You cannot know the Moses of the Old Testament without full knowledge of what the New Testament states about him. Most scholars and many people think that Moses was a Jew and that he was their leader. But Moses was not Jewish. A Jew is a member of the tribe of Judah. Judah was the fourth son of Jacob and Leah. Moses was a descendant of Levi, the third son of Jacob and Leah. Moses should be known as a Levite.
God chose Levi to be the patriarch of Israel’s priesthood and temple caretakers called Levites (Exodus 6:16-20; Malachi 2:1, 4-6). Israel’s high priests came from the line of Aaron, Moses’s older brother. Why did the Eternal God choose a man from a priestly family to lead all 12 tribes of Israel out of Egypt? And why did He dramatically work through this same man to weld the populous tribes into His own confederacy with an international globe-girdling purpose? We must see the lofty berth God gave Moses—His loyal and devoted servant—when building Israel’s leadership team.
Slaves At Birth
In contrast to the heights to which God would elevate him, Moses began life in the hardest and most humble way. His parents were oppressed slaves. Moses was born a slave. God wants us to know that for good reason.
That Moses started life as the child of impoverished, oppressed slaves has not impressed a lot of people including some influential and scholarly Jews.
Jonathan Kirsch’s observation of rabbinic commentary in his book Moses: A Life is a fair one. The sages’ extra-biblical legends meant to dress up Moses’s birth as a slave—obviously concocted—have done much damage to the history and reputation of Moses. Fables have not helped to make his life more believable or appealing. For many professing Christians today, Moses is a myth—his life holds no relevance for them. However, Jesus Christ disagrees with that thinking. Speaking to the faithless religious of His day, He said: “Do not think that I will accuse you to the Father: there is one that accuseth you, even Moses, in whom ye trust. For had ye believed Moses, ye would have believed me: for he wrote of me. But if ye believe not his writings, how shall ye believe my words” (John 5:45-47). If you believe Jesus Christ, you must accept that Moses is no myth. Essentially he is still living through the scriptures Christ inspired him to write thousands of years ago. Christ held great respect for this man. Though centuries apart, the lives of Moses and Jesus Christ are intimately tied together. How much respect do you hold for Moses? He is one of the most important forerunners, or types, of Christ. His personal spiritual experiences can help us tremendously in coming to grips with our own.
Here is a point Bible scholars—Jewish and Christian—do not understand: God does not think like men when He chooses a leader. Rarely does God select well-chiseled, white-marble-like action figures for leadership. (Samson could be considered one exception.) Normally God goes to the slave pits, the country farms, or the not-so-famous cities to find His chosen men and people. God’s Church is living proof of this fact. Study 1 Corinthians 1:26-29. Paul informs us that God has not called many mighty, noble or wise to be His people. True Christians should never be embarrassed that Moses was born a slave. Why? Essentially we too were enslaved to sin until our conversion (Romans 6:16-18).
All true Christians should be able to readily recognize that each one of us was enslaved to Satan (a type of Pharaoh) and hopelessly trapped in his world (a type of Egypt) prior to being called by God (Ephesians 2:2; Colossians 1:13). We are reminded of these foundational truths every year during the spring holy days. Let’s go one step further. Can we stretch our thinking to see that we share Moses’s experience as a slave? Can we get excited about the fact that Jesus Christ wants to bring us out of slavery so we can help Him rule His Kingdom?
Humble In Heart
Why could God use a slave-child like Moses? There was one noble quality in Moses’s character that He highly valued and needed in order to accomplish His Work through this man. “(Now the man Moses was very meek, above all the men which were upon the face of the earth.)” (Numbers 12:3). Many Bible scholars scoff at this scribal addition. It was most likely Ezra who added it—but God inspired it (2 Timothy 3:16). God gave Moses incredible authority because he was meeker than any man or woman on Earth at that time—especially Aaron and Miriam, who so brazenly spoke against their brother (Numbers 12:1). Commentators are still fearless in tearing Moses apart.
“Moses appeared as a humble shepherd in the biblical scene where he first encountered God, and the Bible praises his mildness and modesty,” writes Kirsch. “Yet the mild-mannered Moses was already a man-killer—he had murdered an Egyptian taskmaster in cold blood—and he would kill again with much greater ruthlessness and in vastly greater numbers.” Surely we can see that this Bible scholar despises the Bible and Moses. His book was a national bestseller, so it is obvious that many people agree with him.
Was Moses a ruthless, bloodthirsty murderer? Many Bible experts like Kirsch interpret scriptural passages through their own deluded thinking. In the above quote, Kirsch refers to the time when Moses observed a Hebrew slave being beaten by an Egyptian taskmaster. The spin he puts on Exodus 2:11-12 is totally off the mark. Look at the passage with an open mind. “And it came to pass in those days, when Moses was grown [he was about 40 years old], that he went out unto his brethren, and looked on their burdens: and he spied an Egyptian smiting an Hebrew, one of his brethren. And he looked this way and that way, and when he saw that there was no man, he slew the Egyptian, and hid him in the sand.”
Kirsch and commentators like him believe that Moses knowingly and willfully committed a senseless act of murder. Kirsch reads this passage as if there were only three people present on the scene: Moses, the taskmaster and the slave. So, Kirsch reasons, when Moses saw there was no man—no witness—he violently murdered the Egyptian. There is another way to look at these verses.
Defender of the Oppressed
Think about what was actually happening. Moses obviously knew that the Hebrew slaves were his kinsmen. Although this verse does not say why, he was motivated to check up on them. He went to a location to observe them doing their work. Could it be that God put it in his heart to do so?
We can safely speculate that there were more than three people present at the scene—in fact, there was likely a group of Hebrews there (Exodus 2:11). While watching the slaves at work, he noticed an Egyptian “smiting” a slave. This English word is translated from the Hebrew word naka. The word can mean to strike lightly. Can you imagine an Egyptian taskmaster lightly striking a slave. Naka can also mean to beat, kill and slaughter. This is likely what Moses saw—one of his countrymen being brutally murdered in broad daylight.
What would you do if you were Moses? The historically minded Stephen gives us the correct view.
“And when he was full forty years old, it came into his heart to visit his brethren the children of Israel. And seeing one of them suffer wrong, he defended him, and avenged him that was oppressed, and smote the Egyptian: For he supposed his brethren would have understood how that God by his hand would deliver them: but they understood not” (Acts 7:23-25). Moses witnessed a great injustice—a Hebrew slave was being murdered at the capricious whim of a violence-hardened Egyptian goon. No one came to this slave’s defense. Could it be that’s why Moses looked “this way and that way”? There was no “man” coming forward to help a slave mate. This lack of zeal to save another is symptomatic of the human degeneration caused by slavery. Stephen tells us that Moses was willing to step up to defend and avenge the wrong done to another Israelite.
Unfortunately, Moses did kill the Egyptian. He also hid the Egyptian’s body in the sand (Exodus 2:12). Did he bury the body to hide his crime like some psychopathic serial killer? What shallow reasoning. Killing the Egyptian was more likely an impulsive act of passion. Moses witnessed a grave injustice inflicted on a work-weary Hebrew and jumped in to save the life of a defenseless slave. God is Moses’s final judge on the death of the Egyptian. However, this much we do know: Moses may have been meek, but he was not weak.
In verse 14, when Moses recognized that his defense of the hopeless Hebrew was being talked about in the slave pits, he feared for his life. He knew Pharaoh will see it as a crime against Egypt and execute him for killing the Egyptian. Out of natural self-preservation, he flees Egypt (verse 15).
Think about what Stephen also tells us about him: “And Moses was learned in all the wisdom of the Egyptians, and was mighty in words and in deeds” (Acts 7:22). Moses was a well-educated and physically strong individual. God was preparing Moses for an epochal mission, not only to save but also to advance Israel—just like the patriarch Joseph. The big difference was that Joseph, the son of a wealthy sheepherder, was prepared in Egypt as a slave, while Moses, born a slave in Egypt, was trained as a prince of Egypt.
God made sure Moses was taught bountiful wisdom. It is also clear that he had been taught a strong sense of justice and self-sacrifice. Moses was willing to put himself at risk to help God’s oppressed people. He was the opposite of Cain. Moses was his “brother’s keeper” (Genesis 4:9).
The Reproach of Christ
“By faith Moses, when he was come to years, refused to be called the son of Pharaoh’s daughter; Choosing rather to suffer affliction with the people of God, than to enjoy the pleasures of sin for a season; Esteeming the reproach of Christ greater riches than the treasures in Egypt: for he had respect unto the recompense of the reward,” wrote Paul about this period in Moses’s life (Hebrews 11:24-26). Paul tells us that Moses rejected his life as a prince of Egypt. No longer would he be called the son of Pharaoh’s daughter. He was a Hebrew, and defending the abused slave identified him as such. Moses was ready to return to his roots and suffer the afflictions of a slave. God was working with Moses who committed himself to that preparation.
Like all true Christians, Moses forsook Egypt—or as Paul poetically puts it, “the pleasures of sin.” Egypt no longer interested Moses. He was shown something of far greater value—the “reproach of Christ.” What does this phrase mean? It’s actually a positive phrase with tremendous meaning; however, the reproach of Christ also involves personal suffering—at times, intense suffering. To complete his commission, Moses would have to suffer the way Christ did. Moses did not fear reproach.
Moses had been taught all the knowledge and wisdom of Egypt. We can be sure that knowledge was impressive and very necessary for Moses’s commission. If the education Moses received in Egypt were unnecessary, God would not have worked the stupendous miracles to move Moses from the slave pit to the Egyptian palace. As a Hebrew baby boy, he was marked for certain death—not for a lofty education. Our God is a God of miracles. It was totally unnatural for an Egyptian princess and pharaoh to accept a Hebrew boy into the highest level of Egyptian society. Only God could make that happen.
When God began to call Moses, he resisted at first (Exodus 3 and 4). Like other great men of the Bible, Moses eventually surrendered to the job God wanted him to do—leading His people out of Egypt. When Moses was finally converted, God opened his mind to additional, stupendous knowledge he could never have received in Egypt’s schools. God showed Moses the hope of the gospel of Christ, which is the establishment of the Kingdom of God on Earth and man’s potential inheritance in that glorious kingdom. Moses understood that the renown of the Kingdom of God would far surpass the rotting luster of the Egyptian world. Moses wanted to be in God’s Kingdom. Egypt was nothing in comparison. Yet Moses recognized that he would pay a price for rejecting Egypt.
Few Christians understand what the “reproach of Christ” means for them personally. Jesus Christ, who also had to reject sin and Egypt (Matthew 2:15; Hosea 11:1), knew what it meant for His own life. He tried to explain it to His disciples. “Behold, we go up to Jerusalem; and the Son of man shall be betrayed unto the chief priests and unto the scribes, and they shall condemn him to death, And shall deliver him to the Gentiles to mock, and to scourge, and to crucify him: and the third day he shall rise again” (Matthew 20:18-19). Yet the disciples did not understand what He meant until after His resurrection (Mark 9:30-32). Peter rebuked Christ for even saying such things (Matthew 16:21-22).
Embrace the Reproach
We review the details of Christ’s reproach in our Passover service each year. Yet it is too easy to forget Christ’s suffering within weeks of the Passover. Periodically it is good to review Psalm 22, Isaiah 52:13-15, chapter 53 and similar scriptures. Christ suffered immensely because of our sins. Are we committed to accepting Christ-like reproach in our own lives?
Satan hates us for rejecting him and his way of life. He is going to come after us. That is a fact of our Christian lives.
God promises He will never try us more than we are able to bear (1 Corinthians 10:13). We must ask ourselves: Are we prepared to endure betrayal by family members and others close to us? Are we willing to suffer mocking, slander, condemnation, scourging and even death if required by God?
Moses prepared himself to suffer reproach for the nation. Moses endured the reproach from Pharaoh, and he withstood gracefully the reproach of his own people. Study Exodus 2:14 and 5:21. After the Exodus, Moses was reproached by Miriam and Aaron and the princes of his own tribe. Study Numbers 12 and 16. Christ backed up Moses in all these incidents. Christ plans to back up each one of us when we are reproached for His cause!
Now here is the really tough question: Can we put a high value on these kinds of events if and when they happen to us? Moses’s vision of God’s Kingdom, and his part in it, was so clear and vivid, he valued “the reproach of Christ greater riches than the treasures in Egypt.” Are we ready to embrace reproach because we are the people of God? Do we know with all of our being that the reproach of Christ is eternally priceless?
If we do our part in prayer, study, meditation and fasting, God will give us Moses’s attitude (which was Christ’s) toward persecution. When we deeply study into Moses’s life as told in the New Testament, it is not difficult to see that he truly is a man for all Christians to imitate and appreciate.