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Moses was a leader of the ancient Hebrews who brought them out of Egypt in the so-called Exodus (c.1250 BC), mediated the covenant between them and Yahweh at Sinai, and guided them through the desert to the borders of Canaan. The biblical tradition assigns him a life span of 120 years, but the reliability of this figure is questioned.

The books of Exodus through Deuteronomy in the Bible are the only available sources for details about Moses' life. No contemporary Egyptian documents yet found mention him, and the later traditions about him recorded in the work of Philo of Alexandria and in Josephus and rabbinic sources appear to be mere elaborations of the biblical story. Moreover, the biblical story is a composite of sources, the earliest of which postdates Moses by more than 200 years and allows ample time for legendary accretions. The story of the baby Moses in the reed basket on the Nile, for example, is a typical legend about a famous man's childhood. The same basic story is also told about Sargon, king of Akkad (c.2350 BC).

According to the biblical account, Moses grew up at the pharaoh's court but was forced to flee to Midian after killing an Egyptian whom he had seen strike an Israelite. Moses' presence at the pharaoh's court may be explained by the Egyptian practice of taking hostages from their Semitic vassals, giving them Egyptian training, and sending them back to lead their people with an ingrained Egyptian point of view. Such a background might also explain the story of Moses' adoption by the pharaoh's daughter.

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In exile Moses married the daughter of the high priest of Midian. While he was keeping his father-in-law's flock, God spoke to him at a burning bush and commissioned him to lead Israel out of Egypt. After the Exodus, Moses met again with his father-in-law, who performed sacrifices and advised him regarding an improved judicial system. These traditions suggest that certain aspects of Moses' religious and legislative reforms, perhaps even God's new name, Yahweh, were derived from beliefs of the Midianites.

Moses returned to Egypt to confront the pharaoh with Yahweh's demand. After a long struggle involving ten plagues and culminating in the slaying of the first-born of the Egyptians, the pharaoh permitted Israel to leave. He then changed his mind, but God drowned the pursuing Egyptians in the Reed (traditionally, Red) Sea. The ancient poem in Exodus 15 celebrates this victory, but the actual event cannot be reconstructed from this poetic account.

After the Israelites experienced Yahweh's deliverance in the Exodus, Moses led them to the sacred mountain--named Sinai in one source, Horeb in another. There God appeared to them in a frightening display of thunder and lightning. Moses went up into the mountain and returned with God's instructions including the Ten Commandments. Thus Moses mediated the Covenant God made with the people of Israel. As covenant mediator Moses was a lawgiver, and his status became such that all of Israel's laws were attributed to him, even much later ones (see Torah).

Israel remained in the desert under Moses' leadership for a number of years, camping at Qadesh and other oases. The Old Testament tells of many conflicts between Moses and the people during this time. The most dramatic one concerned the Golden Calf set up by Moses' brother Aaron while Moses was on Mount Sinai (or Horeb).

Although this was a trying period, these stories of conflict were probably shaped in part by much later struggles, making it difficult to determine how much of the story belongs to the Mosaic age and how much was added later. Moses died before Israel crossed into Canaan.

J. J. M. Roberts

Beegle, D. M., Moses: The Servant of Yahweh (1972); Bright, John, A History of Israel, rev. ed. (1972); Buber, Martin, Moses: The Revelation and the Covenant, new ed. (1958; repr. 1987); Childs, Brevard, The Book of Exodus (1974); Daiches, David, Moses: The Man and His Vision (1975); Hermann, Siegfried, Israel in Egypt (1973); Maimonides, Moses, The Reason of the Laws of Moses, ed. by J. Townley (1827; repr. 1975); Noth, Martin, A History of Pentateuchal Traditions (1972); Wellek, Rene, ed., The Divine Legation of Moses Demonstrated, 4 vols., 2d ed. (1978); Zeligs, D. F., ed., Moses: A Psychodynamic Study (1986).


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Moses is often called the founder of the religion of Israel; one of the most striking and important figures of the OT. The Pentateuch attests to his central role in the exodus of the Israelites from Egypt and in the giving of the law on Mount Sinai.

Although Moses is not mentioned in historical sources outside the Bible, the OT traditions form a rich tapestry of interpretation of his life and mission. His name (derived from the Egyptian ms, "to give birth" or "to bear"; cf. Thutmose, "Thoth is born") and the Egyptian provenance of the Exodus account are incontrovertible evidence of the historical basis of Moses' role; and the biblical tradition, while complex, focuses on Moses and no one else for this portion of sacred history.

Traditionally Moses' life has been divided into three forty-year stages (Acts 7:20-34). Moses was threatened at birth by Pharaoh's decree aimed at annihilation of the people of Israel; his mother's daring ploy to save him led to his adoption into the Egyptian royal family (Exod. 2:1-10). The young man Moses, now a man of two national identities, defended a Hebrew slave, killed an Egyptian officer, and fled into exile from Egypt. During the second period of his life Moses was adopted into the Midianite (Kenite) family of Jethro (or Reuel) as a "stranger in a strange land" (Exod. 2:11-22).

God, however, had not forgotten his covenant with the patriarchs and called Moses in the burning bush to be his spokesman before Pharaoh and agent of deliverance for Israel (Exod. 3:1-10). God revealed his sacred name (YHWH) to Moses and equipped him with miraculous powers (Exod. 3:11-7:13). After calling down God's judgment against Egypt in plagues and passover (Exod. 7:14-13:16), Moses led the people out of Egypt, and the Lord saved Israel by the miracle at the Red Sea (Exod. 14-15). Thus the people "believed in the Lord and in his servant Moses." Then at Mount Sinai the Lord revealed himself in a theophany and dictated the Decalogue (Exod. 19:16-20:17); however, the people demanded that Moses conclude God's covenant with them (Exod. 20:18-24). Moses prescribed the law of God (Torah) for Israel: its sanctuary and priesthood (Exod. 25-31; 35-40), its sacrifices and laws of purity (Leviticus), and a census of its tribes (Num. 1:1-10:10). Moses led the people in the wilderness for forty years (Num. 10:11-36) and uttered a final exhortation to obey the Torah as the people gathered on the verge of the promised land (Deuteronomy). Moses himself was not allowed to enter Canaan (cf. Num. 20:2-13; Deut. 1:37; 3:27; 4:21; Ps. 106:32-33) and was buried somewhere in Moab (Deut. 34).

Although Moses is mentioned remarkably infrequently elsewhere in the OT (Josh. 24:5; I Sam. 12:6, 8; Hos. 12:13; Mic. 6:4; Isa. 63:11; Pss. 77, 105-7), his preeminent status and foundational mission are assumed. No other OT figure can compare with Moses (cf. Joshua, Josh. 1:10-11; Elijah, I Kings 19; the prophets, Deut. 34:10). Indeed he is the type par excellence of OT expectation. He is the "servant of the Lord" (Num. 12:7-8; Deut. 34:5; Josh. 1:1). He alone spoke "mouth to mouth" with God; therefore, he is the first and greatest of the prophets (Exod. 33:7-23; Num. 12:6-8; Deut. 18:15-18). As lawgiver he dominates the Pentateuch, which can thus be called "the law of Moses" (I Kings 2:3; Neh. 8:1; Mal. 4:4). His voice is not only authoritative for the wilderness generation, but resounds throughout Israel's history (Deut. 6:20-25; 31:16-22).

Moses is a man zealous for the Lord (Num. 16-17); yet he is also described as "the meekest man on earth" (Num. 12:3). He intercedes on Israel's behalf when it sins, risking his own election for the sake of the people (Exod. 32:32; Num. 11:10-15). He even sets up the bronze serpent as a perpetual sign of God's saving mercy (Num. 21:4-9). Finally, Moses is the founder of the cultic system by which Israel was to seek reconciliation with God, and he and his brother Aaron functioned as priests before the tabernacle (Exod. 40:31-38).

In postbiblical Jewish tradition the role of Moses is extended to that of sage and founder of civilization. Moses is thought to have ascended directly into heaven. For the Jewish halakah Moses was giver of the oral law which authoritatively interprets the Pentateuch (cf. Jub; M. Aboth 1:1).

The NT assumes the role of Moses as mediator of the covenant (John 1:17; Gal. 3:19) and author of the Pentateuch (Luke 24:27). Numerous passages compare or allude to Moses and Jesus as type and antitype (e.g., Mark 9:2-10; John 3:14; I Cor. 10). Paul's typology emphasizes the inferiority of the revelation to Moses. At other times Paul likens his own apostleship to the mission of Moses (II Cor. 3:7-18; cf. Rom. 9:3). John likewise sees Jesus as the prophet like Moses (John 6:14); he also sees Moses (and Abraham) as the father of "the Jews" who reject Jesus' revelation (John 9:28). For the Epistle to the Hebrews, the Mosaic covenant is merely a shadow of the true reality, but Moses himself is a model of faith (Heb. 3:1-6; 11:24-28).

S F Noll
(Elwell Evangelical Dictionary)

W. F. Albright, From the Stone Age to Christianity; EJ, VII, 371-411; R. deVaux, The Early History of Israel; D. M. Beegle, Moses, The Servant of Yahweh; J. G. Griffiths, "The Egyptian Derivation of the Name Moses," JNES 12:225-31.


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Moses, drawn (or Egypt. mesu, "son;" hence Rameses, royal son). On the invitation of Pharaoh (Gen. 45:17-25), Jacob and his sons went down into Egypt. This immigration took place probably about 350 years before the birth of Moses. Some centuries before Joseph, Egypt had been conquered by a pastoral Semitic race from Asia, the Hyksos, who brought into cruel subjection the native Egyptians, who were an African race. Jacob and his retinue were accustomed to a shepherd's life, and on their arrival in Egypt were received with favour by the king, who assigned them the "best of the land", the land of Goshen, to dwell in. The Hyksos or "shepherd" king who thus showed favour to Joseph and his family was in all probability the Pharaoh Apopi (or Apopis). Thus favoured, the Israelites began to "multiply exceedingly" (Gen. 47:27), and extended to the west and south. At length the supremacy of the Hyksos came to an end.

The descendants of Jacob were allowed to retain their possession of Goshen undisturbed, but after the death of Joseph their position was not so favourable. The Egyptians began to despise them, and the period of their "affliction" (Gen. 15:13) commenced. They were sorely oppressed. They continued, however, to increase in numbers, and "the land was filled with them" (Ex. 1:7). The native Egyptians regarded them with suspicion, so that they felt all the hardship of a struggle for existence. In process of time "a king [probably Seti I.] arose who knew not Joseph" (Ex. 1:8). The circumstances of the country were such that this king thought it necessary to weaken his Israelite subjects by oppressing them, and by degrees reducing their number.

They were accordingly made public slaves, and were employed in connection with his numerous buildings, especially in the erection of store-cities, temples, and palaces. The children of Israel were made to serve with rigour. Their lives were made bitter with hard bondage, and "all their service, wherein they made them serve, was with rigour" (Ex. 1:13, 14). But this cruel oppression had not the result expected of reducing their number. On the contrary, "the more the Egyptians afflicted them, the more they multiplied and grew" (Ex. 1:12). The king next tried, through a compact secretly made with the guild of midwives, to bring about the destruction of all the Hebrew male children that be born. But the king's wish was not rigorously enforced; the male children were spared by the midwives, so that "the people multiplied" more than ever. Thus baffled, the king issued a public proclamation calling on the people to put to death all the Hebrew male children by casting them into the river (Ex. 1:22).

But neither by this edict was the king's purpose effected. One of the Hebrew households into which this cruel edict of the king brought great alarm was that of Amram, of the family of the Kohathites (Ex. 6:16-20), who with his wife Jochebed and two children, Miriam, a girl of perhaps fifteen years of age, and Aaron, a boy of three years, resided in or near Memphis, the capital city of that time. In this quiet home a male child was born (B.C. 1571). His mother concealed him in the house for three months from the knowledge of the civic authorities. But when the task of concealment became difficult, Jochebed contrived to bring her child under the notice of the daughter of the king by constructing for him an ark of bulrushes, which she laid among the flags which grew on the edge of the river at the spot where the princess was wont to come down and bathe. Her plan was successful. The king's daughter "saw the child; and behold the child wept." The princess (Pharaoh's daughter) sent Miriam, who was standing by, to fetch a nurse. She went and brought the mother of the child, to whom the princess said, "Take this child away, and nurse it for me, and I will give thee thy wages."

Thus Jochebed's child, whom the princess called "Moses", i.e., "Saved from the water" (Ex. 2:10), was ultimately restored to her. As soon as the natural time for weaning the child had come, he was transferred from the humble abode of his father to the royal palace, where he was brought up as the adopted son of the princess, his mother probably accompanying him and caring still for him. He grew up amid all the grandeur and excitement of the Egyptian court, maintaining, however, probably a constant fellowship with his mother, which was of the highest importance as to his religious belief and his interest in his "brethren." His education would doubtless be carefully attended to, and he would enjoy all the advantages of training both as to his body and his mind. He at length became "learned in all the wisdom of the Egyptians" (Acts 7:22). Egypt had then two chief seats of learning, or universities, at one of which, probably that of Heliopolis, his education was completed. Moses, being now about twenty years of age, spent over twenty more before he came into prominence in Bible history.

These twenty years were probably spent in military service. There is a tradition recorded by Josephus that he took a lead in the war which was then waged between Egypt and Ethiopia, in which he gained renown as a skilful general, and became "mighty in deeds" (Acts 7:22). After the termination of the war in Ethiopia, Moses returned to the Egyptian court, where he might reasonably have expected to be loaded with honours and enriched with wealth. But "beneath the smooth current of his life hitherto, a life of alternate luxury at the court and comparative hardness in the camp and in the discharge of his military duties, there had lurked from childhood to youth, and from youth to manhood, a secret discontent, perhaps a secret ambition. Moses, amid all his Egyptian surroundings, had never forgotten, had never wished to forget, that he was a Hebrew." He now resolved to make himself acquainted with the condition of his countrymen, and "went out unto his brethren, and looked upon their burdens" (Ex. 2:11).

This tour of inspection revealed to him the cruel oppression and bondage under which they everywhere groaned, and could not fail to press on him the serious consideration of his duty regarding them. The time had arrived for his making common cause with them, that he might thereby help to break their yoke of bondage. He made his choice accordingly (Heb. 11:25-27), assured that God would bless his resolution for the welfare of his people. He now left the palace of the king and took up his abode, probably in his father's house, as one of the Hebrew people who had for forty years been suffering cruel wrong at the hands of the Egyptians. He could not remain indifferent to the state of things around him, and going out one day among the people, his indignation was roused against an Egyptian who was maltreating a Hebrew. He rashly lifted up his hand and slew the Egyptian, and hid his body in the sand. Next day he went out again and found two Hebrews striving together. He speedily found that the deed of the previous day was known.

It reached the ears of Pharaoh (the "great Rameses," Rameses II.), who "sought to slay Moses" (Ex. 2:15). Moved by fear, Moses fled from Egypt, and betook himself to the land of Midian, the southern part of the peninsula of Sinai, probably by much the same route as that by which, forty years afterwards, he led the Israelites to Sinai. He was providentially led to find a new home with the family of Reuel, where he remained for forty years (Acts 7:30), under training unconsciously for his great life's work. Suddenly the angel of the Lord appeared to him in the burning bush (Ex. 3), and commissioned him to go down to Egypt and "bring forth the children of Israel" out of bondage. He was at first unwilling to go, but at length he was obedient to the heavenly vision, and left the land of Midian (4:18-26). On the way he was met by Aaron (q.v.) and the elders of Israel (27-31). He and Aaron had a hard task before them; but the Lord was with them (ch. 7-12), and the ransomed host went forth in triumph. (See Exodus.) After an eventful journey to and fro in the wilderness, we see them at length encamped in the plains of Moab, ready to cross over the Jordan into the Promised Land.

There Moses addressed the assembled elders (Deut. 1:1-4; 5:1-26:19; 27:11-30: 20), and gives the people his last counsels, and then rehearses the great song (Deut. 32), clothing in fitting words the deep emotions of his heart at such a time, and in review of such a marvellous history as that in which he had acted so conspicious a part. Then, after blessing the tribes (33), he ascends to "the mountain of Nebo (q.v.), to the top of Pisgah, that is over against Jericho" (34:1), and from thence he surveys the land. "Jehovah shewed him all the land of Gilead, unto Dan, and all Naphtali, and the land of Ephraim, and Manasseh, and all the land of Judah, unto the utmost sea, and the south, and the plain of the valley of Jericho, the city of palm trees, unto Zoar" (Deut. 34:2-3), the magnificient inheritance of the tribes of whom he had been so long the leader; and there he died, being one hundred and twenty years old, according to the word of the Lord, and was buried by the Lord "in a valley in the land of Moab, over against Beth-peor" (34:6). The people mourned for him during thirty days. Thus died "Moses the man of God" (Deut. 33:1; Josh. 14:6).

He was distinguished for his meekness and patience and firmness, and "he endured as seeing him who is invisible." "There arose not a prophet since in Israel like unto Moses, whom the Lord knew face to face, in all the signs and the wonders, which the Lord sent him to do in the land of Egypt to Pharaoh, and to all his servants, and to all his land, and in all that mighty hand, and in all the great terror which Moses shewed in the sight of all Israel" (Deut. 34:10-12). The name of Moses occurs frequently in the Psalms and Prophets as the chief of the prophets. In the New Testament he is referred to as the representative of the law and as a type of Christ (John 1:17; 2 Cor. 3:13-18; Heb. 3:5, 6). Moses is the only character in the Old Testament to whom Christ likens himself (John 5:46; comp. Deut. 18:15, 18, 19; Acts 7:37). In Heb. 3: 1-19 this likeness to Moses is set forth in various particulars. In Jude 9 mention is made of a contention between Michael and the devil about the body of Moses. This dispute is supposed to have had reference to the concealment of the body of Moses so as to prevent idolatry.

(Easton Illustrated Dictionary)

Moses - The Close of His Life

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From: Home Bible Study Commentary by James M. Gray

Deuteronomy Chapters 31:1-32:43


Deut. 31:1-8 The law has been rehearsed and Moses' exhortation is drawing to a conclusion. Several days may have been occupied in the review covered by Deuteronomy thus far. And now, Israel, by its leaders, having been gathered together at the place of meeting, Moses is apprising them of his departure. Though advanced in years (2), was he conscious of mental or physical decay (34:7)? Can you perceive a reason for the mention of this fact? Has it any bearing on the truth and virility of the divine messages Moses was chosen to communicate? What indicates that it was by revelation he knew of his approaching separation? Name three or four elements of the encouragement Moses gives Israel in verses 3-6.


Deut. vv. 9-13 What provision was made for the perpetuity of the law (9)? Note the allusion to the bearing of the ark by the priests, which they did on extraordinary occasions (Joshua 3:3-8; 1 Chron. 15:11, 12), although commonly it was borne by the Levites. While the people were to be instructed in the law in their homes, what public rehearsal of it was here provided for (10-11)? We appreciate how this guaranteed the preservation of the sacred oracles from generation to generation, and can thank God for remembering us in this obligation upon them.


Deut. vv. 14-30 In what language is the infidelity of Israel foretold (16)? What would cause this apostasy? What consequence would follow (17, 18)? When God says, "I will forsake them," "I will hide My face," etc., He refers to that withdrawal of His protection as symbolized by the cloud of glory, the shekinah. This never appeared in the second temple, i.e., after the Babylonian captivity, and, "its non-appearance was a prelude of 'all the evils that came upon them, because their God was not among them.'" Where was the book of the law placed (26). In the Revised Version "in" is "by." It is thought that it was deposited in a receptacle by the side of the ark which contained nothing but the tables of stone (1 Kings 8:9). But some, guided by Hebrews 9:4, believe it was placed within, and that this was the copy found in the time of Josiah (2 Kings 22:8).


32:1-43 In verse 19 of the preceding chapter Moses is commanded to write a song and teach it to Israel, and get them singing it as a witness for God against them in the day of their unfaithfulness. "National songs take deep hold of the memories and have a powerful influence in stirring the deepest feelings of a people," and because of this God causes this song to be composed, and is indeed Himself the composer of it. In the Revised Version the whole chapter down to verse 44 is arranged as poetry. (1) After the exordium (1), notice the comparison of the divine instruction to what gentle, useful and beautiful feature of nature (2)? What gives this instruction this character (3)? Point out the seven attributes of God indicated in the ascription of praise that follows (3, 4).

Notice that these attributes constitute the proclamation of His name. Preachers and Christian workers will find the outline of a rich discourse here. (2) After the exordium we come to an indictment of the people (5, 6). It is predictive as indicating what they would do in the future, and yet also a historic record of what they had already done. These verses, especially 5, are clearer in the Revised Version. (3) The indictment leads to a reminiscence of God's goodness to them, to deepen their repentence in that day as it shall quicken their gratitude (7-14). With verse 8, compare Acts 17:26, 27 in the light of chapter 2:5-9 of the present book, and Genesis 10:5, and observe that God has from the beginning reserved Palestine for this people, through whom He would show forth His wonders to the other nations. And admirably suited is the locality for the purpose.

In Ezekiel it is described as "the middle of the earth," and as from a common center the glad tidings were, and shall be, "wafted to every part of the globe." Notice the figure in verses 11 and 12. When the eaglets are sufficiently grown, the mother bird at first supports them on the tip of her wing, encouraging and aiding their feeble efforts to higher flight. (4) This reminiscence of God's goodness is followed by another indictment, fuller than the former, and showing the aggravation of the people's sin. "Jeshurun" is a poetic name for Israel. Notice the reference to "demons" of verse 17 (R. V.), and observe that such beings exist and are the real objects of the worship of false religions. (5) This second indictment is followed by an announcement of punishment (19-28).

Note the allusion to the calling out of the Gentiles into the Church in verse 21 (third clause). What are God's arrows (23)? See for answer the following verse, famine, pestilence, wild beasts, the sword, fear, captivity, etc. Why would He not altogether destroy such a faithless people (26,27)? (6) The announcement of punishment leads to a promise of forgiveness and restoration in the latter time (29-43). When will the Lord lift His hand from off His people (36)? How shall He afflict them who afflicted Israel (41)? What shows that the day of Israel's blessing will be that of the whole earth (43)? Compare Psalm 65.


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Hebrew liberator, leader, lawgiver, prophet, and historian, lived in the thirteenth and early part of the twelfth century, B. C.


Moshéh (M. T.), Mouses, Moses. In Ex., ii, 10, a derivation from the Hebrew Mashah (to draw) is implied. Josephus and the Fathers assign the Coptic mo (water) and uses (saved) as the constituent parts of the name. Nowadays the view of Lepsius, tracing the name back to the Egyptian mesh (child), is widely patronized by Egyptologists, but nothing decisive can be established.


To deny or to doubt the historic personality of Moses, is to undermine and render unintelligible the subsequent history of the Israelites. Rabbinical literature teems with legends touching every event of his marvellous career: taken singly, these popular tales are purely imaginative, yet, considered in their cumulative force, they vouch for the reality of a grand and illustrious personage, of strong character, high purpose, and noble achievement, so deep, true, and efficient in his religious convictions as to thrill and subdue the minds of an entire race for centuries after his death. The Bible furnishes the chief authentic account of this luminous life.

Birth to Vocation (Exodus 2:1-22)

Of Levitic extraction, and born at a time when by kingly edict had been decreed the drowning of every new male offspring among the Israelites, the "goodly child" Moses, after three months' concealment, was exposed in a basket on the banks of the Nile. An elder brother (Exodus 7:7) and sister (Exodus 2:4), Aaron and Mary (AV and RV, Miriam), had already graced the union of Jochabed and Amram. The second of these kept watch by the river, and was instrumental in inducing Pharaoh's daughter, who rescued the child, to entrust him to a Hebrew nurse. The one she designedly summoned for the charge was Jochabed, who, when her "son had grown up", delivered him to the princess. In his new surroundings, he was schooled "in all the wisdom of the Egyptians" (Acts 7:22). Moses next appears in the bloom of sturdy manhood, resolute with sympathies for his degraded brethren. Dauntlessly he hews down an Egyptian assailing one of them, and on the morrow tries to appease the wrath of two compatriots who were quarrelling. He is misunderstood, however, and, when upbraided with the murder of the previous day, he fears his life is in jeopardy. Pharaoh has heard the news and seeks to kill him. Moses flees to Madian. An act of rustic gallantry there secures for him a home with Raguel, the priest. Sephora, one of Raguel's seven daughters, eventually becomes his wife and Gersam his first-born. His second son, Eliezer, is named in commemoration of his successful flight from Pharaoh.

Vocation and Mission (Exodus 2:23-12:33)

After forty years of shepherd life, Moses speaks with God. To Horeb (Jebel Sherbal?) in the heart of the mountainous Sinaitic peninsula, he drives the flocks of Raguel for the last time. A bush there flaming unburned attracts him, but a miraculous voice forbids his approach and declares the ground so holy that to approach he must remove his shoes. The God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob designates him to deliver the Hebrews from the Egyptian yoke, and to conduct them into the "land of milk and honey", the region long since promised to the seed of Abraham, the Palestine of later years. Next, God reveals to him His name under a special form Yahweh as a "memorial unto all generations". He performs two miracles to convince his timorous listener, appoints Aaron as Moses's "prophet", and Moses, so to speak, as Aaron's God (Exodus 4:16). Diffidence at once gives way to faith and magnanimity. Moses bids adieu to Jethro (Raguel), and, with his family, starts for Egypt. He carries in his hand the "rod of God", a symbol of the fearlessness with which he is to act in performing signs and wonders in the presence of a hardened, threatening monarch. His confidence waxes strong, but he is uncircumcised, and God meets him on the way and fain would kill him. Sephora saves her "bloody spouse", and appeases God by circumcising a son. Aaron joins the party at Horeb. The first interview of the brothers with their compatriots is most encouraging, but not so with the despotic sovereign. Asked to allow the Hebrews three days' respite for sacrifices in the wilderness, the angry monarch not only refuses, but he ridicules their God, and then effectually embitters the Hebrews' minds against their new chiefs as well as against himself, by denying them the necessary straw for exorbitant daily exactions in brick making. A rupture is about to ensue with the two strange brothers, when, in a vision, Moses is divinely constituted "Pharaoh's God", and is commanded to use his newly imparted powers. He has now attained his eightieth year. The episode of Aaron's rod is a prelude to the plagues. Either personally or through Aaron, sometimes after warning Pharaoh or again quite suddenly, Moses causes a series of Divine manifestations described as ten in number in which he humiliates the sun and river gods, afflicts man and beast, and displays such unwonted control over the earth and heavens that even the magicians are forced to recognize in his prodigies "the finger of God". Pharaoh softens at times but never sufficiently to meet the demands of Moses without restrictions. He treasures too highly the Hebrew labour for his public works. A crisis arrives with the last plague. The Hebrews, forewarned by Moses, celebrate the first Pasch or Phase with their loins girt, their shoes on their feet, and staves in their hands, ready for rapid escape. Then God carries out his dreadful threat to pass through the land and kill every first-born of man and beast, thereby executing judgment on all the gods of Egypt. Pharaoh can resist no longer. He joins the stricken populace in begging the Hebrews to depart.

Exodus andd the Forty Years (Exodus 12:34 and after)

At the head of 600,000 men, besides women and children, and heavily laden with the spoils of the Egyptians, Moses follows a way through the desert, indicated by an advancing pillar of alternating cloud and fire, and gains the peninsula of Sinai by crossing the Red Sea. A dry passage, miraculously opened by him for this purpose at a point today unknown, afterwards proves a fatal trap for a body of Egyptian pursuers, organized by Pharaoh and possibly under his leadership. The event furnishes the theme of the thrilling canticle of Moses. For upwards of two months the long procession, much retarded by the flocks, the herds, and the difficulties inseparable from desert travel, wends its way towards Sinai. To move directly on Chanaan would be too hazardous because of the warlike Philistines, whose territory would have to be crossed; whereas, on the south-east, the less formidable Amalacites are the only inimical tribes and are easily overcome thanks to the intercession of Moses. For the line of march and topographical identifications along the route, see ISRAELITES, subsection The Exodus and the Wanderings. The miraculous water obtained from the rock Horeb, and the supply of the quails and manna, bespeak the marvellous faith of the great leader. The meeting with Jethro ends in an alliance with Madian, and the appointment of a corps of judges subordinate to Moses, to attend to minor decisions. At Sinai the Ten Commandments are promulgated, Moses is made mediator between God and the people, and, during two periods of forty days each, he remains in concealment on the mount, receiving from God the multifarious enactments, by the observance of which Israel is to be moulded into a theocratic nation (cf. MOSAIC LEGISLATION). On his first descent, he exhibits an all-consuming zeal for the purity of Divine worship, by causing to perish those who had indulged in the idolatrous orgies about the Golden Calf; on his second, he inspires the deepest awe because his face is emblazoned with luminous horns. After instituting the priesthood and erecting the Tabernacle, Moses orders a census which shows an army of 603,550 fighting men. These with the Levites, women, and children, duly celebrate the first anniversary of the Pasch, and, carrying the Ark of the Covenant, shortly enter on the second stage of their migration. They are accompanied by Hobab, Jethro's son, who acts as a guide. Two instances of general discontent follow, of which the first is punished by fire, which ceases as Moses prays, and the second by plague. When the manna is complained of, quails are provided as in the previous year. Seventy elders -- a conjectural origin of the Sanhedrin -- are then appointed to assist Moses. Next Aaron and Mary envy their brother, but God vindicates him and afflicts Mary temporarily with leprosy. From the desert of Pharan Moses sends spies into Chanaan, who, with the exceptions of Joshue and Caleb, bring back startling reports which throw the people into consternation and rebellion. The great leader prays and God intervenes, but only to condemn the present generation to die in the wilderness. The subsequent uprising of Core, Dathan, Abiron, and their adherents suggests that, during the thirty-eight years spent in the Badiet et-Tih., habitual discontent, so characteristic of nomads, continued. It is during this period that tradition places the composition of a large part of the Pentateuch. Towards its close, Moses is doomed never to enter the Promised Land, presumably because of a momentary lack of trust in God at the Water of Contradiction. When the old generation, including Mary, the prophet's sister, is no more, Moses inaugurates the onward march around Edom and Moab to the Arnon. After the death of Aaron and the victory over Arad, "fiery serpents" appear in the camp, a chastisement for renewed murmurings. Moses sets up the brazen serpent, "which when they that were bitten looked upon, they were healed". The victories over Sehon and Og, and the feeling of security animating the army even in the territory of the hostile Balac, led to presumptuous and scandalous intercourse with the idolatrous Moabites which results, at Moses's command, in the slaughter of 24,000 offenders. The census, however, shows that the army still numbers 601,730, excluding 23,000 Levites. Of these Moses allows the Reubenites, Gadites, and the half-tribe of Manasses to settle in the east-Jordan district, without, however, releasing them from service in the west-Jordan conquest.

Death and Posthumous Glory

As a worthy legacy to the people for whom he has endured unparalleled hardships, Moses in his last days pronounces the three memorable discourses preserved in Deuteronomy. his chief utterance relates to a future Prophet, like to himself, whom the people are to receive. He then bursts forth into a sublime song of praise to Jahweh and adds prophetic blessings for each of the twelve tribes. From Mount Nebo -- on "the top of Phasga" -- Moses views for the last time the Promised Land, and then dies at the age of 120 years. He is buried "in the valley of Moab over against Phogor", but no man "knows his sepulchre". His memory has ever been one of "isolated grandeur". He is the type of Hebrew holiness, so far outshining other models that twelve centuries after his death, the Christ Whom he foreshadowed seemed eclipsed by him in the minds of the learned. It was, humanly speaking, an indispensable providence that represented him in the Transfiguration, side by side with Elias, and quite inferior to the incomparable Antitype whose coming he had predicted.

Publication information Written by Thomas A K. Reilly. Transcribed by Sean Hyland. The Catholic Encyclopedia, Volume X. Published 1911. New York: Robert Appleton Company. Nihil Obstat, October 1, 1911. Remy Lafort, S.T.D., Censor. Imprimatur. +John Cardinal Farley, Archbishop of New York


Orthodox Church Information

The glorious Prophet Moses, God-seer, is the pinnacle of the lovers of wisdom, the supremely wise lawgiver, the most ancient historian of all. His name means one who draws forth, or is drawn from, that is, from the water. His life is narrated in the Bible (Exodus 2 through Deuteronomy 34:12). The Orthodox Church celebrates his feast day on September 4.



The Burning Bush

Pharaoh and the Plagues of Egypt

Passover and the Parting of the Red Sea

Wandering in the Desert

The Ten Commandments and the Ark of the Covenant

Seeing the Promised Land

Theological considerations

Moses' role as a prophet is complex and diverse, but one of the predominant themes of relevance to the Early Church is prefigured in Deut 18:15. The Gospel writers make an effort at several points to highlight the role of Jesus as the "new Moses," the fulfillment of the prophecy.



Troparion (Tone 2)

The memory of Your prophet Moses,
We celebrate today, O Lord.
By his prayers, we beseech You,
O Christ God, save our souls!

Kontakion (Tone 2)

The company of the prophets rejoices with Moses and Aaron,
For their prophecy is fulfilled
As the Cross by which you have saved us shines forth.
Save our souls by their prayers, O Christ our God!


Apolytikion (Third Tone)

As we celebrate the memory of Thy Prophet Moses,
O Lord, through him we beseech Thee to save our souls.

Kontakion (Fourth Tone)

With the divine and righteous Moses and Aaron, the Prophets' choir today rejoiceth with gladness,
seeing their prophecy fulfilled now in our midst;
for Thy Cross, O Christ our God, whereby Thou hast redeemed us,
shineth in the sight of all as the end and fulfilment of that which they foretold in ancient times.
By their entreaties, have mercy upon us all.

Prophets Moses the Godseer and Aaron

Orthodox Church Information

Commemorated September 4

Prophet Moses-whose name means "one who draws forth", or "is drawn from", that is, from the water-was the pinnacle of the lovers of wisdom, the supremely wise lawgiver, the most ancient historian of all. He was of the tribe of Levi, the son of Amram and Jochabed (Numbers 26:59). He was born in Egypt in the seventeenth century before Christ. While yet a baby of three months, he was placed in a basket made of papyrus and covered with pitch, and cast into the streams of the Nile for fear of Pharaoh's decree to the mid-wives of the Hebrews, that all the male children of the Hebrews be put to death. He was taken up from the river by Pharaoh's daughter, became her adopted son, and was reared and dwelt in the King's palace for forty years. Afterward, when he was some 60 years old, he fled to Madian, where, on Mount Horeb, he saw the vision of the burning bush. Thus, he was ordained by God to lead Israel and bring it out of the land of Egypt. He led Israel through the Red Sea as it were dry land and governed the people for 40 years. He wrought many signs and wonders, and wrote the first five books of the Old Testament, which are called the Pentateuch. When he reached the land of Moab, he ascended Mount Nabau, on the peak called Phasga, and there, by divine command, he reposed in the sixteenth century before Christ, having lived for some 120 years. The first two Odes of the Old Testament, "Let us sing to the Lord" and "Attend, O heaven, and I will speak", were written by him. Of these hymns, the first was chanted by the shore of the Red Sea as soon as the Israelites had crossed it; the second, in the land of Moab, a few days before his repose. The Holy High Priest Aaron was the elder brother of the Holy Prophet Moses. He was appointed by God to serve as the spokesman of Moses before the people, and also before Pharaoh, in Egypt. Afterwards, in the wilderness, he was called to the ministry of the high priesthood, as narrated in the books of Exodus, Leviticus, and Numbers in the Old Testament. The name Aaron means "enlightened".

Dismissal Hymn (Third Tone)

As we celebrate the memory of Your Prophets Moses and Aaron, O Lord, through them we beseech You to save our souls.

Kontakion (Fourth Tone)

With the divine and righteous Moses and Aaron, the Prophets' choir today rejoices with gladness, seeing their prophecy fulfilled now in our midst; for Your Cross, O Christ our God, whereby You have redeem us, shine in the sight of all as the end and fulfilment of that which they foretold in ancient times. By their entreaties, have mercy upon us all.

The individual articles presented here were generally first published in the early 1980s. This subject presentation was first placed on the Internet in May 1997.

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