Last week, I finally finished Deuteronomy, and it was bittersweet. Instead of plunging into Joshua, I’ve been meditating on what it’s meant to spend the past four months immersed in the Pentateuch. For one thing, I feel a sense of personal accomplishment, diminished only by the daily emails reminding me of how far behind I’ve gotten from my 365 day pace. The best I can, I try to delete the emails before the guilt grabs me, knowing that my determination is worth more than my speed. If it takes three years, it takes three years. I hope that those of you have stayed on target, or who are lagging behind less flagrantly, will forgive my tortoise-like expedition.
The completion of Deuteronomy has also provided me with an abstract sense of the wholeness of the Pentateuch/Torah/Books of Moses. If you quizzed me on what I’ve read, I’d be hesitant to make a wager on how I might score. I’ve absorbed some facts and juicy details, but more importantly, I think, I have ingested the rhythm of the entirety. As we’ve encountered in our reading, and in my imperfect commentary, wholeness cannot (especially in this circumstance) be synonymous with singularity or even consistency. But, I think I can feel the editorial urgency of the composition, if that makes any sense at all. The broadest message of who God is, who the people are, and how God and the people are in relationship, has been initiated. We’ve witnessed the ‘genesis’ of Creation; the ‘genesis’ of a people; and the ‘genesis’ of a journey. None of these things has happened easily, which provides a little comfort for me, because I’m not sure I could find a home in a religion that professed ‘ease’ as a founding characteristic. And then there are the major characters- the flawed heroes and heroines of the story. The preservation of a hero’s eccentricities and blatant disobediences was purposeful, and I am intrigued by the generations of editors who kept these stories as they are- ambigous, ambivalent, unsavory- because there is a deeper truth to be learned that way.
The end of Deuteronomy is dramatic. Moses (who lost his right to enter the Promised Land when he tried to steal a little extra glory at Meribah- Numbers 20:1-13), dies in the land of Moab after climbing to the peak of Mount Nebo to take in the sweeping panorama of the land God would provide for the people. Bittersweet, right?
And bittersweet for the reader who has also had to witness the violence and capriciousness of both God and humanity, set disjointedly alongside heartbreakingly tender passages of God’s love and mercy.