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Sailhamer notes that form-critical studies see a lament pattern common in the Psalms as follows: emergency, promise, faith, certainty. He sees the same pattern in the Torah. Genesis 15 and Exodus 3-4 both reveal this pattern. Numbers 14 and 20 also show this pattern but highlight unbelief rather than faith (cf. Numbers 14:11, 20:12). In the Numbers 14 incident almost everything is reversed. For example, the promise is a threat. But for now, let us focus on the contrast being developed between Abraham and Moses: Abraham believed, Moses did not.

This contrast is especially apparent with the theme of land.

Abraham believed the promise that he would inherit the land (hence we call it the “Promised Land”). God even gave him a sign to build that faith even more. The sign being the smoking fire pot and flaming torch that passed between the pieces of an animal. God’s self-imprecation in word and sign is only surpassed by the curse of the cross of Christ. But Moses did not believe in Him and thus is unable to enter the land. We are not speaking of Moses in order of salvation categories – we know that he is a believer. We are speaking of Moses in history of salvation categories – at this decisive point Moses failed to trust God.


The Abraham faith statement (Genesis 15:6) takes place before the conditional covenant with him. Abraham, God says, “obeyed my voice and kept my charge, my commandments, my statutes, and my laws” (Genesis 26:5) before the giving of the written law. He did so walking before God and being blameless (by faith) (cf. Genesis 17:1). Taking Isaac to be sacrificed is a classic story of faith — God will provide — and it was the test of the conditional covenant of Genesis 17.

Sailhamer wants to argue that the contrast of Abraham and Moses implies a contrast of covenants. The covenant with Abram had no written stipulations. The covenant with Moses had many. This observation is true — the unconditional covenant with Abram (Gen 15) had no stipulations and the conditional covenant with Abraham (Gen 17) had few specific stipulations. The covenant with Moses at first also had no written stipulations and later grew to a huge number. Perhaps the fact that there are more and increasingly more written laws is a result of disobedience. That seems to make sense, it even explains why the author made no attempt to harmonize conflicting regulations. I can even agree that the author of the Torah wants you to see the covenant with Abraham as a better way than the covenant with Moses, thus preparing you for the new covenant. Several New Testament authors make similar arguments.

It is interesting though that the one to come was to be a prophet greater than Moses. And that the following comment is made concerning Moses, “Now the man Moses was very meek, more than all people who were on the face of the earth” (Num 12:3). This is clearly an aside from the hand of the author of the second edition (as Sailhamer describes our canonical Torah). This is interesting because this contrast between Abraham and Moses did not mean that Moses was to be disparaged or even that we should not admire Moses. Clearly Moses was a type of the one to come.

Moses continues to get this honor in the New Testament – he representing the Torah and Elijah representing the Prophets at the transfiguration (i.e. Matt 17:4, Mark 9:4, Luke 9:30). And the gospels like Paul agree that the laws were added because of transgressions (i.e. Matt 19:7ff, Mark 10:4ff). As it is said, “If they do not hear Moses and the Prophets, neither will they be convinced if someone should rise from the dead” (Luke 16:31). There is also the contrast like between Abraham and Moses, but now between Jesus and Moses (John 1:17, 6:32). The religious leaders even argued from this contrast (Acts 6:11, 14). And the people of Israel are described as having set their hope upon Moses and being his disciples rather than setting their hope on Jesus and being his disciples (John 5:45, 7:19, 9:28, 29).

But again, if you believed Moses you would believe Jesus, for he wrote of Jesus (John 5:46). It is instructive that the Torah wants people to contrast Abraham and Moses in favor of the former and yet many of the Jewish people at the time of Jesus were favoring Moses over Abraham, with the exception of the early Christians. To be sure Christians still viewed Moses as a type of Christ (i.e. Acts 7:35, 37, Hebrews 3:5-6). But there is also a contrast of covenants (Acts 13:39, Rom 10:5).

Labels: abraham, christ, covenant, faith, moses, promised land, torah, transfiguration