Posts Tagged ‘Moses’

2 SAMUEL 7:1-14a

Now when the king was settled in his house, and the Lord had given him rest from all his enemies around him, the king said to the prophet Nathan, “See now, I am living in a house of cedar, but the ark of God stays in a tent.” Nathan said to the king, “Go, do all that you have in mind; for the Lord is with you.”

But that same night the word of the Lord came to Nathan: Go and tell my servant David: Thus says the Lord: Are you the one to build me a house to live in? I have not lived in a house since the day I brought up the people of Israel from Egypt to this day, but I have been moving about in a tent and a tabernacle. Wherever I have moved about among all the people of Israel, did I ever speak a word with any of the tribal leaders of Israel, whom I commanded to shepherd my people Israel, saying, “Why have you not built me a house of cedar?” Now therefore thus you shall say to my servant David: Thus says the Lord of hosts: I took you from the pasture, from following the sheep to be prince over my people Israel; and I have been with you wherever you went, and have cut off all your enemies from before you; and I will make for you a great name, like the name of the great ones of the earth. 10 And I will appoint a place for my people Israel and will plant them, so that they may live in their own place, and be disturbed no more; and evildoers shall afflict them no more, as formerly, 11 from the time that I appointed judges over my people Israel; and I will give you rest from all your enemies. Moreover the Lord declares to you that the Lord will make you a house. 12 When your days are fulfilled and you lie down with your ancestors, I will raise up your offspring after you, who shall come forth from your body, and I will establish his kingdom. 13 He shall build a house for my name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever. 14 I will be a father to him, and he shall be a son to me.

In a time when the gods of other tribes and nations were represented in idols and established in sacred shrines and temples, Yahweh, the deity rediscovered by Moses in the mountains of Sinai, was acknowledged as being not only non-representable but also unwilling to settle down inside the more permanent structures of religion.

Yahweh had cautioned the exodus community against fashioning graven images of the divine likeness. And since the early experience of God took shape during an event of radical transition, as the people were moving from one place to another, the presence of Yahweh needed to be ‘portable’ and not tied down to location. In the forty years of wilderness wandering, Yahweh’s dwelling was a movable tabernacle, and whenever Moses needed to consult the oracle of the deity he went outside the boundary of the camp to the tent of meeting and waiting for God’s word.

There we have some of the essential history behind the conflict between David’s desire to make for God a more permanent dwelling place (temple) and God’s refusal to be clapped up inside a building. David’s intention was innocent enough, and we notice that even the prophet Nathan thought it was a good idea at first. It’s always more convenient to have a place where God stays put.

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DEUTERONOMY 34:1-12

Then Moses went up from the plains of Moab to Mount Nebo, to the top of Pisgah, which is opposite Jericho, and the Lord showed him the whole land: Gilead as far as Dan,all Naphtali, the land of Ephraim and Manasseh, all the land of Judah as far as the Western Sea, the Negeb, and the Plain—that is, the valley of Jericho, the city of palm trees—as far as Zoar. The Lord said to him, “This is the land of which I swore to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob, saying, ‘I will give it to your descendants’; I have let you see it with your eyes, but you shall not cross over there.” Then Moses, the servant of the Lord, died there in the land of Moab, at the Lord’s command. He was buried in a valley in the land of Moab, opposite Beth-peor, but no one knows his burial place to this day. Moses was one hundred twenty years old when he died; his sight was unimpaired and his vigor had not abated. The Israelites wept for Moses in the plains of Moab thirty days; then the period of mourning for Moses was ended.

Joshua son of Nun was full of the spirit of wisdom, because Moses had laid his hands on him; and the Israelites obeyed him, doing as the Lord had commanded Moses.

10 Never since has there arisen a prophet in Israel like Moses, whom the Lord knew face to face. 11 He was unequaled for all the signs and wonders that the Lord sent him to perform in the land of Egypt, against Pharaoh and all his servants and his entire land, 12 and for all the mighty deeds and all the terrifying displays of power that Moses performed in the sight of all Israel.

Traditionally the first five books of the Bible (Pentateuch) are attributed to Moses, who was supposed to have authored them during his busy campaign of liberating the Hebrews and leading them to the Promised Land. This passage in particular is often cited in challenging Mosaic authorship, since it contains a reference to the death of its author! How could Moses write about his own death, where he was buried, and how his reputation lived on?

Of course, even pre-modern commentators had noticed this strange detail, but questioning the authenticity, integrity, or logical coherence of the Bible didn’t become a serious issue until the modern period. It was then that new critical methods of literary research started encouraging treatment of the Bible as a collection of writings ranging from history, prophecy and apocalypse, to poetry, legend and myth. As scholars looked more closely at the texts, different theological traditions started bobbing to the surface.

The current theory recognizes at least four major traditions behind the so-called Book of Moses, each one with its own concept of God, worldview, and moral agenda. At various production points, these occasionally conflicting voices were blended together, with different stories and texts stitched at the edges to give the impression of continuity. Still, clues remain: two creation myths, two flood stories, two originally rival names for God (Yahweh and El), two competing vocations (prophets and priests), two models of society (nomadic and agrarian), all the way down to a discrepancy over who supposedly killed the giant Goliath (David or Elhanan).

All of this makes the Bible much more “messy” than how it seemed when single authors were given credit for larger sections or “books” – or still today when authorship of the entire Bible is attributed to God. Messy, maybe; but much more human as well. Some will even agree that it makes the Bible more approachable, more interesting, and more relevant when we can (or are allowed to) see the signs of human insecurity, fallibility, and prejudice, alongside the insight, wonder, and hope stained in its pages.

MATTHEW 2:13-23

13 Now after they had left, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, “Get up, take the child and his mother, and flee to Egypt, and remain there until I tell you; for Herod is about to search for the child, to destroy him.” 14 Then Joseph got up, took the child and his mother by night, and went to Egypt, 15 and remained there until the death of Herod. This was to fulfill what had been spoken by the Lord through the prophet, “Out of Egypt I have called my son.”

16 When Herod saw that he had been tricked by the wise men, he was infuriated, and he sent and killed all the children in and around Bethlehem who were two years old or under, according to the time that he had learned from the wise men. 17 Then was fulfilled what had been spoken through the prophet Jeremiah:

18 “A voice was heard in Ramah,
    wailing and loud lamentation,
Rachel weeping for her children;
    she refused to be consoled, because they are no more.”

19 When Herod died, an angel of the Lord suddenly appeared in a dream to Joseph in Egypt and said, 20 “Get up, take the child and his mother, and go to the land of Israel, for those who were seeking the child’s life are dead.” 21 Then Joseph got up, took the child and his mother, and went to the land of Israel. 22 But when he heard that Archelaus was ruling over Judea in place of his father Herod, he was afraid to go there. And after being warned in a dream, he went away to the district of Galilee. 23 There he made his home in a town called Nazareth, so that what had been spoken through the prophets might be fulfilled, “He will be called a Nazorean.”

Already in the opening chapters of Matthew’s story we become aware of the guiding archetype (creative image) in his portrait of Jesus. His story is intentionally shaped according to the narrative figure of Moses.

The narrow escape in infancy from the murderous plans of an imperial ruler, a visionary experience in the wilderness where his mission is tested and confirmed, a miraculous victory over the sea, the revelation of a new ethic (commandments/beatitudes) from a mountaintop, his message of God’s kingdom, his provision in ratifying a covenant between God and the community, and his central role as liberator – such are merely the broad strokes of comparison between the Moses of old and the New Moses in Jesus.

Some of us begin to get nervous when we learn that there is no historical record whatsoever of Herod the Great’s pogrom against male infants in or around Bethlehem. And when we are made aware of the significant discrepancies between the nativity stories of Matthew and Luke, we might begin to question the truth and reliability of their conflicting “reports.”

In Luke, for instance, Jesus is born in a Bethlehem manger behind an inn with no vacancy, while Matthew tells us that Joseph and Mary had a house address in Bethlehem. Luke has to get the unborn Jesus from Nazareth to Bethlehem, simply because Bethlehem was in the prophecy of the messiah, and Nazareth – well, he was called Jesus of Nazareth after all. Who’s right? The non-logical answer is that they both are, depending on the story you’re in.

                                                                                                 

The reader may believe that all this comparing and contrasting of the Nativity stories in Matthew and Luke only raises the possibility for confusion and a crisis of faith. Why push us to an edge where we must make a choice between one or the other, or even discard them both as ungrounded fictions?

We should note, however, that this was never the claim. The point is that we don’t have to choose one or the other, and furthermore, that they are not ungrounded fictions at all. They are indeed grounded fictions, and the ground in this case is not historical fact but spiritual truth.

Underneath the dramatic action of Matthew’s story is his personal conviction that Jesus is the New Moses. And just as Moses was the heroic liberator of God’s people from their bondage in Egypt, so is Jesus the one who sets people free from their spiritual captivity to guilt, fear, and futility.

Moreover, as Moses revealed the covenantal principles of the Law, so also did Jesus reveal the principles of a New Covenant – this time not based on the logic of retribution (“and eye for an eye” or “you get what you deserve”) but of forgiveness (“Your sins are forgiven!”). It is as if Jesus is recapitulating the life of Moses, but at a spiral turn higher up, so that salvation history is seen as shifting to a new level of fulfillment.

As long as our critical relationship to these stories is held to the task of determining (or denying) their factual reliability we will be prevented from stepping through the narrow gate of a deeper understanding.