International Standard Bible Encyclopedia
mō´zez, mō´ziz (משׁה, mōsheh; Egyptian mēs, “drawn out,” “born”; Septuagint Μωυσῆ(ς), Mōusḗ(s)). The great Hebrew national hero, leader, author, law-giver and 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 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.
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”Exo 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 Gen 46:11; Exo 6:16-20; Num 3:14-28; Num 26:57-59; 1Ch 6:1-3 show only 4 generations from Levi to Moses, while the account given of the numbers of Israel at the exodus Exo 12:37; Exo 38:26; Num 1:46; Num 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 Num 3:27-28. It is evident that the extract from the genealogy here, as in many other places (1Ch 23:15; 1Ch 26:24; Ezr 7:1-5; Ezr 8:1-2; compare 1Ch 6:3-14; Mt 1:1-17; Lk 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” Num 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” (Gen 46:17-18; compare Gen 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”Exo 2:2. So they defied the commandment of the king Exo 1:22, and for 3 months hid him instead of throwing him into the river.
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 (Exo 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 Exo 2:3-4. The daughter of Pharaoh came down with her great ladies to the river Exo 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 Exo 2:7-9. “And the child grew, and she brought him unto Pharaoh's daughter, and he became her son” Exo 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” (Egyptianmēs, “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”Exo 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”Act 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; Apion, I, 31; compare Smith, Dictionary of the Bible; 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.
But the faith of which the Epistle to the Hebrews speaksHeb 11:23-28 was at work. Moses “refused to be called the son of Pharaoh's daughter” Exo 2:11-14; Act 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 Exo 2:11-12. Thus, his constructive treason became an overt act. Discovering through the ungrateful reproaches of his own kinsmen Act 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” Heb 11:25-26; Act 7:25-28. He thought to be a nobody and do right better than to be a tyrant and rule Egypt.
Moses fled, “not fearing the wrath of the king”Heb 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 Exo 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 Exo 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 Exo 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 Judaea, Jesus in the shop of a Galilean carpenter; so Moses a shepherd in the Bedouin country, in the “waste, howling wilderness.”
One day Moses led the flocks to “the back of the wilderness” (Exo 3:1-12; see BURNING BUSH). Moses received his commission, the most appalling commission ever given to a mere man Exo 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 Exo 3:11-13; Exo 4:1, Exo 4:10-13. “Thus shalt thou say unto the children of Israel, I AM hath sent me unto you” Exo 3:14, was the encouragement God gave him. He gave him also Aaron for a spokesman Exo 4:14-16, the return to the Mount of God as a sign Exo 3:12, and the rod of power for working wonders Exo 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, Hastings, Dictionary of the Bible (five volumes), 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” (Exo 3:13-14; compare Exo 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 identificationExo 4:1-10, Moses was ready for his mission. He went down from the “holy ground” to obey the high summons and fulfil the great commission Exo 4:18-23. After the perplexing controversy with his wife, a controversy of stormy ending Exo 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 Exo 18:6. He met Aaron, his brother, at the Mount of God Exo 4:27-28, and together they returned to Egypt to collect the elders of Israel Exo 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?
The next move was the bold request to the king to allow the people to go into the wilderness to hold a feast unto YahwehExo 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 Exo 4:19; Merenptah II was on the throne with an insecure tenure, for the times were troublous. 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 Exo 8:27; Exo 10:9, though God promised that the Egyptians should thrust them out altogether when the end should come, and it was so Exo 11:1; Exo 12:31, Exo 12:33, Exo 12:39. Yet Pharaoh remembered the form of their request and bestirred himself when it was reported that they had indeed gone “from serving” them Exo 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?” Exo 5:2, and Moses' prompt acceptance of the challenge, in the beginning of the long series of plagues (see PLAGUES) (Exo 8:1 ff; Exo 12:29-36; Exo 14:31). Pharaoh, having made the issue, was justly required to afford full presentation of it. So Pharaoh's heart was “hardened” (Exo 4:21; Exo 7:3, Exo 7:13; Exo 9:12, Exo 9:35; Exo 10:1; Exo 14:8; see PLAGUES) 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 Exo 14:31.
It was now time for the next step in revelation Exo 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 eldersExo 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 upExo 12:3-6. On the appointed night it was killed and “roasted with fire” and eaten with bitter herbs Exo 12:8, while they all stood ready girded, with their shoes on their feet and their staff in hand Exo 12:11. They ate in safety and in hope, because the blood of the lamb was on the door Exo 12:23. That night the firstborn of Egypt were slain. Among the Egyptians “there was not a house where there was not one dead” Exo 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 PLAGUES). Who can tell the horror of that night when the Israelites were thrust out of the terror-stricken land Exo 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”Exo 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” Exo 11:3; Exo 12:35-36.
“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”Exo 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 Exo 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 troublous 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 commandedExo 13:19; Gen 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 Exo 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” Exo 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 Exo 13:21. He led them by “the way of the wilderness by the Red Sea” Exo 13:18. They pitched before Pi-hahiroth, over against Baal-zephon between Migdol and the sea Exo 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 migdhōl 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”Exo 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 Exo 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 Exo 14:6-7. The Israelites seemed to be “entangled in the land,” and, since “the wilderness (had) shut them in” Exo 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 Exo 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”Exo 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 Exo 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”Exo 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 Exo 14:27, but it was too late. The rushing tide caught them Exo 14:28. When the day had come, “horse and rider” were but the subject of a minstrel's song of triumph Exo 15:1-19; Psa 106:9-12 which Miriam led with her timbrel Exo 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 Exo 15:4. Pharaoh and his host were overthrown in the Red Sea Psa 136:15. So Napoleon and his host were overthrown at Waterloo, but Napoleon lived to die at St. 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 Exo 14:31.
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”Jos 5:12. God promised freedom from the diseases of the Egyptians Exo 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 Exo 15:23-25. A little later they were at Elim (Wâdy Gharandel, in present-day geography), where were “twelve springs of water and three score and ten palm trees” Exo 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 Exo 16:1. Here Israel murmured Exo 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 Exo 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 Num 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 (Exo 16:4-36; see MANNA; QUAILS).
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 waterExo 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” Exo 17:8. Whether the hand which Moses lifted up during the battle was his own hand or a symbolical hand Exo 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 Exo 17:8-16.
Here Jethro, Moses' father-in-law, met him and brought his wife and children to him (Exo 18:5-6; compare Num 10:29). A sacrificial feast was held with the distinguished guest Exo 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 Exo 18:13-26.
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 the theophany by fire at Sinai. Some say there was a thunderstorm (Hastings, Dictionary of the Bible (five volumes)); 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 backExo 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” Exo 19:16-19; Exo 24:10. 16-17, “and God spake all these words” Exo 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” Exo 20:18, and somewhere about the foot of this mountain a little later the tabernacle of grace was set up Exo 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 covenantExo 24:1-8, and the nobles of Israel ate a covenant meal there before God Exo 24:11. God called Moses again to the mountain with the elders of Israel Exo 24:12. There Moses was with God, fasting 40 days Exo 34:28. Joshua probably accompanied Moses into the mount Exo 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” (Heb 8:5-12, summing up Exo 25:40; Exo 26:30; Exo 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 Exo 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” (Exo 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 Exo 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 Exo 32:25-29. Here first the “tent of meeting” comes into prominence as the official headquarters of the leader of Israel Exo 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 Deu 31:14. Moses is given a vision of God to strengthen his own faith Exo 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 Mat 17:1-13; Mar 9:2-10; Luk 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.
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”Exo 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 Lev 10:1-7. The people were numbered (Num 1:1 ff). The Passover was kept Num 9:1-5.
The journey to Canaan began againNum 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; AARON; MIRIAM; JOSHUA; CALEB; BRAZEN SERPENT, etc.). The subjects and references are as follows:
The March Num (
The Complaining (Num 11:1-3)
The Lusting (Num 11:4-6, 18-35)
The Prophets (Num 11:16)
Leprosy of Miriam (Num 12:1-16
Kadesh-barnea (Num 13:3-26)
The Spies (
The Plagues (Num 14:36-37, Num 14:40-45
Korah, Dathan and Abiram (Num 16:1-35)
The Plague (
Death of Miriam (Num 20:1)
Sin of Moses and Aaron (Num 20:2-13; Psa 106:32)
Unfriendliness of Edom (Num 20:14-21)
Death of Aaron (Num 20:22-29)
Arad (Num 21:1-3)
Compassing of Edom (Num 21:4)
Murmuring (Num 21:5-7)
Brazen Serpent (Num 21:8-9; Joh 3:14
The Jordan (
Sihon (Num 21:21-32)
Og (Num 21:33-35)
Balak and Balaam (Num 22:4; Num 24:25)
Pollution of the People (Num 25:6-15)
Numbering of the People (Num 26)
Joshua Chosen (Num 27:15-23)
Midianites Punished (Num 31)
Moses was now ready for the final instruction of the people. They were assembled and a great farewell address was given Deut 1-30:20. Joshua was formally inducted into officeDeu 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 (Deu 31:9-13; compare Deu 31:24-29). Moses then called Joshua into the tabernacle for a final charge Deu 31:14-23, gave to the assembled elders of the people “the words of this song” Deu 31:30; 32:1-43 and blessed the people Deut 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 Deu 34:1-12. And there Moses died and was buried, “but no man knoweth of his sepulchre unto this day” Deu 34:5-6, “and Moses was a hundred and twenty years old when he died” Deu 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:Jos 8:30-35; Jos 24:5; 1Sa 12:6-8; 1Ch 23:14-17; Psa 77:20; Psa 99:6; 105; 106; Isa 63:11-12; Jer 15:1; Dan 9:11-13; Hos 12:13; Mic 6:4; Mal 4:4.
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”Joh 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” (Deu 18:15, Deu 18:18). Again in the Epistle to the Hebrews, which is the formal passing over from the types of the Old Testament to the fulfilment in the New Testament, Jesus is made to stand out as the Moses of the new dispensation Heb 3; 12. 24-29. Other most important New Testament references to Moses are Mat 17:3; Mar 9:4; Luk 9:30; Joh 1:17, Joh 1:45; Joh 3:14; Rom 5:14; Jud 1:9; Rev 15:3.
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.
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” (Hastings, Dictionary of the Bible (five volumes), 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?
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 writeExo 17:14; Exo 34:27; Exo 39:30; Num 17:2-3; Deu 10:4; Deu 31:24 and frequently of others in his times Deu 6:9; Deu 27:3; Deu 31:19; Jos 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” Jos 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.”
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.
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.
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 (Hos 1:10; Hos 4:6; Hos 8:1, Hos 8:13; Hos 9:11; Hos 12:9; Amo 5:21-22; Amo 8:5; compare Green, Higher Criticism and the Pentateuch, 56-58).
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 isיאר, ye'ōr, for the streams of Egypt; אחוּ, 'aḥū, for the marshy pasture lands along the Nile; שׁש, shēsh, for the “fine white linen” of the priests; “the land of Rameses” for a local district in lower Egypt; פּענח צפנת, cāphenath pa‛nēaḥ, Joseph's Egyptian name, and אסנת, 'āṣenath, the name of Joseph's Egyptian wife, and many other Egyptian words (see Lieblein, in Proceedings of the Society of Biblical Archaeology, May, 1898, 202-10; also The Bible Student, 1901, 36-40).
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”1Co 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 Pss and the Prophets, it appears inexplicableJob 19:25-27; Psa 16:10; Psa 49:15; Isa 26:19; Ezek 37; Dan 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).
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 Pentateuch; Orr, Orr, The Problem of the Old Testament; Wiener, Biblical Sac., 1909-1910).
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 unlikelyNum 12:3; Deu 34:1-12, but this does not affect the general claim of authorship.
Ps 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.
The character of Moses as lawgiver is scarcely separable from that of Moses as author, but calls for some separate consideration.
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; BOOK OF THE COVENANT; 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 Exo 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 CovenantExo 24:7. This code contains the Moral Law Exo 20:1-17 as fundamental, the constitution of the theocracy and of all ethical living.
This is followed by a brief code suitable to their present condition and immediate prospectsExo 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 Exo 23:11, and harvests Exo 23:10-16 and the first-fruits Exo 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.
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, Journal of the American Oriental Society, XXV, 254).
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 Smith, Dictionary of the Bible; Ebers, Egypten und die Bucher Mosis; for critical partition of books of Moses, compare the Polychrome Bible and Bennett in Hastings, Dictionary of the Bible (five volumes); for comprehensive discussion of the critical problems, compare Orr, The Problem of the Old Testament.
Taken from: International Standard Bible Encyclopedia by James Orr, M.A., D.D., General Editor