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Reference: Moses


The name of the illustrious prophet and legislator of the Hebrews, who led them from Egypt to the Promised Land. Having been originally imposed by a native Egyptian princess, the word is no doubt Egyptian in its origin, and Josephus gives its true derivation - from the two Egyptian words, MO, water, and USE, saved. With this accords the Septuagint form, MOUSES. The Hebrews by a slight change accommodated it to their own language, as they did also in the case of some other foreign words; calling it MOSHIE, from the verb MASHA, to draw. See Ex 2:10. Moses was born about 15.71 B. C., the son of Amram and Jochebed, of the tribe of Levi, and the younger brother of Miriam and Aaron. His history is too extensive to permit insertion here, and in general too well known to need it. It is enough simply to remark, that it is divided into three periods, each of forty years. The first extends from his infancy, when he was exposed in the Nile, and found and adopted y the daughter of Pharaoh, to his flight to Midian. During this time he lived at the Egyptian court, and "was learned in all the wisdom of the Egyptians, and was nightly in words and in deeds," Ac 7:22. This is no unmeaning praise; the "wisdom" of the Egyptians, and especially of their priests, was then the profoundest in the world. The second period was from his flight till his return to Egypt, Ac 7:30, during the whole of which interval he appears to have lived in Midian, it may be much after the manner of the Bedaween sheikhs of the present day. Here he married Zipporah, daughter of the wise and pious Jethro, and became familiar with life in the desert. What a contrast between the former period, spent amid the splendors and learning of a court, and this lonely nomadic life. Still it was in this way that God prepared him to be the instrument of deliverance to His people during the third period of his life, which extends from the exodus out of Egypt to his death on mount Nebo. In this interval how much did he accomplish, as the immediate agent of the Most High.

The life and institutions of Moses present one of the finest subjects for the pen of a Christian historian, who is at the same time a competent biblical antiquary. His institutions breathe a spirit of freedom, purity, intelligence, justice, and humanity, elsewhere unknown; and above all, of supreme love, honor, and obedience to God. They molded the character of the Hebrews, and transformed them from a nation of shepherds into a people of fixed residence and agricultural habits. Through that people, and through the Bible, the influence of these institutions has been extended over the world; and often where the letter has not been observed, the spirit of them has been adopted. Thus it was in the laws established by the pilgrim fathers of New England; and no small part of what is of most value in the institutions which they founded, is to be ascribed to the influence of the Hebrew legislator.

The name of this servant of God occurs repeatedly in Greek and Latin writings, and still more frequently in those of the Arabs and the rabbinical Jews. Many of their statements, however, are mere legends without foundation, or else distortions of the Scripture narrative. By the Jews he has always been especially honored, as the most illustrious personage in all their annals, and as the founder of their whole system of laws and institutions. Numerous passages both in the Old and New Testament show how exalted a position they gave him, Ps 103:7; 105:26; 106:16; Isa 63:12; Jer 15:1; Da 9:11; Mt 8:4; Joh 5:45; 9:28; Ac 7:20,37; Ro 10:5,19; Heb 3; 11:23.

In all that he wrought and taught, he was but the agent of the Most High; and yet in all his own character stands honorably revealed. Though naturally liable to anger and impatience, he so far subdued himself as to be termed the meekest of men, Nu 12:3; and his piety, humility, and forbearance, the wisdom and vigor of his administration, his unfailing zeal and faith in God, and his disinterested patriotism are worthy of all imitation. Many features of his character and life furnish admirable illustrations of the work of Christ - as the deliver, ruler, and guide of his people, bearing them on his heart, interceding for them, rescuing, teaching, and nourishing them even to the promised land. All the religious institutions of Moses pointed to Christ; and he himself, on the mount, two thousand years after his death, paid his homage to the Prophet he had foretold, De 18:15-19, beheld "that goodly mountain and Lebanon," De 3:25, and was admitted to commune with the Savior on the most glorious of themes, the death He should accomplish at Jerusalem, Lu 9:31.

Moses was the author of the Pentateuch, as it is called, or the first five books of the Bible. In the composition of them he was probably assisted by Aaron, who kept a register of public transactions, 7/14'>Ex 17:14; 24:4,7; 34:27; Nu 33:1-2; De 31:24, etc. Some things were added by a later inspired hand; as for example, De 34. Ps 90 also is ascribed to him; and its noble and devout sentiments acquire a new significance, if received as from his pen near the close of his pilgrimage.

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drawn (or Egypt. mesu, "son;" hence Rameses, royal son). On the invitation of Pharaoh (Ge 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" (Ge 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" (Ge 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). (See Pharaoh.) 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 might 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 (see Pharaoh's daughters [1]) 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" (Ac 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" (Ac 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 (Ac 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 (Ex 4:18-26). On the way he was met by Aaron (q.v.) and the elders of Israel (Ex 4:27-31). 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

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(See AARON; EGYPT; EXODUS.) Hebrew Mosheh, from an Egyptian root, "son" or "brought forth," namely, out of the water. The name was also borne by an Egyptian prince, viceroy of Nubia under the 19th dynasty. In the part of the Exodus narrative which deals with Egypt, words are used purely Egyptian or common to Hebrew and Egyptian. Manetho in Josephus (contrast Apion 1:26, 28, 31) calls him Osarsiph, i.e. "sword of Osiris or saved by Osiris". "The man of God" in the title Psalm 90, for as Moses gave in the Pentateuch the key note to all succeeding prophets so also to inspired psalmody in that the oldest psalm. "Jehovah's slave" (Nu 12:7; De 34:5; Jos 1:2; Ps 105:26; Heb 3:5). "Jehovah's chosen" (Ps 106:23). "The man of God" (1Ch 23:14). Besides the Pentateuch, the Prophets and Psalms and New Testament (Ac 7:9,20-38; 2Ti 3:8-9; Heb 11:20-28; Jg 1:9) give details concerning him. His Egyptian rearing and life occupy 40 years, his exile in the Arabian desert 40, and his leadership of Israel from Egypt to Moab 40 (Ac 7:23,30,36).

Son of Amram (a later one than Kohath's father) and Jochebed (whose name, derived from Jehovah, shows the family hereditary devotion); Miriam, married to Hur, was oldest; Aaron, married to Elisheba, three years older (Ex 7:7, compare Ex 2:7); next Moses, youngest. (See AMRAM; MIRIAM.) By Zipporah, Reuel's daughter, he had two sons: Gershom, father of Jonathan, and Eliezer (1Ch 23:14-15); these took no prominent place in their tribe. A mark of genuineness; a forger would have made them prominent. Moses showed no self-seeking or nepotism. His tribe Levi was the priestly one, and naturally rallied round him in support of the truth with characteristic enthusiasm (Ex 32:27-28). Born at Heliopolis (Josephus, Ap. 1:9, 6; 2:9), at the time of Israel's deepest depression, from whence the proverb, "when the tale of bricks is doubled then comes Moses." Magicians foretold to Pharaoh his birth as a destroyer; a dream announced to Amram his coming as the deliverer (Josephus, Ant. 2:9, section 2-3).

Some prophecies probably accompanied his birth. These explain the parents' "faith" which laid hold of God's promise contained in those prophecies; the parents took his good looks as a pledge of the fulfillment. Heb 11:23, "by faith Moses when he was born was hid three months of his parents, because they saw he was a proper (good-looking: Ac 7:20, Greek 'fair to God') child, and they were not afraid of the king's commandment" to slay all the males. For three months Jochebed hid him. Then she placed him in an ark of papyrus, secured with bitumen, and laid it in the "flags" (tufi, less in size than the other papyrus) by the river's brink, and went away unable to bear longer the sight. (H. F. Talbot Transact. Bibl. Archrael., i., pt. 9, translates a fragment of Assyrian mythology: "I am Sargina the great king, king of Agani. My mother gave birth to me in a secret place. She placed me in an ark of bulrushes and closed up the door with slime and pitch. She cast me into the river," etc. A curious parallel.) Miriam lingered to watch what would happen.

Pharaoh's daughter (holding an independent position and separate household under the ancient empire; childless herself, therefore ready to adopt Moses; Thermutis according to Josephus) coming down to bathe in the sacred and life giving Nile (as it was regarded) saw the ark and sent her maidens to fetch it. The babe's tears touched her womanly heart, and on Miriam's offer to fetch a Hebrew nurse she gave the order enabling his sister to call his mother. Tunis (now San), Zoan, or Avaris near the sea was the place, where crocodiles are never found; and so the infant would run no risk in that respect. Aahmes I, the expeller of the shepherd kings, had taken it. Here best the Pharaohs could repel the attacks of Asiatic nomads and crush the Israelite serfs. "The field of Zoan" was the scene of God's miracles in Israel's behalf (Ps 78:43). She adopted Moses as "her son, and trained him "in all the wisdom of the Egyptians," Providence thus qualifying him with the erudition needed for the predestined leader and instructor of Israel, and "he was mighty in words and in deeds."

This last may hint at what Josephus states, namely, that Moses led a successful campaign against Ethiopia, and named Saba the capital Meroe (Artapanus in Eusebius 9:27), from his adopted mother Merrhis, and brought away as his wife Tharbis daughter of the Ethiopian king, who falling in love with him had shown him the way to gain the swamp surrounding the city (Josephus Ant. 2:10, section 2; compare Nu 12:1). However, his marriage to the Ethiopian must have been at a later period than Josephus states, namely, after Zipporah's death in the wilderness wanderings. An inscription by Thothmes I, who reigned in Moses' early life, commemorates the "conqueror of the nine bows," i.e. Libya. A statistical tablet of Karnak (Birch says) states that Chebron and Thothmes I overran Ethiopia. Moses may have continued the war and in it wrought the "mighty deeds" ascribed to him.

When Moses was 40 years old, in no fit of youthful enthusiasm but deliberately, Moses "chose" (Heb 11:23-28) what are the last things men choose, loss of social status as son of Pharaoh's daughter, "affliction," and "reproach." Faith made him prefer the "adoption" of the King of kings. He felt the worst of religion is better than the best of the world; if the world offers "pleasure" it is but "for a season." Contrast Esau (Heb 12:16-17). If religion brings "affliction" it too is but for a season, its pleasures are "forevermore at God's right hand" (Ps 16:11). Israel's "reproach" "Christ" regards as His own (2Co 1:5; Col 1:24), it will soon be the true Israel's glory (Isa 25:8). "Moses had respect unto" (Greek apeblepen), or turned his eyes from all worldly considerations to fix them on, the eternal "recompense." His "going out unto his brethren when he was grown and looking on their burdens" was his open declaration of his taking his portion with the oppressed serfs on the ground of their adoption by God and inheritance of the promises.

It came into his heart (from God's Spirit, Pr 16:1) to visit his brethren, the children of Israel (Ac 7:23). An Egyptian overseer, armed probably with one of the long heavy scourges of tough pliant Syrian wood (Chabas' "Voyage du Egyptien," 119, 136), was smiting an Hebrew, one of those with whom Moses identified himself as his "brethren." Giving way to impulsive hastiness under provocation, without regard to self when wrong was done to a brother, Moses took the law into his own hands, and slew and hid the Egyptian in the sand. Stephen (Ac 7:25,35) implies that Moses meant by the act to awaken in the Hebrew a thirst for the freedom and nationality which God had promised and to offer himself as their deliverer. But on his striving to reconcile two quarreling Hebrew the wrong doer, when reproved, replied: "who made thee a prince (with the power) and a judge (with the right of interfering) over us? (Lu 19:14, the Antitype.) Intendest thou to kill me as thou killedst the Egyptian?"

Slavery had debased them, and Moses dispirited gave up as hopeless the enterprise which he had undertaken in too hasty and self-relying a spirit. His impetuous violence retarded instead of expedited their deliverance. He still needed 40 more years of discipline, in meek self-control and humble dependence on Jehovah, in order to qualify him for his appointed work. A proof of the genuineness of the Pentateuch is the absence of personal details which later tradition would have been sure to give. Moses' object was not a personal biography but a history of God's dealings with Israel. Pharaoh, on hearing of his killing the Egyptian overseer, "sought to slay him," a phrase implying that Moses' high position made necessary special measures to bring him under the king's power. Moses fled, leaving his exalted prospects to wait God's time and God's way. Epistle to the Hebrew (Heb 11:27) writes, "by faith he forsook Egypt, not fearing the wrath of the king." Moses "feared" (Ex 2:14-15) lest by staying he should sacrifice his divinely intimated destiny to be Israel's deliverer, which was his great aim.

But he

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