The Moses I never knew

By JFJ UK

It’s amazing how we build up our heroes. I remember as a kid being a passionate Manchester United supporter who would’ve done anything to meet one of the players. In my view, these guys could do no wrong. I remember screaming at the TV screen when the referee would dare to suggest that one of them had committed a foul. These guys were my heroes, and they were perfect.

But it’s not just children who tend to see the best in the heroes and ignore their failings. We adults to seem to forget that our favourite stars also just fallible human beings, just like ourselves (until they end up disappointing us). Take Moses for example. It’s a battle between him and Abraham, but I think Moses would take top spot as being the most important figure in Judaism. We call him our teacher (Moshe Rabbeinu) and laud him for giving us the Torah, and as the rabbis would add, also the oral law. When it comes to Judaism, you don’t get bigger than Moses.

This is exactly why this week’s parasha comes as such a surprise to us. Parashat Shmot recounts Moses’ origin story and covers a lot of ground in six chapters. The Moses that I am used to hearing about, the smart, eloquent, prolific writer, elder statesman, lawgiver, mediator and head of the nation, is significantly lacking in these chapters. It’s amazing how we have such a tendency to maximise our heroes’ good sides and to forget about their bad sides.

Thankfully, the bible doesn’t behave as we do. Because here, in the first six chapters of the book of Shmot/Exodus, Moses’ weaknesses are paraded before our eyes in glorious technicolour. He survives death as an infant thanks to the extraordinary mercy of Pharaoh’s daughter and seems to have the ideal start in life – growing up as a prince of Egypt! Somehow though, Moses remembers his roots and is disgusted at the way his people are treated. Perhaps thinking to do them a favour, he murders an Egyptian slave driver and then flees from his surrogate father into the desert. The ideal start was ruined by his overconfidence and Moses is left to rot for 40 years as a shepherd in the desert – away from both his own people and his adopted people. But there is a chance for redemption! Years later, once Moses has had time to reflect on his mistakes, God rather amazingly decides to speak to this washed out old shepherd and decides to use him as a tool to bring his people out of Egypt. We would assume that most would jump at the chance to put things right and for such a high honour, but Moses ends up stuttering some excuses and finally asking God to send someone else (see Shmot/Exodus 4:13)! But God doesn’t send someone else and Moses finally end up going back to Egypt. The game is on!

While other historical manuscripts and artefacts of the time tended to play up the achievements of their kings or gods, the Bible is incredibly candid about showing us that Moses was an undeserving instrument of God’s love for his people. Moses was no superhero, he was a flawed human being who made many mistakes, just like us. It was only by God’s grace that he became Moshe Rabbeinu. Later on in life, he would look forward to the Prophet who would come who would be just like him. One from whom God Himself would require an explanation if we failed to obey him (see D’varim/Deuteronomy 18:15-19). Perhaps a better version of Moshe.

It’s interesting to compare Moses with Yeshua. Although they lived thousands of years apart, the similarities are incredible. Moses was saved from certain death as a child by God’s intervention and Jesus also was saved from certain death at the hand of King Herod thanks to a vision in which an angel told his father to take him to Egypt (see Matthew 2:13-18). Moses later became a prophet and gave God’s Word to the people as well as predicting what would happen in the future. Similarly, Jesus prophesied about his death in advance (see Matthew 16:21) and even about what would happen in the future (see the book of Revelation). Moses was the mediator between God and our people and received the law, God’s standard for us. Jesus was a mediator between God and our people/all peoples and fulfilled God’s standard for us by living a perfectly holy life and dying for our wrongdoing. Moses was willing to die for the sake of our people (see Shmot/Exodus 32:32) whereas Jesus actually did die on our behalf in order to save us*.

It’s no coincidence then, that Moses is one of the two people that appears on the mountain when Jesus is transformed and his disciples get a glimpse of his glory (see Luke 9:28-36). Moses, the forerunner of the Messiah got to see the fulfilment of words that he wrote down thousands of years before. Jesus was, what Moses was never able to be and what Moses was never supposed to be. Moses knew his own limitations but on the hill that day he saw the one who he had been waiting for, who he had prophesied about. Moses had done his job but he knew that he wasn’t the real hero. The Moses I never knew, is the Moses who knew that Jesus was the Messiah.

While it’s wrong for us to put our heroes on a pedestal, it certainly is not wrong to put God and His Messiah on a pedestal, simply because they are perfect and human beings are not. Sometimes we can be tempted to trust in ourselves or other people, but at the end of the day we are all human and flawed just like Moses. How amazing then that we can put our trust in a Messiah who was human like us but without the flaws. Please don’t misunderstand me – I am not in any way disrespecting Moses. You can be amazed at Avraham Avinu and have tremendous respect for Moshe Rabbeinu, but don’t forget about the one they looked forward to – Yeshua Mashicheinu (Jesus our Messiah). Are you tired of putting your hope in human idols that just end up disappointing you? Put your trust in the one who Moses and Abraham trusted in who will never disappoint – the Messiah Yeshua!

For an interesting and more detailed list of the similarities between Moses and Jesus see here.

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The Moses I never knew