There is in modern thought
a tendency to look upon the prominent characters of history as resultants
rather than as initiatory forces. As in an earlier stage the irresistible
disposition is to personification, so now it is to reverse this process,
and to resolve into myths mighty figures long enshrined by tradition.
Yet, if we try to trace to the sources of
these movements, whose perpetuated impulses eddy and play in the currents
of our times, we at last reach the individual. It is true that "institutions
make men", but it is also true that "in the beginnings men make institutions".
In a well-known passage Macaulay has described
the impression made upon the imagination by the antiquity of that Church,
which, surviving dynasties and empires, carries the mind back to a time
when the smoke of sacrifice rose from the Pantheon and camelopard and tiger
bounded in the Flavian amphitheatre. But there still exist among us observances
– transmitted in unbroken succession from father to son – that go back
to a yet more remote past.
Each recurring year brings a day on which,
in every land, there are men who, gathering about them their families,
and attired as if for a journey, eat with solemnity a hurried meal. Before
the walls of Rome were traced, before Homer sung, this feast was kept, and
the event to which it points was even then centuries old.
That event signals the entrance upon the
historic stage of a people on many accounts remarkable – a people: who,
though they never founded a great empire nor built a great metropolis,
have exercised upon a large portion of humankind an influence, widespread,
potent, and continuous; who have for nearly two thousand years been without
country or organised nationality, yet have preserved their identity and faith
through all vicissitudes of time and fortune; who have been overthrown,
crushed, scattered; who have been ground, as it were, to very dust, and flung
to the four winds of heaven; yet who, though thrones have fallen, and empires
have perished, and creeds have changed, and living tongues have become dead,
still exist with a vitality seemingly unimpaired. They are a people who
unite the strangest contradictions; and whose annals now blaze with glory,
now sound the depths of shame and woe.
The advent of such a people marks an epoch
in the history of the world. But it is not of that advent as much as of
the central and colossal figure around which its traditions cluster that
I propose to speak.
Three great religions place the leader of
the Exodus upon the highest plane they allot to humankind. To Christendom
and to Islam, as well as to Judaism, Moses is the mouthpiece and lawgiver
of the Most High; the medium, clothed with supernatural powers, through
which the divine will has spoken. Yet this very exaltation, by raising
him above comparison, may prevent the real grandeur of the man from being
seen. it is amid his brethren that Saul stands taller and fairer.
On the other hand, the latest school of
Biblical criticism asserts that the books and legislation attributed
to Moses are really the products of an age subsequent to that of the prophets.
Yet, to this Moses, looming vague and dim, of whom they can tell us almost
nothing, they, too, attribute the beginning of that growth which flowered
after centuries in the humanities of Jewish law, and in the sublime conception
of one God, universal and eternal, the Almighty Father.
But whether wont to look on Moses in this
way or in that, it may be sometimes worth our while to take the point
of view in which all shades of belief or disbelief may find common ground,
and accepting the main features of Hebrew record and tradition, consider
them in the light of history as we know it, and of human nature as it
shows itself today.
Here is a case in which sacred history may
be treated as we would treat profane history without any shock to religious
feeling. Nor can the keenest criticism resolve Moses into a myth. The
fact of the Exodus presupposes such a leader.
To lead into freedom a people long crushed
by tyranny; to discipline and order such a mighty host; to harden them
into fighting men, before whom warlike tribes quailed and walled cities went
down; to repress discontent and jealousy and mutiny; to combat reactions
and reversions; to turn the quick, fierce flame of enthusiasm to the
service of a steady purpose, required some towering character – a character
blending in highest expression the qualities of politician, patriot,
philosopher, and statesman.
Such a character in rough but strong outline
the tradition shows us – the union of the wisdom of the Egyptians with
the unselfish devotion of the meekest of men. From first to last, in every
glimpse we get, this character is consistent with itself, and with the mighty
work which is its monument. It is the character of a great mind, hemmed
in by conditions and limitations, and working with such forces and materials
as were at hand – accomplishing, yet failing. Behind grand deed, a grander
thought. Behind high performance the still nobler ideal.
Egypt was the mould of the Hebrew nation
– the matrix, so to speak, in which a single family, or, at most, a small
tribe grew to a people as numerous as the American people at the time of
the Declaration of Independence. For four centuries, according to the Hebrew
tradition – that is to say, for a period longer than America has been known
to Europe – this growing people, becoming a patriarchal family from a roving,
pastoral life, had been under the dominance of a highly developed and ancient
civilisation, whose fixity is symbolised by monuments that rival in endurance
the everlasting hills – a civilisation so ancient that the pyramids, as
we now know, were hoary with centuries ere Abraham looked upon them.
No matter how clearly the descendants of
the kinsfolk, who came into Egypt, at the invitation of the boy-slave become
prime minister, maintained the distinction of race and the traditions of
a freer life, they must have been powerfully affected by such a civilisation;
and just as the Hebrews of today are Polish in Poland, German in Germany,
and American in the United States, so, but far more clearly and strongly,
the Hebrews of the Exodus must have been essentially Egyptian.
It is not remarkable, therefore, that the
ancient Hebrew institutions show in so many points the influence of Egyptian
ideas and customs. What is remarkable is the dissimilarity. To the unreflecting
nothing may seem more natural than that a people, in turning their backs
upon a land where they had been long oppressed, should discard its ideas
and institutions. But the student of history, the observer of politics,
knows that nothing is more unnatural.
Habits of thought are even more tyrannous
than habits of the body. They make for the masses of people a mental atmosphere
out of which they can no more rise than out of the physical atmosphere.
A people long used to despotism may rebel against a tyrant; they may break
his statutes and repeal his laws, cover with odium that which he loved,
and honour that which he hated; but they will hasten to set up another tyrant
in his place. A people used to superstition may embrace a purer faith, but
it will be only to degrade it to their old ideas. A people used to persecution
may flee from it, but only to persecute in their turn when they get power.
For "institutions make men". And when amid
a people used to institutions of one kind, we see suddenly arise institutions
of an opposite kind, we know that behind them must be that active, that
initiative force – the "men who in the beginnings make institutions".
This is what occurs in the Exodus. The striking
differences between Egyptian and Hebrew polity are not of form, but of
essence. The tendency of the one is to subordination and oppression; of
the other to individual freedom. Strangest of recorded births! From out of
the strongest and most splendid despotism of antiquity comes the freest
republic. From between the paws of the rock-hewn Sphinx rises the genius
of human liberty, and the trumpets of the Exodus throb with the defiant proclamation
of the rights of humanity.
Consider what Egypt was. See the grandeur
of her monuments; those very monuments – that after the lapse, not of
centuries but of millenniums, seem to say to us, as the Egyptian priests
said to the boastful Greeks: "Ye are children!" – testify to the enslavement
of the people, and are the enduring witnesses of a social organisation that
rested on the masses an immovable weight. That narrow Nile valley, the cradle
of the arts and sciences, the scene, perhaps, of the greatest triumphs of
the human mind, is also the scene of its most abject enslavement. In the
long centuries of its splendour, its lord, secure in the possession of irresistible
temporal power, and securer still in the awful sanctions of a mystical religion,
was as a god on earth, to cover whose poor carcass with a tomb befitting
his state hundreds of thousands toiled away their lives.
For the classes who came next to him were
those who enjoyed all the sensuous delights of a most luxurious civilisation,
and high intellectual pleasures which the mysteries of the temple hid
from vulgar profanation. But for the millions who constituted the base
of the social pyramid there was but the lash to stimulate their toil, and
the worship of beasts to satisfy the yearnings of the soul. From time immemorial
to the present day the lot of the Egyptian peasants has been to work and
to starve so that those above them might live daintily. They have never
rebelled. That spirit was long ago crushed out of them by institutions which
make them what they are. They know but to suffer and to die.
Imagine what opportune circumstances we
may, yet, to organise and carry on a movement resulting in the release
of a great people from such a soul-subduing tyranny, backed by an army
of half a million highly trained soldiers, required a leadership of most
commanding and consummate genius, But this task, surprising great though
it be, is not the measure of the greatness of the leader of the Exodus.
It is not in the deliverance from Egypt,
it is in the constructive statesmanship that laid the foundations of the
Hebrew commonwealth that the superlative grandeur of the leadership looms
up. As we cannot imagine the Exodus without the great leader, neither can
we account for the Hebrew polity without the great statesman. Not merely
intellectually great, but morally great – a statesman aglow with the unselfish
patriotism that refuses to grasp a sceptre or found a dynasty.
The lessons of modern history, the manifestations
of human nature that we behold around us, would teach us to see in the
essential divergence of the Hebrew polity from that of Egypt the impress
of a master mind, even if Hebrew tradition had not testified both to the
influence of such a mind, and to the constant disposition of accustomed
ideas to reassert themselves in the minds of the people.
Over and over again the murmurings break
out; no sooner is the back of Moses turned than the cry, "These be thy
gods, O Israel!", announces the setting up of the Egyptian calf; while the
strength of the monarchial principle shows itself in the inauguration of
a king as quickly as the far-reaching influence of the great leader is
It matters not when or by whom were compiled
the books popularly attributed to Moses; it matters not how much of the
code there given may be the survivals of more ancient usage or the amplifications
of a later age; its great features bear the stamp of a mind far in advance
of people and time, of a mind that beneath effects sought for causes,
of a mind that drifted not with the tide of events, but aimed at a definite
The outlines that the record gives us of
the character of Moses – the brief relations that wherever the Hebrew scriptures
are read have hung the chambers of the imagination with vivid pictures
– are in every way consistent with this idea. What we know of the life
illustrates what we know of the work. What we know of the work illumines
It was not an empire such as had reached
full development in Egypt, or existed in rudimentary patriarchal form in
the tribes around, that Moses aimed to found. Nor was it a republic where
the freedom of the citizen rested on the servitude of the helot, and the
individual was sacrificed to the state.
It was a commonwealth based upon the individual
– a commonwealth whose ideal it was that every man should sit under his
own vine and fig tree, with none to vex him or make him afraid. It was a
commonwealth: in which none should be condemned to ceaseless toil; in which,
for even the bond slave, there should be hope; and in which, for even the
beast of burden, there should be rest. A commonwealth in which, in the
absence of deep poverty, the many virtues that spring from personal independence
should harden into a national character – a commonwealth in which the family
affections might knit their tendrils around each member, binding with links
stronger than steel the various parts into the living whole.
It is not the protection of property, but
the protection of humanity, that is the aim of the Mosaic code. Its sanctions
are not directed to securing the strong in heaping up wealth as much
as to preventing the weak from being crowded to the wall. At every point
it interposes its barriers to the selfish greed that, if left unchecked,
will surely differentiate men into landlord and serf, capitalist and working
person, millionaire and tramp, ruler and ruled. Its Sabbath day and Sabbath
year secure, even to the lowliest, rest and leisure. With the blast of the
Jubilee trumpets the slave goes free, the debt that cannot be paid is cancelled,
and a re-division of the land secures again to the poorest their fair share
in the bounty of the common Creator. The reaper must leave something for
the gleaner; even the ox cannot be muzzled as he treadeth out the corn. Everywhere,
in everything, the dominant idea is that of our homely phrase: "Live and
And the religion with which this civil policy
is so closely intertwined exhibits kindred features – from the idea of
the "brotherhood of man" springs the idea of the fatherhood of God. Though
the forms may resemble those of Egypt, the spirit is that which Egypt
had lost. Though a hereditary priesthood is retained, the law in its fullness
is announced to all the people. Though the Egyptian rite of circumcision
is preserved, and Egyptian symbols reappear in all the externals of worship,
the tendency to take the type for the reality is sternly repressed. It
is only when we think of the bulls and the hawks, of the deified cats,
and sacred ichneumons of Egypt, that we realise the full meaning of the
command: "Thou shalt not make to thyself any graven image!"
And if we seek beneath form and symbol and
command, the thought of which they are but the expression, we find that
the great distinctive feature of the Hebrew religion, that which separates
it by such a wide gulf from the religions amid which it grew up, is its
utilitarianism, its recognition of divine law in human life. It asserts,
not a God whose domain is confined to the far off beginning or the vague future,
who is over and above and beyond humanity, but a God who in His inexorable
laws is here and now; a God of the living as well as of the dead; a God of
the market place as well as of the temple; a God whose judgments wait not
another world for execution, but whose immutable decrees will, in this life,
give happiness to the people that heed them and bring misery upon the people
that forget them.
Amid the forms of splendid degradation in
which a once noble religion had in Egypt sunk to petrification, amid
a social order in which the divine justice seemed to sleep – I AM was
the truth that dawned upon Moses. And in his desert contemplation of nature’s
flux and reflux, the death that bounds her life, the life she brings from
death, always consuming yet never consumed – I AM was the message that
fell upon his inner ear.
The absence in the Mosaic books of any reference
to a future life is only intelligible by the prominence into which this
truth is brought. Nothing could have been more familiar to the Hebrews of
the Exodus than the doctrine of immortality. The continued existence of
the soul, the judgment after death, the rewards and punishments of the future
state, were the constant subjects of Egyptian thought and art. But a truth
may be hidden or thrown into the background by the intensity with which
another truth is grasped.
And the doctrine of immortality, springing
as it does from the very depths of human nature, ministering to aspirations
which become stronger and stronger as intellectual life rises to higher
planes and the life of the affections becomes more intense, may yet become
so incrusted with degrading superstitions, may be turned by craft and
selfishness into such a potent instrument for enslavement, and so used
to justify crimes at which every natural instinct revolts, that to the
earnest spirit of the social reformer it may seem like an agency of oppression
to enchain the intellect and prevent true progress; a lying device with
which the cunning fetter the credulous.
The belief in the immortality of the soul
must have existed in strong forms among the masses of the Hebrew people.
But the truth that Moses brought so prominently forward, the truth his
gaze was concentrated upon, is a truth that has often been thrust aside
by the doctrine of immortality, and that may perhaps, at times, react on
it in the same way. This is the truth that the actions of men and women bear
fruit in this world, that though on the petty scale of individual life wickedness
may seem to go unpunished and wrong to be rewarded, there is yet a nemesis
that with tireless feet and pitiless arm follows every national crime and
smites the children for the father’s transgression; the truth that each individual
must act upon and be acted upon by the society of which he or she is a part,
that all must in some degree suffer for the sin of each, and the life of
each be dominated by the conditions imposed by all.
It is the intense appreciation of this truth
that gives the Mosaic institutions so practical and utilitarian a character.
Their genius, if I may so speak, leaves the abstract speculations, where
thought so easily loses and wastes itself, or finds expression only in
symbols that become finally but the basis of superstition, in order that
it may concentrate attention upon the laws which determine the happiness
or misery of humanity upon this earth.
Its lessons have never tended to the essential
selfishness of asceticism, which is so prominent a feature in Brahmanism
and Buddhism, and from which Christianity and Islamism have not been exempt.
Its injunction has never been "Leave the world to itself that you may save
your own soul" but rather: "Do your duty in the world that you may be happier
and the world be better." It has disdained no sanitary regulation that might
secure the health of the body. Its promise has been of peace and plenty
and length of days, of stalwart sons and comely daughters.
It maybe that the feeling of Moses in regard
to a future life was that expressed in the language of the Stoic: "It is
the business of Jupiter, not mine"; or it may be that it partook of the
same revulsion that shows itself in modern times, when a spirit essentially
religious has been turned against the forms and expressions of religion,
because these forms and expressions have been made the props and bulwarks
of tyranny, and even the name and teachings of the carpenter’s son perverted
into supports of social injustice – used to guard the pomp of Caesar and justify
the greed of Dives.
Yet, however such feelings influenced Moses,
I cannot think that such a soul as his, living such a life as his – feeling
the exaltation of great thoughts, feeling the burden of great cares, feeling
the bitterness of great disappointments – did not stretch forward to the
hope beyond; did not rest and strengthen and ground itself in the confident
belief that the death of the body is but the emancipation of the mind; did
not feel the assurance that there is a power in the universe upon which
it might confidently rely through wreck of matter and crash of worlds!
Yet the great concern of Moses was with
the duty that lay plainly before him; the effort to lay the foundations
of a social state in which deep poverty and degrading want should be unknown
– where people released from the meaner struggles that waste human energy
should have opportunity for intellectual and moral development.
Here stands out the greatness of the man.
What was the wisdom and stretch of the forethought that in the desert
sought to guard in advance against the dangers of a settled state, let
the present speak!
In the full blaze of the nineteenth century,
when every child in our schools may know as common truths things of which
the Egyptian sages never dreamed; when the earth has been mapped and the
stars have been weighed; when steam and electricity have been pressed into
our service, and science is wresting from nature secret after secret – it
is but natural to look back upon the wisdom of three thousand years ago as
an adult looks back upon the learning of a child.
And yet, for all this wonderful increase
of knowledge, for all this enormous gain of productive power, where is
the country in the civilised world in which today there is not want and
suffering – where the masses are not condemned to toil that gives no leisure,
and all classes are not pursued by a greed of gain that makes life an ignoble
struggle to get and to keep? Three thousands years of advances, and still
the moan goes up: "They have made our lives bitter with hard bondage, in
mortar and in brick, and in all manner of service!" Three thousand years
of advances! and the piteous voices of little children are in the moan.
Standing as I stand, where modern ideas
have had fullest, freest development; in the newest great city of the
newest great nation; by the side of that ultimate sea, where ends the westward
march of the race that has circled the globe, and farthest west meets east,
the cool shades and sweet waters whose promise has so long lured us on seem
dissolving into mocking mirage.
Over ocean wastes far wider than the Syrian
desert we have sought our promised land – no narrow strip between the
mountains and the sea, but a wide and virgin continent. Here, in greater
freedom, with vaster knowledge and fuller experience, we are building up
a nation that leads the van of modern progress. And yet while we prate of
the rights of humanity there are already many among us thousands who find
it difficult to assert the first of natural rights – the right to earn
an honest living; thousands who from time to time must accept of degrading
charity or starve.
We boast of equality before the law; yet
notoriously justice is deaf to the call of those who have no gold and
blind to the sin of those who have.
We pride ourselves upon our common schools;
yet after our boys and girls are educated we vainly ask: "What shall
we do with them?" And about our colleges children are growing up in vice
and crime, because from their homes poverty has driven all refining influences.
We pin our faith to universal suffrage; yet with all power in the hands
of the people, the control of public affairs is passing into the hands
of a class of professional politicians, and our governments are, in many
cases, becoming but a means for robbery of the people.
We have prohibited hereditary distinctions,
we have forbidden titles of nobility; yet there is growing up an aristocracy
of wealth as powerful and merciless as any that ever held sway.
We progress and we progress; we girdle continents
with iron roads and knit cities together with the mesh of telegraph wires;
each day brings some new invention, each year marks a fresh advance –
the power of production increased, and the avenues of exchange cleared
and broadened. Yet the complaint of "hard times" is louder and louder; everywhere
are people harassed by care, and haunted by the fear of want. With swift,
steady strides and prodigious leaps, the power of human hands to satisfy
human wants advances and advances, is multiplied and multiplied. Yet the
struggle for mere existence is more and more intense, and human labour is
becoming the cheapest of commodities. Beside glutted warehouses human beings
grow faint with hunger and shiver with cold; under the shadow of churches
festers the vice that is born of want.
Trace to its roots the cause that is producing
want in the midst of plenty, ignorance in the midst of intelligence, aristocracy
in democracy, weakness in strength – that is giving to our civilisation
a one-sided and unstable development – and you will find it something which
this Hebrew statesman three thousand years ago perceived and guarded against.
Moses saw that the real cause of the enslavement
of the masses of Egypt was – what has everywhere produced enslavement
– the possession by a class of land upon which and from which the whole people
must live. He saw that to permit in land the same unqualified private ownership
that by natural right attaches to the things produced by labour, would
be inevitably to separate the people into the very rich and the very poor,
inevitably to enslave labour – to make the few the masters of the many,
no matter what the political forms, to bring vice and degradation no matter
what the religion.
And with the foresight of the philosophic
statesman who legislates not for the need of a day, but for all the future,
he sought, in ways suited to his times and conditions, to guard against
Everywhere in the Mosaic institutions is
the land treated as the gift of the Creator to His common creatures, which
no one has the right to monopolise. Everywhere it is, not your estate, or
your property, not the land which you bought, or the land which you conquered,
but "the land which the Lord thy God giveth thee" – "the land which the
Lord lendeth thee". And by practical legislation, by regulations to which
he gave the highest sanctions, he tried to guard against the wrong that converted
ancient civilisations into despotisms – the wrong that in after centuries
ate out the heart of Rome, that produced the imbruting serfdom of Poland
and the gaunt misery of Ireland, the wrong that is today filling American
cities with idle men, and our virgin states with tramps.
He not only provided for a redistribution
of the land for every fifty people, and for making it fallow and common
every seventh year, but by the institution of the Jubilee he provided
for a redistribution of the land every fifty years, and made monopoly
I do not say that these institutions were,
for their ultimate purpose, the best that might even then have been devised;
but Moses had to work, as all great constructive statesmen have to work,
with the tools that came to his hand, and upon materials as he found them.
Still less do I mean to say that forms suitable for that time and people
are suitable for every time and people. I ask, not veneration of the form,
but recognition of the spirit.
Yet how common it is to venerate the form
and to deny the spirit. There are many who believe that the Mosaic institutions
were literally dictated by the Almighty, yet who would denounce as irreligious
any application of their spirit to the present day. And yet today how
much we owe to these institutions! This very day the only thing that stands
between our working classes and ceaseless toil is one of these Mosaic institutions.
Let the mistakes of those who think that
"man was made for the Sabbath", rather than "the Sabbath was made for man",
be what they may; that there is one day in the week that the working people
may call their own, one day in the week on which hammer is silent and
loom stands idle, is due, through Christianity, to Judaism – to the code
promulgated in the Sinaitic wilderness.
It is in these characteristics of the Mosaic
institutions that, as in the fragments of a Colossus, we may read the greatness
of the mind whose impress they bear – of a mind in advance of its surroundings,
in advance of its age; of one of those star souls that dwindle not with
distance, but, glowing with the radiance of essential truth, hold their
light while institutions and languages and creeds change and pass.
That the thought was greater than the permanent
expression it found, who can doubt? Yet from that day to this that expression
has been in the world a living power.
From the free spirit of the Mosaic law sprang
that intensity of family life that amid all dispersions and persecutions
has preserved the individuality of the Hebrew race; that love of independence
that under the most adverse circumstances has characterised the Jew;
the burning patriotism that flamed in the Maccabees and bared the breasts
of Jewish peasants to the serried steel of Grecian phalanx and the resistless
onset of Roman legion; that stubborn courage that in exile and in torture
held the Jew to his faith. It kindled that fire that has made the strains
of Hebrew seers and poets phrase for us the highest exaltations of thought;
that intellectual vigour that has over and over again made the dry staff
bud and blossom. And passing onward from one narrow race it has exerted
its power wherever the influence of the Hebrew scriptures has been felt,
It has toppled thrones and cast dawn hierarchies. It strengthened the Scottish
covenanter in the hour of trial, and the Puritan amid the snows of a strange
land. It charged with the Ironsides at Naseby; it stood behind the low
redoubt on Bunker Hill.
But it is in example as in deed that such
lives are helpful. It is thus that they dignify human nature and glorify
human effort, and, to those who struggle, bring hope and trust. The life
of Moses, like the institutions of Moses, is a protest against that blasphemous
doctrine current now as it was three thousand years ago, preached oft
times even from Christian pulpits – that the want and suffering of the
masses of humankind flow from a mysterious dispensation of providence,
which we may lament, but can neither quarrel with nor alter. Let those
who hug that doctrine themselves, those to whom it seems that the squalor
and brutishness with which the very centres of our civilisation abound are
not their affair, turn to the example of that life. For to them who will
look, yet burns the bush; and to them who will hear, again comes the voice:
"The people suffer: who will lead them forth?"
Adopted into the immediate family of the
supreme monarch and earthly god; standing almost at the apex of the social
pyramid which had for its base those toiling millions; priest and prince
in a land where prince and priest might revel in all delights – everything
that life could offer to gratify the senses or engage the intellect was
open to him.
What to him the wail of those who beneath
the fierce sun toiled under the whips of relentless masters? Heard from
granite colonnade or beneath cool linen awning, it was mellowed by distance
to monotonous music. Why should he question the Sphinx of Fate, or quarrel
with destinies the high gods had decreed? So had it always been, for ages
and ages; so must it ever be. The beetle rends the smaller insect, and
the hawk preys on the beetle; order on order, life rises from death and
carnage, and higher pleasures from lower agonies. Shall the human be better
than nature? Soothing and restful flows the Nile, though underneath its
placid surface finny tribes wage cruel war, and the stronger eats the weaker.
Shall the gazer who would read the secrets of the stars turn because under
his feet a worm may writhe?
Theirs to make bricks without straw; his
a high place in the glorious procession that with gorgeous banners and
glittering emblems, with clash of music and solemn chant, winds its shining
way to dedicate the immortal edifice their toil has reared. Theirs the leek
and garlic; his to sit at the sumptuous feast. Why should he dwell on the
irksomeness of bondage, he for whom the chariots waited, who might at will
best ride the swift courses of the Delta, or be borne on the bosom of the
river with oars that beat time to song?
Did he long for the excitement of action?
There was the desert hunt, with steeds fleeter than the antelope and
lions trained like dogs. Did he crave rest and ease? There was for him
the soft swell of languorous music and the wreathed movements of dancing
girls. Did he feel the stir of intellectual life? – in the arcana of the
temples he was free to the lore of ages; an initiate in the select society
where were discussed the most engrossing problems; a sharer in that intellectual
pride that centuries after compared Greek philosophy to the babbling of
It was no sudden ebullition of passion that
caused Moses to turn his back on all this, and to bring the strength
and knowledge acquired in a dominant caste to the lifelong service of
the oppressed. The forgetfulness of self manifested in the smiting of
the Egyptian shines through the whole life. In institutions that moulded
the character of a people, in institutions that to this day make easier
the lot of toiling millions, we may read the stately purpose.
Through all that tradition has given us
of that life runs the same grand passion – the unselfish desire to make
humanity better, happier, nobler. And the death is worthy of the life.
Subordinating to the good of his people the natural disposition to found
a dynasty, which in his case would have been so easy, Moses discards the
claims of blood and calls to his place of leader the fittest man!
Coming from a land where the rites of sepulture
were regarded as all-important, and the preservation of the body after
death was the passion of life; among a people who were even then carrying
the remains of their great ancestor, Joseph, to rest with his fathers, Moses
yet conquered the last natural yearning and withdrew from the sight and
sympathy of his people to die alone and unattended, lest the idolatrous feeling,
always ready to break forth, should in death accord him the superstitious
reverence he had refused in life.
"No man knoweth of his sepulchre unto this
day." But, while the despoiled tombs of the Pharaohs mock the vanity that
reared them, the name of the Hebrew who, revolting from their tyranny,
strove for the elevation of his fellow men and women, remains a beacon light
to the world.
Leader and servant of men and women! Lawgiver
and benefactor! Toiler toward the Promised Land seen only by the eye
of faith! Type of the high souls who in every age has given to earth its
heroes and its martyrs, whose deeds are the precious possession of the
race, whose memories are its sacred heritage! With whom among the founders
of empire shall we compare him?
To dispute about the inspiration of such
a man would be to dispute about words. From the depths of the unseen such
characters must draw their strength; from fountains that flow only from
the pure in heart must come their wisdom. Of something more real than matter;
of something higher than the stars; of a light that will endure when suns
are dead and dark; of a purpose of which the physical universe is but a
passing phase, such lives tell!