Help us, O God of our salvation,
for the glory of your name'
deliver us, and forgive our sins,
for your name's sake.
Deuteronomy 34:1-Joshua 2:24
Moses was allowed to see the prize but not hold it. Moses had devoted his life to people who often did not appreciate him. After his death, they wept for him for thirty days, the mourning period for a parent.
His burial place is not known. His mourners could not make it a shrine or a place of pilgrimage. They had to move on.
Although his burial place has been forgotten, his leadership is not. The book of Deuteronomy ends with a eulogy, but these words of praise are not contemporaneous with his burial. Rather, they are written much after that time. These words reflect an assessment of Moses' place in the history of God's relationship with humans: No prophet after him was known to the Lord face to face. He was unequaled for all the signs and wonders he performed, all his mighty deeds, and terrifying displays of power.
They need a leader, and Joshua is chosen. We have two versions of his commissioning. In Numbers 27:18, God tells Moses to choose Joshua. In Deuteronomy 32:23, the Lord speaks directly to Joshua. Two versions, but not necessary contradictory ones.
How did the people themselves discern that Joshua was to be the appropriate successor to Moses? How is God's will ever discerned?
In preparation for their entry into that land beyond the Jordan, Joshua sent two spies to view the land. The only part of the land they saw for themselves was the house of Rahab, a prostitute, where they spent one night. The king of Jericho, having found out that spies were there, ordered Rahab to turn them over. She didn't.
After the soldiers left, she spoke to the spies that she had hidden, giving a speech that sounds like she had been reading Deuteronomy. She helped them escape.
Why did they go to that particular house? Why was she willing to protect invaders into her country? How had she learned the history of the Israelites?
We can read this psalm and be able to put ourselves into the thoughts of those ancient people in Judah who suffered when the Babylon army invaded. "Foreigners have come in," they lament. "They have defiled the temple. They have laid Jerusalem in ruins." Both the center of worship and of government have been lost.
And lives were lost, too. So many were killed, that there weren't enough survivors left to bury them.
The lament does not stop with the listing of their losses. It includes what happens after that. Rather than wanting to support them or at least be sympathetic to them, their neighbors mock and deride.
I'm pausing to think about what would be the expected reaction by anyone to somebody else's suffering. How often do we think something like, "Well, what could you expect? After all, they really deserve what they got"?
And I'm thinking about how I feel when I suspect, or know, that onlookers are judging me. Now, since the psalm is a community lament, I should reword that to how I as an America feel when other nations mock my country for getting what they judge that we deserve. Suffering makes us feel bad. Being mocked rather than being sympathized with can make us feel worse.
What are we supposed to do when we have been hurt badly? We don't have to pretend that we like it. This psalm complains to God about what has happened and how long it has taken with no improvement in sight, "How long, O Lord? Will you be angry forever?"
The psalm suggests that it is not up to us to seek vengeance, but, rather, that we are to turn to God to take care of it for us, "Pour out your anger on them. They have laid waste to the land you have given us."
How willing are we moderns to allow God to handle the vengeance that we can so clearly see is really overdue?
Prayer for Today: Choose a prayer from Joan Stott's website The Timeless Psalms.