February 13, 2020 - Pastor Message05/18/2021
THE YEAR OF ST. JOSEPH RIGHTEOUSNESS (cont.)
“For what great nation has gods so close to it as the Lord, our God, is to us whenever we call to him? Or what great nation has statutes and decrees that are as righteous as this whole law which I am setting before you today?” (Deuteronomy 4:7-8).
In last week’s column we began to reflect on key figures in the Bible who exhibit righteousness in an effort to help deepen our understanding of what it means to be righteous, as Joseph was. We looked at Noah and Abraham, whose righteousness was simple, “walking with God” by listening for his voice and answering with their lives, regardless of where he led them. Today we will look at two more figures, Moses and David, whose righteousness consists in something more concrete and complicated than that.
Moses is the great liberator and lawgiver of the Old Testament, in some ways even more pivotal in the story of salvation than Abraham. Abraham is the father of the Hebrew people, but Moses is the one who gathers them together, frees them from slavery in Egypt, and makes them the People of God. God calls Moses from the burning bush to set his people free, revealing his name to Moses and investing him with his own divine power (Exodus 3:1-14). With some reluctance at the awesome task God gave him, Moses finally responds with faith, risking his life and challenging the mightiest power in the ancient Near East in Pharaoh, his sorcerers, and his armies. God fulfills his word through Moses, vanquishes the Egyptians, and with great signs and wonders sets his people free.
God then leads the people to Mount Sinai, where, through Moses, he forges a covenant with them, making them his people by giving them the gift of the Law: “Thus shall you say to the house of Jacob, tell the Israelites...if you hearken to my voice and keep my covenant, you shall be my special possession, dearer to me than all other people, though all the earth is mine. You shall be to me a kingdom of priests, a holy nation” (Exodus 19:3, 56). Unlike the personal covenants God makes with Noah and Abraham, this is a communal covenant with the whole people, the terms of which are spelled out in the Law. In his righteousness, God will lead them, protect them, and bless them, fulfilling through them his promise to Abraham. For their part, the people must follow the Law in their relations with God and one another: “Therefore the Lord commanded us to observe all these statutes in fear of the Lord, our God, that we may always have as prosperous and happy a life as we have today; and our righteousness before the Lord, our God, is to consist in carefully observing all these commandments he has enjoined on us” (Deuteronomy 6:25).
David demonstrates this kind of righteousness in his life. Long after the People of God settled in the land God had promised them, David was a shepherd boy living in Bethlehem when God called and anointed him through the prophet Samuel to become king of Israel. After much struggle, through all of which David remained faithful to the Lord, David eventually ascended to the throne. One of his first royal acts was to bring the ark of the covenant, the ornate case in which the tablets of the Law were kept, to the king’s city, Jerusalem. While God prevented him from building a temple to house the ark God gave that task to David’s son, Solomon David’s love for the Law prompted God to make a covenant with him, that a descendent from his line would reign over God’s People forever (2 Samuel 7:816). Though David’s reign was marked by ups and downs, and he sometimes strayed, he always returned to the Lord and recommitted himself to the Law, in the end praising God for his goodness to him and for blessing him with righteousness: “The Lord rewarded me according to my righteousness; according to the cleanness of my hands he requited me. For I kept the ways of the Lord and was not disloyal to my God. For his ordinances were all present to me, and his statutes I put not from me...God’s way is unerring; the promise of the Lord is firetried; he is a shield to all who take refuge in him” (2 Samuel 22:2123). For David, Moses, and the entire People of God, the simple righteousness of listening for God’s voice and responding with one’s life takes concrete form in observing God’s Law. We’ll look next week at some figures from the New Testament who embody this kid of righteousness, leading us ultimately to Joseph, the righteous man.
Fr. Marc Stockton