Friday, March 11, 2011

Swan Song

Previously we discussed how God knew that the Israelites would stray from Him, and how God would curse them and send them into exile for punishment, but would eventually bring them back to Israel when they again turned to God.

In the next chapter, Deuteronomy 31, Joshua is named as the heir to the position of leadership which is now held by Moses. Moses reminds the Israelites to completely kill all of the Promised Land's present inhabitants and to obey God's Law. God then tells Moses again that the Israelites will soon stray from God and His Law, and so God gives Moses a song to have all of the people memorize as a witness against themselves...

Swan Song
Time is drawing to an end for Moses. Now, on the border of a country which God has sworn that he will never enter, it is time for Moses to give one of his last performances as leader of the Israelites, his swan song. Fortunately for Moses, God is a song writer, so He has provided Moses with just the song for the occasion. God wants all of the Israelites to memorize and sing this song; a song about (among other things) the horrible fate awaiting later generations of Israelites in their upcoming, inevitable rejection of God (Deuteronomy 31:19-21).

Like any epic tune, God's song begins with an introduction in Deuteronomy 32:1-4. In case you have difficulty figuring out what to think of God's character, God Himself affirms that His works are perfect works, that His ways are just, and that He does no wrong (Deuteronomy 32:4). Ergo, we know that man is perfect (created by God) and that this covenant with the Israelites was perfect (sorry Hebrews 8:7), that killing someone for picking up sticks on the wrong day is true justice, and that there is nothing wrong with the practice of entrapment.

Then the soul of the song opens with God being disgusted at how the Israelites have repaid Him (Deuteronomy 32:5-6). God recounts how He changed the man Jacob (Israel) from a state of insignificant destitution into a great and richly prosperous nation in the Promised Land, only to have that nation turn its back on God while turning to idol worship instead (Deuteronomy 32:7-18).

With that section is the interesting verse of Deuteronomy 32:9:
For the Lord's portion is His people, Jacob His allotted inheritance. NIV
Contrary to Christian mantra, what God gets, what God keeps, is not anyone who walks in His ways. His people, Jacob, a.k.a. the Israelites, a.k.a. the Jews are God's allotted inheritance. Nobody else.

Moving on in the song, because the Israelites have rejected God, God rejects them (Deuteronomy 32:19). Parents should keep this in mind when they get to raising those troubled teens, because God's ways are just.

This is not some passive rejection where God simply stops giving His children an allowance of blessings. God illuminates that hand-in-hand with His rejection comes His wrath. The Israelites will be invaded by a pagan nation, have their harvests stolen and their cities destroyed, be ravaged by pestilence and plague, be attacked by wild animals and snakes, and be slaughtered by the sword (Deuteronomy 32:20-25). Again, parents, I hope you are taking notes of God the Father's exemplary behavior.

Next we find that God really wants to kill all of the Israelites, but the trouble is that the pagan nation which God will make conquer the Israelites will not understand. If all of the Israelites are wiped out, that nation might think that God was not the reason for the Israelites' prior prosperity (Deuteronomy 32:26-33).

This is a subtle yet devastating blow to a branch of Christian theology known as Typology. They see Moses as a type of Jesus; playing out different roles and actions which would be echoed and completely fulfilled by Jesus. One of those roles is for intercession to stay God's wrath, as Moses managed to keep God from killing all of the Israelites twice before; once for their making of a gold cow and once for their being afraid of the Promised Land's inhabitants. So too, Jesus intercedes on believers' behalf to prevent them from tasting God's wrath. Yet these verses show that intercession is not necessary. God is willing not to completely annihilate the Israelites simply to protect His reputation. If only He could protect His reputation from Himself.

No good deed goes unpunished. As the song concludes, we find that God will punish this pagan nation to prove that only He is God and to take vengeance on them for enacting God's vengeance on the Israelites (Deuteronomy 32:34-43). Sure, that makes sense.

Deuteronomy 32:43, the last line of the song, is particularly interesting:
Rejoice, O nations, with [God's] people, for [God} will avenge the blood of His servants; He will take vengeance on His enemies and make atonement for His land and people. NIV
An affront to foreshadowing Christianity, God will make atonement for His people and His land. That land? The Promised Land. Israel. Zion. The Jewish God is concerned with preserving the little patch of actual Earth which He so dearly loves as well as saving people, while the Christian God is only concerned with people; going to whisk the lucky ones off to Heaven, or to a new Earth (depending on the flavor of Christianity).

In an overly redundant theme, the chapter then continues first with a plea for the Israelites to obey God's Law, because the words of the Law are “not just idle words, they are your life”(Deuteronomy 32:44-47). Of course, this is a blow to foreshadowing Christianity too, unless you obey Jesus instead of the Apostles on the matter.

The chapter closes out with God telling Moses to go up on Mount Nebo to die (Deuteronomy 32:48-52). There is a curious expression we find in Deuteronomy 32:50-51 where God says:
“There on [Mount Nebo] that you have climbed you will die and be gathered to your people, just as your brother Aaron died on Mount Hor and was gathered to his people. This is because both of you broke faith with me in the presence of the Israelites at the waters of Meribah Kadesh in the Desert of Zin and because you did not uphold My holiness among the Israelites.” NIV
The phrase “gathered to your people” is vague enough to open interpretation. As far as I can tell, unanimously Christianity believes this to be some indicator of the knowledge of the afterlife even in the Bible's (debatably) earliest scriptures (used first in Genesis 25:7-8). The exact details of what it means are not so unanimous.

I could be wrong, but I think that a connection to the afterlife as Christianity knows it is an incorrect interpretation altogether. Why? I base it on a couple factors.

First, in the Christian sense of the afterlife, once the Saved die (such as Moses) they are essentially in paradise with Jesus at that moment. (There are some that say the dead sleep until a final resurrection, in which case, to the dead, it would seem like an instantaneous event.) In that sense, death is practically a reward. Death, where is thy sting? Yet from the text we see that God intends for this death to be a punishment for Moses for breaking the faith.

Second, notice how Moses will be gathered to “your people” while his brother was gathered to “his people.” Why are Moses and Aaron being gathered to different sets of people when they are in the same family and (presumably) both Saved?

Instead, I offer this alternative: Perhaps “gathered to your people” is a euphemism for a funeral proceeding. “Your people” are specific to the ones who would mourn for you, which would explain why Moses and Aaron had different people. This may also be connected with a status of cultural veneration of patriarchs which have died, which ties into the Genesis 15:15 verse where God tells Abraham that he will go to his fathers (plural, not possessive) in peace.

This interpretation appears to be more in line with the text early in the Bible, because there is absolutely no specific mention of eternal afterlife in the early books. Instead you find consequences within the physical, temporal world left as an inheritance for later generations. Surely an eternal reward or punishment would have would have been more important to record than whether or not you went to your people after you die. By that omission, it appears that no such afterlife belief was held.


  1. What is amazing to me is that I've read these passages and had a lot of these questions and just dismissed them assuming a lack of knowledge or understanding on my part. Somehow a preacher can read these passages and twist the text to harmonize with Christianity. There are some really good acrobats out there.

  2. No kidding! I am wondering if belief is more akin to watching stage magic. We all know the magician does not really saw the woman in half, but we all love the illusion, and for that love we are willing to suspend our disbelief.