“The Lord thy God will raise up unto thee
a Prophet from the midst of thee, of thy brethren,
like unto me; unto Him ye shall harken.” – Deut. 18:15.
The history of Moses is valuable to Christians, not only as giving us a pattern of fidelity towards God, of great firmness, and great meekness, but also as affording us a type or figure of our Saviour Christ. No prophet arose in Israel like Moses, till Christ came, when the promise in the text was fulfilled—”The Lord thy God,” says Moses, “shall raise up unto thee a Prophet like unto me:” that was Christ. Now let us consider in what respects Moses resembled Christ; we shall find that this inquiry is very suitable at this time of year (Lent.).
- First, if we survey the general history of the Israelites, we shall find that it is a picture of man’s history, as the dispensation of the Gospel displays it to us, and that in it Moses takes the place of Christ. The Israelites were in the land of strangers, viz. the Egyptians; they were slaves, hardly tasked, and wretched, and God broke their bonds, led them out of Egypt, after many perils, to the promised land, Canaan, a land flowing with milk and honey. How clearly this prefigures to us the condition of the Christian Church! We are by nature in a strange country; God was our first Father, and His Presence our dwelling-place: but we were cast out of paradise for sinning, and are in a dreary land, a valley of darkness and the shadow of death. We are born in this spiritual Egypt, the land of strangers. Still we have old recollections about us, and broken traditions, of our original happiness and dignity as freemen. Thoughts come across us from time to time which show that we were born for better things than to be slaves; yet by nature slaves we are, slaves to the Devil. He is our hard task-master, as Pharaoh oppressed the Israelites; so much the worse than he, in that his chains, though we do not see them, become more and more heavy every year. They cling about us and grow; they multiply themselves, they shoot out and spread forth, and encircle us, those chains of sin, with many links, minute but heavy, weighing us down to the earth, till at last we are mere slaves of the soil, with an evil husbandry, slaves of that fearful harvest which is eternal death. Satan is a tyrant over us, and it seems to us useless to rebel. If we attempt it, we are but overpowered by his huge might, and his oppressive rule, and are made twice the children of hell that we were before: we may groan and look about, but we cannot fly from his country. Such is our state by nature.
But Moses conducted the Israelites from the house of bondage to their own land, from which their fathers had descended into Egypt. He came to them from God, and, armed with God’s power, he smote their cruel enemies, led them out of Pharaoh’s territory, divided the Red Sea, carried them through it, and at length brought them to the borders of Canaan. And who is it that has done this for us Christians? Who but the Eternal Son of God, our Lord and Saviour, whose name in consequence we bear? He has rescued us from the arm of him who was stronger than we; and therefore I say in this respect first of all, Christ is a second Moses, and a greater. Christ has broken the power of the Devil. He leads us forth on our way, and makes a path through all difficulties, that we may go forward towards heaven. Most men, who have deliberately turned their hearts to seek God, must recollect times when the view of the difficulties which lay before them, and of their own weakness, nearly made them sink through fear. Then they were like the children of Israel on the shore of the Red Sea. How boisterous did the waves look! and they could not see beyond them; they seemed taken by their enemies as in a net. Pharaoh with his horsemen hurried on to reclaim his runaway slaves; the Israelites sank down in terror on the sand of the seashore; every moment brought death or captivity nearer to them. Then it was that Moses said, “Stand still, and see the salvation of God.” And in like manner has Christ spoken to us. When our hearts fainted within us, when we said to ourselves, “How is it possible that we should attain heaven?” When we felt how desirable it was to serve God, but felt keenly the power of temptation; when we acknowledged in our hearts that God was holy and most adorable, and obedience to His will most lovely and admirable, and yet recollected instances of our past disobedience, and feared lest all our renewed resolutions to serve Him would be broken and swept away by the old Adam as mercilessly as heretofore, and that Satan would regain us, and yet prayed earnestly to God for His saving help; then He saved us against our fear, surprising us by the strangeness of our salvation. This, I say, many a one must recollect in his own case. It happens to Christians not once, but again and again through life. Troubles are lightened, trials are surmounted, fears disappear. We are enabled to do things above our strength by trusting to Christ; we overcome our most urgent sins, we surrender our most innocent wishes; we conquer ourselves; we make a way through the powers of the world, the flesh, and the devil; the waves divide, and our Lord, the great Captain of our salvation, leads us over. Christ, then, is a second Moses, and greater than he, inasmuch as Christ leads from hell to heaven, as Moses led the Israelites from Egypt to Canaan.
- Next, Christ reveals to us the will of God, as Moses to the Israelites. He is our Prophet, as well as our Redeemer. None was so favoured as Moses in this respect: before Christ came, Moses alone saw God face to face; all prophets after him but heard His voice or saw Him in vision. Samuel was called by name, but he knew not who called him in the dark night till Eli told him. Isaiah saw the vision of the Seraphim, and heard them cry “Holy” before the Lord; but it was not heaven that he saw, but the mere semblance of the earthly temple in which God dwelt among the Jews, and clouds filled it. But Moses in some sense saw God and lived; thus God honoured him. “If there be a prophet among you,” said Almighty God, “I the Lord will make Myself known unto him in a vision, and will speak unto him in a dream. My servant Moses is not so, who is faithful in all Mine house. With him will I speak mouth to mouth, even apparently, and not in dark speeches, and the similitude of the Lord shall he behold:” (Numb. 12:6-8.) and on his death we are told, “there arose not a prophet since in Israel like unto Moses, whom the Lord knew face to face.” (Deut. 34:10.) When he was in the Mount Sinai it is said of him still more expressly, “The Lord spake unto Moses face to face, as a man speaketh unto his friend.” (Exod. 33:11.) In the Mount he received from God the revelation of the Law, and the patterns of the holy services which the Jews were to offer to God; and so, being favoured with the intimate knowledge of God’s counsels, when he came down, his face shone with glory. The Divine majesty was reflected from it, and the people dared not look upon him. “The skin of his face shone while he talked with Him. And when Aaron and the children of Israel saw Moses, they were afraid to come nigh him.” “And till he had done speaking with them, he put a veil on his face.” (Exod. 34:29, 30, 33.)
Yet, after all, favoured as he was, Moses saw not the true presence of God. Flesh and blood cannot see it. Even when Moses was in the Mount, he was aware that the very fulness of God’s glory then revealed to him, was after all but the surface of His infinitude. The more he saw, the deeper and wider did he know that to be which he saw not. He prayed, “If I have found grace in Thy sight, show me now Thy way, that I may know Thee, that I may find grace in Thy sight; and God said, My Presence shall go with thee, and I will give thee rest.” (Exod. 33:13, 14.) Moses was encouraged to ask for further blessings; he said, “I beseech Thee, show me Thy glory.” This could not be granted; “Thou canst not see My face; for there shall no man see Me, and live.” So, as the greatest privilege which he might attain, Moses was permitted to see the skirts of God’s greatness—”The Lord passed by in a cloud, and proclaimed the Name of the Lord; and Moses made haste, and bowed his head toward the earth, and worshipped.” (Exod. 34:6, 8.) And it was this sight of the mere apparel in which God Almighty was arrayed, which made his face to shine.
But Christ really saw, and ever saw, the face of God, for He was no creature of God, but the Only-begotten Son, who is in the bosom of the Father. From eternity He was with Him in glory, as He says Himself, dwelling in the abyss of the infinite greatness of the Most High. Not for forty days, as Moses on the mount in figure, but for ever and ever was He present as the Counsellor of God, as His Word, in whom He delighted. Such was He of old; but at the time appointed He came forth from the Father, and showed Himself in this external world, first as its Creator, then as its Teacher, the Revealer of secrets, the Mediator, the Off-streaming of God’s glory, and the Express Image of His Person. Cloud nor image, emblem nor words, are interposed between the Son and His Eternal Father. No language is needed between the Father and Him, who is the very Word of the Father; no knowledge is imparted to Him, who by His very Nature and from eternity knows the Father, and all that the Father knows. Such are His own words, “No man knoweth the Son but the Father, neither knoweth any man the Father save the Son, and he to whomsoever the Son will reveal Him.” (Matt. 11:27.) Again He says, “He that hath seen Me hath seen the Father;” (John 14:9.) and He accounts for this when He tells us, that He and the Father are one (John 10:30.); and that He is in the bosom of the Father, and so can disclose Him to mankind, being still in heaven, even while He was on earth.
Accordingly, the Blessed Apostle draws a contrast between Moses and Christ to our comfort; “the Law,” he says, “was given by Moses, but grace and truth came by Jesus Christ.” (John 1:17.) In Him God is fully and truly seen, so that He is absolutely the Way, and the Truth, and the Life. All our duties are summed up for us in the message He brings us. Those who look towards Him for teaching, who worship and obey Him, will by degrees see “the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in His face,” and will be “changed into the same image from glory to glory.” And thus it happens that men of the lowest class and the humblest education may know fully the ways and works of God; fully, that is, as man can know them; far better and more truly than the most sagacious man of this world, to whom the Gospel is hid. Religion has a store of wonderful secrets which no one can communicate to another, and which are most pleasant and delightful to know. “Call on Me,” says God by the prophet, “and I will answer thee, and show thee great and mighty things which thou knowest not of.” This is no mere idle boast, but a fact which all who seek God will find to be true, though they cannot perhaps clearly express their meaning. Strange truths about ourselves, about God, about our duty, about the world, about heaven and hell, new modes of viewing things, discoveries which cannot be put into words, marvellous prospects and thoughts half understood, deep convictions inspiring joy and peace, these are a part of the revelation which Christ, the Son of God, brings to those who obey Him. Moses had much toil to gain from the great God some scattered rays of the truth, and that for his personal comfort, not for all Israel; but Christ has brought from His Father for all of us the full and perfect way of life. Thus He brings grace as well as truth, a most surprising miracle of mercy from the freeness of the gift, as well as a true wisdom from its fulness.
And yet, alas! in spite of all this bounty, men called Christians, and how many! live heartlessly, not caring for the gracious benefit. Look at the world. Men begin life with sinning; they quench the early promise of grace, and defile their souls; they block up the entrances of the spiritual senses by acts of sin, lying and deceit, intemperance, profaneness, or uncleanness,—by a foolish and trifling turn of mind,—by neglect of prayer when there is no actual vice,—or by an obstinate selfishness. How many are the ways in which men begin to lose sight of God!—how many are the fallings away of those who once began well! And then they soon forget that they have really left God; they still think they see His face, though their sins have begun to blind them. Like men who fall asleep, the real prospect still flits before them in their dreams, but out of shape and proportion, discoloured, crowded with all manner of fancies and untruths; and so they proceed in that dream of sin, more or less profound,—sometimes rousing, then turning back again for a little more slumber, till death awakens them. Death alone gives lively perceptions to the generality of men, who then see the very truth, such as they saw it before they began to sin, but more clear and more fearful: but they who are the pure in heart, like Joseph; or the meek among men, like Moses; or faithful found among the faithless, as Daniel; these men see God all through life in the face of His Eternal Son; and, while the world mocks them, or tries to reason them out of their own real knowledge, they are like Moses on the mount, blessed and hidden,—”hid with Christ in God,” beyond the tumult and idols of the world, and interceding for it.
- This leads me to mention a third point of resemblance between Moses and Christ. Moses was the great intercessor when the Israelites sinned: while he was in the mount, his people corrupted themselves; they set up an idol, and honoured it with feasting and dancing. Then God would have cut them off from the land of promise, had not Moses interposed. He said, “Lord, why doth Thy wrath wax hot against Thy people? Turn from Thy fierce wrath, and repent of this evil against Thy people.” (Exod. 32:11.) In this way he gained a respite, and then he renewed his supplications. He said to the people, “Ye have sinned a great sin; but now I will go up unto the Lord: peradventure I shall make an atonement for your sin. Then he said to their offended Creator, “Oh, this people have sinned a great sin, and have made them gods of gold. Yet now, if Thou wilt, forgive their sin.”
Here Moses, as is obvious, shadows out the true Mediator between God and man, who is ever at the right hand of God making intercession for us; but the parallel is closer still than appears at first sight. After Moses had said, “If Thou wilt, forgive their sin,” he added, “and if not, blot me, I pray Thee, out of Thy book, which Thou hast written.” He was taken at his word. Observe, rather than Israel should forfeit the promised land, he here offered to give up his own portion in it, and the exchange was accepted. He was excluded, dying in sight, not in enjoyment of Canaan, while the people went in under Joshua. This was a figure of Him that was to come. Our Saviour Christ died, that we might live: He consented to lose the light of God’s countenance, that we might gain it. By His cross and passion, He made atonement for our sins, and bought for us the forgiveness of God. Yet, on the other hand, observe how this history instructs us, at the same time, in the unspeakable distance between Christ and Moses. When Moses said, “Blot me, I pray Thee, out of Thy book,” God did not promise to accept the exchange, but He answered, “Whosover hath sinned against Me, him will I blot out of My book.” Moses was not taken instead of Israel, except in figure. In spite of Moses, the sinful people were plagued and died (Vide Exod. 32:34.), though their children entered the promised land. And again, Moses, after all, suffered for his own sin. True, he was shut out from Canaan. But why? Not in spite of his having “done nothing amiss,” as the Divine Sufferer on the cross, but because he spake unadvisedly with his lips, when the people provoked him with their murmurings. The meek Moses was provoked to call them rebels, and seemed to arrogate to himself the power and authority which he received from God; and therefore he was punished by dying in the wilderness. But Christ was the spotless Lamb of God, “who, when He was reviled, reviled not again; when He suffered, He threatened not, but committed Himself to Him that judgeth righteously.” And His death is meritorious; it has really gained our pardon.
Moreover, it is well to observe now apparently slight a fault it was for which Moses suffered; for this shows us the infinite difference between the best of a sinful race and Him who was sinless,—the least taint of human corruption having in it an unspeakable evil. Moses was the meekest of men, yet it was for one sudden transgression of the rule of meekness that he suffered; all his former gentleness, all his habitual humbleness of mind, availed him nothing. It was unprofitable, and without merit, because it was merely his duty. It could not make up for a single sin, however slight. Thus we see how it would be with us if God were extreme to mark what is done amiss: and thus, on the other hand, we see how supremely holy and pure that Saviour must be whose intercession is meritorious, who has removed from us God’s anger. None can bring us to Him but He who came from Him. He reveals God, and He cleanses man. The same is our Prophet and our Priest.
We are now approaching the season when we commemorate His death upon the cross: we are entering upon the most holy season of the whole year. May we approach it with holy hearts! May we renew our resolutions of leading a life of obedience to His commandments, and may we have the grace to seal our good resolutions at His most sacred Supper, in which “Jesus Christ is evidently set forth crucified among us.” It is useless to make resolves without coming to Him for aid to keep them: and it is useless coming to His table without earnest and hearty resolves; it is provoking God “to plague us with divers diseases, and sundry kinds of death.” But what shall be said of those who do neither the one nor the other,—who neither vow obedience, nor come to Him for grace?—who sin deliberately after they have known the truth—who review their sins in time past in a reckless hard-hearted way, or put them aside out of their thoughts—who can bear to jest about them, to speak of them to others unblushingly, or even to boast of them, and to determine on sinning again,—who think of repenting at some future day, and resolve on going their own way now, trusting to chance for reconciliation with God, as if it were not a matter to be very anxious about? This state of mind brings upon man a judgment heavier than all the plagues of Egypt,—a judgment compared with which that darkness which could be felt is as the sun’s brightness, and the thunders and hail are as the serene sky,—the wrath to come.
Awake, then, my brethren, with this season, to meet your God, who now summons you from His cross and tomb. Put aside the sin that doth so easily beset you, and be ye holy even as He is holy. Stand ready to suffer with Him, should it be needful, that you may rise together with Him. He can make bitter things sweet to you, and hard ways easy, if you have but the heart to desire Him to do so. He can change the Law into the Gospel. He can, for Moses, give you Himself. He can write the Law on your hearts, and thereby take away the handwriting that is against you, even the old curse which by nature you inherit. He has done this for many in time past. He does it for many at all times. Why should He not do it for you? Why should you be left out? Why should you not enter into His rest? Why should you not see His glory? O, why should you be blotted out from His book?
John Henry Newman, Parochial and Plain Sermons, Vol VII, 9