This boy, beautiful in the eyes of God, made of Israel a people, a religion on the march, aligned around His law like an army guided by its standard. The Lord only demanded of him an unbreakable faith in His word, in the midst of trials.
The chosen people underwent great sufferings in the land of Egypt, until God, in His infinite mercy, sent a man to free His own from the yoke of slavery.
After Joseph’s death, a new Pharaoh ascended to the throne of Egypt, who enslaved the Israelites and made their lives bitter. This sovereign, seeing the rapid growth of the Hebrews, feared that they would join some enemy in the event of war; so he ordered the midwives to kill the sons of this people as soon as they were born. When he learned that, for fear of God, they had not complied with his orders, he decreed that all newborn males should be cast into the Nile River.
Thus began the fascinating and altogether special epopee of this child, “beautiful in the eyes of God” (cf. Acts 7:20), predestined to free the chosen people from Egyptian oppression and lead them to the promised land, flowing with milk and honey.
At that time… Moses was born
The mother of this baby managed to keep him hidden for a while from the authorities. However, unable to hide him any longer, she one day left him in a basket on the banks of the Nile, near the place where Pharaoh’s daughter customarily bathed. And one of the boy’s sisters watched from a distance.
The plan worked perfectly: when the princess heard the child crying, she had the basket fetched. Opening it, she saw the beautiful infant and, taken with compassion, sent for a nurse. The sister arrived on the scene, and arranged for her own mother to be given the task of raising the baby… After a time, he was brought back to Pharaoh’s daughter, who took him as a son. She gave him the name Moses, which means “I brought him out of the waters.”
It was the first providential step in the life of this child who would become the liberator of Israel, and the friend of God par excellence.
A winding route full of obstacles
Long is the narration of the vicissitudes experienced by this providential man, “a life of tragedies, with some very consoling episodes, soon followed by new tragedies.”1
A man chosen by God, he made Israel “a people to whom he revealed the name of the Lord, and from this people a religion on the march, aligned around His law, like an army around a standard,”2 having much to suffer to accomplish its mission.
In the comfort of Egyptian court life, Moses did not forget his compatriots, always comparing his happy situation with the suffering of his Hebrew brothers. A volatile situation forced him to flee from the jurisdiction of Pharaoh towards the steppes of Midian. There he established a family, marrying the daughter of a local sheep farmer.
While he dedicated himself to the care of his father-in-law’s flock, the desire to free his Israeli brothers from the cruel yoke to which they were subjected often passed through his mind.
As Dr. Plinio Corrêa de Oliveira commented,3 one could say that the story of Moses was like the trajectory of a “Chinese river” that winds back and forth in its meanderings, always seeming to return to its point of origin, but then heading back toward its destination, like a circuitous and difficult road. This is how the forty years of crossing the desert unfolded.
Call and mission on “God’s mountain”
Holy Scripture relates that after Pharaoh’s death, the Israelites, suffering under the yoke of slavery, cried out to God. Hearing their groans, the Lord made Himself known to Moses in the burning bush, remembering His Covenant with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.
As he was feeding the flock on Mount Horeb, the “mountain of God,” Moses approached a burning bush that was not consumed. He then heard a voice: “When the Lord saw that he turned aside to see, God called to him out of the bush, ‘Moses, Moses!’ And he said, ‘Here am I.’ Then He said, ‘Do not come near; put off your shoes from your feet, for the place on which you are standing is holy ground. […] Come, I will send you to Pharaoh that you may bring forth My people, the sons of Israel, out of Egypt’” (Ex 3:4-5, 10).
Thus begins a direct relationship between God and His chosen one, His patriarch, His prophet, His legislator. And it is interesting to note that the Creator communicates the reason for His apparition, first identifying Himself as “the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob” (Ex 3:6a). He then reveals that He has heard the cries of the Israelites and charges Moses with the mission of leading them to the promised land. Moses, afraid to look at the Lord, hides his face (cf. Ex 3:6b).
“They will not believe me or listen to my voice”
However, Moses was still reluctant, alleging his own insignificance and the unbelief of his people. Oh, abyss of mercy! Instilling confidence in His messenger, God Himself guarantees that He will be with him to fulfil this mission.
Moses even obtains the revelation of the Lord’s own name: “Say this to the people of Israel, ‘The Lord, the God of your fathers, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, has sent me to you’: this is My name for ever, and thus I am to be remembered throughout all generations” (Ex 3:15).
Moses did not believe that his mission was feasible, which is why he indicated the need for marvels to convince the people. As a guarantee, God gave him the power of a thaumaturge, ordering him to perform unheard-of wonders. Here we perceive the greatness of his call: to be a prophet, the Herald of the Lord.
“The prophet is God’s representative, the spokesman of the word of the Most High. Especially in the case of official prophecy, of a man sent by God, whose mission was certified by miracles, and who spoke officially in the name of the Creator, as an ambassador speaks officially in the name of his king. Evidently this is a very high state, a very lofty mission.”4
Despite the signs received, Moses considered himself unworthy of the call, and continues to object. His attitude, however, is the occasion for God to intensify the displays of predilection for his chosen one. “Now therefore go, and I will be with your mouth and teach you what you shall speak” (Ex 4:12).
Still reluctant, he persists in his refusal, asking that another be sent in his place. At this new rejection, the Lord’s wrath is kindled against Moses, and He commands that his brother Aaron be the one to speak to the people in his place: “he shall be a mouth for you, and you shall be to him as God” (Ex 4:16).
Just as the prophets give voice to the words of the Most High, Aaron would be the “mouth” of Moses.
Confrontations with Pharaoh and the first trials
With the prophet’s obstinacy overcome, God commands him to take his rod, the instrument with which he would perform wonders.
Finally, with the sacred responsibility of such a great mandate and endowed with the strength of God Himself, the chosen one of the Lord obeys and returns to Egypt to accomplish his mission at the age of eighty.
He presents himself to Pharaoh, who immediately refuses to heed the request for freedom for the Hebrew people and, out of hatred, increases the already heavy workload of the Israelites. It was the prelude to many other obstacles that Moses would face on his way to the promised land.
Once again, God promises to intervene with His powerful hand. From the chosen people He demanded only an unbreakable faith in His word in the midst of trials.
Pharaoh’s heart remains hardened
In the dealings with Pharaoh, there were moments of indecision and confrontation. “Then the well-known struggle took place between the Angels, who practised miracles by order of the Most High, and the demons who, through the Egyptian magicians, imitated the prodigies of Moses.”5
At court, Moses is asked to perform some portent, and Aaron throws down his rod, which becomes a serpent. The magicians of Egypt, by order of Pharaoh, do the same with their spells, but Aaron’s staff devours all the others. Even so. the heart of the Egyptian nation’s ruler remained hardened.
In the face of such miracles and wonders, what should the chosen people have done? They should not have remained indifferent to their situation, but have awaited, with a heart full of hope, an intervention from the omnipotent God, who thus manifested His power through the prophet.
God’s intervention through Moses
The Book of Exodus narrates that nine plagues smote the country. The waters of the Nile became bloody, frogs invaded even the royal bed, swarms of gnats and flies infested their homes and lands, a plague killed their animals, boils broke out on the entire Egyptian population; moreover, a violent hailstorm mixed with fire and three days of darkness increased the Egyptians’ sense of terror – all executed through the miraculous hand of Moses.
After each of these wonders was accomplished, Pharaoh dismissed Moses with an absolute refusal to give freedom to his people. In view of this resistance, the prophet announced a formidable punishment: a tenth plague would come, the most terrible and mysterious of all.
The grave message that God then addressed to the people, through the Prophet, is related in Sacred Scripture as follows: “About midnight I will go forth in the midst of Egypt; and all the first-born in the land of Egypt shall die, from the first-born of Pharaoh who sits upon his throne, even to the first-born of the maidservant who is behind the mill; and all the first-born of the cattle” (Ex 11:4-5).
And a great outcry arose in Egypt, for there was no house where there was not one dead. As an effect of such drastic punishment, Pharaoh finally let the Hebrews depart for the place lovingly reserved by God for His elect.
Before dawn, the people set out, forming a great multitude. Dr. Plinio rightly commented: “What a majestic scene! The Jews remained awake all night, and at dawn, the Egyptians, humiliated and crushed by a supernatural power, allowed the departure of those men who had been beasts of burden to them.”6
The resistance of his own people
The apparent tranquillity did not last long: repenting the loss of that source of free labour, Pharaoh sets out after the children of Israel, generating unprecedented fear among them.
As if that were not enough, Moses begins to face resistance from his own people: “Would that we had died by the hand of the Lord in the land of Egypt, when we sat by the fleshpots and ate bread to the full; for you have brought us out into this wilderness to kill this whole assembly with hunger” (Ex 16:3). With this ingratitude, they forgot the covenant God had made with them.
Faced with such unjust and misplaced criticism, the prophet was forbearing and encouraged them to trust in Him who had gathered them. Here, too, the conduct of chosen men is manifested: to always direct those who follow their teachings to the Most High.
Abundance of miracles
It is within this context of the chosen nation’s non-correspondence to grace that the well-known miracle of the passage through the Red Sea takes place.
As the Egyptians closed in on the people at the shores of the Red Sea, Moses stretched out his staff over its waters, which divided. The people then crossed over dry-shod, and when the Egyptian followed on the trail of the fleeing multitude, the prophet stretched out his hand again and the waters closed, crashing upon Pharaoh’s army and submerging it.
Now, a long pilgrimage was in God’s plan, which would lead Israel, that stiff-necked people, to be definitively convinced of their special election. And to prove the covenant established with them, God will multiply the miracles performed through Moses.
In the desert, another splendid sign appears, a prefigure of the Eucharist: manna, the bread come down from Heaven. The quail that miraculously covered the camp of the Israelites after they complained of the lack of flesh meat, or the rock that became a water fountain at the touch of Moses’ staff and the victory over the Amalekites won through the intercession of the prophet, are all episodes of the desert pilgrimage that attest to Providence’s encompassing generosity toward those called to be His people.
Despite the accomplishment of so many wonders, the lack of fidelity of the Hebrews was repeated.
The intercessory power of the prophet
Arriving at the foot of Mount Sinai, “a strange place of amazing grandeur, worthy to be the stage for the revelation of the God of power and might,”7 the Lord, who communicated with Moses as with a friend, speaks to him “face to face” (cf. Dt 34:10).
With his soul pervaded by a faith that transforms him, Moses receives the Tablets of the Law there, written by God Himself, and with them a whole set of legal, moral and ritual precepts.
However, seeing that Moses was slow to come down from the mountain, the Israelites asked Aaron to make a “god” to march before them. Here we see the ingratitude and perversity of this people treated with such attentiveness and care by God as well as by the prophet.
Thus, the great leader of the chosen nation was presented with one more affliction: due to infidelity to God and to the person of Moses, it had returned to idolatry – another bend in the “Chinese river” of the providential man’s life…
It is within this tragic panorama that God asks Moses to allow His holy fury to fall on the transgressors: “now therefore let Me alone, that my wrath may burn hot against them and I may consume them; but of you I will make a great nation” (Ex 32:10).
The people had made a god for themselves, breaking the covenant, thus ceasing to be chosen souls. It should be noted, however, that God does not forget the commitment made to the righteous one: in consideration of Moses, the Creator, as if humbling Himself, He asks “permission” to do justice.
But the chosen one does not forget his own! And Moses intercedes for them, saying to God: “Why should the Egyptians say, ‘With evil intent did He bring them forth, to slay them in the mountains, and to consume them from the face of the earth’? Turn from Thy fierce wrath, and repent of this evil against Thy people” (Ex 32:12).
To him had been promised a fruitful posterity, with the constitution of a great nation. Nevertheless, is for God’s honour that he intercedes for those who did not deserve it: “Moses preferred his mission to his career.”8
It is narrated that, with Moses’ intervention, the Lord repents of the threats made against Israel and, with the covenant renewed, promises to perform wonders: “Before all your people I will do marvels, such as have not been wrought in all the earth or in any nation; and all the people among whom you are shall see the work of the Lord; for it is a terrible thing that I will do with you” (Ex 34:10).
There was never again a prophet like Moses in Israel
To the prophets, men elected to intervene in the course of history, God gives very special graces for the accomplishment of specific missions. This is what can be seen in accompanying the episodes in the life of the great leader of the people of Israel, who, according to biblical narrations, surpasses every prophet (cf. Dt 18:15, 19; Nm 12:2).
Moses will always be the representation of the Law, the great legislator. Together with Elijah, a symbol of prophecy, at the time of the Transfiguration they formed an honour guard for God made Man, the awaited Messiah.
Therefore, through this specially chosen man we see the providential action of the prophets, who intercede before God on behalf of the people, even when they are sinners. If this happened in the Old Testament, when the coming of the expected Messiah was being prepared, how much more must it be so in our times, when decadent humanity is falling further and further away from the true Church founded by Our Lord.
Thus, while we are on pilgrimage through the arid lands of disbelief, let us ask Our Lady to help us recognize the men chosen by Her to guide her children to the promised land: the splendid triumph of her Wise and Immaculate Heart! ◊