Now the most encouraging thing to us when we think about the character of Moses is this: He did not seem to have possessed all those qualities from the beginning. You might say, “Well, the root of them was in him.” That may be so. But if you think of the few incidents we know from his early life, it doesn’t always seem that these things were prominent. For example, the first thing we know about his decision to quit the court of Pharaoh and identify himself with his people is that he killed an Egyptian. He saw oppression taking place and he thought, “Well, the thing to do is get rid of the oppressor.” And so he killed him. That’s not exactly humility. It may have been courage of a sort. But even that courage didn’t seem to stand him in great stead, because as soon as it was found out and he realized his life was in danger, he fled from the country. Then, when he stood before the burning bush and God was telling him to go to Egypt, courage was the last thing he showed. He didn’t want to go. He had all kinds of reasons why he couldn’t go, why God had to choose somebody else. And yet, you see, he learned these characteristics as he walked with God.
You and I can do that too. You look at a Bible character and say, “Well yes, that’s wonderful. That character had all those great traits. I wish I had them, but I don’t.” But it’s encouraging to know that they didn’t always have those traits. They learned them along the way. And Moses certainly learned courage and meekness and prayer. And he grew in faith year by year as he lived with God. If he did it, you can do it too.
Moses lived to be 120 years old. And roughly speaking he had 40 years in each place. When he was 40 years old he had to run away, and he spent 40 years in the desert as a shepherd. God met him at the burning bush and called him to be the deliverer when he was 80 years old. And then he led the people for 40 years. It has been said that Moses spent 40 years in Egypt learning something. He spent 40 years in the desert learning to be nothing. And then he spent the last 40 years of his life proving God to be everything. I think that’s a good way of putting what the Christian life is all about. Some of us don’t prove God to be everything, because we never learned that we ourselves are nothing. And when we come to that point, then we are ready to have God work through us. And that’s what He did with Moses.
I want to say something else by way of introduction. Not only was Moses the great emancipator, but he has also been the vehicle by which God has given us the first five books of the Bible. So he is the author (humanly speaking) of a large portion of the Scriptures. That makes us reflect a little bit on the nature of that accomplishment.
Some people once argued that Moses could not have written the Pentateuch because they said that writing wasn’t even known in Moses’ day! All that has gone by the boards. They have now discovered writing from the time of Moses in six different written languages from the very area of the Sinai where Moses led the people for 40 years. So Moses certainly did know how to write. And not only that! He probably knew how to write in a variety of languages, because he was educated in the court of the Egyptians. He certainly knew the hieroglyphic way of writing. And he probably knew Akkadian because the Amarna documents are written in that, and it was the trade language of the day. He was undoubtedly a very highly educated man.
That isn’t the most important thing that needs to be said about the Bible, however. Let me give you some guidelines for how the Bible should be approached. This is sort of a basic hermeneutic, and the reason I am doing it in this introductory study is that it’s going to guide us in the way we are handling the material. There are four important things to be said about the Bible, and each of them has consequences as far as handling it is concerned.
First, the Bible has one true author, and that author is God. Now it’s also true that the Bible has come to us by human channels, which is the second thing I am going to mention. But the most important thing is that the Bible comes to us from God.
What that means is that the Bible is more than a merely human book. It contains the characteristics of human books, which means that the various authors put the stamp of their personality upon what they did, and their vocabularies differ. But the Bible, having come to us from God, contains one story because it’s a story that God wants to tell us. One passage, 2 Timothy 3:16-17, perhaps more than any other in the Bible, makes this point: “All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting, and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.”
Now the key idea in those verses is “God-breathed.” It means the Bible is the result of the breathing out of God. Sometimes we refer to the Bible as being inspired. Inspired means “breathed in.” What that word means is that God by His Holy Spirit breathed into the human writers so they wrote what God wanted. And that is true as well, but that’s not what this verse is talking about. This verse says, not that the Bible is the result of God breathing into the human writers, but the Bible is the result of the breathing out by God. In other words, it’s saying as clearly as you possibly can say it that the Bible is God’s Word.
Now, two important principles of interpretation follow from that. One is that since the Bible is God’s book, that is, from beginning to end (even though it has come to us through human authors), then the Bible is a unity. Secondly, because the Bible is a unity, the Bible will not contradict itself if it’s rightly understood. Sometimes we read portions of the Bible and they seem to be contradictory. We say, “How can this portion go together with this?” But if we understand it correctly, and if we take one portion of Scripture and compare it with another, then we find that the Bible tells a consistent story from beginning to end.
Now what that means in terms of our study of the Pentateuch is that the God we find at the beginning of the Bible in the first books of the Old Testament is the same God we’re going to find in the New Testament. Sometimes people have looked at the Bible and said that the God of the Old Testament is a tribal deity, a God of wrath; they had unworthy ideas of God in the Old Testament period, especially way back in the beginning. But we are going to find as we study that it isn’t true. The God we find back there is exactly the God who is presented to us by the Lord Jesus Christ: a sovereign and holy God, and a loving God as well.
It also means that we are not going to be misinterpreting the Bible, but rather we are going to be interpreting it rightly, when we see in the details given for the worship of Israel prefigure the coming ministry of Jesus Christ. What we find in the tabernacle, the sacrifices, and the plan of the construction itself—all point forward to Jesus Christ.