The Life of Moses
Chong Ho (Alex) Yu

A. Egyptian Period

1. What are Hebrews? Why did God ordain Hebrews to be His chosen people?

At the time of Moses the name "Hebrew" instead of "Israel" was used to refer to the Semitic people. Hebrews in Egyptian is "Apiru," standing for "ass-man" and "dusty-man" (Daiches, 1975).

The chosen people of God have a humble origin. And so are many chosen prophets and leaders.

2. Why did Egyptians oppress Hebrews and "knew not Joseph?"

At the time of Joseph, Egypt was ruled by an alien power, namely, Hyksos. Hyksos, which means "the ruler of foreign lands,"(Daiches, 1975) or "Shepherd King," (O'Neill, 1992) took over Egypt after the Middle Kingdom collapsed in the civil war. Hyksos and Hebrews were racially akin and thus Joseph might not face any resistance while being promoted to a high official position. Later the Pharaoh Amosis expelled Hyksos and then Hebrews were left without a protector.

3. God could foresee the oppression against His chosen people by Egyptians. Why did God make Hebrews stay in Egypt for four centuries? Did Hebrews gain anything in Egypt despite the suffering of being enslaved?

Wildavsky (1984) regarded "Egypt as a school for Israel" and contended that "without Egypt there could hardly have been an Israel." After the Battle of Megiddo (later called Armageddon), not only Palestine and Syria, but all the civilized regions of Asia Minor came under the Egyptian rule. Egypt was the only world empire and advanced civilization for Hebrews to model after. Egyptian arts was so abundant as to inspire Roman arts (Egyptomia). Egyptian architecture was also far more superior to other contemporary cultures. The Great Pyramid of Khufu was one of the Seven Wonders of the ancient world (O'Neill, 1992). No wonder over 2000 years ago historian Herodotus wrote, "Concerning Egypt itself I shall extend my remarks to a great strength, because there is no country that possesses so many wonders, nor that has such a number of works which defy description." (Croix & Tansey, 1980).

Hebrews were "cultivated" by staying in Egypt. Many Hebrew cultural traits could be traced back to Egyptians. For example, the metaphor of a leader chosen by God as a "good shepherd." During the Middle Kingdom in Egypt, before Joseph's age, an Egyptian priest had spoke of the coming "good shepherd." Also, in the desert Moses erected a bronze serpent to heal the people from the bites of the fiery vipers. In Egypt the symbol of serpent was regarded as the one who could look into the divine-spiritual world (Bock, 1978).

4. The Egyptian civilization was powerful and mature. Why didn't God make Moses inherit the Kingship in Egypt, liberate his people within the kingdom, and let them enjoy and expand the Egyptian civilization? What was the major difference between Israelites and other ancient civilizations such as Egyptians?

The title "Pharaoh" means the "Great House"--just as Americans sometimes refer to the U.S. presidency as the "White House." Pharaoh in Egypt was regarded as a god incarnate. It was mandated to worship Pharaoh and obey whatever commands from him. This cult was named Caesarean and was inaugurated by Ramses II, the same Pharaoh who enslaved Hebrews. Indeed this religion was used as a justification of power-hungry Pharaoh. Later the Caesarean cult was transplanted from Egypt to Rome.

First, the religion described above was directly contradicted with the belief of one true God. Many ancient cultures practiced pantheism or polytheism. Ikhanton of Egypt destroyed the old gods and set up Aton, the sun god (BC 1385). But this monotheistic religion is short-lived. His successor Tutankhamen reinstated the earlier polytheism (Grun, 1979). The institutionalized religion of Hebrews, started from Moses, was the only monotheism among ancient civilizations and consequently drew attack from other races (Gager, 1972).

Second, the religion of ancient Egypt appears to be a strange, chaotic mixture of pantheism and animal worship (Metzger and Coogan, 1993). The revealed religion of Hebrews strictly forbids to cast the image of the Creator to be a creature. The worship of gold bulk by Israelites probably resulted from the contamination by Egyptian religion.

Third, the temples in Egypt were state institutions, but not the places of individual devotion and prayer. On the contrary, Judo-Christian faith emphasize the personal relationship with God (Metzger and Coogan, 1993).

5. What is the meaning of the name "Moses?" Is Moses a symbol of Jesus Christ?

The name " Moses" has double meaning. Moses is an Egyptian name, meaning "child" or "born" (Zeligs, 1986). The Pharaoh's daughter gave this name to Moses because "I drew him out (of the river)." In Hebrews, "Moshe" does not mean "one who is drawn out," but "one who draws out." Probably it indicates that Moses was the one who drew Israel out of Egypt and the flood in the Red sea (Daiches, 1975).

The role of Moses as a mediator between Israelites and God mirror that of Jesus. Further, the name "Jesus" also implies drawing people out of sins (Matthew 1:21). The experience of collective exodus is parallel to the experience of personal salvation. In the former the Hebrews were free of slavery, struggled in the desert and finally went into the haven. In the latter Christians are pulled out of the spiritual estrangement, become sojourners in the world, and raise to the Heaven in eternity.

6. What did Moses learn in the Egyptian palace? How did his education prepare him to be a great leader?

As mentioned before, by the measures of military, technology and knowledge, Egypt was the most advanced civilization in the ancient world. The brilliant English scientist Isaac Newton was strongly impressed by the ancient Egyptian wisdom. He asserted that a long time before the advent of modern sciences Egyptian had possessed much scientific knowledge (Roberts, 1990).

In the Egyptian palace the typical subjects included arithmetic, geometry, rhythmics, harmony, prosody, philosophy etc... (Bock, 1978). In the New Testament, Stephen said that "Moses was instructed in all the wisdom of Egyptians." (Acts 7:22).

When Moses led his people into Canaan, they fought with a number of tribes--Amalekites, Amorites, Canaanites, Hittites, and Jebusites. These tribes had iron weapons and their cities were surrounded by walls. In contrast, Israelites were tent-dwelling people who used bronze weapons. Without the military education in Egypt, Moses might not be able to win over those tribes. Also, Israel started to develop their own laws and social order, which requires a leader who had received higher education.

Besides the positive education, Wildavsky (1984) suggested that Moses also learned things in a negative way. Since Pharaoh was the master in a slave regime, Moses learned from the bad example what NOT to do. Over and over the Bible told that God hardened Pharaoh's heart so that he did not let go of the people of Israel. Actually God used Pharaoh as an instrument to glorify himself and show an example to Moses.

B. Midian Period

1. What was the event to drive Moses out of Egypt? What did Moses learn during his escape?

Moses struck down an Egyptian for protecting his own people. "When Pharaoh heard this thing, he sought to slay Moses. But Moses fled from the face of Pharaoh, and dwelt in the land of Midian; and he sat down by a well." (Exodus 2:14-15).

Zeligs (1986) asserted that the above verse has a compression of time. If Midian refers to the homeland of the nomadic people who were far away from Egypt, Moses would have trekked across the entire width of the Sinai Peninsula to the northeastern shore of the Gulf of Aqaba. This journey must have taught him a great deal about how life could be sustained in the wilderness and helped to prepare him for the leadership through the wilderness.

2. What personality traits were developed in Moses during his shepherd life in Midian? What was the drawback of the change of his character? What might be the most important aspect of Moses' spiritual life acquired in the Midian period?

At the beginning he thought of using his aggressive force to help his people. But his life as a shepherd transformed him to be a humble man. In addition, the task of looking after the flocks made Moses a caring person.

However, Moses became overly humble. When God called Moses for the mission of leading Israel, Moses turned it down because he thought he was not.

Perhaps the most important lesson that Moses learned after his departure to Egypt was "faith" (Hebrews 11:23-27). In the context of the Letter to Hebrews, "faith" contains the meaning of "submission" and "endurance" (D'Angelo, 1976). By faith Moses endured as seeing God who is invisible. By faith Moses hoped for the promised land that he never saw. The religious act of "faith" performed by Moses preceded the act of obeying laws and commandments.

C. Exodus Period

1. What is the spiritual meaning of Exodus?

The lesson of Exodus and the adventure by faith has a rich spiritual implication. Religion should not be interpreted as static laws and creeds. Instead, the experience of exodus taught Moses that truth is no longer established by definition such as the commands from Pharaoh. Rather, one must struggle to learn what is going on (Wildavsky, 1984). With consonant of the same idea, Hans Kung (1967) called the church as a community of "journey."

2. Moses was the only human who was allowed to have a close encounter with God. What happened to Moses after his meeting with God? What is the spiritual implication of this event?

After a close encounter with God, Moses' face was full of rays of light, signifying the glory of God. Moses had to covered his face by clothing. Due to a translation mistake made by Jerome in the Vulgate, Moses was depicted as having two horns after facing God (Neher, 1959). Inside the Church of San Pietro in Vincoli in Rome (near Coliseum), there is a sculpture by Michelangelo Buonarroti showing Moses with horns on the head.

In II Cor. 3: 7-18 Paul regarded the rays of light as a fading glory (obeying laws) and the veil (laws) as the hindrance from seeing the authentic glory of God. The gospel is the greater glory that will replace the fading glory of legalism.

3. What did Moses do resulting in being forbidden to enter the promised land. Why was God so strict to his servant?

God ordered Moses to speak to the rock for drawing water. But Moses hit the rock with his rod twice instead (Number 20:10-12).

There are some possible reasons why God gave such a serve punishment to Moses:

a. Moses made the mistake of saying, "Shall we bring you forth water," instead of saying "Shall God bring you forth water." The people might have been misled into thinking that Moses and Aaron had extracted the water for them by their own skill (Wildavsky, 1984).

b. Rock is a symbol of divinity (I Cor. 10:4). God told him to speak to the rock for drawing water. But Moses acted out of his anger and beat the rock twice in a disrespectful manner. He showed a poor example of disobedience in front of the people (Chinese Study Bible, 1990).


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