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Notebook: Moses

J Grant

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Amidst the sad scenes at the beginning of the book of Exodus there is noted the fact that "a man of the house of Levi…took to wife a daughter of Levi. And the woman conceived and bare a son" (Ex 2.1-2). There is thus introduced to the pages of Scripture one of the spiritual giants of the Old Testament. His life covers four books - Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy, and his name is found just short of 800 times in the Word of God. With such a man our survey can only be suggestive.

His early years

There were two other children of the marriage. The eldest was a daughter, Miriam, and the second a son, Aaron, three years older than Moses. His parents were named Amram and Jochebed (Num 26.59), of the tribe of Levi. At the time of his birth there was no indication that the babe was destined to lead the Children of Israel. His parents, however, were godly and determined to hide the child so that he would not be put to death in accordance with Pharaoh’s command. Note that his mother gets the credit for this in Exodus, but in Hebrews credit is given to both parents (11.23). Subsequently, he was placed in an ark of bulrushes, which was laid in the midst of the reeds and water plants found in the Nile.

It is clear that the purpose of this was not to hide the child, as the ark was at the place where the royal princesses came to carry out their ceremonial ablutions. When the princess found the child the purpose of his parents was realised and his mother was hired to care for him. His mother instructed him in the history of his people and of their God, Jehovah, but his education when he moved into the palace was of a different nature. Stephen, in his defence before the Council, stated that "Moses was learned in all the wisdom of the Egyptians, and was mighty in words and in deeds" (Acts 7.22). Nothing of Egyptian learning was withheld from him and he became a man whose words and deeds were mighty. He appeared to be a worthy prince of Egypt with all the power and wealth of that mighty nation within his grasp.

His great decision

Despite all this he never forgot the lessons he had learned at his mother’s knee. Mothers, take heart that time spent with young children, seeking to bring them up in a godly way, is not wasted time. To sacrifice this for a career is not worthy of motherhood. The decision that faced Moses was great. Should he continue as a wealthy, admired member of Egypt’s governing classes, or should he publicly declare himself to be a Hebrew who would undertake their cause? Abraham made a decision when he left Ur; Moses had to make a decision in Egypt. Young believers have to make a decision today. The world calls with all its pleasures and promises. It asserts that the life of a follower of Jesus Christ is one that loses much that is the right of the individual to enjoy. But Moses made the right choice, "Esteeming the reproach of Christ greater riches than that of Egypt: for he had respect unto the recompence of the reward" (Heb 11.26).

Those who stand at such a crossroads of life must remember that there are greater riches than those of the world and recognise that the pleasures of the world are but "for a season" (Heb 11.25), whereas the joy to be found in Christ is eternal.

His time in Midian

Due to his haste in the defence of a Hebrew slave, Moses left Egypt and travelled to Midian. There he found his wife and there he learned the skills of shepherding sheep. Shepherds were an abomination to the Egyptians (Gen 46.34) and it would not, therefore, have been possible for him to gain practical experience of this work in Egypt. Such knowledge, however, was essential, for he would be called to shepherd Israel, and a part of the journey would lie through the region where he now shepherded sheep. God used the haste of Moses to further his preparation for service that lay ahead.

While engaged in this task, at the end of forty years, the Lord appeared to him in a burning bush. This was in what had begun as an ordinary day, and the call of God still comes in such a day, suddenly and unexpectedly. The fire in the bush indicated that it was God’s desire to dwell with His people and for them not be consumed by the holiness of His presence.

Confrontation in Egypt

The confrontation that took place in Egypt was not between Moses and Pharaoh alone but between Jehovah and the gods of Egypt. "Each blow insults and abuses them. Serapis blushes till his Nile waters, erst so translucent, turn to blood red: Ra, the sun god, is compelled to smile on Israel and frown on Mizraim. The sacred frog and fly become objects of loathing. The bull-god, Apis, cannot protect himself nor his fellow cattle from the murrain. Seb, the earth, is covered with vermin. Osiris and Isis are extinguished in the sky; and Nepte, the vault of heaven, is covered with a shameful darkness as with a garment of mourning. The whole obscene brood are hurled headlong flaming from the ethereal sky, in hideous ruin and combustion, down to bottomless perdition".1

The outcome is the deliverance of Israel at the Passover from the penalty of sin, and at the Red Sea from the power of sin.

In the wilderness

Space does not permit us to consider all that took place on the journey from Egypt to Canaan. The interested student will follow the steps of the Israelites as they are recorded to the end of the book of Deuteronomy. We will concentrate, however, on the character of Moses as he led them.

Consider his meekness. "Now the man Moses was very meek, above all the men which were upon the face of the earth" (Num 12.3) is written of Moses when Miriam and Aaron "spake against Moses" (Num 12.1). It is noteworthy that he did not defend himself but left the matter with God. Moses was not prepared to justify his actions and raise his voice in self-defence, but in v.4 we read that "the Lord spake suddenly unto Moses, and unto Aaron, and unto Miriam".

It is also of interest to observe in this connection that when the people refused to enter Canaan (Num 13-14) Moses never complained that their actions had condemned him to thirty-eight years in the wilderness when he could have been enjoying the land of Canaan.

Note also his prophetic office. There was not a prophet like Moses, either before him or after him. To him God spoke "mouth to mouth, even apparently, and not in dark speeches; and the similitude of the Lord shall he behold" (Num 12.8). He would appear to him in the form in which He chose to appear and speak mouth to mouth. No other prophet ever received revelation in such a close manner as that. He was a unique prophet!

His self-sacrifice must be noted. This does not refer to his decision to forsake Egypt, but rather to his approach to God after the people had worshipped a golden calf (Ex 32.15-35). Israel had sinned grievously and without doubt deserved the judgment of God. The words of Moses are telling: "Oh, this people have sinned a great sin, and have made them gods of gold. Yet now, if thou wilt forgive their sin-; and if not, blot me, I pray thee, out of thy book which thou hast written" (vv.31-32). It was not possible that the Lord would do this, but the selflessness of Moses is seen in that he was prepared to sacrifice himself for the preservation of the people, despite their sin.

His praise is also worthy. As the Children of Israel left Egypt behind, having seen Pharaoh’s armies destroyed in the Red Sea, he is the leader of the praise when the people raise their voices in song (Ex 15.1-21). It is not surprising to see such a hymn when deliverance has been effected, just as today those who are newly saved raise their hearts and voices in praise. But at the end of the wilderness journey (Deut 32.1-43), Moses is still singing. Forty years later, the trials and disappointments of that journey have not stilled his tongue or hardened his heart. It is sad to note, however, that he sings alone. It is good to hear the praise of those who are young in the faith, but there is added joy in seeing those who are in the autumn of life still singing His praise and enjoying His presence.

Finally, his blessing. Moses closes with a song - and then with blessing for the people (Deut 33.1-29). "Happy art thou, O Israel: who is like unto thee, O people saved by the Lord…". What a note on which to end! May we so live that, to the end of life’s journey, we are a blessing to the saints!

1 W. Kelly The Bible Treasury Vol 17, page 271

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