One: the format
I’m almost to the end of Deuteronomy. Moses is wrapping up his speeches to the people and gives a command for the law to be read aloud every seven years at the time of the debt cancellation. Every seven years, everyone was to assemble to hear the law. They were to learn to fear God and to carefully follow all the law. This practice also to allow their children, who didn’t know the law and didn’t see God’s deliverance, to learn about both.
This seven year practice made me think about how the Torah is packaged. Stories and more stories make up most of the books. The minds of humans are made for good stories. They are sticky. We can’t easily toss them off. Even the laws are sandwiched between stories that illustrate the need for them (see the second half of Exodus and the book of Numbers). God’s character is shown in how He acts and His actions are recorded in stories. The law, like all law codes of the time, was more about principles than legislation pulled out and followed to the exact letter at the appropriate time.
The first five books of the Bible might not be our favorite to read. But what if we couldn’t read them? What if we didn’t have books and we weren’t literate? What if instead the stories of God working in the midst of humanity were passed down in this format? It would probably be just what we needed then. I’m thinking of adapting how I teach my kids these stories too.
Two: the transitions
In this chapter, Moses is handing the baton to Joshua. Moses is 120 years old. He knows he is not going into the Promised Land. There’s a theme in this handoff. Moses tells the people “be strong and courageous.” Moses tells Joshua before the people, “be strong and courageous.” And the Lord tells Joshua, “be strong and courageous.”
If you asked me what chapter talked about being strong and courageous, I wouldn’t say this one. I would reference Joshua 1. But these two chapters are tied together with this idea of transition. Whatever problems the people had with Moses through their journey in the wilderness, their leader is leaving. They are getting a new one. However bored they might have been wandering through the desert, they are leaving this familiar and comfortable place. It’s time to go to battle. It’s time for something new. I imagine that these humans are like most humans. Humans like the familiar, even if the familiar isn’t great. New things are scary. Transitions are hard. Panic and fear can rise to the top. No doubt they could catastrophize with the best of us. Yet, they are given a simple directive: be strong and courageous.
For a moment, I considered the context and the command and realized it applied to me too. This is a period of transition for myself and for my family. Perhaps it is for you as well? In my mind I stood up tall. “I am a strong and courageous woman.” And in some sense, that is true. But I quickly came back to my true size, realizing that all my feelings and self-talk will only go so far, which is to say, not far at all most days.
God tells them why they can be strong and courageous. “The Lord your God is the one who will go with you; he will not leave you or abandon you” (31:6). “The Lord is the one who will go before you. He will be with you; he will not leave or abandon you. Do not be afraid or discouraged” (31:8). “For you will bring the Israelites into the land I swore to them, and I will be with you” (31:23) It is not that the Israelites were to have good self talk but that God was going before and with them. God wouldn’t leave. God won’t leave us either.
God won’t leave. God walks before me. God walks before you. Because of that, I can be strong and courageous. The Israelites could be strong and courageous. You can be strong and courageous. God’s presence makes that possible.