I have recently been thinking about what Moses says in chapter 1 verse 10 in his eponymous book: “Now, for this cause I know that man is nothing, which thing I never had supposed.” I’ve often thought this was a curious thing to say, at least to me it has long appeared obvious that man is nothing. So why was this news to Moses? As I considered the context in which Moses lived and wrote, I had a new idea.

Moses grew up in Egypt, which even in his day was an ancient civilization, one that achieved heights of architecture, science, medicine, religion, population and land extent, military might, and durability that have seldom been equaled, even up to and including modern times. Moses performed many miracles in Pharaoh’s court, but many of them could be duplicated by Pharaoh’s magicians. By the miracles Moses performed, he knew that God was more powerful than the might of Egypt, but Egypt was still pretty impressive. And after the exodus, Egypt’s level of civilization could only have appeared even more impressive in comparison. Moses could only be more impressed at the heights of civilization that man could achieve.

So when God takes Moses on a whirlwind tour of the cosmos, and even then God has to hold back to avoid blowing his mind, it must have really put all of man’s achievements in perspective. Compared to this, man really is nothing.