I recently finished reading Exodus aloud to others. The experience of moving slowly, and discussing the events with others, changes the experiene. It’s hard to read Exodus aloud without pausing for the evil that Moses does, and God’s grace to him. Moses is a murderer, a disobedient sinner, a liar, a great killer – and somoene God runs after.
If there’s hope for Moses — as there was later for Peter and Paul — there’s hope for you.
Moses the Sinner
First, the slaying of the Egyptian:
Now it came to pass in those days, when Moses was grown, that he went out to his brethren and looked at their burdens. And he saw an Egyptian beating a Hebrew, one of his brethren. So he looked this way and that way, and when he saw no one, he killed the Egyptian and hid him in the sand. And when he went out the second day, behold, two Hebrew men were fighting, and he said to the one who did the wrong,
“Why are you striking your companion?”
Then he said,
“Who made you a prince and a judge over us? Do you intend to kill me as you killed the Egyptian?”
So Moses feared and said,
“Surely this thing is known!”
Exodus 2: 11-14
Then, when God gives Moses specific directions for speaking to Pharoah, including enlisting the elders of Israel, Moses totally ignores the direction.
Go and gather the elders of Israel together, and say to them,
‘The LORD God of your fathers, the God of Abraham, of Isaac, and of Jacob, appeared to me, saying,
“I have surely visited you and seen what is done to you in Egypt; and I have said I will bring you up out of the affliction of Egypt to the land of the Canaanites and the Hittites and the Amorites and the Perizzites and the Hivites and the Jebusites, to a land flowing with milk and honey.”’
Then they will heed your voice; and you shall come, you and the elders of Israel, to the king of Egypt; and you shall say to him, ‘The LORD God of the Hebrews has met with us; and now, please, let us go three days’ journey into the wilderness, that we may sacrifice to the LORD our God.’
No Joseph-like wisdom from Joseph. No obedience. Moses promptly ignores all this, and instead issues a flat demand, leading to the most sympathetic question out of Pharoah in the entire narrative (for being in the same state of ignorance – not knowing the name of the LORD – that Moses was in just pages ago!)
Afterward Moses and Aaron went in and told Pharaoh,
“Thus says the LORD God of Israel:
‘Let My people go, that they may hold a feast to Me in the wilderness.’”
And Pharaoh said,
“Who is the LORD, that I should obey His voice to let Israel go? I do not know the LORD, nor will I let Israel go.”
And then, a grave error, clear from the literary type. Throughout Genesis and other biblical narratives, a clear pattern is the reliability of a witness is established by one character saying something, and another character repeating it. More reliable characters repeat more closely.
Yet, following the Golden Calf episode, Moses “reports” words from God that have no basis in the story, which Scripture does not imply God said, and orders an execution of Israelites that fulfills the words of the witnesses from early in the story, “Do you intend to kill me as you killed the Egyptian?”:
Now when Moses saw that the people were unrestrained (for Aaron had not restrained them, to their shame among their enemies), then Moses stood in the entrance of the camp, and said, “Whoever is on the LORD’s side—come to me!”
And all the sons of Levi gathered themselves together to him. And he said to them,
“Thus says the LORD God of Israel:
‘Let every man put his sword on his side, and go in and out from entrance to entrance throughout the camp, and let every man kill his brother, every man his companion, and every man his neighbor.’”
So the sons of Levi did according to the word of Moses. And about three thousand men of the people fell that day.
The Sons of Levi follow the word of Moses, not identified as the Word of God, and massacre their fellows.
Not surprisingly this scene is juxtaposed with Moses literally breaking the words of God:
So it was, as soon as he came near the camp, that he saw the calf and the dancing. So Moses’ anger became hot, and he cast the tablets out of his hands and broke them at the foot of the mountain.
Understandably, God is frustrated with Moses, which is to say Moses is frustrated with God:
So the anger of the LORD was kindled against Moses, and He said:
“Is not Aaron the Levite your brother? I know that he can speak well. And look, he is also coming out to meet you. When he sees you, he will be glad in his heart.”
And God appears to Moses in the same odd way – face-to-face, as a friend, but somehow not recognizable – to Moses…
So the LORD spoke to Moses face to face, as a man speaks to his friend. And he would return to the camp, but his servant Joshua the son of Nun, a young man, did not depart from the tabernacle…
So the LORD said to Moses,
“I will also do this thing that you have spoken; for you have found grace in My sight, and I know you by name.”
And he said,
“Please, show me Your glory.”
Then He said,
“I will make all My goodness pass before you, and I will proclaim the name of the LORD before you. I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and I will have compassion on whom I will have compassion.”
But He said,
“You cannot see My face; for no man shall see Me, and live.”
And the LORD said,
“Here is a place by Me, and you shall stand on the rock. So it shall be, while My glory passes by, that I will put you in the cleft of the rock, and will cover you with My hand while I pass by. Then I will take away My hand, and you shall see My back; but My face shall not be seen.”
as He does later on…
Then He said to them,
“O foolish ones, and slow of heart to believe in all that the prophets have spoken! Ought not the Christ to have suffered these things and to enter into His glory?”
And beginning at Moses and all the Prophets, He expounded to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning Himself.
Then they drew near to the village where they were going, and He indicated that He would have gone farther. But they constrained Him, saying,
“Abide with us, for it is toward evening, and the day is far spent.”
And He went in to stay with them.
Now it came to pass, as He sat at the table with them, that He took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to them. Then their eyes were opened and they knew Him; and He vanished from their sight.
How can we square this? Can we make sense of Moses, so foolish and slow of hearts and with difficulty believing even his own words? That Moses, like the disciples on the road to Emmaus, could somehow not see the face they clearly see?
What began with Moses continued through Emmaus. Not that we are hnow being taken in the same glory that took Christ bodily into heaven, but that God is here with us while we journey. As the lesson of Genesis is repentance, the lesson of Exodus is God’s patience with us.
Then the cloud covered the tabernacle of meeting, and the glory of the LORD filled the tabernacle. And Moses was not able to enter the tabernacle of meeting, because the cloud rested above it, and the glory of the LORD filled the tabernacle. Whenever the cloud was taken up from above the tabernacle, the children of Israel would go onward in all their journeys. But if the cloud was not taken up, then they did not journey till the day that it was taken up. For the cloud of the LORD was above the tabernacle by day, and fire was over it by night, in the sight of all the house of Israel, throughout all their journeys.
Moses the Glorified Man
The drama of Moses in this life continues. Moses, like Walter White, continues to do evil. Yet, it seems Moses did see the Lord again, face to face, and others who lived after him too:
Now after six days Jesus took Peter, James, and John his brother, led them up on a high mountain by themselves; and He was transfigured before them. His face shone like the sun, and His clothes became as white as the light. And behold, Moses and Elijah appeared to them, talking with Him. Then Peter answered and said to Jesus,
“Lord, it is good for us to be here; if You wish, let us make here three tabernacles: one for You, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.”
If God walked with Moses through his life and after his death, there is hope for me and you too.