Moses Prefigures the Mission of Christ

God allowed Moses to be thrown into the Nile and then delivered him to show the chosen people that he was their liberator (Exod. 2:3). Thus, like Jonah, Moses prefigured Christ, whose Resurrection neither the tomb nor its horrors could impede.

When Moses “had grown up,” God inspired him to leave the court of Pharaoh and the princess his daughter, who had raised him as her own child, and go “out to his people” (Exod. 2:11). This is explained by St. Paul: “Moses, when he was grown up, refused to be called the son of Pharaoh’s daughter, choosing rather to share ill-treatment with the people of God than to enjoy the fleeting pleasures of sin. He considered abuse suffered for the Christ greater wealth than the treasures of Egypt . . . by faith he left Egypt, not being afraid of the anger of the king,” who henceforth sought his death (Heb. 11:24­-27). He took up the defense of the Israelites by a divine instinct, avenging them upon an Egyptian who had mistreated them, and, as St. Stephen says, “He supposed that his brethren understood that God was giving them deliverance by his hand, but they did not understand” (Acts 7:25). For Moses to save them, it was necessary that he suffer their opposition, which was so pronounced that he was forced to take flight. And so persecution came from those he was to save, and by this means God showed him to be like their Savior, an image of Jesus Christ.

“And the Lord said to Moses, ‘See, I make you as God to Pharaoh; and Aaron your brother shall be your prophet’ ” (Exod. 7:1). The savior of the holy people had to be like God. Elsewhere the Lord says, “You are gods, sons of the Most High” (Ps. 82:6); here he says, “I make you as God.” It is a mark of divinity to have prophets, which is why they are called the prophets of the Lord; here God tells Moses that Aaron “shall be your prophet.” Moses is robed with God’s omnipotence. He has thunder in his hand, in the form of the rod that strikes rivers and changes water into blood, strikes again and makes them return to their nature, and is raised to the heavens to call forth a deep darkness, but which, like God himself, he separates from the light, for the people of Israel remain in the light while the Egyptians are enveloped in a dark cloud and are unable to move. This powerful rod makes frogs and grasshoppers come forth from the earth, changes the dust into flies, sends an inexorable plague upon all the animals of Egypt, and effects the other prodigies that are written in the book of Exodus.

Here, then, we see Moses like a God, accomplishing all that he wills both in the heavens and on the earth and holding all nature under his power. It is true that God places a limit upon the power he gives to Moses: “I make you as God to Pharaoh.” It was not thus with the Savior of the new people, who is called God absolutely, because “all things were made through him” (John 1:3), and whom St. Paul calls “God over all, blessed for ever” (Rom. 9:5). For the servant must not equal the master. “Moses was faithful in all God’s house as a servant . . . but Christ was faithful over God’s house as a son” (Heb. 3:5-6).

Through Moses, God established an everlasting monument to the deliverance of his people: the ceremony of the Passover. He would send his angel to bring death and mourning to every Egyptian family, by smiting “all the first-born in the land of Egypt, from the first-born of Pharaoh who sat on his throne to the first-born of the captive who was in the dungeon, and all the first-born of the cattle” (cf. Exod. 12:29). After this last plague, and fearing total devastation, the Egyptians “were urgent with the people, to send them out of the land in haste” (Exod. 12:33). While the avenging angel wrought the desolation of the Egyptians, the Israelites were preserved by the blood of the Paschal lamb. Take a lamb “without blemish,” that is, a perfect image of Jesus (Exod. 12:5). Like Jesus, this lamb must be slain and eaten. “Take a bunch of hyssop,” Moses told the elders, “and dip it in the blood” of the lamb, and “touch the lintel and the two doorposts with the blood . . . for the Lord will pass through to slay the Egyptians; and when he sees the blood on the lintel and on the doorposts, the Lord will pass over the door, and will not allow the destroyer to enter your houses to slay you” (Exod. 12:22-23). God did not need the sensible sign in order to distinguish between his holy people and the victims of his anger. The sign was for us. He wanted to show us that the blood of the true spotless lamb would be the sacred character by which God would separate the children of Egypt — to whom God would bring death — and the children of Israel, whose lives he would save.

Let us, with St. Paul, carry in our bodies “the death of Jesus” (2 Cor. 4:10), the mark of his blood, if we wish to be spared from the divine anger. Everything about the Paschal lamb is a prophetic mystery. Its bones were not to be broken, for the bones of Jesus were spared even though the bones of the men crucified with him were broken. The lamb was to be eaten in traveler’s garb, by those ready to depart at the merest word, and this is the posture and condition of the disciple of Jesus, of those who eat his flesh and are nourished by his substance, whose life is both according to the body and to the spirit. “You shall eat it in haste” (Exod. 12:11). There should be nothing slow or indolent in those who are nourished with the food that Jesus has given us. The whole lamb was to be eaten: head, feet, and entrails. Not only are the most noble and the most intimate parts of Jesus worthy, but so are the most humble. For even what was lowliest in him — his suffering, his sadness, the troubles of his holy soul, his sweat of blood, his agony — was for the sake of our salvation and to provide an example for us. Have no doubt about his weaknesses. Do not blush for his humiliation. A firm and lively faith will devour it all. And seek not sensible pleasure, for this lamb was to be eaten with bitter herbs, with distaste for the world and its pleasures, and, should God will it, without even the sensible taste of devotion, for ours remains impure and carnal. Such is the mystery of the Paschal lamb.

This article is from Meditations for Lent.

Yet if there was in Moses, the savior of the holy people, so manifest a ray of divinity and so exalted a participation in the title of God, should we be surprised if the substance and the “whole fullness of deity dwells bodily” in Jesus Christ (Col. 2:9), who, in saving us from sin saves us from every evil? To complete the prefigurement, Moses was both “as God to Pharaoh” and at the same time the mediator. Pharaoh said to him: “Entreat the Lord” (Exod. 8:8). And at the prayer of Moses, God turned aside his scourges and brought the plagues to an end. Thus Jesus, who is our God, is at the same time our mediator (1 Tim. 2:5), our all-powerful intercessor, to whom God refuses nothing, and “there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12).

Let us place all our confidence in Jesus, the Paschal lamb, at once God and mediator. Moses was “as God to Pharaoh” only to bring plagues, and he was a mediator only to send them away. But Jesus “went about doing good and healing all that were oppressed” (Acts 10:38). He made use of his power only to show forth his goodness, and the plagues from which he freed us are the plagues of the spirit. Let us place ourselves in his life-giving hands. He asks for nothing more than that we give ourselves to him. Then he will save us, for “salvation is from the Lord” (Ps. 3:9, Douay-Rheims).

Editor’s note: This article is from a chapter in Meditations for Lentwhich is available from Sophia Institute Press.

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Jacques-Bénigne Bossuet (1627–1704) was a theologian and French bishop. With a great knowledge of St. Augustine and St. Thomas Aquinas, he devoted himself to writing in a way that was approachable to every person. Though lionized by the great English converts such as Waugh, Belloc, and Knox, his writing has only recently been made available in English. His Meditations for Advent is available from Sophia Institute Press.

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