Son of Amram and Jochebed, of the tribe of Levi, brother of Aaron and Miriam. He was born after the mandate by the king that all male children of the Hebrews were to be killed, but his parents by faith hid him three months, and when he could no longer be hidden he was put in an ark of bulrushes and placed among the reeds in the river. Being found there by Pharaoh’s daughter he was named by her MOSES, signifying ‘drawn out,’ and adopted as her son, being nursed for her by his own mother. He became learned in all the wisdom of Egypt, and was mighty in words and deeds.
When forty years of age he visited his brethren, and seeing one ill-used he defended him, and slew the Egyptian; but the next day, on seeing two of the Israelites contending, he reminded them that they were brethren, and would have judged between them; but the wrong-doer repulsed him, and asked whether he would kill him as he had killed the Egyptian. Moses, finding that his deed was known, feared the wrath of the king, and fled from Egypt. He had acted with zeal, but without divine direction, and had therefore to become a fugitive for forty years (being the second period of forty years of his life, as the forty years in the wilderness was the third). In the land of Midian he married Zipporah, daughter of Jethro, the priest of Midian, by whom he had two sons.
At the end of the forty years God spoke to him out of the burning bush, telling him to go and deliver Israel out of the hand of the Egyptians. He who had once used an arm of flesh is now conscious of his own nothingness, but learns that God would be with him. He is to make known to the people the name of Jehovah, and to attest his mission, as sent by the God of their fathers, by doing certain signs in their sight.
No trace of timidity is apparent in his dealings with Pharaoh, he boldly requests him to let the people go into the wilderness to sacrifice to Jehovah; but Pharaoh refused and made the burdens of the Israelites greater. Ten plagues followed, when the Egyptians themselves, on the death of all their firstborn, were anxious for them to depart.
God constantly spoke to Moses and gave him instructions in all things. Though Aaron was the elder brother, Moses had the place of leader and apostle. He conducted them out of Egypt, and through the Red Sea. He led the song of triumph when they saw their enemies dead on the sea shore. The N.T. declares that it was by faith he refused to be called the son of Pharaoh’s daughter, choosing rather to suffer affliction with the people of God. He forsook Egypt, not now fearing the wrath of the king, for he endured as seeing Him who is invisible. Heb. 11:24-27.
Moses needed such faith, for the murmurings and rebellion of the people were great, and they charged him with causing their trials: why had he brought them out to perish in the wilderness? When God’s anger was kindled against them, he pleaded for them. When God spake of consuming all the people, and making a great nation of Moses, he besought God to turn from His anger, urging what a reproach it would be for the Egyptians to say that He had led them out only to slay them; and he reminded God of what He had sworn to His servants Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. He thus acted as intercessor with God for the people. Ex. 32:7-13.
When Miriam and Aaron complained of Moses because he had married an Ethiopian woman, and said, “Hath the Lord indeed spoken only by Moses? hath he not spoken also by us?” it does not appear that Moses rebuked them; but on that very occasion it is recorded, “Now the man Moses was very meek, above all the men which were upon the face of the earth.” God had, however, heard them, and He defended Moses, and declared, He “is faithful in all mine house. With him will I speak mouth to mouth, even apparently, and not in dark speeches.” Num. 12:1-8.
When Korah, Dathan, and Abiram, and their company rose against Moses and Aaron, ‘he fell on his face,’ and left the matter in God’s hands. “Even to-morrow the Lord will show who are his and who is holy;” and they were all consumed. Num. 16:1-35. God also called Moses up into the mount, dictated to him the law, gave him the ten commandments written on stone by the finger of God, and showed him the pattern of the tabernacle. He was the mediator, that is, he received all communications from God for the people. He was also called ‘King in Jeshurun’ (or Israel), Deut. 33:5; and was a prophet of a unique type. Deut. 34:10.
In one instance Moses failed. When without water, God told him to take the rod (namely, that of priesthood), and speak to the rock, and water would come forth. Moses took “the rod from before the Lord as he commanded him,” and with Aaron said unto the people, “Hear now, ye rebels; must we fetch you water out of this rock? And Moses lifted up his hand, and with his rod he smote the rock twice: and the water came out abundantly.” Moses then had to hear the voice of God saying “Because ye believed me not, to sanctify me in the eyes of the children of Israel, therefore ye shall not bring this congregation into the land which I have given them.” It was called the water of Meribah, that is ‘strife.’ Num. 20:7-13. After this Moses besought the Lord saying “I pray thee, let me go over, and see the good land that is beyond Jordan, that goodly mountain, and Lebanon.” But the Lord told him to speak no more to Him of that matter. He was to go up to the top of Pisgah, and view the land. There the Lord showed him all the land: after which he died in the land of Moab, over against Beth-peor; but no man knew where. He “was an hundred and twenty years old when he died: his eye was not dim, nor his natural force abated.” Deut. 3:25-27; Deut. 34:1-7.
In the N.T. it is said respecting the body of Moses that Michael, the archangel, contended with the devil about it, the object of Satan probably being to make his tomb to be regarded as a holy place, to which the people would go for blessing, as people do still to the tombs of saints. Jude 9.
The law having been given through Moses, his name is often used where the law is alluded to; and Moses is mentioned by the Apostle John when contrasting the dispensations of the law and the gospel: “The law was given by Moses, but grace and truth came by Jesus Christ.” John 1:17. The fact of the two dispensations being entirely different furnishes the reason why Moses was not allowed to enter into Canaan. That being a type of the heavenly blessings of Christianity, it would not have agreed with Moses, as the dispenser of the law, leading the Israelites into the land: that must be done by JOSHUA, type of Christ risen. Moses had his proper line of service, and was greatly honoured of God. He was faithful in that service amid great discouragements and trials; he was faithful in all God’s house. On the mount of transfiguration Moses still represented the law, as Elias did the prophets.
That Moses was the writer of the first five books of the O.T., called the Pentateuch, there are many proofs in scripture; such as “have ye not read in the book of Moses?” Mark 12:26; “If they hear not Moses and the prophets,” Luke 16:31; Luke 24:27; “When Moses is read,” 2 Cor. 3:15. Of course the section where his death is recorded was added by a later hand. When the inspiration of scripture is fully held, God is known as the author of His word, and it becomes a secondary question who was the instrument that God used to write down what He wished to be recorded. Respecting some of the books of scripture we know not who wrote them; but that in no way touches their inspiration. It is plain, however, from the above and other passages that Moses was the writer of the Pentateuch, which is often called “the law of Moses.”
• History of:
– A Levite and son of Amram
Exod 2:1-4; Exod 6:20; Acts 7:20; Heb 11:23
– Hidden in an ark
– Discovered and adopted by the daughter of Pharaoh
– Learned in all the wisdom of Egypt
– His loyalty to his race
– Takes the life of an Egyptian; flees from Egypt; finds refuge among the Midianites
Exod 2:11-22; Acts 7:24-29
– Joins himself to Jethro, priest of Midian; marries his daughter Zipporah; has one son, Gershom
– Is herdman for Jethro in the desert of Horeb
– Has the vision of the burning bush
– God reveals to him His purpose to deliver the Israelites and bring them into the land of Canaan
– Commissioned as leader of the Israelites
Exod 3:10-22; Exod 6:13
– His rod miraculously turned into a serpent, and his hand made leprous, and each restored
Exod 4:1-9; Exod 4:28
– With his wife and sons leaves Jethro to perform his mission
– His controversy with his wife on account of circumcision
– Meets Aaron in the wilderness
– With Aaron assembles the leaders of Israel
– With Aaron goes before Pharaoh, in the name of Jehovah demands the liberties of his people
– Rejected by Pharaoh; hardships of the Israelites increased
– People murmur against Moses and Aaron
› General references
Exod 5:20-21; Exod 15:24; Exod 16:2-3; Exod 17:2-3; Num 14:2-4; Num 16:41; Num 20:2-5; Num 21:4-6; Deut 1:12; Deut 1:26-28 Israel
– Receives comfort and assurance from the Lord
– Unbelief of the people
– Renews his appeal to Pharaoh
– Under divine direction brings plagues upon the land of Egypt
– Secures the deliverance of the people and leads them out of Egypt
– Crosses the Red Sea; Pharaoh and his army are destroyed
– Composes a song for the children of Israel on their deliverance from Pharaoh
– Joined by his family in the wilderness
– Institutes a system of government
Exod 18:13-26; Num 11:16-30; Deut 1:9-18
– Receives the law and ordains diverse statutes
Law, Of Moses
– Face of, transfigured
Exod 34:29-35; 2Cor 3:13
– Sets up the tabernacle
– Reproves Aaron:
› For making the golden calf
› For irregularity in the offerings
– Jealousy of Aaron and Miriam toward
– Rebellion of Korah, Dathan, and Abiram against
– Appoints Joshua as his successor
Num 27:22-23; Deut 31:7-8; Deut 31:14; Deut 31:23; Deut 34:9
– Not permitted to enter Canaan, but views the land from Mount Pisgah
Num 27:12-14; Deut 1:37; Deut 3:23-29; Deut 32:48-52; Deut 34:1-8
– Death and burial of
Num 31:2; Deut 32:50; Deut 34:1-6
– Body of, disputed over
– One hundred and twenty years old at death
– Mourning for, thirty days in the plains of Moab
– His virility
Deut 31:2; Deut 34:7
– Present with Jesus on the mount of transfiguration
Matt 17:3-4; Mark 9:4; Luke 9:30
– Type of Christ
Deut 18:15-18; Acts 3:22; Acts 7:37
• Benedictions of:
– Upon the people
Lev 9:23; Num 10:35-36; Deut 1:11
– Last benediction upon the twelve tribes
• Character of:
– Murmurings of
Exod 5:22-23; Num 11:10-15
– Impatience of
Exod 5:22-23; Exod 6:12; Exod 32:19; Num 11:10-15; Num 16:15; Num 20:10; Num 31:14
– Respected and feared
– Faith of
Num 10:29; Deut 9:1-3; Heb 11:23-28
– Called the man of God
– God spake to, as a man to his friend
– Magnified of God
Exod 19:9; Num 14:12-20; Deut 9:13-29; Exod 32:30
– Magnanimity of, toward Eldad and Medad
– Meekness of
Exod 14:13-14; Exod 15:24-25; Exod 16:2-3; Exod 16:7-8; Num 12:3; Num 16:4-11
– Obedience of
Exod 7:6; Exod 40:16; Exod 40:19; Exod 40:21
Num 14:12-20; Deut 9:13-29; Exod 32:30
• Intercessory prayers of
Intercession, Of Man with Man, Instances of; Intercession, Solicited, Instances of; Intercession, Answered, Instances of
• Miracles of
Miracles, Catalogue of
• Prophecies of
Exod 3:10; Exod 4:5; Exod 4:11-12; Exod 6:13; Exod 7:2; Exod 17:16; Exod 19:3-9; Exod 33:11; Num 11:17; Num 12:7-8; Num 36:13; Deut 1:3; Deut 5:31; Deut 18:15; Deut 18:18; Deut 34:10; Deut 34:12; Hos 12:13; Mark 7:9-10; Acts 7:37-38
(Heb. Mosheh , “drawn,” i.e. from the water; in the Coptic it means “saved from the water”), the legislator of the Jewish people, and in a certain sense the founder of the Jewish religion. The immediate pedigree of Moses is as follows: Levi was the father of: Gershon — Kohath — Merari Kohath was the father of: Amram = Jochebed Amram = Jochebed was the father of: Hur = Miriam — Aaron = Elisheba — Moses = Zipporah Aaron = Elisheba was the father of: Nadab — Abihu — Eleazar — Ithamar Eleazar was the father of: Phineas Moses = Zipporah was the father of: Gershom — Eliezer Gershom was the father of: Jonathan The history of Moses naturally divides itself into three periods of 40 years each. Moses was born at Goshen, In Egypt, B.C. 1571. The story of his birth is thoroughly Egyptian in its scene. His mother made extraordinary efforts for his preservation from the general destruction of the male children of Israel. For three months the child was concealed in the house. Then his mother placed him in a small boat or basket of papyrus, closed against the water by bitumen. This was placed among the aquatic vegetation by the side of one of the canals of the Nile. The sister lingered to watch her brother’s fate. The Egyptian princess, who, tradition says, was a childless wife, came down to bathe in the sacred river. Her attendant slaves followed her. She saw the basket in the flags, and despatched divers, who brought it. It was opened, and the cry of the child moved the princess to compassion. She determined to rear it as her own. The sister was at hand to recommend a Hebrew nurse, the child’s own mother. here was the first part of Moses’ training, –a training at home in the true religion, in faith in God, in the promises to his nation, in the life of a saint, –a training which he never forgot, even amid the splendors and gilded sin of Pharaoh’s court. The child was adopted by the princess. From this time for many years Moses must be considered as an Egyptian. In the Pentateuch this period is a blank, but in the New Testament he is represented as “learned in all the wisdom of the Egyptians,” and as “mighty in words and deeds.” (Acts 7:22) this was the second part of Moses’ training. The second period of Moses’ life began when he was forty years old. Seeing the sufferings of his people, Moses determined to go to them as their helper, and made his great life-choice, “choosing rather to suffer affliction with the people of God than to enjoy the pleasures of sin for a season; esteeming the reproach of Christ greater riches than the treasures in Egypt.” (Heb 11:25; Heb 11:26) Seeing an Israelite suffering the bastinado from an Egyptian, and thinking that they were alone, he slew the Egyptian, and buried the corpse in the sand. But the people soon showed themselves unfitted as yet to obtain their freedom, nor was Moses yet fitted to be their leader. He was compelled to leave Egypt when the slaying of the Egyptian became known, and he fled to the land of Midian, in the southern and southeastern part of the Sinai peninsula. There was a famous well (“the well,”) (Exodus 2:15) surrounded by tanks for the watering of the flocks of the Bedouin herdsmen. By this well the fugitive seated himself and watched the gathering of the sheep. There were the Arabian shepherds, and there were also seven maidens, whom the shepherds rudely drove away from the water. The chivalrous spirit which had already broken forth in behalf of his oppressed countrymen broke forth again in behalf of the distressed maidens. They returned unusually soon to their father, Jethro, and told him of their adventure. Moses, who up to this time had been “an Egyptian,” (Exodus 2:19) now became for a time an Arabian. He married Zipporah, daughter of his host, to whom he also became the slave and shepherd. (Exodus 2:21; 3:1) Here for forty years Moses communed with God and with nature, escaping from the false ideas taught him in Egypt, and sifting out the truths that were there. This was the third process of his training for his work; and from this training he learned infinitely more than from Egypt. Stanely well says, after enumerating what the Israelites derived from Egypt, that the contrast was always greater than the likeness. This process was completed when God met him on Horeb, appearing in a burning bush, and, communicating with him, appointed him to be the leader and deliverer of his people. Now begins the third period of forty years in Moses’ life. He meets Aaron, his next younger brother, whom God permitted to be the spokesman, and together they return to Goshen in Egypt. From this time the history of Moses is the history of Israel for the next forty years. Aaron spoke and acted for Moses, and was the permanent inheritor of the sacred staff of power. But Moses was the inspiring soul behind. he is incontestably the chief personage of the history, in a sense in which no one else is described before or since. He was led into a closer communion with the invisible world than was vouchsafed to any other in the Old Testament. There are two main characters in which he appears –as a leader and as a prophet. (1) As a leader, his life divides itself into the three epochs –the march to Sinai; the march from Sinai to Kadesh; and the conquest of the transjordanic kingdoms. On approaching Palestine the office of the leader becomes blended with that of the general or the conqueror. By Moses the spies were sent to explore the country. Against his advice took place the first disastrous battle at hormah. To his guidance is ascribed the circuitous route by which the nation approached Palestine from the east, and to his generalship the two successful campaigns in which Sihon and Og were defeated. The narrative is told so briefly that we are in danger of forgetting that at this last stage of his life Moses must have been as much a conqueror and victorious soldier as was Joshua. (2) His character as a prophet is, from the nature of the case, more distinctly brought out. He is the first as he is the greatest example of a prophet in the Old Testament. His brother and sister were both endowed with prophetic gifts. The seventy elders, and Eldad and Medad also, all “prophesied.” (Numbers 11:25-27) But Moses rose high above all these. With him the divine revelations were made “mouth to mouth.” (Numbers 12:8) Of the special modes of this more direct communication, four great examples are given, corresponding to four critical epochs in his historical career. (a) The appearance of the divine presence in the flaming acacia tree. (Exodus 3:2-6) (b) In the giving of the law from Mount Sinai, the outward form of the revelation was a thick darkness as of a thunder-cloud, out of which proceeded a voice. (Exodus 19:19; 20:21) on two occasions he is described as having penetrated within the darkness. (Exodus 24:18; 34:28) (c) It was nearly at the close of these communications in the mountains of Sinai that an especial revelation of God was made to him personally. (Exod 33:21; Exod 33:22; Exod 34:5; Exod 34:6; Exod 34:7) God passed before him. (d) The fourth mode of divine manifestation was that which is described as beginning at this juncture, and which was maintained with more or less continuity through the rest of his career. (Exodus 33:7) It was the communication with God in the tabernacle from out the pillar of cloud and fire. There is another form of Moses’ prophetic gift, viz., the poetical form of composition which characterizes the Jewish prophecy generally. These poetical utterances are —
1. “The song which Moses and the children of Israel sung” (after the passage of the Red Sea). (Exodus 15:1-19)
2. A fragment of the war-song against Amalek. (Exodus 17:16)
3. A fragment of lyrical burst of indignation. (Exodus 32:18)
4. The fragments of war-songs, probably from either him or his immediate prophetic followers, in (Num 21:14; Num 21:15; Num 21:27-30) preserved in the “book of the wars of Jehovah,” (Numbers 21:14) and the address to the well. ch. (Numbers 21:14) and the address to the well. ch. (Num 21:16; Num 21:17; Num 21:18)
5. The song of Moses, (32:1-43) setting forth the greatness and the failings of Israel.
6. The blessing of Moses on the tribes, (33:1-29)
7. The 90th Psalm, “A prayer of Moses, the man of God.” The title, like all the titles of the psalms, is of doubtful authority, and the psalm has often been referred to a later author. Character . –The prophetic office of Moses can only be fully considered in connection with his whole character and appearance. (Hosea 12:13) He was in a sense peculiar to himself the founder and representative of his people; and in accordance with this complete identification of himself with his nation is the only strong personal trait which we are able to gather from his history. (Numbers 12:3) The word “meek” is hardly an adequate reading of the Hebrew term, which should be rather “much enduring.” It represents what we should now designate by the word “disinterested.” All that is told of him indicates a withdrawal of himself, a preference of the cause of his nation to his own interests, which makes him the most complete example of Jewish patriotism. (He was especially a man of prayer and of faith, of wisdom, courage and patience.) In exact conformity with his life is the account of his end. The book of Deuteronomy describes, and is, the long last farewell of the prophet to his people. This takes place on the first day of the eleventh month of the fortieth year of the wanderings, in the plains of Moab. (Deut 1:3; Deut 1:5) Moses is described as 120 years of age, but with his sight and his freshness of strength unabated. (34:7) Joshua is appointed his successor. The law is written out and ordered to be deposited in the ark. ch. 31. The song and the blessing of the tribes conclude the farewell. chs. 32,33. And then comes the mysterious close. He is told that he is to see the good land beyond the Jordan, but not to possess it himself. He ascends the mount of Pisgah and stands on Nebo, one of its summits, and surveys the four great masses of Palestine west of the Jordan, so far as it can be discerned from that height. The view has passes into a proverb for all nations. “So Moses the servant of Jehovah died there in the land of Moab, according to the word of Jehovah. And he buried him in a ’ravine’ in the land of Moab, ’before’ Beth-peor: but no man knoweth of his sepulchre unto this day… And the children of Israel wept for Moses in the plains of Moab thirty days.” (Deut 34:5; Deut 34:6; Deut 34:8) This is all that is said in the sacred record. (This burial was thus hidden probably — (1) To preserve his grave from idolatrous worship or superstitious reverence; and (2) Because it may be that God did not intend to leave his body to corruption, but to prepare it, as he did the body of Elijah, so that Moses could in his spiritual body meet Christ, together with Elijah, on the mount of transfiguration.) Moses is spoken of as a likeness of Christ; and as this is a point of view which has been almost lost in the Church, compared with the more familiar comparisons of Christ to Adam, David, Joshua, and yet has as firm a basis in fact as any of them, it may be well to draw it out in detail. (1) Moses is, as it would seem, the only character of the Old Testament to whom Christ expressly likens himself: “Moses wrote of me.” (John 5:46) It suggests three main points of likeness: (a) Christ was, like Moses, the great prophet of the people –the last, as Moses was the first. (b) Christ, like Moses, is a lawgiver: “Him shall ye hear.” (c) Christ, like Moses, was a prophet out of the midst of the nation, “from their brethren.” As Moses was the entire representative of his people, feeling for them more than for himself, absorbed in their interests, hopes and fears, so, with reverence be it said, was Christ. (2) In (Hebrews 3:1-19; 12:24-29; Acts 7:37) Christ is described, though more obscurely, as the Moses of the new dispensation –as the apostle or messenger or mediator of God to the people –as the controller and leader of the flock or household of God. (3) The details of their lives are sometimes, though not often, compared. (Acts 7:24-28; 35) In (Jude 1:9) is an allusion to an altercation between Michael and Satan over the body of Moses. It probably refers to a lost apocryphal book, mentioned by Origen, called the “Ascension” or “Assumption of Moses.” Respecting the books of Moses, see PENTATEUCH, THE.
(Drawn out) son of Amram, of the tribe of Levi, the leader and
lawgiver of Israel
(1) General References to
Exod 2:2; Exod 2:10; Exod 2:14; Exod 3:3; Exod 3:11; Exod 12:21; Exod 14:21; Exod 19:20; Exod 33:11; Exod 34:29
Num 10:29; Num 12:3; Num 20:10; Num 31:3; Deut 33:1; Deut 34:5
Matt 17:3; Acts 7:22; Heb 11:24
(2) Moses and Christ – a Parallel
Both were preserved in childhood
Exod 2:2-10; Matt 2:14; Matt 2:15
— Contended with masters of evil
Exod 7:11; Matt 4:1
— Fasted forty days
Exod 34:28; Matt 4:2
— Controlled the sea
Exod 14:21; Matt 8:26
— Fed a multitude
Exod 16:15; Matt 14:20; Matt 14:21
— Had radiant faces
Exod 34:35; Matt 17:2
— Endured murmurings
Exod 15:24; Mark 7:2
— Discredited in the home
Num 12:1; John 7:5
— Made intercessory prayers
Exod 32:32; John 17:9
— Spoke as oracles
— Had seventy helpers
Num 11:16; Num 11:17; Luke 10:1
— Established memorials
Exod 12:14; Luke 22:19
— Re-appeared after death
Matt 17:3; Acts 1:3
MOSES’ ROD SEE Rod, ROD OF MOSES
[Thompson Chain Reference][TCR]
NOW THE MAN MOSES WAS VERY MEEK, ABOVE ALL THE MEN THAT WERE UPON THE FACE OF THE EARTH
WERE I to let myself once expatiate on the whole of Moses’ life I would not know where to begin or where to end. But my method and my endeavour in these expositions is the study of those Bible men and women in their moral character alone. My intention and my aim is to try to find out how the foundations of their moral character were laid in those Bible men and women; how their respective lives and characters were built up, what the instruments were, and what the occasions and opportunities by means of which those men and women made themselves what they were and are; as, also, to search out and ponder the wonderful ways in which God worked in and around those men and women to make them His workmanship also, created under His hand unto good works. And my present text is the very best text in all the Five Books of Moses for this purpose in the case of Moses himself. For the text is the copestone and the crown and the perfect finish of Moses moral character and spiritual life. And our chief interest in all that Moses came through from the beginning to the end of his wonderful history is just to find out how it all contributed to and told upon his incomparable meekness and humility; that is to say, upon the perfection and the finish of his matchless moral character.
By all accounts Moses did not begin by being a meek man. The truth is, no truly meek man ever does so begin. It is not true meekness if it is found in any man at the beginning of his life. It may be sloth, it may be softness, it may be easiness, it may be indifference, it may be policy and calculation, it may be insensibility of heart, it may be sluggishness of blood, but true meekness it is not. True meekness it is not till it has been planted, and watered, and pruned, and purified, and beaten upon by every wind of God, and cut to pieces by every knife of God, and all the time engrafted and seated deep in the meekness and in the gentleness and in the humility of the Spirit of God and the Son of God. It would be far nearer the truth to say that Moses, to begin with, was the hastiest and the hottest and the least meek and the least longsuffering of men. It was but a word and a blow with young Moses. And it was a word and a blow that laid you on the spot in your grave in the sand. No; the meekness of Moses was not a case of complexion, nor a matter of temperament, any more than it was the grace of a new beginner in godliness and virtue. Moses would by that time be well on to threescore and ten of our years, as we count our years, before it was written of him what stands written of him in our noble text.
I for one will all but exonerate and absolve that grave in the sand. The Egyptian slave-driver, as I take it, deserved all that he got. But if you still protest in your distance and security and indifference against the lynch-law of Moses, then you have Augustine on your side to support you. ‘I affirm,’ says that great father, ‘that the man, though criminal, and really the offender, ought not to have been put to death by one who had no legal authority to do so. But minds that are capable of virtues often produce vices also.’ Yes: and as I read this ancient narrative, and look human nature in the face, unless that young Hebrew had had this vice in his blood that day, he would never have had the virtue, in after days that made him Moses. Unless he had had it in him, vice or virtue, to strike that bold blow at that insolent Egyptian, he would never have had it in him to strike off Israel’s fetters. If he had hesitated and calculated and looked this way and that way that day, we would not have had his perfected meekness before us for our text tonight. I like to think of the son of Pharaoh’s daughter out for a drive toward the land of Goshen that tempting sunset. I like to see the old nursling of God-her-glory still showing to all men what he had been suckled on. I rejoice to see that all the learning, and all the art, and all the luxury, and all the licentiousness, and all the dazzling prospects of Egypt have not emasculated Moses, nor made him ashamed of his oppressed kinsmen. You and I would have taken up discretional ground. We would have said that it would be eminently unwise to meddle between a master and his servant. We would have said that we had not time to go into the case. We would have told Pharaoh’s second charioteer to drive on. We would have gained Augustine’s approval. We would have been law-abiding Britons that day. Unfortunately for Moses, it was not our calm Christian blood that was running in his veins that day; and thus it was that he had to pay with forty years’ banishment for his sudden spring upon that Egyptian taskmaster, and for the life-long thanks of that delivered slave.
John Cairns refusing at forty to be called the Principal of Edinburgh University, and choosing rather to be the pastor of a despised dissenting congregation of his evangelical fellow-countrymen than to be a philosopher of European reputation, is the nearest thing I know to Moses at forty. Cairns and Keble. Having carried off as a mere boy the highest honours of the University, says Newman in his Apologia, Keble turned from the admiration which haunted his steps, and sought for a better and a holier satisfaction in pastoral work in the country. This, also, which is continually happening in Scotland, is not unlike the son of Pharaoh’s daughter. The son of a shepherd, or of a stone-breaker, will take a bursary at school. He will thus get his foot on the lowest spar of the ladder. He has talents, and industry, and character, and religion. He takes his degree with classical or philosophical or mathematical honours at Glasgow or Aberdeen. His scholarship carries him up to Oxford or Cambridge. He becomes learned in all the wisdom of the Egyptians; as Philo has it, ‘making himself master of all their disputes without encouraging any disputatious disposition in himself.’ The news soon comes that he has taken the highest honours. The University takes him up and nourishes him for her own son. His way is open. There is nothing to which he may not aspire. The Scottish crofter’s son may yet wear an English mitre. But, like Moses, it comes into his heart to visit his brethren in Argyll or Inverness, till he esteems a Gaelic congregation in his father’s church and in his father’s land a greater honour to him than all the honour and glory of England, as seeing Him who is invisible. Ouranius is a holy priest, full of the spirit of the Gospel, watching, labouring, and praying for a poor country village. When Ouranius was still a young man he had an ambition in his heart, a haughtiness in his temper, and a great contempt and disregard of all foolish and unreasonable people. But he has prayed away that spirit, and has now the greatest tenderness for the most obstinate sinners. The rudeness, ill-nature, or perverse behaviour of any of his flock used at first to betray him into impatience, but now it raises no other passion in him than a desire of being upon his knees in prayer to God for them. Thus have his prayers for others altered and amended the whole state of his own heart. This devotion softens his heart, enlightens his mind, sweetens his temper, and makes everything that comes to him instructive, amiable, and affecting. He now thinks the poorest creatures in his parish good enough and great enough to deserve the humblest attendances, the kindest friendships, the tenderest offices he can possibly show them. He is so far from wanting great or learned or courtly people that he thinks there is no better conversation in the world than to be talking to mean and poor people about the Kingdom of Heaven. All this makes Ouranius more and more careful of every temper of his heart according to the strictest rules of temperance, meekness, and humility, that he may in some degree be like Abraham and Moses and Job in his parish ministry.
Some of you will know what forty years in the wilderness, and at the back of the Mount of God, have done for yourselves. You know how those years have reduced and subdued your too-high temper, and weaned you off from the shams and the sweetnesses of this world, and given you some eyes and some heart to suffer the loss of all things for the recompense of your reward in heaven,-in heaven, where the least and the lowest reward is greater riches than all the gain and all the glory of the present world. And if forty years have wrought such a change in such a slow-hearted scholar of God as you are, you will not wonder at the man Moses as he came back from the land of Midian, Any use you are, or are ever likely to be, or have now any hope or any ambition to be-it all has its roots in the great grace of God to you, and in any little humility and meekness that has come out of all that to you. And when you multiply all that, and yourself as the result of all that, by ten thousand, then you will have Moses in Midian, the herdman and the son-in-law of Jethro, the priest of Midian. Forgotten John Foster has a fine lecture on Jethro and Moses, in which that great preacher’s philosophical and imaginative and spiritual power all come out. And all John Foster’s power is needed to construct and to let us see Moses’ life in Jethro’s household, and out among his sheep, for those forty exiled years. Moses’ magnificent powers of mind: his possession with him in his exile of all the learning and religion of Egypt; all Egypt’s power and glory and cruelty and pollution, were before Moses as he wandered and pondered over Horeb; the past of his own people, and their future; his own wonderful youth and early manhood; that taskmaster’s blood still upon his hands, and God coming nearer and nearer, and becoming clearer and clearer, more awful, but at the same time more good and more gracious every day,-forty years of that to such a man as Moses already was, that was God’s way He took to make Moses the meekest man and the greatest prophet till Christ came. Nothing so occupies a man like Moses as solitude. Nothing so humbles a man like Moses as great gifts and great providences. And nothing so meekens a man like Moses as the sins of his youth; added to the corruption and the dregs of corruption that he still sees and feels in his own heart. And all that, and far more than we are told, or can ourselves divine-all that went from forty years and onwards to make Moses the meekest of men and the most prepared for his magnificent work.
There is another thing that God sometimes overrules and employs to break and humble and make more and more meek the hearts of His best servants, and that is family misunderstandings, family disputes, and family quarrels, and, especially, misunderstandings and disputes and explosions between husband and wife. And there are three most obscure and most mysterious verses in Moses’ history that mean, if they mean anything at all to us, just such an explosion of ill-temper as must have left its mark till death on the heart of Moses and Zipporah. The best of wives; his help meet given him of God; the most self-effacing of women; the wife who holds her husband in her heart as the wisest and the best of men,-under sufficient trial and provocation and exasperation, even she will turn and will strike with just one word; just once in her whole married lifetime, as in that wayside inn on the way to Egypt, and as in Henrik Ibsen’s latest and ripest tragedy. She does it only once; but when she does it, she does it as only the wife of a good man can do it. Till Moses lies done to death between his two best friends, who have both united to kill him that terrible day in that terrible inn. Zipporah may, or may not forget that day, and forgive it; but Moses never forgot it. And though he covers up that wayside scene as much as he may, no husband and no wife ever read that covert, and to all other readers enigmatical passage, without their hearts bleeding for Moses, and for Moses’ wife, and for themselves. Moses’ heart went to pieces that day between God and Zipporah, till he took his staff in his hand next morning, the solitariest, the meekest, and the most surrendered of men, and the most meet to be the best prophet of God and the best redeemer of Israel till the Man of all Sorrows came to leave Moses, and all his meekness and all his services to God and man, far behind.
It was on the occasion of the disgraceful attack of Miriam and Aaron on Moses at Hazeroth that this testimony was borne to Moses, that he was by that time the meekest man on the face of the earth. It was when Miriam and Aaron determined to pull down Moses from the supreme place that God had gifted, him for and had put him into,-it was then that God set on Moses His open and His lasting seal to the greatness of Moses’ office as a prophet, and the greatness of Moses meekness as a man. ‘That incident,’ says Ewald, the great philosophical historian of Israel, ‘furnishes a grand exemplification of the universal truth, that the best and the most capable man in a community is often the most misunderstood and the best persecuted.’ And it was just this persecution that drew out the divine vindication and valuation that is here put of God upon Moses. Luther’s translation of the Hebrew text is a fine stroke both of exegetical licence and of exegetical genius. Moses was very much plagued, Luther renders; he was plagued, indeed, above all the men which were upon the face of the earth. Yes; ‘plagued’ exactly describes the life that Moses had led ever since he was called of God to take Israel in hand: and all Moses’ plagues came to a head in the matter of Miriam and Aaron and their envy and evil-speaking. But just then, or not long after then, the copestone and the full finish was put on Moses’ meekness. God is fast putting His last touch to His servant’s meekness and humility of heart when He shows him what a terrible temptation his great gifts and his great services are to his brother and his sister. For a man like Moses to see how his high place as God’s prophet to Israel, and, especially, his sovereign superiority to all other prophets, was a constant source of sin and misery to Miriam and Aaron, his own sister and brother, plunging them into such envy and ill-will,-what a last blow to all Moses’ remaining pride and ambition and self-exalting was that! And when we have eyes and a heart to take it to heart ourselves, how our very best things also are made a continual occasion to our brother of his worst things-our good his evil, our lifting up his casting down, our health his sickness, our life his death-when we lay that aright to heart, then there will be more men than Moses who will be meek above all the men that are on the face of the earth.
The perseverance of the saints, says an excellent old adage, is made up of ever new beginnings. So it is. And Moses’ perseverance in meekness was exactly of that ever-beginning kind. For Holy Scripture exhibits and exposes Moses as back again at the very beginning of his meekness when he is on the very borders of the promised land. Moses, with humility and with fear let it be seen and said, was as hasty, and as hot, and as violent away on at the rock of Meribah as ever he was among the sands of Goshen. Moses struck the rock that late day with the very same stroke of angry passion with which he had killed the Egyptian in that early day. And all the rest of his days on earth, all the way from Meribah to Pisgah, Moses went mourning, praying, and importuning for his sin against meekness in his old age, as much and more than he had done from Goshen to Midian in the days of his youth. The perseverance of the saints is indeed made up of ever new beginnings. Put on therefore, as the elect of God, holy and beloved, bowels of mercies, kindness, humbleness of mind, meekness, long-suffering, forbearing one another and forgiving one another. If any man have a quarrel against any, even as Christ forgave you, so also do ye. And, again, a still meeker than Moses says to us every day, Take My yoke upon you, and learn of Me; for I am meek and lowly in heart; and ye shall find rest unto your souls.
Moses, the patriot fierce, became
The meekest man on earth,
To show us how love’s quick’ning flame
Can give our souls new birth.
Moses, the man of meekest heart‚
Lost Canaan by self-will,
To show where grace has done its part,
How sin defiles us still.
Thou, who hast taught me in Thy fear
Yet seest me frail at best,
O grant me loss with Moses here.
To gain his future rest.
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