Thursday, November 15, 2007

Apparently Moses was middle aged before he really came to terms with his past. The Bible records him being forty years old when he finally decided to visit his fellow Israelites. The Scriptures give us very little information concerning Moses or what he was up to during these years. We know that he learned the wisdom of Egyptians and was powerful in speech and in action.

The famed first century Jewish historian, Josephus, writes that Moses actually served as a great and victorious general in Pharaoh’s army in battles with the Ethiopians. There is no reason to rule such an account out. In fact, to assert that Moses had no dealings in the Egyptian army is probably more of a stretch than to say he did. It was very common for royalty to serve as generals on the battlefield. And given the incredible leadership we know for sure Moses later demonstrated I assume he did serve as Josephus describes.

Josephus indicates that Pharaoh did not trust Moses and the Israelites became disappointed with him. Apparently the Hebrews assumed Moses would lead a military revolution against his grandfather once he was installed as a high ranking general in Pharaoh’s army. They assumed and hoped he would spark a revolution to free the slaves…his own people. Pharaoh assumed that Moses would be killed in battle and this was a way to get rid of him, a potential rival, without upsetting his own precious little princess who had adopted Moses as a baby. When he obeyed the command of Pharaoh and led the Egyptian armies to fight against the Ethiopians and did not turn against Pharaoh himself to free the slaves, the Hebrews became disgusted. When Moses returned from fighting against the Ethiopians victorious Pharaoh became much more uncomfortable. Apparently, according to Josephus, Moses was a ferocious, violent, brutal and triumphant warrior general. Josephus reports that when given the opportunity to lead the Egyptian armies against the Ethiopians, Moses “cheerfully undertook the business”. Interesting choice of words aren’t they? It is also recorded that Moses “came upon the Ethiopians before they expected him; and, joining battle with them, he beat them, and deprived them of the hopes they had of success against the Egyptians, and went on in overthrowing their cities, and indeed made a great slaughter of these Ethiopians. Now when the Egyptian army had once tasted of this prosperous success, by the means of Moses, they did not slacken their diligence, insomuch that the Ethiopians were in danger of being reduced to slavery and all sorts of destruction…” Here, according to Josephus, the Ethiopians started off as the aggressors against Egypt but once Moses began to lead counter attacks against them, the Ethiopians actually became the ones in real danger of enslavement! That was quite a sudden turn of events!

So Josephus paints Moses as a man not trusted and a man feared. Pharaoh saw him as a rival and the Hebrews began to believe him a deserter or even a traitor. Pharaoh, like all tyrants, was certainly paranoid of real or perceived revivals. Certainly he had heard of the Hebrew hope that his own adopted grandson would rise up against him and would empower the people of Moses’ ethnic decent to overthrow him. Yet, what now could he do? Certainly Moses was a hero among the soldiers and had quickly gained legendary status among the populous. Of course when the Hebrews learned Moses was named a general they must have been waiting for him to turn the army around, ally possibly with the Ethiopians, set “his own people” free, throw Pharaoh from the highest perch…and then maybe burn Egypt down. Instead…he did as he was ordered and kept the Egyptian army marching forward and almost slaughtered the Ethiopians completely…and then simply marched back victorious. “His people” must have been, along with Pharaoh…a bit confused about the motivation of Moses.

This was quite a position young Moses possibly found himself in…I don’t think he ended up there on accident either. Men called of God into the office of Prophet are usually ambitious types to start with. It seems Moses put himself in a fair bit of danger of course; Pharaoh could try to assassinate him. If something like that happened and the attempt failed…well…Moses certainly had the grass roots support of the army…and it wouldn’t take much for the millions of desperate Hebrews to forgive him. He could, after all, explain his actions to them rather simply as “all part of my master plan to save you poor people”. If such an attempt at his life did not immediately occur he could maintain the posture of loyalty…and wait for his old grandfather to die…and then make a move against his real rivals…his own uncles, cousins or even brothers by adoption.

Josephus is a tricky source. At best he was retelling the traditional history of Moses held by ancient Jews. And as far as that goes the story does appear to be realistic and oral tradition in that part of the world should not be viewed with mountains of suspicion. The Jews were very meticulous when passing such traditions down…they’d memorize the stories, word for word, as children and would then instruct their children to memorize the same story, word for word and pass it down…for generations. There would be no specific "reason" to doubt this tradition we read in Josephus. Well, almost no reason. You see, at times we know Josephus was a bit over zealous in his reporting. Now, in fairness…Josephus tended to embellish accounts of the immediate events in his day. I don’t think he would purposely embellish this account because the Romans, who he worked for, could not have possibly cared less about it. Josephus only tended to embellish things a bit when it was clear that it served to keep himself alive! So we are always cautious with the context of what Josephus was writing. The reason he is such a gem is because he was a studied expert in Jewish history BEFORE Rome burned Jerusalem to the ground. The man read and studied and memorized so much of what was destroyed that it should be considered nothing short of Providence that we have his writings today because they are a very strong link to understanding Jewish before Christ.

I believe that Josephus accurately reported what the ancient tradition of the life of Moses was. I think his account is at least that much reliable.

Think about it…maybe this helps to explain why Moses was forty years old before he personally went to where the Hebrew people were slaving. Maybe after the wars of his youth and excitement of political maneuvering had lost its sheen God began to burden him. Maybe something happened to him or to a loved one and he began to care about his roots. Maybe he began to think more about the God his birth mother nanny had taught him about as a toddler.

It’s always a mystery why someone would begin to care about something they had previously no real care for. But that is how God works. That is how God worked in your life isn’t it? Where you not simply living your life, doing what felt right and pursuing the riches and pleasures of this world…when all of a sudden you got “God” stuck in your head? Isn’t it weird to think back and trace your steps? You were probably a good normal person who understood that a “God” was way out there somewhere doing nice things for people…or whatever. And then suddenly the things of this world grew strangely dim as the light of His glory and grace began to melt you down in its radiant intensity. You might have resisted or even ran from it, but it was ultimately…irresistible. He did finally break you down, didn’t He?

This began to happen in Moses. He was forty years old and reality began to take shape for him. Something was changing and he was no longer satisfied with thoughts of gaining all the power in the world.

But we ought always to thank God for you, brothers loved by the Lord, because from the beginning God chose you to be saved through the sanctifying work of the Spirit and through belief in the truth. He called you to this through our gospel, that you might share in the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ. 2 Thessalonians 2:13-14 niv


Zac said...


I love this post-- there is nothing wrong with speculation, and Josephus' historical works have been confirmed many times by archaeologists, so there is usually no reason NOT to trust him.

But are there any positive reasons to trust him regarding the spoken traditions that accompanied the Scriptures? Can you guess my response? Hahahaha!

Actually there are some very positive reasons to give credence to much of those oral Hebrew traditions because the Apostles themselves do. "What?" you say. "This simply cannot be... the apostles were sola scriptura men!" Relax, I know you don't say stuff like that, but I had to rhetorically set up my information somehow! (well I didn't have to, but I wanted to)

The New Testament alludes to several oral traditions of the Hebrews and speaks of them as true, regarding Moses in particular.

First, there are the names of Pharaoh's magicians: Jannes and Jambres. These are not in the Exodus account at all, but the Hebrews never forgot their names. Apostle Paul mentions them in his second letter to Timothy:

"Now as Jannes and Jambres resisted Moses, so do these also resist the truth: men of corrupt minds, disapproved concerning the faith;" (2 Timothy 3:8)

Also, there was a Hebrew oral tradition that when Moses struck the rock (the second time) and it gave forth water, that actually a chunk of the rock broke off and Israel took it with them, and it gave them water during their 40 year sojourn in the wilderness. The actual story in the Penteteuch is silent on this, but St. Paul is quite clear that,

"and all drank the same spiritual drink. For they drank from a spiritual rock that followed them, and that rock was Christ." (1 Corinthians 10:4)

Then the Apostle Jude, also called Thaddeus, in his epistle, writes about the (non-Scriptural) angelic dispute over the body of Moses between Archangel Michael and the Devil:

"Yet Michael the archangel, in contending with the devil, when he disputed about the body of Moses, dared not bring against him a reviling accusation, but said, 'The Lord rebuke you!'" (Jude 1:9)

There are other non-scriptural Hebrew traditions concerning people other than Moses recorded in the New Testament as well, but for brevity's sake I will only mention the oral tradition of the holy Prophet Isaiah's execution. The prophet of God was slain in a very unique way-- he was sawn in half. This makes it near 100% likely that Isaiah is the one being spoken of in Hebrews, which mentions that some prophets,

"...were stoned, they were sawn in two, were tempted, were slain with the sword. They wandered about in sheepskins and goatskins, being destitute, afflicted, tormented" (Hebrews 11:37)

But wait... could this mean that there are other parts of tradition not even mentioned by the New Testament writers that (shudder) might actually also reveal theological truths? The apostles happened to think so, and what I've quoted above is by no means an exhaustive list.

But I don't want to be argumentative... I just don't think that idea is on the radar of most evangelicals, and the idea is actually quite scriptural.

irreverend fox said...

thanks zac!

I do agree to a point with you...I do think there needs to be a renewed balance in the reformed/evangelical world when it comes to the concept of tradition.


Sola Scriptura does not...repeat...does NOT undermine this. The doctrine teaches that ONLY the Scriptures (sola Scriptura) are infallible and inerrant and are therefore the final authority...but not the only authority. Anybody who says “if taint in the 1611 BIBLE I don’t believe it…” is just plain silly and is actually making a self defeating and unbiblical statement. They’d also have a real problem…a big time problem…dealing with the examples you mentioned here.

I have no problem with the Holy Apostles validating Hebrew tradition...just because something is "tradition" does not make it mythical or legend...a "tradition" can be very real, factually and actual history! And we know such is the case by the examples you give because the Apostles confirmed them for us. Also…the doctrine of “sola scriptura” is only the natural result of the post-Apostolic age…I’m not so sure it applied to them…or not as it does us today at least. The Apostles and Prophets were receiving and proclaiming the Word of the Lord…they were not simply “re-telling” as we are charged at doing today…they were being used in divine Revelation…something that is no longer going on…well…except with Benny Hinn and Rod Parsley of course.

I think this tradition about Moses, which was not mentioned in Scripture but laid out for us by Josephus here is also reasonable and I see no reason to rule it certainly does not contradict anything we know of the time, the roles and function of royal men during that time and most importantly it does not conflict with Scripture. It fits every test…at that point…since all the tests are met…we should ask ourselves “then why else would the ancient Jews pass this down”? My assumption is that they passed it down…because it basically happened. The only reason to discredit it is if you fundamentally discredit all oral tradition for some reason…and I see no reason to do that!

This knee jerk reaction when the word "tradition" is used is sad. When most western evangelicals hear the word they automatically dismiss it as an unreliable legend. Such might be the case but we should be much slower in arriving at that conclusion.

Zac said...

I seem also to remember something from the Scriptures about the Israelites being angry with Moses because he took a "Cushite" wife. While the Hebrew says "Cushite," the Greek and Latin translations have "Ethiopian." (a greek word that simply means something like people with dark faces)

Some modern commentators opine that this was simply a reference to Zipporah (who was Midianite) but that maybe Midian was subject to the rule of an African nation (like Ethiopia or Egypt) and so she was considered a "Cushite."

I could be wrong but I think the plain reading and also the more ancient commentaries indicate that this was Moses' second wife, and that she was in fact Ethiopian. This conforms to Josephus' account, anyway.

irreverend fox said...

I'm not sure...I do know that Josephus says that an Ethiopian (princess I believe) fell in love with Moses as she saw him fighting and became his wife. Who knows? Maybe she died? If that was the case maybe her death is what God used to shake Moses up and provoked him to visit his people at the age of 40?

Now we are into real speculation...

God knows...that's for sure.

Zac said...

Haha, yes!

Anonymous said...

Please explain heaven and earth will pass away but my word will not pass away.

Anonymous said...

Also Psalm 12:6,7

irreverend fox said...


I'm not following your question...I don't understand the context of it. What do you mean and how does it relate to the post?

help me out here friend...

Anonymous said...

My point is simply this it is God's Word, and His Word alone that1: tells us who He is. We may know that there is a God through creation, but to learn and know who He is, and how we are to have a relationship with Him is only through the Word.
Rom 10:17 Ps 12:6,7 Prov 30:5,6
Peter in 2 Peter 1:17-21 tells of his mountain top experience during the transfiguration of Jesus and clearly states that the Word is of a more surety than the experience. If we look at creation itself, it is God's Word that spoke everything into existance. Without His Word, there would be nothing still. (john 1:1-3)
We as humans made the unfortunate choice to worship the creation and not the creator. (Rom 1:17-28)
What was it that God gave to Moses on the Mount? Was it not His Word? It was most certainly the way that God wanted His people to live. And, where did He put His Word, but to write it in their hearts.
As concerning Josephus, historically speaking there is much we can learn from him. I would be extremely cautious to give his works the same credability as the Scriptures.
Lastly, Jesus Himself our example we are to follow always used the Word when responding to temptation
Mt 4:1-10 Mt 22:22-32,37-40 43-44. There are many more scriptures that prove that it is God's Word that changes a man. If we look at the old testament prophets, they will always say for Israel to "hear the Word(s) of the Lord.
Have a great Thanksgiving day. May God truly bless and keep us all in His grace and mercy.

irreverend fox said...


indeed all Revelation (written and unwritten) comes from God Almighty. I would suggest being careful not to confuse the phrase "The Word of God" with "The Bible". Maybe just say that all Revelation comes from God and that everything we need to know comes from God. When you say that God only speaks through His Word it sure "sounds like" you are saying that God only speaks through The Bible...which is not true at all.

We do know for a fact that Josephus was both fallible and errant...unlike the perfect Words of God...The Bible.