Bible Review 16:4, August 2000


The private man behind the public leader

By J. Daniel Hays

Solemnly ascending Mt. Sinai, angrily smashing the Tablets of the Law, boldly parting the waters of the Red Sea—these are the images of Moses we know best. But what about the personal life of the man who led Israel from Egypt to Canaan?

A person’s private life can be as telling as the public—if not more so. This is as true in the Bible as in the modern world: Both the personal and the public are inseparable from the theology of the biblical narrative. Strangely, the personal life of Moses has received little attention in Old Testament studies, perhaps because his public life was so dramatic and significant that it overshadowed everything else. Or perhaps because scholars tend to focus on the patchwork of sources behind the Moses narrative rather than on the entire story stretching from Exodus to Deuteronomy.

Looking at Moses’ story as a narrative whole, we can trace his emergence as a public leader and his changing relationship with God and the Israelites.

As we read about Moses’ private life, however, especially his married life, we must sort through several perplexing issues: Did he have one wife or two? Where did his wife—or wives—come from? Who was his father-in-law—Reuel or Jethro or Hobab?

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