Moses was a prophet, transcriber of Holy Law, and mediator between God and man. Through Moses, God made Himself known to the people of Israel. In his obedience to God and his communication of the Law to the people, Moses laid the foundation for our salvation through the New Covenant made in Christ.
Scripture tells us that Moses, a child of the enslaved Israelites, was adopted into the Egyptian royal family in his infancy. Through his older sister’s resourcefulness, his own mother was hired as his nurse, and he knew his birth family throughout his life.
When Moses reached adulthood, he witnessed firsthand the injustice of the Egyptian enslavement of his people, and having committed murder in righteous anger, retreated into hiding in a nearby land, taking on the life of a shepherd.
As Moses adapted to his new setting, the Israelites’ suffering in Egypt continued. But “their cry came up to God because of their labors. So God heard their groaning, … [and] God looked down about the children of Israel and was made known to them” (Ex. 2:23-25).
God made Himself known to the people through Moses. Although he was at first unsure of his own ability to carry out God’s plan to free and lead the Israelites, Moses spent the remainder of his long life revealing the wonders of God as he freed the Israelites from Egypt, guiding his people through bouts of privation and back from periods of doubt and rebellion, and enacting God’s commands regarding the rites of worship they were to follow and the rules of the society they were to form. It is through Moses that God sent the Ten Commandments, as well as the Old Law’s vast catalog of other tenets, and established the tabernacle with its ark of the covenant as where God met His people, prefiguring Christ as God dwelling among the people.
Moses died, leaving a God-appointed successor, Joshua, having seen the land promised by God to the Israelites.
In his mediation between God and the Israelites, in his role in their earthly salvation, and in his compiling of the Law, which Christ would come to fulfill, Moses acts as a precursor to the Incarnate Son of God.
The icon shows Moses not in his role as a shepherd, as he was when God first spoke to him, but elevated to a state of leadership and power. Moses’ red, purple, blue, and gold attire does not represent earthly royalty, but rather his reign as the leader who brought the Israelites to fulfill God’s promise. He holds his scroll firmly in both hands, presenting the Law directly to the people as God gave it to them. His scroll reads “May the heavens rejoice with him, may all the earth adore,” a standard excerpt to be included in an icon of Moses, taken from the song of praise he made shortly before his death (Deut. 32:43).
The Prophet and God-seer Moses is commemorated on September 4. This 12th century icon comes from the Monastery of St. Catherine on Mount Sinai.