And God said unto Moses, I AM THAT I AM: and he said, Thus shalt thou say unto the children of Israel, I AM hath sent me unto you. And God said, moreover, unto Moses: Thus shalt thou say unto the children of Israel, The Lord God of your Fathers, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, hath sent me unto you: this is my name forever, and this is my memorial unto all generations.
—Exodus iii: 14, 15
Moses was the world’s first great teacher. He is still one of the world’s great teachers. Seven million people yet look to his laws for special daily guidance, and more than two hundred millions read his books and regard them as Holy Writ. And these people as a class are of the best and most enlightened who live now or who have ever lived.
Moses did not teach of a life after this–he gives no hint of immortality–all of his rewards and punishments refer to the present. If there is a heaven for the good and a hell for the bad, he did not know of them.
The laws of Moses were designed for the Now and the Here. Many of them ring true and correct even today, after all this interval of more than three thousand years. Moses had a good knowledge of physiology, hygiene, sanitation. He knew the advantages of cleanliness, order, harmony, industry and good habits. He also knew psychology, or the science of the mind: he knew the things that influence humanity, the limits of the average intellect, the plans and methods of government that will work and those which will not.
He was practical. He did what was expedient. He considered the material with which he had to deal, and he did what he could and taught that which his people would and could believe. The Book of Genesis was plainly written for the child-mind.
The problem that confronted Moses was one of practical politics, not a question of philosophy or of absolute or final truth. The laws he put forth were for the guidance of the people to whom he gave them, and his precepts were such as they could assimilate.
It were easy to take the writings of Moses as they have come down to us, translated, re-translated, colored and tinted with the innocence, ignorance and superstition of the nations who have kept them alive for thirty-three centuries, and then compile a list of the mistakes of the original writer. The writer of these records of dreams and hopes and guesses, all cemented with stern commonsense, has our profound reverence and regard. The “mistakes” lie in the minds of the people who, in the face of the accumulated knowledge of the centuries, have persisted that things once written were eternally sufficient.
In point of time there is no teacher within many hundred years following him who can be compared with him in originality and insight.
Moses lived fourteen hundred years before Christ.
The next man after him to devise a complete code of conduct was Solon, who lived seven hundred years after. A little later came Zoroaster, then Confucius, Buddha, Lao-tsze, Pericles, Socrates, Plato, Aristotle–contemporaries, or closely following each other, their philosophy woven and interwoven by all and each and each by all.
Moses, however, stands out alone. That he did not know natural history as did Aristotle, who lived a thousand years later, is not to his discredit, and to emphasize the fact were irrelevant.
Back of it all lies the undisputed fact that Moses led a barbaric people out of captivity and so impressed his ideals and personality upon them that they endure as a distinct and peculiar people, even unto this day. He founded a nation. And chronologically he is the civilized world’s first author.
Moses was a soldier, a diplomat, an executive, a writer, a teacher, a leader, a prophet, a stonecutter. Beside all these he was a farmer–a workingman, one who when forty years of age tended flocks and herds for a livelihood. Every phase of the outdoor life of the range was familiar to him. And the greatness of the man is revealed in the fact that his plans and aspirations were so far beyond his achievements that at last he thought he had failed. Exultant success seems to go with that which is cheap and transient. All great teachers have, in their own minds, been failures–they saw so much further than they were able to travel.