The name of the illustrious prophet and legislator of the Hebrews, who led them from Egypt to the Promised Land. Having been originally imposed by a native Egyptian princess, the word is no doubt Egyptian in its origin, and Josephus gives its true derivation—from the two Egyptian words, MO, water, and USE, saved. With this accords the Septuagint form, MOUSES. The Hebrews by a slight change accommodated it to their own language, as they did also in the case of some other foreign words; calling it MOSHIE, from the verb MASHA, to draw. See Exodus 2:10. Moses was born about 15.71 B. C., the son of Amram and Jochebed, of the tribe of Levi, and the younger brother of Miriam and Aaron. His history is too extensive to permit insertion here, and in general too well known to need it. It is enough simply to remark, that it is divided into three periods, each of forty years. The first extends from his infancy, when he was exposed in the Nile, and found and adopted y the daughter of Pharaoh, to his flight to Midian.
During this time he lived at the Egyptian court, and "was learned in all the wisdom of the Egyptians, and was nightly in words and in deeds," Acts 7:22. This is no unmeaning praise; the "wisdom" of the Egyptians, and especially of their priests, was then the profoundest in the world. The second period was from his flight till his return to Egypt, Acts 7:30, during the whole of which interval he appears to have lived in Midian, it may be much after the manner of the Bedaween sheikhs of the present day. Here he married Zipporah, daughter of the wise and pious Jethro, and became familiar with life in the desert. What a contrast between the former period, spent amid the splendors and learning of a court, and this lonely nomadic life. Still it was in this way that God prepared him to be the instrument of deliverance to His people during the third period of his life, which extends from the exodus out of Egypt to his death on mount Nebo. In this interval how much did he accomplish, as the immediate agent of the Most High.
The life and institutions of Moses present one of the finest subjects for the pen of a Christian historian, who is at the same time a competent biblical antiquary. His institutions breathe a spirit of freedom, purity, intelligence, justice, and humanity, elsewhere unknown; and above all, of supreme love, honor, and obedience to God.
They molded the character of the Hebrews, and transformed them from a nation of shepherds into a people of fixed residence and agricultural habits. Through that people, and through the Bible, the influence of these institutions has been extended over the world; and often where the letter has not been observed, the spirit of them has been adopted. Thus it was in the laws established by the pilgrim fathers of New England; and no small part of what is of most value in the institutions which they founded, is to be ascribed to the influence of the Hebrew legislator.
The name of this servant of God occurs repeatedly in Greek and Latin writings, and still more frequently in those of the Arabs and the rabbinical Jews. Many of their statements, however, are mere legends without foundation, or else distortions of the Scripture narrative. By the Jews he has always been especially honored, as the most illustrious personage in all their annals, and as the founder of their whole system of laws and institutions. Numerous passages both in the Old and New Testament show how exalted a position they gave him, Psalms 103:7 105:26 106:16 Isaiah 63:12 Jeremiah 15:1 Daniel 9:11 Matthew 8:4 John 5:45 9:28 Acts 7:20,37 Romans 10:5,19 Hebrews 3:1-19 11:23.
In all that he wrought and taught, he was but the agent of the Most High; and yet in all his own character stands honorably revealed. Though naturally liable to anger and impatience, he so far subdued himself as to be termed the meekest of men, Numbers 12:3; and his piety, humility, and forbearance, the wisdom and vigor of his administration, his unfailing zeal and faith in God, and his disinterested patriotism are worthy of all imitation. Many features of his character and life furnish admirable illustrations of the work of Christ—as the deliver, ruler, and guide of his people, bearing them on his heart, interceding for them, rescuing, teaching, and nourishing them even to the promised land. All the religious institutions of Moses pointed to Christ; and he himself, on the mount, two thousand years after his death, paid his homage to the Prophet he had foretold, Deuteronomy 18:15-19, beheld "that goodly mountain and Lebanon," Deuteronomy 3:25, and was admitted to commune with the Savior on the most glorious of themes, the death He should accomplish at Jerusalem, Luke 9:31.
Moses was the author of the Pentateuch, as it is called, or the first five books of the Bible. In the composition of them he was probably assisted by Aaron, who kept a register of public transactions, Exodus 17:14 24:4,7 34:27 Numbers 33:1,2 Deuteronomy 31:24, etc. Some things were added by a later inspired hand; as for example, Deuteronomy 34:1-12 Psalms 90:1-17 also is ascribed to him; and its noble and devout sentiments acquire a new significance, if received as from his pen near the close of his pilgrimage.
These dictionary topics are from American Tract Society Bible Dictionary published in 1859. Public Domain, copy freely.
Rand, W. W. "Entry for 'MOSES'". "American Tract Society Bible Dictionary".