Giving in New testament

Moses: A perspective as a labour leader (1)

by Church Times

By Oyewole Sarumi PhD

Moses is the single most famous and charismatic leader in the Old Testament and is respected by the Jews, the Christians and the Muslims alike. He was born a Hebrew slave, adopted by an Egyptian princess, raised as a prince of Egypt, exiled at age 40 after killing an Egyptian who beat a Hebrew slave. He fled to Midian in the Sinai desert and later married Zipporah, the daughter of his host Jethro and started a family.

He became a shepherd, an occupation loathsome to the Egyptians, especially a prince. He was down as low as any former prince of Egypt could go, especially a former Egyptian general!

It was on record that he had earlier taken as wife an Ethiopian princess, Tharbis, the daughter of the Ethiopian King who fell in love with him even though he defeated her father in a battle he led as the commander of Egyptian army. This was the Ethiopian wife mentioned in Numbers 12:1.

At age 80, when Moses probably felt that his life was nearly over, God met him on the slope of Mt. Sinai. God told Moses to return to Egypt and lead the Israelites, God’s chosen people, out of slavery to the Egyptians. The rest of Moses’ life was a tremendous example of faithfulness to the commands of God and skill in building a nation as he led His people to the Promised Land.


As the Book of Exodus unfolds, a new king has risen over Egypt, one concerned that the descendants of Jacob were becoming too numerous (Exodus 1:8-9). He forcefully conscripted them as slave labour, and ordered them to build supply cities, Pithom and Ramses, for Pharaoh.

When the Hebrews continued to multiply, Pharaoh ordered even more drastic measures: Every newborn male infant was to be drowned in the river (Exodus 1:22). Around this time, a young couple from the tribe of Levi, Amram and Jochebed, had a baby. To save him from the Egyptians, they set the baby afloat on the river, in a papyrus basket plastered with bitumen and pitch (Exodus 2:3).

Eventually, Pharaoh’s daughter, Thermuthis discovered the basket. She was overcome with compassion and adopted the child. Thus, Moses grew up at Pharaoh’s court, but he never lost the strong sense of kinship with the Hebrew slaves. It was recorded in Hebrews 11:25-26 that he identified with his people and chose to suffer ill-treatments with them at the expense of the pomp and pleasures of Egypt.

We read that Moses was a blessed man. As a prince in Egypt, he had learned much about leading people and administering the empire. In fact it was attested in Acts 7: 22 that he was educated and trained in all the wisdom of the Egyptians, such that he was described as powerful in words and in deeds, that is, in speech and action. Even though as an Hebrew he could not have become Pharaoh, Moses would have been destined for high office in Egypt, perhaps a regional leader or a foreign minister.

He had learned how to drive a chariot, how to supply, march and lead the army, and the political skills necessary to succeed on the world’s stage. Moses would also have learned how to retain and increase power, and was probably proud of his background and accomplishments. Much was expected of Moses, and from his youth, Moses had learned to expect much from himself.


The birth of trade unions dated back to the Industrial Revolution in the 19th century. During that time, many workers were living in harsh conditions with poor wages and long working hours. They began grouping together to form unions, aiming to improve their conditions. Over time, these unions grew larger and stronger, eventually gaining recognition and rights in the legal system.

An early example would be the formation of the Grand National Consolidated Trades Union in the United Kingdom in 1834. Though it was short-lived, this marked the beginning of larger-scale union initiatives in Britain. In the United States, the American Federation of Labour was founded in 1886, bringing together multiple craft unions.

However, what Moses led that we read in the book of Exodus could be likened to a Labour Union of Israelites who sought deliverance from the gulag of Pharaoh after 430 years of servitude because those Egyptians who didn’t know what Joseph, an Israelite did for them treated them with contempt and hatred, hence the intubation of slavery.

We cannot say for certain when the events of the book of Exodus occurred. A straightforward reading of the Bible, combined with some archaeological evidence, leads to a date of 1446 BC. A less-literal view of certain dates in the Old Testament, combined with fairly substantial extra-biblical evidence, would suggest a date around 1225 BC. Some other outside-the-box ideas allow other archaeological and biblical evidence to coordinate with dates somewhere in between. The readers are at liberty to choose which perspective resonate with them!


Moses is one of the strongest leaders in the Biblical accounts, famous for rescuing God’s people from Egypt and leading them through the wilderness.

My perspective is that as a Bible scholar, Exodus is a story about cruel and excruciating labour conditions, workers’ rights, and strong leadership, making a Passover’s hero a shop steward for the ages.

Based on academic postulate or conjecture, the phrase, “Let My People Go”, could be surmised to mean in labour language or terminology, “Let My People Bargain!’ is why Moses was history’s first Union Representative and leader. I stand to be corrected anyway!

Millions of Israeli’s families around the world sit down together every year for Passover Seder to read and celebrate the story of the Jews freeing themselves from enslavement. Methinks independence is an important and powerful part of the story. Yes, but I think they were also celebrating something else: the first great moment in labour history. This is just an academic perspective, so no offence!

According to Sarah Horotwitz, the parallels come easily. The workers (Israelites) asked their Union Rep (Moses) to stand up to their slave master (Pharaoh) about their terrible working conditions. In Exodus Chapter 5:4-12, the slave master denied Moses his request and even doubled the workers’ load for delivery! Verses 4, 9 read: “But the king of Egypt said to them, “Why, Moses and Aaron, do you disturb the people from their work? Go to your own labours…Let the labour fall heavy upon the men and let them work at it, and let them not talk about false matters.”

So, their burden was increased and they had to gather straws which hitherto were being supplied for the production. You might called that double tragedy! But we have seen such reactions from political leadership all over the world as an old biblical and ancient tactics to muzzle popular protests and subdue the participants! There’s nothing new under the sun! And the Bible is the citadel of wisdom for leadership tenets in labour, medicine, law, political, business, socio-economic and other professional spheres of life!

Now, from chapter five in the book of Exodus, it was clear that the workers’ (Israelites’) only recourse was to leave Egypt as soon as possible due to the intensity of the labour, and the unbearable stringent conditions newly-imposed. We can say that this was really a strike, but on a biblical scale at the moment. It was one of the first times that workers stood up for their collective right. Moses was a gifted administrator (organizer), and you can see the lessons of the Israelites’ revolt reverberating throughout labour history — in labour guilds, mutual aid societies, and modern collective bargaining units in various labour unions all over the world.

When a worker is feeling especially helpless like the Israelites were at that point in time, a worker union leader like Moses gives them the opportunity to accomplish their goals with the aid of their fellow workers in support when confronting the so-called slave masters.

Can you consider with me as we wrestle with the challenges and tensions at the heart of the story? All the significant appearances of Moses before Pharaoh were at the instance of God; he didn’t go to the palace without His instruction. Even when Pharaoh summoned him, it was at the instance of God for what to say. You know God was the One who hardened the heart of Pharaoh to show forth His majesty and glory for all the earth to see and never forget!

Furthermore, all the ten plagues were bargaining tools used and deployed at God’s instances, yet Pharaoh refused to bulge because God was working on something better for the Israelites.

As all of these bargaining were ongoing, the people were being forced to work harder than before, but a general strike was already in place, and Pharaoh and his princes wondered where the effrontery of these “slaves” came from!

Additionally, when we examined the phrase “Let my people go, that they may hold a feast to me in the wilderness, or… that they may serve me,” it connotes wisdom approach in dealing or negotiating with the other party just like the ten plagues before the last one broke Pharaoh’s resilience, and he released his slaves of 430 years into their destiny.

What’s the wisdom here? The primary intention of God was to take the Israelites back to their Promised Land as a Covenant made with their forefathers! So, by not exposing the original intention to the enemies, the people were protected from being exploited or take advantage of by their captors.

Also, a cursory look at some of the compromises offered by Pharaoh is a classical example of bargaining in Labour Movements. First, in Exodus Chapters 8:28, Pharaoh offered “you can go and sacrifice to your God, but don’t go far away, do it just near me.” Moses refused this as it was contrary to what God intended for them.

Secondly, in Exodus 10: 8-11, Pharaoh offered that only men should go to the wilderness to worship their God, but this was blatantly refused.

Thirdly, in Exodus 10:22-26, Pharaoh offered that they can go and serve the Lord, but their herds of flock won’t go with them. Moses reiterated the importance of sacrifices that must be offered to the Lord from their flock, so he refused this offer point blank.

It was quite apparent from the above that Moses was indeed a replica of an uncompromising labour leader who demonstrated all the requirements of leading a Labour Movement of his days!

After the last and unprecedented bargaining chip from God, there was a great weeping in all the land of Egypt for there was not a home where there was not one person dead!

So, Pharaoh relented at last. He said to Moses, “Take your flocks and your herds,” he told Moses and Aaron, “and be gone” (Exodus 12:32). Exultingly, Moses led the Israelites out of Egypt, but Pharaoh tried to ambush the Hebrews near the “Sea of Reeds.” Moses spread out his hands and a strong eastern wind forged a path through the waters. As soon as Pharaoh’s chariots tried to pursue after them, the waters returned and Pharaoh’s army was drowned.

In the Wilderness Church, Moses confronted the people whom he had led out of Egyptian bondage on several menial issues, but all were resolved based on his constant recourse to God for instructions before acting. Besides, according to Numbers 12:3, Moses was an extremely humble leader and the people tasked his disposition to the utmost. Most Labour leaders in our contemporary society that demonstrated such virtue were successful at their trade of leading workers!


The Bible says Yahweh brought 10 plagues to bring Egypt to its knees and forced them to free Israel, but not before telling the Israelites to ask what they wanted of all their now subdued and terrified former Egyptian masters and neighbours. Exodus says “the Israelites plundered the Land of Egypt” as they left, and these details are supported by the Ipuwer Papyrus account, from the selfsame Middle Kingdom period, which detailed an Egypt suffering terrifying plagues from angry gods and the slaves eventually despoiling their masters and a land left in chaos.

We know the story of what happened next — Yahweh led the freed Hebrews down into Sinai after destroying Pharaoh and his army in the Sea Crossing event. This is supported by some of the remarkably Exodus-specific Proto-Sinaitic inscriptions found in the Sinai.

It is also true that Egypt was left in a state where the land was plague-ridden, civil unrest, famine-struck, when the large population upped and left. Pits upon pits of the dead were found by Manfred Bietak and his team, the dead being piled on top of one other hastily rather than buried in the Egyptian fashion. The 10th Plague was the Death of the Firstborns of Egypt, according to Exodus.

The recent discovery of a tiny lead curse amulet found on Mt. Ebal by modern Nablus — ancient Shechem, where the Patriarchs were buried — continues this pattern of evidence. The inscription on it hasn’t been fully released yet except for one word — the name of the Biblical God, Jehovah (Yahweh), spelled YHWH thereon. This identifies who made the inscription (an Israelite). The writing style identified it as from the same general period as the later Proto-Sinaitic inscriptions. The site where it was found has a direct connection to the account of Moses and his successor, Joshua, who was commanded to go to this mountain of Ebal and perform religious rites related to the Torah, reading aloud blessings for fidelity on Mt. Gerizim and curses for disobedience upon Mt. Ebal, where this tiny lead tablet which reads “Cursed, cursed, cursed — cursed is he of Divine Yahweh. Cursed he will die.” And then the same thing continues in reverse.


Moses, the man of God, freed the slaves and built a nation. It is of significance to note that of all the several writers of the 150 Psalms which included David and Solomon, it was only Psalm 90 written by Moses, that was approbated with “Moses, a man of God” as its heading. We can easily verify this in the Bible.

Moses had much to teach. I posit that he was able to engage in collective agreements that ensured that the Israelites had improved conditions by leaving Egypt for the Promised Land. This action also provided them (the workers) with protection, while proper management of their grievances were remedied as they arose on the way to their destination.

What’s your views about this piece. Share with me in the comment section.

_PS: This is the first part in a series of three articles reminiscence of Moses as a leader that many professionals and trades can learn a lot from in the course of their practice._


Related Posts

Leave a Comment