and there is nothing on earth that I desire other than you.
My flesh and my heart may fail,
but God is the strength of my heart
and my portion forever.
Moses is speaking to a people facing a change in leadership.
As we read in Exodus and Numbers about their wilderness travels toward the land promised to them, we saw again and again a pattern. God would speak to Moses and Moses would convey the message to the people. Now, Moses is about to leave them. How will they hear the voice of the Lord without Moses?
The editors of Deuteronomy had known defeat and exile and were looking toward resettlement. How would the Lord speak to them in their new circumstance? The need to hear God's message remains our concern. How do we recognize God's voice? Who can be trusted to interpret God's will for us?
In Deuteronomy, we read that their ancestors had been worried that they would not know what to do when they lost Moses. Those people whose lives had been in Egypt, who had been slaves in the powerful Egypt, then had escaped into a wilderness where they had wandered for forty years as they traveled toward the land promised to them. Led by the Lord through the words of Moses.
They are now leaving exile in another powerful kingdom to return to that land their ancestors had known and lost. Of course, they are concerned. They need to know what the Lord wants them to do. Things need to be better this time. They need to be better this time.
And, here we are, not necessarily getting ready for a geographic displacement, but needing to be assured that we are able to hear what it is that God intends for us to do. We have allowed many voices to direct us, and those directions have not always been the ones we should have followed.
Following the wrong advice has led us into wrong places.
We hear sermons from preachers in church. We don't even have to go to church to hear them. They are being interviewed on television. How can we be assure that the advice we get does come from God? How do we know that we can trust a prophet to speak for God, to direct us in the way that God wants for us and not in the way that the speaker would think helpful to himself.
Here's the advice that Allen & Williamson give in Preaching the Old Testament:
A prophet is similar to an ombudsperson whose work is to measure how well a community lives out its values, and to points at which the community embodies its deepest understanding of the divine purposes. Of course, the community needs to have conversation about such matters. Thinking together often brings to the surface questions and perspectives that do not come to individuals reflecting alone.Questions that arise for me as I think about this passage:
How do the values of our community and our congregation reflect our understanding of what God wants? That is, what would somebody who doesn't know anything about God learn from looking at what we do?
Whom do we trust? Who should trust us?
With whom do we discuss God's wishes and our response to them?
They are on a mountain. Jesus has come to pray. He has brought Peter and John and James with him.
[Tangent: Using Oremus.org, I found that the word, mountain, appears 268 times in the Old Testament. As you might guess--or already know--most of them concern either the flood or the trek through the wilderness. I didn't yet compile the reference to Jesus' praying in the New, and which events in Jesus' life included the presence of those three particular disciples.]
While he is praying, his appearance changes and his clothes become dazzling white. Moses and Elijah become present.
The disciples although they were weighed down by sleep have stayed awake and witness this.
Ronald Allen & Williamson write in their Preaching the Gospels without Blaming the Jews:
Jewish apocalyptic writers anticipated that in the final manifestation of the reign of God, persons would have transformed bodies in the luminescent white of the heavenly world (e.g., Daniel 10:6; 1 Enoch 62:15-16; 2Enoch 22:8; Luke 24:4; Acts 1:10; 1 Corinthians 15:35-49; Revelation 4:4; 7:9).
Moses and Elijah are talking to Jesus about his departure. Allen & Williamson point out that the Greek word for departure is exodos emphasizing that what is going to happen at Jerusalem will also be a way of liberating God's people.
Peter and the others witnessed the transfiguration of Jesus. They were there when Moses and Elijah suddenly appeared, these two figures so important in the history of their people, of the formation and molding of their faith.
Just as Moses and Elijah were leaving, Peter said to Jesus, "Let's make three dwellings--one for you and one for Moses and one for Elijah. We suspect that Peter wanted to hold on to the moment so that they could revisit the experience. Or, we can suppose that he wanted to mark the place so that others coming after them could see where this event had happened.
While he was still speaking, a cloud came and overshadowed them, terrifying them. They had been able to see Jesus in a new way. They had been able to see Moses who had led the people to the Promised Land, and Elijah who had spoke the words of the Lord to the people facing exile. Now they could see no longer.
Allen & Williamson point out that a cloud is a traditional Jewish way of representing the divine presence (see e.g., Exodus 13:21; 16:10; 19:9; 24:15-18; 40:34; 1 Kings 8:10-11; 18:44-45; Ezekiel 10:3-4; Psalm 18:11).
This loss of vision terrifies them. Then from the cloud comes a voice.
They could see things that no one had seen before. They could see nothing. Then they learn more.
A voice comes from the cloud announcing "This is my Son, my Chosen; listen to him!"
Luke tells us that they didn't immediately tell anyone what had happened.
Prayer for Today: O Lord our God, help us to discern your will as we listen to people in authority. Help us to discern who is worthy of our trust. Strengthen our allegiance to you so that we can be the people that others can trust. Amen.