The Secret of Its Greatness
[Illustration: (drop cap G) The Great Pyramid]

God always chooses the right kind of people to do His work. Not only so, He always gives to those whom He chooses just the sort of life which will best prepare them for the work He will one day call them to do.

That is why God put it into the heart of Pharaoh's daughter to bring up Moses as her own son in the Egyptian palace.

The most important part of Moses' training was that his heart should be right with God, and therefore he was allowed to remain with his Hebrew parents during his early years. There he learned to love and serve the one true God. Without that knowledge no education can make a man or woman fit to be a blessing to the world.

But after this God gave him another training. The man who should be called to write the first words of God's Book would need a very special education. Most likely some of the Children of Israel could read and write, for we know there were plenty of books and good schools in Moses' time, but they certainly did not make such good scholars as the Egyptians.

'And the child grew and she (his mother) brought him unto Pharaoh's daughter, and he became her son.' (Exodus ii.10.)

In those few words the Bible shows us the Egyptian side of Moses' education.

And a very thorough education it must have been, for the Egyptians were the most highly cultured people in the world in those days, and we know that 'Moses was learned in all the wisdom of the Egyptians.' (Acts vii.22.)

The Egypt of Moses' time was very different from the Egypt of to-day. Among all the great nations it held the first place; for the people of Egypt were more clever, and rich; their gardens more beautiful, their cornfields and orchards more fruitful than those of the dwellers in any other land.

Again, of all the peoples in the world the Egyptians were looked upon at that time as the most religious. From one end to another the land was full of temples, many of them so huge in size, and so magnificent with carvings and paintings, that even their poor ruins -- the great columns shattered or fallen, the enormous walls tottering and broken -- are still the wonder of the world.

Every great city had its schools and colleges. Clever men devoted their whole lives to teaching in these colleges and to writing learned books, just as they do in the cities of Europe and America to-day. These men were called 'scribes,' that is, 'writers.' Moses, a boy brought up in the royal palace, would have the best and most learned scribes for his teachers.

A fragment of an old Egyptian book describing the duties of a lad in the scribes' school has been found. It tells how the schoolmaster wakes the boys very early in the morning. 'The books are already in the hands of thy companions,' he cries; 'put on thy garments, call for thy sandals.'

If the lad does not make haste he is severely punished; if he is not attentive in school the master speaks to him very seriously indeed. 'Let thy mouth read the book in thy hand, and take advice from those who know more than thou dost!'

He has to write many copies, and as he gets he learns to compose business letters to his master; before he is fourteen he is most likely a clerk in a government office, and must continue his studies at the same time.

The letters and copies of a schoolboy who lived three thousand years ago have been discovered. How many bad marks did his teacher give him, do you think, when he had to correct that carelessly written capital?

[Illustration: Schoolboy's copy from ancient Egypt. Notice the teacher's corrections]

So great a respect had the Egyptians for writing that they used to say, 'The great god Thoth invented letters; no human being could have given anything so wonderful and useful to the world.'

Arithmetic, geometry, astronomy, drawing, an Egyptian lad was supposed to study all these, and as we have seen, those lads who were trained for work in the Foreign Office had to learn other languages as well; they had also to read and write 'cuneiform' -- the name given to the strange wedge-shaped letters of Assyria and Babylonia.

All the letters from the people of Canaan to the Egyptian king and his Foreign Office were written in cuneiform.

Chinese is supposed to be the most difficult language to learn in our day; but the ancient cuneiform was certainly quite as complicated as Chinese. The cuneiform had no real alphabet, only 'signs.' There were five hundred simple signs, and nearly as many compound signs, so that the student had to begin with a thousand different signs to memorize. Yes, boys had their troubles even in those days.

Now, as Moses grew older and learned more, he must often have felt very thoughtful and sad. So many books, so many ideas, so many stories of cruel gods and evil spirits -- where was the truth to be found? No one seemed to remember the One True God, the God of his fathers, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.

Very likely a Babylonian book written in cuneiform, and pretending to describe the Creation of the world, and the story of the Ark and the great Flood found its way into Egypt. Many copies of this book existed in Moses' day; part of a later copy was found a short time ago in the ruins of the library of a great Assyrian king, and is now to be seen in the British Museum. A strange book it is. The words were not written, remember, but pricked down on a large flat tablet of clay.

If Moses read such a book as this, it must have troubled and puzzled him very much. For it is a heathen book, in which the beautiful clear story of the Creation of the world is all darkened and spoilt. The Babylonian who wrote the book, and the Assyrians who copied it, were all descended from Noah, and therefore some dim remembrance of God's dealings with the world still lingered in their hearts; but as the time passed they had grown farther from the truth. That is why the oldest copies of these books are always the best; the heathen had not had time to separate themselves so completely from God.

'In the old, old days,' they said, 'there were not so many gods as there are now'; and some of the most learned heathen even believed that in the beginning there was but one God. 'Afterwards many others sprang up,' they declared.

'In the beginning God created the Heaven and the earth.' (Genesis i.1.) Oh, how far the nations had wandered already from the greatest, deepest truth which the world can know! How sad to think that horrible nightmare stories of evil spirits and cruel gods should have come between men's souls and the loving Father and Creator of all!

Yes; it was time, indeed, that the first words of the Bible should be written, and that a stream of pure truth should begin to flow through the world.

But Moses had much to do for God before he could write one word of his part of the Bible.

We know how his life of learning and splendour came to a sudden end; he fled from Egypt, and became a shepherd in the land of Midian; and there in Midian God called him to the great work of leading the Children of Israel out of Egypt towards the Promised Land.

Terrible troubles had come upon God's people in the land of Goshen.[1] For the most selfish and cruel Pharaoh who ever reigned over Egypt had determined to treat the people who had come to live in Egypt, at the invitation of a former Pharaoh, just as though they were captives taken in battle.

Many of the old ruins in Egypt are covered with writings describing his cruelties. He killed all who rebelled against him, and condemned whole nations to wear out their lives by working for him in the gold mines, or granite quarries, or by making endless stores of bricks; he cared for no man's life if only he could be called the richest king in the world.

'And they built for Pharaoh treasure cities, Pithom and Raamses,' (Exodus i.11) that is, store-cities. In Egypt many store-cities were needed because corn was more plentiful there than in any other country.

'Pithom -- where was Pithom?' So people were asking a few years ago, and because there was no answer to that question they began to doubt. Had there ever been such a city?

But in the year 1884 the earth gave up another of its secrets -- the ruins of Pithom were found, buried deep in the dust; and the remains of great store-houses built of rough bricks, mixed with chopped straw (Exodus v.) and stamped with the name of the cruel Pharaoh (Ramesis the Second) were laid bare once more.[2]

What a pity some readers had not waited a little longer before doubting the truth of the Bible!

'And the Lord said unto Moses, Write thou these words.' (Exodus xxxiv.27.) So it was at last that God called Moses to begin the great work of writing the Bible, just as He had called him to lead the people out of Egypt; just as by His Spirit He calls men and women to do His work to-day.

How did Moses write the first words of the Bible? What kind of letters and what language did he use?

These are great questions. We know at least that he could have his choice between two or three different kinds of letters and materials.

Perhaps he wrote the first words of the Bible on rolls of papyrus paper with a soft reed pen, in the manner of the Egyptian scribes.

Hundreds of these rolls have been found in Egypt: poems, histories, novels, hymns to the Egyptian gods; and some of these writings are at least as old as the time of Moses. The Egyptian climate is so fine and dry, and the Egyptians stored the rolls so carefully in the tombs of their kings, that the fragile papyrus -- that is, reed-paper -- has not rotted away, as would have been the case in any other country.

Certainly in after years the Jews used the same shaped books as the Egyptians. Indeed, the Jews' Bible -- that is, the Old Testament -- was still called 'a roll of a book' in the days of Jeremiah. (Jeremiah xxxvi.2.)

Or perhaps Moses wrote on tablets of clay like those used by the great empires of Babylon and Assyria, and by the people of Canaan. Clay was cheap enough; all one had to do was to mould moist clay into a smooth tablet, and then to prick words on it with a metal pen. The prophet Jeremiah mentions this kind of book also. (Jeremiah xvii.1.)

Most likely, however, Moses wrote on parchment made from the skins of sheep and goats. The Children of Israel kept large flocks, and could supply him with as many skins as he wanted.

And in what language did he write?

Perhaps even the very first words were written in Hebrew; we know that in later times the prophets and historians of the Jews wrote in Hebrew.

But we must remember that languages alter as years pass on. The Hebrew of Moses' time could only have been an ancient kind of Hebrew, very different from the Hebrew of to-day. Does this surprise you? Why, you and I could hardly read one word of the English written in England even a thousand years ago!

About the middle of the last century a German missionary found a large carved stone in that part of Palestine which used to be called Moab. This wonderful stone, which is black and shaped something like a tombstone, is covered with writing. It is called 'The Moabite Stone,' and was set up by Mesha, king of Moab. (2 Kings iii.4.) The writing on it is neither Egyptian nor cuneiform, but a very ancient kind of Hebrew.

[Illustration: First words of Kin Mesha's writing on the Moabite Stone. Moses most likely used letters like these]

Of course, this does not take us back actually to the days of Moses, but still it is so old that Moses may well have used the same kind of writing.

We have seen that most nations in those old times had their books, and we know that each nation had always one book that it valued more than the rest. This was the book that told the people about their religion, and the gods in whom they believed.

In most of these books some grains of truth were found. All the nations of the world are but one great family, you know, and even the most ignorant people were not without some knowledge.

The heathen nations of Moses' time therefore remembered dimly some of God's dealings with the world; they were so blinded by their heathen worship, that no atom of fresh light could reach them, and little by little they drifted further into the darkness.

But, though tiny fragments of truth are to be found in their books, not one word is to be traced in any book of the most precious truth of all until God revealed it to His servant Moses.

This makes our Bible so wonderful and different from all other books: it is a revelation -- that is, something which comes to us from God and which we could never have known without His help.

From first to last the Bible is written to teach us about Christ. Throughout the whole of the Old Testament Christ is referred to as the coming Saviour, or Messiah, which you know, is the Hebrew word for Christ.

Christ is to bruise the serpent's head. (Genesis iii.15.) In Him all the nations of the earth are to be blessed. (Genesis xxii.18.) He is the Star that shall come out of Jacob. (Numbers xxiv.17.) When the Lamb of the Passover was killed, and the people taught they could only escape from death through the sprinkled blood, this was a type or picture of Salvation through the Blood of Jesus.

When at last the Saviour came, the Jews rejected Him and would not accept Him as the Messiah. Then He said to them: 'Had ye believed Moses, ye would have believed Me: for he wrote of Me.' (John v.46.)

[1] The Egyptians spelt 'Goshen' 'Kosem.' An old writing says, 'The country is not cultivated, but left as a pasture for cattle because of the stranger.'

[2] Some of these bricks are in the British Museum.

chapter i a living book
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