Study Guide

Moses in Book of Exodus


Moses is the star of the Exodus show. Without him, the whole production falls apart, and we just end up with a golden-calf-worshipping extravaganza. That might be fun for a theme party, but it just doesn't sit right in the Bible.

In the Beginning

We knew Moses when. And by when, we mean when he was just a tiny baby floating in a river. It sure makes his progression to greatness even more exciting. Think about it. If you knew Gandhi when he was a baby, you'd be even more blown away by all the awesome things he does, right?

We don't get a ton of information about pre-exodus Moses, but we do know one thing: this guy is a doer, not a talker. He says himself that he is "slow of speech, slow of tongue" (4.10). Other proof? He kills the Egyptian overseer instead of talking to him, leaves Egypt instead of trying to talk with Pharaoh, and helps out Jethro's daughters instead of talking to the aggressive shepherds.

Is this someone you'd expect to be conversing with a fiery God on a mountaintop? Again, having this background dirt on Moses helps us understand him as a more dynamic character.

Movin' on up

In 2:22, Moses is "a stranger in a strange land," but by the time we get to 11:3, he's "a man of great importance in the land of Egypt, in the sight of Pharaoh's officials and in the sight of the people."

So what happened?

Moses's big moment comes when God selects him as the point person for the Israelite Freedom Project. Naturally, Moses is a little timid about taking on this job: "Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh?" (3:11) Aw, and he's humble. The fact that Moses thinks he's not good for the job makes us like him even more—no one likes a cocky prophet.

To do the job well, God gives Moses a bunch of handy dandy magic tricks. We're talking healing, controlling animals, and transforming substances (4:1-9). The point of all the magic? To allow Moses to challenge Pharaoh.

Okay, so God has given him some cool miracles to perform. But Moses eventually comes into his own. He becomes a capable leader who judges for the Israelites and leads them through the perils of the desert. Although, now that we think about it, we don't see Moses giving rousing speeches, commanding the troops, or even doing the judging. We're just told that he does it.

In order to better understand the guy, then, we need to check out his relationships with God and with the Israelites. And check it out we will.

Moses and God

Without God, Moses is chopped liver. And without Moses, the Israelites are literally chopped liver. So yeah, God is a pretty big deal in this whole three-way relationship.

But we can't completely write off Moses. Sure, he has power because God gave it to him, but Moses uses this in with God to sway the deity on some pretty important matters. Actually, the whole power relationship can even get a bit confusing at times. For example, in chapter 14, when the Israelites are on the shores of the Red Sea trying to escape, Moses uses God's power to open the sea. But one chapter later, the celebrating Israelites sing that God himself opened up the sea for them. Who gets the credit? Can we give it to both of them?

Moses's relationship with God is also very, very personal. He is never actually allowed to see God's face, but he does see his back. Yep, he sees God:

And the Lord continued, "See, there is a place by me where you shall stand on the rock; and while my glory passes by I will put you in a cleft of the rock, and I will cover you with my hand until I have passed by; then I will take away my hand, and you shall see my back; but my face shall not be seen." (33:21-23).

That's right, folks. God has a back. And he's going to let Moses see it—with some fanfare, no less.

Adding to the personal relationship, Moses talks to God. He talks to God. A lot. His face "shines" because of all the talking (34:29). He even changes God's mind about destroying the Israelites (32:11-14). Who knew God even had a mind to change, let alone that a mere human—who, by the way, isn't a talker—could do the changing. So while God becomes the scary combination of fickle and all-powerful, Moses emerges as the compassionate intermediary.

Moses and the People

Okay, so God and Moses are tight. But where do the Israelites fit in?

Moses acts like Dad to the Israelites, disciplining them for messing up (32:20) but begging for mercy on their behalf. But being a parent comes with quite a bit of responsibility: he has to judge the people's disputes every single day (18:13-18), and he has to listen every time they need something in the desert (17:2-5). The people complain to him about God, and God complains to Moses about the people's mistakes. Moses is getting it from all sides.

This relationship between Moses and his people will come to define a big part of the rest of the Exodus story in Numbers and Deuteronomy. Follow it through and see how it changes. We dare you.

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