Moses, Jesus, and The Journey to the Promised Land:
Two others also, who were criminals, were led away to be put to death with him. And when they came to the place which is called The Skull, there they crucified him, and the criminals, one on the right and one on the left. And Jesus said, “Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do.”…
One of the criminals who were hanged railed at him, saying, “Are you not the Christ? Save yourself and us!” But the other rebuked him, saying, “Do you not fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation? And we indeed justly; for we are receiving the due reward of our deeds; but this man has done nothing wrong.” And he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your Kingdom.” And he said to him, “Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise.” -Luke, 23:32-44
The mission of all the profits of the bible is to lead people from a sinful to a righteous way of living. In the stories of Moses and Jesus, each man leads a group of people on both a physical and a metaphysical journey: Moses leads the Israelites out of Egypt, through the desert, and to the promise land; Jesus leads his disciples from Galilee to Jerusalem; and both men lead their followers on the metaphysical journey to salvation. Through speaking with god, interpreting his words, and spreading his messages to their followers, Moses and Jesus both guided Israel toward a righteous way of living while they guided people from a starting point to a destination. In this essay, I will focus on the way their physical journeys reflect the profit’s spiritual journey of leading human beings from a sinful to a righteous way of living, and I will analyze the difference between the greater journeys of each man.
Moses’ physical journey begins in Egypt, from where he must lead the Israelites out of slavery. This is a difficult task because he has to liberate the Israelites from the rule of the pharaoh, and convince the Israelites that following him from their established lives into the unknown dessert will result in a better way of living. Neither of these tasks are easy because both groups that he has to convince harden their hearts to the evidence he shows them. As a mediator between god and the Israelites, Moses is given the task god had with Adam and Eve: he must convince them that following him will result in something greater than earthly pressures can provide. The tree of knowledge and the devil’s coaxing were the earthly pressures that god’s original people chose over his word, and the comfort of a known way of life and the reign of the pharaoh are the pressures that the Israelites chose over Moses’ word.
Through Moses’ bringing of the plagues to Egypt, the power of Moses’ god is made clear to the Israelites and the pharaoh, just as god’s power was made clear to Adam and Eve in the garden of Eden through Adam and Eve’s many interactions with god. As Adam and Eve ate of the Tree of Knowledge, the Israelites and the pharaoh question Moses’ god even after the plagues are set upon Egypt. It takes the beginning of Moses’ physical journey – where he parts the red sea, allowing the Israelites to escape their slavery, and destroying Egypt’s soldiers – to convince the Israelites and the pharaoh of his plans righteousness. Thus Moses’ physical journey begins with a physical freeing of the Israelites from slavery, which allows them to move toward the promised land, and a metaphysical freeing of the Israelites from a sinful way of living, which allows them to move toward a righteous way of living.
The rest of Moses’ journey consists of a continuous imparting of god’s words to the Israelites. With every one of his mediations between god and the Israelites, Moses progresses the Israelites on their physical journey to the promise land, and on their metaphysical journey toward a righteous way of living: through god, Moses brings the Israelites food and water to help them on their physical journey; and, also through god, he brings them the spiritual instruction to help them on their metaphysical journey. Moses lays out the path of righteousness for the Israelites, which they must walk if they want to continue to the promised land – a metaphor for the fact that they must live by god’s word if they want to make it into god’s presence.
This representation of the metaphysical journey in the physical journey is clearly seen when Moses’ gives the ten commandments to the Israelites. Through Moses, god tells the Israelites that they must live by ten laws. If they do not live by them, they will not go any farther on their physical journey or their metaphysical journey. God shows this, when, after the Israelites have sinned while he was imparting the ten commandments to Moses, he tells Moses he will kill them and make a nation from Moses alone – stopping the Israelites from reaching the promised land and heaven.
Moses of course talks god out of this, telling god that to show his own power to the Egyptians he must lead the Israelites to the promised land. This allows Moses to continue his physical journey of bringing the Israelites to the promised land, and also allows him to continue his metaphysical journey as a profit by imparting more of gods knowledge to the Israelites, leading more of them from a sinful way of life to that of righteousness.
This episode (the Mt. Sinai episode) seems contradictory to the end of the Moses narratives. In the Mt. Sinai episode, when god says he is going to kill the Israelites and start anew with Moses, he seems to say that Moses is the only man among the Israelites pure enough to be the seed of the nation of Israel; but at the end of the Moses narratives, Moses falls out of god’s grace and is not aloud to enter the promise land, and only see what it looks like from a distance before he dies. This contradiction points to the coming journey of Jesus, a journey that can be seen as continuing the journey of Moses and all the profits of The Bible.
Just as Moses physically and metaphysically saved the sinners among the Israelites from death in the Mt. Sinai episode, Jesus’ whole existence is aimed at saving sinners. When viewing Moses’ guiding of the Israelites from their state of slavery in Egypt to the promise land as metaphysically guiding the Israelites from a state of sin to a state of righteousness, Moses’ whole existence can be seen as aimed at saving sinners as well. After all, this is the mission of all the profits of the bible, though the language of “saving sinners” is not used often in the old testament. When Jesus begins his own physical journey, he continues the metaphysical journey of Moses – the journey of a profit – the journey to save sinners. The group of people Moses leads in this journey is the Israelites; the group of people Jesus leads is the sinners. Jesus also leads the disciples and apostles on a physical journey and a different sort of metaphysical journey than the sinners – a journey preparing them to continue his own journey after his death.
When Jesus decides to begin his physical journey from Galilee to Jerusalem, he speaks these words to the people who want him to stay in Galilee: “No. I must preach the good news of the kingdom of God to the other cities also; for I was sent for this purpose. (Luke, 5:43)” This at once connects and separates him from Moses. It connects him to Moses as a traveling profit who is going to spend his life spreading his interpretations of god’s word, and it separates him from Moses because he is not taking a certain group of people with him to a destination or salvation, but following his own destiny and spreading his interpretation of the word of god to as many people as he can. Along the way, he physically leads the disciples and apostles everywhere he goes, and leads them on a metaphysical journey as he imparts his interpretations of god’s word to them.
Jesus’ “purpose” is to save sinners; his physical journey is to go wherever there are those who need to be saved; and his metaphysical journey is to lead all those who need to be saved to a life of righteousness. These ideas are reflected in all the episodes of Jesus’ physical journey from Galilee to Jerusalem, and climax with his death and resurrection. The group he leads along his physical journey is the disciples and the apostles. They also learn from his metaphysical journey, essentially going on a metaphysical journey of their own as they hear his teachings of god’s word.
The episode of Jesus’ dinner with Levi clearly shows these ideas. In this episode of Jesus’ travels, Jesus goes to the tax collector Levi, and asks Levi to go with him. Levi makes a feast for Jesus, and invites many other tax collectors to eat with them, all of whom Jesus dines with. The Pharisees condemn Jesus for this, saying that they are sinners, that a man who claims to be pious should not eat with sinners, that he is not a man of god, that he is sinning; and in the midst of this Jesus says, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the sinners, but the righteous to repentance (Luke 5:31-32).”
In this episode, Jesus moves forward in his physical journey by seeking out a large group of sinners; he moves forward in his metaphysical journey by further preaching the good news; and he stays steadfast to his “purpose.” We see that Jesus is leading his disciples and apostles on both of these journeys as well, because we are reading the story as it was retold from the apostle Luke. Luke heard Jesus’ interpretation of the word of god (albeit, not first hand), and wrote them down, passing it on to other people, including us.
This dynamic between Jesus leading sinners for his own purpose and teaching his disciples and apostles to continue this journey makes Jesus’ journey a continuation of Moses’ journey, and a completion of the journey of all profits of the bible, because he saves all sinners. This is clear in Jesus’ death and resurrection.
The passage I quoted at the beginning of this paper is symbolic of Jesus’ entire existence. First, Jesus, the only sinless man among men, is placed among sinner, and his response to their sinful nature is to ask god to forgive them. In the above passage, the two criminals have two very different responses to Jesus’ claim of being the son of god, both of which Jesus has been exposed to his whole life. The first criminal responds to Jesus by asking him to prove his divinity – this is the same way that the Pharisees responded to Jesus throughout his life. While this is a faithless response, there is something very fundamentally human in it. The first criminal is literally on his cross – metaphor of every man’s mental state when facing/contemplating death – and he has a typical response: save me.
The second criminal responds to Jesus by asking him for forgiveness – this is the same way that faithful people responded to Jesus throughout Jesus’ life. This final plea for forgiveness solicits Jesus’ response to all sinners who show faith: “Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in paradise.” This finishes his physical journey, and sets up his resurrection – the completion of his metaphysical journey.
I think it is the two criminals Jesus was crucified with who appear to Mary Magdalene on the first Easter Sunday in Luke’s gospel. It is they, the sinners, who affirm Jesus’ message because they are the ones in need of it most. This is in-line with Jesus’ entire being – he came to earth to save the sinners, thus they are the ones to declare his resurrection – they have been saved. As Jesus ushers them to heaven, they usher his return to earth. Saving sinners is Jesus’ most important goal, his “purpose.”
The apostles realize what has happened later than the sinners, because they have always learned from Jesus through his work with sinners. And even then, it is the apostle with the most burden of sin – Paul, who has denied Jesus three times – who believes the message of Jesus’ resurrection first. Jesus lead those who lead a sinful life to a path of righteousness; and through his teachings, the righteous continue to spread his word after his death, as is seen in the gospels.
Moses does not make it to his physical destination – the promised land. Because of his lack of faith, he is only allowed to see the promised land, then he dies. However, in the New Testament, Jesus continues Moses’ greater journey that was defined in the Mt. Sinai episode: the journey to save sinners. I believe this is one of the reasons that Moses is one of the profits from the old testament who speaks to Jesus in The Gospel According to Luke – he is passing on the torch. After Jesus completes his physical journey by reaching the cross, he completes his metaphysical journey and the journey of all of the profits of The Bible by saving all sinners through his resurrection, bringing them to the promised land.