Patristic Lectionary – 18 February 2021 – Thursday After Ash Wednesday

[Consonant with both Anglicanism’s and monasticism’s love of patristic theology-spirituality, I occasionally post selections from a two-year lectionary for the Divine Office that draws mostly from patristic writings.  The lectionary was initially edited by Stephen Mark Holmes (University of Edinburgh School of Divinity) and subsequently re-edited and formatted by Michele Freyhauf (Durham University).  Click here for the link to the lectionary.  When there are lacunae in the Durham edition, I draw from R. M. Healey’s edition.  Click here for the link to his formatting of the lectionary.]

Patristic Lectionary – 18 February 2021 – Thursday After Ash Wednesday

[The image is Jacob de Wit’s “Moses Elects Seventy Elders” (1737), which depicts an event described in Numbers 11 and which is recalled by Moses in Deuteronomy 1.]

Deuteronomy 1:1, 6-18

The Last Words of Moses in Moab

These are the words that Moses spoke to all Israel beyond the Jordan in the wilderness, in the Arabah over against Suph, between Paran and Tophel, Laban, Hazeroth, and Dizahab. “The LORD our God said to us in Horeb, ‘You have stayed long enough at this mountain; turn and take your journey, and go to the hill country of the Amorites, and to all their neighbours in the Arabah, in the hill country and in the lowland, and in the Negeb, and by the seacoast, the land of the Canaanites, and Lebanon, as far as the great river, the river Euphrates. Behold, I have set the land before you; go in and take possession of the land which the LORD swore to your fathers, to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob, to give to them and to their descendants after them.’

“At that time I said to you, I am not able alone to bear you; the LORD your God has multiplied you, and behold, you are this day as the stars of heaven for multitude. May the LORD, the God of your fathers, make you a thousand times as many as you are, and bless you, as he has promised you! How can I bear alone the weight and burden of you and your strife? Choose wise, understanding, and experienced men, according to your tribes, and I will appoint them as your heads. And you answered me, ‘The thing that you have spoken is good for us to do.’ So I took the heads of your tribes, wise and experienced men, and set them as heads over you, commanders of thousands, commanders of hundreds, commanders of fifties, commanders of tens, and officers, throughout your tribes. And I charged your judges at that time, ‘Hear the cases between your brethren, and judge righteously between a man and his brother or the alien that is with him. You shall not be partial in judgment; you shall hear the small and the great alike; you shall not be afraid of the face of man, for the judgment is God’s; and the case that is too hard for you, you shall bring to me, and I will hear it.’ And I commanded you at that time all the things that you should do.

Theodoret of Cyrrhus

“Questions on Deuteronomy” (from The Questions on the Octateuch) 1 (Patrologia Latina 80:401-408)

After the Lord God had brought the people out of Egypt, he gave them, on Mount Sinai, the Law that was to govern the behaviour of the children of Israel. Then, in the second year, he sent them to take possession of the land he had promised their fathers he would give them. But they absolutely refused to set out on the conquest of the country. Then God swore he would not give this land to any of those whom Moses, the lawgiver, had counted but would let them all perish in the wilderness. After forty more years had passed and that entire generation had died in accordance with God’s decree, the Lord ordered a census of their children; the latter were then at the age their fathers had been at the time of the first census.

Before God led them into the promised land, he taught them, through his minister, Moses the prophet, the Law he had given to their fathers and which their fathers had disobeyed. This is why Deuteronomy contains a recapitulation of the events and legal codes found in Exodus, Leviticus, and Numbers. There was no question of giving them a second law but of reminding them of the first set of laws, as the book itself tells us at its beginning: Moses began to teach this law clearly to them, saying: The Lord our God spoke to us at Horeb. Moses reminds them of how the Lord had told them to enter the promised land and take possession of it and how he himself had appointed Joshua, son of Nun, to succeed him as leader of the people.

Then Moses reminds them of how the God of the universe had shown himself to them: he had spoken to them from the midst of fire, but without displaying any form. They are therefore forbidden to fashion any image or to try making for themselves a representation of God, for they had not seen any form of him who is the archetype of all things.  “Everything under heaven,” he tells them, “has been made by the creator for the use of men. Do not turn into gods that which the God of the universe has destined to serve the needs of man.”

You realise, of course, that the prophet did not address all these words to the people in a single day, but rather explained them day after day. This fact explains why he often repeats the same ideas, in order that persistent repetition might strengthen their memory of them. Elsewhere the words of the prophet himself show that he is not here giving a new law but instructing in the first law those who, because they were so young, had not been able to hear its promulgation: The Lord your God, he says, made a covenant with us at Horeb. It was not with your fathers that the Lord made this covenant, but with you. Since these fathers had perished because of their sin, it was to them, their children, that the Lord was giving the land once promised to their fathers, that is, to those to whom he was giving the Law.

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