Deuteronomy 32: Moses’ Psalm

Monday of the Seventeenth Week in Ordinary Time

July 26, 2020

Today, in God’s Lavish Mercy, we pray with Deuteronomy 32, commonly referred to as the Song of Moses. Most biblical scholars agree that the selection was composed long after Moses died and inserted in Deuteronomy perhaps at the time of the prophet Samuel.

As literature, the poem shows Moses prophesying the troubles that will come upon the people because of their faithlessness. As history, these troubles have already occurred and are referenced as a lesson for the future.

The verses highlighted today are unhappy ones. With exaggerated anthropomorphism, God is characterized as really mad and passive-aggressive with Israel. It’s not a nice picture of how God relates to us. It’s not real either.

Still, the writer was a human being searching for some rational way to understand the trauma Israel was experiencing at the hands of their enemies. The logic, or illogic, goes something like this:

  • things are a mess
  • it must be our fault
  • we did bad things
  • so God’s mad and did bad things back
  • we better straighten up
  • then God might relent

We are all tempted to reason like this when we experience misfortune, pain, and trauma. We think evil should make sense. It doesn’t. The interplay of good and evil is a mystery we will never understand in this life.

What we can understand is faithfulness – God’s to us, and ours to God.

God, you are my Rock—how faultless are your deeds,
how right all your ways!
You are faithful God, without deceit,
You are Justice, Righteousness, and Mercy

This is the true message of the Song of Moses: Our merciful God is always faithful. When we experience suffering in life, – even the kind we bring on ourselves and one another – let our sorrow draw us ever closer to God’s Mercy which abides with us in all our troubles. Within the sacred mystery of grace, that Mercy seeks to transform us into Mercy ourselves.

Poetry:  Possible Answers to Prayer by Scott Cairns
The poem gives a wake up call about self-absorption in our prayers, and – with its own touch of anthropomorphism – images how God might perceive narrow prayers. The poem encourages us to accompany others in their greater sufferings.

Your petitions—though they continue to bear
just the one signature—have been duly recorded.
Your anxieties—despite their constant,

relatively narrow scope and inadvertent
entertainment value—nonetheless serve
to bring your person vividly to mind.

Your repentance—all but obscured beneath
a burgeoning, yellow fog of frankly more
conspicuous resentment—is sufficient.

Your intermittent concern for the sick,
the suffering, the needy poor is sometimes
recognizable to me, if not to them.

Your angers, your zeal, your lipsmackingly
righteous indignation toward the many
whose habits and sympathies offend you— 
these must burn away before you’ll apprehend
how near I am, with what fervor I adore
precisely these, the several who rouse your passions.

Music: Audite Caeli – Michel Richard Delalande

This motet captures the opening words of the Song of Moses, Deuteronomy 32.

Audite, caeli, quae loquor: audiat terra verba oris mei.
Concrescat ut pluvia doctrina mea, fluat ut ros eloquium meum,
quasi imber super herbam, et quasi stillae super gramina.
Quia nomen Domini invocabo: date magnificentiam Deo nostro.
Dei perfecta sunt opera, et omnes viae ejus judicia.

Hear, O ye heavens, the things I speak,
let the earth give ear to the words of my mouth.Let my doctrine gather as the rain, let my speech distil as the dew,
as a shower upon the herb, and as drops upon the grass.
Because I will invoke the name of the Lord: give ye magnificence to our God.
The works of God are perfect, and all his ways are judgments.

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