In the record of Moses’ last words, in the book of Deuteronomy, we can hear the urgency with which this great prophet addressed his people. Moses, knowing that he was not going to enter the promised land, agonized over his people’s faithlessness to God. His worry is certainly justified. Countless times on the way from Egypt, the people murmured against the Lord or against Moses and Aaron. It was the people’s lack of faith that sentenced them to a generation of living in the desert, and Moses’ own punishment of exile from the promised land arose from his frustration with these stiff-necked people. Even so, Moses loved them. He loved God’s people and constantly prayed for them, begging the Lord to forgive them time and time again. The Book of Deuteronomy, this last address of Moses to the Israelites, is his final instruction, his final pleading with the people to be faithful to the Lord.
In the midst of reminding them of the laws and ordinances of the Lord, even repeating the Ten Commandments, Moses emphasizes the love God has demonstrated for his people, a theme that we often forget pervades the Old Testament. Moses said, “It was not because you were more in number than any other people that the Lord set his love upon you and chose you, for you were the fewest of all people; but it is because the Lord loves you, and is keeping the oath which he swore to your father, that the Lord has brought you out with a mighty hand, and redeemed you from the house of bondage” (Deut 7:7-8).
Moses draws for the Israelites, and indeed for us, a conclusion that is especially moving. God chose his people because he loves them. In a mysterious way, the stubbornness of the Israelites serves to highlight this point. There are countless reasons for God not to love them: they were sinners, and even when the Lord forgave them, they turned away from him again and again. They murmured against him, complaining that he ignored what they found important. Then they grumbled against his ministers and spurned the gifts he offered. The Israelites did all these things, and we often struggle with them too. Even though their example is not one we should follow, it offers us hope, because God never ceased to love them, and we can have faith that God does not stop loving us either.
If Moses could say then, “What great nation is there that has a god so near to it as the Lord our God is to us, whenever we call upon him?” (Deut 4:7), how much more can we say it today? The Father has sent his Son as Savior of the world, who continues to dwell in our midst in the Eucharist. The Son asked the Father and they sent and continue to send the Holy Spirit, pouring him into our hearts. God is near to us, so let us ask him for the grace to be near to him.
Image: James Tissot, Moses and Joshua in the Tabernacle