Moses (Mosheh in Hebrew) is recognized in the Old Testament as a religious leader, lawgiver and prophet and he is best known for rescuing the Israelites from slavery in Egypt. He is the most influential prophet in Judaism. Other major world religions, such as Christianity and Islam, recognize him as well. The Book of Exodus records that Moses was born during the period of Jewish enslavement in Egypt. At his birth, the Egyptian Pharaoh issued a decree that all male Hebrew infants were to be thrown into the river Nile.
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However, Moses’ mother, Jochebed, desperate to save the life of his son, floated him in a basket in the Nile, and he ended up being adopted into the Egyptian royal family (Exodus 2:1-10). Growing up in the Egyptian palace made him to develop, the pride, vision, and courage necessary for liberating the Jews from slavery. These significant personal changes could not have been possible if he lived as a Hebrew slave. The life of Moses is full of several unique aspects.
At one time, he killed an Egyptian slave-master who was oppressive to his people, the Children of Israel. Thereafter, afraid that Pharaoh could kill him, he escaped across the Red Sea to Midian. Here, he looked after the flocks of Jethro, his father-in-law, the priest of Midian, on the slopes of Mt. Horeb until one day God appeared to him on a burning bush. Tending the flocks of his father-in-law for forty years made Moses to develop other significant personal changes in leadership for delivering his people from slavery.
Consequently, he set out on a mission to liberate his people from slavery. Following the Ten Plagues that fell on Egypt, he led the Israelites out of the nation and across the Red Sea. Thereafter, they gathered around Mt. Sinai and compassed the boundaries of Edom. In spite of living up to the age of one hundred and twenty years, he passed on before reaching the Promised Land.
Besides his major accomplishment of delivering the Israelites from slavery, he also had other achievements. Through him, God gave the Israelites the Ten Commandments (Exodus 20:1-17) at Mt. Sinai. This achievement has made him to be called the “The Lawgiver.” He also wrote other moral laws that are still being followed by the Judaists.
Moses also wrote the first five books of the bible: Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy. In addition, no other prophet, save Moses, had the experience of talking to God “face to face”: “But this is not true of my servant Moses; he is faithful in all my house. With him I speak face to face, clearly and not in riddles; he sees the form of the Lord. Why then were you not afraid to speak against my servant Moses?” (Numbers 12:7-8, New International Version).
The life of Moses has tremendous effects on the society today. The religion of Judaism is based on the Torah (written law) and Mishnah (oral law) whose authorship is ascribed to Moses. These two forms of law shape the practices of the Jewish people today. In Christianity, Moses is viewed as a representation of the holy law of God.
The life and the teachings of Jesus Christ emphasize and expound this in the New Testament. In Islam, he is a symbol of “great importance” as he is mentioned and described more than any other prophet in the Qur’an. Generally, he is portrayed in ways that parallel the prophet Muhammad.
Sigmund Freud, a committed atheist, gave a psychoanalytical view of the life of Moses putting forward that he was an Egyptian nobleman who followed the monotheism of Akhenaten (Freud & Jones, 1967). He held that Moses was killed in the wilderness. This theory has resulted in the sense of patricidal guilt that has been at the center of Judaism for quite some time now.
Although this theory has received a significant scholarly attention, most people regard it as a pseudo history. The deist Thomas Paine, referring to the story in Numbers 31: 13-18, said that the character of Moses, as described in the Bible, is not a great role model that modern moralists can follow (Paine, 2008). However, he looked at him narrowly, not considering other aspects of this great biblical character.
Annabel Keeler described Moses from the Muslim perspective: “Among prophets, Moses has been described as the one ‘whose career as a messenger of God, lawgiver and leader of his community most closely parallels and foreshadows that of Muhammad” (Solomon, Harries, & Winter, 2005, p.55). She says that Moses served the role of Muhammad’s forerunner in giving the divinely revealed system of law.
The life of Moses impresses me, but I am surprised at the criticisms of the deists, agnostics, and atheists on the life of this influential bible character whose teachings still form the backbone of most religious practices today. His demonstration of courage, despite his weaknesses, in delivering the children of Israel from Egypt is inspirational. More so, his belief in God, despite the stiff opposition he was facing from the people he was leading, also amazes me.
Freud, S., & Jones, K. (1967). Moses and monotheism. New York: Vintage Books.
Paine, T. (2008). The Age of Reason: Easyread Edition. Sydney: Accessible Publishing systems.
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Solomon, N., Harries, R., & Winter, T. (2005). Abraham’s children: Jews, Christians and Muslims in conversation. London : T&T Clark.
Zondervan Bible Publishers. (2008). Holy Bible: New International Version. Grand Rapids, MI : Zondervan.