NUM 12:3: “Now the man Moses was very meek, above all the men which were upon the fact of the earth.”
NUM 31:14, 17, 18: “And Moses was wroth…” And Moses said unto them, “Have ye saved all the women alive? … Now therefore kill every male among the little ones, and kill every woman, … But all the women children … keep alive for yourselves.”
For myself, this supposed contradiction is somewhat more interesting than the others. I think there’s a 3rd dimension to Moses’ personality that is often overlooked. For the purposes of this blog-post, I’m not going to spend any time trying to justify God’s orders for Moses to kill, rather I’m going to focus on the personality of Moses.
Let’s draw a super-brief character profile on Moses.
a) He was found by Egyptian royalty and raised in the Pharaoh’s household. (Exodus 2:10)
b) In the defence of another Hebrew man, Moses lashed out in rage and murdered an Egyptian. (Exodus 2:12)
c) When God commissions Moses to liberate the Israelites from Egypt… Moses response is one that lacks faith. (Exodus 3:6; 4:1; 4:10; 4:13 etc)
I’ve heard it taught that just like in the story of Moses, God can use anyone to do his tasks. I have seen this used as the battle cry for those that suffer from nervousness, or speech problems. And while it is certainly true that God can use anyone, maybe this isn’t the best part of scripture to pull that conclusion from.
Let’s make some safe assumptions about our three dot points above.
a) Even if he was adopted into Pharaoh’s family, one would assume that he would be educated. Moses is credited to writing the first five books of the bible. Which after thousands years of literary interpretation, remains one of the most profound works ever written. He was not illiterate.
b) In murdering another man, it can safely be assumed that Moses was somewhat of a hot head. He probably had trouble keeping his cool.
c) Moses is clearly not trusting God. Considering his background, Moses is probably the most qualified person for the job God sets out before him.
Let’s face it, Moses wrote the book of Numbers, and in it he essentially wrote “I Moses, am the most humble person. More humble than all the men on the face of the Earth”. The statement in itself appears to be a contradiction. UNLESS, writing in retrospect, Moses was trying to illustrate a deeper and more profound message than his own meekness.
In a sermon from the David Jones (Moderator Presbyterian Church of Australia), he spoke on Moses meekness:
(Paraphrased) “Moses wasn’t always the meekest man. He was a murderer in Egypt. Hot Headed. And now this is testament to the grace of God. God changes our weaknesses into our strengths. These qualities didn’t come naturally to Moses. In fact they are supernatural.”
If we look at the context of Numbers 12, Moses is having to deal with Aaron and Miriam. He has to deal with the problem of their envy and jealousy. A family feud. I think that Moses leads with a good example, showing that we need humility when dealing rationally with others.
In Numbers 34, Moses is angry with his military commanders, as they have clearly disobeyed him, and the Lord. They’re disobedience in the past has caused much pain and suffering for Israel. Being a military person myself, I can fully appreciate the frustration of subordinates disobeying orders. As I said, I’m not going to spend any time looking at the act of killing in Numbers 31, but I think it is suffice to say that in Moses’ lifetime he is radically transformed into a humble leader, one who will do anything to protect his people and to serve his Lord and Saviour.
If the book of Numbers, and all of Moses’ works are viewed as a journey from point A to point B, it is clear that Moses’ personality changes over his lifetime. Again, if FAITHFULLY read in context, there’s no contradiction.