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- The Emancipation of Massachusetts - 4/65 -
of a furnace."
We must always remember, in trying to reconstruct the past, that these traditions were not matters of possible doubt to Moses, or indeed to any Israelite. They were as well established facts to them as would be the record of volcanic eruptions now. Therefore it would not have astonished Moses more that the Lord should meet him on the slope of Horeb, than that the Lord should have met his ancestor Abraham on the plain of Mamre. Moses' doubts and perplexities lay in another direction. Moses did not question, as did his great ancestress, that his god could do all he promised, if he had the will. His anxiety lay in his doubt as to God's steadiness of purpose supposing he promised; and this doubt was increased by his lack of confidence in his own countrymen. The god of Abraham was a requiring deity with a high moral standard, and the Hebrews were at least in part somewhat akin to a horde of semi-barbarous nomads, much more likely to fall into offences resembling those of Sodom than to render obedience to a code which would strictly conform to the requirements which alone would ensure Moses support, supposing he accepted a task which, after all, without divine aid, might prove to be impossible to perform.
When the proposition which Moses seems, more or less confidently, to have expected to be made to him by the Lord, came, it came very suddenly and very emphatically. "Now Moses kept the flock of Jethro his father-in-law, the priest of Midian: and he led the flock to the backside of the desert, and came to the mountain of God, even to Horeb.
"And the angel of the Lord appeared unto him in a flame of fire out of the midst of a bush: and he looked, and, behold, the bush burned with fire, and the bush was not consumed."
And Moses, not, apparently, very much excited, said, "I will now turn aside, and see this great sight." But God called unto him out of the midst of the bush, and said, "Moses, Moses." And he said, "Here am I." Then the voice commanded him to put off his shoes from off his feet, for the place he stood on was holy ground.
"Moreover," said the voice, "I am the God of thy father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob." And Moses hid his face; for he was afraid to look upon God.
And the Lord said, "I have surely seen the affliction of my people ... and have heard their cry by reason of their taskmasters; for I know their sorrows.
"And I am come down to deliver them out of the hand of the Egyptians, and to bring them up out of that land unto a good land and a large, unto a land flowing with milk and honey; unto the place of the Canaanites, and the Hittites, and the Amorites, and the Perizzites....
"Come now, therefore, and I will send thee unto Pharaoh, that thou mayest bring forth my people, the children of Israel, out of Egypt.
And Moses said unto God, "Who am I, that I should go unto Pharaoh, and that I should bring forth the children of Israel out of Egypt?..." And Moses said unto God, "Behold, when I am come unto the children of Israel, and shall say unto them, The God of your fathers hath sent me unto you; and they shall say to me, What is his name? what shall I say unto them?"
And God said unto Moses, "_I am That I Am_;" and he said, "Thus shalt thou say unto the children of Israel, _I Am_ hath sent me unto you."
"And God said, moreover, unto Moses, Thus shalt thou say unto the children of Israel, The Lord God of your fathers, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, hath sent me unto you: this is my name forever, and this is my memorial unto all generations."
Then the denizen of the bush renewed his instructions and his promises, assuring Moses that he would bring him and his following out of the land of affliction of Egypt and into the land of the Canaanites, and the Hittites, and the Amorites, and others, unto a land flowing with milk and honey. In a word to Palestine. And he insisted to Moses that he should gain an entrance to Pharaoh, and that he should tell him that "the Lord God of the Hebrews hath met with us: and now let us go, we beseech thee, three days' journey into the wilderness, that we may sacrifice to the Lord our God."
Also God did not pretend to Moses that the King of Egypt would forthwith let them go; whereupon he would work his wonders in Egypt and after that Pharaoh would let them go.
Moreover, he promised, as an inducement to their avarice, that they should not go empty away, for that the Lord God would give the Hebrews favor in the sight of the Egyptians, "so that every woman should borrow of her neighbor, and of her that sojourneth in her house, jewels of silver, jewels of gold, and raiment," and that they should spoil the Egyptians. But all this time God did not disclose his name; so Moses tried another way about. If he would not tell his name he might at least enable Moses to work some wonder which should bring conviction to those who saw it, even if the god remained nameless. For Moses appreciated the difficulty of the mission suggested to him. How was he, a stranger in Egypt, to gain the confidence of that mixed and helpless multitude, whom he was trying to persuade to trust to his guidance in so apparently desperate an enterprise as crossing a broad and waterless waste, in the face of a well-armed and vigorous foe. Moses apprehended that there was but one way in which he could by possibility succeed. He might prevail by convincing the Israelites that he was commissioned by the one deity whom they knew, who was likely to have both the will and the power to aid them, and that was the god who had visited Abraham on the plain of Mamre, who had destroyed Sodom for its iniquity, and who had helped Joseph to become the ruler of Egypt. Joseph above all was the man who had made to his descendants that solemn promise on whose faith Moses was, at that very moment, basing his hopes of deliverance; for Joseph had assured the Israelites in the most solemn manner that the god who had aided him would surely visit them, and that they should carry his bones away with them to the land he promised. That land was the land to which Moses wished to guide them. Now Moses was fully determined to attempt no such project as this unless the being who spoke from the bush would first prove to him, Moses, that he was the god he purported to be, and should beside give Moses credentials which should be convincing, by which Moses could prove to the Jews in Egypt that he was no impostor himself, nor had he been deceived by a demon. Therefore Moses went on objecting as strongly as at first:
"And Moses answered and said, But behold they will not believe me, nor hearken to my voice; for they will say, the Lord hath not appeared unto thee."
Then the being in the bush proceeded to submit his method of proof, which was of a truth feeble, and which Moses rejected as feeble. A form of proof which never fully convinced him, and which, in his judgment could not be expected to convince others, especially men so educated and intelligent as the Egyptians. For the Lord had nothing better to suggest than the ancient trick of the snake-charmer, and even the possessor of the voice seems implicitly to have admitted that this could hardly be advanced as a convincing miracle. So the Lord proposed two other tests: the first was that Moses should have his hand smitten with leprous sores and restored immediately by hiding it from sight in "his bosom." And in the event that this test left his audience still sceptical, he was to dip Nile water out of the river, and turn it into blood on land.
Moses at all these three proposals remained cold as before. And with good reason, for Moses had been educated as a priest in Egypt, and he knew that Egyptian "wise men" could do as well, and even better, if it came to a magical competition before Pharaoh. And Moses had evidently no relish for a contest in the presence of his countrymen as to the relative quality of his magic. Therefore, he objected once more on another ground: "I am not eloquent, neither heretofore nor since thou hast spoken unto thy servant: but I am slow of speech, and of a slow tongue." This continued hesitancy put the Lord out of patience; who retorted sharply, "Who hath made man's mouth? or who maketh the dumb, or deaf, or the seeing, or the blind? Have not I the Lord?
"Now therefore go, and I will be with thy mouth, and teach thee what thou shalt say."
Then Moses made his last effort. "0 my Lord, send, I pray thee, by the hand of him whom thou wilt send." Which was another way of saying, Send whom you please, but leave me to tend Jethro's flock in Midian.
"And the anger of the Lord was kindled against Moses; and he said, Is not Aaron the Levite thy brother? I know that he can speak well. And also, behold, he cometh forth to meet thee; and when he seeth thee, he will be glad in his heart.
"And he shall be, ... to thee instead of a mouth, and thou shalt be to him instead of God."
Then Moses, not seeming to care very much what Aaron might think about the matter, went to Jethro, and related what had happened to him on the mountain, and asked for leave to go home to Egypt, and see how matters stood there. And Jethro listened, and seems to have thought the experiment worth trying, for he answered, "Go in peace."
"And the Lord said unto Moses,"--but where is not stated, probably in Midian,--"Go, return into Egypt," which you may do safely, for all the men are dead which sought thy life.
"And Moses took his wife and his sons, and set them upon an ass, and he returned to the land of Egypt. And Moses took the rod of God in his hand."
It was after this, apparently, that Aaron travelled to meet Moses in Midian, and Moses told Aaron what had occurred, and performed his tests, and, seemingly, convinced him; for then Moses and Aaron went together into Egypt and called the elders of the children of Israel together, "and did the signs in the sight of the people. And the people believed: and ... bowed their heads and worshipped." Meanwhile God had not, as yet, revealed his name. But as presently matters came to a crisis between Moses and Pharaoh, he did so. He said to Moses, "I am the Lord:
"I appeared unto Abraham, unto Isaac, and unto Jacob, by the name of God Almighty; but by my name Jehovah was I not known to them....
"Wherefore say unto the children of Israel, I am the Lord.... And I will bring you in unto the land, concerning the which I did swear to give it to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob; and I will give it you for an heritage: I am the Lord.
"And Moses spake so unto the children of Israel: but they hearkened not unto Moses, for anguish of spirit, and for cruel bondage....
"And Moses spake before the Lord, saying, Behold the children of Israel have not hearkened unto me; how then shall Pharaoh hear me?" And from this form of complaint against his countrymen until his death Moses never ceased.
Certain modern critics have persuaded themselves to reject this whole Biblical narrative as the product of a later age and of a maturer civilization, contending that it would be childish to attribute the reasoning of the Pentateuch to primitive Bedouins like the patriarchs or like the Jews who followed Moses into the desert. Setting aside at once the philological discussion as to whether the language of the Pentateuch
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