Society & Politics

Faith & Politics in the Life of Moses - Lesson 6: Last Words

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Preston Manning, Senior Fellow

Special attention should always be paid to how leaders conclude their leadership and the words they use in doing so. It is usually in their last words to their friends and followers that the leader reveals what is weighing most heavily on their mind and heart as they look back over their career. And it is often in these last words that they emphasize what they consider most important to pass on to the next generation with a view to the future. What they leave unsaid is often equally significant. In this concluding article on faith and politics in the life of Moses let us therefore carefully examine his last addresses to the children of Israel as recorded in the Book of Deuteronomy.

Looking Back

In these addresses, Moses says little about the miraculous deliverance of the Israelites from Egypt, but instead begins to rehearse the Israelite story from when they received the Law of God at Mount Sinai. He recounts many significant events in the Israelites journey: their refusal to enter the Promised Land (Deuteronomy 1); their wanderings in the desert (Deuteronomy 2:1 – 15); their military victories (Deuteronomy 2: 16 – 3:22); their experiences in receiving and learning to obey the Law (Deuteronomy 4 – 6); and the commissioning of Joshua as their next leader (Deuteronomy 31:1 – 8).

While Moses’ most significant achievement was leading the liberation of Israel from slavery in Egypt, it is striking that he hardly mentions this accomplishment at all in these last addresses. Usually liberation movements and liberation leaders have the most to say on the theme of “freedom from”—identifying and rehearsing the evils and bondage from which they have delivered their followers. Often they have far less to say about “freedom to”—identifying and emphasizing the ends toward which the exercise of the newly gained freedom of their followers is to be directed.

This is not the case with Moses. He is very clear that Israel had been liberated from the bondage of Egypt in order to worship and serve the God who has delivered them. This is made explicit from the start of the exodus account where the Lord says to Pharaoh: “Let my son Israel go, so he may worship me” (Exodus 4:23). Thus Moses’ last addresses to Israel focus heavily on urging them toward the goal of worshiping, obeying, and serving God.

This emphasis in Moses’ final addresses is highly relevant to us as Christian believers. We are usually quite settled and articulate on the fact that God has delivered us from our sins. But sometimes we are less settled and articulate on the purposes to which this new found spiritual freedom is to be directed, such as living a Christ-like life. Like the Israelites, we need to be often and strongly reminded to exercise our “freedom to”.

Looking Ahead

Moses also uses his last exhortations to turn the people’s gaze towards the future by making several remarkable prophecies. Prominent among these is the promise of the coming Messiah: “The Lord your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among your own brothers. You must listen to him.” (Deuteronomy 18:15)

Moses also prophesies that once the Israelites are established in the land, they will desire to have a king “like all the nations around us” (Deuteronomy 17:14–20). Unlike Samuel, many years later (I Samuel 8), Moses does not appear to oppose the idea of a monarchy. That said, he firmly insists that even the king is to be under the Law (a concept not fully established in Western democracy until the 18th century).

Furthermore, Moses prophesies Israel’s future rebellion against God and the Law of God (Deuteronomy 31:14–22) — even composing a song on this theme (Deuteronomy 32). Perhaps because of his past experience and future forebodings with respect to Israel’s predisposition to rebel against God the Lawgiver, Moses devotes much of his last addresses to Israel to reinforcing the rule of law (Deuteronomy 12-26). This reinforcement includes strong exhortations to love and obey the Lord and the law (Deuteronomy 11, 27: 1-8; 29, 31:9-13); the pronouncement of dire curses for breaking or abandoning the law (Deuteronomy 27: 9-26; 28:13-68); and the promise of great blessings and prosperity for adherence to the law (Deuteronomy 28:1-14; 30, 33). Through all these prophesies and warnings, Moses is directing the people toward the ultimate aim of their political and spiritual liberty—not freedom from the Egyptians, but freedom to worship God.

From Moses to Us

Looking back again over Moses’ life, certain questions come to mind which further help establish the relevance of the “lessons from Moses” to our lives today. First, let us ask whether Moses fulfilled the “call to do.” This was the call (examined in the first article of this series) to join with God in delivering the children of Israel from slavery in Egypt—the call he received at the burning bush. The answer to this is obviously yes. But what about each of us? How have we received and fulfilled our own “call to do”—to join with God in whatever he has shown himself to be doing in our time and circumstances? That is a question we must wrestle with and revisit throughout our lives.

As we saw, however, there is a more primary call that God makes to each of us: the “call to be.” In Moses’ case this was the call to be a leader submissive to the will of God. Again, I believe Moses answered this call—reluctantly at first but admirably in later years. The impetuous Egyptian prince, who once thought he could liberate Israel by himself, was transformed through spiritual and political experience into a man “more humble than anyone else on the face of the earth” (Numbers 12:2), and whose leadership had to be defended by God because he was reluctant to defend it himself (Number 12, 14, and 16).

But again, what about us? Have we fulfilled the “call to be”—the call to be transformed by our spiritual and life experience into the likeness of Christ, who “humbled himself and became obedient unto death—even death on a cross” (Philippians 2:8). Again, wrestling with this question and being faithful in our responses to it should be a key aspect of our Christian walk.

There is a subsequent question which also comes to mind as we reflect on Moses’ life: how did he receive his sense of mission? As we saw in the second article, Moses’ sense of commission largely came through four distinct revelations of God and his work. The first of these was at the burning bush where God revealed himself as the eternally present I Am who would liberate his people. The second was at the Red Sea where God revealed himself as warrior. Later at Mount Sinai, God revealed himself first as lawgiver and judge, and then, when Moses ascended Sinai the second time, as the God of grace.

Again, what about us as Christians today? Have we ever received a fresh revelation of God and his work through Christ—a revelation which gives us a renewed sense of mission? Perhaps you have seen God anew as the creator and sustainer of life, inviting you to join him in creation care. Or possibly you have seen God anew as the one who constrains and overcomes evil, inviting us to take ethical stands at work or in the community? Or have seen God anew as the God of Grace who is reconciling all things (including ourselves) to himself and who invites us to join with him in the ministry of reconciliation? All of us need a revelation of God and his work if we are to be sustained and propelled as Christians into mission beyond our own limited capabilities.

Of course, paralleling Moses, each of us is likely to have a favourite conception of God. As such, we need to consider whether this is the most apt conception for us. In Moses’ case, his favourite conception of God was not as grace but as warrior, which proved limiting for him. And so, what is our favourite conception of Jesus—Jesus as teacher? Jesus as healer? Jesus as political activist? Or Jesus as the reconciler of man to God through his self-sacrificial death on the cross? It is important to consider what dimensions of himself and his work God is revealing to us at particular times and in particular circumstances—in order to derive therefrom our own sense of mission.

One final question: what have we learned from the experience of Moses and the people of Israel concerning the Rule of Law—its benefits and its limits? If we value the Rule of Law, do we ourselves adhere to and support the law and the processes whereby our laws are made? And are we aware of the limits of rule-making—that utopia here on earth cannot be achieved by legislating, and that excessive rulemaking and enforcement can quench the spirit of our children and society?

The Strange Omission

In his last addresses to Israel, Moses recounts his second sojourn on Mount Sinai during which he received, for a second time, the tablets of the law (Deuteronomy 10:1-11). But, strangely and inexplicably from my perspective, Moses makes no mention in his last addresses of the revelation he received on that occasion of God as “grace, mercy, and compassion”—the one who demands justice but forgives sin, even the sin of rebellion.

Just prior to receiving that revelation, Moses had prayed for God to manifest his presence and glory, and God responded:

The Lord came down in the cloud and stood there with him and proclaimed his name, the Lord. And he passed in front of Moses, proclaiming, ‘The Lord, the Lord, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness, maintaining love to thousands, and forgiving wickedness, rebellion (yes, rebellion), and sin. Yet he does not leave the guilty unpunished; he punishes the children and their children for the sin of the fathers to the third and fourth generation.’ (Exodus 34: 5-7)

If you or I had received such a direct revelation of God as grace, would it not have been the highlight of our spiritual experience? Absolutely—and we would have wanted to share it with our contemporaries and to all of posterity! Yet Moses only mentioned this incident once in his writings, when he sought God’s pardon for Israel’s rebellious refusal to enter the Promised Land (Numbers 14:13-19). And, he never referred to it at all in his final addresses to Israel before his death.

As previously mentioned, it may have been that Moses never fully grasped the revelation of God as grace because it was overshadowed by his more favoured conception of God as warrior. Or perhaps it was that he had a great deal of difficulty believing that God could or should forgive rebellion, which was the sin he (understandably) had the most difficulty forgiving given the amount of grief it caused him during his career as a spiritual and political leader.

But before we are too hard on Moses, what about us? As Christians we have experienced the grace of Calvary, and so we too have received the great revelation of God as grace.  As such, should that not be the highlight of our spiritual experience which we would most want to share with our own contemporaries? Or have we allowed valid but lesser revelations and experiences to overshadow “the great revelation”—God as grace as revealed in Christ?

Your Last Words

Having considered all of the above, if you had to give some last words to your family and friends, concerning your experience of God and his leading in your life, what would you emphasize?

If you had to give a final address to the Christian community or the public at large, concerning your experience of God’s leading and the discharge of whatever leadership responsibilities you have been given, what would you include and exclude?

What might your last words to your workplace be, especially if it is a place where the spiritual is neither recognized nor honoured, but to which you may well have been called to serve as salt and light?

In my case, there came such a day on January 31, 2002. This was the day I spoke for the last time in the Canadian House of Commons—my place of work for nine lengthy years and reminiscent of the enormous amount of time and effort which my friends and I had expended to gain the seat I was now vacating.

The circumstances obliged me, of course, to extend well-deserved thanks to colleagues, staff, and constituents, and to reiterate my views on several of the major issues I had sought to advance. But I also wanted to end by emphasizing the spiritual in a chamber where reference to the spiritual was generally considered off limits. So I concluded by briefly referencing two subjects: the genetic revolution and the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. These were (and are) two subjects fraught with moral implications of the type which our Parliament is loathe to even recognize, let alone debate. And so, in concluding this series, my last words to Parliament are the words I want to leave you with:

In days past, we … have avoided such debate like the plague. But while it is a mistake to see moral issues where they do not in fact exist, it is an even greater mistake to fail to see them when they actually arise.

Responsible leadership in such circumstances will require parliamentarians to engage on such issues—openly, honestly, respectfully, and cautiously—but to engage nonetheless…. I wish you success as you venture forward on this frontier.

And in the spirit of this necessity to engage more openly on matters of faith and morality, I leave you with my favourite prayer by a 19th century statesman and democrat, who wrestled long and hard with such issues, and which he gave on the occasion of his departure from his political friends.

"Trusting in Him, who can go with me and remain with you and be everywhere for good, let us confidently hope that all will be well … To His care commending you, as I hope in your prayers you will commend me, I bid you an affectionate farewell."[1]

Footnotes

  1. Abraham Lincoln’s Farewell Address at Springfield, Illinois, on February 11, 1861.

Biography of Preston Manning

Preston Manning works with the MI on the development and communication of faith-informed approaches to political leadership and public policy, including new approaches to the intersection of faith with democratic governance, the market economy, pluralism and multiculturalism, science and technology, and environmental stewardship.

Preston served as a member of the Canadian House of Commons from 1993 to 2001, part of which he served as his party’s critic for Science, Technology and Innovation. He founded two new political parties—the Reform Party of Canada and the Canadian Reform Conservative Alliance—and was the Leader of the Official Opposition from 1997 to 2000. Preston also has 20 years of experience as an owner and manager of a consulting firm specializing mainly in strategic planning and communications advice to the energy sector. In 2005, he founded the Manning Centre for Building Democracy, which supports research, educational, and communications initiatives designed to achieve a more democratic society in Canada guided by conservative principles.

Source: Marketplace Institute



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