The soul of this movement was Moses; a real historic figure, worthy, as we can see through the mists around him, of the imposing form which Michael Angelo has given him. A great man is nearly always to be found at the core of a great social growth, charging the latent tendencies of a race with energy, and shaping their action upon the form of his mind. “An institution is the lengthened shadow of a man,” writes Emerson. Judaism is the lengthened shadow of Moses. Whatever else Moses may have done, he proved himself the architect of Israel, by laying the foundation that determined the form and size of the later structure. He taught his simple people to recognize Jehovah as their tribal God. What this name meant in the conception of the people before his time is by no means clear to us now. It appears to have stood for the personification of some one of the forms of nature’s forces, that arrest upon themselves the nomad’s vague sense of the Infinite and Divine in the world about him. Around the Power felt in Saturn or the Sun, Moses threw the spell of an awe which is deeper far than that awakened by the starry heavens above man—the awe aroused by the moral law within man. He gave his rude children a noble moral code, the original form of the Decalogue. These Ten Words were issued as the law of Jehovah. Jehovah then was the source and authority of the laws which the conscience owned. The moral law was his body of statutes. To keep this law was the way to please Him. His commands reached through rites and ordinances to conduct and character. His demands were not for sacrifices, but for good lives. His worship was aspiration and endeavor after goodness.
And this Power enjoining morality was none other than the Power which in nature seemed so often unmoral and even immoral. Jehovah of the skies was the God of the Ten Words.
This was a seminal thought, bodied in an institution. In begetting this conception in the soul of Israel, Moses fathered the life which grew through embryonic forms, during the slow gestation of the centuries, shaping toward the ideal of religion. Whatever was vital and progressive in the nation’s thought and feeling sucked up its juices from the seed deep-rooted in this basic institution. Rightly did legislators and historians, through the after ages, look back and ascribe all their work in the development of the national life to Moses. Even thus the rose, were it conscious, might turn its crimson face upon the ground and whisper to the seed at its roots—I am thy work. Even thus the son, in the pride and power of manhood goes back to the old homestead, and looking into his father’s face confesses—All that I am you have made me.
The heroic age: B.C. 1300-1100.