He who first attempted the great undertaking without God's call, expecting success from his own powers, in the end never undertook anything without God's guidance. His hasty impetuosity of spirit in a right cause, and his abandonment of that cause as hopeless on the first rebuff, gave place to a meekness, patience, tenderness, long suffering under wearing provocation and trials from the stiff-necked people, and persevering endurance, never surpassed (Num. 12:3; 27:16).
To appreciate this meekness, e.g. under MIRIAM's (which see) provocation, and apparent insensibility where his own honor alone was concerned, contrast his vigorous action, holy boldness for the Lord's honor, and passionate earnestness of intercession for his people, even to the verge of unlawful excess, in self sacrifice. He would not "let God alone," "standing before God in the breach to turn away His wrath" from Israel (Ps. 106:23).
His intercessions restored Miriam, stayed plagues and serpents, and procured water out of the rock (Exo. 32:10,11,20-25,31,32). His was the reverse of a phlegmatic temper, but divine grace subdued and sanctified the natural defects of a man of strong feelings and impetuous character. His entire freedom from Miriam's charge of unduly exalting his office appears beautifully in his gentle reproof of Joshua's zeal for his honor: "enviest thou for my sake? would God that all the Lord's people were prophets!" etc. (Num. 11:29.)
His recording his own praises (Num. 12:3-7) is as much the part of the faithful servant of Jehovah, writing under His inspiration, as his recording his own demerits (Exo. 2:12; 3:11; 4:10-14; Num. 20:10-12). Instead of vindicating himself in the case of Korah (Num. 16) and Miriam (Num. 12) he leaves his cause with God, and tenderly intercedes for Miriam. He is linked with Samuel in after ages as an instance of the power of intercessory prayer (Jer. 15:1).
He might have established his dynasty over Israel, but he assumed no princely honor and sought no preeminence for his sons (Deut. 9:13-19). The spiritual progress in Moses between his first appearance and his second is very marked. The same spirit prompted him to avenge his injured countryman, and to rescue the Midianite women from the shepherds' violence, as afterward led him to confront Pharaoh; but in the first instance he was an illustration of the truth that "the wrath of man worketh not the righteousness of God" (James 1:20).
The traditional site of his call by the divine "Angel of Jehovah" (the uncreated Shekinah, "the Word" of John 1, "the form like the Son of God" with Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego in the furnace, Dan. 3:25) is in the valley of Shoayb or Hobab, on the northern side of jebel Musa. Moses led Jethro's flock to the W. ("the back side") of the desert or open pasture. The district of Sherim on the Red Sea, Jethro's abode, was barren; four days N.W. of it lies the Sinai region with good pasturage and water.
He came to "the mountain of God" (Sinai, called so by anticipation of God's giving the law there) on his way toward Horeb. The altar of Catherine's convent is said to occupy the site of the (the article is in the Hebrew,: the well known) burning bush. The vision is generally made to typify Israel afflicted yet not consumed (2 Cor. 4:8-10); but the flame was in the bush, not the bush in the flame; rather, Israel was the lowly acacia, the thorn bush of the desert, yet God deigned to abide in the midst of her (Zec. 2:5). So Israel's Antitype, Messiah, has "all the fullness of the Godhead dwelling in Him bodily" (John 1:14; Col. 2:9).
Jehovah gave Moses two signs as credentials to assure him of his mission: the transformation of his long "rod" of authority (as on Egyptian monuments) or pastoral rod into a "serpent," the basilisk or cobra, the symbol of royal and divine power on the Pharaoh's diadem; a pledge of victory over the king and gods of Egypt (compare Mark 16:18; Moses' humble but wonder working crook typifies Christ's despised but all-powerful cross).
The hand made leprous, then restored, represents the nation of lepers (as Egyptian tradition made them, and as spiritually they had become in Egypt) with whom Moses linked himself, divinely healed through his instrumentality. No patriarch before wrought a miracle. Had the Pentateuch been mythical, it would have attributed supernatural wonders to the first fathers of the church and founders of the race. As it is, Moses first begins the new era in the history of the world with signs from God by man unknown before.
To Moses' disinterested and humble pleadings of inability to speak, and desire that some other should be sent, Jehovah answers: "Aaron shall be thy spokesman ... even he shall be to thee a mouth, and thou shalt be to him instead of God." Aaron, when he heard of Moses leaving Midian, of his own accord went to meet him; Jehovah further directed him what way to go in order to meet him, namely, by the desert (Exo. 4:14,27). The two meeting and kissing on the mountain of God typify the law and the sacrificing priesthood meeting in Christ (Exo. 4:27; Ps. 85:10).
Nothing short of divine interposition could have enabled Moses to lead an unwarlike people of serfs out of a powerful nation like Egypt, to give them the law with their acceptance of it though so contrary to their corrupt inclinations, to keep them together for 40 years in the wilderness, and finally to lead them to their conquest of the eastern part of Canaan. Moses had neither eloquence nor military prowess (as appears Exo. 4:10; 17:8-12), qualities so needful for an ordinary popular leader.
He had passed in rural life the 40 years constituting the prime of his vigor. He had seemingly long given up all hopes of being Israel's deliverer, and settled himself in Midian. Nothing but God's extraordinary call could have urged him, against his judgment, reluctantly at fourscore to resume the project of rousing a debased people which in the rigor of manhood he had been forced to give up as hopeless.
Nothing but such plagues as Scripture records could have induced the most powerful monarchy then in the world to allow their unarmed serfs to pass away voluntarily. His first efforts only aggravated Pharaoh's oppression and Israel's bondage (Exo. 5:2-9). Nor could magical feats derived from Egyptian education have enabled Moses to gain his point, for he was watched and opposed by the masters of this art, who had the king and the state on their side, while Moses had not a single associate save Aaron.
Yet in a few months, without Israel's drawing sword, Pharaoh and the Egyptians urge their departure, and Israel "demands" (not "borrows," shaa'al) as a right from their former masters, and receives, gold, silver, and jewels (Exo. 12:85-39). Not even does Moses lead them the way of Philistia which, as being near, wisdom would suggest, but knowing their unwarlike character avoids it; Moses guides them into a defile with mountains on either side and the Red Sea in front, from whence escape from the Egyptian disciplined pursuers, who repented of letting them go, seemed hopeless, especially as Israel consisted of spiritless men, encumbered with women and with children.
Nothing but the miracle recorded can account for the issue; Egypt's king and splendid host perish in the waters, Israel passes through in triumph (Exo. 13:17; 14:3,5,9,11,12-14). Again Moses with undoubting assurance of success on the borders of Canaan tells Israel "go up and possess the land" (Deut. 1:20,21).
By the people's desire spies searched the land; they reported the goodness of the land but yet more the strength and tallness of its inhabitants. The timid Israelites were daunted, and even proposed to stone the two faithful spies, to depose Moses, and choose a captain to lead them back to Egypt. Moses, instead of animating them to enter Canaan, now will neither suffer them to proceed, nor yet to return to Egypt; they must march and counter-march in the wilderness for 40 years until every adult but two shall have perished; but their little ones, who they said should be a prey, God will bring in.
Only a divine direction, manifested with miracle, can account for such an unparalleled command and for its being obeyed by so disobedient a people. Too late they repented of their unbelieving cowardice, when Moses announced God's sentence, and in spite of Moses' warning presumed to go, but were chased by the Amalekites to Hormah (Deut. 1:45,46; 2:14; Num. 14:39).
The sustenance of 600,000 men besides women and children, 40 years, in a comparative desert could only be by miracle; as the Pentateuch records, they were fed with manna from heaven until they ate the grain of Canaan, on the morrow after which the manna ceased (Exo. 16; Josh. 5:12). Graves, Pentateuch, 1:1, section 5.
Aaron and Hur supported Moses in the battle with Amalek (Exo. 17:12); Joshua was his minister. The localities of the desert commemorate his name, "the wells of Moses," Ayun Moses on the Red Sea, jebel Musa, the mountain of Moses, and the ravine of Moses near the Catherine convent. At once the prophet (foremost and greatest, Deut. 34:10,11), lawgiver, and leader of Israel, Moses typifies and resembles Messiah (Num. 21:18; Deut. 33:21; especially Deut. 18:15-19, compare Acts 3:22; 7:37,25,35; John 1:17).
Israel's rejection of Moses prefigures their rejection of Christ. His mediatorship in giving the law answers to Christ's; also Exo. 17:11; 32:10-14,31-34; 33:18-16; Gal. 3:19, compare 1 Tim. 2:5. Moses was the only prophet to whom Jehovah spoke "face to face," "as a man speaketh unto his friend" (Exo. 33:11; Num. 12:8; Deut. 34:10): so at Horeb (Exo. 33:18-23); compare as to Christ John 1:18. For the contrast between "Christ the Son over His own house" and "Moses the servant faithful in all God's house" see Heb. 3:1-6.
Pharaoh's murder of the innocents answers to Herod's; Christ like Moses sojourned in Egypt, His 40 days' fast answers to that of Moses. Moses stands at the head of the legal dispensation, so that Israel is said to have been "baptized unto Moses" (initiated into the Mosaic covenant) as Christians are into Christ.
The Golden Calf
Moses after the calf worship removed the temporary tabernacle (preparatory to the permanent one, subsequently described) outside the camp; and as he disappeared in this "tent of meeting" (rather than "tabernacle of congregation") the people wistfully gazed after him (Exo. 33:7-10).
On his last descent from Sinai "his face shone"; and he put on a veil as the people "could not steadfastly behold the face of Moses for the glory of his countenance, which glory was to be done away," a type of the transitory dispensation which he represented, in contrast to the abiding Christian dispensation (Exo. 34:30,38; 2 Cor. 3:13,14,7,11). "They were afraid to come nigh him": Alford's explanation based on the Septuagint is disproved by Exo. 34:30; 2 Cor. 3:7, namely, that Moses not until he had done speaking to the people put on the veil "that they might not look on the end (the fading) of his transitory glory."
Paul implies, "Moses put on the veil that (God's judicial giving them up to their willful blindness: Isa. 6:10; Acts 28:26,27) they might not look steadfastly at (Christ, Rom. 10:4; the Spirit, 2 Cor. 3:17) the end of that (law in its mere letter) which (like Moses' glory) is done away." The evangelical glory of Moses' law, like the shining of Moses' face, cannot be borne by a carnal people, and therefore remains veiled to them until the Spirit takes away the veil (2 Cor. 14-17; John 5:45-47).
There is a coincidence between the song of Moses (Deut. 32; 33) and his Ps. 90; thus Deut. 33:27 compare Ps. 90:1; 32:4,36 with Ps. 90:13,16. The time of the psalm was probably toward the close of the 40 years' wandering in the desert. The people after long chastisement beg mercy (Ps. 90:15-17).
The limitation of life to 70 or 80 years harmonizes with the dying of all that generation at about that age; 20 to 40 at the exodus, to which the 40 in the wilderness being added make 60 to 80. Kimchi says the older rabbis ascribed Ps. 91 also to Moses Israel's exemption from Egypt's plagues, especially the death stroke on the firstborn, which surrounded but did not touch God's people, in Exo. 8:22; 10:28; 11:7; 12:23, corresponds to Ps. 91:3-10.
His song in Exo. 15 abounds in incidents marked by the freshness and simplicity which we should expect from an eye-witness: he anticipates the dismay of the Philistines and Edomites through whose territories Israel's path lay to the promised land. The final song (Deut. 32) and blessing (Deut. 33) have the same characteristics. These songs gave atone to Israel's poetry in each succeeding age.
They are the earnest of the church's final "song of Moses the servant of God and the song of the Lamb" (Rev. 15:3), the song which shall unite in triumph the Old Testament church and the New Testament church, after their conflicts shall have been past. Like the Antitype, his parting word was blessing (Deut. 33:29; Luke 24:51). His exclusion from Canaan teaches symbolically the law cannot bring us into the heavenly Canaan, the antitypical Joshua must do that.
Two months before his death (Num. 31), just before his closing addresses, the successful expedition, by God's command to Moses, against Midian was undertaken. Preparatory to that expedition was the census and mustering of the tribes on the plains of Moab (Num. 26).
The numbers were taken according to the families, so as equitably to allot the land. Moses among his last acts wrote the law and delivered it to the priests to be put in the side of the ark for a witness against Israel (Deut. 31:9-12,22-27) and gave a charge to Joshua. In Exo. 24:12 "I will give thee tables of stone, and a law, and the commandment" (Hebrew), the reference is to the ten commandments on the two stone tables, the Pentateuch "law," and the ceremonial commandment. However, Knobel translated it as "the tables of stone with the law, even the commandment."
His death accorded with his life. He was sentenced (for "unbelievingly not sanctifying the Lord" and "speaking unadvisedly with his lips," to the people, though told to address the rock, in a harsh unsympathetic spirit which God calls rebellion, Num. 20:8-13; 27:14, through the people's "provocation of his spirit," his original infirmity of a hasty impetuous temper recurring) to see yet not enter the good land. Meekly submitting to the stroke, he thought to the last only of God's glory and Israel's good, not of self: "let Jehovah, the God of the spirits of all flesh, set a man over the congregation" (Num. 27:12-16).
Yet how earnestly he had longed to go over into the good land appears in Deut. 3:24-27. Ascending to Nebo, a height on the western slope of the range of Pisgah, so-called from a neighboring town, he was showed by Jehovah "all Gilead unto Dan, Naphtali, Ephraim, Manasseh, all Judah, unto the Mediterranean, the S. and the plain of Jericho unto ZOAR" (which see) (N. according to Tristram, rather S. of the Dead Sea); like Christ's view of the world kingdoms (Luke 4:5), it was supernatural, effected probably by an extraordinary intensification of Moses' powers of vision. Then he died there "according to the word of Jehovah," Hebrew "on the mouth of Jehovah," which the rabbis explain "by a kiss of the Lord" (Song 1:2); but Gen. 45:21 margin supports KJV (compare Deut. 32:51.)
Buried by Jehovah himself in a valley in Moab over against Bethpeor, Moses was probably translated soon after; for he afterward appears with the translated Elijah and Jesus at the transfiguration, when the law and the prophets in Moses' and Elijah's persons gave place to the Son whose servants and fore witnesses they had been: "hear ye Him" answers to "unto Him ye shall hearken" (Deut. 18; Mt. 17:1-10; compare Jude 1:9). His sepulchre therefore could not be found by man.
The term "decease," exodus, found in Luke 9:31, and with the undesigned coincidence of truth repeated by Peter an eye-witness of the transfiguration (2 Pet. 1:15), was suggested by the exodus from Egypt, the type of Jesus' death and resurrection. Josephus (Ant. 4:8) thought God hid Moses' body lest it should be idolized. Satan (Heb. 2:14) contended with Michael, that it should not be raised again on the ground of Moses' sin (Jude 1:9, compare Zec. 3:2). "His eye was not dim, nor his natural force abated" before death. Israel mourned him for 30 days. The remembrance of Moses ages after shall be a reason for Jehovah's mercy awaiting Israel (Isa. 63:11).
"And had he not high honor? The hillside for his pall, To lie in state while angels wait, With stars for tapers tall; And the dark rock pines, like tossing plumes, Over his bier to wave, And God's own hand, in that lonely land To lay him in the grave."
IBSE, "Isaac" (in the public domain) with minor edits.