Moses (Hebrew: מֹשֶׁה, Mōšeh; Arabic: موسىٰ, Mūsā; Ge'ez: ሙሴ, Musse, drawn out) (7 Adar 2433 AM–m. 2473 AM–7 Adar 2553 AM) (18 February 1571–m. 1532–13 March 1451 BC) was the prophet, legislator, judge, and leader of the Israelites from the Exodus of Israel from slavery in Egypt to the doorstep of Canaan. He is best known for leading the Israelites out of Egypt, and for bringing the Ten Commandments down from Mount Sinai. He is also credited with writing most of the Pentateuch (the first five books of the modern Bible) ca. 1491-1451 BC.
Life and family
Moses was the younger son of Amram and Jochebed, of the tribe of Levi. He had a brother, Aaron, and a sister, Miriam, both older than he. In the fortieth year of his life he married Zipporah, daughter of Jethro the Midianite, and had two sons, named Gershom and Eliezer.
In 2433 AM (1572/1 BC), the Pharaoh of Egypt had ordered that every male newborn Hebrew be thrown into the Nile. When Moses was born, his parents hid him for three months. But they knew that they could not hide him forever. So Jochebed, Moses' mother, took a wicker basket, coated it with tar and pitch, placed Moses into it, and set the basket adrift in the Nile. Miriam followed the basket to see where the river current might take it.
The basket drifted into the private bathing beach of the Pharaoh's daughter. She took the basket out of the river, found a baby boy inside, and decided to raise him as her own son. Then Miriam stepped forward and offered to find a nurse for the boy. The princess agreed, and Miriam then arranged for Jochebed to nurse her own son. The Pharaoh's daughter gave the boy the name of Moses, which means "drawn out," because she had drawn him out of the water.
Thus Moses grew up as a prince of Egypt. In fact, Flavius Josephus suggests that Moses commanded Egyptian troops and led them to victory against the forces of neighboring Ethiopia. According to that account, the Ethiopians were raiding the Egyptians, and the Pharaoh ordered Moses to lead an army to stop the raiders once and for all. Moses then used a remarkable tactic to take the Ethiopians by surprise. The Ethiopians were expecting Moses to attack by marching along the river, rather than by land, because the land between the two armies was so thick with snakes that it was impassable. For that very reason, Moses was determined to march over land. He ordered his artificers to construct cages and to carry ibis birds (a sacred bird in Egypt) with them. The ibis is a natural enemy of snakes, and so they scattered the snakes, and the army was safe. Thus the army crossed the land, surprised the enemy, and defeated them.
But Josephus goes on to suggest that Moses had to flee Egypt because a rival prince had hatched a plot to kill him in order to remove him as a rival for the throne. This contradicts the Bible, which says that Moses had to flee because he killed an Egyptian, and Pharaoh found out about it.
The Biblical account of the murder of the Egyptian is as follows: When Moses was forty years old, he realized that he was not Egyptian at all, but Hebrew. When he saw the Hebrew slaves at work, he sympathized with them, not with the Egyptians. Then one day he saw an Egyptian beating a Hebrew; the Bible does not tell the reason. Moses looked around for any witnesses, saw none, and killed the Egyptian and buried him on the spot. But later Moses tried to intervene in a physical altercation between two Hebrews. The man in the wrong challenged Moses to kill him, too, as he had the Egyptian. Moses then realized that his deed was known.
Moses came to a well and sat there, probably to recover his strength. Then seven young women came to the well with a flock of sheep. The women drew water from the well and filled the watering troughs, and then a group of shepherds, of unknown nationality, tried to drive them away from the well. Moses fought with the shepherds and forced them to desist. He then helped the women to water their flock.
The seven women were the daughters of Jethro, the priest of Midian. When they returned to him, he asked them how they had been able to complete their chore so quickly. They told their father that "an Egyptian" had protected them from rival shepherds and helped them water the flock. Jethro told them to invite Moses to come and dine with them.
Moses stayed in Jethro's camp and learned how to be a shepherd. He lived with Jethro for forty years. He seems to have married Zipporah soon after he joined Jethro's camp. He had one son during his forty-year sojourn, and another son shortly before the Exodus.
Call of GodMoses' career as the first Judge of Israel began with the Exodus. God called to Moses out of a bush that was in flame but did not burn. God said to Moses that He had heard the cry of His people, and would send Moses to deliver them. Moses at first asked God His Name, and God said,
I AM THAT I AM Exodus 3:14 (KJV)
The Hebrew text perhaps would translate better as, "I am; that's Who I am." In other words, God gave His Name literally as "I am." In every other part of the Bible, the Name of God is given as YHVH or YHWH. This tetragrammaton, pronounced "Yah-weh", translates as "He is." Thus God revealed His essential character: He simply is, was, always has been, and always will be.
Moses continued to protest that he was not a good speaker, but God continued to persuade Moses and used a large number of miraculous signs. He also said that Moses' brother Aaron would assist Moses in pleading before Pharaoh and in leading the people afterward.
While Moses was on his way to Egypt, God was about to kill him. Then Zipporah, his wife, performed a circumcision on his son Gershom and threw the foreskin at Moses' feet, saying that Moses had become a "bridegroom of blood" to her. (Exodus 4:24-26 ) That this did not happen to Eliezer, his other son, indicates that this son was not yet eight days old, the age at which circumcision was required according to the Abrahamic covenant.
Moses and Aaron initially came in peace to Pharaoh, and asked his leave to lead the Israelites into the desert for a three-day period. Pharaoh indignantly refused, and then issued an order that the Israelites would have to gather their own straw to make bricks, and still make the same quota of bricks. This caused the Israelites to look on Moses with extreme disfavor. This was probably the lowest point ever in Moses' life.
But it also took place exactly forty days before the eventual Exodus. In those forty days, God sent ten plagues upon Egypt, each striking at the heart of Egyptian culture, religion, or both. The last and most severe plague was the plague upon the firstborn, and was also the occasion for the institution of Passover.
On the day after this plague, the Egyptians nearly drove the Israelites out of their country, but not before the Israelites acquired a great store of precious metal, gemstones, linens, and other stuffs of luxury. Sadly, some of these would furnish the material for the Golden Calf. Happily, much more would furnish the material for the Tabernacle.
The Red Sea
Six days after the Exodus began, the Israelites were camped next to the Red Sea, and they realized that the Egyptians were now pursuing them. Moses raised his staff, and the waters of the Red Sea parted and left a dry seabed for the Israelites to walk on. After the Israelites had walked across, the Egyptians also entered the seabed to continue their pursuit. Moses raised his staff again, and the waters closed over the army and drowned every last man.
The wilderness journey
Moses continued to lead the people of Israel for forty years. In that time he equipped and trained an army, handed down judgments, and repeatedly judged the people of Israel for their sin.
The most significant events during those forty years included:
- Repeated "murmurings" of hardship, and the miraculous provision of manna and quail.
- A battle with Amalekites, in which Aaron and Hur held up Moses' arms so that he could continue to call God's blessing on the nascent Israelite army, under the command of Joshua.
- The reception of the Ten Commandments on stone tablets inscribed by God Himself.
- The disgraceful incident of the Golden Calf.
- The construction of the Tabernacle and its furnishings, including the Ark of the Covenant.
- The "strange fire" incident in which Nadab and Abihu died.
- The first census.
- The spy expedition, the bad report, and God's edict that no adult of that generation would survive to enter the Promised Land except Caleb and Joshua, the only two spies to keep the faith.
- Two incidents in which Moses drew water from rocks.
- The mutiny of Korah, Dathan, and Abiram.
- The deaths of Miriam and Aaron.
- The initial conquests, including that of Heshbon, and the incident involving Balaam and King Balak.
- The disgrace of Israel with the women of Moab, and how Phinehas distinguished himself in his zeal by summarily executing an Israelite and his Midianite concubine, and then leading 12,000 Israelites to victory in the Battle of Midian later that year.
- The second census.
The Amalekite battle was the first battle of the army of Israel, which of course was untested and consisted of soldiers who, a short while before, had been slaves. Moses sent these untested recruits, under the command of Joshua, against Amalekite raiders who had been attacking the stragglers among the Israelites. To ensure victory, Moses stood on a high hill and held up his rod. When he could not hold up his rod indefinitely, Aaron and Hur stood to either side of him, and each man held up one of Moses' arms. Thus Moses kept his rod held high, and the Israelites won.
The Golden Calf incident was the low point of the wilderness journey, lower even than the Korah Mutiny or the bad report of the spies. When God had finished dictating to Moses the Ten Commandments and the instructions for the Tabernacle, He then told Moses to descend immediately, because the people had "corrupted themselves." God then said that he would make a new nation based on Moses. Moses begged God not to do this, and even said that God should kill him, too, if He were so determined. Nevertheless, Moses was furious with the people and would ultimately execute three thousand of them in that episode. Because only the Levites came to his aid when he called for it, the Levites, from that day to this, took exclusive possession of all sacerdotal duty and responsibility in Jewish life.
Moses would endure mutiny (as mentioned above) and questioning of his authority, even by his own brother and sister. Remarkably, he would still bring the Israelites to the border of the Promised Land with their faith nearly intact.
On 1 Shevat 2553 AM (6 February 1451 BC), Moses gave his last address to the people of Israel. Most of the book of Deuteronomy consists of the text of that address.
Moses died on Mount Nebo, on the eastern side of the Jordan River. No one knows even today where he is buried.
Moses as prophet
Moses was unique among the prophets of Israel. God spoke face-to-face with Moses. Yet Moses always conducted himself with the utmost humility.
Perhaps his greatest project, other than leading the people of Israel across the Sinai desert, was the building of the Tabernacle. Every part of its furnishings and coverings is a symbol of Jesus Christ or His mission to earth.
Sadly, Moses sometimes allowed the murmuring people to provoke him to anger. One one occasion this anger led him to disobey God. God had told Moses merely to speak to a rock and bring forth water. Moses had already struck a rock on an earlier occasion, a symbol of the punishment that Jesus Christ would undergo. Therefore Moses did not need to strike another rock. But he did strike the second rock. Thus he failed to honor God, and also spoiled the symbolism of the event. For that, God did not allow Moses to enter Canaan before he died.
Moses is traditionally credited with being the author of the Pentateuch, the first five books of the Old Testament. Jesus confirms this when he refers to Moses writing about him (John 5:46 ), and although he is not specific about exactly what Moses wrote, he would have been referring to the books generally understood as being written by Moses. This body of work includes a history of the world from Creation to the moment of the death of Moses, a complete body of sacerdotal and civil law, and, most importantly, a detailed testimony of the Messiah to come, in the form of the Tabernacle.
Concerning the manner of the composition of the Pentateuch, one striking point stands out: it ends with the death of Moses, though Moses is supposed to be its author. Scholars have advanced three theories to explain this:
- Moses wrote the Pentateuch in their present form, and scribes added a few passages (such as reference to the death of Moses) after he died.
- Moses wrote a number of different books over the course of his life which were later compiled by scribes into the Pentateuch.
- Flavius Josephus suggests this theory: that Moses wrote about his own death before he died, for fear that the people might believe he escaped death because of his extraordinary virtue.
Some sceptics argue that Moses could not have written Deuteronomy, as the book records Moses' death. But that death is recorded in the very last chapter, and there is no reason not to think that a later author didn't append the final chapter. Such an occurrence does not undermine the claim of Moses' authorship of the principal work.
The source of the material is another open question, because obviously Moses was not alive during the events of Genesis or the first chapter of Exodus, and the second chapter begins with his birth. Two theories currently attempt to explain this:
- Moses did not write Genesis, but compiled it from pre-existing written documents handed down through the ancestors of the Israelites all the way back to Adam. Moses could have edited the text to update some information, but whilst Moses would not be the actual author of the book in this case, he would still be responsible for it in its final form, and it would therefore still be one of the "books of Moses".
- Moses received the basis of the Pentateuch directly from God, as is recorded in the Book of Jubilees, and it was later compiled into historical form by scribes.
Moses as military leader
Moses' reputation as a military leader allegedly begins even before the Exodus. Josephus alleges that Moses commanded Egyptian troops before his initial exile; this might or might not be true.
Moses did begin the first military training of the nation of Israel, and would send the Israelite army, under the command of Joshua, against other enemies even before he died. Joshua, of course, succeeded Moses as commander-in-chief, judge, and civil administrator.
Moses in fiction
Main Article: Moses in film
- Jones, Floyd N. The Chronology of the Old Testament, Green Forest, AR: Master Books, 2004, Chart 4
- Josephus, Antiquities 2.10
- Josephus, Antiquities, 4.1.49