Friday, January 29, 2010

Deuteronomy 27-34: A Big Decrescendo before the Climax

So here we are, the Law has been reiterated, Moses is about to die, and the Israelites are about to go into the Promised Land under the direction of Joshua.  Everything builds up, and then there's this major let-down before the ending.

First of all, Moses tells the people that when they get to the Promised Land they are to go up to Mount Ebal and Mount Gerazim (which are conveniently right next to each other) and write down all the blessings of God on Gerazim and the curses of God on Ebal.  Then there's a list of all the curses - e.g. ";Cursed is he who dishonors his father or mother.' And all the people shall say, 'Amen.'"

In chapter 28 we read the blessings that will be written on Mount Gerazim, which are the blessings for obeying God.  It's pretty thorough.  Then to counter that, we read all the curses that will happen if the people do not obey God; it's the reverse of every one of the blessings, plus some more elaboration.

In chapters 29-30, Moses makes a covenant with Israel to obey God, and he tells them again what will happen to the people who disobey God - and then tells them that they are going to disobey God as a nation pretty soon, but that when they turn back to Him, He will restore them from all the curses they're going to bring on themselves.  He beseeches them to "choose life in order that [they] may live."

So here comes the let-down.  In chapter 31, God tells Moses that the people are totally going to turn away from Him and that He is going to be angry with them and bring all those curses He promised on them, and He tells Moses to teach the people a song as a witness to them.  He also has Moses write the words of the Law down at this point.

Chapter 32 is the song of Moses, which basically states the greatness of God and everything He did for His people Israel, and how they turned from Him and as a result, He removed His blessing from them, and how He avenges all of His enemies.  At the end of that, God tells Moses to go up to Mount Nebo to see the Promised Land before he dies, and reminds him that he's not going in because of his own stubbornness and disobedience.  Major bummer to be reminded of that right before you die, right?

So that's the low point.  In spite of all the hype, God totally knows that Israel is not going to remain faithful.  And Moses, being the smart cookie that he is, knows it too.  The good thing is, God promises redemption and restoration; He's not going to turn His back on Israel forever.

In chapter 33, Moses blesses Israel tribe by tribe.  Some of the tribes, like Levi and Joseph, get long blessings, and some of them, like Reuben and Dan, get really short two-liners.  But each blessing is personal to that particular tribe, and it reminds me of when Jacob blessed his sons one at a time before he died.

So then Moses climbs Mount Nebo and God shows him the land he promised to Abraham.  I have to think that this was a really incredible, beautiful sight to Moses.  Imagine pouring more than forty years of your life into a goal, and finally being able to see it, even if you can't touch it.

What's really weird is what happens next.  Moses dies up on the mountain, but it appears that God is the one who buries him - it just says "He buried him," and nobody else is mentioned as having gone up with Moses, and furthermore, it says that nobody knows where Moses' grave is.

A lot of people say that Joshua or somebody wrote this last part of Deuteronomy, but I don't really think so, because it's written as if it's been a long time since Moses died.  Listen to this:  "Since that time no prophet has risen in Israel like Moses."  Doesn't it seem like there would have been a lot of prophets between Moses and the writing of this epilogue?  I don't know, maybe Joshua wrote it when he was really old.

Anyway, remember how I thought Abraham and Aaron got good epigrams?  Moses' is the best.  Check this out:

"So Moses the servant of the LORD died there in the land of Moab, according to the word of the LORD.  And He buried him in the valley in the land of Moab, opposite Beth-peor; but no man knows his burial place to this day.  Although Moses was one hundred and twenty years old when he died, his eye was not dim, nor his vigor abated.  So the sons of Israel wept for Moses in the plains of Moab thirty days; then the days of weeping and mourning for Moses came to an end. [. . .]

"Since that time no prophet has risen in Israel like Moses, whom the LORD knew face to face, for all the signs and wonders which the LORD sent him to perform in the land of Etypt against Pharaoh, all his servants, and all his land, and for all the mighty power and for all the great terror which Moses performed in the sight of all Israel."

Wow!  That is a lot to be said about somebody, especially by God - since God inspired the Bible, including these words here.  You know, Moses was kind of a screwy person sometimes.  He didn't want the job God called him to do, and he fought and kicked against it; he appears to have had marital problems, and he had a bad temper that led him to disobey God once or twice.  But you know, that stuff can be said about anybody.  Moses was a great man not because he was a man without fault, but because he was a man God used.  Face it, we all screw up.  We all have personal problems and family problems and whatever other kinds of problems, but that doesn't mean that God can't use us.  I guess what I've learned from the story of Moses is that when God decides to do something, He goes all the way.  Just go with it.  If God wants to use you for something, don't fight Him about it.  You may not think you're qualified - and you may be right - but I don't think God particular cares what we're qualified for.  Whatever holes we have in our resume, He is perfectly capable of filling.  If we are on God's side, then even a problematic human like you or me or Moses can do extraordinary things.

1 comment:

Michelle said...

thank you for this