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Moses is mentioned more than anyone else in Numbers. Aside from God, of course. Hey, the Creator of the Universe is a pretty good person to get second billing to. So, just what's up with this Moses guy?
Well, Moses is our main character and the protagonist of this great big story. Most of his background was covered in Exodus, so skip over there for the full baby-in-a-basket-grows-up-and-demands-Pharaoh-let-his-people-go treatment. It's pretty epic. You're not gonna want to miss it.
In Numbers, we meet up with Moses when he's all grown up and one year past the events of Exodus. He's just helped hundreds of thousands of Israelites escape from slavery in Egypt and they've been hanging in a desert wilderness trying to get organized. So, what's a man of God supposed to do now?
Well, he starts by listening to God. Sure, Moses might have been the one who led the Israelites out of Egypt, but this guy knows that the real head honcho around here is the Big Guy himself.
Moses is nothing if not devoted to God. We lost track of how many times a chapter begins with the words, "The Lord spoke to Moses..." Moses is like God's own personal Twitter feed. He speaks, Moses broadcasts. Their followers retweet like crazy. And for the most part, Moses does right by the Lord:
Moses enrolled all the firstborn among the Israelites, as the Lord commanded him (3:42).
According to the pattern that the Lord had shown Moses, so he made the lampstand (8:4).
Moses took the staff from before the Lord, as he had commanded him (20:9).
Moses did as the Lord had commanded; they went up Mount Hor in the sight of the whole congregation (20:27).
Moses did as the Lord commanded him. He took Joshua and had him stand before Eleazar the priest and the whole congregation (27:22).
Way to follow through, Moses.
Moses may be obedient, but that doesn't mean he's also not running this show in his own special way. God digs Moses so much that he's rewarded him with a swell leadership position. They may be servants of God, but Moses and his kin are also large and in charge. People need to be following them. Or else.
So, what are the perks of this job?
But Moses's direct line to God isn't all sunshine, lollipops, and free lambs. It also causes loads of problems in the community. Moses's own brother and sister come forward to challenge him—"Has the Lord spoken only through Moses? Has he not spoken through us also?" (12:2) A pretty sizeable group of guys from the community also start to bad mouth him (16:2). Plus, the people are always complaining about him—"Why have you brought us up out of Egypt to die in the wilderness?" (21:5). Seriously. It's 24/7.
God is not amused. He smacks down this back talk pretty quickly. He explains to the naysayers just how much he loves Moses:
When there are prophets among you, I the Lord make myself known to them in visions; I speak to them in dreams. Not so with my servant Moses; he is entrusted with all my house. With him I speak face to face—clearly, not in riddles; and he beholds the form of the Lord. (12:6-8)
And there you go. So, lay off, Moses, will you Israelites?
But overall, Moses deals with these challenges pretty well. He generally comes up with a test to determine who's in charge (17:10) or appeals directly to God (16:28). He even feels sorry for his sister, Miriam, when God smites her for her wicked, sinful questioning. That's a nice guy.
And for his part, Moses is never jealous of anyone. When God gives some other guys in the community powers of prophecy, some of Moses's underlings freak out a little. "Are you jealous for my sake?" Moses says. "Would that all the Lord's people were prophets, and that the Lord would put his spirit on them!" (11:29). In other words, this leadership stuff ain't easy. Moses wouldn't mind these complainers pulling their own weight once in a while.
Just because Moses is God's main man, doesn't mean he's perfect.
Moses gets pretty annoyed from time to time. When the people start complaining about not having any food (hey guys, it is the desert), he takes his troubles out on God:
So Moses said to the Lord, "Why have you treated your servant so badly? Why have I not found favor in your sight, that you lay the burden of all this people on me? Did I conceive all this people? Did I give birth to them, that you should say to me, 'Carry them in your bosom, as a nurse carries a sucking child, to the land that you promised on oath to their ancestors'? Where am I to get meat to give to all this people? For they come weeping to me and say, 'Give us meat to eat!' I am not able to carry all this people alone, for they are too heavy for me. If this is the way you are going to treat me, put me to death at once." (11:11-15)
Normally, God would smite the heck out of anyone who questioned him like this, but the Big Guy obviously has a soft spot for Moses. He sees that he's been working his right-hand man too hard and offers to help him out. And to teach the people a lesson in the process. He'll give them meat all right. Lots of it.
Of course, the next thing Moses does is question God yet again. Dude, where are you gonna get all this meat? We're in the desert, remember? This time God is not having it:
The Lord said to Moses, "Is the Lord's power limited? Now you shall see whether my word will come true for you or not." (11:23)
Hey, it is a pretty good answer.
But Moses's biggest oopsy moment comes when he doesn't follow God's instructions exactly about how to bring water out of a rock. For this, Moses gets a share in the rest of the community's punishment—exile.
The Lord said to Moses and Aaron, "Because you did not trust in me, to show my holiness before the eyes of the Israelites, therefore you shall not bring this assembly into the land that I have given them." (20:12)
Yeah, it's a little harsh. Maybe a tiny overreaction when you consider that Moses is a guy who's done nothing but listen to God and put up with all kinds of whining and complaining from his people since day one. But Moses doesn't complain. He takes one for the team and never complains about missing out on all that good milk and honey in the Promised Land.
What else does Numbers tell us about Moses? Well, for one he "was very humble, more so than anyone else on the face of the earth" (12:3). It's kind of a weird line when you consider that Jewish tradition says Moses wrote this book. Talk about a real humble brag.
Moses also has a soft spot for the Israelites. Even though they do nothing but whine and try to rebel against them, Moses intercedes and saves them from God's wrath time and again.
So, Moses is a total sweetheart, right? Not quite.
He can also be a bit ruthless at times. He takes a hard line towards a guy who is found collecting sticks on the Sabbath. It's a big no-no and Moses isn't having it. He orders the guy stoned to death. Well, God orders it, but Moses doesn't lift a finger to help him (15:33-36). Next time, collect your wood on a Thursday. Oh, wait, there won't be a next time.
But his most ruthless moment comes when the Israelites go to war against the people in Midian. The soldiers kill all the men in the country, but they bring back the women and children as their captives. Moses is ticked:
Moses said to them, "Have you allowed all the women to live? These women here, on Balaam's advice, made the Israelites act treacherously against the Lord in the affair of Peor, so that the plague came among the congregation of the Lord. Now therefore, kill every male among the little ones, and kill every woman who has known a man by sleeping with him. But all the young girls who have not known a man by sleeping with him, keep alive for yourselves. (31:14-18)
Holy crud. Moses just basically ordered a genocide. And don't forget about all the rapes that are about to occur too. It's pretty sickening. And we've got to point out that this is Moses talking here. All that God said was to go to war. Moses is the one dishing out the death sentences left and right.
Moses leads the people right up to the Promised Land, but never gets to go in. (Hey, next time, listen when God's talking.) He even appoints a new leader of the people per God's orders. Joshua you're up.
Deuteronomy will be Moses's last hurrah. There, he recaps the adventures he's had so far, gets a glimpse of the Promised Land from a mountaintop, and then he keels over and dies. He was 120 years old. Or that's what the Bible says at least. His story ends with a fitting tribute:
Never since has there arisen a prophet in Israel like Moses, whom the Lord knew face to face. He was unequaled for all the signs and wonders that the Lord sent him to perform in the land of Egypt, against Pharaoh and all his servants and his entire land, and for all the mighty deeds and all the terrifying displays of power that Moses performed in the sight of all Israel. (Deuteronomy 34:10-12)
But the Moses mentions don't end with his death. The rest of the Hebrew Bible has lots of shout outs to Moses. These are basically lots of Remember when Moses said… type reminders for the people. Ah, the good old days.
Even the early Christians were crazy about Moses. Jesus name drops him in all four gospels. Paul's letters are filled with references to him. The Epistle to the Hebrews has lots of good points to make about Moses. Even Revelation gets in on the act—the angels in Heaven strum harps and "sing the song of Moses" (Revelation 15:3).
Yup, Moses. He's kind of the bomb.