Life & Soul

The greatest prophet of the Old Testament

The view from Mount Nebo, where Moses once looked out on the Promised Land

Moses towers above all others as the greatest prophet of the Old Testament. He was remembered as the herald of God’s compassion to an enslaved people. Through Moses, a disparate people were set free, came to know God’s saving will in the Law and were established in a land that would be their own. He remains an enduring sign of the love with which God chooses us for himself, sets us free from sin and calls us into a loving communion with himself.

Our remembrance of Moses should reach beyond his mighty deeds to the truly personal relationship that united him to his Lord. In the Book of Exodus he was described as one to whom the Lord spoke face to face, as to a friend. His death, coming at the conclusion of the Book of Deuteronomy, was lamented with great tenderness. “Since then, there has never been such a prophet as Moses, the man whom the Lord knew face to face. What signs and wonders the Lord caused him to perform.”

The authority of Moses, and the efficacy of his ministry, had rested on this close relationship with God. The presence of God shone through him. Nevertheless, the Old Testament left unfulfilled the promise made to Moses: “I will raise up a prophet like yourself for them from their own brothers; I will put my words into his mouth and he shall tell them all that I command them.”

The fulfilment of this promise, the raising from their number of another prophet who would speak with God face to face, as with a friend, came in the ministry of Jesus. It is detailed in the repeated reaction of the crowds to the teaching of Jesus: “And his teaching made a deep impression on them because, unlike the scribes, he taught them with authority.”

The authority of the scribes and Pharisees came from years of study and application. Impressive though this authority was, it could not compare with an authority that was the outpouring of the Lord’s communion with the Father. We who are the heralds of the Gospel in our own world must first root our lives in him. Only in his presence shall we be able to speak with an authority that the world longs to hear.

This inner authority, rooted in God rather than self, was demonstrated in the miracles of Jesus. He commanded unclean spirits to depart, and they obeyed. We have the sure hope that, when our lives are lived in communion with God, his power will be at work in the life and ministry of the Church.

Our hope rests not in what we can and can’t achieve, but rather in an authority that comes from our communion with Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

This article first appeared in the Catholic Herald magazine (30/1/15)