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YEAR A: PENTECOST 25
October 23, 2011
Deuteronomy 34:1-12

We jump over almost three books of the Pentateuch for todayís reading. Last week we read of Moses wanting to see Godís glory, only to be hid in the rock and get a glimpse of Godís back, for Godís face Ďshall not be seení (Exod 33:23; see Pentecost 24). After that episode Israel received further law through Moses while at Mt. Sinai, and eventually left the mountain in Numbers 10. Moses led the people quickly to the border of the promised land, but at the report of the spies the people baulked at entering the promised land. They complained and God was angry at them (Numbers 13-14). They were then destined, under Mosesí leadership, to wander a further forty years in the wilderness until the rebellious generation had passed away. Only Moses, Joshua and Caleb remained of that generation.

At the end of Deuteronomy we find Moses, now a very old man, on the east bank of the Jordan with the second generation of the exodus about to enter the land. Moses has been addressing the people at length (Deuteronomy), reinforcing the law and the need for obedience as the way to live in the long awaited land of promise. For Moses, however, there will be no personal experience of this. He, like most of his generation, will not be permitted to enter the land (cf. Deut 1:37; 3:23-29; 32:48-52). But he will be permitted a glimpse of the land and that, together with Mosesí death, is the subject of todayís reading.

The lengthy description of the land in Deut 34:1-3 is meant to impress upon the reader the extent of the land promised by God. If you have stood at the top of Mt Nebo and looked over the Jordan, you will realise that, even on a very clear day, not all that is described would actually be visible to Moses. What he Ďseesí in the story is the fullness of Godís promise, and it is far more than he is able to see literally. Without pushing the analogy too far, this has been the case all along. Mosesí Ďvisioní has been inspired by the spirit of wisdom with which he has been gifted and which he will now pass to Joshua (v. 9) rather than the limits of his own vision. This latter has been clouded at times with his own uncertainty (Exod 33:12-23).

Moses is lauded in a number of ways within this passage. Not only is he given a Ďvisioní of Godís gift beyond what he can himself see, he dies and is buried in an unknown grave on the mountain (v. 6). This is a sign of Mosesí special status, a status which he shares in later tradition with Elijah (cf. 2 Kgs 2:1-12; and Matt 17:3 and parallels). His standing is further underscored by reference to his unimpaired sight and unabated vigour, in spite of his age (v. 7). Leaders of renown were considered in the ancient world to be marked by their physical attributes (cf. Saul {1 Sam 9:1-2} and David {1 Sam 16:12}). Finally, we are told that no prophet like Moses has arisen in Israel (cf. Deut 18:15), considering the mighty works he has been involved in, and that the Lord has known him Ďface to faceí (v. 10). But all these wonderful works are in their own way a celebration of the Lordís work through Moses, which is now coming to an end.

Even with such honours, the fact remains that Moses is constrained by the limits of human life and divine decision. He will not be permitted to see the promised land (v. 4). The point is made here (as well as in the stories of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, mentioned as the recipients of Godís promise of land {v. 4}), that those who lead Godís people, intercede for them and reprimand them when they transgress, the true servants of the Lord (v. 5), do not necessarily see the fulfilment of Godís promise. This may not seem just to us on Godís part, and we may not like to have to live with the mystery of Godís actions, but we should note that Mosesí part in Godís purpose for his people is now over. He has led the people from Egypt and given them the law. They will now have Joshua to follow who will have a different task. They have the law which will guide them in the future as Moses has done in the past. Faith in Israelís God might mean leading his people toward a vision that will, at the end of oneís calling or life, still remain a vision for the future. It will be the task of the leader to prepare the people for that vision, keep it ďvisibleĒ for them and ensure that there are those who are willing to take up the task. It may also be the task of the leader, as in the case of Moses, to die ahead of their people in order that they too may understand that they live under a vision that transcends us all.

Psalm 90

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