June 28: Deuteronomy 33

Gerald Bray
The Blessing of Israel

v. 1 "This is the blessing with which Moses the man of God blessed the people of Israel before his death."

How can we measure the fruits of a man's ministry? There are some people who work away for years in obscure places, see very little in the way of tangible fruit, and die almost unrecognized. Others, who may be no better than they, find themselves pastoring megachurches and attracting thousands to their services every week. Most people, it is fair to say, fall somewhere between these two extremes, but it is all too easy, even for the minister of a growing congregation, to get to the end of his journey and wonder whether it has been worthwhile.

In this chapter, we see Moses reaching out to his people for the last time. To our minds, Moses was a great hero, but we have the blessing of hindsight. For those who were with him at the time, things must have looked somewhat different. He had been brought up in the courts of Pharaoh but was forced to flee and ended up spending many years tending sheep in the desert. When he was called to lead his people out of slavery, he was unprepared for the task and too shy to take it on properly. Over time his leadership skills developed, but he never had an easy ride. Through all the years he spent with his people in the desert, he was constantly upbraiding them for their slackness, denouncing their infidelities and trying to prevent them from giving up and going back to Egypt. At one point he got so angry with them that he disobeyed a command from the Lord, and as a result, he was told that he would not be able to enter the Promised Land.

Yet despite all these failures and reverses, Moses knew that he was a servant, sent by God to prepare his people for centuries to come. It was during the years in the desert that their national identity was secured. They received the law and the priesthood, which would keep them going for more than a thousand years. In spite of everything, Moses presided over the formation of a people who have endured to this day.

What comes across in this chapter is the great love that he had for them. He knew their faults, but he saw their potential as well, and it was to that future that he turned in his final blessing. Moses did not believe that Israel would die with him, or that after he had gone it would be all downhill. He did not protest that things could have been so much better if only they had listened to him sooner. Instead, he looked beyond the present circumstances to the inner qualities and resources that Israel's twelve tribes had, and he blessed them. Pastors and other ministers must remember this when they come tot he end of their journey, and do what Moses did. Leave the past behind and look ahead. We may not go into that future ourselves, but our people will, and it is they whom we are called to shepherd in the service of the Lord.