Jesus the Second Moses - And More Than Moses
In Lord’s Day 12 the Heidelberg Catechism confesses that our Saviour has been ordained by God the Father and anointed with the Holy Spirit to be our chief Prophet and Teacher, our only High Priest and our eternal King. Herewith the HC follows in the footsteps of Calvin, who was the first to point out the three offices of Christ and showed how in his work, these three offices became apparent.
In this article I pay special attention to Christ as our chief Prophet and Teacher, who indeed proved that he was a second Moses, yes, more than Moses. What motivated me to write this article
was the first book of Pope Benedict XVI regarding Jesus, which appeared some time ago.1In that book the Pope opens his instruction regarding Jesus of Nazareth with the promise of Deuteronomy 18:15, where the Lord pledges through Moses: “The LORD your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among your own brothers. You must listen to him.”2
I found that a beautiful take, and in this article wish to show what it means when the Saviour is our chief Prophet and Teacher.
However much the Pope’s take captivated me, I must still say that he does not imbue the context of the above promise with enough significance. Certainly in the end it speaks to the coming Prophet and Teacher, but we ought not to lose sight of the fact that in the first instance, Moses is here talking about normal prophets who the LORD would grant to his people again and again.
Moses emphatically warns Israel not to “imitate the detestable ways of the nations there [in Canaan]”. Israel was forbidden to engage with spirit mediums, clairvoyants, diviners, magicians and exorcists. All those heathen practices were “detestable” in God’s eyes.
In the Old Testament, the word “detestable” is always evoked in relation to very horrible things. Not every sin is called detestable. But there are practices the LORD loathes, which he cannot tolerate.
Precisely because divination and sorcery were rampant in Canaan, the LORD made short work of these nations. Therein the Israelites constituted his holy firing squad. Through their reckoning with the Canaanites, they gained possession of a land that had been totally polluted by the original inhabitants through their detestable practices.
No, Israel did not need to go to diviners and spirit mediums; the LORD ensured that there would always be prophets to show Israel the way and to teach the nation what it must do. Israel could and had to live by the prophetic Word!
Moses could bind the nation upon its heart: “The LORD your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among your own brothers. You must listen to him.” God would not send angels, but ordinary people like Moses, and Israel could hear God’s voice via human mouths.
God’s Voice Too Threatening
In the background of what Moses promised is that which is related in Deuteronomy 5. There Israel was at Mount Sinai and the Lord, in a great show of power, proclaimed the Ten Commandments. There was a ‘great voice’ that resounded from an enormous fire and dark and threatening clouds.
You can well imagine that this would have been a frightening experience for Israel: meeting God in this way! People downright panicked and thought their final hour had arrived. The general conviction was: please, this never again; God’s fire will burn us all alive!
Hence they also urgently asked Moses: Can you, from now on, not go to hear God’s voice? We will listen, but may the LORD not speak to us in this manner again!
It is surprising that the LORD accommodates his people. He bore Israel’s weakness in mind. From then on it was via Moses that he let his voice be heard. Henceforth Moses would be his mouth.
Thus, given this context, one begins to understand how lenient it was of the LORD, when Moses promised Israel that prophets like himself would again be raised up. The LORD would continue to speak through the mouths of people also when Moses would no longer be there. He does not want to scare the wits out of his children, but knows what kind of creatures they are: little people who become scared to death when they hear the voice of the living God!
From hereon I allow the context I have pointed out to rest. But I do ask attention for the wonder of God’s lenient goodness. For us it goes without saying that there are pastors who proclaim the Word of God to us. But it is a miracle of “God’s favour”, to use Calvin’s words, that the LORD uses people similarly impassioned as ourselves to be his envoys in binding his Word upon our hearts. How frightened we would be if on Sundays we would hear God’s formidable voice in church! If people were already “terrified” (see Luke 2:9) at the appearance of angels, how great then would our fear not be, should we hear God’s own voice?
The Uniqueness of Moses
Following the above comments, I return again to the Pope. Because Benedict is right when he interprets Deuteronomy 18 as a text which speaks to us deeply of Christ. That Christological sense is apparent in the words “like you [i.e. “like me,” like Moses] from among their brothers [i.e. “like you”, like someone from among the Israelites]” (v. 18). One day a Prophet would come who would be like Moses and who would be just as intimately connected to the LORD as Moses was.
For Deuteronomy 34:10 notes something else specifically regarding Moses: “Since then, no prophet has risen in Israel like Moses, whom the LORD knew face to face…” Certainly yes, Israel was to receive prophets like Moses. God would speak through ordinary people. But at the same time there is a big difference, and the prophets yet to come were to remain far behind Moses. They would not be granted as confidential an association with the LORD as Moses had had. In that regard Moses was to stand out above all the future prophets like a lonely mountaintop!
In Numbers 12 we also read about that uniqueness of Moses. When Miriam and Aaron rebelliously said: “Has the LORD only spoken through Moses?…Has he not also spoken through us?” — they had to bear the full brunt of the LORD’s wrath. Even while it was true that the LORD had also been speaking through them, Moses remained unique and on a lonely height.
God made this clear to these troublemakers by saying: “When a prophet of the LORD is among you, I reveal myself to him in visions, I speak to him in dreams. But this is not true of my servant Moses…With him I speak face to face…he sees the form of the LORD” (vv. 6-8). “He sees the form of the LORD” — here we have the uniqueness of Moses at its best! The LORD spoke with Moses “face to face, as a man speaks with his friend” (Ex. 33:11). Yes, he was even permitted to see God’s “form”.
Think of the moment when Moses asked: “Now show me your glory” (Ex. 33:18). God then answered: “[Y]ou cannot see my face, for no one may see me and live.” God’s face remained hidden from Moses, but he was allowed to go and stand in a cleft in a rock, and God protectively covered his servant with his hand, and Moses could see the LORD from behind. God’s full glory could not be beheld even by his friend. Moses was allowed to see his back and discern a glimpse of the One who spoke with him.
None of the future prophets was to share in that uniqueness. And that is why the words “like you from among their brothers” contain a deeper dimension. They radiate with the light of Advent. One day a Prophet would come who would share that uniqueness with Moses, and who would even rise above it. A second Moses was coming! There was Someone on the way — One who would even surpass that uniqueness of Moses. One who would not only behold a glimpse of God, but would see God’s face!
Greater than Moses
The extent to which Jesus Christ is the Greater One in comparison to Moses is proclaimed to us by the apostle John. His Gospel could be typified as “the Gospel of God’s Son”. In Jesus of Nazareth we are dealing with none other than the eternal Word, with the Son who came from the Father out of heaven. We must read the whole of John’s narrative in the light of those key words in the prologue: “No one has ever seen God, but God the One and Only, who is at the Father’s side, has made him known” (John 1:18).
The second Moses is indeed more than Moses! He did not stand in a cleft in a rock to catch a glimpse of God, but he rested and rests against the Father’s heart. Literally John writes that e “lies against the breast of the Father”, just as John himself lay against Jesus’ breast at the last Passover meal.
That position testifies to profound intimacy, to deep confidentiality. As God’s Son, Jesus has a relationship with the Father which is unprecedented and which reaches far beyond Moses’ relationship with the LORD. He lays against the breast of the Father and knows the Father as no one on earth has ever known him. That is also why he could speak “the words of God” (John 3:34), because he came from heaven; he himself heard the words there (John 3:11ff).
Moses beheld “God’s form”. But God’s face remained hidden for him. He gained no more than a glimpse; he saw God “from behind”. But as the Son, Jesus really saw and heard the Father. For him there was not even one reservation or concealment! Due to that unique relationship between Father and Son, Jesus could also “make known” the Father, as John puts it. Literally the “make known” is written as “exegete”, incorporating meanings like: reporting, explicating, making accessible.
The Son came to the people to make the Invisible visible, to be the exegete of the Father. He did that by laying in a manger, by later doing wonderful miracles of healing, by testifying and instructing and ultimately by way of the cross.
In this manner all God’s “goodness and faithfulness” accompanied Him, as John writes. In him God’s mercy and faithfulness became flesh and blood, rooted in one person! One sees who God is in the Child of Bethlehem and in the Man of Golgotha. “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son…” (John 3:16). Jesus could truly say: “He who has seen Me, has seen the Father” (John 14:9); “If you know Me you will also know my Father, and from now on you know him, because you yourselves have seen him” (John 14:17).
Is Jesus Trustworthy?
We believe in a young man from Nazareth, in someone who was born into the Jewish people. Why should we put our trust in him? Why should he be your only comfort in life and death? Why not Muhammad or Buddha? Was Jesus not markedly pretentious? It is quite something to allege that you speak “God’s words”; that you are the Way, the Truth and the Life; and that no one comes to the Father but through you.
The answer is: because he indeed spoke trustworthy words and did the works of the Father. He came from heaven (John 3:13; 6:38) where he laid at the Father’s breast, and he did and spoke what he had seen and heard there.
Moses you might still doubt. He had not really seen God; only a glimpse. But Jesus knew the Father (Matt. 11:27). He came straight from the Father and knew the Father as no one ever knew him.
He was a Prophet like Moses. He was fully human, like us, with the exception of sinfulness. He was born like us. He shared in all our humanness. It is not for nothing that he has been called “the human Son”. God bent down deeply by walking our streets as a human being like you and me.
But that young man is at the same time the Son who rests at the heart of the Father and who “lives” among us, as John writes (John 1:14). For that “lives” the Gospel writer uses a striking verb that is reminiscent of the tabernacle. Just as the LORD lived among his people in a tent, so in Jesus, God’s Son pitched his tent among us. A dwelling in that young Jew from Nazareth. He was and is the fulfilment of the tabernacle. Those who meet him, meet God himself!
The whole Gospel of John is focused upon our believing that. John’s words aim to convince us of this mystery: “But these [miraculous signs] are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name” (John 20:31).
Indeed, we believe in a “human Son”. A young man in his early thirties from Nazareth. The (adopted) son of a carpenter. A prophet like Moses. But we also believe in his divine origin and that he is more than Moses. That he is also the Son who lays at the Father’s breast, who spoke “God’s words” and in that way is our chief Prophet and Teacher!
Listen to Jesus!
I return one last time to Deuteronomy 18. Because there we also encounter a serious warning which we may not ignore. Verse 19: “If anyone does not listen to my words that the prophet speaks in my name, I myself will call him to account.”3God promised that there would always be prophets. Israel did not need to resort to magicians and sorcerers. The LORD would ensure that his people could live by the prophetic Word.
But when those prophets then came with God’s Word, people also had to listen. Those who would forget that, would be presented with the consequences: God would call them to account.
Literally Moses says that God will demand “it” of them. “It”, that is the Word that the prophets have spoken. The LORD takes that very seriously. Those who neglect his Word, will be confronted with that Word. The LORD will ask them: what did you do with my Word? My Word is not non-committal. Those who leave it be, get to deal with Me!
Following Jesus’ coming, that warning becomes even more serious. The writer of the letter to the Hebrews points out that seriousness to us when he says: “In the past God spoke to our forefathers through the prophets at many times and in various ways, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son…” (Heb. 1:1ff).
Here we have the (immense) seriousness of our Christianity in the wake of Bethlehem and Golgotha fully in front of us. The promise of Deuteronomy 18 has been fulfilled. Indeed for centuries God had spoken through prophets like Moses. But in conclusion he spoke through his own Son. A person of the same nature as us, a “human Son”, but also the Son who lay at the breast of the Father!
It is then also striking that at the transfiguration on the mountain the Father reverts back to Moses’ warning in Deuteronomy 18. Peter, John and James hear a voice from the cloud which says: “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased. Listen to him!” (Matt. 17:5). Prophets had let their voices be heard for centuries. But now the One greater than Moses and all the prophets has appeared. To him must now be listened, his words must be absorbed, because he is God’s beloved Son who perfectly makes known the Father and indeed speaks “God’s words”.
Those who do not listen to Jesus Christ and who do not sit at his feet like Mary, are guiltier than Israel which heard God’s voice via prophets. Because now God has spoken through his own Son.
Hence, that is what makes us as New Testament believers so deeply responsible. The “how much more severely” (Hebrews 10:29) now begins to be pertinent. If in Jesus of Nazareth God shows us himself, then things really become utterly serious. Then it is terrible when you do not listen to Jesus and do not honour him as your chief Prophet and Teacher!
After the healing of the crippled man at the temple gate called Beautiful, Peter returns explicitly to the promise of Deuteronomy 18 to bind that need to listen to Christ upon the hearts of his listeners: “For Moses said, ‘The Lord your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among your own people; you must listen to everything he tells you’” (Acts 3:22).4
How right Calvin was when he typified believers as “hanging on God’s lips”. Before anything else, believing entails listening to Jesus’ voice (John 10:3), letting yourself be persuaded by him, truly honouring him as chief Prophet and Teacher!
More than Moses, Jesus is our Lord. He spoke “God’s words” which he had heard from his Father. Listen then to him who speaks to us “from heaven” (Heb. 12:25)!