posted on Oct, 22 2017 @ 11:07 AM
Moses and Elijah are the two biggest names in Old Testament prophecy.
They are both much discussed as individuals, but I find it interesting to look at some of the parallels between them, and the way they complement each
Let’s first consider their names.
In the traditions of the Old Testament, many names are inspired by wordplay based on some aspect of the person’s birth.
The official story of the naming of Moses fits this pattern. Pharaoh’s daughter drew him out of the water, so she gave him a name which means
Some people have noticed that the name resembles the second part of Egyptian names like Rameses and Thutmose. There may be something in this.
Those names identify kings and others as a “child of” the preferred god, whether it be Ra, Thoth, Ptah, Amen, and so on. If Moses had a name like
that, he might have dropped the first element later.
Alternatively, the name as it stands identifies him as the “child of” a God who stands beyond individual names.
Elijah carries a more straightforward theophoric name.
“Eli” means “my God”.
“-jah” is the translator’s version of the name of YHWH, used as a suffix.
So the whole name means “YHWH is my God”.
Each of them has a vital function, for two different stages of the Lord’s work.
Moses is given the task of establishing the religion of the Israelites.
First he challenges Pharaoh to get the Israelites out of Egypt, and then he transmits God’s commands at Sinai.
Elijah is given the task of protecting and preserving the religion of the Israelites, which he does by challenging the promoters of the worship of
So Moses is God’s champion against the oppression of God’s people, and Elijah is God’s champion against the idolatry of God’s people.
They are each given powers from God to assist them in their task.
Moses is allowed to turn the waters of the Nile into blood, and announces a succession of other plagues.
Elijah is allowed to hold back the falling of the rain.
Finally, neither of them has a normal death and burial.
Moses dies in the land of Moab and is buried secretly by the Lord himself, so that this burial place remains unknown. That is why the Israelites
cannot visit his tomb, as they like to visit the tombs of their ancestors and the prophets.
Elijah “went up by a whirlwind into heaven”, as Elisha watched.
The last word of the Old Testament is God’s warning, or promise, that he would send in Elijah the prophet “before the great and terrible Day of
the Lord comes”.
He will be reconciling the people to each other, “turning the hearts of fathers to their children”, in order to forestall the necessity of cursing
In other words, his task will be a calling to repentance in advance of the time of judgement.
This counts as part of the work of maintaining the religion of Israel, so it is consistent with his role in history.
Was John the Baptist the expected Elijah?
Jesus said he was, and John the Baptist himself said he wasn’t.
I think the discrepancy is easy enough to explain.
John was not Elijah in a literal sense. He was not some kind of reincarnation. He knew that his questioners were thinking of the literal sense,
and that is why he gave that answer.
But the prophecy was being fulfilled in a non-literal sense. John the Baptist was calling the people to repentance, to prepare them for the judgement
brought by the Son of Man. He was offering the baptism of water, to save them from the baptism of fire.
Jesus was being asked about the meaning of Malachi’s prophecy. He knew that John the Baptist was fulfilling the function of the prophecy, that he
was the only “Elijah” they were going to get, and that is why he gave that answer.
Two different responses, covering two different questions.
Moses and Elijah are both present at the Transfiguration of Jesus.
They speak to him about the departure which he must “accomplish” at Jerusalem.
Here, I think, they represent the Law and the Prophets, the two great divisions of the Hebrew Scriptures.
From the “letters to the churches” in Revelation, it is evident that the church under tribulation is facing two kinds of danger.
Of course they are troubled by persecution, organised by a new kind of “Pharaoh”.
At the same time, they are troubled by the internal faithlessness which has created such groups as the Nicolaitans and the followers of another
Therefore they would need the services of champions against oppression, like Moses, and also the services of champions against idolatry, like
This brings us to the question of the identity of the two witnesses of Revelation ch11.
There’s an important clue in the powers which these witnesses have been given.
They are allowed to shut up the skies and prevent rain, and they are allowed to turn the waters into blood and bring every other kind of plague.
These are the powers which were attached to the functions of Moses and Elijah.
It does not follow, though, that they are to be Moses and Elijah in a literal sense, any more than John the Baptist was the literal Elijah. We ought
to notice that both of them seem to be exercising both sets of powers together.
In fact we are also told that “fire pours out of their mouths and consumes their foes”; this was a power which had been promised to Jeremiah,
which further confuses the identification.
They are not Moses and Elijah individually, but they are, between them, acting the part of a combined Moses-and-Elijah.
One suggestion has been that they stand for the Law and the Prophets, still continuing to witness against the world.
My own theory for that chapter (which disappointed at least one reader) was that they represent the witnessing activity of the surviving faithful
remnant, which stands firm for God against the twin dangers of oppression and faithlessness, thus collectively maintaining the combined work of Moses
So these two figures have a persisting presence in the Bible, because they represent two functions which will always be needed as long as we occupy
the present world.