Friday, September 4, 2009

St Moses

(Moses in Western art is always portrayed with horns,
following Jerome's literal translation of
Exodus xxxiv, 29, 30 and 35 - "his face was horned":
wherever the verb qaran otherwise appears,
it means "to have horns",
but as a noun in post-biblical literature it can mean "ray of light";
St Paul wrote of how Moses' face shone after meeting with the Lord,
in II Corinthians iii, 7 and 13,
following the Septuagint paraphrase "his face was glorified".)

Fairly obviously, of all the saints remembered on this day, Moses, par excellence "the man of God" (Ps 89, superscription) is the one of signal importance in the whole history of salvation. Since his deeds at the Lord's command are so well-known, I'll not go over them here; rather, here is the encomium of Moses found in Ecclesiasticus xlv, 1-6:

Moses was beloved of God, and men: * whose memory is in benediction.
He made him like the saints in glory, † and magnified him in the fear of his enemies, * and with his words he made prodigies to cease.
He glorified him in the sight of kings, † and gave him commandments in the sight of his people, * and shewed him his glory.
He sanctified him in his faith, and meekness, * and chose him out of all flesh.
For he heard him, and his voice, * and brought him into a cloud.
And he gave him commandments before his face, * and a law of life and instruction,
That he might teach Jacob his covenant, * and Israel his judgments.

The great lesson of Moses, as of all true saints, is found in his meekness and humility. As the Baptist later declared, He must increase, I must decrease.

Moses even in his death was a prophet, for he died in sight of, yet outside the Promised Land, revealing how the Law he taught would not of itself suffice to save. "Did Moses not give you the law, and yet none of you keepeth the law?" (St John vii, 19) It required a new Prophet like himself to arise, to bring the people into their rest (and Him Joshua foreshadowed). "For the law was given by Moses; grace and truth came by Jesus Christ." (St John i, 17) "We have found him of whom Moses in the law, and the prophets did write, Jesus the son of Joseph of Nazareth." (St John i, 45b) "There is one that accuseth you, Moses, in whom you trust. For if you did believe Moses, you would perhaps believe me also; for he wrote of me." (St John v, 45b-46)

Moses, after long centuries of waiting in the Limbo of the Fathers, was, with Elijah (who like him had fasted forty days and forty nights that he might behold God face to face on the mountain), brought to bear witness to the Transfiguration of Christ, our God Incarnate, and to speak with Him (St Matthew xvii, 3; St Mark ix, 3) of the exodus, of the passing-over, that He was to accomplish in Jerusalem (St Luke ix, 30f), thus fulfilling the Old Testament figure of the Passover, and opening the gates of heaven to Moses, Elijah, the righteous of the Old Testament, and all men to come who should believe.

Moses led the people through the Red Sea waters, trusting in the power of God to save them and drown their rabid foes; and this again was a secret showing forth of what was to come: the waters of baptism - "all in Moses were baptized, in the cloud, and in the sea" (I Cor. x, 2) - whereby we are delivered from spiritual darkness and captivity. Likewise, by his stretching forth his arms in prayer (cf. Ex. xvii, 8-16), he foreshadowed the power of the Cross in overcoming all enemies of the chosen people of God. Likewise (cf. I Cor. x, 3f), the spring of water opened in the desert (Ex. xvii, 1-7), and the manna sent down from heaven, foreshadowed the Holy Eucharist, the true bread from heaven (cf. St John vi, 32), the true drink, which feeds us, not only for a time like the water and manna of old, but unto everlasting life.

It interests me to note parenthetically that, while in English we call him Moses, his name in the Hebrew is rendered something like Moshe, but was processed into Greek as Μωϋσῆς and thence into Latin as Moyses. In all these languages, it sounds really strange - because it is an Egyptian name, given him by Pharoah's daughter. Very interestingly, many Egyptians had names ending with a similar pair of syllables: Thutmoses, Rameses, etc.; but in these cases, the first part is the name of a pagan deity, Thoth, Ra, or whatnot, and therefore the full name meant "son of", "begotten of", "provided by" the god. It may be that Moses had such a theophoric name, but got rid of the embarrassingly pagan first half!

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