25 November 2016Deuteronomy 32:44-52
“Take to heart all the words that I am giving … This is no trifling matter for you, but rather your very life.” (vv. 46-47)
Psalm: Psalm 57
This passage sums up Moses' legacy to Israel - the law and a song. It also explains why Moses did not himself enter the promised land of Canaan.
Verse 44 refers to the Song of Moses in verses 1-43. Verse 45-47, however, relate to Moses' recitation of the law in Deuteronomy 31:28 (which itself is an alternative story to Moses writing down the law and making provision, every seventh year, for it to be read aloud, in Deuteronomy 31:9-13).
Moses' burial place was unknown (Deuteronomy 34:6). Here, at verses 48-49, Moses' final act is to climb Mount Nebo, on the eastern side of the river Jordan, opposite Jericho. (In Deuteronomy 3:27, the mountain is referred to as Pisgah; in 34:1 the two names are alternates.) Aaron died on Mount Hor (verse 50), whose location is also uncertain.
Israel always found it puzzling that, after all Moses had done for them, he did not set foot in Canaan. The author of Deuteronomy keeps returning to the point (Deuteronomy 3:23-29; 4:21; 31:2; 34:4). A bit like the puzzle of why Churchill, the successful war leader, was not elected prime minister in the immediate aftermath of World War 2.
Verse 51 refers to Meribath-kadesh, in the wilderness of Zin. The very mention of this place triggers a deep and powerful memory in Israel's story. Here the people of Israel, during their 40-year wandering in the wilderness, lost their nerve. They could no longer trust God to care for them. So they moaned because they were desperately short of water. Moses and Aaron are held to account for the people's lack of faith. They are implicitly criticised for not saying to the people: 'Trust God; God will provide'. Instead they took the people's complaints to God, who then miraculously intervened to bring water out of a rock (Numbers 20:2-13). God's judgement on Moses and Aaron explains why they were allowed to see the promised land but not to enter it.
- The Book of Deuteronomy puts much emphasis on the interior life: 'taking to heart' the words of God's law - learning and memorising it, and trusting God's love through thick and thin. How much, in your experience, is that at the core of the Church's life? In the midst of difficult meetings, and complaints about the choice of hymns and music in worship, how can the Church recover this emphasis?
- Life is often cut short before a person's story reaches a 'natural' conclusion or before they achieve something to which they have devoted much energy and care. How do you make sense of such events? To what extent does the story of the death of Jesus help?