Moses, Servant of God
Blaine Robison, M.A.
Published 9 March 2022; Revised 30 November 2022
Scripture: Unless otherwise indicated Scripture quotations are taken from the New American Standard Bible (1995 Updated edition). Click here for Abbreviations of Bible Versions. Quotations marked with the initials "BR" indicate the translation of the author.
Sources: Bibliographic data for works cited and resources consulted may be found at the end of the article. Works without page numbers are cited ad loc. Unless otherwise indicated references to the Talmud are from the Soncino Babylonian Talmud (1948); available online at Halakhah.com. Click here for Talmud abbreviations. Important extra-biblical Jewish sources offering biographical information on Moses in the first century include the following:
● DSS: Citations marked as "DSS" are from the Dead Sea Scrolls, a collection of Jewish manuscripts of Scripture and sectarian documents found in the Qumran caves. Most of the Qumran MSS belong to the last three centuries BC and the first century AD. Online scrolls: Exodus Scrolls, Leviticus Scrolls, Numbers Scrolls, Deuteronomy Scrolls.
● LXX: The abbreviation "LXX" ("70") stands for the Septuagint, the Jewish translation of the Hebrew Bible into Greek, which was in use among Jews by the mid-2nd century BC. Online. See Barry Setterfield, The Alexandrian Septuagint History.
● Josephus: Citations for Josephus, the first century Jewish historian (Yosef ben Matityahu), are from The Works of Flavius Josephus (c. 7599 A.D.) trans. William Whiston (1737). Josephus reported on the life of Moses in his Antiquities of the Jews:
● Book II, 9−16; From the birth of Moses to the Escape of the Israelites from Egypt.
● Book III, 1−15, From the Exodus out of Egypt to the Rejection of that Generation.
● Book IV, 1−8, From the Rejection of that Generation to the Death of Moses.
Philo: (20 B.C.─A.D. 50) the first century Jewish philosopher and prolific writer on biblical subjects, reviewed the life of Moses:
● On the Life of Moses, Part I.
● On the Life of Moses, Part II.
Special Terms: In order to emphasize the Hebraic nature of Scripture I use the terms Tanakh (Old Testament), Besekh (New Testament), Yeshua (Jesus) and Messiah (Christ).
System for Dating: B.C. ("Before Christ"), A.D. (Anno Domini, "In the Year of our Lord"), and A.M. (Anno Mundi, "In the Year of the World" or "Year of the World from Creation"). Since history is really His-Story then using B.C./A.D. is superior to the convention of B.C.E ("Before Common Era") and C.E. ("Common Era") introduced by Jewish academics.
For a suggested timeline of the life of Moses and the exodus see the dating chart of Rick Aschmann. All dates given for the following biographical summary are estimates and not intended to be dogmatic.
The story of Moses is found in the extensive narratives of the Tanakh from Exodus 1:1 through Deuteronomy 34:1 and then summarized in Acts 7:20-44 and in Hebrews 11:23-29. His life of 120 years can be easily divided into three 40-year periods, the first being his birth and early life in Egypt (Ex 2:11; Acts 7:23), the second his years in Midian (Ex 7:7; Acts 7:30), and the third from the Exodus from Egypt through the years spent in the wilderness until his death (Ex 16:35; Deut 34:7; Acts 7:36).
The name of Moses, which appears in the Tanakh 766 times, is dominant in the Torah narrative and the closeness of his relationship to God is illustrated by the frequent occurrence of the clause "ADONAI said/spoke to Moses" (149 times) and Moses saying, "ADONAI said/spoke to me" (14 times). Indeed, there is no greater figure in the Tanakh than Moses. Scripture repeatedly refers to Moses as a servant of God (Ex 4:10; 14:31; Num 11:11; 12:7-8; Deut 34:5; Josh 1:1-2, 7, 13, 15; 8:31, 33; 9:24; 11:12, 15; 12:6; 13:8; 14:7; 18:7; 22:2, 4; 1Kgs 8:53, 56; 18:12; 1Chr 6:49; 2Chr 1:3; 24:6, 9; Neh 10:29; Ps 105:26; Dan 9:11; Mal 4:4; Heb 3:5; Rev 15:3).
Moses is the central figure in extra-biblical Jewish sources available in the first century (listed above). In addition, traditions and legends about Moses may be found in various Talmud tractates, the written form of which is dated 220500 A.D., and midrashic Jewish literature and Jewish commentaries (such as Rashi), dated in the early Middle Ages. Scripture is the primary source for information about Moses in this article.
Scripture: Genesis 15:13-16; Exodus 1:1−2:15; Acts 7:20-27; Hebrews 11:23-26.
Prophecy of Sojourning
"13 Know surely that your seed will be strangers in a land that is not theirs, and will serve them, and they will afflict them four hundred years. 14 But the nation whom they serve I am going to judge and afterward they will go out with great possessions. 15 But as for you, you will come to your fathers in peace. You will be buried at a good old age. 16 And in the fourth generation they will return here, for the iniquity of the Amorites is not yet complete here.'"(Gen 15:13-16 BR)
The story of Moses properly begins with the prophecy of the future given to Abraham by ADONAI. We should note that God clarified the time of the exodus as the fourth generation from Abraham. Henry Morris suggests the 400 years was equivalent to "four generations," since men were still living in excess of one hundred years of age and older (48f). Contrary to common interpretation Abraham did not say that his descendents would be enslaved in Egypt for 400 years. The prophecy can refer to both Canaanites and Egyptians as oppressing agents. Philo in speaking of the prophecy does not associate the time period solely with Egypt, but simply the period in which Abraham and his seed would be subjected to afflictions (Questions and Answers on Genesis, III, 10).
Generally overlooked is the fact that Abraham himself sojourned in Egypt for a time because of famine in Canaan and left with great possessions (Gen 12:10-20). The time period is revised slightly in Exodus 12:40, which is commonly translated as "The time that the people of Israel lived in Egypt was 430 years" (ESV). However, the literal translation would be: "Now the sojourning of the sons of Israel (who dwelled in Egypt) was thirty and four hundred years" (BR). The thirty-year period began when Abraham left Ur of the Chaldees at the age of 70 and moved to Haran (DSS 4Q252; TDSS 354).
Abraham then left Haran and went to Canaan when he was 75 years old (Gen 12:4; (DSS 4Q8b) and the thirty-year period ended 25 years later with the birth of Isaac at age 100 (Gen 21:5). The time actually spent in Egypt would have been approximately 215 years (Morris 38f). The sum is based on the time of Abraham's entry into Canaan, plus the age of Isaac at the birth of Jacob (Gen 25:26); and the age of Jacob at his entry into Egypt (Gen 47:9); which three sums make 215 years and leaves 215 years. This deduction was originally presented in the historical narrative of Josephus:
"They [the Israelites] left Egypt in the month Xanthicus, on the fifteenth day of the lunar month; four hundred and thirty years after our forefather Abraham came into Canaan, but two hundred and fifteen years only after Jacob removed into Egypt." (Ant. II, 15:2)
Both the LXX and Samaritan Pentateuch of Exodus 12:40, which give the time period of 430 years, support the view that the time period included both Canaan and Egypt in the sojourn. Paul also refers to the time period of the sojourn as given by Moses:
"16 Now the promises were spoken to Abraham and to his seed. It doesnt say, 'and to seeds,' as of many, but as of one, 'and to your seed,' who is the Messiah. 17 What I am saying is this: Torah, which came 430 years later, does not cancel the covenant previously confirmed by God, so as to make the promise ineffective" (Gal 3:16-17 TLV)
Paul marks the beginning of the 430-year sojourn period as God's promise "to your seed" (Gen 12:7). The promise was actually given to Abraham first in Ur of the Chaldees. The terminus of the period was the giving of the Torah on Mount Sinai (Ex 20:1). Thus, the extra thirty years takes in the time from when Abraham received his divine call and left Ur of the Chaldees at the age of 70 until the birth of Isaac at age 100. From a Hebrew perspective the "sons of Israel" could have sojourned from the departure of Abraham to Canaan because they were in his loins at the time (cf. Heb 7:9-10).
Thus, The text of Exodus 12:40 does not mean to say that the descendants of Abraham lived in Egypt for 430 years, but that their sojourning from the time of Abraham lasted that length of time. Archbishop Ussher in his chronology of the Bible states,
"From the time of the giving of this promise [Gen 12:1-2] and Abram's immediate departure, we mark as the start of those 430 years which Abram and his posterity spent in foreign lands." (20)
"Joseph was made governor of Egypt when he was 30 years old and when his father Jacob was 122 years old. He headed the government for 80 years. After he died, the Hebrews were held in bondage by the Egyptians 144 years. Therefore, the whole time which the Hebrews spent in Egypt was 215 years, starting from the time that Jacob and his sons went down into Egypt.'' (33)
The Times of Moses
"Now there arose a new king over Egypt, who did not know Joseph." (Ex 1:8 TLV)
The book of Exodus begins with a historical transition. Over a century has passed since the death of Joseph and a "new king," or a new royal government had arisen. A tradition as old Josephus the Jewish historian states that a Hyksos dynasty was ruling Egypt when Joseph came to the country (Against Apion 1:14). The Hyksos were a Semitic people from the Eastern Mediterranean that immigrated and settled in the Nile delta two centuries before Joseph. A century later they were in control of Lower Egypt. But, in the century since Joseph's death the Hyksos kings were driven out by native Egyptians. With the political change came a new spirit of nationalism.
The new native Egyptian rulers were unsympathetic toward the Semitic people who had come in under the Hyksos rulers. This new king "knew nothing of Joseph," which does not mean he was ignorant of Joseph, because his history and the benefits done by him to the Egyptian nation would no doubt have been in their records. Rather, the new Egyptian king in nationalistic pride had no regard for the memory of Joseph. The new king refused to recognize the benefits Joseph provided to his nation, ungratefully neglected them, and showed no respect to his legacy.
The new Egyptian king, or Pharaoh (Ex 1:22), recognized that the people of Israel had been fruitful and multiplied and in terms of sheer numbers had a greater population than the native Egyptians. What he refused to consider was the contribution of the Israelites to the economic well-being of the country. And, to allow the Israelites to have equal rights with the Egyptians could tip the balance of power and threaten national identity.
So, Pharaoh decided to preempt the fake problem he invented by declaring the Israelites to be threats to national security. His solution was not to evict the Israelites from the country but to enslave them for labor in government public works. He also decreed that newly born baby boys among the Israelites should be killed (Ex 1:15, 16, 22). This is the first recorded instance of institutional anti-Semitism. What happened in Nazi Germany started in Egypt.
The response of the Israelites reported in the first five chapters of Exodus is interesting. In spite of their superior numbers they did not rise up in rebellion. They did not storm Pharaoh's palace. Instead they submitted to the burden of forced labor and did their best to protect their children. In short they endured and cried out to God for deliverance. God had a plan for deliverance that He put into motion. And, God showed His sense humor by having the daughter of Pharaoh save the future deliverer from death and raise him in the household of the very king who had enslaved the Israelites.
Birth and Family
"The woman conceived and bore a son; and when she saw that he was beautiful, she hid him for three months. 10 The child grew, and she brought him to Pharaoh's daughter and he became her son. And she named him Moses, and said, "Because I drew him out of the water." (Ex 2:2, 10)
The genealogy of Moses is traced from Abraham to Isaac to Jacob to Levi to Kohath (Ex 6:16-18; 1Chr 1:34; 2:1; 6:1-3). The names of the parents of Moses are identified as Amram (Heb. Amram, "exalted people"), the son of Kohath, and Jochebed (Heb. Yokebed, "Yah is glory") (Ex 6:20; Num 26:59), both born in Egypt sometime after the arrival of Jacob's family. Scripture provides little information about Amram and Jochebed. Amram lived to the age of 137 years and died before the Israelites left Egypt. According to later Jewish tradition Jochebed was one of the midwives that defied Pharaoh (Targum Jonathan; Ginzberg II, IV.3).
The Hebrew text of Exodus 6:20 (DSS 4Q1; the MT; and the SP) says, "Amram took Jochebed his father's-sister as wife." The text identifies Jochebed with the noun Heb. dodah, (SH-1733, aunt), i.e., the sister of Kohath, the father of Amram, making her the aunt of Amram. Other cultures at the time of Moses permitted similar unions between close relatives. This marriage relationship was later banned in the laws given at Sinai (Lev 18:12). So, if Amram married his aunt he did not sin.
The LXX clarified the meaning of Exodus 6:20, "And Amram took to wife Jochebed the daughter [Grk. thugatēr, daughter] of the brother of his father." The LXX treats the Hebrew word dodah as a genitive case rather than nominative case, meaning "of his father's sister." Thus, the LXX makes Jochebed a cousin of Amram. Numbers 26:59 says Jochebed was a "daughter" of Levi, but both the Hebrew and Greek words for "daughter" can mean any female descendent, however far removed.
Targum Onkelos (1st cent. A.D.) concurs with the DSS with "Amram took his aunt [fathers sister] Yocheved for his wife and she bore him Aharon and Moshe." However, Targum Jonathan (2nd cent. A.D.) reads "And Amram took Jokeved his cousin to wife, and she bare him Aharon and Mosheh." Targum Jerusalem (4th cent. A.D.) concurs with Targum Jonathan that Jochebed was a cousin of Amram. The LXX as the earliest text to speak of the marriage, and the correction of Targums Jonathan and Jerusalem, deserve being given greater weight in determining the degree of kinship of Amram and Jochebed.
Philo (20 BC-50 AD), the Jewish philosopher in Alexandria, said this of the parents of Moses: "And his father and mother were among the most excellent persons of their time, and though they were of the same time, still they were induced to unite themselves together more from an unanimity of feeling than because they were related in blood" (On the Life of Moses I, 2:7).
Josephus describes Amram as "one of the nobler sort of the Hebrews" who bore a burden for the condition of his people and spent time in intercessory prayer for the nation's deliverance. According to the story God came to Amram in a dream and exhorted him not to despair, for his wife who was at first barren would be enabled to conceive just as God did for Sarah and Rebekah. His wife would give him a son who would deliver the nation from destruction. Moreover, "his memory shall be famous while the world lasts; and this not only among the Hebrews, but foreigners also, he shall also have such a brother, that he shall himself obtain my priesthood, and his posterity shall have it after him to the end of the world" (Ant. II, 9:3).
Scholars are divided over the time period of the life of Moses, but the conservative estimate based on biblical dating references (cf. Jdg 11:26; 1Kgs 6:1; Acts 13:19-20) places his birth in the early 15th century BC: 1527 (Archer 196, 459) and 1525 (Purkiser 442). Archbishop Ussher dated his birth in 1571 BC (34). Though not recorded in Scripture Moses would have been circumcised on the eighth day after birth. Jochebed and Amram had three children: Miriam, Aaron and Moses (Num 26:59). Aaron was three years older than Moses (Ex 7:7). Miriam was the sister who watched over Moses (Ex 2:4), thus making her the firstborn of Amram and Jochebed The birth of Aaron occurred three years before the decree of Pharaoh to kill the Hebrew infants.
Three months after the birth of Moses he could no longer be hidden, so Jochebed placed her son in an unorthodox cradle, an ark of bulrushes, in the Nile River (Ex 2:3). After discovery by Pharaoh's daughter the mother of Moses was paid to take him and nurse him until he was weaned (Ex 2:5-11). Pharaoh's daughter gave the Hebrew baby the name of "Moses" (Heb. Mosheh, pronounced mo-sheh'), and transliterated as Grk. Mōusēs in the LXX. His name was most likely derived from Egyptian mes meaning "child" or "son" (BDB 602), since the daughter of Pharaoh explained the chosen name by saying, "Because I drew [Heb. mashah, "to draw"] him out of the water" (Ex 2:10).
One rabbinic sage concluded on the basis of the description of "beautiful" (Heb. tτv; LXX asteios) in Exodus 2:2 that the Hebrew name of Moses was Tobiah (Sotah 12a). The intent of the description is probably to emphasize that Moses met the later standard for a priest to be physically perfect to offer sacrifices (Lev 21:16-23). After being weaned Moses grew up in the household of Pharaoh's daughter (Ex 2:10; Heb 11:24) and was "educated in all the wisdom of the Egyptians" (Acts 7:20).
Adult Years in Egypt
"And Moses was educated in all the wisdom of the Egyptians; moreover he was mighty in his words and deeds." (Acts 7:22 BR)
"24 In faithfulness Moses, having become great, refused to be called the son of the daughter of Pharaoh, 25 rather having chosen to suffer affliction with the people of God than to enjoy the temporary enjoyment of sin. 26 having considered the reproach of being the Anointed One greater wealth than the treasures of Egypt, for he was looking toward the reward." (Heb 11:24-26 BR)
The book of Exodus offers little information on the life of Moses in Egypt after he reached adulthood. Josephus records that Moses was appointed as a general of the Egyptian army to repel an invasion of the Ethiopians (Ant. II, 10:1-2). While the account is wholly omitted in Scripture, the report was accepted by the church father Irenaeus (Fragments XXXII). It is possible that Stephen alluded to such a prominent role of Moses when he said that Moses was mighty in words and in deeds. Paul may also have alluded to this elevated status when he says of Moses "having become great" (Grk. megas).
Circumstances changed dramatically when Moses approached his fortieth birthday (Ex 2:11; Acts 7:23). He left the palace, a place of sinful pleasures, to visit the Israelite people where they labored in bondage. According to Paul this departure from the palace was for the purpose of identifying with his people and possessing the self-awareness of being the son of Jochebed, not an Egyptian woman. Paul also attributes to Moses an analysis of the covenantal promises of a Saving Seed for the people of Abraham and interpreted his own deliverance from death as sign of God's intention for him to be a leader of the Israelites.
As he was engaged in this on-site inspection he witnessed an Egyptian supervisor beating a Hebrew worker (Ex 2:11). Such treatment was common so there must be a particular reason why Moses got involved. Rashi cites the midrash Exodus Rabbah 1:29 as explaining that the Egyptian supervisor had surreptitiously been intimate with Shelomith, the daughter of Dibri, of the tribe of Dan (Lev 24:10). Her husband discovered the matter and confronted the Egyptian taskmaster who "returned him to hard labor and struck him and sought to kill him." As the self-appointed leader of Israel Moses learned of the situation and decided the Egyptian's conduct merited death and so killed him (Ex 2:12).
The next day Moses attempted to mediate a dispute between two Hebrews but they challenged his being the anointed leader of Israel with the question "Who made you a prince and a judge over us?" (Ex 2:14 ESV). The adversarial Israelites revealed they knew of his killing the Egyptian. Pharaoh also heard of the illegal killing committed by Moses and intended to have Moses executed, but Moses fled from Egypt (Ex 2:15).
Scripture: Exodus 2:15−4:28; Acts 7:28-35; Hebrews 11:27.
Shepherd of Midian
"Moses fled from the face of Pharaoh and dwelled in the land of Midian, and he sat down by a well." (Ex 2:15)
"Moses fled and became a sojourner in the land of Midian, where he fathered two sons." (Acts 7:29 BR)
"In faithfulness he left Egypt, not being afraid of the anger of the king." (Heb 11:27 BR)
After Moses fled from Egypt he arrived in the land of the Midianites, a nomadic people that ranged over territory in the Arabian peninsula and the Sinai peninsula south of Edom. The Midianite people descended from the son of Abraham and his concubine-wife Keturah (Gen 25:2; 1Chr 1:32). Again Moses intervened when he observed aggression. Sitting at a well, Moses witnessed a group of shepherds that attempted to drive away sheep belonging to the high priest of the region, a man with three names: Reuel (Ex 2:18; Num 10:29), Jethro (Ex 3:1) and Hobab (Jdg 4:11). Of the three names Jethro is most commonly used, perhaps more a title associated with his priestly office (Morris 90).
The priest had seven daughters who tended his sheep and Moses stood against their adversaries and assisted the daughters of Jethro in watering their sheep. Jethro invited Moses to live and work under the protection of Midianite hospitality. Eventually Moses married one of the Jethro's daughters, Zipporah. Thus Moses enjoyed 40 years of peace among the Midianites. Zipporah bore him two sons (Acts 7:29), Gershom (Ex 2:22) and Eliezer (Ex 18:3-4). During these years Moses took care of Jethro's sheep and lived apart from his own people.
Revelation at Horeb
"1 Now Moses was tending the flock of his father-in-law Jethro, the priest of Midian. So he led the flock to the farthest end of the wilderness, coming to the mountain of God, Horeb. 2 Then the angel of ADONAI appeared to him in a flame of fire from within a bush." (Ex 3:1-2 TLV)
"And forty years having been fulfilled, a messenger in a flame of fire of a bush appeared to him in the wilderness of Mount Sinai." (Acts 7:30 BR)
Toward the end of this second 40-year period the life of Moses changed dramatically again. He happened to be tending his flocks in the vicinity of Mt. Horeb, the "mountain of God" located on the "west side of the wilderness"(Ex 3:1), i.e., in the Sinai peninsula. The co-location of Mt. Horeb with Mt. Sinai is implied by a comparison of Exodus 19:11-13 and Deuteronomy 1:6. See the map here. Josephus provided valuable information about the mountain:
"Now this is the highest of all the mountains thereabout, and the best for pasturage, the herbage being there good; and it had not been before fed upon, because of the opinion men had that God dwelt there, the shepherds not daring to ascend up to it." (Ant. II, 12:1)
"Mount Sinai is the highest of all the mountains that are in that country and is not only very difficult to be ascended by men, on account of its vast altitude, but because of the sharpness of its precipices" (Ant. III, 5:1).
Mt. Horeb/Sinai is a mountain mass two miles long and one mile broad, with the southern peak being 7363 feet high and the northern peak, Ras Sufsafeh, being 6830 feet high (SBD, Sinai). In Arabic the mountain is known as Jebel Musa ("Mountain of Moses"). In Christianity the mountain was called Mt. Catherine because of the monastery of St. Catherine being built there. See pictures of the mountain here.
While at Mt. Horeb Moses witnessed a bush that was burning, but not consumed by the fire. Out of curiosity Moses approached the bush and for the first time in his life heard the voice of God speak to him. The speaker identified himself as "the God of your father [Amram], the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob" (Ex 3:6). To any observer it would have been strange to see a man talking to a bush, but God and Moses had a lengthy conversation, narrated in Exodus 3:4−4:23.
Moses dared to ask the God of his fathers for His name and Moses received the special revelation"I am who I am" (Heb. Hayah asher Hayah) (Ex 3:14), shortened in the next verse as YHVH, translated as ADONAI in Messianic Jewish versions (CJB and TLV), HaShem in the non-Messianic Jewish version (JPS 1917) and LORD in Christian versions. For a discussion of the history and usage of the sacred name see my article The Blessed Name.
"And this shall be the sign for you, that I have sent you: when you have brought the people out of Egypt, you shall serve God on this mountain." (Ex 3:12 ESV)
ADONAI then gave to Moses what must have seemed like a mission impossible. He was to return to Egypt and deliver the Israelites from their bondage and oppression and bring them first to Mt. Horeb/Sinai and then later to the land of Canaan (Ex 3:8, 12, 17). The operational plan for deliverance set forth specific objectives to accomplish (Ex 3:13-21:
● First, Moses would meet with the elders of Israel to inform them of God's covenantal care and intention to provide deliverance.
● Second, Moses would meet with Pharaoh and present God's demand that Pharaoh release the Israelites.
● Third, knowing that Pharaoh would refuse to release the Israelites God would compel Pharaoh through a series of judgments on Egypt.
● Fourth, when the permission to leave was granted the Israelites were to plunder the Egyptians of desirable objects.
● Fifth, God would bring the Israelites to Mt. Sinai.
● Sixth, God would finally bring the Israelites to the land of Canaan and displace the pagan nations dwelling there.
Moses was ready to refuse the commission on the basis of an inability to communicate well (Ex 4:10). However, ADONAI rejected this excuse and reminded him of the creation with the question "Who has made man's mouth?" (Ex 4:11). This simple question rebuts the idea that the human body developed by random processes (Morris 92). Moses was assured of two provisions that would provide success. First, ADONAI pointed out the staff in Moses' hand and promised that it would be an instrument of enacting signs and wonders (Ex 4:3-4). Second, Aaron, the brother of Moses, would serve as an assistant and spokesman for Moses (Ex 4:14). With these assurances Moses informed his father-in-law of the divine commission and departed for Egypt.
Scripture: Exodus 4:29−15:21; Psalms 78:12-14, 43-53; 105:26-39; 106:7-12; Acts 7:35-36; Hebrews 11:28-29.
Return to Egypt
Then ADONAI said to Moses in Midian, "Go, return to Egypt, for all the men that sought your life are dead." (Ex 4:19 TLV)
While Moses was preparing to leave Midian, ADONAI appeared to Aaron in Egypt and directed him to meet Moses in the wilderness and the reunion occurred at the "mountain of God," presumptively Mt. Horeb (Ex 4:27). Then Moses bid goodbye to his father-in-law and left with his wife with his two sons riding donkeys. However, while en route to Egypt a strange event occurred in which ADONAI (an angel of ADONAI according to the LXX and Targums) attempted to kill Moses, apparently because Moses had failed to circumcise his son Eliezer (Ex 4:24-26). Even though Moses married a non-Hebrew, his descent from Abraham through Jacob obligated him to obey the covenantal requirement of circumcision.
In Scripture covenantal privilege and obligation is determined patrilineally. Thus, failing to circumcise Eliezer was a flagrant transgression of God's covenant with Abraham (Gen 17:14), and Moses could not represent God to the Israelites while in a state of sin. To avert God's judgment Zipporah conducted the circumcision. After this incident Zipporah returned to her father, and Jethro later brought her and their two sons to Moses in the wilderness (Ex 18:5). After leaving Zipporah with her father Moses continued his journey with Aaron.
"Then Moses and Aaron went and assembled all the elders of the sons of Israel." (Ex 4:29)
"Moses was eighty years old and Aaron eighty-three, when they spoke to Pharaoh." (Ex 7:7)
The next chapters narrate the accomplishment of the specific objectives God established in His operational plan to deliver the Israelites from their bondage. First, Moses duly met with the elders of Israel to inform them of God's covenantal care and intention to provide deliverance and revealed the name of God to his brethren (Ex 4:29-30).
Second, Moses met with Pharaoh and presented a demand from ADONAI that he permit the Israelites to go into the wilderness in order to celebrate a feast. As God predicted the arrogant Pharaoh refused to release the Israelites. Moreover, as retribution for the demand Pharaoh ordered his slave supervisors to increase the work demand on the Israelites. The elders of Israel complained to Moses about the bad treatment, but he repeated God's promise of deliverance.
Moses and Aaron went again to Pharaoh and repeated the demand for release. This time Pharaoh demanded a miracle from Moses to justify listening to him. Following the instruction of ADONAI Aaron threw down his staff and it became a snake. Egyptian magicians conjured an imitation of the sign, so Pharaoh was unimpressed. The next morning Moses went to Pharaoh as he was about to bathe in the Nile and warned him of a judgment on Egypt for his refusal to release the Israelites.
Judgment on Egypt
"He sent Moses His servant, and Aaron, whom He had chosen. 27 They performed His wondrous acts among them, and miracles in the land of Ham." (Ps 105:26-27)
As an inducement to convince Pharaoh to change his mind Aaron and Moses began to perform miraculous signs that essentially mocked and insulted Egypt's pantheon of gods and goddesses to demonstrate their powerlessness and ultimately their non-existence (Num 33:4) (Morris 96, 99). There were over 2,000 deities in the Egyptian pantheon. See the complete list here. God imposed a total of ten calamities or "plagues" (Ex 9:14) that impacted the entire country, each one more severe than the last. The plagues brought catastrophic economic disaster on Egypt.
Plague of Blood (Ex 7:17-25). Aaron stretched his staff to impose the plague. This plague was against Hapi, god of the Nile who was a water bearer.
Plague of Frogs (Ex 8:1-15). Aaron stretched his staff to impose the plague. This was an attack on Heket, goddess of fertility, water, and renewal. She had the head of a frog.
Plague of Lice (Ex 8:16-19). ADONAI directed that Aaron take his rod and smite the dust of the earth, when then became lice, resulting in an infestation on both people and beasts. This plague was against Geb, god of the Earth, who was over the dust of the earth. The magicians of Pharaoh admitted, "this is the finger of God."
Plague of Flies (Ex 8:20-32). ADONAI directed Moses to warn Pharaoh of this plague. This plague was against Khepri, god of creation, movement of the Sun, rebirth. Khepri had the head of a fly.
Plague of Pestilence (Ex 9:1-7). ADONAI directed Moses to tell Pharaoh there would be a pestilence on livestock, perhaps anthrax. This plague was against Hathor, goddess of love and protection. Usually this goddess was depicted with the head of a cow.
Plague of Boils (Ex 9:8-12). Without warning to Pharaoh ADONAI directed Moses and Aaron to take soot from a kiln and throw it toward the sky. Wherever the wind took the fine dust boils broke out on man and beast alike. This plague was against Isis, goddess of medicine and peace.
Plague of Hail (Ex 9:13-35). ADONAI directed Moses to tell Pharaoh that hail would fall on the fields of Egypt. This plague was against Nut, goddess of the sky. Hail of destructive size rained down from the sky accompanied by lightning. People and livestock left in the fields were killed, but those that sought shelter were saved. In addition, the barley and flax crops were destroyed.
Plague of Locusts (Ex 10:1-20). ADONAI directed Moses to tell Pharaoh locusts would devour the land. Moses then stretched his staff over the land and an East wind brought the locusts. This plague was against Seth, Egyptian god of storms and disorder. To remove the plague God sent a West wind to drive the locusts into the Red Sea.
Plague of Darkness (Ex 10:21-23). Without warning to Pharaoh ADONAI directed Moses to stretch his staff toward the sky and thick darkness resulted, which lasted three days. This plague was against Ra, the sun god.
Plague of Death of the Firstborn (Ex 11:1-10; 12:29-30). ADONAI announced to Moses that He would kill firstborn Egyptians but deliver the Israelites from death (Ex 12:23, 29). This plague was against Pharaoh himself, considered to be the son of Ra and the ultimate power of Egypt. Pharaoh was apparently not a firstborn son. Relative to this judgment God required Israel to consecrate all their firstborn to Him (Ex 13:2).
Generally ADONAI spoke to Moses and gave instructions of what to say to Pharaoh as a warning of a calamity that would occur. Moses also interceded for ADONAI to remove plagues. Often Aaron or Moses was directed to do something with their staffs that resulted in the plague. For the first two plagues the magicians of Egypt were able to replicate the effect, leaving Pharaoh unimpressed with these great wonders from God and uncaring about the suffering of his own people. Afterwards the magicians were humiliated by the miraculous nature of the plagues. For all the calamities God protected the land of Goshen and the Israelites did not suffer adverse effects from the plagues (Ex 8:22; 9:4-7, 26).
Institution of Passover
"This month will mark the beginning of months for you; it is to be the first month of the year for you." (Ex 12:2)
"In faithfulness Moses kept the Passover and the sprinkling of the blood, so that the One destroying the firstborn would not touch them." (Heb 11:28 BR)
After informing Moses of the planned tenth plague ADONAI directed Moses to instruct the Israelites in the observance of Passover and the Feast of Unleavened Bread (Ex 12:1-22, 42-50). See my article The Passover for a summary of the institution of Passover and its later observance among Jews. God also provided instructions for the inclusion of any Gentiles that might want to join the Israelites for this meal. Gentiles had to be circumcised to partake of Passover (Ex 12:44, 48), which served as a sign of God's will that Jacob would become a "company of nations" (Gen 35:11).
A special requirement related to Passover was that the blood of the slaughtered lambs was to be smeared on the doorposts and lintels of Israelite houses (Ex 12:22-23). The blood of the lamb became the symbol of life so that when the angel of death came to slay the firstborn of Egypt, the Israelites would be spared. The Passover meal was an acted out parable of divine deliverance from death and eaten in anticipation of leaving the land of bondage. In addition the Israelites were to ask the Egyptians for articles and gold, and ADONAI motivated the Egyptians to give generously. Thus, it could be said they "plundered the Egyptians" (Ex 11:1-3; 12:35-36).
Departure from Goshen
"Now when Pharaoh had let the people go, God did not lead them by the way of the land of the Philistines, even though it was near; for God said, "The people might change their minds when they see war, and return to Egypt." 18 Hence God led the people around by the way of the wilderness to the Red Sea; and the sons of Israel went up in martial array from the land of Egypt. 19 Moses took the bones of Joseph with him, for he had made the sons of Israel solemnly swear, saying, "God will surely take care of you, and you shall carry my bones from here with you." (Ex 13 17-19)
"Moses recorded the starting points of their journeys at the command of ADONAI and these are their journeys according to their starting points. 3 And they departed from Rameses in the first month, on the fifth and tenth day of the month, on the first day after the Passover, the sons of Israel went out with a high hand in the sight of all Egypt." (Num 33:3-4 BR)
The term in the LXX for mass exit from Egypt by the people of Israel is exodos (SG-1841), which means an exit, going out, or departure from a place. The Greek term occurs five times for the momentous event (Ex 19:1; Num 33:38; 1Kgs 6:1; Ps 105:38; 114:1) and translates Heb. yatsa (SH-3318), which means to go or come out of a place, to depart.
The departure of Israel from the land of Egypt began during the night after consuming the Passover meal. Since this night was the fifteenth day of the lunar month there was a full moon in the sky. The main body of Israelites of at least 600,000 men besides women and children (Ex 12:37; 38:26; Num 1:45-46; 2:32) and their livestock, along with a mixed multitude of non-Israelites (Ex 12:38), departed from Goshen on foot (Ex 12:37) (Josephus, Ant. II, 15:2). Estimates of the total numbers in the Israelite company range as high as two million (Morris 101).
The Israelites were probably organized by their tribes (cf. Ex 13:18; 17:1; Num 1:52), with Moses and the tribe of Levi taking the lead. Such a large column of people would stretch several miles. The journey of the Israelites was protected and guided by a pillar (think "skyscraper") of cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night (Ex 13:21). The narrative of Moses records what must have seemed like a meandering route (Ex 13:20-14:9; Num 33:1-8). The starting point is identified as Rameses and from there they journeyed to Succoth where they camped. From Succoth they went to Etham on the eastern edge of Egypt and camped there.
Then they turned back to Pi-hahiroth and camped at Migdol. From there they went to the Red Sea. Meanwhile Pharaoh had recanted his permission to leave and went in pursuit of the Israelites with a large army (Ex 14:5-9). However, God used the pillar of cloud to screen the Israelites from the Egyptians. Shut in between the Egyptian army and the Isthmus of Suez the Israelites despaired, but Moses stretched his hand over the sea and the miraculous happened.
Red Sea Crossing
"Then Moses stretched out his hand over the sea; and ADONAI caused the sea to go back by a strong east wind all night and made the sea into dry land, and the waters were divided. 22 So the sons of Israel went into the midst of the sea on dry land, and the waters were a wall to them on their right hand and on their left." (Ex 14:21-22 BR)
Date: 20th day, First Month (Abib/Nisan), First Year; c. 1446 B.C.
A mighty miracle recorded in the Tanakh, perhaps second only to the deliverance of Noah and his family by an ark from the global deluge and certainly the greatest miracle performed by Moses, was the parting of the Red Sea. Since there are no physical boundaries in the oceans the Red Sea properly incorporates both the Gulf of Suez and the Gulf of Aqaba (Pliny, Natural History, Book V, Chap. 12). The crossing described in Exodus is of the Isthmus of Suez, which is 75 miles at its widest point, and probably took place at the northern end where the distance was about 25 miles. (See my commentary on Acts 7:36.) The narrative makes several important points that illustrate the extraordinary nature of the miracle.
God purposely had Moses lead the Israelites to the Red Sea rather than allowing them to take the "easy road" to Canaan (Ex 13:17-18). At the direction of ADONAI Moses stretched out his staff over the sea and a strong wind divided the waters into a natural canal with a wall of water on the right and on the left and dried the seabed (Ex 14:21-22, 29; 15:19; Josh 2:10; Ps 106:9). The wall of water on either side was higher than the height of the Israelites. The access into and exit from the seabed was a gentle slope with the seabed being flat, which made for easy walking (cf. Ps 105:37; 106:9). With the pillar of cloud God kept the Egyptian army away from the massed Israelites so they were able to complete the trek across the isthmus without interference. For a graphic illustration see Cecil B. DeMille's famous 1956 film The Ten Commandments.
Since the Israelites traveled by day and night (Ex 13:21), the crossing was accomplished within a twenty-four hour period, perhaps as little as the twelve hour period of the night (cf. Ex 14:20-21, 27, 30). One commentator pointed out that if the Israelites walked double file, the line would be 800 miles long and would require 35 days and nights to get through. So, there had to be a space in the Red Sea, 3 miles wide so that they could walk 5,000 abreast to get over in one night.
As the Israelites exited the isthmus Pharaoh's entire army entered to pursue the Israelites (Ex 14:23-28). The Exodus narrative only states the bare facts that the Israelites passed through the Red Sea followed by the Egyptian army, presumptively led by Pharaoh. As the entire column of Israelites successfully moved out of the isthmus and into the wilderness of Shur, the Egyptian army had fully committed to the watery canal. God then sent a spirit of confusion or anxiety into the minds of the Egyptian soldiers about their precarious position. God next caused the chariot wheels to suffer mechanical failure, which further increased anxiety. Finally, with the Israelites safely out of the isthmus God directed Moses to stretch his hand over the sea to eliminate the canal, thereby destroying the enemy army.
From the Shur to Sinai
"Then Moses and the sons of Israel sang this song to ADONAI, and spoke saying, "I will sing to ADONAI, for He has triumphed gloriously; the horse and the one riding He has thrown into the sea." (Ex 15:1 BR)
"So Moses brought Israel from the Red Sea into the Wilderness of Shur." (Ex 15:22)
Safely encamped in the wilderness of Shur and seeing the dead Egyptian soldiers on the seashore the Israelites feared ADONAI and believed in Moses (Ex 14:30-31). Awe was then transformed into worship of ADONAI as Moses and his sister Miriam led the nation in their first hymn (Ex 15:1-18). The song was probably composed by Moses under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. A total number of four songs in Scripture are attributed to Moses (Deut 31:30−32:43; Ps 90; Rev 15:3).
The book of Exodus records five stopping points before reaching the mountain of God: Mara (Ex 15:22; cf. Num 33:8), Elim (Ex 15:27; cf. Num 33:9), the Wilderness of Sin (Ex 16:1; cf. Num 33:11), Rephidim (Ex 17:1; cf. Num 33:14) and the Wilderness of Sinai (Ex 18:5; 19:1; cf. Num 33:15). These five locations are remembered for notable events. Israel arrived at Mara on the 24th day of the first month. At Mara the people complained because the water in that place was bitter. God provided a remedy by showing Moses a particular tree from which he took branches and threw them into the water and made it sweet. It was also at Mara that God gave this precious promise to the Israelites:
"If you diligently heed the voice of ADONAI your God, and do what is right in His sight, and give ear to His commandments, and keep all His statutes, I will not put on you any of the diseases which I have brought on Egypt; for I, ADONAI, am your healer." (Ex 15:26 BR)
Elim was notable for having twelve springs of water and seventy date palms. From Elim the Israelites reached the Wilderness of Sin on the fifteenth day of the second month. While in this wilderness the stores of food became depleted and the people complained. As a remedy God provided manna, a provision that would continue for the forty years of wandering. The next to last stopping point was Rephidim, which is remembered for two notable events.
First, there was no water there. When the people complained God instructed Moses to strike a certain rock with his staff, which produced a torrent of water, sufficient to supply the nation. Second, the Israelites were attacked by the Amalekites. Moses appointed Joshua to lead the army of Israel and a fierce battle was joined. Moses interceded to heaven for the army by raising his hands to heaven, but when he became weary Amalek prevailed. So Aaron and Hur supported the arms of Moses until victory was attained (Ex 17:8-15). This is an illustration of the spiritual power in joint intercession. Moses built an altar there and named it YHVH-Nissi, "ADONAI is my standard." God also pronounced a curse on Amalek to wipe out its name under heaven.
Israel arrived in the Wilderness of Sinai in the vicinity of the mountain of God in the third month after the exodus (Ex 19:1). While camped there Jethro, the father-in-law of Moses, brought his wife and two sons (Ex 18:1-3). Jethro observed Moses acting a magistrate for the nation and spent his time hearing disputes from the people. Jethro could see that such a constant occupation would be too stressful and advised Moses to select men of integrity and organize them into a judicial system to share the workload. Moses acted on the advice and appointed leaders over thousands, hundreds, fifties and tens (Ex 18:25).
Scripture: Exodus 15:22−40:38; Psalm 78:15-33, 40-41; 95:8-11; 105:40-41; Matthew 19:18; Acts 7:36-44; Romans 13:9; 1Corinthians 10:1-5; 2Corinthians 3:7-15; Galatians 3:19.
Setting: In Chapter Nineteen the Israelites arrived in the wilderness of Sinai on the first day of the third month of the first year after the exodus from Egypt (Ex 19:1; TB Shabbath 86b). The nation will remain at Sinai for a year.
Moses as Mediator
"So ADONAI spoke with Moses face to face, as a man speaks with his friend." (Ex 33:11 TLV)
"Remember the torah of Moses My servant which I commanded him in Horeb for all Israel, even the statutes and ordinances." (Mal 4:4 BR)
"Why then the Torah? It was added on account of transgressions until that the Seed should come, to whom the promise had been made, having been arranged through angels by the hand of a mediator." (Gal 3:19 BR)
Moses led the Hebrews by several stages to Mt. Sinai and after arrival he was called to the summit to receive initial instructions (Ex 19:1-6). ADONAI gave Moses the Ten Commandments and the instructions for daily life and entered into a covenant with Israel through him. This covenant bound ADONAI to be Israel's God, if Israel would keep His commandments. Soon after arrival at Mt. Sinai Moses commenced 40 days and nights of private communion with ADONAI on the mountain to receive covenantal instructions for the nation (Ex 24:18; cf. Deut 9:9).
As the apostle Paul pointed out, God appointed Moses as the mediator between Himself and Israel (Gal 3:19). In this intermediary role Moses acted as the nation's representative before God and God's representative before the nation. Moses served as the voice of ADONAI and declared to the nation all that ADONAI instructed. None of the commandments, ordinances, statutes and testimonies that Moses announced to the nation were his own invention. Rather, these instructions for covenant life were the decrees of ADONAI (cf. 1Kgs 2:3; 2Kgs 14:6; Neh 8:1; Mal 4:4). Moses dutifully received, wrote down and proclaimed the words of ADONAI to Israel (Ex 24:3-4; Num 11:24).
After the golden calf idolatry and its resulting judgment God called Moses to return to the mountain where he spent another forty days, this time in earnest intercession for the nation (Ex 34:28). Moses had the important spiritual task of facilitating peace between God and His people by insuring that atonement for sin was accomplished. At the end of this prolonged time with God, the face of Moses shone with such peculiar radiance that Aaron and other Israelites were fearful of him, so he put on a veil while he spoke to alleviate their concern (Ex 34:29-35).
Notable Events and Actions of Moses at Sinai
Moses called the elders of the people together to explain the nature of the covenant which God offered to Israel (Ex 19:1-25). Moses proclaimed God's covenantal expectation: "Now then, if you will indeed obey My voice and keep My covenant, then you shall be My own possession among all the peoples, for all the earth is Mine; 6 and you shall be to Me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation" (Ex 19:5-6; TB Shabbath 86b).
Moses proclaimed the Decalogue (Ten Words or Ten Commandments) on the sixth day of the third month (a Sabbath) to Israel (Ex 20:1-17; TB Shabbath 86b)
Moses wrote down all the words of ADONAI (Ex 24:3-4, 7).
Moses led the three priestly leaders and the seventy elders to the mountain where they saw the God of Israel and ate and drank in His presence (Ex 24:9-11).
Moses spent time alone with God on the mountain top for forty days and nights without food or water (Ex 24:18; Deut 9:9). Fasts of this extraordinary duration are only recorded of Moses, of Elijah (1Kgs 19:8), and of our Lord (Matt 4:2).
Moses received from God two stone tablets containing torah and mitsvah (Ex 24:12; 31:18; 32:15-16). The tablets probably contained the Ten Commandments. The first four commandments were torah, that is, instruction for the holy life God required, and the rest of the commandments were mitsvah, that is, standards of righteousness.
Moses broke the two tablets containing God's commandments after learning of the golden calf idolatry (Ex 32:19).
Moses rebuked Aaron for allowing and facilitating the golden calf idolatry (Ex 32:21).
Moses directed the Levites to kill those who engaged in the golden calf idolatry (Ex 32:26-28).
Moses interceded for God's mercy after the golden calf idolatry and was even willing to be accursed for the sake of Israel and offered to die on behalf of the people's sins (Ex 32:30-32).
Moses was a continual mediator between God and Israel (Ex 32:30-32; 33:8-9).
Moses erected a Tent of Meeting outside the camp where people could seek ADONAI and Moses would intercede for them (Ex 33:7-11; Acts 7:44).
Moses, following the instruction of ADONAI, cut two new stone tablets and went up to Mt. Sinai where he wrote the Ten Commandments on the tablets at the dictation of ADONAI (Ex 34:4, 28).
Moses spent a second period of forty days and nights on the mountain in fasting and prayer (Ex 34:28).
The face of Moses shone with the glory of God when he descended the mountain, necessitating the wearing of a veil (Ex 34:29-35).
Moses, following the instruction of ADONAI, directed the construction of the central sanctuary or tabernacle and all its furnishings (Ex 35:10-18; 36:3; 38:21; 39:32; 40:18).
"Let them make me a sanctuary, that I may dwell in their midst; 9 according to all that I show you, the model of the tabernacle and the pattern of all its furnishings and just so you shall make it." (Ex 25:8-9 BR)
"And I will dwell among the sons of Israel and will be their God. 46 And they shall know that I am ADONAI their God who brought them out of the land of Egypt, that I may dwell among them; I am ADONAI their God." (Ex 29:45-46 BR)
An important institution mentioned 58 times in Exodus is construction of a portable sanctuary for ADONAI, called the tabernacle (Heb. mishkan, SH-4908). The mishkan should not be confused with the "tent (Heb. ohel) of meeting" that Moses erected outside the camp sometime after the golden calf idolatry in order to meet with God, intercede for the people and receive instructions from ADONAI (Ex 33:7-11). Instructions concerning the mishkan span Exodus chapters 25 through 40, which is eloquent testimony to the importance of the sacred sanctuary.
God was very particular in His instructions to Moses about how to build, furnish, dedicate, staff, and operate the national sanctuary of Israel. The instructions were given in seven speeches, each beginning with the clause "ADONAI spoke to Moses" (Ex 25:1; 30:11; 30:17; 30:22; 30:34; 31:1; 31:12). The order of the instruction for the components, furnishings and items used in the mishkan could imply the order in which preparation and fabrication took place.
First, an offering for the mishkan would be received (Ex 25:1-7; 35:4-9, 20-29). The precious metals, precious stones, acacia wood, fine fabrics, animal skins and oils used in construction were all contributed by the people.
Second, furnishings for the mishkan were to be prepared: the ark of the covenant, the ark cover adorned with two cherubim, the table of showbread, the golden menorah with seven lamps, the mishkan tent divided into "holy place" and "holy of holies," and the mishkan main courtyard with the bronze altar (25:8−27:21).
Third, holy garments and accessories were to be prepared for Aaron and his sons: the breastpiece of judgment, ephod, turban, tunics, and caps (Ex 28:1-43).
Fourth, Moses was given instruction for an ordination ceremony for Aaron and his fellow priests, lasting seven days, and including various sacrificial offerings (Ex 29:1-46).
Fifth, more furnishings and items for using the mishkan were to be prepared: the altar of incense, anointing oil and incense (30:1-38).
Sixth, instruction was then provided for the construction of the mishkan components by a skilled team of craftsmen (Ex 31:1-10; 35:10-19, 30-35; 36:1-2).
The preparation and fabrication of all the component parts of the mishkan could have taken several months to complete. At the instruction of ADONAI Moses appointed Bezalel, son of Hur, as the principal foreman of the construction, assisted by Oholiab the son of Ahisamach, of the tribe of Dan (Ex 31:1-2; 35:30; 36:8−38:31). Bezalel and Oholiab also prepared the priestly garments (Ex 39:1-30). Prior to its final assembly Moses would have instructed the "sons of Israel" on the step-by-step procedure for erecting the mishkan so that on the prescribed day coordinated teamwork would insure an efficient assembly (cf. Ex 39:32, 42-43).
The narrative notes the completion of the great work (Ex 39:32) and the conformity of the mishkan to divine specification so that Moses pronounced a blessing on the construction team (Ex 39:43). Moses superintended the assembly and erection of the completed mishkan on the first day of the second year with all of its components and furnishings in place (Ex 40:1, 17). At ADONAI's direction Moses anointed the mishkan and its key furnishings with special oil so that it became "Holy to ADONAI" (Ex 40:9-11). The mishkan, situated in the midst of the camp, became the permanent tent of meeting (Ex 39:32; 40:1, 6, 29, 35; Lev 1:1; Num 2:2).
Moses then took Aaron and his sons, washed them, clothed them in their priestly garments, and anointed them with oil to ordain them to the priestly office (Ex 40:12-16). God expressed His approval by filling the sanctuary with His Shekinah glory (Ex 40:33-34; cf. Num 9:15).
The architectural design of the mishkan as the dwelling place of ADONAI demonstrated important theological truths. It was a visible revelation of God's desire to live among His people (Ex 29:45) and for the people to experience His abiding presence. The mishkan would be a place where the people could draw near with confidence to receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need (Heb 4:16). This nearness demonstrated accessibility and Moses and the priests served as mediators to represent the Israelites before God and to represent God before the Israelite people.
God directed that the mishkan have three parts: the main court, the holy place and the holy of holies (Ex 26:33-34; 27:9-19). See a diagram of the mishkan here. Taken together these three parts represented the holiness of God and since God's holiness can be fatal to men God directed the installation of curtains as boundaries to protect the people. God also restricted access: (1) in the Main Court only those ritually clean and presenting offerings could be inside; (2) in the Holy Place only priests could enter; and (3) in the Holy of Holies only the High Priest could enter, and that only once a year on Yom Kippur. As a last act of protection the mishkan was covered with the cloud (Ex 40:34).
The dominance of the instruction regarding the mishkan highlights the role of Moses as mediator. It was his privilege to hear and record the words of ADONAI and then supervise the fulfillment of His will. We may say that the second half of the book of Exodus presents Moses as the mediator of worship.
Scripture: Leviticus 1:1−27:34; Matthew 22:39; Mark 12:31; Luke 2:24; Romans 10:5; 13:8-9; 2Corinthians 6:6; Galatians 3:12; 5:14; James 2:8; 1Peter 1:16.
Setting: The setting of the book is in the latter part of the first year and the first month of the second year at Mt. Sinai following the dedication of the tabernacle (cf. Ex 40:17, 34; Lev 1:1; 10:1).
Moses as Chief Priest
Leviticus (Heb. Vayikra, "He called") serves as a manual of holiness for the nation and in the book Moses functions as a supervising religious leader, senior to Aaron. As the voice of ADONAI he calls Israel to be a holy people (Lev 11:44-45; 19:2; 20:7, 26). Moses issues many instructions usually introduced by the statement "ADONAI spoke to Moses saying" (40 times). This repetition emphasizes that Moses did not invent any of the commandments and regulations given to Israel. The book may be divided into two parts: (1) laws of acceptable approach to God (Lev 1−17; and (2) laws of acceptable walk with God (Lev 18−27) (NIBD 646).
The English title "Leviticus" was chosen because of viewing the book as a repository of Levitical laws, even though the term "Levite" occurs in only two verses (Lev 25:32-33). Much of the book concerns the work of priests that descended from Levi. The important phrase lipne YHVH "before ADONAI" (in the presence of, lit. "at the face of"), occurs 61 times in the book to emphasize the privilege of approaching God in the sacrificial system through the mediation of the priesthood. The authority of Moses as chief supervising priest was defended by God indirectly in the rebellion of Nadab and Abihu whom God killed after they offered "strange fire" contrary to the instructions Moses had given (Lev 10:1-3).
Notable Events and Actions of Moses in Leviticus
Moses gave instructions for the conduct of various kinds of sacrificial offerings and the role of the priests in those offerings (Lev 1−7), as well as regulations for the life and ministry of a priest (Lev 10:8-11; 21:1−22:16).
Moses conducted a special ceremony for the ordination of Aaron and his sons (Lev 8−9). In this ceremony Moses slaughtered the required sacrifices for the occasion (Lev 8:15-16, 23-29).
Moses directed Aaron in the presentation of a sin offering and burnt offering in order to provide atonement for himself and the people (Lev 9).
Moses reminded Aaron that priests must treat ADONAI as holy after ADONAI killed Nadab and Abihu for attempting to offer "strange fire" with incense in the holy place (Lev 10:1-3). Moses then directed Mishael and Elzaphan, the sons of Aaron's uncle Uzziel, to remove the two corpses from the sanctuary to a place outside of the camp, and directed Aaron and his sons not to mourn the deaths of the two rebellious priests (Lev 10:4-7).
Moses gave instructions for the future diet of Israelites, making a distinction between clean and unclean animals, so that no unclean animal is to be eaten (Lev 11).
Moses gave instructions for purification offerings to be completed after the birth of a child and the circumcision of male babies on the eighth day (Lev 12).
Moses gave instructions for dealing with skin disorders, bodily discharges and contamination in houses and their treatment (Lev 13−15).
Moses gave instructions for Aaron to make atonement for sins and in particular the conduct of the annual day of atonement (Yom Kippur) (Lev 16−17).
Moses gave instructions for defining unlawful sexual intercourse (Lev 18).
Moses gave instructions for defining righteous conduct, including the second great commandment (Lev 19), as well as penalties for violating standards of righteousness (Lev 20).
Moses gave instructions for annual religious festivals (Lev 23), and maintenance of the golden menorah, the table of showbread and frankincense in the Tabernacle (Lev 24:1-9).
Moses consulted with ADONAI concerning the son of an Israelite woman who had blasphemed the name of God and at the instruction of ADONAI directed that the offender be stoned to death (Lev 24:10-23).
Moses gave instructions for observance of the Sabbatical year and the year of Jubilee, and the redemption of land and individuals (Lev 25), and the conduct of votive offerings (Lev 27).
Moses informed Israel of significant promises of blessing for obedience to God's expectations, as well as penalties for disobedience (Lev 26). The penalties increase in severity as time goes on, which are repeated in the later warnings in Moab (Deut 28). An important provision is that if later there is confession of iniquity God will remember His covenant with Jacob. Regardless of backsliding God will never reject His people (Lev 26:44; Rom 11:1-2).
Emphasis on Atonement
The instructions of Moses in Chapters 1−17 focus primarily on laws of acceptable approach to God, specifically the role of priests in making atonement (e.g., Lev 4:20; 5:6; 6:7; 7:7; 12:8; 14:18; 15:30; 16:17). Sin is treated as a serious problem that separates a person from the favor of God. Moses provided instructions for specific sacrificial offerings that provided atonement:
Burnt Offering. Heb. olah; Grk. olokautōma, a sacrifice consumed by fire (Lev 1:3). This offering was a voluntary act of worship for atonement of unintentional sin in general; or an expression of devotion, commitment and complete surrender to God. The offering had to be a bull, male sheep or goat or male bird.
Sin Offering. Heb. chatta'ah; Grk. hamartia. This offering was mandatory and provided atonement for specific unintentional sin, and involved confession of sin, forgiveness of sin and cleansing from defilement (Lev 4:1-5:13). The animal was specified as a young bull for the high priest and congregation, male goat for a leader, female goat or lamb for a common person, and a dove or pigeon for the poor
Guilt Offering. Heb. asham; Grk. plēmmeleias, trespass offering for an offense or guilt (Lev 5:15-6:7; 7:1-6). This offering was mandatory for unintentional sin against God's holy things, and or offenses against persons. The animal had to be a ram or lamb. For sins related to money restitution had to be accomplished, including nonpayment of tithe, with an added 20% fine.
Moses instructed Aaron that once a year on the 10th of Tishri (the seventh month; September-October) he was to make atonement for the nation (Lev 16:1-34; 23:26-32; 25:9). The offering on Yom Kippur only cleansed unintentional sins (cf. Heb 9:7). Capital crimes could not be atoned (Lev 7:25-27; 17:4; 18:29; 20:5-6, 17-20; cf. Num 15:30-31). The atonement sacrifice was only for Israel and had to be repeated year after year. This is the only day the Torah prescribes as a day of fasting.
Emphasis on Holiness
"You people are to be holy because I, ADONAI your God, am holy." (Lev 19:2 CJB)
The instructions of Moses in Chapters 18−27 contain laws that govern an acceptable walk with God. These laws not only concern the priests, but also all the people of Israel. The focus on holiness in Leviticus is illustrated by the dominance of the noun qodesh (SH-6944), which occurs 92 times in the book and means apartness, holiness or sacredness, as well as the adjective qadosh (SH-6918), which occurs 20 times and essentially means being separate from human infirmity, impurity, and sin. The terms denote the essential nature of that which belongs to the sphere of the sacred and which is thus distinct from the common or profane (TWOT 2:787).
In Leviticus holiness as a personal trait refers to belonging wholly to ADONAI and consequently avoiding or being freed from uncleanness, especially in the moral sense. Contrary to Rabbinic Judaism after the first century Moses did not issue numerous picky rules to define the holy life. In Leviticus holiness is not a sinless life, but fearing ADONAI so as not to commit capital crimes (cf. Lev 25:17-18). A proper reverence for the holy God will result in a holy life.
References: Numbers 1:1−36:13; Psalm 78:40-41; 95:8-11; 105:40-41; John 3:14; 1Corinthians 10:6-10.
Setting: The setting of the book is from the second month of the second year to the fifth month of the fortieth year (Num 1:1; 33:38). From Sinai Moses led the people through the Wilderness of Paran (central and eastern part of the Sinai peninsula) and settled mainly in the vicinity of Kadesh-Barnea in the Wilderness of Zin. The latter third of the book records events in territory east of the Gulf of Aqaba and the Salt Sea.
Moses as an Elder
"Why have you laid the burden of all this people on me?" (Num 11:11 BR)
The book of Numbers (Heb. B'midbar, "in the wilderness") takes its English name from the two numberings or censuses that Moses was directed to take. The content of the book may be divided into three parts: I. Preparation of the Old Generation to Inherit the Promised Land (Num 1:1−10:36); II. Failure of the Old Generation to Inherit the Promised Land (Num 11:1−25:18); III. Preparation of the New Generation (Num 26:1−36:13) (NIBD 764f). The setting of the book begins at Sinai and then transitions into the journey to Moab. Israel camped in many sites in the Sinai peninsula, summarized in Chapter 33, but much of the story takes place at Kadesh in the wilderness of Zin.
The theme of the book seems to be that in spite of repeated grumbling and rebellion God continued to show care for His covenant people. God not only provided their physical needs, but He loved them and forgave them. During these years Moses functioned as the chief executive officer or chief elder of the nation and he had intimate communications from ADONAI, as indicated by the frequently occurring phrase "ADONAI spoke to Moses." In the book of Numbers Moses is the dominant personality and noted for being anointed of the Holy Spirit (Num 11:17), humble (Num 12:3), faithful to God (Num 12:7), cognizant of the call of God on his life (Num 16:28) and obedient of all the instructions he received from ADONAI, except on one occasion that resulted in him being denied entry into the Promised Land.
In Numbers the leadership ability of Moses is pushed to the limit as the people grumbled on several occasions about their limited diet, the inadequate water supply in some places and other negative circumstances (Num 11:1-9, 31-35; 14:1-4; 16:41-49; 20:2-3; 21:4-9). On these occasions the offenders were subject to divine judgment or punishment directed by Moses. It wasn't long before the grumbling got the better of Moses and he voiced his frustration to ADONAI. Moses felt God's expectations of him were unreasonable and he did not believe himself to be capable of such great responsibility.
The solution of ADONAI was to have Moses select seventy men from the elders of the tribes, men respected for their character, and ADONAI would take of the Spirit on Moses and put Him upon them (Num 11:16). So Moses obeyed and when the Holy Spirit came on the seventy elders they prophesied. Afterwards Moses expressed the wish that every Israelite could receive the Ruach (Num 11:29).
The journey continued and then Moses had to contend with opposition from his own siblings. Miriam and Aaron strenuously objected to Moses' marriage to a Cushite (Ethiopian) woman (Num 12:1-15). According to Josephus the marriage to Tharbis, daughter of the king of the Ethiopians, occurred before the exodus (Ant. II, 10:2). It may be that Tharbis held a prominent position within the Israelite nation and Miriam became jealous. After all she had watched over her baby brother when he was put into the Nile (Ex 2:4), mediated between the daughter of Pharaoh and Jochebed for the baby's welfare (Ex 2:7-9), and then led the women in celebrating the defeat of the Egyptians at the Red Sea (Ex 15:20-21).
God rebuked both Aaron and Miriam for daring to speak against Moses, and then punished Miriam with a skin disorder. The physical punishment implies she had been the leader in the familial rebellion. The common translation of "leprosy" is misleading, since the Hebrew term tsara'ath (SH-6879) simply refers to a skin disorder. In Miriam's case her skin turned white as snow (Num 12:10) and Aaron feared the skin condition would worsen into rotting flesh as indicated in the word picture of a woman miscarrying a dead fetus in the process of decomposition (Num 12:12). Miriam was isolated outside the camp for seven days and then returned in a healed condition.
At the next place of Hazeroth (Num 12:16) ADONAI directed Moses to send the twelve spies into Canaan (Num 13:1-2). See the map of the journey of the spies. The journey of the nation continued and after multiple stops in the wilderness of Paran Israel finally arrived at Kadesh (Heb. Qodesh, "holiness") in the wilderness of Zin, southeast of the Salt Sea (Num 33:36; Deut 1:2). Israel would dwell at Kadesh for much of 38 years (cf. Deut 1:2; 2:14; Judith 5:14). There the returning spies found the camp after forty days of viewing Canaan, ten of whom gave a discouraging report (Num 13:25-33).
After hearing the negative spy report the people rebelled and grumbled against Moses and Aaron (14:1-4). In response God decreed that those who believed the negative report would not live to see Canaan (Num 14:11-36). Against the counsel of Moses Israel engaged in battle with the Amalekites and Amorites of Canaan. Israel was defeated, because God had commanded them not to fight (Num 14:39-45; Deut 1:41-46). Four significant events of note are then mentioned.
First, Moses directed the execution of a man who gathered wood on the Sabbath (Num 15:32-36). As a result God required the people to add tassels (Heb. tsitsith) to their garments as a visual reminder to obey His commandments (Num 15:38). Second, a Levite, Korah, along with 250 others challenged the authority of Moses and Aaron. Moses rebuked Korah and his followers for rebellion and pronounced God's judgment of death on them (Num 16:1-5, 31-33). Third, many of the congregation grumbled against Moses and Aaron for the death of Korah and his followers and as a result God sent a plague that killed 14,700 people (16:41-50). The plague was checked by Aaron making atonement.
Fourth, God took special action to confirm his choice of Aaron as high priest. Moses directed tribal leaders to provide a rod. Of the twelve rods the rod of Aaron miraculously budded with flowers confirming God's choice of Aaron and his descendants as priests. Moses placed Aaron's rod in the holy of holies (17:1-11).
The years passed at Kadesh with few details, although Moses recorded many instructions of ADONAI that would take effect when the nation occupied Canaan (Chaps. 15, 18 & 19). In Chapter 20 the setting shifts to the fortieth year and begins with the death and burial of Miriam in the first month ("April") (Num 20:1). Next the people rebelled because of the want of water, and ADONAI directed Moses to bring forth water from the rock as he did on a former occasion by striking it with his rod (Ex 17:6). This time God told Moses to speak to the rock (cf. 1Cor 10:4), but instead Moses again struck the rock with his rod. For this disobedience, which Aaron shared, ADONAI decreed that the two leaders would not enter the land of Canaan (Num 20:12).
Afterwards Moses led the people eastward from Kadesh. Having been denied access through Edom, Israel camped at Mt. Hor, near the border of Edom (Num 20:22). In this place Aaron died and was buried. Next, the Canaanite king of Arad in the Negev attacked Israel and took some captives, but then Israel counter-attacked, gaining a great victory, and destroyed their cities (Num 21:1-3). Then Moses led the people south to go around Edom by way of the Gulf of Aqaba. Many people became impatient and grumbled against Moses. As a result God sent fiery snakes into the camp and people died from snake bite. When Moses interceded ADONAI directed Moses to make a bronze snake and affix it to a pole to that anyone who looked at it could be healed (Num 22:9).
Israel came to the border of Moab and sought permission to pass through, but Sihon, king of the Amorites refused permission (Num 21:21-26). Then Israel attacked, and conquered the territory of Sihon, and Moses later allotted his territory to the tribes of Reuben and Gad. Then Og, King of Bashan, came out against Israel and was similarly overthrown, and his territory later assigned to the half-tribe of Manasseh. An unusual event then occurred. Moses recorded that the Moabite ruler Balak hired Balaam, a prophet from Mesopotamia, to curse Israel, and Moses recorded seven discourses given by Balaam, all of which prophesied only good concerning Israel (Num 22:1−24:25).
Afterwards, while camped at Shittim some of the Israelites "played the harlot" with the daughters of Moab and worshipped the Moabite deity Baal-Peor (Num 25:1-9). Moses directed the judges of Israel to execute those who committed idolatry (Num 25:1-5). Chapter 26 then marks an important transition as Moses prepared the new generation for entry into the land. A second census was taken and the final count indicated that the population that died in the wilderness had been substantially replaced by about the same number. The final portion of Numbers contains important instructions for division of the land of Canaan among the tribes, appointment of a new leader (Joshua), regulations for various sacrifices and laws of inheritance.
The book of Numbers contains important passages that point to the future Messiah as noted by Yeshua and the apostles.
● Executed without having a bone broken: Num 9:12, quoted in John 19:36.
● Faithful as Moses: Num 12:7, quoted in Hebrews 3:2, 5.
● Lifted up as the serpent in the wilderness: Num 21:8-9, quoted in John 3:14.
● A star out of Jacob: Num 24:17, quoted in Matthew 2:2 and Revelation 22:16.
Actions of Moses in Numbers
● Moses took a census of the nation as directed by ADONAI on the first day of the second month of the second year (Num 1).
● Moses supervised the arrangement of the camp by tribes (Num 2).
● Moses recorded the names and duties of the Levite families (Num 3−4).
● Moses recorded the instructions of ADONAI for the conduct and obligations of Israelites, Nazirites, and sojourners in their marital, family and community relationships, including response to sin or uncleanness (Num 5:1-31; 6:1-27; 15:1-41; 19:11-22; 27:1-23; 35:6−36:13).
● Moses recorded the beautiful and well-known benediction with which Aaron and his sons were to bless the nation (Num 6:22-27).
● Moses received generous offerings from tribal leaders for the dedication of the mishkan (7:1-88).
● Moses recorded the instructions of ADONAI for the duties and obligations of priests and Levites (Num 8:1-26; 10:1-10; 18:1−19:22; 29:1-40).
● Moses supervised the observance of the second Passover by Israel on the fourteenth day in the first month of the second year at twilight (Num 9:1-4).
● Moses made two silver trumpets at the direction of ADONAI to be used by the priests for sounding assembly preparatory to setting out from camp and for celebratory fanfares during appointed festivals (Num 10:1-10).
● Moses led the Israelites to the wilderness of Paran (Num 10:11-13) on the 20th day of the second month of the second year when the cloud lifted from the Tabernacle. This was the first of many journeys in the wilderness. (See the complete list of encampments in Numbers 33:16-49.)
● Moses appointed seventy men as elders of Israel and ADONAI took of the Spirit on Moses and put Him on the elders (Num 11:16-17, 24-29).
● Moses made a second marriage choice of a Cushite woman, which was opposed by Miriam and Aaron (Num 12:1-15). God punished Miriam with a skin disorder, which necessitated her isolation from the camp for seven days.
● Moses recorded the instructions of ADONAI for the conduct of various kinds of sacrificial and votive offerings, whether by priest or Israelite (Num 19:1-10; 28:1-31; 29:1-40; 30:1-16).
● Moses informed the nation in the 40th year that Miriam died on the first day of the first month and Aaron died on the first day of the fifth month (Num 20:1, 28). Before the death of Aaron Moses took the priestly robe from Aaron and put it on his son Eleazar.
● Moses recorded that Israel engaged in battle with the Canaanites, gained significant victory and destroyed enemy cities (Num 21:1-3).
● Moses lifted the bronze serpent up in the wilderness to heal people (Num 21:9).
● Moses is credited with the victory Israel gained in battle with the Amorite Kingdom of Sihon (Num 21:21-26; cf. Deut 2:32-37; Josh 13:21)
● Moses is credited with the victory Israel gained in battle with the Amorite Kingdom of Og in Bashan (Num 21:33-35; cf. Deut 3:1-6; Josh 13:12)
● Moses recorded that while camped at Shittim some of the Israelites "played the harlot" with the daughters of Moab and worshipped the Moabite deity Baal-Peor. Moses directed the judges of Israel to execute those who committed idolatry (Num 25:1-5).
● Moses awarded Phinehas a covenant of perpetual priesthood for his judicial actions against those engaged in idolatry at Peor (Num 25:10-13).
● Moses supervised taking a third census of the population of Israel (Num 26:1-65).
● Moses announced the decision of ADONAI concerning the distribution of property of Zelophehad, son of Manasseh, who died leaving only daughters. ADONAI decreed that if a man died without a male heir then his daughters could inherit (Num 27:1-11; 36:1-13).
● When Moses expressed concern for the future leadership of Israel ADONAI directed Moses to commission Joshua as his successor and he did so (Num 27:15-23).
● Moses directed the people to arm themselves to destroy the Midianites as vengeance from ADONAI. The Israelites obeyed and won (Num 31:1-12).
● Moses allocated to Reuben, Gad and half of Manasseh the land of Gilead that had formerly belonged to the Amorites (Num 32:33).
● Moses recorded the instructions of ADONAI for the apportionment of the land of Canaan by tribe (Num 34:1−35:5).
References: Deuteronomy 1:1−34:12; Matthew 4:4-10. Map of Journey from Kadesh-Barnea to Moab.
Setting: The setting of the book occurs in the last two months of the fortieth year with Israel situated in the plains of Moab opposite Jericho (Num 33:49; Deut 1:3, 5; 33:38; 34:1). See a map of the proposed route from Kadesh Barnea to Moab here.
Moses in Deuteronomy
"ADONAI your God will cause to arise for you a prophet like me from the midst of your brothers. Him you shall heed." (Deut 18:15 BR)
In the book of Deuteronomy (Heb. D'varim, "words") Moses fulfills his role as prophet in the course of three major speeches: (1) Deut 1:1-4:40; (2) Deut 4:44−11:32; (3) 12:1-33:29. Like the Hebrew prophets of later centuries Moses engaged in "forth-telling" and "foretelling" represented by four types of prophetic messages.
● Instruction: Teaching the people covenantal expectations that will assure a good life and blessing from God (Deut 4:1−26:19).
● Warning: Naming sins to avoid that will lead to judgment (Deut 27:9-26).
● Judgment: Announcing God's future judgment for violating covenantal expectations (Deut 28:15-68).
● Future Hope: Promises of eventual restoration, as well as promise of the Messiah (Deut 18:15-19; 30:1-14).
When the lengthy discourses were finished, and he had pronounced a blessing upon the people, Moses went up to the top of Mt. Pisgah, looked over the country spread out before him, and died on his birthday, at the age of one hundred and twenty. ADONAI Himself buried him in Moab in an unknown grave (Deut 34:6). Moses was thus the human instrument in the creation of the Israelite nation; he faithfully communicated to the people all of God's laws and covenantal expectations. The book closes with an important declaration about Moses: "There has not risen again a prophet in Israel like Moses, whom ADONAI knew face to face" (Deut. 34:10 TLV).
It is commonly supposed that in this book Moses repeated the commandments previously recorded in Exodus and Leviticus. Moses certainly reviewed the expectations and promises of the covenant given at Sinai. Yet, beginning in Chapter Six Moses announced many commandments and statutes related to maintaining devotion to ADONAI, strengthening domestic and community harmony and administering justice that that either restated, modified or expanded legislation given at Sinai. However, in Chapters Twelve through 26 there is unique instruction not previously recorded in the Torah, and given in anticipation of the nation dwelling in the promised land.
Significant in the covenant renewal at Moab (Deut 29:1-15; 30:1-6) is that it was not only made with the generation then living, but also "with those who are not with us here today," i.e., all the future descendants of the tribes of Israel in perpetuity (Deut 29:15). The covenant renewal anticipated the New Covenant. "Then ADONAI your God will circumcise your hearts and the hearts of your children, so that you will love ADONAI your God with all your heart and all your being, and thus you will live" (Deut 30:6 CJB). Even though ADONAI insisted that His expectations were doable (Deut 30:11), He knew that future generations of Israelites would not have the zeal of the people receiving this covenant in Moab (Deut 31:29).
Actions of Moses in Deuteronomy
● Moses assembled the tribes camped in the plains of Moab (Heb. Moav) opposite Jericho (Deut 1:5).
● Moses reviewed God's acts on behalf of Israel from their departure from Mt. Sinai to Kadesh Barnea, then at Kadesh Barnea, and then from Kadesh Barnea to Moab (Deut 1−2).
● Moses reviewed God's acts in the conquest of the land east of the Jordan (Deut 3).
● Moses set apart three cities east of the Jordan as cities of refuge (Deut 4:41-43).
● Moses repeated the Ten Commandments (Deut 5:1-21).
● Moses announced the great affirmation of faith: "Shma, Yisrael! ADONAI Eloheinu, ADONAI echad [Hear, Isra'el! ADONAI our God, ADONAI is one]" (Deut 6:4 CJB); and the first great commandment: "Love ADONAI your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength" (Deut 6:5 TLV).
● Moses set forth God's terms for renewal of the covenant (Deut 26:16-19).
● Moses, with the concurrence of the elders and priests, charged the people of Israel to keep God's commandments and after entry into the land of Canaan to pronounce the prescribed blessings on Mount Gerizim and the prescribed curses on Mount Ebal (Deut 27−28).
● Moses as the voice of ADONAI renewed the covenant with Israel in Moab (Deut 29−30).
● Moses gave a final exhortation to Israel (Deut 31:1-6) and to Joshua (Deut 31:7-8).
● Moses gave the finished scroll of the Torah to the priests and elders and commanded them at every seven years during the Feast of Booths the Torah was to be read aloud in the hearing of all Israel (Deut 31:9-13, 24-26).
● Moses commissioned Joshua as his successor (Deut 31:14, 23).
● Moses warned Israel that the nation would in the future become unfaithful to God and suffer His judgment (Deut 31:27-29).
● Moses composed and sang a song that detailed Israel's future unfaithfulness and God's covenant faithfulness (Deut 32:1-43).
● Moses gave a final exhortation to the people (Deut 32:44-47) and pronounced a final blessing on each of the tribes of Israel (Deut 33).
● Moses ascended Mount Pisqah where God showed him the land of promise and then he died (Deut 34:1-5).
According to Jewish tradition Moses authored the first five books of the Bible. The Church fathers affirmed that Moses wrote these books, but some modern Christian scholars dismiss Moses as author and assume there was a long period of oral tradition before the final shaping of these books about 400 BC (Varughese 62). The assumption of centuries of oral tradition has not been proven and the evidence of writing from antiquity is often ignored. Liberal Christian scholars (an oxymoron?) actually impugn the veracity of Scripture.
Extant written evidence has been dated from at least 3100 BC. The El-Amarna tablets discovered in Egypt, dated about 1500 BC, contain Hebrew (ISBE). The Bible itself, being a reliable history book, contains evidence of early writing.
● God wrote on tablets (Ex 24:12; 31:18; 32:15, 32; Deut 4:13; 5:22; 9:10).
● Content of the Torah was written concurrent with the life of Moses (Deut 28:58; 29:20; 30:10; Josh 1:8; 8:31).
● The tribes produced post-Exodus census records (Num 1:18).
● Moses wrote a song and taught it to Israel (Deut 31:22). Psalm 90 is also attributed to Moses.
● Joshua read "all" the words of Moses (Josh 8:34-35).
The earliest written records are mentioned in Genesis with the Hebrew word toledoth (SH-8435), which means "generations" and is used to indicate accounts of men and their descendants, or "records of the origins." Genesis contains eleven mentions of these records and who provided them (Gen 2:4; 5:1; 6:9; 10:1; 11:10, 27; 25:12, 19; 36:1, 9; and 37:2). Some versions translate toledoth in some or all of these passages with "records" to emphasize this understanding (AMP, AMPC, CEB, CSB, HCSB, ISV, LEB, NABRE, NASB, NET). The creation account in Genesis 1:1―2:4 could have been given to Moses by direct revelation, but just as likely was given by God to Adam who preserved the written record just as he produced his own written record indicated at Genesis 5:1.
Most of the book of Genesis was probably the result of compiling the written records of former generations. These records were passed on from father to son in the Messianic line. The word toledoth is not used in reference to the narrative of Joseph, but it is reasonable to suppose that his sons Ephraim and Manasseh left records of his life. Given Joseph's political position and his wife being the daughter of an Egyptian priest, there were likely records in Egyptian archives to which Moses would have had access. All in all Moses was guided by the Holy Spirit in producing this great work (2Tim 3:16; 2Pet 1:20-21).
In Christianity the first five books of the Bible are referred to by the title "Pentateuch" (from Grk. penta, "five", and teukhos, "tool" or "vessel"), which in late Greek referred to a scroll. The term meant "five-volumned" and the ancient division of the work of Moses into five sections is supported by the LXX that was in use among Jews by the 2nd century B.C. and the Samaritan Pentateuch, which is even earlier (NIBD 815).
"Pentateuch" is a Greek adaptation of the Hebrew expression "chamishshah humshe ha-Torah" (five-fifths of the Law) or the shorthand chumash ("five"), referring to the actual scroll containing the books Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy, and read in synagogue services (Hirsch). In effect the terms Chumash and Pentateuch are literary terms that indicate these five books are to be taken as a whole.
The Hebrew Bible contains three divisions: (1) the Torah (the five books of Moses); (2) the Neviim ("Prophets"), which includes the Early Prophets (Joshua through 2Kings) and the Latter Prophets (Isaiah through Malachi, except Daniel); and (3) the Ketuvim ("Writings"), which includes the remainder of the books. The five books of the Torah are named in Hebrew by the first significant word of the section: Genesis − Bereshit ("in the beginning"), Exodus − Shemot ("these are the names"), Leviticus − Vayiḳra ("and called"), Numbers − Bemidbar ("in the wilderness"), and Deuteronomy − Debarim ("these are the words"). In the LXX the books are known by names roughly indicating their contents as dealing with "the beginnings of things," the "exodus" from captivity, the "Levitical" laws, the "numbers" of the Israelites, and the "repetition of the Law."
The term Torah is a description of character. The noun torah means "direction," "teaching" or "instruction" (BDB 435f). Torah is typically thought of as the commandments and laws God gave to Israel at Sinai and Moab, but its basic meaning of "instruction" also fits Genesis, because God's standards of holiness, righteousness, marriage, Sabbath observance and justice were given "in the beginning." Torah sets forth the way a person is meant to live in an ethical and moral way in order to enjoy life to the full and to please God (Lev 18:5; Neh 9:29; Ezek 18:9; 20:11).
The first distinct reference in Jewish literature to the Torah, or Sefer Torah, as a division of the Bible is found in Sirach 24:23 (3rd cent. BC) who used the expression biblos diathēkē ("scroll of the covenant") to identify the work of Moses. Yeshua refers to the Sefer Torah as the biblos Mōsēs ("scroll of Moses") in Mark 12:26. Paul refers to the Sefer Torah as palaios diathēkē ("old covenant") in 2Corinthians 3:14 and the shorthand "Moses" in the next verse (cf. Acts 15:21).
In the Besekh "Moses" is often shorthand for the five books attributed to him as author (Matt 22:24; Mark 12:19; Luke 16:29; 24:27, 44). Among Jews the five books of Moses are called Torah. Among Christians the five books are referred to as the Pentateuch. There are 139 verses of the Torah quoted in the Besekh, some several times. See there complete list here. However, there are over 400 allusions in the Besekh to Torah passages (GNT 897-903).
Torah of Moses
"Moses wrote down all the words of ADONAI" (Ex 24:4 TLV).
The authorship of the Torah by Moses is affirmed in the reference "Law [Heb. Torah] of Moses," which occurs 14 times in the Tanakh (Josh 8:31-32; 23:6; 1Kgs 2:3; 2Kgs 14:6; 23:25; 2Chr 23:18; 30:16; Ezra 3:2; 7:6; Neh 8:1; Dan 9:11, 13; Mal 4:4) and 8 times in the Besekh (Luke 2:22; 24:44; John 7:23; Acts 13:39; 15:5; 28:23; 1Cor 9:9; Heb 10:28). Scripture is clear that the Torah was given through Moses (2Chr 33:8; 34:4; Neh 10:29; John 1:17; 7:19). Various quotations from the Torah affirm Moses as the author:
● Reference to Moses as the author of Genesis: John 7:22 (Gen 17:10).
● References to Moses as the author of Exodus: Mark 7:10 (Ex 20:12; 21:17); Mark 12:26 (Ex 3:6); Acts 15:1 (Ex 12:48); Rom 9:15 (Ex 33:19); Heb 8:5 (Ex 25:40); Heb 9:19-20 (Ex 24:8).
● References to Moses as the author of Leviticus: Mark 1:44 (Lev 14:1-32); Rom 10:5 (Lev 18:5).
● Reference to Moses as the author of Numbers: Josh 4:12 (Num 32:17).
● References to Moses as the author of Deuteronomy: Matt 19:7 (Deut 24:1-4); Matt 22:24; Mark 12:19; Luke 20:28 (Deut 25:5); Acts 3:22-23; 7:37 (Deut 18:15, 18-19); Rom 10:19 (Deut 32:21); 1Cor 9:9 (Deut 25:4); Heb 12:21 (Deut 9:19).
The Torah itself acknowledges Moses as the one who wrote the words contained therein (Ex 17:14; 19:7; 24:4; 34:28; Deut 28:58, 61; 31:9, 22). Joshua affirmed Moses' authorship (Josh 1:7-8, 13; 8:32, 34-35). David affirmed Moses as author (1Kgs 2:3). The Besekh affirms Moses. When we read "Moses and the Prophets" (Luke 16:29, 31; 24:27, 44; John 1:45; Acts 26:22; 28:23), or simply "Moses" (Matt 22:24; Mark 12:19; Acts 15:21; Rom 10:5), the mention of "Moses" refers to the five books of Moses. Luke affirmed Moses (Luke 2:22). Yeshua affirmed Moses (Mark 12:26; Luke 24:44; John 7:19).
Liberal Christian scholars may wish to plead ignorance (or unbelief?) as to the authorship of the Pentateuch, but Scripture provides certainty on the matter. If the words of Scripture cannot be trusted, then it cannot be inspired (2Tim 3:16). The expression "Moses wrote" (Ex 24:4; Deut 31:9; Josh 8:32) reflects traditional Jewish belief in verbal (or dictation) inspiration of the Torah ("God spoke and Moses wrote"). The conviction of the mediatorial work of Moses in transcribing and transmitting the spoken words of God is preserved in the Jewish Sabbath liturgy. The congregation recites this affirmation:
V'zot hatorah asher sam Mosheh, leef-nay b'nay Yisrael al pee Adonai b'yad Mosheh
"This is the Torah that Moses set before the sons of Israel, from the mouth of ADONAI, by the hand of Moses." (My translation)
Thus, Moses provided Israel and the Body of Messiah with the rich legacy of God's Word.
Theology of Moses
Sirach established that the theme of the Torah is covenant (24:23; 39:8; 42:2; 44:12, 20; 45:5) and thus serves as the story of the great covenants God made with Adam, Noah, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Israel and Aaron. Moses depicts the covenants as initiated by God with named individuals and their descendants and the nation of Israel. Each of these covenants includes both divine promises and expectations of the recipients. All of the covenants mentioned in the Tanakh were based on irrevocable decisions and had legal power. The covenant God made with Israel functioned like a constitution. For a detailed discussion of all these covenants see my article The Everlasting Covenants.
Moses was a giant of a man. Indeed, there is no greater figure in the Tanakh than Moses. Scripture offers a number of accolades of his life:
"Moses was very humble, more than any man who was on the face of the earth." (Num 12:3)
"In that time Moses was born; and he was beautiful to God." (Acts 7:20 BR)
"And Moses was educated in all the wisdom of the Egyptians; moreover he was mighty in his words and deeds." (Acts 7:22 BR)
"And Moses indeed was faithful in all His house as a servant, for a witness of the things going to be spoken." (Heb 3:5 BR)
"And they sang the song of Moses, the bond-servant of God, and the song of the Lamb, saying, "Great and marvelous are Your works, O Lord God, the Almighty; Righteous and true are Your ways, King of the nations!" (Rev 15:3)
Through his dynamic personality Moses was God's servant to transform a tribal people into the nation of Israel. The special significance of Moses to Yeshua can be seen in the fact of his meeting on the Mount of Transfiguration with Moses and Elijah, signifying the harmony of law, prophecy, and the gospel (Matt 17:3; Mark 9:4). Moses is regarded with great respect (Matt 8:4; 17:4; Luke 16:29; 24:27; John 5:45-46; Acts 7:20-44; 26:22) and celebrated as a man of faithfulness (Heb 11:23-29).
In the first century the Torah of Moses constituted the standard of faith and conduct for the early disciples and congregations of Yeshua (Acts 15:19-21; 21:20; Rom 8:3-4; 1Cor 7:19; 9:9; 1Tim 3:16). The great story of God concludes with all the saints of the ages joining in song attributed to Moses and Yeshua: "And they sang the song of Moses, the bond-servant of God, and the song of the Lamb" (Rev 15:3).
Archer: Gleason L. Archer, Jr., A Survey of Old Testament Introduction. Rev. ed. Moody Bible Institute, 2007.
Aschmann: Richard P. Aschmann, Detailed Chronology of the Exodus from Egypt, 2022. Online.
BDB: The New Brown, Driver, Briggs Hebrew and English Lexicon. Oxford University Press, 1907. Reprinted by Associated Publishers and Authors, Inc., 1981.
Ginzberg: Louis Ginzberg, The Legends of the Jews. Public Domain, 1909.
GNT: The Greek New Testament, eds. Kurt Aland, Matthew Black, Bruce M. Metzger, & Allen Wiegren. American Bible Society, 1966. [NA25]
Morris: The Defenders Study Bible. World Publishing Co., 1995. KJV with annotations by Dr. Henry M. Morris.
NIBD: Herbert Lockyer, ed., Nelson's Illustrated Dictionary of the Bible. Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1986.
Purkiser: W.T. Purkiser, ed. Exploring the Old Testament. Beacon Hill Press of Kansas City, 1955.
TDSS: The Dead Sea Scrolls: A New Translation. Rev. ed. Trans. Michael Wise, Martin Abegg Jr. and Edward Cook. HarperOne, 2005.
TWOT: Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament, 2 Vols. ed. R. Laird Harris. Moody Bible Institute, 1980.
Ussher: Archbishop James Ussher (1581-1656), Annals of the World. E. Tyler, 1658; Master Books, 2003. Online.
Varughese: Alex Varughese, ed., Discovering the Old Testament: Story and Faith. Beacon Hill Press of Kansas City, 2003.
C.F. Keil (1807-1888), Pentateuch, Vol. 1, Commentary on the Old Testament (C.F. Keil and F. Delitzsch, 1866-1891), Hendrickson Publishers, 1996. Online.
M.G. Kyle, "Moses," International Standard Bible Encyclopedia. ed. James Orr. William B. Eerdmans Pub. Co., 1939. Online.
Henry M. Morris, The Genesis Record: A Scientific & Devotional Commentary on the Book of Beginnings. Baker Book House, 1976.
David Stern, Jewish New Testament Commentary. Jewish New Testament Publications, 1996.
Henry Clay Trumbull, Kadesh-Barnea. Charles Scribner & Sons, 1884. Online.
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