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4-1-3 Moses And Paul

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. 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 preach the Gospel: not with wisdom of words (mg. speech)" (2 Cor. 10:10; 11:6; 1 Cor. 1:17).

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).

" 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" (Heb. 12:29).

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 20:27).

" 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" (Acts 20:32).

" I have coveted no man's silver, or gold, or apparel" (Acts 20:33)

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).

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 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. 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 Sinai.

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 God's glory.

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!

These copious similarities raise an interesting point: if we love the word, if we enter into the spirit of the characters we read of there, should we not model ourselves upon some of them? If the word is a living word, surely we should be able to sense the spirit of these characters in our own experience of life, they should drive us onwards. Paul's conscious emulation of Moses is not the only example of this. He himself invites us to see him as a similar role model. We have shown elsewhere how Jonathan and Saul both seem to have had Gideon as a hero (1). It is also possible to show that Jeremiah saw Job in the same role (just glance down the marginal references to Job in Jeremiah). There are times when Jeremiah quotes the very words of Job as being relevant to his own experiences. The point of such conscious emulation is that we are copying the spirit of Christ as it was displayed in these men. Thus Paul asks us to copy him so that we might more accurately reflect the pattern of the Lord Jesus; he was " a Christ-appointed model" to this end.


(1) See David and Jonathan.