2015 Lent 6

Moses

Deuteronomy 9:4-12

Today we are confronted with another passage to which a skeptic might respond, “Aha!  You see there?  This shows God as a harsh taskmaster.”

Indeed, Moses tells the people of Israel that God will dispossess the inhabitants of the promised land so that the Israelites will inherit it, as God promised to their forefathers Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.  This sounds pretty harsh for those inhabitants.

And, indeed, Moses then tells Israel that it is not out of any merit on Israel’s part, no righteousness or uprightness of heart or anything else they have done (or not done).  For you, O Israel, were wicked, he says.  Remember?

Remember how you “provoked the LORD to wrath” in the wilderness, how you made an image when I was up on the mountain fasting and praying for forty days and nights like a good Lenten man of God should, and how God was so angry with you that “he was ready to destroy you?”  Remember that?

This sounds pretty harsh too.

And that’s where we leave off today’s reading.

And so the skeptic says, “Aha!

“And yet I thought Jesus was supposed to be all about love.  I thought he even told a parable about three stewards who were given lots of money and told to go make more.  But one of these guys buried the money in the ground because he thought his master was harsh.  And in the end it was the guy who viewed his master as harsh who was in the wrong.  So I thought we’re not supposed to view God as harsh.  But how can you see God as anything but harsh?”

Well, Jesus is all about love.

And Jesus did tell this parable.

And, yes, we shouldn’t view God as harsh.

But there’s also a bigger picture to keep in mind here.

Moses may have been struggling with some emotion as he spoke to the Israelites.  He was human, after all; and subject to occasional fits of temper.  (Recall the Egyptian he murdered; the suggested thumping at the watering hole where he met his wife; and striking the rock with his staff–to name but a few sample temper tantrums.)

And we might want to make some allowance for redaction.  (Admittedly, the doctrine of scriptural infallibility runs into a certain stickiness here; cf. “2015 Lent 3.”)

But beyond all these criticisms, isn’t the main message here that God cares for God’s people?

There’s a certain comfort in identifying myself as a Christian, one of God’s own.  Anything and everything I have has come to me by God’s good hand.  There’s nothing I have that has come about by my own goodness, righteousness, uprightness, talent, skill, good looks, whatever–without God’s hand involved every step of the way.  To flip this idea around, all the enjoyments, loving relationships, and, yes, even my material possessions–all the blessings I know and experience each day–come from God.

That’s the real message here.  And that paints God as anything but a harsh taskmaster!

But I’m sure Moses had a few hard edges.

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