Story type: Essay
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.
—Exodus iii: 14, 15
Moses was the world’s first great teacher. He is still one of the world’s great teachers. Seven million people yet look to his laws for special daily guidance, and more than two hundred millions read his books and regard them as Holy Writ. And these people as a class are of the best and most enlightened who live now or who have ever lived.
Moses did not teach of a life after this–he gives no hint of immortality–all of his rewards and punishments refer to the present. If there is a heaven for the good and a hell for the bad, he did not know of them.
The laws of Moses were designed for the Now and the Here. Many of them ring true and correct even today, after all this interval of more than three thousand years. Moses had a good knowledge of physiology, hygiene, sanitation. He knew the advantages of cleanliness, order, harmony, industry and good habits. He also knew psychology, or the science of the mind: he knew the things that influence humanity, the limits of the average intellect, the plans and methods of government that will work and those which will not.
He was practical. He did what was expedient. He considered the material with which he had to deal, and he did what he could and taught that which his people would and could believe. The Book of Genesis was plainly written for the child-mind.
The problem that confronted Moses was one of practical politics, not a question of philosophy or of absolute or final truth. The laws he put forth were for the guidance of the people to whom he gave them, and his precepts were such as they could assimilate.
It were easy to take the writings of Moses as they have come down to us, translated, re-translated, colored and tinted with the innocence, ignorance and superstition of the nations who have kept them alive for thirty-three centuries, and then compile a list of the mistakes of the original writer. The writer of these records of dreams and hopes and guesses, all cemented with stern commonsense, has our profound reverence and regard. The “mistakes” lie in the minds of the people who, in the face of the accumulated knowledge of the centuries, have persisted that things once written were eternally sufficient.
In point of time there is no teacher within many hundred years following him who can be compared with him in originality and insight.
Moses lived fourteen hundred years before Christ.
The next man after him to devise a complete code of conduct was Solon, who lived seven hundred years after. A little later came Zoroaster, then Confucius, Buddha, Lao-tsze, Pericles, Socrates, Plato, Aristotle–contemporaries, or closely following each other, their philosophy woven and interwoven by all and each and each by all.
Moses, however, stands out alone. That he did not know natural history as did Aristotle, who lived a thousand years later, is not to his discredit, and to emphasize the fact were irrelevant.
Back of it all lies the undisputed fact that Moses led a barbaric people out of captivity and so impressed his ideals and personality upon them that they endure as a distinct and peculiar people, even unto this day. He founded a nation. And chronologically he is the civilized world’s first author.
Moses was a soldier, a diplomat, an executive, a writer, a teacher, a leader, a prophet, a stonecutter. Beside all these he was a farmer–a workingman, one who when forty years of age tended flocks and herds for a livelihood. Every phase of the outdoor life of the range was familiar to him. And the greatness of the man is revealed in the fact that his plans and aspirations were so far beyond his achievements that at last he thought he had failed. Exultant success seems to go with that which is cheap and transient. All great teachers have, in their own minds, been failures–they saw so much further than they were able to travel.
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All ancient chronology falls easily into three general divisions: the fabulous, the legendary, and the probable or natural.
In the understanding of history, psychology is quite as necessary as philology.
To reject anything that has a flaw in it is quite as bad as to have that excess of credulity which swallows everything presented.
It is not necessary to throw away the fabulous nor deny the legendary. But it is certainly not wise to construe the fabulous as the actual and maintain the legendary as literally true. Things may be true allegorically and false literally, and to be able to distinguish the one from the other, and prize each in its proper place, is the mark of wisdom.
If, however, we were asked to describe the man Moses to a jury of sane, sensible, intelligent and unprejudiced men and women, and show why he is worthy of the remembrance of mankind, we would have to eliminate the fabulous, carefully weigh the traditional, and rest our argument upon records that are fair, sensible and reasonably free from dispute.
The conclusions of professional retainers, committed before they begin their so-called investigations to a literal belief in the fabulous, should be accepted with great caution. For them to come to conclusions outside of that which they have been taught, is not only to forfeit their social position, but to lose their actual means of livelihood. Perhaps the truth in the final summing up can best be gotten from those who have made no vows that they will not change their opinions, and have nothing to lose if they fail occasionally to gibe with the popular.
On a certain occasion after Colonel Ingersoll had delivered his famous lecture entitled, “Some Mistakes of Moses,” he was entertained by a local club. At the meeting, which was of the usual informal kind known as “A Dutch Feed,” a young lawyer made bold to address the great orator thus: “Colonel Ingersoll, you are a lover of freedom–with you the word liberty looms large. All great men love liberty, and no man lives in history, respected and revered, save as he has sought to make men free. Moses was a lover of liberty. Now, wouldn’t it be gracious and generous in you to give Moses, who in some ways was in the same business as yourself, due credit as a liberator and law-giver and not emphasize his mistakes to the total exclusion of his virtues?”
Colonel Ingersoll listened–he was impressed by the fairness of the question. He listened, paused and replied: “Young man, you have asked a reasonable question, and all you suggest about the greatness of Moses, in spite of his mistakes, is well taken. The trouble in your logic lies in the fact that you do not understand my status in this case. You seem to forget that I am not the attorney for Moses. He has more than two million men looking after his interests. I am retained on the other side!”
Like unto Colonel Ingersoll, I am not an attorney for Moses. I desire, however, to give a fair, clear and judicial account of the man. I will attempt to present a brief for the people, and neither prosecute nor defend. I will simply try to picture the man as he once existed, nothing extenuating, nor setting down aught in malice. As the original office of the State’s Attorney was rather to protect the person at the bar than to indict him, so will I try to bring out the best in Moses, rather than hold up his mistakes and raise a laugh by revealing his ignorance. Modesty, which is often egotism turned wrong side out, might here say, “Oh, Moses requires no defense at this late day!” But Moses, like all great men, has suffered at the hands of his friends. To this man has been attributed powers which no human being ever possessed.
Moses lived thirty-three hundred years ago. In one sense thirty-three centuries is a very long time. All is comparative–children regard a man of fifty as “awful old.” I have seen several persons who have lived a hundred years, and they didn’t consider a century long, “and thirty-five isn’t anything,” said one of them to me.
Geologically, thirty-three centuries is only an hour ago. It does not nearly take us back to the time when men of the Stone Age hunted the hairy mammoth in what is now Nebraska, nor does thirty-three centuries give us any glimpse of the time when tropical animals, plants and probably men lived and flourished at the North Pole.
Egyptian civilization, at the time of Moses, was more than three thousand years old. Egypt was then in the first stage of senility, entering upon her decline, for her best people had settled in the cities, and this completes the cycle and spells deterioration. She had passed through the savage, barbaric, nomadic and agricultural stages and was living on her unearned increment, a part of which was Israelitish labor. Moses looked at the Pyramids, which were built more than a thousand years before his birth, and asked in wonder about who built them, very much as we do today. He listened for the Sphinx to answer, but she was silent, then as now. The date of the exodus has been fixed as having probably occurred during the reign of the Great Pharaoh, Mineptah, or the nineteenth Egyptian Dynasty. The date is, say, fourteen hundred years before Christ. An inscription has recently been found which seems to show that Joseph settled in Egypt during the reign of Mineptah, but the best scholars now have gone back to the conclusions I have stated.
At the time of the Pharaohs, Egypt was the highest civilized country on earth. It had a vast system of canals, an organized army, a goodly degree of art, and there were engineers and builders of much ability. Philosophy, poetry and ethics were recognized, prized and discussed.
The storage of grain by the government to bank against famine had been practised for several hundred years. There were also treasure-cities built to guard against fire, thieves or destruction by the elements. It will thus be seen that foresight, thrift, caution, wisdom, played their parts. The Egyptians were not savages.
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About five hundred years before the birth of Moses there lived in Arabia a powerful Sheik or Chief, known as Abraham. This man had a familiar spirit, or guide, or guardian-angel known as Yaveh or Jehovah. All of the desert tribes had such tutelary gods; and all of these gods were once men of power who lived on earth. The belief in special gods has often been held by very great men: Socrates looked to his “demon” for guidance; Themistocles consulted his oracle; a President of the United States visited a clairvoyant, who consented to act as a medium and interpret the supernatural. This idea, which is a variant of ancestor worship, still survives, and very many good people do not take journeys or make investments until they believe they are being dictated to by Shakespeare, Emerson, Beecher or Phillips Brooks. These people also believe that there are bad spirits to which we must not harken.
Abraham was led by Jehovah; what Jehovah told him to do he did; when Jehovah told him to desist or change his plans, he obeyed. Jehovah promised him many things, and some of these promises were fulfilled.
Whether these tutelary gods or controlling spirits had any actual existence outside of the imagination of the people who believed in them–whether they were merely pictures thrown upon the screen by a subconscious spiritual stereopticon–is not the question now under discussion. Something must be left for a later time: the fact remains that special providences are yet relied upon by sincere and intelligent people.
Abraham had a son named Isaac. And Isaac was the father of Jacob, or Israel, “the Soldier of God,” so called on account of his successful wrestling with the angel. And Jacob was the father of twelve sons. All of these people believed in Jehovah, the god of their tribe; and while they did not disbelieve in the gods of the neighboring tribes, they yet doubted their power and had grave misgivings as to their honesty. Therefore, they had nothing to do with them, praying to their own god only and looking to him for support. They were the chosen people of Jehovah, just as the Babylonians were the chosen people of Baal; the Canaanites the chosen people of Ishitar; the Moabites the chosen people of Chemos; the Ammonites the chosen people of Rimmon.
Now Joseph was the favorite son of Jacob, and his brethren were naturally jealous of him. So one day out on the range they sold him into slavery to a passing caravan, and went home and told their father the boy was dead, having been killed by a wild beast. To make the matter plausible they took the coat of Joseph and smeared it with the blood of a goat which they had killed. Nowadays, the coat would have been sent to a chemist’s laboratory and the blood-spots tested to see whether it was the blood of beast or human. But Jacob believed the story and mourned his son as dead.
Now Joseph was taken to Egypt and there arose to a position of influence and power through his intelligence and diligence. How eventually his brethren, starving, came to him for food, there being a famine in their own land, is one of the most natural and beautiful stories in all literature. It is a folklore legend, free from the fabulous, and has all the corroborating marks of the actual.
For us it is history undisputed, unrefuted, because it is so natural. It could all easily happen in various parts of the world even now. It shows the identical traits of human nature that are alive and pulsing today.
Joseph having made himself known to his brethren induced some of them and their neighbors to come down into Egypt, where the pasturage was better and the water more sure, and settle there. The Bible tells us that there were seventy of these settlers and gives us their names.
These emigrants, called Israelites, or Children of Israel, account for the presence of the enslaved people whom Moses led out of captivity three hundred years later.
One thing seems quite sure, and that is that they were a peculiar people then, with the pride of the desert in their veins, for they stood socially aloof and did not mix with the Egyptians. They still had their own god and clung to their own ways and customs.
That very naive account in the first chapter of Exodus of how they had two midwives, “and the name of one was Shiphrah and the other Puah,” is as fine in its elusive exactitude as an Uncle Remus story. Children always want to know the names of people. These two Hebrew midwives were bribed by the King of Egypt–ruler over twenty million people–in person, to kill all the Hebrew boy babies. Then the account states that Jehovah was pleased with these Hebrew women who proved false to their master, and Jehovah rewarded them by giving them houses.
This order to kill the Hebrew children must have gone into execution, if at all, about the time of the birth of Moses, because Aaron, the brother of Moses, and three years older, certainly was not killed.
Whether Moses was the son of Pharaoh’s daughter, his father an Israelite, or both of his parents were Israelites, is problematic. Royal families are not apt to adopt an unknown waif into the royal household and bring him up as their royal own, especially if this waif belongs to what is regarded as an inferior race. The tie of motherhood is the only one that could over-rule caste and override prejudice. If the daughter of Pharaoh, or more properly “the Pharaoh,” were the mother of Moses, she had a better reason for hiding him in the bulrushes than did the daughter of a Levite, for the order to kill these profitable workers is extremely doubtful. The strength, skill and ability of the Israelites formed a valuable acquisition to the Egyptians, and what they wanted was more Israelites, not fewer.
Judging from the statement that there were only two midwives, there were only a few hundred Israelites–perhaps between one and two thousand, at most.
So leaving the legend of the childhood of Moses with just enough mystery mixed in it to give it a perpetual piquancy, we learn that he was brought up an Egyptian, as the son of Pharaoh’s daughter, and that it was she who gave him his name.
Philo and Josephus give various sidelights on the life and character of Moses. The Midrash or Commentaries on the History of the Jews, composed, added to or modified by many men, extending over a period of twenty centuries, also add their weight, even though the value of these Commentaries is conjectural.
Egyptian accounts of Moses and the Israelites come to us through Hellenic sources, and very naturally are not complimentary. These picture Moses, or Osarsiph, as they call him, as an agitator, an undesirable citizen, who sought to overturn the government, and failing in this, fled to the desert with a few hundred outlaws. They managed to hold out against the forces sent to capture them, were gradually added to by other refugees, and through the organizing genius of Moses were rounded into a strong tribe.
That Moses was their supreme ruler, and that to better hold his people in check he devised a religious ritual for them, and impressed his god, Jehovah, upon them, almost to the exclusion of all other gods, and thus formed them into a religious whole, is beyond question. No matter what the cause of the uprising, or who was to blame for it, the fact is undisputed that Moses led a revolt in Egypt, and the people he carried with him in this exodus formed the nucleus of the Hebrew Nation. And further, the fact is beyond dispute that the personality of Moses was the prime cementing factor in the making of the nation. The power, poise, patience and unwavering self-reliance of the man, through his faith in the god Jehovah, are all beyond dispute. Things happen because the man makes them happen.
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The position of the Israelites in Egypt was one of voluntary vassalage. The government was a feudal monarchy. The Israelites had come into Egypt of their own accord, but had never been admitted into the full rights of citizenship. This exclusion by the Egyptians had no doubt tended to fix the Children of Israel in their religious beliefs, and on the other hand, their proud and exclusive nature had tended to keep them from a full fellowship with the actual owners of the land.
The Egyptians never attempted to traffic in them as they did in slaves of war, being quite content to use them as clerks, laborers and servants, paying them a certain wage, and also demanding an excess of labor in lieu of taxation. In other words, they worked out their “road-tax,” which no doubt was excessive. Many years later, Athens and also Rome had similar “slaves,” some of whom were men of great intellect and worth. If one reads the works of modern economic prophets, it will be seen that wage-workers in America are often referred to as “slaves” or “bondmen,” terms which will probably give rise to confusion among historians to come.
Moses was brought up in the court of the king, and became versed in all the lore of the Egyptians. We are led to suppose that he also looked like an Egyptian, as we are told that people seeing him for the first time, he being a stranger to them, went away and referred to him as “that Egyptian.” He was handsome, commanding, silent by habit and slow of speech, strong as a counselor, a safe man. That he was a most valuable man in the conduct of Egyptian official affairs, there is no doubt. And although he was nominally an Egyptian, living with the Egyptians, adopting their manners and customs, yet his heart was with “his brethren,” the Israelites, who he saw were sore oppressed through governmental exploitation.
Moses knew that a government which does not exist for the purpose of adding to human happiness has no excuse for being. And once when he was down among his own people he saw an Egyptian taskmaster or foreman striking an Israelitish workman, and in wrath he arose and killed the oppressor. The only persons who were witnesses to this affair were two Hebrews. The second day after the fight, when Moses was attempting to separate two Hebrews who had gotten into an altercation with each other, they taunted him by saying, “Who gavest thee to be a ruler over us?–wilt thou also kill us as thou didst the Egyptian?”
This gives us a little light upon the quality and character of the people with whom Moses had to deal. It also shows that the ways of the reformer and peacemaker are not flower-strewn. The worst enemies of a reformer are not the Egyptians–he has also to deal with the Israelites.
I once heard Terence V. Powderly, who organized the Knights of Labor–the most successful labor organization ever formed–say, “Any man who devotes his life to helping laboring men will be destroyed by them.” And then he added, “But this should not deter us from the effort to benefit.”
As the Hebrew account plainly states that the killing of all the male Hebrew children was carried out with the connivance of Hebrew women who pretended to be ministering to the Hebrew mothers, so was the flight of Moses from Egypt caused by the Hebrews, who turned informants and brought him into disgrace with Pharaoh, who sought his life.
Very naturally, the Egyptians deny and have always denied that the order to kill children was ever issued by a Pharaoh. They also point to the fact that the Israelites were a source of profit–a valuable asset to the Egyptians. And moreover, the proposition that the Egyptians killed the children to avoid trouble is preposterous, since no possible act that man can commit would so arouse sudden rebellion and fan into flame the embers of hate as the murder of the young. If the Egyptians had attempted to carry out any such savage cruelty, they would not only have had to fight the Israelitish men, but the outraged mothers as well. The Egyptians were far too wise to invite the fury of frenzied motherhood. To have done this would have destroyed the efficiency of the entire Hebrew population. An outraged and heartbroken people do not work.
When one person becomes angry with another, his mental processes work overtime making up a list of the other’s faults and failings.
When a people arise in revolt they straightway prepare an indictment against the government against which they revolted, giving a schedule of outrages, insults, plunderings and oppressions. This is what is politely called partisan history. “Uncle Tom’s Cabin” was a literary indictment of the South by featuring its supposed brutalities. And the attitude of the South is mirrored in a pretty parable concerning a Southern girl who came North on a visit, and seeing in print the words “damned Yankee,” innocently remarked that she always thought they were one word. A description of the enemy, made by a person or a people, must be taken cum grano Syracuse.
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When Moses fled, after killing the Egyptian, he went northward and east into the land of the Midianites, who were also descendants of Abraham. At this time he was forty years of age, and still unmarried, his work in the Egyptian Court having evidently fully absorbed his time.
It is a pretty little romance, all too brief in its details, of how the tired man stopped at a well, and the seven daughters of Jethro came to draw water for their flocks. Certain shepherds came also and drove the girls away, when Moses, true to his nature, took the part of the young ladies, to the chagrin and embarrassment of the male rustics who had left their manners at home. The story forms a melodramatic stage-setting which the mummers have not been slow to use, representing the seven daughters as a ballet, the shepherds as a male chorus, and Moses as basso-profundo and hero. We are told that the girls went home and told their father of the chivalrous stranger they had met, and he, with all the deference of the desert, sent for him “that he might eat bread.”
Very naturally Moses married one of the girls.
And Moses tended the flocks of Jethro, his father-in-law, taking the herds a long distance, living with them and sleeping out under the stars.
Now Jethro was the chief of his tribe. Moses calls him a “priest,” but he was a priest only incidentally, as all the Arab chiefs were.
The clergy originated in Egypt. Before the Israelites were in Goshen, the “sacra,” or sacred utensils, belonged to the family; and the head of the tribe performed the religious rites, propitiating the family deity, or else delegated some one else to do so. This head of the tribe, or chief, was called a “Cohen”; and the man who assisted him, or whom he delegated, was called a “Levi.” The plan of making a business of being a “Levi” was borrowed from the Egyptians, who had men set apart, exclusively, to deal in the mysterious. Moses calls himself a Levi, or Levite.
After the busy life he had led, Moses could not settle down to the monotonous existence of a shepherd. It is probable that then he wrote the Book of Job, the world’s first drama and the oldest book of the Bible. Moses was full of plans. Very naturally he prayed to the Israelitish god, and the god harkened unto his prayer and talked to him.
The silence, the loneliness, the majesty of the mountains, the great stretches of shining sand, the long peaceful nights, all tend to hallucinations. Sheepmen are in constant danger of mental aberration. Society is needed quite as much as solitude.
From talking with God, Moses desired to see Him. One day, from the burning red of an acacia-tree, the Lord called to him, “Moses, Moses!”
And Moses answered, “Here am I!”
Moses was a man born to rule–he was a leader of men–and here at middle life the habits of twenty-five years were suddenly snapped and his occupation gone. He yearned for his people, and knowing their unhappy lot, his desire was to lead them out of captivity. He knew the wrongs the Egyptian government was visiting upon the Israelites. Rameses the Second was a ruler with the builder’s eczema: always and forever he made gardens, dug canals, paved roadways, constructed model tenements, planned palaces, erected colossi. He was a worker, and he made everybody else work. It was in this management of infinite detail that Moses had been engaged; and while he entered into it with zest, he knew that the hustling habit can be overdone and its votaries may become its victims–not only that, but this strenuous life may turn freemen into serfs, and serfs into slaves.
And now Rameses was dead, and the proud, vain, fretful and selfish Mineptah ruled in his place. It was worse with the Israelites than ever!
The more Moses thought of it the more he was convinced that it was his duty to go back to Egypt and lead his people out of bondage. He himself, having been driven out, made the matter a burning one with him: he had lost his place in the Egyptian Court, but he would get it back and hold it under better conditions than ever before!
He heard the “Voice”! All strong people hear the Voice calling them. And harkening to the Inner Voice is simply doing what you want to do.
And Moses answered, “Lord, here am I.”
The laws of Moses still influence the world, but not even the orthodox Jews follow them literally. We bring our reason to bear upon the precepts of Moses, and those which are not for us we gently pass over. In fact, the civil laws of most countries prohibit many of the things which Moses commanded. For instance, the eighteenth verse of the twenty-second chapter of Exodus says, “Thou shalt not suffer a witch to live.” Certainly no Jewish lawyer nor Rabbi, in any part of the world, advocates the killing of persons supposed to be witches. We explain that in this instance the inspired writer lapsed and merely mirrored the ignorance of his time. Or else we fall back upon the undoubted fact that various writers and translators have tampered with the original text–this must be so, since the book written by Moses makes record of his death.
But when we find passages in Moses requiring us to benefit our enemies, we say with truth that this was the first literature to express for us the brotherhood of man.
“Thou shalt take no gift: for the gift blindeth the wise and perverteth the words of the righteous.” Here we get Twentieth-Century Wisdom. And very many passages as fine and true can be found, which prove for us beyond cavil that Moses was right a part of the time, and to say this of any man, living or dead, is a very great compliment.
In times of doubt the Jewish people turn to the Torah, or Book of the Law. This book has been interpreted by the Rabbis, or the learned men, and to meet the exigencies of living under many conditions, it has been changed, enlarged and augmented. In these changes the people were not consulted. Very naturally it was done secretly, for inspired men must be well dead before the many accept their edict. To be alive is always more or less of an offense, especially if you be a person and not a personage.
The murmurings against Moses during his lifetime often broke into a rumble and a roar. The mob accused him of taking them out into the wilderness to perish. To get away from the constant bickering and criticisms of the little minds, Moses used to go up into the mountains alone to find rest, and there he communicated with his god. It was surely a great step in advance when all the Elohims were combined into one Supreme Elohim that was everywhere present and ruled the world. Instead of dozens of little gods, jealous, jangling, fearful, fretful, fussy, boastful, changing walking-sticks to serpents, or doing other things quite as useless, it was a great advance to have one Supreme Being, dispassionate, a God of Love and Justice, “with whom can be no variation, neither shadow that is cast by turning.” This gradual ennobling of the conception of Divinity reveals the extent to which man is ennobling his own nature.
Up to within a very few years God had a rival in the Devil, but now the Devil lives only as a pleasantry. Until the time of Moses, the God of Sinai was only the God of the Hebrew people, and this accounts for His violence, wrath, jealousy, and all of those qualities which went to make up a barbaric chief, including the tendency of His sons and servants to make love to the daughters of earth.
It is probable that the idea of God–in opposition to a god, one of many gods–was a thought that grew up very gradually in the mind of Moses. The ideal grew, and Moses grew with the ideal.
Then from God being a Spirit, to being Spirit, is a natural, easy and beautiful evolution.
The thought of angels, devils, heavenly messengers, like Gabriel and the Holy Ghost, constantly surrounding the Throne, is a suggestion that comes from the court of the absolute monarch. The Trinity is the oligarchy refined, and the one son who gives himself as a sacrifice for all the people who have offended the monarch is the retreating vision of that night of ignorance when all nations sought to appease the wrath of their god by the death of human beings.
God to us is Spirit, realized everywhere in unfolding Nature. We are a part of Nature–we, too, are Spirit. When Moses commands his people that they must return the stray animal of their enemy to its rightful owner, we behold a great man struggling to benefit humanity by making them recognize the laws of Spirit. We are all one family–we can not afford to wrong or harm even an enemy.
Instead of thousands of warring, jarring families or tribes, we have now a few strong federations of States, or countries, which, if they would make war on one another, would today quickly face a larger foe. Already the idea of one government for all the world is taking form–there must be one Supreme Arbiter, and all this monstrous expense of money and flesh and blood and throbbing hearts for purposes of war, must go, just as we have sent to limbo the jangling, jarring, jealous gods. Also, the better sentiment of the world will send the czars, emperors, kings, grand dukes, and the greedy grafters of so-called democracy, into the dust-heap of oblivion, with all the priestly phantoms that have obscured the sun and blackened the sky. The gods have gone, but MAN IS HERE.
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The plagues that befell the Egyptians were the natural ones to which Egypt was liable: drought, flood, flies, lice, frogs, disease. The Israelites very naturally declared that these things were sent as a punishment by the Israelitish god. I remember a farmer, in my childhood days, who was accounted by his neighbors as an infidel. He was struck by lightning and instantly killed, while standing in his doorway. The Sunday before, this man had worked in the fields, and just before he was killed he had said, “dammit,” or something quite as bad. Our preacher explained at length that this man’s death was a “judgment.” Afterward, when our church was struck by lightning, it was regarded as an accident.
Ignorant and superstitious people always attribute special things to special causes. When the grasshoppers overran Kansas in Eighteen Hundred Eighty-five, I heard a good man from the South say it was a punishment on the Kansans for encouraging Old John Brown. The next year the boll-weevil ruined the cotton crop, and certain preachers in the North, who thought they knew, declared it was the lingering wrath of God on account of slavery.
Three nations unite to form our present civilization. These are the Greek, the Roman and the Judaic. The lives of Perseus, Romulus and Moses all teem with the miraculous, but if we accept the supernatural in one we must in all. Which of these three great nations has contributed most to our well-being is a question largely decided by temperament; but just now the star of Greece seems to be in the ascendant. We look to art for solace. Greece stands for art; Rome for conquest; Judea for religion.
And yet Moses was a lover of beauty, and the hold he had upon his people was quite as much through training them to work as through his moral teaching. Indeed, his morality was expediency–which is reason enough according to modern science. When he wants them to work, he says, “Thus saith the Lord,” just the same as when he wishes to impress upon them a thought.
No one can read the twenty-sixth, twenty-seventh and twenty-eighth chapters of Exodus without being impressed with the fact that the man who wrote them had in him the spirit of the Master Workman–a King’s Craftsman. His carving the ten commandments on tablets of stone also shows his skill with mallet and chisel, a talent he had acquired in Egypt, where Rameses the Second had thousands of men engaged in sculpture and in making inscriptions in stone.
Several chapters in Exodus might have been penned by Albrecht Durer or William Morris. The commandment, “Thou shalt not make unto thyself any graven image,” was unmistakably made merely to correct a local evil: the tendency to worship the image instead of the thing it symbolized. People who do not contribute to the creation of an object fall easy victims to this error. With all the stern good sense that Moses revealed, it is but fair to assume that he did not mean the command to be perpetual. It was only through so much moving about that the Jews seemed to lose their art spirit.
And certainly the flame of art in the Jewish heart has never died out, even though at times it has smoldered, for wherever there has been peace and security for the Jews, they have not been slow to evolve the talent which creates. History teems with the names of Jews who, in music, painting, poetry and sculpture, have devoted their days to beauty. And the germ of genius is seen in many of the Jewish children who attend the manual-training and art schools of America.
Art has its rise in the sense of sublimity. It seems at times to be a fulfilment of the religious impulse. The religion which balks at work, stopping at prayer and contemplation, is a form of arrested development.
The number of people in the exodus was probably two or three thousand. Renan says that one century only elapsed between the advent of Joseph into Egypt and the revolt. Very certain it was not a great number that went forth into the desert. A half-million women could not have borrowed jewelry of their neighbors–the secret could not have been kept. And in the negotiations between Moses and the King, it will be remembered that Moses asked only for the privilege of going three days’ journey into the wilderness to make sacrifices. It was a kind of picnic or religious campmeeting. A vast multitude could not have taken part in any such exercise. We also hear of their singing their gratitude on account of reaching Elim, where there were “twelve springs and seventy palm-trees.” Had there been several million people, as we have been told, the insignificant shade of seventy trees would have meant nothing to them.
The distance from Goshen in Egypt to Canaan in Palestine was about one hundred seventy-five miles. But by the circuitous route they traveled it was nearly a thousand miles. It took forty years to make the passage, for the way had to be fought through the country of foes who very naturally sought to block the way. Quick transportation was out of the question. The rate of speed was about twenty-five miles a year.
Here was a people without homes, or fixed habitation, beset on every side with the natural dangers of the desert, and compelled to face the fury of the inhabitants whose lands they overran, fearful, superstitious, haunted by hunger, danger and doubt. By night a man sent ahead with a lantern on a pole led the way; by day a cavalcade that raised a cloud of dust. One was later sung by the poets as a pillar of fire, and the other a cloud. Chance flocks of quail blown by a storm into their midst were regarded as a miracle; the white exuding wax of the manna-plant was told of as “bread”–or more literally food.
Those who had taken part in the original exodus were nearly all dead–their children and grandchildren survived, desert born and savage bred. Canaan was not the land flowing with milk and honey that had been described. Milk and honey are the results of labor applied to land. Moses knew this and tried to teach this great truth. He was true to his divine trust. Through doubt, hardship, poverty, misunderstanding, he held high the ideal–they were going to a better place.
At last, worn by his constant struggle, aged one hundred twenty, “his eye not dim nor his natural force abated”–for only those live long who live well–Moses went up into the mountain to find solace in solitude as was his custom. His people waited for him in vain–he did not return. Alone there with his God he slept and forgot to awaken. His pilgrimage was done. “And no man knoweth his grave even unto this day.”
History is very seldom recorded on the spot–certainly it was not then. Centuries followed before fact, tradition, song, legend and folklore were fused into the form we call Scripture. But out of the fog and mist of that far-off past there looms in heroic outline the form and features of a man–a man of will, untiring activity, great hope, deep love, a faith which at times faltered, but which never died. Moses was the first man in history who fought for human rights and sought to make men free, even from their own limitations. “And there arose not a prophet since Israel like unto Moses, whom the Lord knew face to face.”
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