1These are the words that Moses spoke to all Israel beyond the Jordan — in the wilderness, on the plain opposite Suph, between Paran and Tophel, Laban, Hazeroth, and Di-zahab. 2(By the way of Mount Seir it takes eleven days to reach Kadesh-barnea from Horeb.) 3In the fortieth year, on the first day of the eleventh month, Moses spoke to the Israelites just as the LORD had commanded him to speak to them. 4This was after he had defeated King Sihon of the Amorites, who reigned in Heshbon, and King Og of Bashan, who reigned in Ashtaroth and in Edrei. 5Beyond the Jordan in the land of Moab, Moses undertook to expound this law as follows:
6The LORD our God spoke to us at Horeb, saying, “You have stayed long enough at this mountain. 7Resume your journey, and go into the hill country of the Amorites as well as into the neighboring regions – the Arabah, the hill country, the Shephelah, the Negeb, and the seacoast — the land of the Canaanites and the Lebanon, as far as the great river, the river Euphrates. 8See, I have set the land before you; go in and take possession of the land that I swore to your ancestors, to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob, to give to them and to their descendants after them.”
9At that time I said to you, “I am unable by myself to bear you. 10The LORD your God has multiplied you, so that today you are as numerous as the stars of heaven. 11May the LORD, the God of your ancestors, increase you a thousand times more and bless you, as he has promised you! 12But how can I bear the heavy burden of your disputes all by myself? 13Choose for each of your tribes individuals who are wise, discerning, and reputable to be your leaders.” 14You answered me, “The plan you have proposed is a good one.” 15So I took the leaders of your tribes, wise and reputable individuals, and installed them as leaders over you, commanders of thousands, commanders of hundreds, commanders of fifties, commanders of tens, and officials, throughout your tribes. 16I charged your judges at that time: “Give the members of your community a fair hearing, and judge rightly between one person and another, whether citizen or resident alien. 17You must not be partial in judging: hear out the small and the great alike; you shall not be intimidated by anyone, for the judgment is God’s. Any case that is too hard for you, bring to me, and I will hear it.” 18So I charged you at that time with all the things that you should do.
At some point the promise of God takes hold—the wilderness wandering ends. Moses is preparing the Israelites for just such a time. They have been in the wilderness for many years and now they are ready to meet their enemies and claim the Promised Land. For most of this time of preparation they have relied on Moses, arguing and picking at him as a stand-in for God all the while maintaining a safe distance from the almighty. But Moses knows he is going to leave; and how can the Israelites manage without him? We don’t really get that intermediary today. We worship alone, even when we’re together with friends through a screen. The lives we have today are sometimes pale reflections of what they were. We wish we had Moses’ close connection to God; but Moses tells us that, to receive God’s promise, we have to prepare to organize our lives together in a way that is pleasing to God: executing justice for the sake of the community. This means that the community is essential to us even when we can’t be together—but we all have the duty of Moses to communicate and share God to one another. Moses does have a stand-in: it’s you.
God, help us to know you as your servant Moses did: in close communion, in friendship, and in love: for the sake of our neighbors, for the sake of our church, for the sake of all those who need something of your grace, in Jesus Christ. Amen.