21 November 2016

Deuteronomy 31:1-8

“It is the Lord who goes before you. He will be with you; he will not fail you or forsake you. Do not fear or be dismayed.” (v. 8)

Psalm: Psalm 54


These verses deal with succession in leadership. Moses - portrayed idealistically - has reached the maximum allotted span of human life (120 years; Genesis 6:3). Part of his leadership (for military and political affairs) now passes to Joshua. Moses' successor must be true to the faith and spirit of Moses, which is also embedded in the people (verses 7-8 parallel verse 6).

What shocks modern readers is the mission given to Joshua. The conquest of Canaan, inspired by the earlier and famous victories over Sihon and Og (kings in the territory to the east of the river Jordan and the north-east of the Sea of Galilee) must involve extermination of the indigenous population. The meaning of "the command that I have given you" (v. 5) is the 'ban', as in Deuteronomy 20:16-18. It is the thought-world today of so-called 'Islamic State'. We call it genocide.

Historians may note that the book of Deuteronomy comes from the 7th century BC. That may help to distance the text from our world. However, when Christians read this material in the context of prayer, we are charged to scrutinise everything through the 'lens' of Jesus on his cross. Our God never authorises crimes against humanity. God's love is dedicated exclusively to human well-being, to freedom and the release of energy for the support and service of our neighbours (especially the frail and vulnerable). God suffers (as on the cross) in today's killing fields. It is God's Spirit of love that is always with human beings which inspires the courage and commitment of those who, in the circumstances of hell, keep alive humane values and continue to believe in life and justice and hope for peace.

To Ponder

  • A key feature of leadership in any organisation is to embody and articulate its ethos. In the Church it is as likely to be expressed by members of the congregation as the formal leadership. In your congregation, who 'leads by example' in the way of Jesus?
  • We pray, say, for peace in Syria. How is our prayer turned into action? What can we do to help?
  • God's promise of an all-enveloping love, which casts out fear, keeps us inwardly serene and stable in our Christian lifestyle. Ponder occasions in your life when this conviction has been particularly important for you. 

Bible notes author

The Revd David Deeks

The Revd David Deeks is a retired Methodist minister. He has always focused on theology and spirituality as practical themes.