Introduction - this is the great poem/song that was introduced in the last portion. It warns, instructs, and it gives hope. It’s an amazing piece of sacred text. Let’s dig in.
I. Read 32:1-4. A. What do you make of Moses’ addressing the heavens and the earth? Does this resonate of something we learned in our study of the prophets?
(It’s as if Moses is saying, as we see in the prophets, that the heavens and the earth will serve as witnesses of our following or abandoning our covenant with God. How we live is witnessed in the world. This shows Divine pathos in that Moses is establishing a God-desired foundation in which consequences for our living outside of God’s way will be due to our straying, not to a cause beyond ourselves.
Some sages believe differently, that this is designed to suggest that there are different types of people who are heaven-oriented and others who are earth-oriented, and that this language simply means that all should attend to Moses’ words.)
B. What do you make of all the images of water in this teaching?
(Isn’t this as if water flows from Moses’ speaking, as it was to have been when God instructed Moses at the rock? Look at verse 4. God is the Rock (tzur) from which Moses draws the inspiration and instruction. Perhaps there is an element of Moses doing teshuvah at the very end of his life. He does beautifully and powerfully what God commanded, to draw forth the most important water for the people, principally the nurturing or sustaining support of, or that which strengthens the spirit, and from the great Rock.)
C. And what do you make of the verse on the water that flows and how it flows?
(It’s as if the water comes in different ways to meet the different needs of different people, or, said another way, to meet all our needs.Young growth may require more gentle rain or dew. Grass may do best with a steadier rain. To vegetation, that is, that which is more firmly planted (those who may be more learned or rooted?), the best water may come in the form of more pelting, penetrating rain.
There are several views of these differentiations among the sages and other observers over time. One recalls a lesson we’ve learned before: all these sorts of rain are dependent upon the people living in God’s way. )
II. Moses continues to worry about that which can lead the people to stray and abandon God. He has taught in prose to instruct the people and to help guard them against the instinct to stray. It’s as if he now wants to call upon the power of song and poetry in the final part of his oration.
He begins by calling upon the people to remember their past. Read 7-14.
A. Why does Moses want to draw the people’s mind to the days of old?
(He believes that people who have lost their past lose its power and meaning and thus become subject to whatever whims and forces are current in the day. This unmooring from a glorious past is surely cause to go in a different and wrong direction. But through remembering God’s saving hand in stories, traditions, and those who carry them forward, we have our best chance to live in covenant with God. Moses recounts explicitly God’s finding and bringing our ancestors out of the wilderness and the waste, protecting them, guarding them - all, as a principal focus of Divine attention. This is intended to orient the people to the good life with which God has blessed them, the life in the promised land.
What is the text discussing when it mentions God rescuing us from the desert regions, in an empty howling waste?
The Sinai? The beginning of the creation? In God’s revelation to Abraham? In each moment when we are out of sync with God or we wander away?)
B. What about these images of God as an eagle feeding, training, and catching its young as they grow weary or fall?
B. How do you respond to the image of God’s setting us atop the highlands to feast on abundant food in the seemingly most barren place, eating, among other things, in those famous words, honey from the rock?
C. (Discussion of both the physical and spiritual dimensions of these words.)
III. Read 15-18. A. Is it inevitable that a people who grow rich and materially successful come to the view that their well-being is the result of their own doing? What forces lead to this view? If this is so, how can it be successfully contested?
B. What’s the significance to them and to us that the gods to whom the people will stray to worship are said to be new, who have come lately and were never before known?
(Our capacity to make gods or idols knows no bounds and will play out in all times and places. We are never to think that the risk is confined to the idols in Abraham’s father’s shop!
We’ve talked about it before and should refresh our memory on all the sorts of new gods we’ve created in our own time that were foreshadowed in this text and should worry us today. What about the thought that we can look to each other in our own communities alone, perhaps with assists from science, to meet all of our needs, without any resort to God? Have you ever heard this view expressed?)
IV. Read 21. What does God mean by responding to the no-gods the people create with no-folk? (Note in verse 5 the reference to unworthy children, literally no-children. Note no-loyalty in verse 20.) What do you take from all this “no” talk?
V. Read 26-28, 36-39. Irrespective of the the people’s waywardness, why do the people survive, according to the text?
(First, the no-folk do not acknowledge God and thus will not be allowed to prevail.
Second, there is a matter of honor in God’s position prevailing.
Third, there’s a sense in which regardless of the ongoing pattern of waywardness, there’s an enduring tie between God and the people he initially appointed, there’s an enduring purpose for this people in fulfilling God’s mission, and God will support whatever remnant stays true to Him. We need God, and God needs us.)
VI. Read 45-47. Recognizing that we have not yet reached Moses’ final words/blessing to the people, which we’ll study next week, he ends this part of his oration in a minor key with this powerful warning. Yet, this comes after the glorious account of God’s redemption in our history, the richness of the promised land to come, and so many positive verbs right here in this part of the text. In the midst of the warning, we sense the more hopeful feeling of a major key through words recited to all Israel - words to take to heart and to enjoin them on the children that they may faithfully observe all terms of teaching. This, he says to the people, is your very life for through it you shall long endure in the land you are to possess. Explain this complex music!
(Discussion - the combination of extraordinary promises and powerful warnings.)
Conclusion - while Moses must and will die, as we have discussed, he has, through powerful and beautiful speech, in his final days drawn life-sustaining water for the eternal benefit of humankind from the mighty Rock. Indeed we people of faith are forever indebted to the speech of this prophet and teacher to whom speech did not come easy. Truly, we have learned what a treasure it is for us to have and study Moses’ words - in his teachings, the mitzvoth, the wisdom, the stories and accounts of God’s presence and nearness and meaning for us, his love and leadership of the people, and the example and memory he has given us of living in God’s way.
But we’re not done. Next week…Moses’ closing blessing for us, and a “final exam” - I promise each and every one of you will enjoy and won’t want to miss!