Moses (“to draw”; Ex. 2:10… he was drawn out, but would also draw out) was a former Egyptian prince/warrior turned religious leader/lawgiver/ prophet, to whom the authorship of the Torah (1st 5 books of the Bible) is traditionally attributed. He is considered the most important prophet in Judaism. He is also an important prophet in Christianity and Islam, as well as a number of other faiths.
According to the Book of Exodus, Moses was born in a time when his people, the Children of Israel, were increasing in numbers and the Egyptian Pharaoh was worried that they might ally with Egypt’s enemies. Moses’ Hebrew mother, Jochebed, secretly hid him when the Pharaoh ordered all newborn Hebrew boys to be killed. Through the Pharaoh’s sister daughter, the child was adopted when just a few months old, recovered from the Nile River, and grew up with the Egyptian royal family. After killing an Egyptian slavemaster, Moses fled across the Red Sea to Midian, where he encountered the God of Israel in the form of a “burning bush”.
God sent Moses back to Egypt to demand the release of the Israelites from slavery. After the 10 Plagues, Moses led the Exodus of the Israelites out of Egypt and across the Red Sea, after which they based themselves at Mount Sinai, where Moses received the 10 Commandments.
After 40 years of wandering in the desert, Moses died within sight of the Promised Land.
Moses was a son of Amram, a member of the Levite tribe of Israel descended from Jacob, and his wife, Jochebed. Moses had one older (by 7yrs) sister, Miriam, and one older (by 3yrs) brother, Aaron. According to Gen. 46:11, Amram’s father, Kehath, immigrated to Egypt with 70 of Jacob’s household, making Moses part of the 2nd generation of Israelites born during their time in Egypt.
In the Exodus account, the birth of Moses occurred at a time when an unnamed Egyptian Pharaoh had commanded that all male Hebrew children born be killed by drowning in the river Nile. Jochebed bore a son and kept him concealed for 3mos. When she could keep him hidden no longer, rather than deliver him to be killed, she set him in a marsh on the Nile River in a small craft of bulrushes coated in pitch.
Moses’ sister, Miriam, observed the tiny boat until the Pharaoh’s daughter came to bathe with her handmaidens. She spotted the baby in the basket and had her handmaiden fetch it for her. Miriam came forward and asked Pharaoh’s daughter whether she would like a Hebrew woman to nurse the baby.
Thereafter, Jochebed was employed as the child’s nurse. Moses grew up and was brought to Pharaoh’s daughter and became her son… and a younger brother to the future Pharaoh of Egypt.
Shepherd in Midian
After Moses had reached adulthood, he saw an Egyptian beating a Hebrew. Moses killed the Egyptian and buried his body in the sand. Moses soon discovered that the murder was known, and that Pharaoh was likely to put him to death for it. Moses fled from Egypt across the Sinai Peninsula.
Moses’ heart may have been right, but his behavior was all wrong. God had a better way and a better time planned for bringing about the deliverance of His people.
Moses still had some lessons to learn – lessons in humility and patience – before he would be ready for the huge task of leading God’s people out of Egyptian bondage and into the Promised Land.
It is admirable to want to serve God. But, it is never admirable to “run ahead of God”. We must wait until God is clearly leading.
Before you begin a new journey with God, seek out the counsel of older, wiser Christians. Spend much time in prayer. Make sure your motives are pure and that God has obviously directed you. Then serve with all your heart!
* We must do things God’s way in God’s timing.
In Midian, he stopped at a well where he protected 7 shepherdesses from a band of rude shepherds. The shepherdesses’ father, Hobab, adopted him as his son. Hobab gave his daughter, Zipporah, to Moses in marriage, and made him the superintendent of his herds.
Moses lived in Midian for 40yrs as a shepherd, during which time his son, Gershom, was born. One day, Moses led his flock to Mount Horeb (Ex. 3), usually identified with Mount Sinai. There he saw a bush that burned, but was not consumed. When Moses came to look more closely, God spoke to him from the bush, revealing his name to Moses.
Egypt: the Plagues and the Exodus
God commanded Moses to go to Egypt and deliver his fellow Hebrews from bondage. Moses made excuse after excuse as to why God should choose someone else. And, one by one, God shot his excuses down. To prove His power, God transformed Moses’ ordinary shepherd’s staff into an extraordinary tool of deliverance. It was as if God was saying, “Moses, I can do the same thing with your life. But, first, you have to quit making excuses. Then you have to trust me.”
God basically says the same thing to us. He has an exciting purpose for your life. He has amazing things He wants to help you accomplish. But, if you focus on your weaknesses, and cling to your doubt, you’ll never know anything beyond average… if that.
Let God work in you and through you… and those around you will be amazed at the results.
* If God has selected you for a ministry, no excuse will suffice.
On the way, Moses was nearly killed by God because his son was not circumcised. He was met on the way by his elder brother, Aaron, and gained a hearing with his oppressed kindred after they returned to Egypt, who believed Moses and Aaron after they saw the signs that were performed for them.
Moses and Aaron went to Pharaoh and told him the Lord God of Israel wanted Pharaoh to permit the Israelites to celebrate a feast in the wilderness. Moses had difficulties with speech, and, because of this, his brother would often do the talking for him. Pharaoh replied that he did not know their God, and would not permit them to go. They gained a second hearing with Pharaoh, and changed Moses’ rod into a serpent, but Pharaoh’s magicians did the same with their rods. Moses and Aaron met Pharaoh at the Nile riverbank, and Moses had Aaron turn the river to blood, but Pharaoh’s magicians could do the same.
Moses obtained a fourth meeting, and had Aaron bring frogs from the Nile to overrun Egypt, but Pharaoh’s magicians were able to do the same thing. Pharaoh asked Moses to remove the frogs and promised to let the Israelites go observe their feast in the wilderness in return… then Pharaoh decided against letting the Israelites go.
Eventually, after 10 plagues, Pharaoh let the Hebrews leave. The remaining plagues were gnats and flies; diseases on the Egyptians’ cattle, oxen, goats, sheep, camels, and horses; boils on the skins of Egyptians; fiery hail and thunder; locusts; total darkness; the slaying of the Egyptian male first-born children, whereupon such terror seized the Egyptians that they ordered the Hebrews to leave. The events are commemorated as Passover, referring to how the plague “passed over” the houses of the Israelites while smiting the Egyptians.
The Crossing of the Red Sea
Moses led his people eastward, beginning the long journey to Canaan. The procession moved slowly, and found it necessary to encamp 3 times before passing the Egyptian frontier. Meanwhile, Pharaoh had a change of heart, and was in pursuit of them with a large army.
Shut in between this army and the sea, the Israelites despaired, but Exodus records that God divided the waters so that they passed safely across on dry ground. When the Egyptian army attempted to follow, God permitted the waters to return upon them and drown them.
The people then continued to Marsa, marching for 3days along the wilderness of the Shur without finding water. They came to Elim, where they found 12 water springs. From Elim, they set out again… and after 45days they reached the wilderness of Sin between Elim and Sinai.
From there, they reached the plain of Rephidim, completing the crossing of the Red Sea.
The Years in the Wilderness
When the people arrived at Marah, the water was bitter, causing the people to murmur against Moses. Moses cast a tree into the water, and the water became sweet. Later in the journey, the people began running low on supplies and again murmured against Moses and Aaron, and said they would have preferred to die in Egypt. But, God’s provision of manna from the sky in the morning and quail in the evening took care of them. When the people camped in Rephidim, there was no water, so the people complained again and said, “Wherefore is this that thou hast brought us up out of Egypt, to kill us and our children and our cattle with thirst?” Moses struck a rock with his staff, and water came forth (Ex. 17:1-7).
Amalekites arrived, and attacked the Israelites. In response, Moses told Joshua to lead the men to fight, while he stood on a hill with the rod of God in his hand. As long as Moses held the rod up, Israel dominated the fighting, but, if Moses let down his hands, the tide of the battle turned in favor of the Amalekites. Because Moses was getting tired, Aaron and Hur had Moses sit on a rock; Aaron held up one arm, Hur held up the other arm, and the Israelites routed the Amalekites (Ex. 17:8-13).
Jethro, Moses’ father-in-law, came to see Moses and brought Moses’ wife and 2 sons with him. After Moses had told Jethro how the Israelites had escaped Egypt, Jethro went to offer sacrifices to the Lord, and then ate bread with the elders. The next day, Jethro observed how Moses sat from morning to night giving judgment for the people. Jethro suggested that Moses learn the art of delegation.
Mount Sinai and the Ten Commandments
According to the Bible, after crossing the Red Sea and leading the Israelites toward the desert, Moses was summoned by God to Mount Sinai, also referred to as Mount Horeb, the same place where Moses had first talked to the Burning Bush, tended the flocks of Jethro his father-in-law, and later produced water by striking the rock with his staff and directed the battle with the Amalekites.
Moses stayed on the mountain for 40days and nights, a period in which he received the 10 Commandments directly from God. Moses then descended from the mountain with intent to deliver the commandments to the people, but, upon his arrival, he saw that the people were involved in idolatry, worshiping a Golden Calf. In anger, Moses broke the commandment tablets, and ordered his own tribe (the Levites) to go through the camp and kill everyone, including family and friends, upon which the Levites killed about 3,000 people, some of whom were children.
God later commanded Moses to inscribe two other tablets, to replace the ones Moses smashed, so Moses went to the mountain again. When he returned, the commandments were finally given.
In Jewish tradition, Moses is referred to as “The Lawgiver” for this singular achievement of delivering the Ten Commandments.
In the last chapters of Exodus, the Tabernacle was constructed, the priestly law ordained, the plan of encampment arranged both for the Levites and the non-priestly tribes, and the Tabernacle consecrated.
Miriam and Aaron spoke against Moses on account of his marriage to an Ethiopian. Miriam was punished with leprosy for 7days.
Desert of Paran
The people left Hazeroth and pitched camp in the wilderness of Paran (Paran is a vaguely defined region in the northern part of the Sinai peninsula, just south of Canaan). Moses sent 12 spies into Canaan as scouts, including Caleb & Joshua.
After 40days, they returned to the Israelite camp, bringing back grapes and other produce as samples of the regions fertility. Although all the spies agreed that the land’s resources were spectacular, only 2 of the 12 spies (Joshua and Caleb) were willing to try to conquer it, and were nearly stoned for their unpopular opinion. The people began weeping and wanted to return to Egypt.
Moses turned down the opportunity to have the Israelites completely destroyed and a great nation made from his own offspring; instead, he told the people they would wander the wilderness for 40yrs until all those 20yrs or older – who had refused to enter Canaan – had died, and that their children would then enter and possess Canaan.
Early the next morning, the Israelites said they had sinned and now wanted to take possession of Canaan. Moses told them not to attempt it, but the Israelites chose to disobey Moses and invade Canaan… and were turned back by the Amalekites and Canaanites.
The Tribe of Reuben (led by Korah, Dathan, Abiram, and 250 Israelite princes) accused Moses and Aaron of raising themselves over the rest of the people. Moses told them to come the next morning with a censer for every man. Dathan and Abiram refused to come when summoned by Moses. So, Moses went to their tents… and after Moses spoke, the ground opened up and engulfed Dathan and Abiram’s tents, after which it closed again. Fire consumed the 250 men with the censers. Moses had the censers taken and made into plates to cover the altar.
The following day, the Israelites came and accused Moses and Aaron of having killed his fellow Israelites. The people were struck with a plague that killed 14,700 persons, and was ended only when Aaron went with his censer into the midst of the people (Num. 16).
To prevent further murmurings and settle the matter permanently, Moses had each of the chief princes of the non-Levitic tribes write his name on his staff and had them lay them in the sanctuary. He also had Aaron write his name on his staff and had it placed in the tabernacle. The next day, when Moses went into the tabernacle, Aaron’s staff had budded, blossomed, and yielded almonds (Num. 17:1-8).
Moses’ life illustrated that the price of leadership is often loneliness.
During the difficult times of leading the people through the wilderness, Moses faced opposition from the very people who should have been his closest allies.
Leadership is often lonely – and difficult – work. What leaders need to experience your support?
North into Canaan
After leaving Sinai, the Israelites camped in Kadesh. After more complaints from the Israelites, Moses struck the stone twice, and water gushed forth. But, because Moses and Aaron had not shown the Lord’s holiness (seeming to take credit for themselves), they were not permitted to enter the land to be given to the Israelites.
We can hardly blame Moses for getting fed up with this bunch of bellyachers. But, he let his anger and his pride get the better of him. Instead of speaking to the rock (as God told him to), he struck it with his staff… twice! As though it was by something special he could do… rather than making it clear it was a God-thing.
God’s judgment was immediate. For failing to obey, Moses & Aaron would not be able to enter the Promised Land.
Was this punishment harsh? Too extreme? No. It was a sobering reminder of the holiness of God and the ugliness of sin.
Moses was surely forgiven for his impulsive act… and was still used by God in a mighty way. But, this one incident changed the course of his life.
It is possible to do 1 thing… that might only take a second or 2… that you might regret for the rest of your life.
* God can blot out any sin, but He does not always eliminate the consequences of a sin.
Now ready to enter Canaan, the Israelites abandoned the idea of attacking the Canaanites head-on in Hebron, a city in the southern part of Canaan. Having been informed by spies that the Canaanites were too strong, it was decided they would flank Hebron by going farther East, around the Dead Sea. This required that they pass through Edom, Moab, and Ammon. These 3 tribes would harass them through their time wandering through – and close to – their territory.
Moses appointed Joshua, son of Nun, to succeed him as the leader of the Israelites (Num. 27:15-23).
Moses was warned that he would not be permitted to lead the Israelites across the Jordan river, because of his trespass at the waters of Meribah (Deut. 32:51), but would die on its eastern shores (Num. 20:12). So, he assembled the tribes, and delivered to them a parting address.
When Moses finished, he sang a song and pronounced a blessing on the people. He then went up Mount Nebo to the top of Pisgah, looked over the promised land of Israel spread out before him, and died, at the age of 120 (Deut. 34).
God Himself buried him in an unknown grave in a valley in the land of Moab, over against Bethpeor (Deut. 34:6).
More humble than any other man (Num. 12:3), he enjoyed unique privileges, for “there hath not arisen a prophet since in Israel like unto Moses, whom YHWH knew face to face” (Deut. 34:10).
You can read Moses’ story in Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers & Deuteronomy… and referenced all throughout the Bible.