George Santayana said, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” Santayana may have said it, but God and Moses knew it; and they were worried that Israel was going to forget. So, just prior to handing over the leadership completely to Joshua and crossing the Jordan River, Moses gives Israel a bit of an historical review of the last 40 years.
One of the first things that Moses began with was his appointment of other leaders to judge the people. And one of the most important and memorable things that he tells them in his charge to them to be fair and just was, “You shall not fear man for the judgment is God’s.” That was important information for the judges, certainly; but it was important for the people to hear, too. They needed to realize that it was God’s judgment and not up for changes or alterations. Those facts are important for us to know, too. Those who articulate God’s word (including His judgments) need to be careful not to soften them, because they are God’s. And those who hear God’s word need to be careful not to “shoot the messenger”, because even if the messengers do soften the message, the message is God’s and it won’t change how He judges us. Indeed, isn’t that one of the lessons of this history of Israel in Deuteronomy?
Moses also wants them to remember their history in the wilderness about what happened to all their enemies: as long as God was with them, one enemy fell after another. This was going to be a crucial remembrance for them as they marched across the Jordan. The only time they lost was when God had consigned them to wandering after the 12 spies incident, but they decided to try to enter anyway. And God hasn’t abandoned His people today either; the “defeats” we suffer are uniformly when we ask selfishly (see James 4:3) or when we fail to pray in faith as defined by Jesus in Mark 11:24.
One really poignant moment in this reading, I thought, was when — on the cusp of entering the land — Moses pleads to God to rescind His judgment against Moses’ disobedience by keeping him out of the Promised Land. “Let me, I pray, cross over and see the fair land that is beyond the Jordan, that good hill country and Lebanon.” Deuteronomy 3:25, NAS95. Moses’ the great intercessor for the people was trying to plead his own case. But God answered, “Enough! Speak to Me no more of this matter” (Deuteronomy 3:26, NAS95), though God does let him see a panoramic, if tantalizing view of it from Mt. Pisgah on the east side of the Jordan River. God’s great nature of justice and mercy is here shown dramatically toward His friend (Exodus 33:11), Moses. Let no leader of God’s people be fooled, God’s rules apply to leaders as well as they apply to the people.
See you tomorrow, Lord willing.