The Life of Moses
Chong Ho (Alex) Yu
A. Egyptian Period
1. What are Hebrews? Why did God ordain Hebrews to be His chosen
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 &
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
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
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
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).
Bock, E. (1986). Moses: from the mysteries of
Egypt to the judges of Israel. Edinburgh: Billing and Sons.
Chinese study Bible. (1990)
Rock House Publishers: Hong Kong.
Croix, H, & Tansey, R. G. (1980). Gardner's
art through the ages: I Ancient, medieval, and non-European art.
New York: HBJ, Inc.
Daiches, D. (1975). Moses: The man and his vision.
New York: Praeger Publishers.
D'Angelo, M. R. (1976). Moses in the letter to
the Hebrews. Missoula, MO: Scholars Press.
Gager, J. G. (1972). Moses in Greco-Roman paganism.
New York: Abingdon Press.
Grun, B. (1979). The timetables of history: A
horizontal linkage of people and events. New York: Simon and
Kung, H. (1967). The church. New York, Sheed
Metzger, B. M., & Coogan, M. D. (Eds.) (1993).
The Oxford companion to the Bible. Oxford, Oxford University
Neher, A. (1959). Moses and the vocation of the
Jewish people. London: Longman.
O'Neill, A. (1992). Historical facts: Biblical
times. New York: Crescent Books.
Roberts, C. R. (1990). Isaac Newton : the natural
philosopher as dissenting church historian and biblical and textual
critic. Unpublished thesis in Arizona State University.
Wildavsky, A. (1984). The nursing father: Moses
as a political leader. Alabama: The University of Alabama
Zeligs, D. F. (1986). Moses: A psychodynamic study.
New York: Human Sciences Press.