Tuesday of week 19 of Ordinary Time – First Reading

Commentary on Deut 31:1-8

We come to the last part of Deuteronomy which tells of the last days of Moses. Today’s reading deals with handing on the baton of leadership to Joshua.

Moses knows that his end is near. He tells the people that he is already 120 years old (probably not to be taken too literally) and no longer capable of being their leader. This is not a reference to any physical disability. The reason is that God has forbidden him to lead the people into the Promised Land. "You shall not cross this Jordan." This was the punishment of his sin, his lack of trust in Yahweh’s protection of his people. (We read about this in last Thursday’s reading, Num 20:2-13.)

The people need not fear because Yahweh will be with them as they conquer the land. "He himself will destroy and dispossess these nations confronting you." And he gives his encouragement to Joshua who will take his place as their leader.

Yahweh will treat the resident peoples as he treated Sihon and Og the Amorite kings and their country – he wiped them out. He will put the resident peoples at the Israelites’ mercy and will deal with them exactly as laid down by the commandments he gave.

Moses passes on Yahweh’s message to the people: "Be strong, stand firm, have no fear, do not be afraid of them, for Yahweh your God is going with you; he will not fail you or desert you." The Lord’s exhortation is often given through his servants to the people of Israel. So also to Joshua, to Solomon and to Hezekiah’s military officers. By trusting in the Lord and obeying him, his followers will be victorious in spite of great obstacles.

Then Moses summoned Joshua in the presence of all the people and told him also to be "strong and firm". He would have the privilege of leading the people into the land which Yahweh long ago had sworn to his ancestors he would give to his people. And he has no need to worry because Yahweh will show the way, will be together with his people and not let them down. "Have no fear; do not be alarmed."

Reading this account, it is difficult sometimes not to feel that we have here to some extent a rationalisation of their entering someone else’s territory and taking it by force from its legitimate inhabitants, pagans though they may have been. The same questions arise in the establishment of the State of Israel in the last century and even more so in the establishment of the settlements beyond its internationally recognised borders.

The history of the Church also is not without examples of "God’s will" being used to justify behaviour that later seems altogether unacceptable.

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