Moses Leading the Israelite Tribes: Militaristic Methods of Persuasion in the Wilderness of Sinai


The focal points of this review are chapters 19 and 20 from the book of Exodus –source: Peterson, E. H. The Message: The Bible in Contemporary Language. Navpress Pub Group, 2002 –however, background elements are all-encompassing of the book of Exodus in order to both support the analysis and provide clarity to the reader –H.S.

With a daring mission before him, Moses needed more than just courage, discipline and rationale. He needed to persuade populations of people to not only follow him through hundreds of miles of treacherous environment, but to also commit themselves to a foreign set of rules –forever altering the course of their religious beliefs. In this analysis we will be trailing Moses as he draws upon tactical, militaristic leadership principles, utilizes action and language in promoting logical, ethical and emotional appeal –and like many successful, gutsy military leaders –completes his mission at all costs. Since the origins of Biblical writings, countless readers of the world have been impacted by Moses and the remarkable journey of the people he so triumphantly led.

Thousands of Israelite tribes were slaves of the Egyptian Pharaohs in the early centuries BCE. Moses was originally of the Levite tribe of Israelites and as a boy, compassionately saved from captivity. As a man Moses was approached by God and proposed with a challenge to free the Israelite tribes from Egyptian bondage. Moses humbly accepted this daunting task, and with the support of God’s power, claimed the Israelites as his own responsibility –both freeing them from slavery and leading them through the Red Sea, across a vast desert and finally, into the wilderness of Sinai.

Moses was a powerful figure of hope to the Israelite tribes. He had freed them from their enemies, provided sustenance, led them safely through seemingly impassable obstacles, and inherently boosted morale in the toughest of times. In the illumination of an analogical spotlight, Moses was like a seasoned field grade officer of a large army, acting on the wills and strategies of higher powers, not only following orders but expounding upon them, convening with the elders of the tribes as if they were his military staff, thereby inducing small unit leadership and simultaneously gaining the trust of his soldiers. “Moses came back and called the elders of Israel together and set before all these words which God had commanded him. The people were unanimous in their response: ‘everything God says, we will do.’ Moses took the people’s answer back to God” (19:7-8). This example is a form of conference used frequently amongst United States military leaders in order to create a sense of democracy vice dictatorship. Utilizing this formulated chain of command technique cultivates a sense of mutual respect, reasonable logic and the ulterior, persuasive end goal of gaining justifiable agreement.

Douglas MacArthur, of World War II distinction, commonly addressed the masses, and often courageously led from the frontlines. Similarly did Moses during his command. The mountain of Sinai, near the campground of the Israelites, was like an intrepid, metaphoric monument of God’s power and superiority. And God, to the Israelites, was an intimidating God and none of the Israelites would go near the mountain. “On the third day at daybreak, there were loud claps of thunder, flashes of lightning, a thick cloud covering the mountain, and an ear-piercing trumpet blast. Everyone in the camp shuddered in fear. Moses led the people out of the camp to meet God. They stood at attention at the base of the mountain” (19:16-17). Moses, having previously gained the trust of the people through his enduring credibility and actions, motivates the people to follow his lead and reverses their fears as before a battle, gallantly presenting them in a ceremonial military-like formation.

A balanced implementation of fear is a valuable tool for military leaders to utilize. In chapter 20, after meeting with God, Moses goes before the people, speaking in a transcendent tone. During his speech, an issuance of new laws (the Ten Commandments) unfolds. He makes clear that there will be no other gods before him. “I am God, your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of a life of slavery. No other gods, only me. No carved gods of any size, shape or form of anything whatever, whether of things that fly or walk or swim. Don’t bow down to them and don’t serve them because I am God, your God, and I’m a most jealous God, punishing the children for any sins their parents pass on to them to the third, and yes, even the fourth generation of those who hate me. But I’m unswervingly loyal to the thousands who love me and keep my commandments” (20:1-6). It is here that we can explore Moses’ image in a new perspective, as not only the courageous leader, setting the example and caring for his own, but as a fierce and threatening man of dignified power demanding the respect of his people and instilling a sharpened sense of fear. However, he also plants a sigh of relief into the fearful emotions of the people with the promise of ‘unswerving loyalty’ if they so choose to remain obedient.

Personally, as a veteran of the Armed Forces, I cannot count the number of times a military officer promised troops extra days off and overall ‘gentler’ treatment if they kept their noses clean, and likewise group disciplinary actions if they did not. The average male and female appreciate being rewarded for maintaining discipline, be it the physical results of a fitness regime, earning above average grades in school, employee of the month, etcetera. Moses knew this, and presented the proposal as any good leader would: as a choice, but with only one choice ending well, and of course, recognition for good order and discipline.

Just as Moses inspired and guided an audience of Israelite tribes, employing both physical action and artful vocalizations of logos ethos and pathos, so he continues to inspire and guide countless other audiences throughout millennia. Even those unfamiliar to military tactics will inwardly react to the persuasive engagement of Moses’ strong allegory voice –the voice of a leader in his finest hours.

About Hudson Saffell (36 Articles)
Freelance Writer / Editor
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