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The Postmodern Catholic

Unit IV Moses Reluctant Hero
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Unit IV Moses Reluctant Hero
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Unit IV: Moses Reluctant Hero

I. Intro: Hebrews Forged into a Nation

Though already the Chosen People of the One God, the Hebrews were, by the time of Moses, a people who had largely forgotten their history

Through Moses, Yahweh would give the Hebrews a more detailed covenant (the Ten Commandments) and forge them into the Nation of Israel

While Abraham was the Father of the Hebrews, Moses would become the Father of the Nation of Israel

Moses: Epic Figure

Moses has more written about him in the Bible than anyone else, including Jesus

He has many titles: Father of the Nation; prophet, savior, lawgiver, judge

He became the Pride of the Hebrew people, and came to represent God’s special relationship to the Israelites

Early Life

While Joseph’s descendant’s lived for a long time in Egypt in peace and prosperity, over time, their success began to make the Egyptians nervous

New laws were enacted to gradually turn the Hebrews into second-class citizens, and, eventually, slaves

At one point, the Hebrew midwives were instructed by Pharaoh (Seti I) to kill the male Hebrew children to stop their growth as a people

Their commitment to justice and refusal to obey this law was a heroic act that put them in much danger

Escape from Murder

Moses, from the tribe of Levi, was born at this time when Hebrew males were being put to death

He was saved from death by his mother and sister, Miriam who put him in a reed basket and pushed him into the Nile River

In fact, these women saved Israel by saving Moses

Raised a Prince

Moses was found by the pharaoh's daughter and raised as an Egyptian prince, although he was aware of his Hebrew origins

Miriam, a servant to the pharaoh’s daughter, brought Moses’ real mother to be the wet nurse

As an adult, he saw an Egyptian beating an old Hebrew man and killed the Egyptian


The pharaoh, (Seti I) issued a death sentence for Moses who then fled into the Midian Desert

During his years in the desert, Seti I died and his son, Ramses II came to power

Ramses was even crueler than his father and the conditions for the Israelites in Egypt worsened

God heard the cries of His people and began to use Moses as his instrument for justice (prophet)

II. The Call of Moses

Moses had come to the household of Jethro, the Midian

After defending Jethro’s daughter’s from herdsmen at their well, he was given Zepphora as a wife

While tending Jethro’s flock’s around Mt. Horeb, Moses saw a burning bush that was not consumed by the flames

This was the first of a series of theophanies (where God reveals himself to human beings)

The Burning Bush at Mt. Horeb

Here, God calls Moses to be an instrument of deliverance for His people (a prophet)

Through Moses, God delivers his Chosen People from slavery to a land of freedom (the Promised land of Canaan)

Moses is very reluctant and asks God whether or not he has the right guy: he claims he is slow of speech

Moses was to go to pharaoh and, with the help of his brother Aaron (the High Priest), demand the release of the Israelites

As a sign of their special relationship, God revealed to Moses God’s divine name, Yahweh, or I Am

The revealing of God’s name is an intimate, friendly gesture by God, highlighting His desire to be closer to His People

III. Passover and Exodus

Moses eventually submitted to God’s will

Moses was reluctant because he knew the road to freedom would be difficult

He would endure much humiliation and frustration as well as anger and resentment from his own people throughout the journey

The Exodus story is one of deliverance from slavery to freedom

It also is a story of how God works through nature, natural events, and unlikely people, to bring about salvation

Bricks Without Straw

Moses and Aaron first went to Pharaoh Ramses II (step-brother of Moses and son of Seti I) to demand the Hebrews be allowed three days to go into the desert so they could worship and offer sacrifice to their God

Ramses was not happy and refused. In fact, he increased the demands of the Israelites by refusing to supply them with straw for bricks

The people were upset with Moses and accused him of making their lives worse

The First Nine Plagues

Moses came to pharaoh again and a contest ensued

Pharaoh demanded a demonstration of power from Moses and his God

Moses turned his staff into a snake. The pharaoh’s priests/magicians did likewise and Moses’ snake ate the others

Moses then warned of a series of plagues against Egypt

The Plagues

The plagues were not just an attack on the Egyptian state

It was also an attack against the false gods of Egypt

1st: Aaron stretched out his hand and the water of the Nile turned to blood (foreshadowing of the blood of Christ and the transformation of the wine into the life saving blood of the Eucharist)

This was also an attack against the Egyptian river god Hathor

2nd: frogs, 3rd, gnats: 4th, flies: 5th, pestilence, 6th, boils, 7th, hail, 8th, locusts, 9th, darkness (an attack against the Egyptian sun god Ra)

The first four plagues affected everyone

All the water turned to blood, the frogs covered the land and eventually died causing a great stench

The dust of the land were turned into gnats which covered everything

A pestilence killed off the livestock of the Egyptians

Then, all Egyptians were covered with boils

The seventh brought lightening and hail

Finally, locust came and covered the land until nothing green was left

Possible Explanations for Plagues

There are many theories that try and give a scientific explanation to these plagues

All of the first nine plagues correspond with natural phenomena common to Egypt

The water turning red could have been due to an algae bloom, or "red tide" where an infestation of algae kill off everything in the river

Frogs often exploded in number when the Nile receded, which often brought flies and gnats, which, in turn, brought various diseases

Hailstorms, locusts and sandstorms (darkness) were also common for the area

The Tenth Plague and the First Passover

The tenth plague was the most severe and resulted in the death of the firstborn in Egypt

The Israelites were saved by this because of the lamb’s blood that was smeared over their doorways so the "angel of death" would "pass over" them

The Israelites were instructed to eat the lamb along with unleavened bread and bitter herbs with staffs in their hands. This was the first Seder Meal that is still celebrated by Jews to commemorate their deliverance from the Land of Egypt

For Christians, this is seen as a foreshadowing of the sacrifice of Jesus (the Lamb of God) who died for our sins and allows for salvation and eternal life

The pharaoh lost his own son and, grieving, begged Moses to take his people and leave

Without even taking time to put yeast in their bread, the Israelites fled the land of Egypt

Pharaoh, having again hardened his heart, changes his mind and sent troops after his fleeing slaves

Terrified, the Israelites saw the chariots and soldiers closing in, and, again, lashed out at Moses for convincing them to leave

Yahweh came to their rescue and dried up the Sea of Reeds (the Red Sea), which allowed the departing Hebrews to cross.

As they looked back, they saw the Egyptian soldiers begin to cross and be swallowed up by the returning waters

Again, there is a deeper meaning here that parallels the Christian sacrament of Baptism where one is delivered from sin and death to new life in the promised land of God (the Kingdom of Heaven)

IV. The Desert and Sinai Covenant

One of the ironic and often hard truths of life is that sometimes the hardest experiences of life often become our greatest teachers and leaves us stronger and wiser

The Exodus Story is supposed to be a lesson in how this basic truth

Crossing the desert (with all its hardships) is a metaphor for the hardships of life along our journey to salvation (the Promised Land of Heaven, or the Kingdom of God)

The Covenant at Sinai

God again communicates to Moses, this time at Mt. Sinai in the desert

God set forth the Law in the commandments

God further wanted to be worshipped freely and wanted a loving response from His people

The Israelites ratified the Mosaic Covenant and became a community formed by their relationship to God

The Shema

This relationship is best articulated by the most important prayer of the Jews: the Shema: Hear O Israel, the Lord is our God, the Lord alone"

The Israelites accepted God as their one ruler and became a theocracy

As a theocracy, they had no central government or machinery of state

They were a diverse people who maintained their identity through their particular faith

The Story continues

It is told that God led his people through the desert by a column of clouds during the day, and a column of fire by night

The dangers of the desert were constant:



Desert tribes

Moses turned the water sweet at Marah

The Lord had quail settle on the camp for meat and had manna (bread) fall from the sky

At the foot of Mt. Sinai, the people camped out

Here God agreed to make them a Holy Nation and a covenanted people

They offered an ox for sacrifice, splashing its blood on the alter and themselves

The Golden Calf

Moses was gone 40 days on the mountain

Eventually, the people began to worry whether or not Moses (and God) were still there)

They convinced Aaron (the High Priest) to make them a golden Calf to worship as a god

When Moses returned, he smashed the tablets the commandments were written

Moses pleaded for mercy and God renewed the covenant

Moses consecrated some men as priests and renewed the Sabbath as a day of rest

The Israelites built a portable tabernacle that housed the Ark of the Covenant

The Israelites built a portable tabernacle that housed the Ark of the Covenant

VI. The Promised Land

Scouts from each tribe were sent out into the Land of Canaan where they found a strong and numerous people (the Canaanites)

Joshua and Caleb alone believed the Lord would help them win the land

Again needing water, Moses was instructed by God to strike a rock once.

When nothing happened, Moses struck it a second time. For this he was not allowed to enter the Promised Land

Meaning? It reflects Moses’ own arrogance and lack of faith. Because of this, he was not allowed into the Promised Land

Poisonous snakes were killing many Israelites in the desert

God had Moses make a bronze serpent and hold it high so all could see

All those who looked on the bronze serpent with confidence in God (faith) were healed

Looked at metaphorically? Snakes represent our temptation to sin or lose faith during hard times (desert experiences)

Looking on the "bronze serpent" with faith is, for Christians, another allusion to Christ on the cross

In the 40th year in the desert, Moses brought the Jews to the Jordan River

He appointed Joshua to lead the Israelites across the Jordan to the Promised Land of Canaan

Eleazar succeeded Aaron as High Priest

Again, the metaphorical meaning of "crossing the Jordan" refers to crossing over to the other side at death, to the promised land of the Kingdom of God in Heaven

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D. “The more I am able to affirm others, to say ‘yes” to them in myself, by discovering them in myself and myself in them, the more real I am. I am fully real if my own heart says yes to everyone” Thomas Merton