The Justice of God in the Killing of Moses in the Lens of Mosaic Law Against Murder

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Published on International Journal of Social, Politics & Humanities
Publication Date: July 18, 2019

Kolawole, Oladotun Paul; Adelodun, Jeremiah & Kalu, Ifeanyichukwu
Department of Religious Studies, Olabisis Onabanjo University, Ago-Iwoye
Department of Pastoral Studies, ECWA Theological Seminary, Igbaja, Kwara State

Journal Full Text PDF: The Justice of God in the Killing of Moses in the Lens of Mosaic Law Against Murder.

The case of murder is what no community tolerates. Because murder involves taking the life of another person; meanwhile humanity values life. Concerning the issue of Moses, the God here is “Yahweh”; who called the Israelites through their father Abraham, took them to a foreign land, and sent Moses to deliver them from the land of Egypt. At this point, the crux of this discourse took place. The case of God and Moses is a serious for Liberal thinkers, but for Dogmatic thinkers. Many thinkers have it that God was the one who killed Moses; how true is this assertion? Why would God have killed Moses? The research gives a detail of things that surrounds the case of Moses, which has to do with his calling, the attributes of Yahweh himself, covenant and Mosaic Law means in order to justify God in the case of Moses’ death.

The following terms are clarified:
Justice: It is the fair treatment of people or the quality of being fair or reasonable.
Murderer: A person who has killed somebody deliberately and illegally.

The name ‘Moses’ means; “Drawn out of the water.” He was the national hero who delivered the Israelites from Egyptian slavery, establishing them as an independent nation, and prepared them for entrance into Canaan. Although the exact dates for the life of Moses are dependent on the date of the Exodus; on the basis of an early date for the Exodus, c. 1440 B.C. Moses was born about 1520 B.C. In view of this, the name of Moses can never be written off or erased from the historical antecedents of the Israelites.
Stephen in his address to the Sanhedrin (Acts 7:22) shows that Moses was not only instructed in the science and learning of the Egyptians, but also was endowed with oratorical ability and distinctive leadership qualities. The court of Egypt provided Educational facilities for royal heirs of tributary princes from city-states of the Syro-Palestinian territory subject to the Egyptian rulers. His first valiant attempt to aid his own people ended in failure; while trying to pacify two fellow Israelites, he was reminded that he had killed an Egyptian (Ex. 2:11-25).

The Calling and Commissioning of Moses
The call of Moses was indeed significant confronted with a bush afire; he was given a revelation from God, who commissioned him to deliver his people Israel from Egyptian bondage. He anticipated the lack of confidence and the reluctance of the Israelites to accept him as a leader, but God counted it by assuring him that the great “I AM” was about to fulfill his promise made to the patriarchs. Ray said; “the event at the burning bush while Moses worked as a shepherd, introduced him to the critical character of his heroic work…..this strange formation played on God’s promise to Moses to be present with him special commission”
After various signs from God to prove to Pharaoh and the plagues that came upon them, he (Pharaoh) finally accepted that they should go (of which he later went against his promise). As the leader of the Israelites, he led them out of Egypt. But the Israelites left borrowing silver, gold and clothing. Thus in leaving Egypt, Israel robbed the most powerful nation at the time of its firstborn son and its wealth. As a display of his leadership which was on divine guidance, the exact route by which Moses led the Israelites who numbered some 600,000 men, plus women and children is difficult to ascertain, some scholars have come to suggest that it might be Succoth, Ethan, Pi Hahiroth, Migdol and Baal Zephen (which any of them might be close).
In their wilderness encampment, Moses became the great lawgiver through whom Israel’s religion was revealed. As a representative for his people, Moses received the Law from God. This Law constituted God’s covenant with his newly delivered nation. Even though he himself was denied participation in the conquest and occupation of the land, he coveted the best for the Israelites as they entered Canaan; he admonished them, recalled how they have moved in the wilderness, why God destroyed the first generation because of murmuring and then he urged them to obey God and his word in other for them to live.
On this note, it is crystal clear that Moses was not an ordinary man in Israel but a well respected man because of his divine ordination. God so much loved Moses he saddled him with the responsibility of saving his beloved one “Isareal”, but God’s condition for his covenant with the people is their obedience to his commandments. This make the research explore the concept of covenant as it applies to the Israelites relationship with Yahweh.

According to Steven Cowan, covenant is an oath – bound promises where by one party solemnly pledges to bless or serve another party in some specified way. Sometimes, the keeping of promise depends upon the meeting of certain conditions by the party to whom the promise is made. The divine covenant between God and Israel bears the closest resemblance to the suzerainty treaties found in other Ancient Near Eastern nations. According to K.P Kareem, the mode of covenant God operated with the Israelite was a suzerainty covenant (which involves a high “Lord” party and a low party; God and man respectively).
According the to the Ancient Near Eastern treaty, this type of covenant comes as a result of conquest but the Mosaic covenant came as a result of God’s gracious deliverance of Israel from bondage. God’s covenant with Israel is not simply an agreement between suzerain and vassals but an intimate relationship based on loyal love. The unique feature of the Mosaic covenant was the Law summarized in the Ten Commandments (Exod 20:10-17).
In every covenant each party has his own part to play. Likewise God’s part is his promise to Israel as his special possession his “Holy nation” and him as their God (Exod 19:5-6; 20:2), but God’s promise was conditioned on Israel’s obedience to the Law. Meaning that Israelites role in the law is solely “obedience to God”. God’s grace singled out the Israelites as the recipient of the covenant (Deut 7:7), but they were warned to keep the commandments in other to receive the blessings and promises of God. The pre-existing covenant between God and the fore fathers of the israelites brought about the Mosaic Law. Moses who is God’s herald (who was instrumental and cardinal to the giving of the law) was found wanting in this regards (Num 20:6-12).

Another word for the “Law” is “Torah.” The Torah or Law is central to the nature of Judaism; it is also the ethics, tradition, wisdom, instructions, divine instruction, parental teaching, theology, ordinances, philosophy, and a scroll. Above all it is a way of life dictated by the covenant that God established with the people of Israel. The Torah is the ‘raison d’être of Jews’ that is, without it, Judaism does not exist. The ancient law of the Hebrews is traditionally attributed to Moses, contained primarily in the Pentateuch.
The Old Testament law includes; commandments, statues and ordinances. More than six hundred laws are contained in the book of Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy. According to Schultz, The purpose of the biblical legislation was to order and regulate the moral, religious or ceremonial, and civil life of Israel in accordance with the holiness necessary for maintaining the covenant relationship with Yahweh.
The divine covenant brought about the Mosaic Law. Yet, the idea of law was not unique to the Hebrews in the Ancient Near East. Law collections were published in Mesopotamia as early as 2000 B.C., some five centuries (or more) before the time of Moses. The better known of these legal documents are the Sumerian Laws of Ur-Naamu and Lipitnunna (19th century B.C) and Hamurabi. The content of Ancient Near Eastern Law may be summarized under the three headings; civil law (marriage, family, inheritance, property, slaves, debt, taxes and wages), ceremonial law (murderer, adultery, rape, theft, sexual deviation, false witness and assault) and cultic law (sacrifices, purification, object of worship and festival observance).
Therefore, the influence of the Ancient Near East tradition on the form and function of Hebrew law is undeniable and widely documented. Along with this contemporary cultural influence, the Old Testament affirms the divine origin of Hebrew law through Moses as Yahweh’s law-giver. The Pentateuch is often associated with the law as many of the Hebrew titles for the five books attest.
According to Walton, who quoted John Calvin “the law was given in order that we might realize that God is right to condemn us all and to give our minds no rest from anxious and tortuous thoughts, in order that our despair might lead us to find hope in his promise.” The law is like an MRI scan that reveals cancer but provides no cure. Man responds to this revelation of disease and depravity in one of three ways: by trying harder and, thus, only compounding condemnation, by giving up in despair or by responding in desperation and hoping completely in God’s merciful and gracious promises rather than our own works. In this sense, the law is, as Martin Luther declared, “an usher to lead the way to grace.”
The Mosaic Law was given specifically to the nation of Israel (Exod19; Lev 26:46; Romans 9:4). It was made up of three parts: the Ten Commandments, the ordinances, and the worship system, which included the priesthood, the tabernacle, the offerings, and the festivals (Exod 20-40). The bulk of the Old Testament legal materials is found in Exod 20 – Deut33and they stem from the covenant as discussed in the preceding part of this work (at Mount Sinai and Mount Nebo). Hill in his work subcategorizes the Mosaic Law.
a. Casuistic or Case Law: usually cast in a conditional “if…then” formula, making reference to the specific hypothetical legal situation. Example: Deut 22:22.
b. Apodictic law or Direct affirmative and Negative Commands: sets the bounds of appropriate behavior in Hebrew society. Ex. 20:3; 12 “You shall have no other God beside me”…”honor your father and mother that you may live long in the land the Lord your God is given you”.
c. Prohibition or a negative command: It refers to hypothetical offenses and stating no fixed penalty. “Do not curse the deaf or put a stumbling block in front of the blind, but fear your God. I am the Lord” (Lev 19:14).
d. Death Law: It is a hybrid of the prohibition that makes a distinct legal statement about specific crimes meriting the death penalty. For example, “Anyone who attacks his father or his mother must be put to death” (Exod 21:15).
e. The Curse: It is a development from both the prohibition and the death law addressing crimes committed in secret. The curse was designed to protect the covenant community from uncleanness due to violation of covenant stipulation and to bring divine judgment on the perpetrator of the crime. For example, “Cursed is the man who moves his neighbor’s boundary stone…Cursed is the man who kills his neighbor secretly” (Deut 27:17; 24).
Meanwhile, the purpose of the Mosaic Law was to accomplish the following:
a. Reveal the holy character of the eternal God to the nation of Israel (Lev19:2; 20:7–8).
b. Set apart the nation of Israel as distinct from all the other nations (Ex19:5).
c. Reveal the sinfulness of man (Gal 3:19): The Mosaic Law was to diagnose sin and reveal transgression. This is the reason which receives the most explicit biblical treatment in passages such as Rom 3:20, 5:20; 7:7 and Gal 3:19. In this sense, the law is a mirror in which man sees his filthiness. Although the Law was good and holy (Rom 7:12), it did not provide salvation for the nation of Israel. “No one will be declared righteous in God’s sight by the works of the law; rather, through the law we become conscious of our sin” (Rom 3:20).
d. Provide forgiveness through the sacrifice/offerings (Lev1-7) for the people who had faith in the Lord in the nation of Israel.
e. Provide a way of worship for the community of faith through the yearly feasts (Lev 23).
f. Provide God’s direction for the physical and spiritual health of the nation (Ex 21-23).
g. Cause people, after Christ came, to see that they couldn’t keep the Law but needed to accept Christ as personal Savior, for He had fulfilled the Law in His life and paid the penalty for our breaking it in His death, burial, and bodily resurrection (Galatians 3:24; Romans 10:4).
On this note, William Henry emphasized that Mosaic Law was given by God through Moses to the Israelites. God is the giver of the law, but men are servants to the law; which means no one is above the law, not even Moses. Thus, Mosaic Law is for the people and it should be strictly followed and adhere to by the people of Israel.

Having discussed much about the person of Moses, there is need to look at the second person in this subject matter and that is God. The attributes of God are the characteristics of God, which are revealed in his nature and sometimes in his names. According to Aremu, there are various ways of categorizing the attributes of God and they are:
a. Natural or non-material Attributes: This consist of his nature, moral attributes and his attributes as moral governor.
b. Immanent Attributes: They relate to God as he is revealed outwardly in his relations to his creation.
c. Positive Attributes: Certain perfections are expressed, and negative or limitations are denied.
d. His essence, His intellect, and his Will.
e. Communicable Attributes: It talks about what God is like (just, incommunicable, infinite). Other attributes are also included under this, attributes like: God is Holy, Omniscient, righteous, love, true, free, omnipotent, infinite and eternal, immutable, omnipresent, and sovereign. For the sake of this paper, the “Sovereign” aspect of him, will be put into special consideration.
f. Sovereignty of God: Sovereignty means the supreme power and authority of the state over the citizens. It also means that God, is the chief, highest or supreme being. He is the number one ruler in heaven and on earth; his authority is total and absolute. Biblical teaching that God possesses all power and is the ruler of all things (Ps. 135:6). God rules and works according to his eternal purpose, even through events that seem to contradict or oppose his rule. The scripture also emphasizes God’s rule in three areas: creation, human history and redemption Gen. 1; Mark 4:35-41). Jean has this to say about God’s sovereignty:
That God is sovereign is a given of traditional Judeo-Christian metaphysics. God will, creates and orders. God sovereignty is perpetual, absolute and indivisible. Much of the grandeur of later political constructions of sovereignty derives from the appropriation of theological commitments and arguments for political purposes. Thus the omnipotent God becomes the omnipotent King or the everlasting kingdom.
The Bible does not explain the relationship between divine sovereignty and evil. Scripture does not teach that God neither does evil nor approves of evil (Hab. 1:13); rather, though he allows it, he also restrains it (Job 1:12-2:7), judges it (Isa. 66:3-4; Rev. 20:11-15), uses it for the good of his children, and the fulfillment of his purposes (Gen. 50:20). Although God is sovereign, man is also accountable to him for his actions (Rom. 2:5-11). This might look mysterious, but it doesn’t contradict itself. Therefore, the characteristics of Sovereignty are explained below:
a. Indivisibility: It is supreme, final and with coercive power of the state over the people. It cannot be divided, though government can delegate powers to certain agencies.
b. Absoluteness: The powers cannot be restricted; there is no limitation to its legal within its area, and it receives orders from no one.
c. Permanence: As long as the state exists, it continues without interruption, it is a permanent attribute of the state which does not change.
d. Independence of an external control: A sovereignty state is independent of foreign control.
e. Comprehensiveness: The powers exercised are wide and encompassing. These powers are binding on all.

a. The calling of Moses: The book of Exodus 3:5-10 stated clearly how the calling of Moses took place and the purpose for his calling, vs. 8 “And I am come down to deliver them out of the hand of the Egyptians, and to bring them up out of that land unto a good land and a large, unto a land flowing with milk and honey; unto the place of the Canaanites, and the Hittites, and the Amorites, and the Perizzites, and the Hivites, and the Jebusites. Vs. 9 Now therefore, behold, the cry of the children of Israel is come unto me: and I have also seen the oppression wherewith the Egyptians oppress them. vs.10 has this: “so now, go. I am sending you to Pharaoh to bring my people the Israelites out of Egypt (ἐκ-ὀδούς).”
In verse 8, the truth is that God made his intention known to Moses on what he wants to do for Israelites and where he is taking them to. God gave Moses a firsthand information of what the whole mission is all about, but in verse 9 God gave Moses his own role to be played in the spelled mission. Therefore, it will be wrong to say that God instructed and promise Moses to take the Israelites to the promise land.
Of a truth, in every responsibility given to fulfill, there must be a description for such responsibility. It will be an aberration for someone to say that God is wrong, when God explicitly defined Moses’ job description. At the calling of Moses, God did not promise or assure Moses like many asserts that he will lead the people into the promise land. From this passage, he is to be the instrument that God will use to fulfill his promise in delivering the people from the hand of Pharaoh and slavery in Egypt.
b. Disobedience to the instruction of Yahweh: In the wilderness, Moses disobeyed Yahweh in many ways; like the destruction of the “Ten Commandment” (Ex. 32:19). Disobedience was one of the things that were clearly stated in the Mosaic Law, but it now happened that the Law giver became the defaulter. Some of the ways Moses disobeyed God can be seen from Numbers 20:6-11; from this passage of the scripture, the people of Israel were in a much tensed condition where they needed water, and their leader Moses talked to the Lord about it. God (Yahweh) gave him (Moses) a specified instruction in vs. 7-8, but Moses went ahead and disobeyed Yahweh before the people of Israel. Here were some of the actions that a Moses took:
• Misused the instrument of God (vs. 9); the instrument of God in this sense is referring to the rod that Moses was holding. Matthew Henry has it that;
it seems that this rod was kept in the tabernacle, for it was the rod of God, the rod of his strength, ……perhaps bids him gather the assembly, not the elders only, but the people to be witnesses of what was done, that their own eyes they might be convinced and made ashamed of their unbelief”

From Henry view, the Rod which Moses didn’t handle well, probably because of over-familiarity, caused him to disobey God.
• He spoke at the people (vs. 10); from that passage, the instruction of the Lord to speak to the rock, was not what he carried out. He disobeyed God by first speaking to the congregation, instead of the rock.
• In verse 11 of Numbers 20, Moses struck the rock twice instead of speaking to the rock as instructed in verse 8.
c. Blasphemy: It is stated clearly in the Mosaic Law, which was given through Moses that. The word that came out of his mouth in vs. 10b; “must we fetch you water out of this rock?” was contrary to what God asked him to do. And these words, were against God’s instruction in the Law; “You shall not misuse the name of the LORD your God, for the LORD will not hold anyone guiltless who misuses his name. (Ex. 20:7).” In the Hebrew context, the highest sin is blasphemy and it comes with death as its consequence, on several occasions, it’s not negotiable.
The use of the word “we” in that context can be interpreted in several ways. The question is who are the “we” as mentioned by Moses in that verse? Was it Moses and God or Moses, Aaron and God or Moses, the angels and God. Whatever assertion made, it is clear that the word “we” mentioned by Moses can correctly be interpreted to mean a sign of equality with God; because it connotes the involvement of Moses’ person in the miracle to be performed. It can also be interpreted to mean that Moses was feeling himself; thus, seeing himself as the same rank with God, having considered many things he has done for Israelites forgetting that he is just an instrument in Yahweh’s hand. By implication, Moses was sharing God’s glory with himself and Aaron. At that point, it seems Moses forgot that God said; he (Lord) is a jealous God (Ex. 20: 5b).
d. God never Killed Moses: This view is based on the fact that there is no biblical proof of an emphatic statement that says God killed Moses. Moses might have died a natural death just like any other person, the Bible says; “and Moses the servant of the Lord died there in Moab, as the Lord had said (Deut. 34:5).” This assertion can be substantiated with Jude 1:9.
• It is stated clear in Deut 34:5 that Moses “died”. It is also possible for the Lord to have given Moses some days to live. This is because God was still with Moses even though he did not reach the promise land; God took Moses on sightseeing to view the promise land and the route to the place (Deut 32:49, 34:1). It means God buried Moses alone (Deut 34:6) and only God attended his burial ceremony. Indeed, God buried him, and only God knows where the burial place is.
• Moses’ ministry was a remarkable one in the history of the Israelites, his footprints cannot be erased from the antecedents of the Israelites, he was privileged to walk with God in such a powerful and great dimension; seeing God face to face and God using him to wroth great miracles in the presence of the Israelites (Deut 34:10-12). Considering these, it is logical to think that God knew that if he had not taken Moses away in such a manner, people might do malicious things with Moses’ dead body or even turn his tomb to a place of pilgrimage and idolatry. Upon God’s action, the peak the people could do was to mourn him for thirty good days (Deut 34:8), what would have happened if they had known the place Moses was buried? It’s unimaginable; but it is sure that the reaction of the Israelites will actually be negative; not wanting Moses to leave them.
e. God Honored Moses: In Moses were this three great offices of Israel: Prophet, Ruler (Judge), and Priest. Right from the day Moses was called; God substantially honored his words in Moses’ mouth. The relationship of God with Moses isn’t that characterized with mere words, but manifestation of God’s presence and power. In view of this, God honored Moses by taking him away from the people without any trace like many other heroes of faith, the likes of Elijah, Enoch and Jesus.

Humans will always look for a way to exonerate themselves from certain things, but at the cause of exonerating once self, should God be blamed for human inadequacy? Definitely No, because, man is always held accountable for his mistakes. Now, if the question is brought forward again (“did God kill Moses?”), the answer should not be farfetched from the paper because, the bases for which God is being referred to as being a bad person, can now be seen as misinterpretation of the scriptures. However, the relationship of God and Moses, has gone too far, for anyone to question God; how he deals with his children matters only to him.