Moses dies, as God commanded him to. Seriously, back in 31:50, what the NRSV has as “you shall die there on the mountain,” is actually in the imperative form, so it should be something along the lines of “go die there on the mountain.”
Moses is 120. That’s the maximum age a person can be (Gen. 6:3) and since age was believed to be tied to virtue, that means that Moses was the maximum goodness a person could be. Is that in spite of his flaws? Is God blessing him with an age more than he deserves? Or do we deserve that much even with what flaws we have? That’s always the question in life, how much do we deserve and how much did we get by luck or by grace.
While Moses might be dying because he hit the maximum age threshold, it’s not because his health was failing, at least according to verse 7 (“his sight was unimpaired and his vigor had not abated”). He dies “at the Lord’s command,” and the Lord buries him, since no one else is around. No one knows where Moses is buried, and so it can’t become a pilgrimage site. Up until the end Deuteronomy sticks to its point about the temple being the only place worthy of that distinction.
This short chapter ends with power being transferred to Joshua, the namesake of the next book, so let me talk a little about the experience of reading through Deuteronomy. I’d never read it all the way through before, which is true of all the Pentateuch except for Genesis. But Deuteronomy felt different than the other books that came before it. With the exception of the the song and blessings at the end, this book felt much more unified. It may have been composed out of parts, but there was an agenda and a message written broadly throughout the entire work.
Unfortunately this was a message that sits very uncomfortably with me. To whit, everything from the outside has to be excluded or even destroyed; letting any of it mingle with us leads us to sin, which causes God to hate us, enjoy hurting us, and then maybe, maybe, forgive us later on.
So much of my understanding of Christianity and the Bible comes from those parts of the book that I’ve read in greater depths – the prophets and the New Testament, the parts that are more about social justice and all nations coming to God, and peace on earth, and God working through outsiders. I’d never really had to sit down and face the other side of the Bible, the side which, I think, those other parts were responding to.
When I reach the end of Deuteronomy and realize that the Sadducees, Jesus’ chief opponents, pretty much ended their scripture here, treating all the other parts of the Tanakh as secondary and ignoring any attempts made by groups like the Pharisees to interpret and modernize the laws… I get it. I get why Jesus pissed them off so much. I get why the Pharisees, comparatively more orthodox and exclusive, didn’t get along with them.
I also get, I think, where groups of very exclusivist Christians who fear outside influence and make little subcultural bubbles for themselves find their inspiration. If you look, yes, there’s Deuteronomy, saying that outsiders are bad and doing anything that departs from a strict norm is a slippery slope to heathenism. But to do so, you have to ignore other parts of the Bible that are opposed to Deuteronomy.
So what do you make of a canon like this, that is in argument with itself? I suppose one could take the dispensationalist approach, that things were revealed at one time that don’t apply to later times. Or you could do when Tientai did with the Buddhist canon, and view scriptures as geared to different levels of understanding.Unfortunately there’re no clear markers in this library of books to let you know where to make those boundary lines. Which is “higher,” which is “lower,” which is “now,” which is “then.”Which is why you need a lens. What do you read this mess through that brings it into focus? For Judaism, it’s the rabbinic tradition, the Oral Law. In Christianity, it’s Jesus. And this is Jesus’ Bible.If I feel horror at Deuteronomy, then maybe I’m actually getting a glimpse at how Jesus felt, how he thought, what motivated him to teach what he did.That feels somehow intimidating.
The Japanese: me (ga) kasumu “to get blurry vision, to get dim,” katsuryoku “vigor, vitality,” useru “to disappear” (v 7).