MOSES

From Agepedia

Jump to: navigation , search

MOSES was born in Egypt, about 1600 B. C, among the then severely oppressed Hebrew people. Three months after his birth, his father,Amram, and mother,Jochebed, both of the race of Levi, were obligedto expose him, in obedience to a royal com mand, which enjoined that all the male children of the Hebrews should be put to death. But the daughter of the Egyptian king (a tradition preserved by Joseph us names her Thermutis), going to bathe in the Nile, found the child exposed in a carefully constructed basket of bulrushes upon the border of the river, and took compassion upon him. His sister Miriam, who was standing near, offered to procure him a nurse, and immediately summoned his mother. The feelings of his unhappy people were therefore instilled into him with his mother's milk, and he returned, when he had reached a fit age for instruction, to the king's daughter, who named him Moudsche (whence the Hebrew Mocheh), signifying one delivered from the waters, and adopted him as her son. He wras afterwards educated for the duties of the priesthood, to which the royal family belonged, and could now, as the disciple of the priests, attain to all the arts and knowledge which this privileged caste carefully confined within the limits of then order. The means of instruction thus afforded him were the best which his time possessed ; and Moses penetrated still deeper than his instructers into the secrets of their religion, physics, legislation, and government, as appears plainly from his words and actions. His expedition into Ethiopia, in the fortieth year of his age, as leader of the Egyptians, when he subdued the city of Saba, won the affections of the conquered princess Tharbis, and married her, rests only on the tradition preserved by Josephus. Yet Moses could not forget his people in the splendor of a court: an outrage committed by an Egyptian on a Hebrew excited his anger, and he secretly slew the Egyptian, But this deed became known, and he escaped the pursuit of the king only by a hasty flight into Arabia. Here he took refuge with Jethro, a Midianitish prince and a priest, and espoused his daughter Zipporah, whom, at their first meeting, he had rescued from hostile shepherds. Thus the adopted son of a king's daughter became the herdsman of an Arabian, and history does not say that he aspired to any thing greater. But the misery of his nation must have been continually present to his mind, and not in vain had he been led, by extraordinary means, into the sanctuary of Egyptian wisdom, and endowed with the rarest powers and knowledge. This knowledge occu pied his mind in his solitude, and explained to him the secrets of nature, whose tains of Midian, and elevated his heart to that God whom he discerned more clearly than his fathers. Yet the germ of his great undertaking remained for a long time maturing in his mind, before it was brought to light, and assumed the form of a deeplymeditated plan. Moses had already attained to an age which gives mature experience, patience and tranquillity of mind, when this took place through an immediate interposition of God. While lie was feeding his flock on mount Horeb, he saw a bush on fire, and, considering why the bush was not consumed, he heard the voice of the Lord proceeding from it, who announced himself to him as the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, and commanded him to lead his people out of Egypt into the land which he had promised to the patriarchs. The name Jehovah, by which God declared himself was already known to him by means of the Egyptian mysteries, and conveyed the idea of the one, everlasting and unchangeable. But not without anxiety, arising from the view of the difficulties which he should meet with, and from his modesty, did he determine to obey this call. Pharaoh, he thought, is hard and unbelieving, he himself outlawed, his people rude, and incapable of comprehending the idea of the God whom he should announce to them. Being slow of speech, and possessing none of the arts of an orator, his words will not be believed without visible signs. God therefore gives him* power to prove his mission by miracles, and joins to him his elder brother, Aaron, as a speaker. Thus prepared, Moses becomes confident that he shall succeed, with the assistance of God, and returns to Egypt, a grayhaired man of eighty years, to undertake the work. All the difficulties which he had foreseen, and yet greater ones, opposed him. He had the eloquence of Aaron, it is true, to aid him, and the people of Israel must recognise the hand of God in his deeds; but, degraded by long slavery, they wavered between belief and doubt. In vain did he produce changes in the ordinary course of nature, which could not be imitated by the art of the Egyptian sages, and for the performance of which a higher power was obviously requisite. The tenth of the destructive plagues which afterwards came upon Egyptthe destruction of all the firstbornfirst moved the hardened heart of Pharaoh to allow the Hebrews to depart. Moses Egypt, passing, under the protection of God, through the midst of the Red sea, in which the faithless Pharaoh, pursuing them, was drowned, with the army which followed him. Yet this deliverance from a formidable enemy was only the beginning of his enterprise. A rude, tumultuous people was around him, who, until now, had obeyed the scourge of their taskmasters, but knew not how to live in freedom. Their distress in the desert excited loud murmurs; their meeting with the hostile Bedouins occasioned bloody combats; the jealousy of the elders produced dissensions and opposition to their leader; his life was often in danger, and he was often obliged to maintain his authority by force and severe punishments. But, with wonderful wisdom, he remained firm, in spite of all opposition, to his plan of transforming the stubborn multitude into a devout, civilized and independent people. He supplied the hungry with food from heaven, and opened to the thirsty new fountains upon the rock of Horeb, by the aid of God, who granted to his petition what the people needed. In all his ordinances, he declared himself to have the express command of God, who wished to draw his people to himself, and to form their hearts by love and fear. Religion is the spirit of the law which Moses began to announce three months after his departure from Egypt. Arrived at Sinai, a mountain of Arabia*, he allowed tile people to encamp, while he himself ascended the holy summit to pray, where, surrounded with thunder, and trembling at the presence of God, the laws were announced to him which were to regulate the lives of the Israelites. Founded upon the faith of the patriarchs, these laws are rather a restoration of the simple truths which had governed the primitive world than a new religion. As presented by Moses, they were purified from the errors and follies of superstition, which had gathered round them among idolatrous nations, and were exhibited in a form adapted to the wants of the Hebrews, who had grown from a single family to a rude, ungoverned multitude. The great object of his legislation is to inculcate the doctrine that Jehovah is the only God, who will allow no other god besides himself nor any visible image of his being; that he is himself the King of his people, and that he will rule them by his priests: hence the laws by which Moses regulates the worship of the Hebrews, the adrninia tration of the government and of justice, and even directs their manners, and lays down rules for the care of their health, bear the marks of their heavenly origin. Arising from the wants of the moral and physical nature of man, they are excellently adapted to the peculiar character of the people, to the climate, and to the political position of the land appointed for their dwelling, and to the plan^ of Providence of making this people the depositary of a divine revelation, to be developed in the fullness of time, and finally extended over the world. These lawTs forbid intermixture with other nations, the introduction of foreign customs, and the adoration of strange deities. As a people peculiarly dedicated to God, the Hebrews were to be separated from all neighboring nations, and to stand separate and independent, relying upon God as their Lord and Blaster. Regulations, extending to the minutest particulars of the daily occurrences of life, in which even the selection and preparation of their food, and the care of personal cleanliness, were not forgotten, gave them habits adapted to their character and religious destination. A ritual, composed of a thousand minute ceremonies, and, as a whole, allegorically designating a covenant with God, to be incessantly renewed by offerings, prayer, and purification, imposed on them the duty of continual diligence in the service of their heavenly King. To the race of Levi, to which Moses belonged, he assigned the care of the religious sendee, and of seeing that the laws were obeyed, investing, not his sons (whom he allowed to take their place among the common Levites), but the descendants of his brother Aaron, as God commanded, with the first office in the kingdom,that of highpriest. To this tribe, excluded from all property in land, the other tribes were to pay tithes: they were subjected to the authority of elders and judges, and the firmness of their political union was secured by certain festivals, to be celebrated by them in common, and by exclusive devotion to the service of God in the tabernacle,a movable temple, regarded with awe, as the appointed dwelling of Jehovah, into the interior of which the priests alone were allowed to enter, and where, moreover, all the taxes were deposited, so that it was the central point of all the riches of the nation. These are the chief points in the legislation of Moses, which, even if it displays some Egyptian features, yet plainly manifests the endeavor to wean the Hebrews from Egyptian customs and prejudices, and to elevate them to political and religious independence, and far surpasses, in originality and elevation of principle, in consistency and expressiveness, and, what most proves its heavenly origin, in proofs of true humanity, the boasted legislation of Solon and Lycurgus. Yet its importance was not at once recognised by the Hebrews. When they were already near the end of their journey towards Canaan, MOSES saw himself compelled, in consequence of new evidences of discontent, to lead them back into the desert, and forty years of toilsome wandering must be passed there : the severe punishments which the law threatens against transgressors must be executed in all their rigor: all those who had attained to man's estate at their departure from Egypt must die, before the law could be thoroughly known, and become habitual with those who had been born during the wandering. Moses himself, distressed with cares, troubles and occupations of all kinds, was not permitted to live to see the complete accomplishment of his plan, on account of a murmur which, in the midst of his distresses, he allowed to escape against his God. After he had appointed Joshua to be the leader of the Hebrews, and had taken a solemn farewell of the people, he ascended a mountain in Persea, beyond Jordan, from which he surveyed the land of promise, which he could not enter, and closed his eventful life in his 120th year. He prevented all superstitious reverence for his bones by his command, that his remains should be buried secretly, and the place of his grave concealed from the people. The books which stand under his name at the head of the Old Testament are the monument of his worth. As it has been supposed that the material upon which he wrote was stone, and as it was hardly possible for works of the size of the Mosaic to be written at length on such a material, critics have attributed their collection, and arrangement in five books (whence their name, in Greek, Pentateuch), to a later writer, of the time of David or Solomon. But M. Greppo, in his essay on the hieroglyphic system of Champollion (translated by Isaac Stuart, Boston, 1830), maintains that Moses might have written on papyrus, and refers to an Egyptian manuscript on papyrus, in the museum at Turin, containing an act drawn up in the reign of Thouthmosis III, two centuries at least before Moses; and it is generally admitted that much must have been written by him, as the laws, which he could not trust to uncertain tradition, in the books of Leviticus and Deuteronomy. It is equally certain that he is the author of the magnificent songs, in which he celebrates the deliverance of the Israelites from the Red sea, and blesses and takes leave of the people before his death. The collection of the several portions of his writings into a whole, may be the work of a later time, which cannot be fixed within more precise limits than those abovementioned.See Michaelis's Introduction to the Scriptures of the Old Testament (in German); Astruc's Conjectures upon the original Sources from which it appears that Moses composed the Book of Genesis (in French, 1753); De Wette's Contributions to the History of the Old Testament (in German, Jena, 1804); Vater's Commentary upon the Pentateuch (in German, Halle, 1805); Eichhorn's, Augustus, Bertholcl's Introductions to the Old Testament (in Germans); Faber's Horm Mosaica, or Dissertatioiis on the Pentateuch.