By Amber Noel
A Reading from Deuteronomy 9:23-10:5
23 And when the Lord sent you from Kadesh-barnea, saying, “Go up and occupy the land that I have given you,” you rebelled against the command of the Lord your God, neither trusting him nor obeying him. 24You have been rebellious against the Lord as long as he has known you.
25 Throughout the forty days and forty nights that I lay prostrate before the Lord when the Lord intended to destroy you, 26I prayed to the Lord and said, “Lord God, do not destroy the people who are your very own possession, whom you redeemed in your greatness, whom you brought out of Egypt with a mighty hand. 27Remember your servants, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob; pay no attention to the stubbornness of this people, their wickedness and their sin, 28otherwise the land from which you have brought us might say, ‘Because the Lord was not able to bring them into the land that he promised them, and because he hated them, he has brought them out to let them die in the wilderness.’ 29For they are the people of your very own possession, whom you brought out by your great power and by your outstretched arm.”
1 At that time the Lord said to me, “Carve out two tablets of stone like the former ones, and come up to me on the mountain, and make an ark of wood. 2I will write on the tablets the words that were on the former tablets, which you smashed, and you shall put them in the ark.” 3So I made an ark of acacia wood, cut two tablets of stone like the former ones, and went up the mountain with the two tablets in my hand. 4Then he wrote on the tablets the same words as before, the ten commandments that the Lord had spoken to you on the mountain out of the fire on the day of the assembly; and the Lord gave them to me. 5So I turned and came down from the mountain, and put the tablets in the ark that I had made; and there they are, as the Lord commanded me.
If Moses’ 40-day plea for his people can be taken as a model, loving God and loving neighbor is not sentimental. What is the nature of a 40-day-vigil kind of love?
Love takes the effort to remember. Moses anchors what he knows of God in specifics of Israel’s life — Kadesh-barnea, last April when they were supposed to take the land, Egypt, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Taberah, Massah, the calf — growing his faith in God’s goodness. He tracks God’s action, and recounts it.
It’s because of this attention to God’s acts and intentions that Moses has become a fit and passionate intercessor. The zeal goes astray, perhaps: Moses smashes the first set of Commandments like a heavy metal guitarist when he sees the golden calf. But when God says, “I could nix this crowd and start all over with you…” Moses says a 40-day-long “No, Lord.” Moses is so deeply invested in seeing the original covenant of faith with Abraham play out, that the desire to see his wandering, trustless family rescued, reconciled to God, keeps him on their side.
Yet, unlike the psalmists, who have their place, Moses does not plead here, “Remember your compassion and love, for they are from everlasting.” Moses’ prayer for salvation isn’t first about salvation; it’s about God: “God, your reputation is at stake, whatever these people have done!” Moses commends God’s people to God here, not as a paragon of anything, not as the weak and needy sheep they are, but by first reminding the Lord that he has a people who belong to him, who have a purpose bigger than themselves: to embody his saving power for the sake of the world.
The love and intercession that save the world begin and end with God alone. Cultivate love for God during the 40 days of Lent. It is from bedrock trust in his character that we come to understand and embody his own love and intercede effectively for others. And lest we forget, in his intercessory plea to God, Moses models God himself.
Amber Noel, M.Div., is Associate Editor at the Living Church and Associate Director of The Living Church Institute. Off the clock, she is the author of short fiction, book and culture reviews, and work for the stage.
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