Moses was an extraordinary combination of military leader, social organizer, and religious teacher. He was the most important individual world teacher and leader between the times of Machiventa and Jesus. Moses attempted to introduce many reforms in Israel of which there is no record. In the space of one man’s life he led the polyglot horde of so-called Hebrews out of slavery and uncivilized roaming while he laid the foundation for the subsequent birth of a nation and the perpetuation of a race.
There is so little on record of the great work of Moses because the Hebrews had no written language at the time of the exodus. The record of the times and doings of Moses was derived from the traditions extant more than one thousand years after the death of the great leader.
Many of the advances which Moses made over and above the religion of the Egyptians and the surrounding Levantine tribes were due to the Kenite traditions of the time of Melchizedek. Without the teaching of Machiventa to Abraham and his contemporaries, the Hebrews would have come out of Egypt in hopeless darkness. Moses and his father-in-law, Jethro, gathered up the residue of the traditions of the days of Melchizedek, and these teachings, joined to the learning of the Egyptians, guided Moses in the creation of the improved religion and ritual of the Israelites. Moses was an organizer; he selected the best in the religion and mores of Egypt and Palestine and, associating these practices with the traditions of the Melchizedek teachings, organized the Hebrew ceremonial system of worship.
Moses was a believer in Providence; he had become thoroughly tainted with the doctrines of Egypt concerning the supernatural control of the Nile and the other elements of nature. He had a great vision of God, but he was thoroughly sincere when he taught the Hebrews that, if they would obey God, “He will love you, bless you, and multiply you. He will multiply the fruit of your womb and the fruit of your land—the corn, wine, oil, and your flocks. You shall be prospered above all people, and the Lord your God will take away from you all sickness and will put none of the evil diseases of Egypt upon you.” He even said: “Remember the Lord your God, for it is he who gives you the power to get wealth.” “You shall lend to many nations, but you shall not borrow. You shall reign over many nations, but they shall not reign over you.”
But it was truly pitiful to watch this great mind of Moses trying to adapt his sublime concept of El Elyon, the Most High, to the comprehension of the ignorant and illiterate Hebrews. To his assembled leaders he thundered, “The Lord your God is one God; there is none beside him”; while to the mixed multitude he declared, “Who is like your God among all the gods?” Moses made a brave and partly successful stand against fetishes and idolatry, declaring, “You saw no similitude on the day that your God spoke to you at Horeb out of the midst of the fire.” He also forbade the making of images of any sort.
Moses feared to proclaim the mercy of Yahweh, preferring to awe his people with the fear of the justice of God, saying: “The Lord your God is God of Gods, and Lord of Lords, a great God, a mighty and terrible God, who regards not man.” Again he sought to control the turbulent clans when he declared that “your God kills when you disobey him; he heals and gives life when you obey him.” But Moses taught these tribes that they would become the chosen people of God only on condition that they “kept all his commandments and obeyed all his statutes.”
Little of the mercy of God was taught the Hebrews during these early times. They learned of God as “the Almighty; the Lord is a man of war, God of battles, glorious in power, who dashes in pieces his enemies.” “The Lord your God walks in the midst of the camp to deliver you.” The Israelites thought of their God as one who loved them, but who also “hardened Pharaoh’s heart” and “cursed their enemies.”
While Moses presented fleeting glimpses of a universal and beneficent Deity to the children of Israel, on the whole, their day-by-day concept of Yahweh was that of a God but little better than the tribal gods of the surrounding peoples. Their concept of God was primitive, crude, and anthropomorphic; when Moses passed on, these Bedouin tribes quickly reverted to the semibarbaric ideas of their olden gods of Horeb and the desert. The enlarged and more sublime vision of God which Moses every now and then presented to his leaders was soon lost to view, while most of the people turned to the worship of their fetish golden calves, the Palestinian herdsman’s symbol of Yahweh.
When Moses turned over the command of the Hebrews to Joshua, he had already gathered up thousands of the collateral descendants of Abraham, Nahor, Lot, and other of the related tribes and had whipped them into a self-sustaining and partially self-regulating nation of pastoral warriors.