MOSES IN EGYPT AND THE WILDERNESS. -- EX.1:1; 7:5.
Goodnow, F. J., Comparative Administrative Law.
Hist. Bible I, 151-69.
And he went out on the following day and saw two men of the Hebrews striving together; and he said to the one who was doing the wrong, Why do you smite your fellow-workman? But he replied, Who made you a prince and a judge over us? Do you intend to kill me as you killed the Egyptian? Then Moses was afraid and said, Surely the thing is known. When, therefore, Pharaoh heard this thing, he sought to him Moses. But Moses fled from the presence of Pharaoh and took up his abode in the land of Midian.
And Jehovah said, I have surely seen the affliction of my people that are in Egypt, and have heard their cry of anguish, because of their taskmasters, for I know their sorrows; and I am come down to deliver them out of the power of the Egyptians, and to bring them up out of that land to a land, beautiful and broad, to a land flowing with milk and honey; Go and gather the elders of Israel together and say to them, Jehovah, the God of your fathers, the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, hath appeared to me, saying, I have surely visited you, and seen that which is done to you in Egypt, and I have said I will bring you up out of the affliction of Egypt to a land flowing with milk and honey. And they shall hearken to thy voice; and thou shalt come, together with the elders of Israel, to the king of Egypt, and ye shall say to him, |Jehovah, the God of the Hebrews, hath appeared to us; and now let us go, we pray thee, three days' journey into the wilderness, that we may sacrifice to Jehovah our God.| -- Hist. Bible.
Hold on; hold fast: hold out -- patience is genius.
Let us have faith that right makes might, and in that faith let us dare to do our duty as we understand it. -- Lincoln.
THE EGYPTIAN BACKGROUND OF THE BONDAGE.
The one contemporary reference to Israel thus far found in the Egyptian inscriptions comes from the reign of Merneptah the son of Ramses II. It implies that at the time at least part of the Hebrews were in the land of Palestine:
Plundered is Canaan with every evil;
Askalon is carried into captivity,
Gezer is taken;
Yenoam is annihilated,
Israel is desolated, her seed is not,
Palestine has become a widow for Egypt.
All lands are united, they are pacified.
Every one who is turbulent has been found by King Merneptah.
The testimony of the oldest Biblical narratives regarding the sojourn of the Hebrews in Egypt is, also, in perfect accord with the picture which the contemporary Egyptian inscriptions give of the period. Furthermore, the Egyptian historians never distinguished the different races in their midst, but rather designated the foreign serf class by a common name. The absence of detailed reference to the Hebrews is therefore perfectly natural. It seems probable that not all but only part of the tribes which ultimately coalesced into the Hebrew nation found their way to Egypt. The stories regarding Joseph, the traditional father of Ephraim and Manasseh, imply that these strong central tribes, possibly together with the southern tribes of Benjamin and Judah, were the chief actors in this opening scene in Israel's history.
The Biblical narratives apparently disagree regarding the duration of the sojourn in Egypt. The reference in Gen.15:16, which, some writers think, comes from the northern Israelite group of stories, implies that it was a period of between one hundred and one hundred and fifty years. The same duration is suggested by the priestly writer in Numbers 26:57-59. The later traditions tend to extend the period. If, as seems probable, the Hebrews first found their way to Egypt during the reign of Amenhotep IV, who reigned between 1375 and 1358 B.C., the older Hebrew chronology would make Ramses II, who reigned between 1292 and 1225, the Pharaoh of the oppression. Of all the Pharaohs of this period in Egypt's history the great builder and organizer Ramses II corresponds most closely to the Biblical description. He it was who filled Egypt from one end to the other with vast temples and other buildings which could have been reared only through the services of a huge army of serfs. The excavations of the Egypt Exploration fund have identified the Biblical Pithom with certain ruins in the Wady Tumilat near the eastern terminus of the modern railroad from Cairo to the Suez Canal. This probably lay in the eastern boundary of the Biblical land of Goshen, which seems to have included the Wady Tumilat and to have extended westward to the Nile delta. Here were found several inscriptions bearing the Egyptian name of the city P-Atum, house of the god Atum. The excavations also laid bare a great square brick wall with the ruins of store chambers inside. These rectangular chambers were of various sizes and were surrounded by walls two or three yards in thickness. Contemporary inscriptions indicate that they were filled with grain from the top and were probably used for the storing of supplies to be used by the armies of Ramses II in their Asiatic campaigns. This city was founded by Ramses II, who during the first twenty years of his reign, developed and colonized the territory east of the Nile delta including the Biblical land of Goshen. A contemporary inscription also states that he founded near Pithum the house of Ramses, a city with a royal residence and temples. Thus the inferences in the first chapter of Exodus regarding the historical background are in perfect accord with the facts now known from other sources regarding the reign of Ramses II. In transforming the land of Goshen into a cultivated, agricultural region the nomadic Hebrews were naturally put to task work by the strong-handed ruler of Egypt. That the Hebrews were restive under this tyranny was natural, inevitable. Apparently their rebellious attitude also increased the burden which was placed upon them. The memory of the crushing Hyksos invasion, which meant the rule of Egypt by nomadic invaders from Asia, was still fresh in the minds of the Egyptians. They both looked down upon and feared the nomad immigrants on their eastern border. In the light of these facts it is possible to understand the motives which influenced Ramses II cruelly to oppress the Hebrews. He endeavored, by forced labor and rigorous peonage, not only to avail himself of their needed services, but also to crush their spirit and by force to hold in subjection the alarmingly large serf class which was found at this time in the land of Egypt. Was any other procedure to be expected from a despotic ruler of that land and day?
THE MAKING OF A LOYAL PATRIOT.
The story of Moses' birth and early childhood is one of the most interesting chapters in Biblical history. It is full of human and dramatic interest. The great crisis in Moses' early manhood came when he woke to a realization of his kinship with the despised and oppressed serfs and an appreciation of the cruel injustice of which they were the helpless victims. Was Moses justified in resisting the Egyptian taskmaster? Are numbers essential to the rightness of a cause? What right had Ramses II to demand forced labor from the immigrants within his border? Was he justified in his method of exacting tribute? Is peonage always disastrous not only to its victims but also to the government imposing it?
Did Moses show himself a coward in fleeing from the land of Egypt? Naturally he went to the land of Midian. The wilderness to the east of Egypt had for centuries been the place of refuge for Egyptian fugitives. From about 2000 B.C. there comes the Egyptian story of Sinuhit, an Egyptian prince, who, to save his life, fled eastward past the |Wall of the Princes| which guarded the northeastern frontier of Egypt. On the borders of the wilderness he found certain Bedouin herdsmen who received him hospitably. These |sand wanderers| sent him on from tribe to tribe until he reached the land of Kedem, east of the Dead Sea, where he remained for a year and a half. Later he found his way to the court of one of the local kings in central Palestine where he married and became in time a prosperous local prince.
THE SCHOOL OF THE WILDERNESS.
The story of Moses is in many ways closely parallel to that of Sinuhit. Among the Midianite tribes living to the south and southeast of Palestine he found refuge and generous hospitality. The priest of the sub-tribe of the Kenites received him into his home and gave him his daughter in marriage. Note the characteristic Oriental idea of marriage. Here Moses learned the lessons that were essential for his training as the leader and deliverer of his people.
The Kenites figure in later Hebrew history as worshippers of Jehovah and are frequently associated with the Israelites. After the capture of Jericho certain of them went up with the southern tribes to conquer southern Palestine. (Judg.1:16.) It was Jael, the wife of Heber the Kenite (Judg.5:24), who rendered the Hebrews a signal service by slaying Sisera, the fleeing king of the Canaanites, after the memorable battle beside the River Kishon. Many modern scholars draw the conclusion from the Biblical narrative that it was from the Kenites that Moses first learned of Yahweh (or, as the distinctive name of Israel's God was translated by later Jewish scribes, Jehovah). Furthermore it is suggested that gratitude to the new God, who delivered the Israelites from their bondage, was the reason why they proved on the whole so loyal to Jehovah. This conclusion is possible and in many ways attractive, but it is beset with serious difficulties. We know, in ancient history, of no other example of a people suddenly changing their religion. When there have been such sudden and wholesale conversions in later times they have been either under the compulsion of the sword, as in the history of Islam, or under the influence of a far higher religion, as when Christianity has been carried to heathen peoples on a low stage of civilization. Do the earliest Hebrew traditions imply that the ancestors of the Israelites were worshippers of Jehovah? Is it not probable that Moses fled to the nomadic Midianites not only because they were kinsmen but because they were also worshippers of Jehovah?
In any case Moses' life in Midian tended to intensify his faith in Jehovah. The title of his father-in-law implies that this priest ministered at some wilderness sanctuary. In the light of the subsequent Biblical narrative was this possibly at the sacred spring of Kadesh or on the top of the holy mountain Horeb (elsewhere called Sinai) where Kenites and Hebrews believed that Jehovah dwelt, or at least manifested himself? Moses, in the home of the Midian priest, was brought into direct and constant contact with the Jehovah worship. The cruel fate of his people and the painful experience in Egypt that had driven him into the wilderness prepared his mind to receive this training. His quest was for a just and strong God, able to deliver the oppressed. The wilderness with its lurking foes and the ever-present dread of hunger and thirst, deepened his sense of need and of dependence upon a power able to guide the destinies of men. The peasants of the vast Antolian plain in central Asia Minor still call every life-giving spring, |God hath given.| The constant necessity of meeting the dangers of the wilderness and of defending the flocks entrusted to Moses' care developed his courage and power of leadership and action. What other great leaders of Israel were trained in this same school? What was the effect of their wilderness life upon the early New England pioneers?
MOSES' CALL TO PUBLIC SERVICE.
The solitude of the wilderness gave Moses ample opportunity for profound reflection. His previous experiences made such reflection natural, indeed inevitable. Borne by the caravans over the great highway from the land of the Nile or from desert tribe to tribe came occasional reports of the cruel injustice to which his kinsmen in Egypt were subjected. In these reports he recognized the divine call to duty. When perhaps at last the report came that the mighty despot Ramses II was dead, Moses like his later successor Isaiah (Is.6) saw that the moment had come for decision and action.
It looks to many scholars as if three originally distinct versions of Moses' call have been welded together in the narrative of Exodus 3, 4 and 6. Each differs in regard to detail (Hist. Bible I, 161-5). According to the early Judean prophetic account Jehovah spoke audibly to Moses from the flaming thorn bush. In the Northern Israelite version the moment of decision came to him as he stood with his flock on the sacred mountain Horeb. Like Isaiah in his memorable vision of Jehovah's presence, the inner consciousness of God and the compelling sense of duty led him to cry out: |Here am I.| Likewise in the late priestly story God's presence and character were so deeply impressed upon him that he seemed to bear an audible voice, according to the view of those who accept this interpretation, even though the later priests believed and taught that God was a spirit, not like man clothed in flesh and blood. Thus the different groups of Hebrew narratives in their characteristic way record the essential facts in Moses' call to public service. Each has preserved certain important elements in that call, and the late editor has done well to combine them. Even as Isaiah caught his supreme vision of Jehovah and of duty in the temple, so to Moses the prophetic call probably came on the lofty heights of the mountain in which he, in common with the Kenites, believed God dwelt. The wilderness with its flaming bush spoke to him God's message. Recent writers have felt and forcibly interpreted the fascination and the message of the desert and plain, none more vividly than the Welsh writer Rhoscomyl in describing the experience of one of his rough, self-reliant cowboy heroes:
|Two days ago he was riding back, alone, in the afternoon, from an unsuccessful search after strayed horses, and suddenly, all in the lifting of a hoof, the weird prairie had gleamed into eerie life, had dropped the veil and spoken to him; while the breeze stopped, and the sun stood still for a flash in waiting for his answer. And he, his heart in a grip of ice, the frozen flesh a-crawl with terror upon his loosened bones, white-lipped and wide-eyed with frantic fear, uttered a yell of horror as he dashed the spurs into his panic-stricken horse, in a mad endeavor to escape from the Awful Presence that filled all earth and sky from edge to edge of vision.
|Then almost in the same flash, the unearthly light died out of the dim prairie, the veil swept across into place again; and he managed to check his wild flight, and look about him. His empty lips were gibbering without a sound escaping them, and his very heart shivered with cold, for all the brassy heat of the day. But the breeze was wandering on again; under the great sun the prairie spread dim to the southwest, and tawny to the northeast; only between his own loose knees the horse trembled in every limb, and mumbled the bit with dry mouth. All was as before in earth and sky, apparently, but not in his own self. It was as if his spirit stood apart from him, putting questions which he could not answer, and demanding judgment upon problems which he dare not reason out.
|Then he remembered what this thing was which had happened. The prairie had spoken to him, as sooner or later it spoke to most men that rode it. It was a something well known amongst them, but known without words, and as by a subtle instinct, for no man who had experienced it ever spoke willingly about it afterwards. Only the man would be changed; some began to be more reckless, as if a dumb blasphemy rankled hidden in their breasts. Others, coming with greater strength perhaps to the ordeal, became quieter, looking squarely at any danger as they face it, but continuing ahead as though quietly confident that nothing happened save as the gods ordained.|
The motive power in all of Moses' later work was that transforming, vivid sense of Jehovah's presence that came to him on the barren mountain peak.
Also fundamental to his call was the recognition of the crying need of his disorganized, oppressed kinsmen in Egypt. This appealed to all the instincts begotten by his shepherd training; for they were a shepherdless flock in the midst of wolves. Through the ages the inhabitants of the parched, stony wilderness had looked with hungry eyes upon the tree-clad hills and green fields of Palestine. The early traditions of his ancestors also glorified this paradise of the wilderness wanderer and led Moses to look to it as the haven of refuge to which he might lead his helpless kinsmen. Vividly and concretely the ancient narrative tells of the struggle in the mind of Moses between his own diffidence and consciousness of his limitations on the one side and on the other his sense of duty and the realization of Jehovah's power to accomplish what seemed to man miraculous. Was Moses' inner experience like that of the other great Hebrew prophets? Who? Like that of Jesus? Does every man who undertakes a great service for humanity to-day pass through a somewhat similar struggle? How about Grant on leaving his home at Galena, Illinois? Lincoln at the great crisis of his life?
THE EDUCATION OF PUBLIC OPINION.
Like every man who catches a vision of a great need and undertakes to meet it, Moses had to educate public opinion. Whatever the form of government may be, whether monarchy or democracy, it must ultimately rest upon the will of the people, and the shaping of that will is often a statesman's task. In a democracy the expression of the people's will is readily determined at every election, although in many cases, owing to the number of issues, this result is not clearly seen.
In a despotism like Egypt there is no ready expression of a people's will. However great their sufferings, they must endure until they feel that the evils of revolt are less than the evils of oppression. Then, by means of a revolution, they carry out their will. In what ways did the Exodus resemble, in what ways differ from a revolution? Compare Moses with Washington or Samuel Adams as leader of a revolution. During the last few years in China there has been great dissatisfaction on the part of many millions of the people with the rule of the Manchu dynasty. It was, nevertheless, for many years the people's will rather to endure the evils of a corrupt government than to take the risk of war. At length, however, after years of propaganda by skilful leaders war appeared to them the lesser evil and their will was carried out by force of arms. The government, in this direct way, was forced to recognize the will of the people and to grant their requests.
A statesman considers not merely his own views regarding the best methods of governing his country or of gaining special ends, but he must carefully consider also what plans can in practice be carried out. In all free governments only those policies can be put into effect that meet the approval of the people; and one of the greatest gifts of a statesman is the ability to ascertain, with few mistakes, how far his proposed policies meet the public will and how he can so put his plans before the people as to convince them of their benefits.
In the later days of the Egyptian bondage the Israelites made frequent complaint of the oppression of the Pharaohs, bemoaning their fate as serfs, but for many years after their sufferings had become severe they had not yet been roused to a determination to throw off the yoke of the oppressor. Even when Moses first attempted to rouse them to make a struggle for freedom, he could not breathe into them his own bold spirit. What measures did Moses take to incite the Israelites to action? What measures did he take to convince Pharaoh of his duty toward the Israelites? Did he present his case truthfully? Was he justified in the measures taken?
At length, not from the acts of the Israelites, but from the plagues that afflicted the Egyptians and the insistent demand of Moses, coupled with the belief that the plagues were sent on account of divine displeasure, as a punishment for unjust oppression, the Hebrews were enabled to escape. What is the contemporary Egyptian testimony regarding the plagues? (Hist. Bible I, 176-7.) Do the earliest Hebrew records imply that these were miracles or natural calamities peculiar to the land of Egypt? The statesmanship of Moses led him to seize the opportune time for freeing his people from bondage. Only the influence of the religious sentiments among his people and their belief in Jehovah together with the religious awe felt by the Egyptian rulers, enabled him to take advantage of the circumstances so that he could rescue his people. In most countries religion is a powerful influence often made use of by rulers, sometimes for good, sometimes for ill, to direct the action of their subjects. The Greek church in Russia has for many decades been, perhaps, the most important weapon by which the Russian Czars have kept their people in peaceful submission. If China loses her Mongolian provinces, it will be because the religious leaders of Mongolia are controlling their people. Can you give in the United States an example of a people largely dominated by the religious motive which controls most of the affairs of their every-day life? How far was the religious motive responsible for the settlement and upbuilding of the New England Colonies? How far and in what ways may a statesman to-day appeal to the moral and religious feelings of the people in order to promote national and international welfare?
THE TRAINING OF MODERN STATESMEN.
In training administrative officers in the leading countries of Europe and in the United States, emphasis is laid upon a knowledge of history, of constitutional, administrative and international law, politics, economics, diplomacy and any other subjects that may fall within the scope of action of the special official. When, however, a law-maker or a high administrative official deals at first hand with a great population, it is extremely important that he be so experienced and so fitted by temperament that he may know his people. He must see how far he can go without arousing too much opposition. Even in promoting good measures, it is often essential not to go too fast, if he is to succeed.
Every statesman of modern times, as well as those of bygone days, must have the interests of the people genuinely at heart if he is to be, in the best sense of the word, successful. What did Moses seek for his people? Liberty? Prosperity? Religious freedom?
Confucius, the great Chinese sage, from his study of human nature and of government five centuries before Christ, had learned that the rule of justice in the state promoted prosperity. At length a young ruler made him his prime minister. The result of his wise and just measures was to bring into his country so large a number of immigrants who preferred to live in a country where justice reigned, that the prosperity aroused the envy and hostility of the neighboring states. In consequence measures were taken to put an end to this just rule, which was felt to be so detrimental to other kings, unwilling to adopt the same just means. Finally the wise Confucius was treacherously driven from his post, not, however, until he had proved that the counsels of justice and religion were those best suited to the welfare of the state. This is a common experience in all lands and ages; but perhaps nowhere else has the lesson been so frequently and so thoroughly taught as in the history of the Hebrews, that the most essential factor in a statesman's training is the acceptance of the principles of justice and righteousness. In other words -- |God is the most important factor in human progress.|
Questions for Further Consideration.
Is it the duty of a government, in order to promote the welfare of its people, to set aside at times the personal convenience, even the personal welfare of individuals or of certain classes? If an inheritance tax falls heavily upon the heirs of a rich man, ought the state to collect it? On what grounds is a state justified in withholding liberty from criminals? From children?
Many of our states compel citizens to work in repairing country roads. Is this temporary peonage? How do you justify a state in compelling citizens to risk their lives in war? In what circumstances would a state be justified in compelling its citizens to labor? Did circumstances justify Pharaoh? Why were he and his kingdom punished?
Is it ever right, for an individual to raise his hand against a recognized and established authority? Or, when there is an established government, should an individual ever attempt to punish crime or avenge personal wrong? Were our revolutionary forefathers right in resisting the demands of King George? Are numbers essential to the rightness of a cause?
In what ways does God to-day call men to do an important task? Do you consider Lincoln a man raised up by God for a purpose and called by him to service? If so, how did the call come? Was Moses' call similar? Should a clergyman have a definite call to his life-work? Should every man? Does every man have such a call, if he but interprets rightly his experiences?
A working girl had seen the story of Moses at a moving picture show. Afterwards she commented as follows: |Our walking delegate is a regular Moses. He said to the factory boss, 'You let my people go.'| In what respect is the labor struggle to-day similar to that in Egypt under Moses?
Subjects for Further Study.
(1) The Egyptian System of Education. Breasted, Hist. of the Ancient Egyptians, 92-94, 395; Hist. of Egypt, 98-100; Maspero, Dawn of Civilization, 288; Erman, Life of the Ancient Egyptians, 328-368.
(2) Origin of the Jehovah Religion. Budde, Religion of Israel, 1-38; Gordon, Early Traditions of Gen., 106-110; Hastings, Dict. of the Bible, Extra Vol.626-627.
(3) The Practical Training for Statesmanship of Augustus, Gladstone and Lincoln. Plutarch, Lives of the Emperors; Morley, Life of Gladstone; A. good Biographical Dictionary; Brown, The Message of the Modern Pulpit.
(4) Compare the government of Egypt under Pharaoh with that in China in the days of Confucius and with that of Greece in the days of the siege of Troy. Homer, Iliad and Odyssey; Life of Confucius.