Friday, February 10, 2006

Another took his place

Exod. 14:31
When Israel saw the great power that the Lord used against Egypt, the people feared the Lord, and they believed in the Lord and in Moses his servant.

In regard to Moses, this verse answers the question he asked God in Exod. 4:1, "What if they don't believe in me and won't listen to my voice, but say, 'The Lord didn't appear to you.'" At least at this point, the people accept Moses as the Lord's chosen servant and so "believe" in him.

Moses is called the servant of the Lord, a title given to him more often than any other person in the Hebrew Bible, at least 18 times in the book of Joshua alone. Excluding its use as an expression of courtesy when a person refers to himself as "your servant," the title appears only once previously, Gen. 26:24, when the Lord refers to Abraham as his servant. Many other instances could be noted, but the most common are with David (almost as often as with Moses, if my count is correct, 32 versus 33) and with Jacob/Israel (especially in the prophets Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Ezekiel, but also see Psalm 136:22 and I Chron. 16:13). Finally, when God says "my servant" the meaning appears to be the same as "my chosen" (see, for example, Isaiah 41:8-9 and Psalm 89:4 MT).

As important as Moses, David, and other heroes of the Hebrew Bible may be in the history of Israel, they are not cult figures in the same sense or to the same degree as one finds in other religions, notably Muhammad in Islam and Jesus in Christianity. If Moses was viewed like Muhammad, the Shema might include an extra clause "and Moses is his servant (or prophet)," and much of the oral Torah might consist of additional remembered sayings (hadith) and observed conduct (sainunnah) of the servant of the Lord. If Moses was viewed like Jesus, Judaism's message might be, "Believe in Moses and you will be saved," his name might be exalted and adored theoretically on the same level but for all practical purposes on a higher level than God's name, the miracles ascribed to Moses might be claimed as proof of his divinity, and WWMD (What would Moses do?) might be a popular acronym!

The Bible singles Moses out as the preeminent prophet in the history of Israel (Num. 12:6-8, Deut. 34:10-12); to Moses the Lord “made known his ways.” (Psa. 103:7) The Torah is often identified with his name (e.g., Deut. 33:4, Malachi 3:22, Ezra 7:6). However, for all his greatness and goodness, he was yet mortal, he sinned like any mortal, and after his death another took his place. He was neither the founder nor the final prophet of Israel, i.e., of what became Judaism. And while he was God’s instrument of deliverance on the occasion of the exodus from Egypt, it is God and not Moses who remains the only Savior and Redeemer of Israel (Isa. 49:26).


Post a Comment

<< Home