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CHARACTER OF MOSES.
[Preached at Lincoln's Inn, Nov. 17, 1822.]
Exodus iii. 14. 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.
In my discourse of last Sunday I endeavoured to establish the great antiquity of the Pentateuch, and the consequent credibility of the statement which it contains as to the situation, the character, and the personal history of Moses. I proved that the book in question was reverenced by the nations both of Judah and of Israel, from the time of their division into separate and hostile monarchies; that before this division, it was quoted by Solomon and by David, and alluded to in the almost contemporary history of Joshua; insomuch that no reasonable doubt can exist that the work which is now read in our churches is, in all essential points, the same with that which was a light to David's path, and which
regulated the solemn act of confederacy between Jehovah and his people in Gilgal.* And it is possible that, on this evidence alone, our belief in the Divine mission of Moses might be suffered to repose in safety. The events which his work records are such as, if untrue, no contemporary writer could have published without obtaining the name and treatment of a madman; while, if miracles be a sufficient test of a message from the Most High, few greater or less equivocal miracles can be named than are related in the books of Moses. I know it has been sometimes attempted to soften down these awful dispensations into a chain of natural phenomena, insisted on and exaggerated beyond their actual amount or value by the fears of a superstitious crowd, and the fervour of oriental description. But it would be no easy task to persuade a nation, however superstitious or ignorant, that they or their fathers had fed on manna for forty years together, unless that production had really abounded to a degree which has never since been witnessed. And, however the sceptic may attempt to rid himself of the Egyptian plagues, the divided sea, and the cloudy pillar, yet if it may be granted, which no man denies, that the tribes of Israel were in the desert at all, the supply of food in such a situation (even during a far shorter time, and for a far less enormous multitude) must, apparently, involve a miracle.
* Psalm cxix. 105. Joshua xxiv.
But waiving, for the present, such discussions, and assuming the truth of no other facts than those of which any competent historian may be well informed, and which no historian had any imaginable motive for misrepresenting, assuming only that Moses was really such a person as is described in his history; so born of Israelitish parents ; so educated by an Egyptian princess; so long a resident in Arabia; and under such circumstances the preacher of such a theology; even from these facts alone, as recorded in the book of Exodus, a very cogent presumption arises that he was really an inspired messenger of the Most High. The reasons of this opinion I will now proceed to lay before you.
In the case of all pretensions to the prophetic character, our belief of their truth or falsehood will be, in a great measure, determined by the character and situation of the person who brings them forward. And if we find in his general conduct no tokens of weakness or enthusiasm, if we can discover in him no views of personal interest or aggrandisement, and if he be found, even to his own disadvantage, consistent in his pursuit of that object which he professes to follow, we are the more disposed to admit a possibility, at least, that his claim may be not without foundation. But as to the talents and genius of Moses, there can scarcely, with the readers of his work, be more than one opinion; an opinion ratified by the consent of all ages and all religious parties, from the sceptics of the present day, to those ancient heathen writers who ad
mitted that the lawgiver of the Jews was a man of no common character, and who placed his name and his image amid the most illustrious of those illustrious men who had restrained the passions and improved the understandings of their fellowcreatures. Nor are his apparent fairness and candour less remarkable than his talents. On the contrary, there are few men who can possibly read over the last four books of the Pentateuch without being impressed by the little stress which its author lays on his own achievements; by the brevity observed on every subject not immediately connected with his mission, and the simplicity which relates, without concealment or extenuation, those facts which an artful advocate would have been likely to pass over in silence.
Of the first forty years of his life no more is told us than that he was brought up by Pharaoh's daughter. Of his situation and conduct during this period some few circumstances have reached us through other channels which, had it been the intention of the historian to give dignity to his own character, would, probably, have found a place in the narrative which I am now discussing. I will not, indeed, insist on all those traditionary honours with which the countrymen of Moses have, in later times, adorned him. I will not say with Josephus that, while yet a child, he trampled on the Egyptian diadem; that he led forth in his early youth a victorious army against Ethiopia, and engaged by his valour and personal accomplishments the affections
of a Nubian princess.* But there is certainly no improbability in the opinion that he may have held during this time a considerable rank under the Egyptian monarchy. Even the acute and not overcredulous Michaelis is disposed to believe that he served in the armies of Sesostris. Manetho, though for many reasons inclined to detract from his character, assigns him the rank of a priest in a country where the priests were all but sovereigns. And that tradition, at least, is confirmed by the inspired testimony of St. Stephen and St. Paul, which describes him as “ learned in all the wisdom of the Egyptians," as “ mighty in word and deed,” and as refusing to be adopted by Pharaoh's daughter, out of regard for the honour of the line of Abraham.t
Of all these things, however, we find no mention in the book of Exodus. And while so strict a silence is maintained concerning the early achievements of Moses, the author speaks without reserve of his personal defects and failings; of his private quarrels with his kindred; of the unwillingness with which he, at first, undertook the
of the Most High; and of the indiscretion and want of faith which shut him out from the land of Canaan. Surely this seeming candour and simplicity may, in itself, go far to conciliate our belief for many of the extraordinary things which he elsewhere relates to us.
* Joseph. Ant. II. ix. x. Id. cont. Apion, I. 26.