The story of Moses is one of the most popular stories across the world, especially among the Christian society. Moses was born in Egypt by Hebrew parents at a time when Pharaoh was concerned of the increasing population of Hebrews in his country. Pharaoh had just issued a decree that all the baby boys had to be killed in order to reduce the population of the Hebrews in Egypt. In order to rescue the young boy from death, the mother hid him from the authorities for about three months.
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After three months, the mother realized that she could no longer hide him. She placed him on papyrus basket and placed the basket among the reeds in River Nile where the daughter of Pharaoh frequented. The boy was rescued by Pharaoh’s daughter who took him as her own son and named him Moses. When he was a grown up man, he killed an Egyptian who was mistreating a Hebrew and was forced to flee to Midian where he married Zipporah, the daughter of Jethro, a Midian priest. It was while he was in Midian that God called him to go rescue the Israelites from their bondage in Egypt (Boadt, Richard & Harrington 56). This study will focus on the story of Moses as told in the book of Exodus.
The Authorship of the Book
According to Senior, Collins and Getty (51), there has been a general perception among the Christian and Jewish tradition that the book of Exodus was written by Moses. Although there were no concrete proofs that Moses was the author of the book, these two religious groups had a strong belief that Moses wrote these two books when he became the leader of the Hebrews when they left Egypt on their way to the Promised Land. However, Davidson (38) says that the recent scholars have abandoned this idea following some inconsistencies in the five Pentateuch books. The scholar says that if Moses were the author of the first five books of the bible, then the inconsistencies would not have been witnessed.
This argument has brought made it difficult to determine the exact authors of the book of Exodus. Some scholars now hold that the story was preserved in the form of a story and was finally documented by the early scholars in the post-Exilic period. There is yet to be an agreement of the real authors of the book. Other than Moses, there has not been any other name given to be the likely author of the book of Exodus.
According to Boadt, Richard and Harrington (31), many Christians still believe that the author of the Exodus, and other four books classified as Pentateuch, is Moses. They argue that Jesus himself refereed to the first five books of the bible as the books of Moses. There are also other sections of the bible referring to the Pentateuch as the books of Moses. The fact that critics to this perception have not come up with a reliable alternative names of the authors of the book only strengthens this perception.
Dating of the Text
There has been no agreement on the real date of the text, as scholars try to come up with the exact determination of the people involved in writing this book. However, there have been hypothetical dates based on the historical events described in the book. A section of the scholars believe that the first draft of book, also known as Yahwist, must have been written around the 6th century BCE (Tucker 110).
This was the period of the Babylonian exile. The scholars also believed that the first edition supplemented and finally completed during the post-Exilic period, especially by the end of the 6th and during the 5th century BCE (Davidson 78). This final edition has largely been referred to as the Priestly source. Minor adjustments were done on the paper during the 4th century BCE (Yenne 48). Although there is still controversy over the authors of this book, a number of authors have generally accepted these dates, probably because they do not have alternative explanations or because of their trust and loyalty to the proponents of these dates.
Original Intended Audience
The original text was written with the target audience as the Jews who finally settled in the Promised Land. According to Senior, Collins and Getty (65), there has been a general agreement among the scholars that the intended audience was the Jews. This is specifically seen in the wordings of this book. The Ten Commandments sheds more light to the intended audience. According to Tucker (84), the first commandment reads, “I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery.
You shall have no other gods before me.” A critical analysis of this commandment reveals that God was directly talking to the Israelites who had just been rescued from slavery in Egypt. By saying that he brought them out of Egypt, God is being specific to His audience. He is reminding them of His good deeds to them, and His commitment to take them to the Promised Land. In this book, the Lord says that because of the promise He made to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, He was determined to rescue the Israelites from slavery. A large section of this book entails instructions of God to the Israelites, and their journey from Egypt through the wilderness towards the Promised Land. The Lord God is speaking with his people directly through Moses.
Critical Textual Review of the Book
According to Senior, Collins and Getty (115), scholars have currently been focused in conducting critical review of some of the biblical accounts in order to determine the truth and address some of the inconsistencies that exist in the bible. In the past, people rarely challenged the messages that were presented in the bible. Davidson (90) says that there were times when the bible was only accessible to the chief priests, and people depended on their readings in order to determine the content of the bible.
However, this changed when the bible became common to the other members of the society. There have been attempts to reconcile some of the accounts in the bible, especially in the Old and New Testament. The book of Exodus and its account on the story of Moses has attracted the attention of many scholars. At this stage, it will be important to conduct a critical textual review of the book to determine what it says, what it meant to the original audience, and how people currently interpret it.
Critical analysis of what the text says
The information presented in the books of Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy gives an account of the life of Moses, and how he liberated the Israelites from bondage in Egypt and led them to the Promised Land. However, the researcher will focus on the story of Moses as presented in the book of Exodus. The book starts by giving a grim picture of what the Israelites were facing in the land of Egypt.
They were oppressed by the rulers of Egypt who not only considered them as slaves, but also a threat to their security. The hard labor was meant to make them reduce in population and revere Egyptians. However, their population increased the fact that worried the Egyptians. This led to the decree that all the new born boys were to be murdered. Moses is born in such a hostile environment where all his kind was killed by the Egyptian ruler. However, it is ironical that the daughter of the same ruler turned out to be the savior of baby Moses having full knowledge that he was a Hebrew. In fact she refers to Moses as her own son. However, Moses grows up knowing that, although he is raised at the king’s chambers as a son to pharaoh’s daughter, he is actually a Hebrew. That is why he killed an Egyptian who was oppressing a Hebrew and fled to Midian, where he married Zipporah.
The calling of Moses is seen when he is at Midian looking after the flock of his father in law. The miracle of the survival of Moses as a child, and the irony of growing up as a prince instead of a slave may be described as a mere coincidence or luck. However, the real miracles start happening in the life of Moses that he had not witnessed before. The first miracle was a burning bush. Although the fire in the bush was very intense, it did not consume the bush, the fact that aroused the curiosity of Moses. When he moved closer to observe this unique fire, a loud voice came with instruction of what he was supposed to do in order to liberate the Israelites from Egypt.
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The strange fire was important in convincing Moses to do what God had planned for him. He had not encountered the presence of God before in such a direct manner, and God knew that he needed something that would convince him that the instructions were coming from God. Although the fire convinced Moses that he was actually talking to God, he looked for excuses that would make God reconsider the decision of sending him back to Egypt. However, God showed him more miracles that convinced him that he had to accomplish the task assigned to him.
The book talks extensively about the miracles that God did in Egypt when pharaoh refused to release the Israelites. The ten plagues were miraculously executed and the pain was only directed to the Egyptians. For the first time since the Israelites became slaves in Egypt, God made the Egyptians suffer while the Israelites were spared. This was in line with the promise that God made to Abraham that He shall bless those who blessed him and his descendants, and curse those who cursed him. The Egyptians had subjected the descendants of Abraham to pain and suffering for a very long time. It was time for them to suffer the same fate.
This explains why God hardened the heart of pharaoh and that of his council when Moses requested for the release of the Israelites. God wanted them to feel the pain that the Israelites had endured for several years. Although theirs was within a short period, it was so intense that they wept. A clear demonstration that God was determined to punish the Egyptians for their action against the Israelites was witnessed in the last plague. The Egyptians killed the male born Hebrews at the time when Moses was born. God repaid their evil act by killing all the first born sons of all the Egyptians, including the animals. God was determined to punish the Egyptians for their unfair treatment towards the Hebrews. Finally, pharaoh released the Israelites to go and worship the Lord as per their request.
The journey from Egypt to the Promised Land was characterized by so many adventures. This made the Israelites turn against God and worship other gods. They rebelled against the leadership of Moses, the fact that aggrieved God. At this stage, this book is trying to demonstrate how fast people always forget about the good deeds of God. After rescuing the Israelites from bondage, God was facing rebellion from the people who were supposed to be full of praise for Him. The sinful nature of men of Israel as they moved to the Promised Land convinced God that they needed a legal framework that would guide their actions.
This was the genesis of the Ten Commandments. God still remained merciful to the Israelites despite their disobedience. When they were just about to reach the Promised Land, God took Moses to the mountaintop and showed him the rich land that he was taking the Israelites to. However, God told him that he would not be among the people who would enter the land. This was a punishment because of his anger that made him destroy the first tablets containing the Ten Commandments. It could also be as a result of his reluctance to go back to Egypt when God instructed him to go and liberate the Israelites from the bondage. The story of Moses ends in the book of Deuteronomy where he died at Mount Nebo. He was buried by God, and no one ever saw his grave.
What it meant to its original audience
The book of Exodus meant a lot to its original audience. It was a narration of the life of one of their greatest prophet who was used by God to fulfill His promises to Abraham. It was also meant to act as a constant reminder to the Hebrews that God had done a lot to them despite their constant rebellion. From the time Moses took the Israelites from the land of Egypt to the wilderness, God was always with them.
When they lack food, God sent manna from heaven so that they would not starve. When they lacked water in the wilderness God gave them clean water from the dry rocks. When they were attacked by the vicious communities through which they passed, God always fought for them.
When they were attacked by wild animals of the desert like poisonous snakes, God was always ready to heal and protect them. He did all this to them because of His love for them, and for the promise He made to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Despite all the love and support that God gave to the Israelites, they still disobeyed Him, and engaged in practices that displeased Him. This displeased God, but He was still full of love for them. To this audience, it was clear that the love of God could not be shaken, as long as they obeyed Him and followed His commands.
How people currently interpret the text
People in the current society interpret this text in a different manner from the way its original audience interpreted it. To the original audience, God was directly speaking to them. To the modern society, this is a message they want to associate themselves with. The Christians who majorly use the book are not the Israelites who God was speaking to through Moses. In fact, the Israelites have maintained their Jewish faith, and do not consider Jesus as the Son of God.
This makes the interpretation of this text a little complex. God had a covenant with Moses that His chosen people will settle in the land of Canaan, and will always receive His favor. The chosen ones were the Israelites. They were and still are Jews. However, Christians are trying to absorb this text and own it. They want to believe that they are the chosen ones after accepting the salvation by Jesus Christ. The problem is that what is presented in this text is very different. The promise was made to the descendants of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.
As presented in this book, the promise specifically covers the lineage of these servants of God. In the current context, these are the Jews who have not accepted to follow the teachings of Jesus. When the book talks about God liberating his people from the bondage in Egypt, it is very specific to the Israelites. However, this becomes a problem to a Christian who happens to be an Egyptian because the land and people of Egypt were condemned. They symbolized oppression towards God’s chosen ones, and as the book records, they were punished severely for this (Boadt, Richard & Harrington 89). This has forced the current users not to interpret the text in its literal meaning. They are forced to assume that the Egypt talked about in the bible is symbolic, and so is the land of Canaan. It is only through this interpretation that this text can remain sensible to the current users.
The story of Moses starts in the book of Exodus when he was born, to the books of Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy when he dies after leading the Israelites through to the border of the Promised Land. The story is told of a boy who is miraculously saved by the people who are killing others of his kind. Moses grows up to be a wise man and a great prophet of God. He wins the trust of God and becomes the leader that the Israelites were waiting for to liberate them from the forced labor in Egypt. After an eventful journey through the wilderness, Moses finally died in Mount Nebo. His closeness with God and the love that God had for him made the Lord to bury him within the hill without the knowledge of anyone. Although he did not reach the land of Canaan, Lord showed him the entire land where the Israelites would settle while they were at the top of the mountain.
Boadt, Lawrence, Clifford Richard and Daniel Harrington. Reading the Old Testament: An Introduction. Mahwah: Paulist Press, 2012. Print.
Davidson, Alice. The Story of Baby Moses. Norwalk: C.R. Gibson publishers, 1985. Print.
Senior, Donald, John Collins and MaryAnn Getty. The Catholic Study Bible. New York: Oxford University Press, 2011. Print.
Tucker, Mary. Bible Stories & Activities: Moses. Westminster: Teacher Created Resources, 2005. Print.
Yenne, Bill. The Story of Moses. Nashville: T. Nelson Publishers, 1994. Print.