Longing for Moses

by Lois Tverberg

Therefore when the people saw the sign which he had performed, [the feeding the five thousand] they said, “This is truly the Prophet who is to come into the world.” So Jesus, perceiving that they were intending to come and take him by force to make him king, withdrew again to the mountain by himself alone. – John 6:14-15

MosesThe story of the exodus from Egypt was a defining event in the life of Israel, when God heard their cries and saved them from their enemies. In Jesus’ time, it took on a heightened significance because the people were suffering under severe oppression of a foreign government, and they saw themselves as reliving the afflictions of Egypt. They prayed for a Messiah to come as a second Moses who would free them from bondage to the pagan ruler, just as he did before.

One way to see how much the people resonated with the earlier story is to observe how many people in the Gospels were named for the characters in the Exodus story. For example:

  • Mary (Miriam, in Hebrew), named for Moses’ sister.
  • Joseph was Jacob’s son who was sold into slavery in Egypt, eventually to reign there.
  • Elizabeth is derived from Elisheva, the wife of Aaron, Moses’ brother.
  • Lazarus comes from Eleazar, Aaron’s son who became priest after him.
  • James was actually Ya’acov, Jacob, the father of the twelve tribes
  • Jesus (Yeshua, also a common first-century name) is a contracted form of Yehoshua, which means “God’s salvation” and is related to the name of Joshua, who lead the Israelites into the Promised Land.

Ancient texts indicate that names of characters in the Gospels were very common first-century Jewish names. This suggests that they were hoping that the Messiah would be born among them very soon, and that God was placing in them a longing for redemption. At the very same time he was preparing to fulfill his many promises and send someone to answer their prayers. The redeemer, this time, would not just save them physically from their enemies, but for eternity instead.

Photo cred: Luca Volpi (Golmund100)