Biblical People

Biblical People: Moses

Moses receives more coverage in the Old Testament than any other character, except for King David. Abraham comes in third.

Though we could compose an entire book about Moses—and others have—let’s consider five defining moments in his life. We can use these to inspire and challenge us.

For our first story, let’s look at Moses being raised in the palace. He senses his calling from the Lord to lead the people and goes out to visit them.

There he encounters an Egyptian mistreating one of God’s people. Moses kills the Egyptian and hides the body. When he learns his homicidal act is known, he takes off to build a new life away from Egypt and his people.

Next, Moses marries and cares for his father-in-law’s flocks. While out in the wilderness doing his job, Moses spots a bush ablaze in the distance that does not burn up.

He investigates. He encounters God, who sends Moses back to Egypt to rescue his people. After debating a bit with the Almighty, Moses obeys.

Third, after a series of plagues sent by God and corresponding confrontations with Pharaoh, Moses leads the people out of Egypt. In one of the Bible’s best-known stories, God parts the waters of the Red Sea, and Moses leads his people to safety on the other side.

When the Egyptian army gives chase, the waters crash down upon them, and they drown. Though God orchestrates this miracle, it occurs through Moses and is a result of his faith and obedience.

Another well-known story occurs when Moses is on a mountain communing with God where he receives instructions—the Ten Commandments and the Law. This at last gives the people God’s rules for right living and proper conduct. 

Though they may have had some inborn idea of right and wrong all along, now they understand for sure what God expects of them. They know that murder is wrong. They know that marrying a half-sister is wrong. And they know that worshiping anything other than God is wrong.

It takes time for God to give Moses his rules, and the people grow impatient. Aaron acts. He fashions an idol made from gold—a golden calf—and institutes a raucous worship celebration of the statue.

God is furious at the people and wants to wipe them out. He promises to start over and make a new nation, not of Abraham’s seed, but from Moses’s.

Instead of accepting God’s plan to make him into a great nation, Moses intercedes for the rebellious people. God hears his plea and relents. The people live because of Moses.

Last, aside from committing homicide much earlier in his life, Moses later mars his otherwise exemplary leadership by a single act of disobedience. The people are thirsty and clamor for water. God tells Moses to go to a rock and speak to it. Then water will flow forth. 

Though Moses does go to the rock, he hits it twice with his staff. And instead of speaking the words God gave him, Moses utters his own. By doing so, he dishonors the Lord. Because of this single sin God won’t let Moses enter the promised land.

This is a poignant reminder that if we try to approach God by following a bunch of rules—such as the Law he gave to Moses and the people—even one failure, in one area, is sufficient to disqualify us from our heavenly reward. 

Fortunately, Jesus came to show us another way, something anyone can do. It’s simple. All we need to do is put our faith in him (Ephesians 2:8–9).

What examples from Moses’s life should we aspire to? How can we have a close, intimate relationship with God just like Moses?

[Read Moses’s story throughout Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy. Discover more in John 3:14; Acts 7:20–44; 2 Corinthians 3:7–13; and Hebrews 11:23–29.]

Learn about more biblical characters in Old Testament Sinners and Saints, available in e-book, paperback, and hardcover. Get your copy today.

A lifelong student of the Bible, Peter DeHaan, PhD, wrote the 1,000-page website to encourage people to explore the Bible. His main blog and many books urge Christians to push past the status quo and reconsider how they practice their faith in every area of their lives.

By Peter DeHaan

Peter writes about biblical Christianity to confront status quo religion and make a faith that matters. Learn more at