The Second Moses

If you've been following a lot of the New Testament scholarship you're aware of the wealth of insights pouring in over the last few decades regarding New Exodus perspectives on the life and teachings of Jesus. I want to share something along these lines from the new book by Brant Pitre Jesus and the Jewish Roots of the Eucharist. But before doing that in the next post, I thought I'd use a post to summarize some of the New Exodus ideas.

To start, what were the Jews expecting of the Messiah?

If you quizzed people in your church about that question my guess is that the #1 answer would be that the Messiah would lead a popular revolt to eject the Romans and restore the Davidic kingdom. To be sure, this was a part of the constellation of ideas surrounding the concept of Messiah. But the expectations regarding the Messiah were actually much richer and broader, more inclusive and even cosmic in scale.

One of the notions that captures this richer vision was the expectation that the Messiah would be a Second Moses. Moses himself predicted that a Second Moses would come with the expectation of a New Exodus. Consequently, many of the Second Temple Jews believed the Messiah to be the fulfillment of this prophecy:

Deuteronomy 18:15-18
The LORD your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among you, from your fellow Israelites. You must listen to him. For this is what you asked of the LORD your God at Horeb on the day of the assembly when you said, “Let us not hear the voice of the LORD our God nor see this great fire anymore, or we will die.”

The LORD said to me: “What they say is good. I will raise up for them a prophet like you from among their fellow Israelites, and I will put my words in his mouth. He will tell them everything I command him.
As a Second Moses leading a New Exodus the expectation was that there also would be a second giving of the Law. A New Law and New Covenant. More, this New Law would be written on hearts rather than on tablets of stone:
Jeremiah 31:31-33
“The days are coming,” declares the LORD,
“when I will make a new covenant
with the people of Israel
and with the people of Judah.
It will not be like the covenant
I made with their ancestors
when I took them by the hand
to lead them out of Egypt,
because they broke my covenant,
though I was a husband to them,”
declares the LORD.

“This is the covenant I will make with the people of Israel
after that time,” declares the LORD.
I will put my law in their minds
and write it on their hearts.
I will be their God,
and they will be my people."
In addition, there would be a New Temple. We need to recall that a lot of the Second Temple Jews thought that the rebuilt temple was a bit of a sham. You'll likely remember that when the old-timers saw the Second Temple they wept, for it was only a shadow of its former glory. We should also remember that after the destruction of Solomon's temple the artifacts in the Holy of Holies (like the Ark of the Covenant) were carted off never to be seen or heard from again (until Indiana Jones found them). So in the time of Jesus the Holy of Holies was empty, suggesting that the Shekhinah of God had not returned to dwell among the people. So God was absent. The people were still in exile, despite being back in their homeland. Thus, the expectation was that the Second Moses, who built the tabernacle, the first dwelling for God's Shekhinah, would repeat this feat, building a New Temple that would bring God's dwelling back to earth.
Ezekiel 37:25-28
They will live in the land I gave to my servant Jacob, the land where your ancestors lived. They and their children and their children’s children will live there forever, and David my servant will be their prince forever. I will make a covenant of peace with them; it will be an everlasting covenant. I will establish them and increase their numbers, and I will put my sanctuary among them forever. My dwelling place will be with them; I will be their God, and they will be my people. Then the nations will know that I the LORD make Israel holy, when my sanctuary is among them forever.’”
Even more, in addition to a New Law/Covenant and a New Tabernacle/Temple, the Second Moses would bring the people to a New Promised Land. And here's where the vision really starts to transcend the political. The New Promised Land isn't just about restoring the fortunes of Israel. The scale of the New Promised Land is cosmic in scope. It will be a New Heaven and a New Earth:
Isaiah 65:17-18
“See, I will create
new heavens and a new earth.
The former things will not be remembered,
nor will they come to mind.
But be glad and rejoice forever
in what I will create,
for I will create Jerusalem to be a delight
and its people a joy.
Finally, if there was to be a Second Exodus we'd also expect to see a New Passover meal. Though there is no direct biblical quotation for this it's clear how a New Passover would have been expected in conjunction with a Second Moses and New Exodus. Outside of the bible there is historical evidence, from both Jewish and Christian sources, that the Second Temple Jews were looking for a New Passover, what they called the Passover of the Messiah. (In fact, many Second Temple Jews expected the future Messiah to be revealed during the Passover.)

Summarizing all this:
The Jewish Expectation of the Messiah as the Second Moses:
  1. New Exodus
  2. New Law and Covenant
  3. New Passover
  4. New Temple
  5. New Promised Land
Given these expectations, the question readers of the New Testament can ask is this: Did Jesus consider himself to be the Second Moses?

Do the New Testament writers show Jesus leading a Second Exodus? Giving a New Law and Covenant? Instituting a New Passover? Building a New Temple? And leading us to a New Promised Land?

These questions open up rich and exciting perspectives on the life and ministry of Jesus.

In the next post, thanks to Pitre's book, I'll point to another, less noticed, New Exodus theme in the gospels.

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10 thoughts on “The Second Moses”

  1. Jesus sure was busy in the last three years of his life. Imagine packing in being the new Moses, the new Adam, the new Israel and the real Davidic king - hundreds and hundreds of years of history - into the intense work of about three years, especially the few weeks. Just an observation.

  2. Thanks for relaying this, Richard. This post speaks to one of the cliched tropes that really burn me after hearing them in countless sermons and bible studies. It's splendid to hear that Christ's life/death/resurrection subverted more than merely hope in a political savior - I've long imagined that there was more to Second Temple Messianism than that. Danke! 

  3. One thing that I must strongly disagree with in this post is the failure to give the Restoration Era its due. It is one thing to say that the fullness of the scriptural promises concerning the new covenant had yet to come to fruition, it is quite another to say that God was 'absent' and that a preliminary and anticipatory form of the new covenant wasn't already in operation. I think that one of the issues here is that most Christians just aren't acquainted enough with the history and prophecy of Israel and Judah between the era of David and Solomon and the Babylonian Exile and Return, or with the distinctive character of the situation that existed after that time. Lacking this knowledge a lot of important things are missed.

    To say that God was 'absent' simply doesn't reckon with the book of Haggai, or Zechariah for that matter. Besides, as Christians we should know that in speaking about God's presence and absence we are not speaking of binary states. No, God's presence was not yet evident as it would be in the future, nor did it take quite the same visible form as it did in the past (although Haggai 1:12 suggests that the Lord's presence was evident enough to produce fear in the people), but it was clearly there, and in many respects more profound than ever before. God had always been primarily about dwelling in the midst of a people, not primarily in a piece of architecture. One could argue that the Restoration Era, despite its reduced temple, more powerfully exhibits this sort of divine dwelling in the midst of his people.

    We should also recognize that Israel's vocation had always been one of ministering to the nations. Prior to the exile, in the work of the prophets we see a far more international ministry coming into focus. During the later period of the exile we see this even more distinctly. As in the glorious era of Joseph, Jews rise to prominent positions in the lands of their exile and God's power is demonstrated to the nations. God's scattering of his people in judgment is transformed into a leavening of empires with his priestly people. Nehemiah, Esther, Daniel and others all bring God's word and rule to nations beyond Israel. Ahasuerus, Darius, Nebuchadnezzar, Cyrus - all see and acknowledge the power of the God of Israel. By the time that Paul and the other early Christian missionaries go out with the gospel, there are Jews all over the known world.

    If we truly believe that ministry to the nations as God's priestly kingdom is the vocation of Israel, then how can we not see this period as involving a greater degree of actual, if not visible glory? Kings of world empires are bowing the knee and acknowledging YHWH's supremacy and recognizing his authority in their rule. Although the temple is not as visibly glorious as it once was, it now represents the priestly ministry of Israel to a far more expansive area and group of peoples.

    The idea of 'transcending the political' also needs to be handled carefully. While Christ obviously did not fight military battles to gain deliverance for his people, the ministry of the Church is certainly political. The New Testament has a lot to say about the gospel being brought to the places of power, and the expectation that all earthly political authorities will recognize the Lordship of Christ and submit to him. The Church does not have its own direct political rule on earth (although the Church is a political assembly, as colonists of the kingdom to come), but like Israel, is called to exercise a priestly and prophetic ministry to political authorities. Like Israel, the Church believes that faithful suffering prophets will be vindicated. In its own imperfect way, Constantine and Christendom is a fairly logical step in this process. As in the times of Joseph and Daniel, suffering witnesses can be vindicated, kings can listen to the prophets, submit to the authority of God, and seek to exercise rule in his name. And the Bible makes fairly clearly that, in principle, this is a Very Good Thing.

  4. Of course, there is no evidence that the Jewish-Christians observed The Eucharist as a distinct ceremony. And for the love of God, they did not believe anything weird about the bread (unleavened, of course) and wine literally transubstantiating into Messiah's body and blood. Their "New Passover" in celebration of the heralding of the New Covenant was just that, a Seder meal celebrated annually with the rest of Israel. Passover observance was actually one of the later things to hit the cutting room floor in the church's move toward complete separation from all things Jewish.

  5. One of my favorite verses in the NT is the one that says that in Jesus all of God's promises are "Yes." This seems to recognize that there is not simply a one-to-one correspondence between Jesus and a specific predicted figure or role--New Moses, Messiah, etc. Nor does it require claiming that these promises had formerly been unfulfilled (Alastair's point is that real if partial fulfillments were already part of Israel's life before Jesus came--an important reminder that the Jews were not simply in "darkness" before the light of Christ). Rather, everything God promised Adam or Abraham, priest or prophet or king, liberator or temple-builder or teacher, comes to its ultimate fruition in Jesus. Jesus is more than any specific category of expectation--more humble and more exalted, more peaceful and more violent (!), more spiritual and more physical. That's why any given model (like "New Moses" or "Messiah") can be so deeply helpful as well as so deeply problematic. It's also why (in my personal bias) no thumbnail summary of the Old-Testament-as-prediction-of-Christ replaces a full, rich reading of the whole Old Testament--which in its entirety keeps suggesting new ways for understanding Christ more deeply.

  6. > Did Jesus consider himself to be the Second Moses?

    Seems important to first ask whether the gospel writers considered Jesus to be the Second Moses, and if so which ones.

  7. I read one commentator who suggested that even Jesus' name (Yeshua in Hebrew - Joshua) is significant in this regard. Far from being arbitrary or simply connected to its Hebrew meaning (Yah (God) is salvation), the naming of Jesus points to the Messianic expectations regarding Moses. Moses saw the promised land but did not take the Israleites into it - that task was left Joshua. Joshua then, has an important narrative place in the story of the Exodus - namely, he is the one who fulfils what Moses started. I find this suggestion about Jesus as the one who fulfils what begins with Moses quite compelling and textually consistent.

  8. There is a lot to this, although there is no need to choose between Jesus as the new and greater than Moses and the new and greater than Joshua: both are true in different senses and are highlighted in different contexts (the early chapters of Hebrews have some bearing here).

    Along these lines, it is worth observing the parallels between the Moses-Joshua relationship, the Elijah-Elisha relationship, and the John the Baptist-Jesus relationship. John the Baptist is clearly modelled after Elijah. Jesus declares that John is the Elijah that was to come and John even dresses like Elijah. Like Moses resists Pharaoh and Elijah resists Ahab (driven by Jezebel), so John the Baptist resists Herod (driven by Herodias). Moses and Joshua, Elijah and Elisha, and John and Jesus all go through a sort of prophetic changeover involving a crossing of or baptism in the Jordan. Moses, Elijah, and John are all men of the desert, while Joshua, Elisha, and Jesus are involved in a conquest of the land.

    This parallel is only partial, however. Moses, Elijah, and John are prophetic initiators, opening new chapters of covenantal history. However, Moses' role in the establishment of the Sinai covenant is very different from that of John the Baptist, and the paradigmatic experience of Moses (or characters like Abraham), 'pre-capitulating' the life of those who will follow them, isn't exhibited by John to the same degree. Rather, Jesus is the one whose action is both paradigmatic and definitive for the new covenant. There are also points where the parallel is clearly between Elijah-Elisha and Jesus-Church, for instance. For example, the giving of the firstborn portion of the Spirit of the great prophet as the other side of the coin of the event of ascension is something accomplished by Christ in relation to the Church at the beginning of Acts.

  9. A consensus of contemporary scholars of biblical history hold that Deuteronomy (or a source from which Deuteronomy is derived) is probably what is referenced in 2 Kings 22 as the lost book of the law, found by the high priest under Josiah's reign - the basis of Josiah's reforms. These scholars generally see Deuteronomic passages such as 18:15-18 as prophecies about Josiah and his reforms. 

    I'm not trying to contradict: it may be that Jesus and the NT writers are reinterpreting some of these passages (as the author of Matthew does with many of his fulfillment OT references). I just thought a broader context might be useful.

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