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Who was Moses in the Bible?

Moses was an ordinary man with an extraordinary story. His life demonstrates both the personal journey of a soul from death to eternal salvation and God's epic plan to redeem all His creation. In many ways he foretells the coming of Jesus Christ. Moses authored the first five books of the Bible, known as the Pentateuch. While the events of his life span from Exodus through Deuteronomy, his 120 years on earth are best summarized in three forty-year snapshots.

Part 1: Birth—40 years old (Exodus 1—2:15)

After Joseph brought his family down to Egypt to escape a famine, they thrived and lived peacefully. With time, the Hebrew population boomed. As memory of Joseph's contribution to Egypt faded, the Egyptians began to enslave the Hebrews to do labor; the Pharaoh feared that the Hebrews were becoming too many and too mighty and might join Egypt's enemies against them. "But the more they were oppressed, the more they multiplied and the more they spread abroad. And the Egyptians were in dread of the people of Israel" (Exodus 1:12). Pharaoh ordered the midwives to kill all male Hebrew babies. The midwives disobeyed the king's command, but God protected them. Pharaoh then ordered all his people to cast any male Hebrew babies into the Nile to die.

Moses was born during this time and his mother feared for his life. After three months, when she could no longer hide the baby, she placed Moses in a basket in the reeds by the river bank, hoping he would find safety. Moses' sister, Miriam, stood at a distance and watched to see what would happen. Pharaoh's daughter came to the river to bathe and saw the basket. One of her servant girls picked it up and they discovered baby Moses. Pharaoh's daughter recognized that he was a Hebrew boy and "took pity on him" (Exodus 2:6). Miriam, still close by, asked Pharaoh's daughter if she would like one of the Hebrew women to nurse the baby. Moses' mother was chosen for the task. After Moses was weaned his mother returned him to Pharaoh's daughter "and he became her son" (Exodus 2:10). Moses grew up in the palace of Pharaoh. He enjoyed all the wealth and privileges of his position and learned the ways of the Egyptians.

However, as Moses grew older, he became more and more empathetic with his people, the Hebrews. He recognized that the way the Egyptians were treating the Hebrews was wrong, but he didn't know how to respond. Consequently, his anger grew and he impulsively killed an Egyptian who was beating a Hebrew slave. He let his sinful nature, namely his anger, fuel his actions and acted apart from God. Stuck between the two nations and wanted for murder, Moses fled.

Part 2: 40—80 years old (Exodus 2:16—3:17)

While fleeing Egypt Moses entered the land of Midian and witnessed shepherds preventing some young women from watering their flocks. Moses stood up to the shepherds and watered the women's livestock. The women, seven sisters, brought Moses back to meet their father, Jethro (also called Reuel). Jethro took Moses under his wing and gave his daughter Zipporah to Moses as a wife. Under Jethro's mentorship, Moses embraced the life of a shepherd and family man. Completely opposite from his glorious life in the palace, he learned the hard work of tending to the flocks. Although Moses had not forgotten the Hebrews, he believed that it was out of his hands and moved forward with his new life.

God, however, had other plans. One day while Moses was tending his sheep he stumbled upon a burning bush. God's voice began to speak to Moses from the bush and he quickly removed his sandals, acknowledging the holiness of God. In part, God told Moses, "And now, behold, the cry of the people of Israel has come to me, and I have also seen the oppression with which the Egyptians oppress them. Come, I will send you to Pharaoh that you may bring my people, the children of Israel, out of Egypt" (Exodus 3:9–10). Eighty-year-old Moses was very different from his younger self. He was reluctant and timid, lacking the confidence to go to Egypt as God was calling him. Yet despite his excuses, it was this Moses that God chose. For God knew that it was not through Moses' power, but through God working within him, that he would be able to free the Hebrews from captivity.

Part 3: 80—120 years old (Exodus 3:18—Deuteronomy 34:12)

With God by his side, Moses returned to Egypt, taking with him Zipporah and his sons. God had told Moses that his brother Aaron would go with him before the people. God told Aaron to meet Moses in the wilderness. When the brothers met, Moses told Aaron of God's desire and plan to free the Hebrews. Together Moses and Aaron went first to the elders of the Israelites in the sight of the people. The Israelites believed and worshiped God. Moses and Aaron then went before Pharaoh and asked him to let the Hebrew people leave so they might go and worship God. Pharaoh's heart was hardened and he refused. Therefore, Moses began releasing each of God's ten plagues against Egypt. With each plague the Pharaoh became even more determined to not give in.

Before the final plague, based on God's command, Moses warned the Hebrews to kill a lamb and spread its blood over the door post. That night the Angel of the Lord passed over Egypt and killed all the firstborn sons, but he did not enter any house with blood on the door post. That was the first Passover, which God commanded the Israelites to commemorate annually. The next day there was great mourning in Egypt and the Pharaoh himself had lost a son. He finally surrendered to Moses' pleas and let the Hebrews go. The Hebrews left quickly, but when Pharaoh heard of it, he changed his mind and sent his army to pursue them. Moses asked the Lord what he should do. God told him to use his staff to part the Red Sea so that they may pass through it to safety as it drowned the Egyptian army behind them.

Once safely across the Red Sea, the Hebrews began their journey to the Promised Land. While camping at the base of Mount Sinai, God made a covenant with His people, , the new nation of Israel. This is often referred to as the Mosaic covenant. Moses climbed the mountain and God gave him the Law and instructions for how to build the tabernacle as a place where the people could come to worship God as His spirit dwelt within their camp. Moses' father-in-law Jethro continued to mentor him, teaching him to delegate responsibilities so that the fate of such a great number of people was not on his shoulders alone.

Although God had just delivered them out of the hands of the Egyptians, the Israelites continually doubted His sovereignty and fell back into their sinful ways. They created false idols to worship and didn't believe God would subdue the nations in the Promised Land before them. Moses never ceased praying and interceding for his people though. He knew that just as he needed time to mature in his relationship with God before returning to Egypt, the nation needed time to grow closer to God.

Moses was unique among men. Deuteronomy 34:10 says, "And there has not arisen a prophet since in Israel like Moses, whom the LORD knew face to face." He had the incredible blessing of talking to God face to face. Moses was God's mouthpiece for His people and could intercede on behalf of the Israelites. He performed miracles and shared many similarities with Jesus. When Moses died, God Himself buried the prophet in an undisclosed location.

Nonetheless, Moses was still human. Despite the wonderous works he did by God's power, he struggled with sin. The same anger that preceded the murder he committed as a young man cost him the opportunity to enter the Promised Land. While in the desert the people were complaining that God had led them there. God had told Moses to bring forth water from a rock for them. In his anger, Moses did not glorify God for this miracle or follow His exact instructions. At 120 years old Moses climbed Mount Nebo and looked out upon the Promised Land the new generation of Israelites were about to inherit and there he died.

While Moses is mentioned various times throughout the rest of biblical history, there is one moment where he appears again physically. Moses and Elijah appear and talk with Jesus when He is transfigured before Peter, James, and John (Mark 9:2–8). So, while Moses did not make it to the Promised Land during his life on earth, we know that he has entered into God's promise of eternity through faith in Jesus Christ.


Related Truth:

In what ways was Moses similar to Jesus?

Who was Zipporah in the Bible?

Who was Aaron in the Bible?

Who was Miriam in the Bible?

The Mosaic covenant – What is it?


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