Hebrews 3:1-6 – Moses, the Servant

After proving that Jesus is superior to the angels in Hebrews 1-2, the writer moves to his second argument, that Jesus is superior to Moses.  Why move from angels to Moses? For most modern readers, angels are superior to humans, so if Jesus is superior to angels, he would obviously be superior to Moses. But it is important to read this argument in the context of first century Jewish Christianity.  For Jews living in the Second Temple period, Moses was the most significant person in salvation history. In Sirach (about 200 B.C.), Moses is described as equal to the “holy ones” or even God himself (as the Hebrew text of Sirach can be translated):

Sirach 45:1-2 …and was beloved by God and people, Moses, whose memory is blessed. He made him equal in glory to the holy ones, and made him great, to the terror of his enemies.

In addition, messianic hopes in the first century sometimes focused on the coming of a prophet like Moses. Hope for a “return of Moses” as messiah was so strong that at least one messianic pretender stopped the Jordan in a re-enactment of the crossing of the Red Sea. Matthew’s gospel is designed to highlight Jesus as a new Moses who goes up on the mountain and gives the people the Law (the Sermon on the Mount).

Charlton-Heston-as-MosesThe writer of Hebrews might be trying to counter an objection to the first two chapters of Hebrews: Jesus might be superior to the angels, but the ultimate servant of God was Moses, who gave the Law. In the context of the first century, then, our author will argue that Jesus is a superior to even Moses as a servant of God.  Ultimately, this will lead to the conclusion that the covenant which Jesus made (the New Covenant) is superior to that of the Old Covenant made by Moses.  In verse two Moses is compared to Jesus, then he is subordinated to Jesus (verse 3) and by verse 5 he is contrasted to Jesus, negatively.

The author of Hebrews makes a “lesser to greater” type of argument. If Moses was faithful in God’s household in the previous age, how is Jesus be superior to him in the present age? First, Jesus is superior because he is the builder of the house.  Here the writer is making the point that Jesus is God, and because God is the designer of the administration that Moses presided over, he is therefore superior to him.

Second, Moses is a servant of the house, but Jesus is the son of the Builder, and therefore heir to the administration himself.  He is of a different class that Moses, beyond servant.  This takes into consideration the first argument of the book, that the angels were servants, but Jesus is the son.  Moses is a servant, but the word here is unique in the New Testament to Moses.  It is not a slave, but an “attendant,” one who “renders devoted service” (BDAG). The LXX uses the word for Moses in Num 12:7 (as well as Exod 4:10 and 14:31). Moses was a servant of the first class, but he is still a servant of Jesus.

How does the author of Hebrews develop this Moses/Jesus typology? Does he intentionally denigrate Moses or the Law when he argues Jesus is superior?

 

 

15 thoughts on “Hebrews 3:1-6 – Moses, the Servant

  1. Jesus fulfilled the old covenant, so a new one was made in that process. Hebrews 8:6-9 clearly explains how the old covenant was not meant to last, and the people were not faithful, so God finished his work in the old covenant and completed it by sending Jesus to earth to be the final and greatest High Priest that atoned for all sins once and for all. Moses was a servant to God, and was chosen to receive the law and first covenant and share it with the people as seen in Hebrews 9:19-21. Hebrews states again and again how the law was made of copies of the heavenly things (Heb. 9:23), which sums up that Moses was a part of the first covenant and does not need to be denigrated for that, but rather explained to see the bigger picture of why Jesus came and fulfilled the Law that God started, which naturally made him superior.

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  2. Moses obviously was highly significant to Jews living in that time and it is clear they regarded him highly. Hebrews 3: 1-4 describes Moses actually being compared to Jesus. It says Jesus was faithful to the one who appointed Him just as Moses was faithful to all of God’s house. While this comparison is made, it then goes on to say how, while they were both obedient, Jesus is superior because of who He is and His role. The son of the master is more important than the “servant” of the master. I like how you have the distinction that Moses was not a servant how we would think of today, but rather an attendant, faithful to God. Although saying Jesus was superior to the angels, and this would obviously infer that He was superior to Moses, I still like the comparison because it also shows the superiority between not just Moses, but the old and new covenant. I think it says that not only is Jesus superior, but so is the covenant which He established.

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  3. To answer the second half of the question you asked in your post, I would say no. The writer does not say or even feel that Jesus is ‘better’ than the Law or Moses because the Law or Moses doesn’t measure up. Instead, this says that Jesus is the ultimate fulfillment and the final sacrifice to finish what God started with Israel in the Old Testament (Heb. 2:17). So the New Covenant is superior in that it is what has been coming to the Jews. The point of the message is the Moses and the Old Covenant are not useful anymore for salvation, but only that Jesus is. I am glad to understand without the effects of philosophical teachings (Jobes 93 and 95).

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  4. PLong-I feel that the author of Hebrews develops the Jesus/Moses typology by comparing and contrasting them and by using similes to describe their prospective potions. For example, as you said above Moses is a servant in the house of God(Hebrews 3:5); Moses was one of the many great leaders to pave the way for Jesus’ coming by following God’s instructions that He gave them. However, as you said Christ is the heir to the throne(Hebrews 3:6). Jesus is the ultimate fulfillment of the Covenant versus Moses who was simply a part of ensuring it was fulfilled through his faithfulness. I do not think the author purposely puts down Moses or the Law. The author is simply stating the truth, Jesus is superior to the Law and Moses; Jesus is the Son of God and also God. If one believes in the trinity they have to agree that God is superior to the Law and Moses (a mere mortal).

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  5. As many have said before me, I think the primary purpose of this was not necessarily to denigrate Moses or the law, but to show that Jesus is the ultimate fulfillment to both of those things. In Jewish culture, Moses is a revered man, a man of great faithfulness, but even his faithfulness does not compare to that of Jesus. In many ways, the life of Moses alludes to Jesus, like much of the old testament. It is interesting also to consider that Moses was considered a savior in Jewish culture; being that he delivered them from Egypt. The salvation that Moses brought was only temporary though. Before long, they found themselves wandering the desert, and eventually enslaved once again. Another way that Jesus is superior to Moses is that he delivers salvation that is eternal, not simply temporary.

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  6. Moses was a servant to God. Through being a servant he was faithful to all that God asked of him. Moses was not the Son of God but rather was a faithful servant of God. Hebrews 3:3 states, “Jesus has been found worthy of greater honor than Moses, just as the builder of a house has greater honor than the house itself.” I don’t feel that the author intentionally denigrates Moses or the Law but rather states that Jesus is superior to them. In doing so, it is proving the value and worth of Jesus Christ being God’s Son and that Jesus was superior to angelic beings. Moses was a faithful servant to God, but again He was not the Son of God. Moses was able to articulate the Old Covenant and even though the Old Covenant is still applicable, more was added and transformed when the New Covenant came through Jesus Christ and Christ brought salvation for the world. In result, Jesus is the ultimate fulfillment of all things.

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  7. It is obvious that Moses was a huge figure in Jewish history. Jobes even stated in her book that he was the biggest name in the Jewish literature. They looked to him as one of the big patriarchs. He was the one that God appeared to, through the burning bush. God revealed His back to Moses, giving him a huge honor. It is unquestionable that he was an important figure, which makes Jesus all the more important. I think that it was much more about showing Jesus’ superiority than to demean Moses. Also, I think it is a natural comparison when you look at the fact that God gave the original covenant, the one the Jews had lived by for so long, to Moses, and has now given us a new covenant through Jesus.

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  8. The author of Hebrews does not denigrate Moses or the law when he argues the superiority of Jesus. If the author of Hebrews did denigrate Moses it would have been off putting to the audience that the author was trying to persuade. If the audience read the writing that was discounting the importance of Moses they would have taken the offensive to defend one of their heroes of the faith. This would have automatically made proving that Jesus Christ is above all men and the angels much harder. The author of Hebrews then uses a positive image of Moses to his advantage. The author of Hebrews describes Moses as faithful to God and a man worth glory (Hebrews 3:2). In describing Moses in a positive view and reminding the audience how faithful and amazing Moses was, the audience is not in a defensive frame of mind. Then as the author of Hebrews describes how Jesus is even more worthy than Moses would be awe inspiring to the audience. Respecting the viewpoint of the audience and using positive methods of persuasion resulting in an effective teaching for the superiority of Christ.

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  9. The fulfillment of Jesus “a prophet like Moses” was not The Sermon on the Mount, in my thinking. The sermon of Jesus was more about showing the original meaning of The Law as having an inward component as well as outward act. The Sermon on the Mount was different than Mt. Sinai in too many ways.
    The way that Jesus was like Moses is stated elsewhere for us readers but Moses hearers would have understood that God would send a meek person who would not bruise a reed or extinguish a smoldering wick. Moses was unlike a warlord with a hierarchy of supporters- this, I believe, is why there were so many challenges initially to his leadership. When Moses said several times “who am I”, or “who are we” (referring to himself and Aaron), the reality on the ground expected the reply: yes, “you are nothing.” This is the servant attitude true to all God’s servants whether Paul, Jesus, or the prophets. Jesus, though the ruler, takes the form of a servant to be our priest and savior. So, in my thinking, “the prophet like Moses” which you mentioned briefly as going up a mountain as fulfillment is not cited in the text as fulfillment of that aspect. The implicit servant aspect is much more comprehensive and typological of what the text points to in fulfillment (all in my view).

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  10. There is clear evidence that Moses was a servant to God. One example that the blog points out is within the New Testament concerning the way that Moses is regarded as a servant (not as a slave). This “attendant” title is unique to Moses. It is interesting to connect the role of a servant in society today compared to what Moses really did during Biblical times. It is important to notice that his title as servant meant something different than even the typical servant in that day. Servants during Biblical times were more loyal and thought of as family rather than with hierarchy. Hebrews 3 records the greatness of Jesus over Moses, but it is still impressive that Moses can even be compared to Jesus in such high honor and faithfulness. The verses in Hebrews 3 pretty much indicate that the servant of the King is lower than the Son of the King even though they were both obedient to the King. In connection with the covenant, Jesus was the fulfillment of it whereas Moses was an important person along the journey to fulfillment. I don’t think the goal was to belittle Moses and his works in response to your question, P. Long. The author is speaking the truth here that Jesus is superior to Moses, but that doesn’t mean that Moses wasn’t a key piece to the puzzle.

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  11. When the author of Hebrews begins comparing Jesus to Moses in the beginning of chapter 3, it can be easy to see how Jesus is superior as one who has grown up always knowing that. However, the author had to almost prove to his audience that the Moses who they looked up so highly and revered was in fact inferior to another human.This is because his audience would have been taught at an early age the importance behind Moses and how he was “the ultimate Servant of God”. The author had to explain why this other human was superior, while we know the reason of that superiority is the fact that Jesus was also completely God. Moses is not denigrated as much as he is surpassed in what the author writes regarding him versus Jesus. While Moses spoke the Law in which God gave him, Jesus fulfilled it. As the passage says, the house was built by Christ, whereas Moses was only a caretaker over that house. Like the article reads, Jesus can then be seen as far greater than Moses. In verse 17 of the previous chapter, Jesus is described as the High Priest in addition to Him being God’s son and the messiah.

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  12. I like the analogy of the son of the builder and the servant of the house. It is a good distinction of what Jesus means to the kingdom of God compared to Moses. I don’t feel that the intention of the passage was to devalue Moses, because the author of Hebrews does acknowledge that Moses was a great servant to the kingdom of God (3:3-5). I personally don’t even feel that it’s fair to even compare Jesus and Moses and say who is better, because it’s the comparison of a man who did what he could to serve God and was not perfect but faithful against the literal son of God, and the messiah of the world.

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  13. I think it’s really interesting that out of all the Old Testament figures, Moses is presented as the servant of the house. I think this is ultimately an analogy because Moses physically presented the Law, as God had given it to him. Jesus, as part of the Trinity, According to Jobes, the author of Hebrews writes in relation to all members of the Trinity. Here we see Jesus setting the example of the Law in the new Testament, living the perfect Jewish life, and building the house — the foundation, for Christianity. Moses is a part of the house as the servant because he is not the author or foundation of the law, but that he served God by presenting His law.

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  14. It is odd to me that Jesus and Moses are even being compared. How can you compare a perfect man who is all human and all God to a man who is only human? Jesus is the ultimate sacrifice making him the greatest servant we will know. Moses did great work, which God recognizes and knows Moses to be a genuine follower of Christ. Moses was a great servant of Christ that can be proven throughout the Bible. Moses was an important figure in the Jewish Christian Literature, thus why he is looked on so highly, but we all know that Jesus is the ultimate servant. The author was not trying to demean Moses and the works he did but wanted to show how great Jesus is.

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