We will not see his like again. The funeral cliche. But of Moses it was true. The amazing leader, the one who spoke face to face with God. Humbly, from the inevitable mountable top, he views the land he will never reach, and it’s buried in a grave that is lost. They morn for 30 days and, with Joshua as leader, move on.
Jesus said the last shall be first in his kingdom. Moses, the rescued baby, the exiled killer, the reluctant spokesman, who pleaded with God for his faithless people over and over in the desert. The most humble the most unlikely, he left no physical memorial to his own greatness, he was all about God.
Moses’ song. Like the book it contains beauty and terror.
The greatness of God is contrasted with the lousiness of the Israelites. It’s not a sentimental song.
Their history is one of letting him down. Their future is being given great victories over the enemies God will judge, and then being judged themselves for squandering God’s grace by following other Gods.
It ends by predicting that God will always stay faithful to a remnant of Israel.
The song is not really a summary of the law, it’s a picture of God’s judgment and grace. These characteristics of God sit uncomfortably together. But understanding them is vital to get the significance of Jesus.
Then sadly, Moses climbs a mountain to glimpse the land he will not inhabit because of his own sin. Few biblical characters have more grace, yet his judgment is unblinkingly recorded.
Grace costs. God is not a softy, who papers over evil, he looks at it, and recognises is destructive power. He fixes it, absorbs it, painfully.
New section. We’ve had all the rules now committing to them and the transition of leadership to settle the holy land.
They take a moment of silence and the priests declare them to be God’s people.
First thing they will do is climb two mountains. Mountains equal meeting God.
One will be for curses, one for blessings.
The curse mountain has all the law written on some of its stones, and an altar for sacrifice also piled up of its uncarved stones.
They’ll do a fellowship offering, ie: one that celebrates God’s presence rather than removing sin. And they will formally declare that rejecting God, being greedy, unfair, uncaring to the vulnerable or sexually immoral will bring God’s curse.
It is a marker, a baseline, a resolution they will be able to look back on and test their society against. When they are deep in an argument about tribal boundaries, they will look back on this moment and remember declaring before God as a nation that they would be cursed if they ever did this.
I don’t remember becoming a Christian, I don’t have a moment of dedication of my life to God. Like the Israelites who would be born in the promised land, I have the choice to accept or forget every day the faith I was handed down by my parents. I pray for my children, and my witness to them.
Lest there be any doubt….
High on a mountain, overlooking the Israelites camp, Balaam continues to tell the Moabites king that the Israelites are blessed and chosen by God and it would be futile to try and fight them.
Balaam drops his theatre of divination which is his stock in trade and goes into a transcendental spirit filled state where he sees God’s truth. He launched into another pean of praise for Israel.
Balak, the Moabites king get angry at that point, but Balaam reminds him that he said all along he would tell the truth, before he even agreed to come and give his message to the king. He didn’t mention that he had a conversion experience during the journey where his donkey persuaded him to actually do it.
The king sends balaam away, but before he goes, for good measure he gives a fourth, fifth, sixth and seventh message from God about how disastrous it will be if they challenge the Israelites. 7 messages for the 7 sacrifices they offered in the last chapter.
I absolutely love this story. Praise God for such an example of the foolishness of trying to defy him. The is grace and humour in it.
But I fear the Moab king will be to proud to listen.
Ok you see here how gutsy Balaam was required to be to tell the truth to the Moab king.
He’s expected to sign off on God’s being on Moab’s side in the war. And then he can have lots of treasure.
Three times he sacrifices 7 X2 animals in seven altars. Then asks the lord for guidance, then gives the moab king beautiful extravagent poetry about how futile it is to come up against the God of the Israelites.
The Moabites king asks him why he didn’t just shut up. Why say anything? Balaam is apologetic, but has to tell the truth…
It’s really a heroic example of faith. I should bear it in mind next time I’m tempted to pull my punches talking about God.
Moses smashed the stone tablets with the law on them back in chapter 32 when he came upon the people apostate. So now he and God do it all again.
The smashed law was the sign of god’s abandonment of them, now Moses take new blank tablets he made himself for God to write on. First was all God, this includes Moses’ participation.
So god makes his promise again and shows his love and compassion to precious, faithful Moses. After that Moses’ face shines, and he has to wear a veil to stop people staring.
The warnings have started about the promised land. They must not comprise with the local religions. I already know that only partially works.
So here are the people who will actually make all this stuff. It’s a celebration of artisanship, the spirit of God is on them. Their ability is god given.
Then the Sabbath, the seventh day of rest that still defines our week. The seven day week appears to have been simultaneously adopted by Jews Babylonians and Greeks, and spread very early to Asia. It is a promise, a sign, of god’s attachment to the people, but harsh too… Pain of death if you don’t rest. Jesus said the law brings death.
Then the tablets of stone written by god’s finger. There is something about the theatrical smallness of that, from the creator of the world, I find extraordinary. I shouldn’t be surprised of course, he made butterflies as well as volcanos and planets.
And he invented tickling. He’s the master of context. He made our sense of delight and awe. He could have turned us into robot slaves, or destroyed us of course. He went with props.
He gave the law written in stone to show us it was important. Like giving children ice-cream with a cherry on top.
Another list chapter largely. 11 and 12 are examples of practical ministry. Everyone is involved, all part of the team. We get the full time religious workers here, and the tin tacks of how they will be supported.
Interestingly the musicians are very important. They are recalled from surrounding lands to Jerusalem and build themselves villages (must have been the cool part of town).
The theatre of the wall dedication involved two huge choirs, starting standing on opposite parts of the wall and moving to meet at the house of God. That must have been something.
Everyone is mucking in and doing their bit. God is at the centre of the culture and everyone’s core life. It’s actually a gripping picture of Christian community.
It’s a freeze frame, a snapshot in the family photo album. Everyone is listed by tribe, who was there in Jerusalem at the completion of the walls, when Jerusalem is again God’s city, for the Jews with its own identity defined by walls to keep it strong.
It sets the scene for 8 where Ezra will read the law, an act of rededication.
Problem is that life goes on. There is precious little in the wonderful task-oriented focus and clarity of Nehemiah (so far at least) to talk about the eventual fall of the physical Jerusalem, once again, and the future destruction of the temple.
Let alone the glorious doctrine of the temple of God being each believers body, or the eternal new Jerusalem, built by the blood of the lamb who is god made flesh and populated by people of all nations.
The last book I read was Daniel. It was shot through with all that. He was always in a state of deep disturbance about his apocalyptic visions. He experienced the saving power dramatically and concretely, but it came with visions that said all the here and now is ultimately to be overwritten by much larger plans of God, part if which will involve hardship.
Still for the people who were there on the auspicious day of the completion of the wall, they got the joy of knowing they had done god’s will, completed his unambiguous mission here on earth. It happens sometimes, and it is to be enjoyed.
The climax of 3 chapters of visions is the mindblowing vision of Michael, will has been likened to Christ or an archangel, some agent of God, announcing the end of the worst of tribulations for the people of God. We have the book with names written in it, the book of those who are God’s people. And we have the dramatic resurrection of the dead, the earth shaking and erupting. They are delivered and the shine bright like the stars of heaven for ever and ever. The Jews are in mourning, the premise seems to be dead. Their lands taken and the temple gone.
Daniel gives a short term and long term answer, and is careful to be clear that the two are not the same by giving impossibly long time frames. The short term answer is yes, this will end and you will go back to Jerusalem. The long term answer is that god has a much bigger plan. Suffering will continue and be much worse than this, but salvation will be cosmic and eternal, much better than just getting the land and the temple back. God has a plan to save us for eternal life in his presence. The extra-earthly nature of God’s salvation is shown in the acts of power in the early chapters (fire can’t burn them and lions won’t tear them apart) sandwiched with visions and dreams of the impermanence of earthly kingdoms.