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Kitto's Popular Cyclopedia of Biblical Literature
Mos´es, the lawgiver of Israel, belonged to the tribe of Levi, and was a son of Amram and Jochebed (). According to , the name means drawn out of water, and is therefore a significant memorial of the marvelous preservation of Moses when an infant, in spite of those Pharaonic edicts which were promulgated in order to lessen the number of the Israelites. It was the intention of divine providence that the great and wonderful destiny of the child should be from the first apparent: and what the Lord had done for Moses he intended also to accomplish for the whole nation of Israel.
It was an important event that the infant Moses, having been exposed near the banks of the Nile, was found there by an Egyptian princess; and that, having been adopted by her, he thus obtained an education at the royal court (). Having been taught all the wisdom of the Egyptians (; comp. Josephus, Antiq. ii. 9. 7), the natural gifts of Moses were fully developed, and he thus became in many respects better prepared for his future vocation.
After Moses had grown up, he returned to his brethren, and, in spite of the degraded state of his people, manifested a sincere attachment to them. He felt deep compassion for their sufferings, and showed his indignation against their oppressors by slaying an Egyptian whom he saw ill treating an Israelite. This doubtful act became by Divine Providence a means of advancing him further in his preparation for his future vocation, by inducing him to escape into the Arabian desert, where he abode for a considerable period with the Midianitish prince, Jethro, whose daughter Zipporah he married (, sq.). Here, in the solitude of pastoral life, he was appointed to ripen gradually for his high calling, before he was unexpectedly and suddenly sent back among his people, in order to achieve their deliverance from Egyptian bondage.
His entry upon this vocation was not in consequence of a mere natural resolution of Moses, whose constitutional timidity and want of courage rendered him disinclined for such an undertaking. An extraordinary divine operation was required to overcome his disinclination. On Mount Horeb he saw a burning thorn-bush, in the flame of which he recognized a sign of the immediate presence of Deity, and a divine admonition induced him to resolve upon the deliverance of his people. He returned into Egypt, where neither the dispirited state of the Israelites, nor the obstinate opposition and threatenings of Pharaoh, were now able to shake the man of God.
Supported by his brother Aaron, and commissioned by God as his chosen instrument, proving by a series of marvelous deeds, in the midst of heathenism, the God of Israel to be the only true God, Moses at last overcame the opposition of the Egyptians. According to a divine decree, the people of the Lord were to quit Egypt, under the command of Moses, in a triumphant manner. The punishments of God were poured down upon the hostile people in an increasing ratio, terminating in the death of the firstborn, as a sign that all had deserved death. The formidable power of paganism, in its conflict with the theocracy, was obliged to bow before the apparently weak people of the Lord. The Egyptians paid tribute to the emigrating Israelites (), who set out laden with the spoils of victory.
The enraged king vainly endeavored to destroy the emigrants. Moses, firmly relying upon miraculous help from the Lord, led his people through the Red Sea into Arabia, while the host of Pharaoh perished in its waves (Exodus 12-15).
After this began the most important functions of Moses as the lawgiver of the Israelites, who were destined to enter into Canaan as the people of promise, upon whom rested the ancient blessings of the patriarchs. By the instrumentality of Moses they were appointed to enter into intimate communion with God through a sacred covenant, and to be firmly bound to him by a new legislation. Moses, having victoriously repulsed the attack of the Amalekites, marched to Mount Sinai, where he signally punished the defection of his people, and gave them the law as a testimony of divine justice and mercy. From Mount Sinai they proceeded northward to the desert of Paran, and sent spies to explore the Land of Canaan (Numbers 10-13). On this occasion broke out a violent rebellion against the lawgiver, which he, however, by divine assistance, energetically repressed (Numbers 14-16).
The Israelites frequently murmured, and were disobedient during about forty years. In a part of the desert of Kadesh, which was called Zin, near the boundaries of the Edomites, after the sister of Moses had died, and after even the new generation had, like their fathers, proved to be obstinate and desponding, Moses fell into sin, and was on that account deprived of the privilege of introducing the people into Canaan. He was appointed to lead them only to the boundary of their country, to prepare all that was requisite for their entry into the land of promise, to admonish them impressively, and to bless them.
It was according to God's appointment that the new generation also, to whom the occupation of the country had been promised, should arrive at their goal only after having vanquished many obstacles. Even before they had reached the real boundaries of Canaan they were to be subjected to a heavy and purifying trial. It was important, that a man like Moses was at the head of Israel during all these providential dispensations. His authority was a powerful preservative against despondency under heavy trials.
Having in vain attempted to pass through the territory of the Edomites, the people marched round its boundaries by a circuitous and tedious route. Two powerful kings of the Amorites, Sihon and Og, were vanquished. Moses led the people into the fields of Moab over against Jericho, to the very threshold of Canaan (Numbers 20-21).
Moses happily averted the danger which threatened the Israelites on the part of Midian (Numbers 25-31). Hence he was enabled to grant to some of the tribes permanent dwellings in a considerable tract of country situated to the east of the river Jordan (Numbers 32), and to give to his people a foretaste of that well-being which was in store for them.
Moses made excellent preparations for the conquest and distribution of the whole country, and took leave of his people with powerful admonitions and impressive benedictions, transferring his government to the hands of Joshua, who was not unworthy to become the successor of so great a man. With a longing but gratified look, he surveyed, from the elevated ground on the border of the Dead Sea, the beautiful country destined for his people.
Moses died in a retired spot at the age of one hundred and twenty years. He remained vigorous in mind and body to the last. His body was not buried in the Promised Land, and his grave remained unknown, lest it should become an object of superstitious and idolatrous worship.
The Pentateuch is the greatest monument of Moses as an author. Psalms 90 also seems to be correctly ascribed to him. Some learned men have endeavored to prove that he was the author of the book of Job, but their arguments are inconclusive [JOB]. Numerous traditions, as might have been expected, have been current respecting so celebrated a personage. Some of these were known to the ancient Jews, but most of them occur in later rabbinical writers.
The name of Moses is celebrated among the Arabs also, and is the nucleus of a mass of legends. The Greek and Roman classics repeatedly mention Moses, but their accounts contain the authentic Biblical history in a greatly distorted form.
Kitto, John, ed. Entry for 'Moses'. "Kitto's Popular Cyclopedia of Biblical Literature". https://www.studylight.org/​encyclopedias/​eng/​kbe/​m/moses.html.