Friday of Week 18 of Ordinary Time – First Reading

Commentary on Deuteronomy 4:32-40

Today we begin the first of five readings from the book of Deuteronomy, the last of the five books of the Pentateuch. The book has a distinct plan of its own. It is a code of civil and religious laws (chaps 12 – 26:15), with a long discourse of Moses for its framework (chaps 5-11 and 26:16 – chap 28). The whole is preceded by a first Mosaic discourse (chaps 1 – 4:43) and followed by a second (chaps 4:44 – 28:69) and a third (chaps 29 – 33:29). This is followed in its turn by sections dealing with the last days of Moses: Joshua’s mission, the long canticle of Moses, the blessings he pronounces, his death (chaps 31-34).

According to the Jerusalem Bible:

”The code of Deuteronomy is in part a resumption of the laws proclaimed in the desert. Its discourses commemorate the great events of the Exodus, of Sinai and of the early stages of the Conquest; they explain the religious meaning of these events and appeal for fidelity to the Law whose importance they emphasise.”

The book was written long after Moses’ time and consists largely of an updating of Moses’ original teaching. Today’s reading is taken from the first of the three long discourses attributed to Moses which form the greater part of the whole book. It speaks of the unique privilege the Israelites have had. Moses asks the Israelites if any other people have had such extraordinary experiences of their God as they have. Was there ever a word so majestic spoken from one end of the heavens to the other?

Did ever a people hear the voice of the living God, speaking from the heart of the fire, as they have heard it and remained alive? Did it ever happen before that any god took one nation out of another, one through ordeals, signs, wonders and war with a mighty hand and outstretched arm, and fearsome terrors? We think here of the demonstrations of God’s power as in the ten great plagues of Egypt. All of this God did for the Israelites before their very eyes.

Yahweh’s purpose was to show that he was the true God and there is no other. We have here something new: an explicit assertion of the non-existence of other gods. The Decalogue simply forbade the worship of foreign gods. The God of the Israelites was the God of Abraham, of Isaac of Jacob and, at an earlier period, distinguished from the gods of other peoples. These had long been regarded as inferior to Yahweh, impotent and contemptible, but their existence was not denied. But now a new level in understanding has been reached: these gods simply do not exist.

In order to teach his people, Yahweh made them hear his voice from heaven; on earth they were allowed to see his great fire; from the heart of the fire they heard his words. They saw his presence among them in the cloud and the fire. Because of his great love for their ancestors, Yahweh chose their descendants and brought them out of Egypt. They saw the wonders of that liberation.

He went further and showed his might and power by dispossessing nations larger and stronger than they were. A reference to the people they had to overcome in taking possession of Canaan as the Promised Land:

He brought you out of Egypt with his own presence, by his great power, driving out before you nations greater and mightier than yourselves, to bring you in, giving you their land for a possession, as it is still today. (Deut 4:38-39)

So the people should reflect on this:

…that the Lord is God in heaven above and on the earth beneath; there is no other.

This is a re-assertion of the uniqueness of God. Because of that, the people are to keep the laws and commands that Moses has given them so that they and their descendants may live long in the country that the Lord has given them for ever.

Perhaps our lives and our experiences with God have not been marked with such dramatic signs, but if we reflect a little, we will soon realise that he has done wonders in our lives. Let us recall these today, be truly thankful, and respond with loving and unconditional praise and service. Our Faith is both a gift and a privilege.

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