The Five Books of the Torah.
These first five books of the Old Testament are called the Torah, or the Law. They contain the story of the Chosen People from the beginning of time to the banks of the Jordan River and the eve of entrance into the Promised Land. The story is told in Genesis, part of Exodus, and part of Numbers. Leviticus is a book of laws and rituals. Deuteronomy is a development of the Law, written in the time of Jeremiah. These five books, the Torah, were the most sacred part of Israel's story about its origins and goals.
Genesis - the story of beginnings.
Exodus - the story of deliverance.
Leviticus - the story of ritual & sacrifice.
Numbers - the story of deliverance, continues.
Deuteronomy - the story of the Covenant renewed.
Scattered through the Books of Exodus and Numbers are many laws and customs of a much later date. They are interlaced with the founding facts of the people in order to give the legislation more meaning and force. I want to stress one point, the City of Refuge.
This “Cities of Refuge” refer to the safety islands in the midst of the country. The idea was that anyone who got into trouble with the Law could flee to one of these cities and claim the right of refuge until his case could be heard in court. Once the pursued person reached a “City of Refuge,” he/she was safe until the trial took place. There were six of these cities and they were spaced strategically on both sides of the Jordan to make it possible to reach them in time of peril and pursuit.
EXODUS. LEVITICUS. NUMBERS. DEUTERONOMY
THE MOSES STORY.
“Look Across River But Don’t Enter!” (Moses was once a Basket Case)
We left the Hebrews at the end of Genesis. They were about 70-strong and living in Egypt as a separate group. They were favored by the Egyptian Pharaoh because they were “Hyksos,” or foreigners, and because JOSEPH, one of their members by his foresight and advice, had put Egypt in front of the world materially.
Now Joseph was dead. The favorable Pharaohs were ousted from power and the native Egyptians took over again. They were willing to let the foreigners stay in Egypt but as slaves or servants. The Hebrews continued to increase, so the midwives were ordered to kill all Hebrew boys at birth. The girls could be kept alive.
Hebrew Baby Saved by Princess!
One Hebrew lady of the tribe of Levi had given birth to a boy and succeeded in keeping him hidden for three months. At the end of that time, she made a water-tight basket and put the baby on the river’s edge among the reeds.
The Pharaoh’s daughter came down to the river each day to bathe and swim. She saw the basket and had her maid bring it to her. When they opened the basket. there was this smiling Hebrew baby boy. The baby’s sister, Miriam, had been watching and quickly ran up and asked the Princess if she wanted a nurse for the baby. The Princess said “yes,” so Miriam ran home and fetched her mother - also the mother of the baby.
Moses was raised by his own mother until he was able to live on his own. Then he was brought to the Princess and raised in the Pharaoh’s own household and was given the name, Moses. This is interpreted as coming from the Hebrew which means “Drawn Out” because the child was taken out of the water and saved.
The Egyptian word “mosis” means “son of” and is used in many Egyptian names. This could have been the origin of Moses’ name since he had lived in the Egyptian court so long.
Egyptian Nomad defends Shepherd Sisters!
Moses grew up and decided to visit his fellow Hebrews who were so terribly oppressed in their slavery. While Moses was there, he saw an Egyptian strike and kill a Hebrew. Moses killed the Egyptian. The next day, he saw two Hebrews fighting and he intervened again. They lashed out at him. “Who appointed you prince and judge over us? Are you going to kill us as you killed the Egyptian?”
Moses was suddenly scared. His deed would soon become common knowledge and his life would be in jeopardy. He took off for the desert and sat down at an oasis to rest and think.
While he sat there thinking, seven young girls approached. They were the daughters of a priest of Midian. They took care of their father’s sheep. They came to the well to water the sheep, but the men kept driving them away. Moses rose to the occasion and watered the sheep. The daughters got home early that day, and their father wanted to know what happened. They explained what this Egyptian had done for them and Moses was invited to live with the family. Moses married one of the daughters and the next stage in the story is set.
Moses was taking care of his father-in-law’s sheep when he saw a bush that was on fire but was not being consumed. He drew up close to the bush and God spoke to him from the middle of the bush: “Moses, come no closer. Take off your shoes, for the place on which you stand is holy ground. I am the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.”
Then God told Moses how he was watching over the terrible condition of his people, the Hebrews, in their slave condition in Egypt. God had picked Moses as his ambassador. He was to go to the Pharaoh and tell him to let the Hebrews go.
Moses was really shaken by this formidable task. He started to raise objections. Moses said, “I am to go to this people and say, ‘the God of your fathers sent me to you’. They will ask me for your name and I don’t even know your name.”
God revealed his name to Moses. It is the name, “Yahweh,” which comes from the verb “to be" and is in the causative form. Therefore it means: “He who causes all things to be!”
Yahweh gave Moses the mission to convince the Hebrews that they were to leave the land of Egypt and go through a desert until they came to a rich land flowing with milk and honey. After Moses had convinced the Hebrews, he was to tell Pharaoh to let the people go.
Yahweh said he knew that the Pharaoh would take some convincing so he would show him a bit of power through Moses. The people were not to leave empty-handed. They were to take all they could carry by way of food, possessions and wealth.
Moses was hesitant and afraid and he said so. So Yahweh gave him some signs. He told Moses to toss his staff on the ground. It turned into a serpent. Then Yahweh told him to take the serpent by the tail and it turned into his staff again.
Moses was still not convinced so Yahweh told him to put his hand into his cloak. Moses pulled his hand out and it was covered with leprosy. Yahweh told him to put his hand in again. He pulled it out and it was all healed.
Moses should have been convinced but he brought up the fact that he had a speech impediment, a sort of stutter. Yahweh got peeved. Yahweh said he would guide him in what he is to say. Moses now bluntly says, “Get somebody else. I don’t want the job.”
Yahweh became angry at the hesitancy and cowardice of Moses. He told him Aaron, his brother, could go along as spokesman but Moses was to lead the mission and tell Aaron what to do. Yahweh would accept no excuses.
Moses set out for Egypt with his family. Aaron, his brother, came out to meet him. Moses told him what he intended to do and they gathered the elders of Israel and told them what was to happen. The news was received with joy.
Then Moses and Aaron went to the Pharaoh. They told him that he is to allow the Hebrews to take a three day trip into the desert to celebrate a feast. Pharaoh was amazed that they would even make the request. He saw what would happen to his work force. So rather than comply with the request, he doubled the burden of the Hebrews. The Egyptian masters became even meaner in their contacts with the Hebrews. The Hebrews changed their opinion of Moses and Aaron and their plot, and told them to get lost.
Now Yahweh took over with a bit of his persuasive powers. They did the staff-serpent routine. The magicians of the Pharaoh did the same thing except that the serpent of Moses consumed the serpents of the Egyptians. Pharaoh was not convinced.
Then the plagues started. As these stories are told, the reader should remember that all of these plagues are natural to Egypt and most of them happen in varying degrees each year. The plagues did not touch the Hebrews because they lived in the land of Goshen which was off the main track.
The first plague was that the waters of the Nile turned red so that they looked like blood. The natural phenomenon is high water and the introduction of a red clay into the river from upstream. Then came the frogs, followed by the mosquitoes, and the flies. Then some kind of cholera hits the animals of the Egyptians and they were wiped out. This was followed by boils or sores, hail, locusts, and then the darkness of the sirocco - -the desert wind that brings the heavy sandstorm.
After each of these happenings, Pharaoh would change his mind and keep the slaves. Finally, he told Moses and Aaron to get out and never come into his presence again. Moses agreed but there would be one last plague. This was the death of the first-born in the Egyptian families. This meant that the family names would die out.
The first born of the Hebrews would not be touched. This was the origin of the Passover: the angel of death passed over the houses of the Israelites and touched down on the Egyptians. The ritual of Unleavened Bread for a quick departure was inaugurated and the Israelites left. They took with them all the possessions they could carry. The Egyptians urged the Israelites to leave as fast as they could.
As a guide, the Israelites had their “pillar of cloud” by day and their “pillar of fire” by night. This pillar was Moses. He was well prepared for the task because he had lived in this desert for years and herded sheep. He knew all the waterholes and places to rest.
The Israelites set out. They came to the Sea of Reeds. Pharaoh's army was in hot pursuit. The crossing looked impossible. Immediately the people turned on Moses and blamed him for their worsened condition. Once again, the weather played a big part. The Sirocco was blowing and the Sea of Reeds was dried up. The Israelites crossed easily. However, by the time the Pharaoh got his army and all their equipment in the Sea, the winds stopped, the waters came back together, and the army of Pharaoh was drowned.
The victory song was sung, fortunately. Their tune would soon be changed to a dirge. They complained against Moses and Yahweh. Where would they get food? If they had taken the regular highway north, they would have come to towns and people. Moses led them south through the desert where he knew they would get food.
There are acacia trees or bushes through the area. Small insects feed on the leaves of the acacias and produce a type of dropping that is sweet and nutritious. The people saw it and gathered it early each morning. As soon as the sun was up, this food evaporated. The people said “Man-hou.” In Hebrew this means, “What is this?” Gradually, the name “manna” was drawn from these two words.
Secondly, they had an abundant supply of meat from the migrating quail. There were so many, and they were so tired from their long flights, that people could pick them up at will. So the provision of food for this large crowd was easily answered.
However, they were living out in the desert as nomads. They were constantly on the move and life was not as pleasant as it had been in Egypt, even though they were slaves. One of the major needs in that desert was a water supply. They were leading a nomadic life but they had a definite destination. The trek through the desert was only a time to get them shaped into some kind of unity as a people.
Moses was told to go to a certain rock. He was to strike the rock with his staff and water would flow abundantly. He did as he was told and the water came. Was this some kind of special miracle or was there a natural phenomenon that could help? Remember, Moses had spent years in that desert taking care of sheep. He had to know how to get water for them. It was also a known fact that in much of the desert land, the water table was only a few feet under the surface. It was only necessary to know how to reach it. I would hold that Moses supplied the water by knowing how to reach it in the desert.
One suggestion was that Moses used a divining rod and ‘dowsed” the ground. We are told he used his stick. We know that this practice of dowsing is common in the world, even today. The stick is used to find water whether it is a new well or a water line that has to be dug up.
There were many other groups of nomads in the desert. These people were not friendly and if they thought victory was possible, they would not hesitate to attack. One hostile group was the Amalekites. Moses appointed Joshua the military leader and sent him out with a group of Israelite warriors.
Moses extended his arms in prayer and the Israelites were winning. Moses got tired holding his arms in the prayer position so he dropped them. Immediately, the Amalekites started pushing the Israelites back. Moses got his arms up again and the Israelites went on to win again. To make a long story short, Moses had to be propped up. They got a large stone and made it a sort of throne. Then Aaron and Hur stood under his arms and held them up for the rest of the day. The Israelites came back with the victory and they entered it in the book.
Jethro, Moses' father-in-law, came out to meet them. Moses told him all that happened in Egypt and how they had made the Pharaoh back off. Jethro was very happy and praised Yahweh. He offered sacrifices to Yahweh. Aaron and all the elders of Israel took part in the banquet.
Jethro also noted that Moses was wearing himself thin just trying to adjudicate all the problems that came up in such a crowd. His suggestion to Moses was accepted. Moses appointed various judges and they took care of all the little problems and disputes so that Moses could concentrate on the work of leader.
The Israelites had been in the desert long enough to have the rough edges smoothed down a bit. Now they had to be formed into a real people. For this they needed law. Since they were to be the special people of Yahweh, their law had to come from him in some way.
Moses was chosen as intercessor and lawgiver. He was to go up on top of Mt. Sinai which was a mountain chain. The highest peak, called the Jebel Musa - the Mountain of Moses, is about 8000 feet high. Moses went up to the top of this mountain and was met there by Yahweh in the midst of a mountain storm of thunder, lightning, and rain.
Moses received the basic Law that was to govern the Israelites all their lives. This same Law was accepted and updated by Jesus Christ and made into the New Law. We call it the Ten Commandments. How they are divided is sometimes disputed but the content is always the same.
These Ten Commandments are divided into One and Nine:
The First Commandment is all about Yahweh. It stresses who he is and the mission of salvation that he performed in Egypt to free his people from slavery. They are never to have any other gods or idols.
Commandments Two to Ten list various duties and obligations that flow from this divine presence in the lives of the people.
The Name: God’s name is always revered and honored. It is never to be misused, especially by connecting it with any false gods.
The Time: All time is holy and is a gift of Yahweh. People are accountable to him for all the time allotted them. Labor is essential but there is always to be a day of Rest-the Sabbath.
The Home: Children must show honor, respect, and obedience to their parents. The parents must live in such a way as to deserve them.
Life: All life is sacred and belongs to God. It must not be wasted uselessly.
Love: Love must be held sacred especially as the foundation of a solid and permanent marriage.
Property: The property rights of all people are to be respected. Any violation is a crime.
Reputation: A good reputation is a person’s greatest asset and must be respected by everyone.
Desires: Not only are actions important, but all internal desires, even if unknown to others, must be in line with the ideas and ideals of Yahweh.
As you can see, this is a solid foundation of all law and all aspects of human life. Moses was at the top of the mountain for quite a while. He came down finally with the two stone tablets on which these basic laws were carved.
Additional information about the Ten Commandments:
TEN STEP PROGRAM TO LIFE. TEN PILLARS OF LIFE.
(Ten Commandments rewritten)
1. God is the goal and the center of life.
2. Brotherhood of man must do nothing to disgrace the good name of the Fatherhood of God.
3. All of time is a loan to be used in a productive creative way.
4. The home is the foundation of society. Parents should deserve and receive respect and obedience. Children should be helped to develop their potential.
5. All of life is sacred and must be respected.
6. Love is the foundation of growth. All love must respect the individual person.
7. Property rights are essential to the individual and society. They must always be respected.
8. A good reputation is the foundation of a person’s self-worth and dignity.
9. Lustful desires are a violation of the other person’s dignity.
10. Envy and jealousy over another person’s property is self-destructive. It takes the enjoyment of possessions out of the life of the envious person.
Note about Ten Commandments and Jesus of New Testament:
Jesus put this positive slant to the Ten Commandments and reduced them all to the commandment of Love in St. John’s Gospel. In fact he says, "Anybody who says he loves God whom he cannot see and does not love his neighbor whom he can see, is a liar." (1 J. 4:20; J.)
Meanwhile, the people thought that Moses had died on the mountain and would not be returning. They went to Aaron, the brother of Moses, and demanded that he make them a god or idol that they could worship.
Aaron realized this was contrary to the plan of Yahweh. But Aaron and Miriam, Moses’s sister, went along with the people. Aaron had them bring all their gold jewelry. He melted all the gold down and then made a golden calf. He set this up and the people were carrying on with the fertility cults in honor of the golden calf.
In the midst of orgies, Moses came down the mountain into the camp. He saw what was happening. Moses was so angry he threw the tablets down and smashed them. He told the people how wrong they had been. They admitted their sins and asked Moses to intercede. The Levites distinguished themselves in the defense of Yahweh and were rewarded by becoming the priestly tribe. Joshua is the special servant of Moses.
Moses felt that he should be able to see Yahweh to give him more authority with the people. Yahweh said this was impossible. No one can look on his face and live. However, Moses was to stand in a cleft in the rock. Yahweh would pass by. He would put his hand over the face of Moses until he had passed. Then he would remove his hand and Moses would be able to see him from behind.
The failure of the people was forgiven but the adults who left Egypt would not enter the Promised Land. This included Aaron and Miriam. They would wander in the desert until they had all died and the new generation would be led into the Land. But the troubles and rebellion were not finished yet.
The Israelites came to the Promised Land. They couldn’t just barge in without some reconnaissance so twelve scouts or spies were picked, one from each tribe. Joshua was one of these men.
After forty days, the scouts returned. They agreed that the land was definitely flowing with all riches. It was a beautiful land but even with the help of Yahweh they could not take it. Such was the report of the scouts, except for Caleb and Joshua. They agreed it would be work but with the help of Yahweh they could win.
Another rebellion of the people follows. They heard the reports of the scouts and were convinced Moses had led them on a useless chase and they would perish in the desert. So their old rallying cry came up again: Better a slave in Egypt and eat, than a free man in the desert and starve.
Moses interceded and Yahweh forgave again. However the people decided that Moses was not the leader for them. They decided to go into the Promised Land on their own. They made their start but the native warriors soon made them turn tail and head back to the camp of Moses.
Even the best of leaders can lose courage. Moses had been afraid of the leadership from the start. Now the question of water came up again. Moses was told to strike the rock. He struck it twice because he was afraid and doubted. The water flows but Yahweh told Moses that he would not lead the people into the Promised Land because of this doubt.
Aaron died and Moses appointed his son, Eleazar, to take his place. The people rebelled again and this time they were attacked by a fiery or stinging serpent. Moses made a bronze snake and put it on his staff. He held the staff aloft and all who looked on the serpent and repented and believed were cured of the poisonous bite.
Balaam and His Talking Donkey.
Balaam and his talking donkey came into the picture next. The king of Moab heard all the stories of people defeated in the face of these Hebrews. He went to Balaam, a seer noted for his curses. He asked him to curse the Israelites to assure victory for the Moabites.
Balaam mounted his donkey and started his trip to meet the Hebrews. On the road, an angel (messenger) invisible to Balaam, was seen by the donkey. The donkey shied away from the path and Balaam drove him back. Finally, the donkey had had enough of the beatings and he talked back to Balaam. Then Balaam saw the angel with drawn sword and he was told that if the donkey had not stopped, Balaam would be just a part of the road kill lying in the desert.
Balaam went out to face the Hebrews and curse them for Balak. Instead of a curse, a blessing flowed from his lips. Balak was incensed at this turn of events. Balaam tried again with the same results. He blessed these enemies of Balak. Balak told Balaam he was fired but Balaam said he would give him the last blessing for free.
Finally, Moses had reached the end of his life. In a way, it was rather sad and yet it brought out the justice of Yahweh in a special way. Moses had problems with his mission right from the start. He wanted to get out of it but Yahweh insisted. Yahweh was with Moses every step of the way and constantly showered him with evidence of his power and protection. In spite of this, Moses let his anger against the stubbornness of the people lead him to doubt the power of Yahweh.
Moses Transfers Leadership to Joshua.
Moses was to die but before he died he signified that his leadership and power were to transfer to the shoulders of Joshua, his aide-de-camp. Then Moses died.
Conclusion to the Moses Story.
This concludes the Moses Story. Moses, Aaron, and Miriam have all died. The people who left the slavery of Egypt were all dead. The new generation was on the threshold of the Promised Land. Their leader was Joshua, the aide of Moses.
Additional Information on Importance of Moses as Continued by Jesus and Recorded in the New Testament:
The story of Moses constantly stressed one point about him. Everything that preceded him in the story of creation and the patriarchal times pointed to Moses and his mission. Everything after Moses, in all the rest of the literature, looked back to Moses. The prophets were men who constantly explained and applied the Law given by Moses.
Jesus arrived. He continued the work of Moses in a new sense. He saw how this preparation was to be fulfilled in his time and by his followers. Jesus was presented as the New Moses in Matthew’s Gospel. Jesus showed the Kingdom of the Heavens in all its aspects as the goal of the Exodus. Jesus presented the new Sermon on the Mount. He promised true happiness in this life and the next on the condition that people lived by his ideas and ideals.
The Old Moses did not succeed because the people would not obey. Jesus promised success but it too was based on obedience. But his approach was not the condemnation of the whole people. Only the guilty would be punished and excluded from the Kingdom in its fulness. Each person would decide his/her salvation individually.