23 Pentecost, Nov. 5
Deuteronomy describes in detail Moses’ vison of the Promised Land: “Moses went up from the plains of Moab to Mount Nebo, to the top of Pisgah, which is opposite Jericho, and the Lord showed him the whole land: Gilead as far as Dan [the distant north], all Naphtali, the land of Ephraim and Manasseh [northwest], all the land of Judah as far as the Western Sea [the Mediterranean], the Negeb [to the south], and the Plain — that is, the valley of Jericho, the city of palm trees — as far as Zoar [the south end of the Dead Sea]” (Deut. 34:1-3). But he would not enter it: “Then Moses, the servant of the Lord, died there in the land of Moab, at the Lord’s command” (Deut. 34:5).
The children of Israel wept 30 days for this terrible loss. It was, at least in part, overcome by the promise of a new leader, one who would be like Moses. “Joshua son of Nun was full of the spirit of wisdom, because Moses had laid his hands on him; and the Israelites obeyed him, doing as the Lord had commanded Moses” (Deut. 34:9). “The Lord said to Joshua, ‘This day I will begin to exalt you in the sight of all Israel, so that they may know that I will be with you as I was with Moses” (Josh. 3:7). The Hebrew people were a political and religious community, and they could not live, nor can we, without leadership — Moses, then Joshua, then the judges, then the kings. Forms of leadership and governance may change, but political structure and legitimate authority will always be necessary.
Because leadership involves the exercise of power, it is a grave responsibility and carries inherent risks. To whom much is given, much will be required. How easily this maxim is forgotten, and so leadership must either police itself by internal correction or face prophetic judgment from the outside.
In the eighth century B.C., amid political turmoil and corruption, a number of prophets arose to champion the cause of pure worship and justice, and their special ire was directed against leaders who enriched themselves by pouring out the blood of the poor. The prophet Micah speaks in dramatic and harsh terms: “I am filled with power, with the spirit of the Lord, and with justice and might, to declare to Jacob his transgression and to Israel his sin. Hear this, you rulers of the house of Jacob and chiefs of the house of Israel, who abhor justice and pervert iniquity, who build Zion with blood and Jerusalem with wrong! Its rulers give judgment for a bribe, its priests teach for a price, its prophets give oracles for money; yet they lean upon the Lord and say, ‘Surely the Lord is with us! No harm shall come upon us’” (Mic. 3:9-11). Judgment will come. “For the needy will not always be forgotten, nor the hope of the poor perish forever” (Ps. 9:18).
Addressing the religious leaders of his day, Jesus indicts them not for what they teach but for their failure to follow it and for the impossible burdens they place upon the people. “The scribes and the Pharisees sit on Moses’ seat; therefore, do whatever they teach you and follow it; but do not do as they do, for they do not practice what they teach. They tie up heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on the shoulders of others; but they themselves are unwilling to lift a finger to move them” (Matt. 23:2-4).
Political and religious leaders might well ask at the beginning of every day, “Am I doing my duty? Am I concerned especially for the weak, the vulnerable, and the poor?”
Look It Up: Psalm 43:3
Think About It: Send me your light and your truth, that they may lead me.