|THE MESSIAH AS THE SECOND MOSES
The Rabbinic literature often presents parallels between similar types of fact. Sometimes this comparison is developed by the qal’va- Hômer principle -- from the simple to the more complex; sometimes the matter is brought to life with an appropriate illustration. Likewise the Messianic concept has created its own figurative language. One of the most freqently used parallels is the likening of the Messiah to the "first saviour", Moses.
Amongst Christians a similar parallelism appears as early as Jesus' statement that, "If you believed Moses you would believe me, because he wrote about me" (John 5:46). Those who listened to him sometimes exclaimed, "We have found the one Moses wrote about in the Law, and about whom the prophets also wrote" (John 1:45). When speaking about the Messiah, Christian theologians sometimes use the concept Moses redivivus, 'Moses brought back to life', or the 'new' Moses. This notion is derived from a verse to which both Peter and Stephen refer in the Acts of the Apostles (3:22 and 7:37).
In Deut. 18:15 and 18--19 we find the promise that:
The Messiah as the Last Saviour
When we speak of the Messiah as the 'second Moses' we encounter in the old Jewish writings a wide spectrum of thought and a broad view of salvation history. The best way to get these aspects into perspective is probably to resort to sub-headings, which will reduce what has to be said into smaller, more easily digestible bites.
The Midrash literature on Moses speaks of the 'First' and the 'Last' Saviours. Midrash Rabbah on Ecclesiastes relates how R. Berechiah said in the name of R. Yits .hak, who lived before the year 300 AD, that:
All four gospels one after the other record Jesus' miracles of the feeding of the multitudes. Just before his Passion Jesus chided the disciples on the way to Caesarea Philippi for their concern about what they would eat on the journey:
Comparisons between Moses and Jesus.
The Midrash uses the comparative phrase, "as it was, so it will be". We also find close scrutiny of the parallels between Jesus and Moses not infrequently in Christian literature. It has led to the inference that Jesus is somekind of 'Moses redivivus'. What contributory factors do we see there? Firstly, Moses' parents were Levites, so it was natural for him to give teaching about the worship of God to his people. Jesus too devoted himself to his high priestly commission -- the letter to the Hebrews speaks of this some fifteen times. On Moses' birth, newborn baby boys in Egypt were persecuted, and likewise when Jesus was born the sound of children's crying was heard in Bethlehem. Moses spent 40 years in the desert of Midian as a shepherd. Jesus too showed himself to be the good shepherd who searches out his lost sheep. In one well-known story of the Rabbis there is a description of Moses carrying a stray lamb to a well. A voice is then heard from heaven to say, "Because you have shown mercy to a creature of flesh and blood, I will make you the shepherd of your people".
Moses came to Egypt to liberate his brothers from slavery; Jesus came
to redeem us from the yoke of sin. Moses was the leader of his people;
Jesus went before his disciples. Moses gave the tables of the Covenant;
Jesus wished to write the dual commandment of Love in believers' hearts.
Moses also served as a judge; similarly, Jesus stressed that all judgement
was entrusted to the Son, that all may honour the Son. Moses prayed for
those who opposed and maligned him, such as Miriam. When the people had
been worshipping the golden calf Moses called out, "Whoever is for the
LORD, come to me". He prayed, "Please forgive their sin -- but if not,
then blot me out of the book you have written" (Ex. 32:26,32); in the same
way Jesus said, "Come to me all who are heavy laden and weary, and I will
give you rest," and he prayed on the cross for the malefactors. Moses was
"a very humble man, more humble than anyone else on the face of the earth"
(Num. 12:3); Jesus too was "meek and lowly in heart". Such comparisons
show that Jesus really was the promised prophet who would be "like Moses".
Moses' relationship with God differed from that of his predecessors. Jewish writers often put so much emphasis on the ordinances of the Pentateuch that Moses' personal devotional life is ignored. Christians, for their part, often caricature the "religion of Moses" as the religion of vengeance, the religion which demands "an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth". But does this tally with the revelation of God which Moses received?
In the early stages of his vocation Moses heard the word of God: "I am the LORD. I appeared to Abraham, to Isaac and to Jacob as God Almighty, but by my name the LORD I did not make myself known to them." (Ex. 6:2--3) When Miriam and Aaron maligned Moses God said to them,
The leading Mediaeval Talmud and OT expositor RaSHI states that apparently Moses did not actually see the "form of the LORD" but it was as if in a "spoken vision" or in a "Holy Spirit vision", and as if from behind.52 Jacob was another who saw the face of God when, by the stream Jabbok, he wrestled with the "Angel of the Presence" (lit. 'of the faces'), Peniel, and said, "I have seen God face to face, and yet my life was spared" (Gen. 32:30, Is. 63:9). Jacob's vision was more an angelic vision in which, according to the Rabbis -- as we shall see later -- the Messiah appeared. But how is it possible that Moses could actually have "seen" God, since before the verse concerned he is told, "But you cannot see my face, for no-one may see me and live" (Ex. 33:20)? Could it be that what is meant by "seeing the form" of the LORD is that Moses came to understand something of the "inner being" of God?
The Bible does not, however, speak of God as an abstract idea but as a person. There is a danger in present Judaism of handling God agnostically or in a deistic way, just as if he was not the God of revelation, Deus revelatus. In this way the thinking goes that a demiurge created the world but left it then to its own devices. This danger in Judaism is partly a reaction to Christianity, in its emphasis that "the word became flesh" and "was made manifest in the flesh" (John 1:14 and 1.Tim. 3:16) -- God became a man. Even though the oldest Jewish writings imply a divine origin in speaking of the Messiah, this 'incarnation', Christ's becoming a man, is one of its greatest stumbling blocks. It was for this reason that RaMBaM, Maimonides, formed the 3rd of his 13 articles of faith, which states:
In the Creation account God says: "Let us make man in our image, in our likeness... So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him" (Gen. 1:26--7). There are two Hebrew words here tselem, 'image' (in modern Hebrew, 'photograph'), and demuth, 'figure' or 'similitude'. When Moses is allowed to look at the "form of the LORD" the word temunah is used, which in its primary sense means a 'drawing'. All of these expressions are very concrete. God is a person and he has a definite form and being. This was experienced by Moses on a deeper level than by his predecessors.
We could not conceive of God as being material. Still, he has revealed himself in a form which "the material person can understand". The religion of Moses was not just a general Creator-belief in the Almighty. In what, then, lies the difference between the religion of the Patriarchs and that of Moses? The Jerusalem Talmud states that the Patriarchs knew only the "God of heaven, but God did not reveal to them the Lord's MIMRA". This Aramaic word MIMRA the Rabbis often identified with the Messiah. It corresponds to the Greek logos or 'word'. Targum Jonathan says that, "My name the LORD I did not, however, reveal to them through my Holy Spirit."
The name of the Lord as a sign of salvation
But who is this Lord who revealed himself to Moses? Abraham, after all, built an altar to the Lord; but it was reserved for Moses to hear this name and its explanation from the burning bush (Ex. 3:14). The word "LORD" appears approx. 6700 times in the OT. In its Hebrew form Yahweh it highlights the presence of God. The words 'was', 'is', and 'is to be' can be formed from its root letters. The Past, Present, and Future -- the whole "trinity" contained in the concept of time -- are united in God's essential being. When Moses enquired about the name of God he received in reply the answer, "I am who I am. This is what you are to say to the Israelites: 'I AM has sent me to you'." God is! He is the key to the whole of reality.
In the revelation of God in the Burning Bush the word anochi, 'I', which God uses of himself, is given as an ôth or 'sign'. Small wonder that the Midrash sees here a reference to the Messiah:
The Talmud Sages too see in the name Yahweh a reference to the Messiah: "Three things were created on the basis of the name of the Holy One: the Righteous, the Messiah, and Jerusalem."54 The thought about the Messiah is inferred here from Jeremiah 23:6 and 33:16, according to which God will raise up to David a Righteous Branch; "And this is the name by which he will be called: The LORD our righteousness". Rabbis Shmuel Ben Nahman (ca.260 AD) and Abba Bar Kahana (ca.300 AD) came to the conclusion that, "this is the name of the Messiah".55 Christian interpretation usually understands the name Yahweh to mean 'the Lord of the covenant'.
The early Christian church also saw in Yahweh more than a hint of Messianism. In their use of the so-called "translation of the Seventy", the 'Septuagint', in which the Hebrew 'Yahweh' is translated by the Greek 'Kyrios', the early Christians understood it as referring to Christ. It is certainly true that Jesus acted with the authority of God, preaching that, "No-one has seen the Father except the one who is from God; only he has seen the Father"... "He who looks at me sees the One who sent me"... "I and the Father are one"... "Come to me"... "Learn from me"... "I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life". This is highlighted by the early church's briefest creed: "Jesus Christ is Lord!" (Phil. 2:11). The sign of the Latter Redemption is precisely here in the way our Saviour used the word 'I', which proves his lordship.
Did Moses believe in an avenging God or in a God of mercy?
In the 33rd chapter of Exodus we read that, "The LORD would speak to Moses face to face, as a man speaks to his friend". And Moses prayed, "If your Presence does not go with us, do not send us up from here. How will anyone know that you are pleased with me and with your people unless you go with us?" (vv 11,15--16)
When Moses carved out two new stone tablets to replace those which he had broken in his wrath, the "LORD" passed in front of him, then he heard the Old Testament's most beautiful hymn of grace which is repeated over and over in the Prophets and in the Psalms:
The Greek New Testament uses mainly one word for 'sin', hamartia, which depicts 'going astray' and 'error'. The Bible takes up the issue of man's sin right from its very first pages. Even the two main Hebrew words for prayer lehitpallel and lehithannen reflect this thought: the first comes from plili, 'guilty', and the second from the word hanun, meaning 'gracious' -- and both words are in a grammatical form which illustrates a self-repeating act. In prayer we always confess our sins and give thanks to God that he is gracious.
The OT speaks only a couple of times about the "love" of God. Rather, the love of man for God and for his neighbour is stressed from time to time. The Hebrew term for love, then, refers primarily to human feelings. When speaking of God the word 'mercy' corresponds to 'love', because we do not deserve the favour of a Holy God. The Greek NT solved the problem by creating a special term agape for the love of God -- the word eros being associated with the sensual life, and phileo, which is also used for 'love', means 'to kiss'. The hymn of grace heard by Moses depicts this agape using four different 'mercy' words, and relates the forgiveness and faithfulness of God to the context of 'mercy': he "abounds in love and faithfulness". For 'faithfulness' the OT uses here the word emet or 'truth'. These characteristics are also true of Jesus: "He was full of grace and truth"... "Grace and truth came through Jesus Christ" (John 1:14,17).
A representative of the Helsinki synagogue once complained in a television discussion that the words Moses heard had been translated to sound like they were thoroughly vengeful: "God does not leave unpunished but will avenge!" The Authorised Version is closer to the Hebrew when it says that, "God will by no means clear the guilty", and the German Bible states that before him "no man is without guilt". The original text reads, ve-naqqeh lo ye-naqqeh; behind this lies a root meaning 'cleansing', which is emphasised by the repeation. Accurately translated, this verse reads as "cleaning he will not clean", in other words, he will "leave uncleansed".
And as for 'vengeance'? Hebrew uses the milder term poqed avon, the verbal root form of which means 'counting' and in one of its forms the 'giving of a task'. Modern Hebrew's paqid or 'official, functionary' comes from the same root. The English 'reckon with' in the sense of 'take into consideration' is probably closest to the Hebrew. Rather than the vengeful translations of today it would be clearer to stick closely to the original and say that, God "forgives wickedness, rebellion, and sin, or he leaves them uncleansed, and he reckons with the wickedness of the fathers..."
The Hebrew Bible uses six main concepts instead of "vengeance or retribution". Their meaning; like "reckon with", "to pay", "restore", "recompense", "to bring up", or "return";56 is very mild by nature.
There is also of course the harsh word, naqam, 'vengeance', which God uses of himself: "Vengeance is mine, saith the Lord". When Hebrew idiom is given its due respect, 'vengeance' means the justice of God and its natural consequences: "What a man sows, that shall he reap". In the book of Job we read:
The Prophet who will be conceived by the Holy Spirit
We have already seen how the Targum of Jonathan twice mentions that the prophet like Moses will be "conceived by the Holy Spirit". When looking more closely at the background to this thought, the Judaist H.L.Strack comes to mind. In 1911 he initiated a discussion of the so-called Sadducean documents of Damascus, which speak at length of a "teacher of righteousness" and the "Holy Spirit".58 In these literary finds -- which actually belong to the same genre as the Dead Sea Scrolls -- there is an account of God concealing himself and rejecting the remnant of Israel: "And he will raise up to them a Teacher of Righteousness to lead them in the way of their hearts." The Messiah is referred to here by the name 'the Branch': "And he will teach righteousness in the last days". Of him it is said that God will "make his Holy Spirit known to them through his Messiah, and he will be the TRUTH." Reference is made four times to the "Messiah of Aaron and Israel". The "Messiah of Aaron" means his priestly role, and the "Messiah of Israel" his kingly state.
The Dead Sea Scrolls contain a section which also brings to mind the above. Speaking of the "Godly men" in the Essene community we read that, "When God begets the Messiah,59 with them will come the Priest, head of the whole congregation of Israel and of all the elders of the sons of Aaron... And they will sit before him, each man according to his dignity. And the last to sit will be the Messiah of Israel."
Dr R.Gordis says that if this excerpt is taken seriously it will be "highly important as a source for the concept of a Divinely begotten Messiah".60 The word yolid which appears in the text means in its primary sense to 'beget'. The Targum's mention of the prophet who will be raised up through the Holy Spirit has been completely overlooked by critics, although it is more important than the Dead Sea Scroll excerpt in that it relates directly to the exegesis of the Old Testament. The Targum uses the word aqim, 'I will raise up' , for the begetting of the prophet like Moses. This is all set in relief by the saying in Psalm 2:7: "You are my son; today I have begotten you". This verse -- which the Rabbis considered a Messianic prophecy -- contains the same term as in the Dead Sea Scrolls for "beget". It was also of central importance in the early church (Acts 13:33, Heb. 1:5 and 5:5)
We have seen that in the light of the old Jewish literature the Messiah
is to be a "Second Moses" and the "Last Saviour"; he will be called by
the name "Lord"; grace and truth will be united in him; he will be conceived
by the Holy Spirit; he will speak and act in the name of God, and that
will be his distinguishing "sign"; in this way he will show himself to
be Moses "redivivus". All of these features apply to Jesus.