By Christopher Reese
This is the second part of our series introducing the major characters of the Old Testament. In our first article we looked at the lives of Adam and Eve, Abraham, Jacob, and Joseph and also suggested some lessons we could learn from their stories. Moving forward chronologically, we’ll now consider the lives of Moses, Joshua, and David.
When we left off with the life of Joseph, we saw that he was a high-ranking official in Egypt, second only to Pharaoh. We also noted that Joseph brought his father, Jacob, and 11 brothers to Egypt so they could live under Joseph’s protection and provision.
As time went on, the Hebrew people grew in number and a new Pharaoh came to power who either wasn’t aware of, or didn’t acknowledge, all the good that Joseph had done for Egypt. This Pharaoh enslaved the Hebrews and also concocted a plan to reduce their population by killing all the newborn males (Exodus 1). Moses’s mother hoped to save his life by putting him in a papyrus basket and floating it down the Nile River. As she probably planned, he was found by Pharaoh’s daughter, who decided to raise him as her own son. Thus Moses was brought up in Pharaoh’s household and “educated in all the wisdom of the Egyptians and was powerful in speech and action” (Acts 7:22).
Moses was apparently aware of his Hebrew roots because when he was 40 years old, he saw an Egyptian beating one of the Hebrew slaves, and ended up killing the Egyptian. He buried the body, but soon realized his crime had been discovered. He fled Egypt and settled in a region called Midian, where he would spend the next 40 years until God appeared to him in a burning bush and called him to deliver his people from Egypt (Acts 7:30; Exodus 3:1-3).
Moses resisted this call at first by giving God several excuses as to why he couldn’t do it. “Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh and bring the Israelites out of Egypt?” he balked. He also objected that he didn’t know God’s name, that they might not believe him, and that he was “slow of speech and tongue” (Exodus 3-4:14). We can relate to Moses’s response when God calls us to do something difficult, though God’s grace and power are more than sufficient for us (2 Corinthians 12:9).
As God predicted, Pharaoh did not grant freedom to the Israelites and, consequently, God sent ten plagues on Egypt. During the last plague, which killed Egypt’s firstborn males, God protected the Israelites and this event has been commemorated by Jews ever since as Passover (Exodus 7-12).
In keeping with his promise to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, God purposed to bring the Israelites back to Canaan, their Promised Land. Along the way, at Mt. Sinai, God made a covenant with the Israelites that included the Ten Commandments, instructions for worshiping, and other rules that reflected God’s holy character (Exodus 20-23). Unfortunately, when Moses was meeting with God on the mountain, the people created a golden calf to worship as a god, and God punished them with a plague (Exodus 32:35).
Because of their constant rebellion, God declared that the generation of Israelites who had left Egypt would not enter the Promised Land, and Moses led them through the wilderness for 40 years (Numbers 14:20-45). Sadly, Moses himself would also disobey a clear command from God and forfeit his right to enter the land (Numbers 20:1-13). As he neared the end of his life, Moses commissioned Joshua to lead the people into Canaan and once again recited the terms of God’s covenant to the people (Deuteronomy 31). Moses died at the age of 120, and God buried him himself (Deuteronomy 34).
Though he made mistakes, Moses is recognized as the greatest leader of the Old Testament. As the NIV Jesus Bible helpfully elaborates, “The people looked to [Moses] as a mediator between them and God and as a leader who helped them to follow God’s ways. Following his death, the people of Israel continued to anticipate a prophet who would be like Moses [see Deuteronomy 18:15-19], a longing that was left unfulfilled until the birth of Jesus (Acts 3:22-26).”
Moses also enjoyed a special intimacy with God. Scripture records that God knew Moses “face to face” (Deuteronomy 34:10). The famous Bible expositor Matthew Henry observed that “other prophets, when God appeared and spoke to them, were struck with terror (Daniel 10:7), but Moses, whenever he received a divine revelation, preserved his tranquility.”
Moses also reminds us that when God calls us to difficult—sometimes seemingly impossible—tasks, God’s “grace is sufficient for [us], for [his] power is made perfect in weakness. . . . For when [we are] weak, then [we are] strong” (2 Corinthians 12:9, 10).
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Joshua, whose name means “Yahweh is salvation,” had served as Moses’s personal aid since he was a young man (Numbers 11:28). He was one of only two adults who had come from Egypt who was allowed to enter the Promised Land. He and another Israelite, Caleb, were among a group of 12 spies who were sent to survey the land, and only they encouraged the people to trust God and drive out its inhabitants, who were under God’s judgment (Numbers 14:6-9; Deuteronomy 20:16-18).
As Moses neared the end of his life, he asked God to appoint a successor to lead the people, and God chose Joshua, “a man in whom is the spirit of leadership” (Numbers 27:18). When Joshua prepared to enter the land, God encouraged him, saying, “As I was with Moses, so I will be with you; I will never leave you nor forsake you. Be strong and courageous, because you will lead these people to inherit the land I swore to their ancestors to give them” (Joshua 1:5-6).
Joshua led a series of successful military campaigns, including the taking of Jericho, which famously involved the priests of Israel circling the walls of the city and blowing trumpets, followed by a shout from Israel’s army that resulted in the city walls collapsing (Joshua 6).
When Joshua reached old age, although there was still territory that had not been taken, he divided the land among the tribes of Israel (Joshua 13:6-18:28).
Remarkably, Scripture records that “Israel served the Lord throughout the lifetime of Joshua and of the elders who outlived him and who had experienced everything the Lord had done for Israel” (Joshua 24:31). In some ways this was a golden era for Israel because the nation would spiral out of control during the time of the judges and during the reigns of many of its later kings.
In his last speech before his death to the nation he had led, Joshua issued this well-known challenge: “. . . choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve. . . . But as for me and my household, we will serve the Lord” (Joshua 24:15). Bible commentator Matthew Henry adds, “Let us resolve upon a life of serious godliness, not merely because we know no other way, but because . . . we find no better.”
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Nearly 400 years after the death of Joshua, David began his reign as Israel’s second king (the first was Saul). David was also, at various points in his life, a shepherd, poet, musician, and soldier. He wrote nearly half of the Psalms and is a royal ancestor of Jesus Christ (Luke 1:32).
David revealed his zeal for God early in his life when he accepted the mighty Goliath’s challenge to engage in one-on-one combat. While Israel’s soldiers shrank back in fear at this gigantic Philistine warrior, David stepped up and exclaimed, “I come against you in the name of the Lord Almighty, the God of the armies of Israel, whom you have defied.” As Scripture records, David slew Goliath with his sling and a stone (1 Samuel 17).
After a long and troubled relationship with King Saul, who persecuted him out of jealousy, David eventually became king. David unified and organized Israel and established Jerusalem as the nation’s capital. He developed Israel into an empire that was one of the strongest powers in the region. At the same time, Scripture does not shy away from recording instances when David grievously sinned. Perhaps the most serious was his adulterous affair with—some say rape of—a woman named Bathsheba, and the subsequent murder of Bathsheba’s husband, Uriah, by sending him to the front lines of battle (2 Samuel 11).
In response, God sent the prophet Nathan to confront David about this sin, and David confessed, “I have sinned against the Lord.” Nathan told David that God had forgiven his sin, but also declared that “the sword will never depart from your house, because you despised me and took the wife of Uriah the Hittite to be your own” (2 Samuel 12:10-14).
This is a reminder even to believers today that while God forgives the sins of those who ask him (1 John 1:9), there are still often consequences to face when we act contrary to God’s will. Also, the first step to putting things right when we go astray is admitting our wrongdoing to God. In Psalm 32, David apparently writes about this incident, and recalls that when he “kept silent” about his sin his “bones wasted away” and his “strength was sapped.” But when he confessed his sin, he experienced God’s forgiveness and blessing.
Despite falling short a number of times throughout his life, David loved God, and God described him as a man after his own heart (1 Samuel 13:14). The Theology of Work Bible Commentary adds, “Throughout his career David keeps in mind that he is serving at God’s pleasure to care for God’s people”—a goal to which we should also aspire.
Also see these articles in this series:
- Getting to Know the Major Characters of the Old Testament: Part 1 (Adam and Eve, Abraham, Jacob, Joseph)
- Getting to Know the Major Characters of the Old Testament: Part 3 (Solomon, Daniel, Ezra)
BIO: Christopher Reese (MDiv, ThM) (@clreese) is a freelance writer and editor-in-chief of The Worldview Bulletin. He is a general editor of the Dictionary of Christianity and Science (Zondervan, 2017) and Three Views on Christianity and Science (Zondervan, 2021). His articles have appeared in Christianity Today and he writes and edits for Christian ministries and publishers.
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