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What Do We Learn from Moses about the Hebrew Bible? (I)

  • July 6, 2019
  • By Ben van Noort
What Do We Learn from Moses about the Hebrew Bible? (I)

What Do We Learn from Moses about the Hebrew Bible? (I)

The Law of Moses reveals the Documentation behind the book of Genesis.


Future King
18 “And when he sits on the throne of his kingdom, he shall write for himself in a book a copy of this law, from that which is in charge of the Levitical priests; 19 and it shall be with him, and he shall read in it all the days of his life, that he may learn to fear the Lord his God, by keeping all the words of this law and these statutes and doing them; 20 that his heart may not be lifted up above his brethren, and that he may not turn aside from the commandment, either to the right hand or to the left; so that he may continue long in his kingdom, he and his children, in Israel.”
Deuteronomy 17:18-20 (RSV, and so on)


Moses’s Special Position
Obviously Moses had seen a lot in life. He had seen Pharaoh who was not willing to submit to the power of the Lord God. Moses knew that it would not be simple for a future king to lead the people of God properly. Only when the king would be submitted to the authority of Scripture, he had a chance to succeed.


Qualities of the Law of Moses
In the verses of Deuteronomy above, three characterizations are given of the Law:

  • Torah. Law, instruction.
  • Chukim. Statutes (better: writings, scratchings, records).
  • Mizwah. Commandment.

Similarity with Abraham’s Documentation Formula
These words make us immediately think of the documentation formula of Abraham: My commandments, records and instructions (Genesis 26:5, see former blog). The three words actually refer to three different designations of the book of Moses. It is Torah, instruction. It is Chukim, it is all written down during and shortly after the events. It is Mizwah, commands of God.

These three qualifications of the entire Law of Moses disclose new and great perspectives, as they are also applicable to the creation stories, to the story of Noah, and to the stories of the patriarchs in the book of Genesis.

Creation Stories
(I take the period of Genesis 1:2 as undefined. Maybe it was a short or a long time, ending with the moving of the Spirit of God over the waters.)

During the days of creation, who were there to document everything? Only angels could do so. Job said about them: “When the morning stars sang together, and all the sons of God shouted for joy?” (Job 38:7)

Angels as Audience
1. According to the approach of Documentation, we may state that also the first Bible stories are based on the direct speeches of God (oracles) and men.
About the first story of creation (Genesis 1–1:31), the sayings of God could only be preserved by angels, who delivered their knowledge to Adam and Eve. Angels seem to fulfill the role of spectators to observe the interaction between God and man in paradise.

2. For the second creation story, it is applicable that Adam and Eve received sayings and the oracles of God in paradise and took them when they left the garden. They could arrange the second story of creation and the story of the Fall when they had left paradise, as prophetical stories for their descent. By that, they laid the foundation for prophetical stories of information about the history of God and men delivered in the Bible. It is also possible that already in the garden the stories of Genesis 2 and 3 were written. Gihon, Euphrates, Tigris, and Assyria stood for different waters and land than after the Flood when these names again came in use.

3. We must also reckon with extraordinary revelations of angels after the period of paradise (Numbers 12:6–8). When they appeared to men they could show up as normal men (Genesis 18:2). They could behave like normal messengers to deliver divine messages.


Could Adam and Eve read? There is a good reason to suppose so. When Adam was shown all sorts of animals, it is said that “whatever the man called every living creature, that was its name.” The occasion also looks like an instruction in reading and writing; already in paradise Adam and Eve were not free from forgetting important things. They could have made use of clay and reeds from their time in paradise and onwards. For Moses, the idea of writing angels was certainly not strange. He himself had met them on Mt. Horeb, while he received the Ten Commandments engraved by them in stone.

The stories of the patriarchs in the book of Genesis are not really understandable without the role of angels. They are the regular vehicles to share the Word of God. Nearly every chapter in the story of Abraham has been built around a divine word, and often with a divine appearance (12:7; 18; 22 and more).

Gap in Christian Thinking
Understanding the book of Genesis becomes rather complicated if the outstanding role of angels is forgotten. Particularly the creation stories have often been interpreted as legendary narratives with only human thoughts about the origin of mankind. However the book is far from a human book, it is a book of God and part of the law of Moses. Christians should be proud that the holy book of the Jews in which they also believe, is of the same order of the documentation as preserved in the Gospels.

By Ben van Noort, July 6, 2019