MOSES COMING DOWN FROM SINAI,by Gustave Dore
The Revelation to Moses
The message of Jesus which furthered the evolution of humanity was based on the previous evolutionary developments found in the history of the Jewish people. Almost all that Jesus taught can be found in the demand God made on the Jewish people to interact ethically, to interact with concern for the other. These Laws are to be found in the Torah given to the Jewish people through Moses after they escaped from the bondage in Egypt. This series of events is essential to understand if the reader is to understand Jesus. Therefore, this essay will also introduce Moses, the escape from bondage in Egypt and the giving of the Law. The greatest Actor in that drama is God, with Moses being His messenger.
Jesus said that he had not come to change the Law even a little.
Matth. 5:17 "Think not that I have come to abolish the law and the prophets; I have come not to abolish them but to fulfil them. 18 For truly, I say to you, till heaven and, earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the law until all is accomplished. 19 Whoever then relaxes one of the least of these commandments and teaches men so, shall be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but he who does them and teaches them shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven"..
What then is the Law that Jesus is referring to? As a Jewish rabbi who knew the sacred Jewish scriptures well enough to teach and argue about them in the synagogue Jesus certainly knew the Law very well. It is important, therefore, to understand. The Old Testament
background and basic content.
The account of the giving of the Law, which is also the story of the creation of the nation of Israel of the Jewish people is to be found in the second book of the Torah (see Note), Exodus. The hero of the story is Moses. But more than being a hero, Moses, after Jesus, is the second most important individual in the entire Bible. That means for the Jewish people who accept only the Old Testament, he is the greatest of the prophets.
And there has not arisen a prophet since in Israel like Moses, whom the Lord knew face to face.
And so let us now read the story of the giving of the Law by God. By giving the Law to the Jewish people, God created a new nation and made a covenant with them. He created a people. For the Jewish people even today, this covenant between God and them is as strong as ever. On the other hand, for those who accept Jesus and his message, he came and while maintaining the Law, he gave it new depth and meaning.
Bondage in Egypt
However, before God gave the Law and thus creating the new nation of Israel, He liberated the Hebrew people from the bondage and slavery that was put upon them by the Egyptian Pharaoh. In these events, Moses was God's agent to accomplish both the liberation and the giving of the Law. Earlier in Genesis, the first Book of the Torah, it is told how the Hebrew people were invited to live in Egypt in peace and prosperity (Chapters. 40-50). But as the generations passed, their numbers increased, and a later Pharaoh felt that the increasing population of these non-Egyptians was threatening. So, the Pharaoh of that time turned them into slaves. The oppression continued and even worsened when the Pharaoh declared that all male Hebrew infants were to be drowned in the Nile River.
Exodus 1:22 Then Pharaoh commanded all his people, "Every son that is born to the Hebrews you shall cast into the Nile, but you shall let every daughter live."
The birth of Moses and his early years
One Hebrew mother, in desperation to save his life, set her infant son adrift in a basket made of reeds. To the mother's happiness, the basket was found by a daughter of the cruel Pharaoh, who quietly took the infant back to the palace and raised him as an Egyptian prince. She named the child Moses. The princess hired the true mother of Moses to care for her own son. Perhaps that is how he was able to have some feeling for the plight* of the oppressed Hebrew people.
Let us note here the similarity between the infancy of Jesus (Matt 2:13) and Moses: at their births, both of their lives were threatened by cruel kings, who set out to kill all Hebrew male infants. Both had a relation with the land of Egypt.
Exodus goes on to tell us that Moses was raised in the royal Egyptian house and grew to be a strong young man and a prince of Egypt. However, his sense of justice causes a radical change in his life. He sees an Egyptian cruelly beating a Hebrew slave. This makes him very angry. Thinking that no one is watching, he kills the Egyptian to save the Hebrew slave. However, the next day, when he separates two Hebrew slaves who are fighting, one of them angrily taunts Moses that it is known that Moses had killed the Egyptian. Moses immediately understands that he is in danger. And indeed Pharaoh orders Moses killed, so he flees to Midian, and thus ends his princely life.
Even as he flees, Moses once more shows his strong sense of justice. He comes to a well where several shepherds are tormenting the seven daughters of a Midian priest. He protects them from the shepherds. The incidents seem to be related. In all three, Moses shows a deep commitment to fighting injustice. Furthermore, his concerns are not narrow-minded. He intervenes at first when a non-Jew oppresses a Jew, then when two Jews fight, and when non-Jews oppress other non-Jews.
So the Midian women take him home to meet their father. The daughters tell him about Moses' bravery. Needing a safe place to live and work, he becomes a shepherd for the father, who is a priest of the Midians, and, in fact, Moses is given one of the priest's daughters to marry. Moses then settles down in Midian, where he leads a
*plight: a condition of extreme hardship or danger.
pastoral'-'" life for several years when suddenly the first of several great encounters between God and Moses occurs.
The Burning Bush
One day, an angel of the Lord appears to him in a fire blazing forth from a bush. Moses is startled to see the bush all aflame but not burning. The symbolism of this miracle is powerful. In a "world in which nature itself is worshiped, God shows that He rules over it. When he goes to examine this miraculous sight. God calls out from the bush,
4 "When the Lord saw that he turned aside to see. God called to him out of the bush, "Moses, Moses!" And he said, "Here am I." 5 Then He said, "Do not come near; put off your shoes from your feet, for the place on which you are standing is holy ground." 6 And He said, "I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob (see note)." And Moses hid his face, for he was afraid to look at God."
This is Moses' first encounter with God. God tells him
9 "And now, behold, the cry of the people of Israel (see note) has come to me, and I have seen the oppression with which the Egyptians oppress them. 10 Come, I will send you to Pharaoh that you may bring forth my people, the sons of Israel, out of Egypt." 11 But Moses said to God, "Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh, and bring the sons of Israel out of Egypt?"
(Exodus 3: 9-11).
The more Moses refuses, the more God insists. It is obvious that Moses totally lacks the confidence to take up the task God has given
* pastoral: simple country life; relating to shepherds, their work and way of life.
him. However, as Moses performs the necessary commands given him by God, his character develops.
13 Then Moses said to God, "If I come to the people of Israel and say to them, 'The God of your fathers has sent me to you,' and they ask me, 'What is his name?' what shall I say to them?" 14 God said to Moses, "I am who I am." And he said, "Say this to the people of Israel, 'I am has sent me to you.'" 15 God also said to Moses, "Say this to the people of Israel, 'The Lord, the God of your fathers, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, has sent me to you: this is my name for ever, and thus I am to be remembered throughout all generations."
The Confrontation with the Pharaoh
God persuades Moses that he must go to Pharaoh. He gives Moses, who still lacks confidence, a companion, his brother Aaron, and a staff* by which some of the miracles God will perform can be realised.
8 And the Lord said to Moses and Aaron, 9 "When Pharaoh says to you, 'Prove yourselves by working a miracle,' then you shall say to Aaron, 'Take your rod and cast it down before Pharaoh, that it may become a serpent.'" 10 So Moses and Aaron went to Pharaoh and did as the Lord commanded; Aaron cast down his rod before Pharaoh and his servants, and it became a serpent.
Perhaps one of the most famous demands in all history is the one Moses directs at Pharaoh: "Let my people go!" Three millennia later, this verse has been taken by oppressed groups. It became a cry of black slaves in the American South. In one of their most famous folksongs, they sang: "Go down Moses, Way down in Egypt-land,
* staff: a stick with some special use such as for walking or to show authority.
And tell old Pharaoh, To let my people go!"
God sends plagues* on the Egyptians to convince Pharaoh to let the Israelites go. At the same time God hardens Pharaoh's heart, even though there are plagues of frogs, lice, flies, locusts, death of livestock, boils, hail, and darkness. All the ten plagues are disastrous to the Egyptians but did not affect the Jews. Yet Pharaoh only
becomes more stubborn.
But why did God harden Pharaoh's heart? Had God not hardened Pharaoh's heart, it would have deprived the Egyptian king of free will. Of course he would have then allowed the Hebrew slaves to go; not out of choice, but out of terror. By hardening Pharaoh's heart, the Egyptian king no longer feared the kind of physical devastation that would terrify and cause instant obedience from a normal man. There was nothing, however, to stop Pharaoh from intellectually and emotionally recognizing the injustices he had inflicted on the Hebrew slaves, and then by his own free will letting them go. But moral responses were not Pharaoh's concerns. Here was a contest of power between him and the God of the Israelites. Only when the Egyptian firstborn started dying, did he, the great Pharaoh, finally realize that he was facing a Force immeasurably greater than his own. And perhaps being a firstborn himself, he wanted the Hebrews out in order to save his own life. It is only by free will that God expects humanity to follow His commands. Altogether, God sent ten plagues, the last of which is the most horrendous.
Finally, the Passover (see Note) occurs. As the Tenth Plague, God vows to kill the firstborn of every family in Egypt. The Israelites are commanded to put the blood of a male lamb without blemish on their doorposts. The Angel of Death will then pass over these households and not kill the Hebrew firstborn. All of the households in Egypt thus suffer the loss of the eldest son.
Only then does Pharaoh finally realize the power of God and release his Hebrew slaves. Moses and Aaron will now lead their people away into the desert of the Sinai Peninsula. Moses, having been warned by God, knows that the Pharaoh will again change his mind
*plague: a disease that quickly spreads to many of the people of a region.
and pursue his Hebrew slaves. Moses spurs his people to leave in great haste with little time to gather necessities. We must imagine that they had to leave within a matter of hours.
"And they baked unleavened cakes of the dough which they had brought out of Egypt, for it was not leavened, because they were thrust out of Egypt and could not tarry, neither had they prepared for themselves any provisions."
But before they could cross the Sea of Reeds and find freedom, as predicted, Pharaoh had a change of heart and sent his chariots out to stop them. In the next great miracle, the sea parted enough for Moses to lead his people across to safety. But -when the Egyptian army attempted to follow the same route and pursue them, the waters returned and the sea swallowed them up.
God's Command to Commemorate the Coming out of Bondage
3 And Moses said to the people, "Remember this day, in which you came out from Egypt, out of .the house of bondage, for by strength of hand the Lord brought you out from this place; no leavened bread shall be eaten. 4 This day you are to go forth, in the month of Abib. 5 And when the Lord brings you into the land of the Canaanites.... which he swore to your fathers to give you, a land flowing with milk and honey, you shall keep this service in this month. 6 Seven days you shall eat unleavened bread, and on the seventh day there shall be a feast to the Lord. 7 Unleavened bread shall be eaten for seven days; no leavened bread shall be seen with you, and no leaven shall be seen with you in all your territory. 8 And you shall tell your son on that day, 'It is because of what the Lord did for me when I came out of Egypt.' 9 And it shall be to you as a sign on your hand and as a memorial between your eyes, that the law of the Lord may be in your mouth; for with a strong hand the Lord has brought you out of Egypt. 10 You shall therefore keep this ordinance at its appointed time from year to year.
The Paschal Lamb
It is from this command of the Lord that the Passover festival was initiated. The one week of Passover commemorating the liberation of the Hebrew people from Egyptian bondage over 3,000 years ago, is kept even to this day by the Jewish people. It must be understood that the significance of the Seder meal is that the Jewish people should come to see themselves as though they had even today personally left Egypt. But which Egypt? There are many kinds of Egypts; material, psychological and spiritual, and ultimately the Jew, seeking higher consciousness, must break out of all of them. It is the inner freedom from desire, anger and so on, all of which keep not only the Jew, but all human beings from truly interacting with God.
And of course, in Jesus' time as well, the Passover was of extreme importance. People from all over the Empire made pilgrimage to Jerusalem for Passover. It was one of the most crowded times in the whole year. People would go to Jerusalem, probably a week beforehand, to make sure that everybody would be in a state of purity. It just meant that while impure, you could not enter a holy part of the Temple (see Note) and offer the Paschal lamb for sacrifice in the Temple. So pilgrims frequently went a week before Passover so that they could undergo certain rituals of purification, and take part in the slaughter of the Paschal lambs that happens the night before Passover begins as God mandated it when he spoke with Moses on Mount Sinai. We can see something of this in the Gospel writings. Jesus enters with the flock of pilgrims going into Jerusalem the week before Passover. This is the triumphal entry described in the Gospel (Matt:21:l-ll). And he reaches the Temple during the week before Passover. Soon for Jesus, his Passion (see Note) will begin and the image of Jesus being the Paschal Lamb will be made very clear.
The Temple in Jerusalem was destroyed in 70 CE, so that its function as a place for ritual and ritual sacrifice was also eliminated from Jewish religious life. Therefore, the commandment to commemorate the coming out of bondage, Passover, is presently kept at the synagogue and, most importantly, at the home of every observing Jew around the world, which includes the holding of the Seder, or the feast of the Passover. It is this Seder at which Jesus gathered his disciples that became to be known in Christianity as the Last Supper (see Note).
The Covenant between God and the Israelites
But let us continue the story of Moses. The Hebrew slaves achieved freedom not as an end in itself, but to serve God. That is why Moses said to Pharaoh,
"Let my people go that they may worship Me".
And that is also why, in the Jewish tradition, the culmination of Exodus is the giving of the Torah, an event which may be considered as the revelation at Mount Sinai. Seven weeks after they leave Egypt, the Hebrews reach Sinai. There God, for the first and only time, speaks to the entire Hebrew people, and declares before them the Ten Commandments. However, in the days immediately preceding God's revelation of the Ten Commandments, He has told Moses to prepare the Hebrew people for a ceremony that will formalize their relationship to Him. God also makes it known that the relationship comes with a condition.
"If you will obey Me faithfully and keep My covenant, you shall be My treasured possession among all the peoples, ..you shall be to Me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation....".
The basic overview of Israel's obligations under the covenant is presented in Exodus 20-23. In brief, these chapters outline the Law, which is against idolatry, murder, theft, and the mistreatment of strangers, widows, orphans, and the poor. Additional laws command the observance of the Sabbath, the Sabbatical year (during which the land must lie fallow), and such feasts as Passover. Moses relays God's message to the Israelite elders, and the whole nation answers collectively.
"All that the Lord has spoken we will do".
That is, a band of escaped slaves standing at the foot of Mount Sinai and pledging to God to fulfill the commandments of the Torah became a people, and, with time, came to understand the mission that came with this pledge.
God Gives the Ten Commandments to His Chosen People
Moses then leads the Israelites to the foot of Mount Sinai, where God announces the Ten Commandments.
First Commandment: "I am the Lord your God who brought you out of the land of Egypt, the house of bondage.
Second Commandment: You shall have no other gods before me. You shall not make for yourself a graven image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is on the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth; 9 you shall not bow down to them or serve them; for I the Lord your God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me, 10 but showing steadfast love to thousands of those who love me and keep my commandments.
Third Commandment: You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain: for the Lord will not hold him guiltless who takes his name in vain.
Fourth Commandment: Observe the Sabbath day, to keep it holy, as the Lord your God commanded you. 13 Six days you shall labour, and do all your work; 14 but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the Lord your God; in it you shall not do any work, you, or your son, or your daughter, or your manservant, or your maidservant, or your ox, or your ass, or any of your cattle, or the sojourner who is within your gates, that your manservant and your maidservant may rest as well as you. 15 You shall remember that you were a servant in the land of Egypt, and the Lord your God brought you out thence with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm; therefore the Lord your God commanded you to keep the Sabbath day.
Fifth Commandment: Honour your father and your mother, as the Lord your God commanded you; that your days may be prolonged, and that it may go well with you, in the land which the Lord your God gives you.
Sixth Commandment: You shall not kill.
Seventh Commandment: Neither shall you commit adultery.
Eighth Commandment: Neither shall you steal.
Ninth Commandment: Neither shall you bear false witness
against your neighbour.
Tenth Commandment; Neither shall you covet your neighbour's wife; and you shall not desire your neighbour's house, his field, or his manservant, or his maidservant, his ox, or his ass, or anything that is your neighbour's.
Certainly, these Ten Commandments form the backbone of Jewish and Christian ethical monotheism, but one should not forget that they are only a part of the many Laws of the Torah. Furthermore, obedience to the Torah is the pledge the Hebrew people gave to God, Who, in return, will "treasure" them.
The Law that Moses faithfully transmits to the Jews in the Torah embraces far more than the Ten Commandments. In addition to the ritual regulations that applied exclusively to worship in the Temple in Jerusalem, the Jews are instructed to love God as well as be in awe of Him, to love their neighbours as themselves, and to love the stranger, that is, the non-Jew living among them as themselves as well. And most important, the Torah is considered a direct revelation from God, which is why these Five Books of Moses have had a unique position among all holy books of the Jewish people and a unique authority in the Jewish world for three thousand years. What the Jews have presented to the world through their sacred books has not been Moses or any individual, but rather their ethical ideas about interactions between the One God and man, and the interactions between each other. It is interesting to note that at the prayers said at the Passover, the name of Moses is mentioned only once. And despite the extraordinary veneration accorded Moses "there has not arisen a prophet since like Moses" is the Bible's verdict (Deuteronomy 34:10) no Jewish thinker ever thought he was anything other than a man.
That is to say, the freeing from Egyptian bondage, the giving of the Torah, and the covenant is due to the Power, Authority and Love of the One God.
In fact, Moses in Deuteronomy makes clear God's command to learn and obey the Torah; that is The Law God gave to the Hebrew nation.
20 "When your son asks you in time to come, What is the meaning of the testimonies and the statutes and the ordinances
which the Lord our God has commanded you?' 21 then you shall say to your son, 'We were Pharaoh's slaves in Egypt; and the Lord brought us out of Egypt with a mighty hand; 22 and the Lord showed signs and wonders, great and grievous, against Egypt and against Pharaoh and all his household, before our eyes; 23 and he brought us out from there, that he might bring us in and give us the land which he swore to give to our fathers. 24 And the Lord commanded us to do all these statutes, to fear the Lord our God, for our good always, that he might preserve us alive, as at this day. 25 And it will be righteousness for us, if we are careful to do all this commandment before the Lord our God, as he has commanded us."
The Death of Moses
The Torah's last twelve verses record Moses' death.
Then Moses went up from the plains of Moab to Mount Nebo, to the top of Pisgah, which is opposite Jericho, and the Lord showed him the whole land: Gilead as far as Dan, 2 all Naphtali, the land of Ephraim and Manasseh, all the land of Judah as far as the Western Sea, 3 the Negeb, and the Plain that is, the valley of Jericho, the city of palm trees as far as Zoar. 4 The Lord said to him, "This is the land of which I swore to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob, saying, 'I will give it to your descendants'; I have let you see it with your eyes, but you shall not cross over there." 5 Then Moses, the servant of the Lord, died there in the land of Moab, at the Lord's command. 6 He was buried in a valley in the land of Moab, opposite Beth-peor, but no one knows his burial place to this day. 7 Moses was one hundred twenty years old when he died; his sight was unimpaired and his vigour had not abated. 8 The Israelites wept for Moses in the plains of Moab thirty days; then the period of mourning for Moses was ended. 9 Joshua son of Nun was full of the spirit of wisdom, because Moses had laid his hands on him; and the Israelites obeyed him, doing as the Lord had commanded Moses. 10 Never
since has there arisen a prophet in Israel like Moses, whom the Lord knew face to face. 11 He was unequaled for all the signs and wonders that the Lord sent him to perform in the land of Egypt, against Pharaoh and all his servants and his entire land, 12 and for all the mighty deeds and all the terrifying displays of power that Moses performed in the sight of all Israel.
It may be considered that no man should know the grave of Moses so as to prevent worship there or attach any value to his mortal body. Having seen Egypt, Moses knew how prone men are to such beliefs. Instead, he, as God's messenger, helped to create an enduring image of humanity that loved and obeyed the One God, Who, in turn, would cherish the humanity He created.
Moses left his people, not being allowed to enter the promised land. Being human and imperfect, Moses had offended God at one point (Deuteronomy 32:51). All that he was allowed was to go up on a mountain to see The Promised Land before he died. The Jews have been so faithful to their vow to God, that they have never worshipped him. What the Jews have presented to the world has not been Moses or any individual, but their collective ideas about God and man. That Moses has never been deified is one of the most significant facts about the ideas of God and man in the Old Testament.
Even in death, Moses chose to serve God and the Jewish people true to the letter and spirit of the Law.
The Scriptures that Jesus Knew
By Jesus' time, the sacred books of the Hebrew people formed the basis of what he apparently knew. The synagogue service on the Sabbath would consist of communal study of various collections from these books. Jesus in his teaching referred frequently to the Law of Moses, by which is meant the five books of the Torah. In addition, he often refers frequently to the prophecies of Isaiah (see Note) or passages from the Psalms (see Note). These are the most widely quoted passages of the Old Testament in the New Testament. Whatever it was that Jesus spoke, he was speaking words of his own, he was speaking words of common wisdom, or he was referring to
or explicating verses specifically from the five books of Moses, from the Torah, or more especially the prophet Isaiah or the book of the Psalms. These will have been the stuff out of which Jesus will have created his teaching and his preaching, that is, what was to become the Old Testament. And it is only some 100 years after the Crucifixion that we begin to have the creation of the New Testament (see Note).
The Golden Rule
Most Christians, and many Jews, believe that the Golden Rule was first formulated by Jesus, not realizing that when the founder of Christianity preached, "Love your neighbour ," he was simply quoting the revelation to Moses... the Torah.
"Love your neighbour as yourself. I am the lord".
The last words in the verse, "/ am the Lord," usually are passed over as being irrelevant to the commandment. In Jewish thought, however, the rationale for loving our neighbours is precisely because God, who created all of us in His image, demands it. Judaism sees ethics as ultimately dependent on a source above humanity, on God. Without God, morality is reduced to a matter of opinion. In his ministry, Jesus would make this connection even stronger.
In the first century before CE, more than a thousand years after the Torah was given, a would-be convert asked Hillel, the greatest rabbi of his age, to summarize Judaism briefly (literally, "while standing on one foot"). Hillel responded with a negative, and perhaps more pragmatic, version of the biblical verse: "What is hateful unto you, do not do unto your neighbour. The rest is commentary; now go and study" Rabbi Akiva who lived in the beginning of the second century CE, said that the most fundamental law of Judaism was : "What is hateful unto you, do not do unto your neighbour."
God's Love Shown in the Old Testament
In The Old Testament, God often speaks of His love and the love we should have for each other. Even though the Israelites often did wrong, God continued to love them (and all of humanity).
6.The LORD, the LORD, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness, 7. maintaining love to thousands, and forgiving wickedness, rebellion and sin.
Jesus demands that we love our neighbours because that coffl' mandment was part of his Jewish background.
Furthermore, there are many instances in the Old Testamel11 where God showed His love. Since space is limited, only some chapter and verses from the Torah and the Psalms can be presented here.But let these be enough to show that a loving God was the God tb31 Jesus knew.
Rather than considering the God of the Old Testament as being vindictive, let us consider the following passage from Proverbs of the Old Testament.
11 My son, do not despise the Lord's discipline or be weary of his reproof, 12 for the Lord reproves him whom he loves, as a father the son in whom he delights.
Here are words of Moses to God or about God
2 The Lord is my strength and my song, and he has become my salvation; this is my God, and I will praise him, my father's God, and I will exalt him....
6 The Lord passed before him, and proclaimed, "The Lord, the Lord God, merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness.