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The Magazine of The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America

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Open the Bible, find yourself

Without its stories, people cannot know who they are

Moses was forbidden by the Lord from entering the Promised Land, but he was offered the consolation prize of giving a long farewell address. Moses said: "The Lord our God made a covenant with us at Horeb. Not with our ancestors did the Lord make this covenant, but with us, who are all of us here alive today" (Deuteronomy 5:2-3).

The words that Moses proclaimed to the people were at once among the most obviously counterfactual words in Scripture and, at the same time, among Scripture's most poignantly true promises. The book of Deuteronomy is Moses' farewell speech to the people as they stood poised to enter the Promised Land. Of the people whom he addressed that day, only three — himself, Joshua and Caleb — were present at Mount Sinai (here called "Horeb") when God made the covenant with the people. What happened to everyone else? They had died during the wilderness-wandering years. So the people left standing in front of Moses were the children and grandchildren of the Exodus generation. They had not been present at Sinai.

But at a theological level, Moses' words are among the most powerful in Scripture. His message to the people, poised as they were to walk into a new land, was that the promises God had made to the people at Sinai were still in effect. Moses did not, of course, mean that the covenant relationship God had initiated did not include the people's parents and grandparents who had died. Rather, the message was that the covenant into which God had entered with the parents was still valid, still alive. The covenant did not end as the people crossed the boundary into a new land. Because the living God was walking with them. Indeed, God had already gone ahead of them.


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