Uniform Lesson for October 9, 2022
Scripture passage and lesson focus: Deuteronomy 32: 3-6, 10-14, 18
Last week, three women broke the rules so that Moses’ election by God could bear fruit. This week, Moses sings his final song to the people he helped carry through the wilderness on the way to the Promised Land. Watch out when preachers sing or preach their final sermons! They can either sound like rhapsodies as preacher and parishioners celebrate the providential times they have spent with one another and with God or they can sound like diatribes as the preacher unloads on the congregation all the ways the people have failed her and, by implication, God. This final song of Moses falls somewhere in the middle. It begins with the good news of election, shifts toward an all-out judgment regarding lack of faithfulness and ends with a turning toward compassion grounded in the heart of God. This is surely a song to remember!
Moses begins with the good news of election
The song begins with the sweet and mysterious good news that Israel is elected by God out of all the nations (v. 8). God is a rock, whose “work is perfect” and whose “ways are just” (v. 4). God is also the rock who gave birth to Israel, which stretches and breaks gender boundaries (v. 18). God has nursed Israel with honey and fed Israel with “the choicest wheat” and “fine wine from the blood of grapes”
(v. 13-14). God’s people have been chosen out of all the nations of the world. They have been birthed, nurtured and led by God every step of the way through the wilderness. Thanks to God’s providence, they have not only survived but grown “fat, bloated, and gorged” (v. 15). If Moses’ song ended here with God’s people celebrating their election, birth and discipling at the hands of the God who loved and chose them, this would be a valedictory song to remember and cherish, long after the singer was gone.
The song changes tune
However, there is a little word that occurs early on in Moses’ final song to God’s people. Right after the opening chorus regarding God’s perfection, God’s justice and God’s consistent refusal to engage in deceit, we hear the adversative conjunction “yet”: “yet [God’s] degenerate children have dealt falsely with [God], a perverse and crooked generation” (v. 5). Where, oh where, did our sweet and celebratory song go?
The deep mystery of this final song by Moses centers on the paradox of a chosen people who spurn the very election, nurture and guidance they’ve been given. Let’s remember that not long ago these people were slaves in Egypt. Their existence was so precarious their leader Moses only survived because of the shrewdness and courage of three women. Now after years in the wilderness, they are not only still moving forward but they have grown fat and happy under the constant provision and care of their God. And it’s there, right there, that the story runs off the rails.
Somehow, some way, this Sunday we must spend some time pondering this paradox. How does our election lead to our rebellion and our refusal to acknowledge who has brought us on our way? The deep truth of Deuteronomy and Moses’ final song is this: it is not the wilderness that threatens the faith of God’s people, it is success in the wilderness that is the threat. Success leads to confidence in the Promised Land, leading to a rejection of the God from whom all good gifts come. “Remember!” Moses preaches throughout Deuteronomy (v. 7). Why? Because he and we know we won’t remember: then or now. As another song points out: “when we are strong, Lord, leave us not alone; Our refuge be” (“God our Life,” Hugh Thomson Kerr, 1916). God provides. We forget and rebel.
Forgiveness is the good news
If this song was up to human beings, it would probably end here with God’s people running off in search of more manageable gods and more impressive nations. But God not only has God’s character to protect, God’s compassion is finally more enduring than God’s righteousness (v. 27). “Indeed the Lord will vindicate [God’s] people, have compassion on [God’s] servants)” (v. 36). As a later prophet also sang, God’s ways, finally, are not our ways (Hosea 11:9). Hallelujah! The only thing more powerful than God’s perfection and lack of deceit is God’s compassion. When all else fails and the story seems over, God’s heart recoils within God and God’s compassion “grows warm and tender” (Hosea 11:8). Now that is a song to remember and celebrate. Thanks be to God.
Would you sing Moses’ song in a major or a minor key?
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