The Signs of Moses

The following monitorial instructions on the Signs of Moses appear on pp. 123-127 of “The Book of the Chapter” by Albert G. Mackey.

The reference in a previous part of the degree to the Burning Bush, where God first made his true name known to Moses, has prepared the mind for the reception of those other revelations of the divine interview, in which the Deity communicated to the patriarch those miraculous signs by which he was to convince the people to whom he was to be sent of the truth of his mission. And hence we now begin to recite from the books of Moses the account of the establishment of these signs. The symbolism is here worthy of attention. As these signs were ordained by their divine author to establish the authority of the mission in which the Jewish lawgiver was to be engaged in rescuing his people from the darkness of Egyptian idolatry, and in bringing them to the knowledge and worship of the true God, so are they here symbolic of’ the evidence which every mason is to give of his mission in rescuing himself from the bondage of falsehood and in searching for divine truth.

Symbolism of the Serpent.

“And Moses answered and said, But behold, they will not believe me, nor hearken unto my voice: for they will say, The Lord hath not appeared unto thee. And the Lord said unto him, What is that in thine hand? And he said, a rod. And He said, Cast it on the ground: and he cast it on the ground, and it became a serpent; and Moses fled from before it. And the Lord said unto Moses, Put forth thine hand, and take it by the tail. And he put forth his hand and caught it, and it became a rod in his hand. That they may believe that the Lord God of their fathers, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, hath appeared unto thee.” — Exodus 4:1-5.

The serpent has always been considered by masonic writers as a legitimate symbol of Freemasonry, and yet it is singular that in the whole ritual of the York rite this is the only instance in which any allusion is made to it. In the other masonic systems it is, however, repeatedly referred to. Dr. Oliver says that, “amongst masons it serves to remind us of our fall in Adam and our restoration in Christ.” These events are symbolically represented in masonry by the loss and recovery of the word. Hence the reference in this place to the symbol of the serpent must in this view be considered as peculiarly appropriate.

In the course of these ceremonies reference is made at different times, to three important constructions in Scriptural history, namely, the three arks and the three tabernacles.

Here our attention is invited by memorial words to the first ark, the ark of safety, which was constructed by Shem, Ham and Japhet, under the superintendence of Noah, and in which, as a tabernacle of refuge, the chosen family took temporary shelter until the subsidence of the waters of the deluge. [That the ark of Noah was also a tabernacle of Jehovah is the opinion of many learned biblical commentators. Dr. Jarvis, speaking of the zohar, which in our common version of Genesis 6:16, has been translated “window,” says, “I take it to have been the Divine Shechinah or glory of Jehovah, dwelling between the cherubim, which were now brought from their place at the east of Eden, as the ark afterwards was from the Holy of Holies of the Tabernacle into the Holy of Holies of the first Temple.” — Jarvis, Samuel. Church of the Redeemed, vol. I. p. 20, note 8.]

Symbolism of the Leprous Hand.

“And the Lord said furthermore unto him, Put now thine hand into thy bosom; and he put his hand into his bosom; and when he took it out, behold, his hand was leprous as snow. And He said, Put thine hand into thy bosom again; and he put his hand into his bosom again; and he plucked it out of his bosom, and, behold, it was turned again as his other flesh. And it shall come to pass, if they will not believe thee, neither hearken to the voice of the first sign, that they will believe the voice of the latter sign.” — Exodus 4:6-8.

Here, again, in the hand becoming leprous and being then restored to soundness, we have a repetition of the reference to the loss and the recovery of the word; the word itself being but a symbol of divine truth, the search for which constitutes the whole science of Freemasonry, and the symbolism of which pervades the whole system of initiation from the first to the last degree.

And here we have an allusion to the second ark and tabernacle, the ark of the covenant and the tabernacle in the wilderness, which were constructed by Moses, Aholiab and Bezaleel, as we find recorded in Exodus 36:2, “And Moses called Bezaleel and Aholiab, and every wise-hearted man in whose heart the Lord had put wisdom, even every one whose heart stirred him up, to come unto the work to do it.” And in a previous passage (31:1-7), “And the Lord spake unto Moses, saying, See, I have called by name Bezaleel, the son of Uri, the son of Hur, of the tribe of Judah, and I have filled him with the Spirit of God in wisdom, and in understanding, and in knowledge, and in all manner of workmanship, to devise cunning works, to work in gold, and in silver, and in brass, and in cutting of stones to set them, and in carving of timber, to work in all manner of workmanship. And I, behold, I have given with him Aholiab, the son of Ahisamach, of the tribe of Dan, and in the hearts of all that are wise-hearted I have put wisdom that they may make all that I have commanded thee: the tabernacle of the congregation, and the ark of the testimony, and the mercy seat that is thereupon, and all the furniture of the tabernacle.” [The reference at this place which is made in some chapters to Adoniram, who was one of the craftsmen at the temple of Solomon, and the mixture of his name with that of two of the sons of Noah who lived almost two thousand years before him, is so preposterous an anachronism, as to prove that it is a palpable innovation, at first introduced by some ignorant ritualist, and perpetuated by subsequent carelessness. It cannot be explained on any principles of symbolism; it is supported by none of the writers on Royal Arch Masonry, all of whom here make the reference to the constructors of the tabernacle and ark of the testimony; and it is absurd and nonsensical, and therefore manifestly not masonic. These three rules—the fitness of symbolism, the allusions and authority of learned writers, and the absence of absurdity, are excellent ones for judging in all disputed questions of ritualism where the nature of oral tradition deprives us of any others more direct.]

Symbolism of the Water Turned to Blood.

“And it shall come to pass, if they will not believe also these two signs, neither hearken unto thy voice, that thou shalt take of the water of the river, and pour it upon the dry land: and the water which thou takest out of the river, shall become blood upon the dry land.” — Exodus 4:9.

The last miraculous sign by which Moses was to establish his authority and to prove his mission among the Jews and the Egyptians is here recited. Masonically it bears the same symbolic reference as the other two, to a change for the better—from a lower to a higher state—from the elemental water in which there is no life, to the blood which is the life itself—from darkness to light. The progress is still onward to the recovery of that which had been lost, but which is yet to be found.

And here we find an allusion to the tabernacle erected for temporary worship by Joshua, Haggai and Zerubbabel, and to that imitative ark for whose history we are traditionally said to be indebted to the exertions of those illustrious personages.

The full text of Mackey’s monitorial instructions on the Royal Arch Mason degree may be found at:

Royal Arch Mason from Mackey’s “The Book of the Chapter”