Who was Moses and what is his importance for Christians?

When it comes to important people in the Old Testament, Moses is “Da Man!”

Says who? Well, start with the Bible itself as it characterizes Moses at the time of his death: “Since then no prophet has arisen in Israel like Moses, whom the LORD knew face to face. He had no equal in all the signs and wonders the LORD sent him to perform in the land of Egypt against Pharaoh and all his servants and against all his land, and for the might and the terrifying power that Moses exhibited in the sight of all Israel.” (Dt 34:10-12) Now there’s an epitaph!

So why is Moses considered so great a figure in the Old Testament? Namely, because he is the instrument through which Israel experiences God’s salvation. The Exodus – the experience of the Jewish people being led from slavery in Egypt to the Promised Land – is the defining moment of the Old Testament. It is through the Exodus experience that the Jewish people come to know who they are and whose they are. Moses, of course, is God’s point man for the job, going toe-to-toe with Pharaoh and demanding that he let God’s people go. It is Moses who raises his arms for God to part the waters of the Red Sea so that the Jewish people could cross over from slavery to freedom. It is, Moses, to whom God gives the Ten Commandments to form his people into a nation.

It is no surprise then, that when Jesus comes on the scene centuries later, one of his biggest tasks is to persuade the people that he is greater than Moses. It is the Gospel of Matthew that highlights this more than any other Gospel, emphasizing that Jesus taught his new commandments of love in his Sermon on the Mount, echoing Moses’ receiving of the Law on Mount Sinai. For Christians, then, Moses is a crucial figure because Jesus fulfills the Law that Moses brought down from the mountain. It is no coincidence that, when Jesus’ is transfigured on the mountaintop, Moses and Elijah appear with him. Moses symbolizes the Law and Elijah symbolizes the prophets. The Transfiguration is telling us without a doubt that Jesus is the fulfillment of the Law and the Prophets.

Joe Paprocki

Joe Paprocki, D.Min., is National Consultant for Faith Formation at Loyola Press in Chicago. He has over 30 years of experience in pastoral ministry in the Archdiocese of Chicago. Joe is the author of numerous books on pastoral ministry and catechesis, including The Bible Blueprint, Living the Mass, and bestsellers The Catechist's Toolbox and A Well-Built Faith (all from Loyola Press).