Large swath I cut, I know, specially right to the end of the book. There’s plenty to think about here, but I’m on a narrow, short track. Related to the previous post, Accountransparonestability,in many ways, this engine is on a quick trip to failure-land, which has a funny horizon of hope.
Notice how many times Moses says the word “stiff-necked” in Deuteronomy. Four times. Notice how he uses that word. He doesn’t use it as an adjective in past tense. It’s always present tense, be, are. He gives instructions on how to stop being stiff-necked, but Moses never says that some used to be stiff-necked. They were stiff-necked.
What does this all mean? Further along, in Chapter 31, God takes Moses and Joshua (the official replacement) aside for some intimate direction. There, in the tabernacle of meeting, God told Moses the first of the two things that struck me most out of this entire book.
“Behold, you will rest with your fathers; and this people will rise and play the harlot with the gods of the foreigners of the land, where they go to be among them, and they will forsake Me and break My covenant which I have made with them.” Deuteronomy 31:16
Those stiff-necked people were uncured. God intimated to Moses that no amount of reading-of-the-law, no amount of required 7-year meetings, sacrifice or regulation would prevent Israel’s turning away from their Lord. 30 long chapters, filled with glory and defeat, misery and elation, pleading, cajoling, reminding, castigating, loving and managing and giving and taking, all amounted to this – one – heartbreaking – statement. Can you imagine what was going through Moses’ mind right then?
I’m sure he knew all too well what his people could get into when he left. I’m also pretty sure Moses may have harbored some hope that his exhaustive (exhausting?) words over the past two months (my notes have what may have been January through February in 1405 B.C.) might have been of real impact to the people and that there might be some semblance of promise for them in the end. To hear that, on the surface, all that preaching was for naught, must have been pretty near devastating, especially to what amounted to a pastor who had shepherded his flock, through thick and thin, for a lifetime.
So heartbreaking was this, and probably unbelievable to most, that God gave Moses specific directions yet one more time to provide proof of the truth to his people in the form of a song. It’s darker than the popular dark songs of today. My darkest poem doesn’t hold much of a whisper to this tragedy. Here is Moses’ introduction:
“Take this Book of the Law, and put it beside the ark of the covenant of the Lord your God, that it may be there as a witness against you; for I know your rebellion and your stiff neck. If today, while I am yet alive with you, you have been rebellious against the Lord, then how much more after my death? Gather to me all the elders of your tribes, and your officers that I may speak these words in their hearing and call heaven and earth to witness against them.” Deuteronomy 31:26-29
Read the song (Chapter 32).
I looked back after finishing it, read again what God told Moses in 31:16. Shuffled through the reading of the Law and all that Moses spent those two months (TWO STRAIGHT MONTHS) covering with his people. It wasn’t just a list of “thou shalt, thou shalt not.” I think people only pay attention to the main TEN commandments. They’re great, and they’re the roots of everything else, but Moses did far more than just tell the people what steps to take. He explained those steps. He was giving directions on how to glorify God, to submit to him, to hold Him as sole Master and Lord, how to love one another, both strangers and brothers alike. These people had a distilled, two-month college course in human operations.
They would still completely screw it all up.
And so will I. I took Deuteronomy very personally. This book illuminated for me my own capacity to fail, to fall short. It really did bring to my attention my potential to turn away from God. There have been weeks, even months where every – single – day was an exercise in provoking God, corrupting myself, being perverse and crooked (the song, Deuteronomy 32:5). I saw it. The message here really is that I’m stiff-necked. I’m not going to follow the Law any more then those dimmies way back then.
Get this. I think I do. The only difference between the Israelites then and the pagan giants they would face on the other side of the Jordan was that God had CHOSEN THE Israelites. They hadn’t done, nor would they do, anything to deserve even their own desert island. Go back to 9:6…
“Therefore understand that the Lord your God is not giving you this good land to possess because of your righteousness, for you are a stiff-necked people.”
Me neither. I haven’t done anything to merit diddly. God picked me. I owe Him my life because He picked me up off the street, out of the gutter, when I was unclean, uncouth, unproductive, unfaithful and unholy. I’m no better now, except I have this little chit that says I’m saved. It has little more than a stampy seal, might as well be a goodonya gold star. What’s been done to me is a mystery, just as what God really did with Israel is mystery. One thing I know from reading (and they sure must have in listening), I owe my Lord big time.
But I’m gonna mess it up. The only difference between me and the guy down the street walking to the mosque is that I belong to God. Without that, I’d most likely be planning on holding Circle tonight with candles and incantations, or worse. It’s been over 5 years since I last practiced magic, and that’s just one thing I owe Him for. But I’m gonna mess it up. I am a stiff-necked kid.
So how do I get out of this downward, depressing spiral? How does the misery get replaced by joy?
I found it in the second part of Deuteronomy which struck me most. It’s in two different locations. Deuteronomy 31:16 again, and in 32:44 to the end of the book.
The short part: “Behold, you will rest with your fathers…” Moses wasn’t innocent. He’d screwed up too. He was banned from the Promised Land for his prior convictions. But God said “Behold, you will rest with your fathers.” There’s comfort at the end. I’ll bet Moses took a little while to digest that part, since the more immediate importance of the next part of the verse likely overwhelmed him. But when the teacher of Israel finally did recall the first part, I think he would’ve sighed, praised his Lord and been at peace with the fate of his people, for he was given hope, hope that maybe, just maybe his people might even enjoy at the end of their lives.
The other section? Read it. I have hope. Not because I hope I do, but because I know there is hope.
“Then the Lord spoke to Moses that very same day, saying: ‘Go up this mountain of the Abarim, Mount Nebo, which is in the land of Moab, across from Jericho; view the land of Canaan, which I give to the children of Israel as a possession; and die on the mountain which you ascend, and be gathered to your people, just as Aaron your brother died on Mount Hor and was gathered to his people; because you trespassed against Me among the children of Israel at the waters of Meribah Kadesh, in the Wilderness of Zin, because you did not hallow Me in the midst of the children of Israel. Yet you shall see the land before you, though you shall not go there, into the land which I am giving to the children of Israel.’” Deuteronomy 32:48-52
I don’t think there was a condescending tone in there. I hear a Father who had punishment promises to keep, but He didn’t get extra licks in. Moses’ last hours were spent in blessing the people of his life’s breadth and in taking the last breaths of his life in panoramic, God-guided view of the long-awaited Promised Land. Perhaps one final dusk and sunset, with the sun turning the hills and mountains to rose and gold, the waters darkening to mere sparkles, the great trees and plains losing their bright green, fading to the darkness. And he wasn’t alone. God was right there with him, pointing it out as Moses’ earthly story drew to a close.