14-8 Paul's Heroes
14-8-1 Paul And Moses
If Moses is the central, inspirational figure of the Old Testament scriptures
and the Old Covenant, Christ is of the New Testament and New Covenant.
And yet Christ was especially manifested in his matchless servant Paul.
Paul seems to have consciously modelled his life upon that of Moses; he
evidently saw Moses as his hero. For example, he speaks of how he has
been used to bring about God’s glory through “signs and wonder” (Rom.
15:18,19), in the very language of Moses bringing “signs and wonders”
upon Egypt (Ex. 7:3,9; 11:9,10; Dt. 4:34; 6:22). The way Paul writes that
he wishes they would all prophesy and that he ‘forbids not’ to use the
Spirit gifts (1 Cor. 14:5,39) is all rooted in the language of Moses in
Num. 11:28,29. And this is but the tip of an iceberg of such material.
The evidence for this is quite compelling:
" His letters, say they (Paul's
detractors in the new Israel) are weighty and powerful; but his
bodily presence is weak, and his speech contemptible...though
I be rude in speech...Christ sent me...to preach the Gospel: not
with wisdom of words (mg. speech)" (2 Cor. 10:10; 11:6; 1
Paul says he was " taught according to the perfect
manner of the law of the fathers" by Gamaliel, receiving
the highest wisdom possible in the Jewish world; but he uses the
same word as Stephen in Acts 7:22, describing how Moses was "
learned" in all the wisdom of Egypt.
Paul earnestly asked three times for his " thorn in the
flesh" to be removed (2 Cor. 12:9- the wonder is that he
only asked three times. He knew it was for his spiritual good,
and he believed this).
" I am not eloquent (mg. a man of
words)...I am slow of speech, and of a slow tongue" (Ex.
4:10); this is how Moses felt he would be perceived, although
actually he was formally quite fluent when in the court of Pharaoh
(Acts 7:22). Paul would have remembered Stephen saying how Moses
was formerly full of worldly wisdom and " mighty
in words" . Paul felt that he too had been through Moses'
experience- once mighty in words as the rising star of the Jewish
world, but now like Moses he had left all that behind in order
to try to save a new Israel from Judaism and paganism. As Moses
consciously rejected the opportunity for leading the
'world' of Egypt, so Paul probably turned down the chance to be
High Priest. God maybe confirmed both him and Moses in their desire
for humility by giving them a speech impediment (the " thorn
in the flesh" which Paul was " given" , 2 Cor.
12:7). Moses asked at least twice (maybe three times?) for him
to be allowed to enter the land (Dt. 3:25; Ps. 90); but the answer
was basically the same as to Paul: " My grace is sufficient
for thee" . The fact Moses had been forgiven and was at one
with his God was so great that his physical entering the land
was irrelevant. And for Paul likewise, temporal blessings in this
life are nothing compared to the grace of forgiveness which we
have received (Ex. 34:9).
" Therefore let us keep the feast
(the breaking of bread, the new Passover), not with old leaven...of
malice and wickedness; but with the unleavened bread of sincerity
and truth" (1 Cor.5:8). Paul's selfless relationship with
Corinth was inspired by that of Moses with Israel.
Thus Paul warns Corinth not to be unequally yoked with unbelievers
(2 Cor. 6:14), or else he would come to them and not spare.
In similar style, Paul warns the Hebrews to " serve God acceptably
with reverence" because " our God is a consuming fire"
This is echoing Moses' command to keep
the Passover feast without leaven (Ex. 12:15; Dt. 16:3). Paul
saw himself as Moses in trying to save a generally unresponsive
and ungrateful Israel.
He is quoting the LXX of Num. 25:3 concerning how Israel joined
themselves to Baal-peor, resulting in Moses commanding the murder
of all those guilty- just as Paul later did to Corinth. He is
quoting the very words of Moses in Dt. 4:24.
Paul saw visions of God which were impossible
for him to explain (2 Cor. 12:1-5).
Moses saw the greatest visions of God
of any man in the Old Testament; visions which he could not repeat;
he only repeated the words of command which he was given. He did
not tell Israel what he saw in Ex. 34.
Paul several times calls himself "
a servant of God" (e.g. Tit. 1:1).
Paul is surely alluding to the frequent
descriptions of Moses as God's servant.
The Lord Jesus seems to have encouraged
Paul to see Moses as his hero. Thus he asked him to go and live
in Arabia before beginning his ministry, just as Moses did (Gal.
1:17). When he appeared to Paul on the Damascus road, he spoke
in terms reminiscent of the Angel's commission to Moses at the
burning bush: " I have appeared unto thee for this purpose,
to make thee a minister and a witness both of those things which
thou hast seen, and of those things in the which I will appear
unto thee; delivering thee from the (Jewish) people, and from
the Gentiles, unto whom now I send thee, to...turn them from darkness
to light, and from the power of Satan unto God, that they may
receive forgiveness of sins, and inheritance...Whereupon...I (Paul)
was not disobedient unto the heavenly vision" (Acts 26:16-19).
Moses was promised that he would be protected
from Pharaoh so that he could bring out God's people from the
darkness of Egyptian slavery (" the power of Satan"
); going from darkness to light is used by Peter as an idiom
to describe Israel's deliverance from Egypt, which the new Israel
should emulate (1 Pet. 2:9). Moses led Israel out of Egypt so
that they might be reconciled to God, and be led by him
to the promised inheritance of Canaan. As Moses was eventually
obedient to that heavenly vision, so was Paul- although perhaps
he too went through (unrecorded) struggles to be obedient to it,
after the pattern of Moses being so reluctant.
Paul " counted" (Phil.
3:8) the riches of this world as dung, that he might have the
honour of sharing the sufferings of Christ. He was motivated in
this by the example of Moses in rejecting the rulership and riches
of Egypt in order to share " the reproach of Christ"
The same word is used in Heb. 11:26 concerning
how Moses " esteemed" the reproach of
Christ greater riches than those of Egypt. Paul looked at Moses'
example and was truly inspired to utterly despise worldly advantage,
and to appreciate the sheer honour of sharing the sufferings
of Christ. The height of this calling should make our wealth or
poverty in this world utterly irrelevant. And we too should be
inspired by Moses as Paul was. For Moses is specifically intended
as our example.
He describes Epaphroditus as one of those
" that ministered to my wants" (Phil. 2:25).
The Greek for " ministered"
is used in the LXX concerning the priests (and Joshua) ministering
to Moses in practical things.
Paul warned the new Israel that after
his death (" after my departing" , Acts 20:29) there
would be serious apostasy. This is the spirit of his very
last words, in 2 Tim. 4.
" Take heed therefore unto yourselves" (Acts 20:28)
To help them combat this apostacy, and to set them an example
in faithfulness to the word, Paul pointed out that " I have
not shunned to declare unto you all the counsel of God" (Acts
" Serving the Lord with all humility of mind" (Acts
20:19). " I kept back nothing that was profitable unto you,
but have shewed you, and have taught you publickly" (Acts
20:20). " Of your own selves shall men arise, speaking perverse
things" (Acts 20:30).
" Now, brethren I commend you to God, and to the word of
his grace, which is able to build you up, and to give you an inheritance"
" I have coveted no man's silver, or gold, or apparel"
This is exactly the spirit of Moses'
farewell speech throughout the book of Deuteronomy, and throughout
his final song (Dt. 32). " After my death ye will utterly
corrupt yourselves" (Dt. 31:29). " Take heed unto yourselves"
is repeated so many times in Deuteronomy (e.g . Dt. 2:4; 4:9,15,23;
11:16; 12:13,19,30; 24:8; 27:9). Exactly as Moses completely revealed
all God's counsel to Israel (Acts 7:33; Dt. 33:3).
" The man Moses was very meek" (Num. 12:3). The humility
of Moses really fired Paul. As Moses shewed God to Israel and
publicly taught them. As Moses likewise warned in his farewell
speech that false prophets would arise - and should be
shunned and dealt with (Dt. 13:1).
This is the spirit of the whole of Deuteronomy, Moses' farewell
warning: love the word, be obedient to it, because this will lead
you to inherit the promised land for ever. He pleaded with them
to " take heed to thyself" that they kept God's word
and taught it to their children, so that they would enter the
land (Dt. 4:1,9). These words are alluded to by Paul in 1 Tim.4:16,
where he says that attention to the doctrine of the new covenant
will likewise save us and those who hear us.
This is the spirit of Moses in Num. 16:15: " I have not
taken one ass from them" . Paul maybe had these words in
mind again in 2 Cor. 7:2: " We have wronged no man...we have
defrauded no man" .
" Neither count I my life dear unto
myself" (Acts 20:24). " I could wish that myself were
accursed from Christ (i.e. condemned- s.w. Gal. 1:8,9) for my
brethren, my kinsmen according to the flesh" (Rom. 9:3).
Paul is here rising up to imitate Moses at perhaps his finest
hour- willing, at least in principle, to give up his eternal life
for the sake of Israel's salvation. The extent of Paul's love
for natural Israel does not come out that strongly in the Acts
and epistles; but this allusion to Moses says it all. Yet Paul
knew that if he gave his body to be burned in Gehenna, i.e. allowed
himself to be condemned for others but without true love,
it would still mean nothing (1 Cor. 13:3 cp. Jn. 15:6).
The RVmg. renders Rom. 9:3: “I could pray…”, more clearly alluding
to Moses’ prayer that the people might enter and he be rejected.
Yet Paul perceived that God would not accept a substitute offering
like that; and hence he says he could pray like this.
In essence, he had risen to the same level. Likewise he wrote
in 1 Thess. 2:8 RV that he was “well pleased [i.e. theoretically
willing] to impart unto, you not the gospel of God only, but our
own souls, because ye were dear unto us”. He perceived the difference
between mere imparting of the Gospel in preaching, and being willing
to give ones’ soul, ones salvation, because of a heart that bleeds
for others. No wonder Paul was such a convincing preacher, with
such love behind his words.
" My heart's desire and prayer to God for Israel
is, that they might be saved" (Rom. 10:1).
This was the spirit of Moses, in being
willing to give his own physical and eternal life for the salvation
of Israel (Ex. 32:30-32).
Who else prayed like this for Israel's salvation? Only Moses.
He tried to match the intensity of Moses' prayers for Israel on
Throughout 2 Cor. 3:15-4:6, Paul comments
on how Moses' face shone with God's glory, and yet he spoke to
Israel through a veil, with the result that Israel did not appreciate
He speaks of him and all preachers of the true Christian Gospel
as " able ministers of the new testament; not of the letter,
but of the spirit: for the letter killeth, but the spirit giveth
life" (2 Cor. 3:6)- clear allusion to Moses as the minister
of the old, inferior covenant.
Paul uses this to explain why Israel
did not respond to his preaching; " if our preaching
be hid, it is hid to them that are lost" (2 Cor. 4:3). Paul
therefore saw himself and his fellow preachers as like Moses,
radiating forth the glory of God in the Gospel of Jesus Christ,
to an Israel which had the veil upon their heart. This allusion
must have so angered the Jews- to suggest that Christian preachers
were like Moses!
“…but then face to face” (1 Cor. 13)
Moses is the one who saw God face to
face (Num. 12:8). Surely Paul saw the depth of fellowship which
Moses achieved in this life as indicative of the richness of felicity
with the Father which we will all ultimately achieve.