The Founders' views on Faith: Day 3

America’s Prophet: How the Story of Moses Inspired the Founding Fathers

by Bruce Feiler


Author, America’s Prophet: Moses and the American Story


America’s Prophet: Moses and the American Story

A few years ago, I set out looking at the role of Moses in inspiring generation after generation of Americans.  I had just returned home from a decade retracing the bible through the Middle East for a series of books called Walking the Bible, Abraham, and Where God Was Born, and was interested in how the Bible helped shape America.

I sailed on Plymouth Harbor, where the Pilgrims compared their journey to Moses; I retraced the Underground Railroad where “Go Down, Moses” was the national anthem of slaves; I climbed the Statue of Liberty, whose spikes of light and tablet were taken from the moment Moses comes down Mount Sinai with the Ten Commandments; and I donned the robe Charlton Heston wore in The Ten Commandments

But nothing surprised me more than how central Moses and the story of the Exodus were to the Founding Fathers.

As the Continental Congress gathered in Philadelphia in 1776, comparisons with the Exodus filled the air.  From politicians to preachers, many of the rhetorical high points of the year likened the colonists to the Israelites fleeing Egypt.  The Liberty Bell has a quote from Moses on its side, “Proclaim Liberty thro’ all the Land to all the Inhabitants Thereof – Levit. XXV 10.”  Thomas Paine invoked the analogy in Common Sense, the best-selling book of the year.  Samuel Sherwood made it the centerpiece of the year’s second best-selling publication, The Church’s Flight into the Wilderness

And on the afternoon of July 4th, after passing the Declaration of Independence, the Continental Congress asked John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, and Benjamin Franklin to come up with a public face of the new United States.  They chose Moses.

Three of the five drafters of the Declaration of Independence and three of the defining faces of the Revolution proposed that Moses be the face of the United States of America.  In their eyes, Moses was our true founding father.

But how did this happen exactly?  How did the reluctant leader of Israelite slaves end up as the favorite son of the founding fathers?  In short, how did Moses become the hero of the Revolution? 

The themes the Founders drew from the Exodus were similar to the ones the Pilgrims and Great Awakening preachers had emphasized: freedom is a God-given right; God promises liberation to the oppressed; God freed the Israelites from Egypt, he can do so for the colonists.  But the new generation of Exodus-lovers went further, insisting that the Bible expressly rejects the British form of government, the divine right of kings, and endorses the kinds of freedom the patriots were proposing.  In 1775, Samuel Langdon, the president of Harvard, said Americans should adopt the form of government that God handed down to Moses on Sinai.  “The Jewish government,” he wrote, “was a perfect republic.”

Thomas Paine’s Common Sense invoked the Moses story to make similar attacks on the English political system.  Paine was the anti-religious zealot who continually cited religious examples.  He hated Scripture but quoted it relentlessly, showing the enduring power of the Bible even for Deists.  In Common Sense he cites Gideon, Samuel, and David, to show how the Bible argues against kingship.  And he calls King George III the “hardened, sullen tempered Pharaoh of England.”  By contrasty, Paine never quotes Locke, Voltaire, Rousseau, and Bacon, the pantheon of Enlightenment thinkers.

The pace of Mosaic references seemed to escalate as Independence drew closer.  The seeds of biblical promise first hinted at by Columbus in 1492 and planted by the Pilgrims in 1620 finally appeared to be reaching full flower in 1776.  Like Moses, the country was prepared to stand up to the most powerful force in the world and declare, “Let my people go.”

“I think what’s important about all this language,” said Tim Safford, the preacher of Philadelphia’s Christ Church and a student of the Revolution, “is that these leaders were using the Bible to convince themselves they were free.  They’re not that biblically pure; often they’re not that religious.  But they’re using these stories to build the case that they’re justified in standing up to the Crown.  You’re individuals, they’re saying to the Colonists.  You’re children of God.  You’re no longer subject to the king.”

“So you don’t think this reliance on the Exodus is unusual, or over-the-top?” I asked.

“The founders were otherworldly to a great degree,” he said, “but generally they were hugely influenced by rationalism and pragmatism.  For them, this whole notion of deliverance was a practical matter.  They weren’t looking for the freedom of Christ in the next world, they were looking for the freedom of Moses in this world.”

“So they wanted the story to be true.”

“It certainly seems that way.  John Adams sailed multiple time to Europe.  Benjamin Franklin did the same.  They were willing to risk everything because they believed in something.  And what they believed is that you should sacrifice your own fat-and-happiness for something far greater than yourselves.  That is an Old Testament narrative.  You risk.  You don’t look back, or you’ll end up a pillar of salt like Lot’s wife.” 

“Do you believe,” I said, “that pilgrims could have gotten on that ship, or the Founders could have signed the Declaration –“

He cut me off.  “The only reason they could have done that is because they had a narrative larger than their own lives.  A narrative of God delivers me through the Red Sea.  A narrative that if you’re lost in exile, you can remain holy.  A narrative of life is stronger than death, love is more powerful than hate.  If you do not have a narrative larger than the world gives you, you’re just going to get sucked up by the world.

“The question to ask about the Founder is not whether they believed in the Bible,” he continued, “it’s Are you going to live by the narrative you find there?  The Pilgrims, George Whitefield, even Benjamin Franklin I would say, trusted the narrative.  They believed God would deliver them.  They never sunk into the pure limitations of rationalism, that the world was only what they could perceive.  They always seem to be fueled by a reality they couldn’t see.  And because of them, that narrative became America’s narrative.”




Bruce Feiler is the New York Times-bestselling author of nine books, including Walking the Bible, Abraham, and the recently published, The Council of Dads.  This article is adapted from his book America’s Prophet: Moses and the American Story, which Glenn Beck called “the best book of narrative history I have ever read....  A fantastic book. I cannot recommend it highly enough.”  For more information, please visit www.brucefeiler.com or www.facebook.com/brucefeilerpage.

Canadian clinical psychologist, author, and cultural firebrand Jordan Peterson is no stranger to cancel culture. Ever since he was thrust into the culture war, he has faced one controversy after another, stirred up by the woke elites who hate him with a passion. But although they have tried to make him pay for speaking out so fearlessly against their message, he refuses to back down and he believes you should, too. He joined "The Glenn Beck Podcast" this week to explain why.

"There is a growth of the reluctant hero in all stories ... so many people think that they don't have what it takes, that they're not the hero," Glenn said to Peterson. "How do you get people to recognize and then have the courage to stand? You've taken a beating ... why is it worth it and how do you get there?"

"I think it's worth it because I believe the alternative is worse ... to stay silent when you have something to say," Peterson replied. "You don't know what it is within you that requires your voice, right, because you feel like 'I have something to say.' Where does that come from exactly, that feeling that you have something to say?

"Maybe you're disgruntled at work and you're choking on your own bile because the situation is not just in your estimation," he continued. "You're dying to say something, but you won't. Well, you'll die if you don't say it. Maybe it's a death by a thousand cuts. I don't like deferred punishment. I'd rather take it now and keep the future clean, which is why I encourage people to have the fights now, not to hide things in the fog for later. They grow and metastasize. It's better to confront what you need to confront when it's small and you have some possibility of victory."

Watch the video clip below to catch more of the conversation, or find the full podcast with Jordan Peterson here:

Want more from Glenn Beck?

To enjoy more of Glenn's masterful storytelling, thought-provoking analysis and uncanny ability to make sense of the chaos, subscribe to BlazeTV — the largest multi-platform network of voices who love America, defend the Constitution and live the American dream.

Top officials at the Federal Reserve are doing what they can to sugar coat what's ahead for our economy, telling Americans we may hit a "transitory" period of inflation that will settle by 2022. But Bank of America is saying something different. The bank's latest earnings call commentary warned "at the very least" transitory hyperinflation is ahead.

Watch the video clip below to hear Glenn Beck explain what this means for prices and for our economy.

Want more from Glenn Beck?

To enjoy more of Glenn's masterful storytelling, thought-provoking analysis and uncanny ability to make sense of the chaos, subscribe to BlazeTV — the largest multi-platform network of voices who love America, defend the Constitution and live the American dream.

Straight from the Marxist con of critical race theory are three big lies about "systemic racism" in America that are debilitating to our nation: the lie that policing in the U.S. is thoroughly racist, the lie of voter suppression, and the lie of equity as the solution to solve "racism." Despite the evidence disproving these lies, they grow stronger, thanks to Democrats and activists with selfish interest in these narratives, who, along with their media partners, spread the sinister message that everything in America is racist by default and only massive government intervention can save us from ourselves. President Biden, Vice President Harris, Chuck Schumer, Nancy Pelosi – every Democrat on the national stage sees racism in literally everything at this point.

In this precarious time for America, Glenn Beck and North Carolina Lt. Gov. Mark Robinson join together with data and the truth to fight back against the race-baiters ripping us apart.

Watch the full episode below:

Want more from Glenn Beck?

To enjoy more of Glenn's masterful storytelling, thought-provoking analysis and uncanny ability to make sense of the chaos, subscribe to BlazeTV — the largest multi-platform network of voices who love America, defend the Constitution and live the American dream.

America has always been the land of the free. But as the line fades between the socialist, woke Left, and the Democratic Party that controls our government, are we diving headfirst into Marxism?

On his BlazeTV exclusive show, Glenn Beck spoke with Li Schoolland, who grew up under Mao's cultural revolution in China, and never did she think she would see the same warning signs in America. But now, she has a horrifying warning for us all.

Watch the video clip below:

Want more from Glenn Beck?

To enjoy more of Glenn's masterful storytelling, thought-provoking analysis and uncanny ability to make sense of the chaos, subscribe to BlazeTV — the largest multi-platform network of voices who love America, defend the Constitution and live the American dream.