Who were God's People before Moses?
" Moses fled from Pharaoh, and stayed in the land of Midian..." (Exodus 2:15.) Midian is east of the Jordan across from Jericho. Moses is taken in by the Priest of Midian, Reuel/Jethro, who gives him his daughter Zippporah to wed. One day (Exodus 3) Moses leads the flock of his Father-in-Law to the west of the wilderness and stumbles upon the Mountain of God, "Horeb". The rest of the story will not delay us here. Suffice it to say the Mountain of YHWH is within walking distance, if not actually in Midian, and to the west (but not so far as to cross the Jordan). The voice from the burning bush states "I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob." (Exodus 3:6) Why is the God of Israel living in Midian?
Why does the Bible insist on two names for Moses Father-in-law, interchanging the names of Jethro with Reuel? Could it be that Reuel the Midianite Priest is a direct descendant of Esau, the brother of Jacob, son of Isaac? "And Adah bare to Esau Eliphaz; and Bashemath bare Reuel". Genesis 36:4. In Genesis 36:17, a generation later Reuel's sons are Kings in the land of Edom.
If God did not forsake Ishmael, who also shares in the promise (Genesis 21:18), would not God remember Esau also? Who then could be surprised that Jethro/Reuel the descendant of Esau would be a priest for the God of Isaac?
In the time of Moses the God of the Hebrews was living on the Holy Mountain of the Midianites. In Joshua 13:20-23 there is a social and geographical description of this land Midyan (soon to be distributed to Reuben).
"20 And Beit-Peor, and slopes of Pisgah, and Beit HaYeshimot,
21 And all the towns of the plain, and kol mamlechot Shichon Melech HaEmori, who reigned in Cheshbon, whom Moshe conquered with the nasiim of Midyan, Evi, and Rekem, and Tzur, and Chur, and Reva, which were vassal princes under Sichon, dwelling in HaAretz.
22 Also Balaam ben Beor, the kosem (soothsayer, practicer of divination), did the Bnei Yisroel put to death with the cherev among them that were slain by them.
23 And the boundary of the Bnei Reuven was the Yarden [Jordan], and the bank thereof. This was the nachalat Bnei Reuven after their mishpekhot, the towns and villages thereof." (Orthodox Jewish Bible)
The slopes of Pisgah is a mountain referred to in the story of Balaam. For the second oracle Balak King of Moab takes Balaam to "the field of Zophim, to the top of Pisgah...". (Numbers 23:14) Since Balak and the Elders of Midian (Numbers 22:7) are paying him to curse Israel, there can be no doubt that Pisgah is an important Mountain near Midian. Since Moab is commonly referred to as "the plains of Moab", the surrounding hill country has to be Midian. In fact in Deuteronomy 34:1 we find Moses on top of Pisgah.
"And Moses went up from the plains of Moab unto the mountain of Nebo, to the top of Pisgah, that is over against Jericho. And the Lord shewed him all the land of Gilead, unto Dan." (KJV)
After Moses died there, he was buried in the valley opposite Beth-pe'or. In Joshua 13:2 Beth Pe'or and the slopes of Pisgah are geographically connected. But there's another clue. In a desperate attempt for a different outcome, Balak finally takes Balaam to the highest and most important site in Midian, "the top of Pe'or, that overlooks the desert (Jeshimon)." Numbers 23:28. Mount Pisgah, Mount Nebo, and Mount Pe'or must be very close if not the same mountain.
The reason Sinai and Horeb ( or also Pisgah, Nebo, Pe'or or Abarim) can't be located or even sorted out as to the "real" name of YHWH's mountain is because both are ruses by later editors. The Mountain of God is none other than Mount Pe'or. That God talks to Balaam as to Moses on such a Mountain is no surprise either. (Numbers 22:9, 22:12, 22:20, 22:31-35, 23:4-5, 23:16, and 24:2)
After Balaam's oracles became known among the Israelites, the God of the Holy Mountain of Midian became very popular among the Israelites. In fact they had found themselves another prophet, one who couldn't be bought.
After Balaam's oracles, YHWH of the Holy Mountain of Midian became the "Ba'al of Pe'or", according to hostile later editors. (Ba'al is not a name, it's a title indicating Lord as Mr. indicates master.) Thus the people "began to play the harlot with the daughters of Moab, ....so Israel yoked himself to Ba'al of Pe'or." Numbers 25:1-3. According to Moses, "kill 'em all" is the Lord's so-called word. (Remember Ruth the Moabite ancestress to King David? Nipped in the bud according to Moses.)
Numbers 25:6-10 (NRSV) :
6 "Just then one of the Israelites came and brought a Midianite woman into his family, in the sight of Moses and in the sight of the whole congregation of the Israelites, while they were weeping at the entrance of the tent of meeting. 7 When Phinehas son of Eleazar, son of Aaron the priest, saw it, he got up and left the congregation. Taking a spear in his hand, 8 he went after the Israelite man into the tent, and pierced the two of them, the Israelite and the woman, through the belly. So the plague was stopped among the people of Israel. 9 Nevertheless those that died by the plague were twenty-four thousand."
To justify their hate speech, the proponents of Moses say this couple copulated in the "Tent of Meeting". Clearly that is not what the text says, the man took a Midianite woman into his family tent, hence Phinehas had to leave the congregation which meant leaving the Tent of Meeting. After this the "Lord says to Moses, 'Harass the Midianites, and smite them, for they have harassed you with their wiles, with which they beguiled you in the matter of Pe'or and in the matter of Cozbi, the daughter of the prince of Midian...'."
The wiles of Midianite women?
As Moses had discovered years earlier, Midianite women made wonderful wives. If it hadn't been for Zipporah Moses would have been killed by God himself (Exodus 4:24). Now we can see how such a hypocrite would deserve it. That the Midianites had more status with YHWH than Moses, consider Exodus 18:12. Moses deferred to his Father-in-Law, as Jethro alone offered the burnt offering and sacrifices to their mutual God. Midianites were no strangers to the God of the Hebrews. Perhaps because of this very indebtedness one of Moses' last acts was a murderous rampage against the Midianites (Numbers 31).
The act of killing the very people from which the Israelites got their God back requires the most violent rhetoric. By such the Biblical writers expose their own evil heart. As do those who read the Bible and yet identify with the "Great Prophet" Moses.
Yet God still works through the text if we read it critically with the mind and heart God gave us. To just memorize and accept the story at face value cheats God by reducing his power to an absurd past. The purported owners of God want to recreate the absurd past into a bloody present because violence is the source of their control. They think God is captured by their Book. So it's been; until their followers actually read the Book, there can be no peace.
Indeed God has made a text through which you can read between the lines, and then live in freedom.
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Is there a greater prophet than Moses?
At the Oasis of Kadesh Miriam died and was buried. And there the people contended with Moses in the usual way...."why have you made us come up out of Egypt, to bring us to this evil place? It is no place for grain, or figs, or vines, or pomegranates; and there is not water to drink." (Numbers 20:1-5) In response, the Lord said to Moses:
Numbers 20:7-13 New Revised Standard Version :
"7 The Lord spoke to Moses, saying: 8 Take the staff, and assemble the congregation, you and your brother Aaron, and command the rock before their eyes to yield its water. Thus you shall bring water out of the rock for them; thus you shall provide drink for the congregation and their livestock.
9 So Moses took the staff from before the Lord, as he had commanded him. 10 Moses and Aaron gathered the assembly together before the rock, and he said to them, “Listen, you rebels, shall we bring water for you out of this rock?”11 Then Moses lifted up his hand and struck the rock twice with his staff; water came out abundantly, and the congregation and their livestock drank. 12 But the Lord said to Moses and Aaron, “Because you did not trust in me, to show my holiness before the eyes of the Israelites, therefore you shall not bring this assembly into the land that I have given them.” 13 These are the waters of Meribah, where the people of Israel quarreled with the Lord, and by which he showed his holiness."
It is hard to fathom how Moses was disobedient to the Lord in this story. In fact the last line is "by which he [the Lord]] showed his holiness". Mission accomplished. Nevertheless, we find in Numbers 27:12-14:
"12 And the Lord said unto Moses, Get thee up into this mount Abarim, and see the land which I have given unto the children of Israel.
13 And when thou hast seen it, thou also shalt be gathered unto thy people, as Aaron thy brother was gathered.
14 For ye rebelled against my commandment in the desert of Zin, in the strife of the congregation, to sanctify me at the water before their eyes: that is the water of Meribah in Kadesh in the wilderness of Zin."
Maybe there is another clue in the other version of the story in Exodus 17. How does it compare?
Exodus 17:5-7 King James Version
"5 And the Lord said unto Moses, Go on before the people, and take with thee of the elders of Israel; and thy rod, wherewith thou smotest the river, take in thine hand, and go.
6 Behold, I will stand before thee there upon the rock in Horeb; and thou shalt smite the rock, and there shall come water out of it, that the people may drink. And Moses did so in the sight of the elders of Israel.
7 And he called the name of the place Massah, and Meribah, because of the chiding of the children of Israel, and because they tempted the Lord, saying, Is the Lord among us, or not?"
All the above is the testimony of Moses. Often it is said that Moses struck the rock twice, when once would have sufficed by the power of the LORD. If so God is portrayed here as utterly trivial and harshly punitive to his only faithful prophet. Well, so Moses says. The secret is in the difference between Exodus 17:6, wherein the Lord promises "Behold, I will stand before thee", and Numbers 20:10, wherein Moses takes credit for the miracle by saying "shall we [Moses and Aaron] bring water...".
This is not the only time that Moses preempts the presence of the Lord. In Numbers 20:14-21 we read that after Meribah Moses sent messengers to the king of Edom to ask for passage along the King's highway. But "Edom" said to him "no", and came out against him with a strong force. Then Moses simply retreats: "...so Israel turned away from him."
The same story in Exodus goes like this:
Exodus 17:8-16 Revised Standard Version
"8 Then came Am′alek and fought with Israel at Reph′idim. 9 And Moses said to Joshua, “Choose for us men, and go out, fight with Am′alek; tomorrow I WILL STAND on the top of the hill with the rod of God in my hand.” 10 So Joshua did as Moses told him, and fought with Am′alek; and Moses, Aaron, and Hur went up to the top of the hill. 11 Whenever Moses held up his hand, Israel prevailed; and whenever he lowered his hand, Am′alek prevailed. 12 But Moses’ hands grew weary; so they took a stone and put it under him, and he sat upon it, and Aaron and Hur held up his hands, one on one side, and the other on the other side; so his hands were steady until the going down of the sun. 13 And Joshua mowed down Am′alek and his people with the edge of the sword.
14 And the Lord said to Moses, “Write this as a memorial in a book and recite it in the ears of Joshua, that I will utterly blot out the remembrance of Am′alek from under heaven.” 15 And Moses built an altar and called the name of it, The Lord is my banner, 16 saying, “A hand upon the banner of the Lord! The Lord will have war with Am′alek from generation to generation.”
How can we know that this is the same incident as in Numbers 20? Perhaps the chronology and geography are coincidental. The evidence is in Genesis 36:12: we learn that Am'alek is a grandson of Esau by Adah. Furthermore, in Genesis 36:16 it says
Korah, Gatam, and Am′alek; these are the chiefs of El′iphaz in the land of Edom; they are the sons of Adah. (RSV)
So although the king of "Edom", Am'alek, is not named in Exodus 17:8, this is the same time, same place, same people ....but very different outcomes. Did they fight or did they not? We cannot tell, but what is clear is that if they did fight, it was Moses who says "I will stand". What in Exodus 17:5 is "thy [Moses] rod" becomes the "rod of God" in Exodus 17:9. Possessing the rod has become the substitute for the Presence of the Lord. Something has gone astray. "The Lord will have war with Am'alek from generation to generation." How does Moses know what the Lord will do from generation to generation? Who is Moses to bind the will of God for generations?
Still don't think that Moses is a liar? Let's turn to the story of Korah a Levite and his leadership of a rebellion against Moses, for he said:
Numbers 16:3 Revised Standard Version
"3 and they assembled themselves together against Moses and against Aaron, and said to them, “You have gone too far! For all the congregation are holy, every one of them, and the Lord is among them; why then do you exalt yourselves above the assembly of the Lord?”
Moses proceeds to set up a trial by adverse miracle, as he says:
Numbers 16:28-34 Revised Standard Version
"28 And Moses said, “Hereby you shall know that the Lord has sent me to do all these works, and that it has not been of my own accord. 29 If these men die the common death of all men, or if they are visited by the fate of all men, then the Lord has not sent me. 30 But if the Lord creates something new, and the ground opens its mouth, and swallows them up, with all that belongs to them, and they go down alive into Sheol, then you shall know that these men have despised the Lord.”
31 And as he finished speaking all these words, the ground under them split asunder; 32 and the earth opened its mouth and swallowed them up, with their households and all the men that belonged to Korah and all their goods. 33 So they and all that belonged to them went down alive into Sheol; and the earth closed over them, and they perished from the midst of the assembly. 34 And all Israel that were round about them fled at their cry; for they said, “Lest the earth swallow us up!”
Certainly the People of Israel would know by now that Moses was exalted by God and they weren't, having been eye witnesses to such an event. But the People do not defer to Moses, in fact they accuse him of murder:
Numbers 16:41 Revised Standard Version
"41 But on the morrow all the congregation of the people of Israel murmured against Moses and against Aaron, saying, 'You have killed the people of the Lord'.”
Today, the Jews call themselves a nation of priests, everyone of them is holy. Moses' self exaltation did not prevail. And finally we know Moses was lying because in a later census of Israel:
Numbers 26:9-11 Revised Standard Version
"9 The sons of Eli′ab: Nem′uel, Dathan, and Abi′ram. These are the Dathan and Abi′ram, chosen from the congregation, who contended against Moses and Aaron in the company of Korah, when they contended against the Lord, 10 and the earth opened its mouth and swallowed them up together with Korah, when that company died, when the fire devoured two hundred and fifty men; and they became a warning. 11 Notwithstanding, the sons of Korah did not die."
Apparently Moses just made it up, that the earth swallowed Korah and his whole household. In fact, archaeology has found in the 8th century bce temple at Arad ostraca naming the Priests who serve there: none other than "sons (descendants) of Korah". (William Dever, Did God Have a Wife?, p. 175)
"I say what God says and God says what I say because I'm the Prophet of the LORD." This is the claim of Moses and all his ilk, but the fact is Moses was a huge mistake. The LORD made an example of Moses by not letting him enter the promised land. Korah was right, "for all the congregation are holy, and the LORD is among them."
Who is the Prophet greater than Moses?
He stands at the door and knocks.