Monday, November 28, 2011

Moses' story. . . and mine

Psalm 90 is the only psalm attributed to Moses. It is a confession of faith and a prayer. The foundational truth is expressed at the beginning.

Lord, you have been our dwelling place in all generations.

Bible scholars surmise that this prayer of Moses comes from the time when the Israelites were wandering the wilderness because of their unbelief. The psalm alternates between exalted affirmations of God's transcendent eternal characteristics, and plaintive descriptions of man's transitory finite existence. It's full of sublime poetry and rich theology.

Before the mountains were brought forth,
or ever you had formed the earth and the world,
from everlasting to everlasting you are God.

Importantly, this psalm arises out of the story of Moses and his generation. They had seen God's mighty hand of salvation in ways you and I probably never will. When's the last time God parted a large body of water for you, or led you on a journey with a pillar of fire and cloud? Moses had seen that, and much more. Indeed, he had come as close to Yahweh as any mortal ever had and lived to tell about it. Moses' expression of God's faithfulness arose out of his (and Israel's) history.

Lord, you have been our dwelling place in all generations.

If this is Moses' story then what connection do I have to this ancient text, other than to admire it from afar? Can I -- a Gentile living thousands of years later -- make the same confession of faith as Moses? Can my generation be included in that "our"?

Moses himself predicted that a prophet like himself would come from Israel (Deuteronomy 18:15). After Moses came other great prophets, but they all pointed forward to one even greater. Jesus of Nazareth clearly saw himself as this one. After delivering his first recorded sermon in the Nazareth synagogue he sat down in the seat of Moses. He exposed the unbelief of the Jewish leaders by saying that if they truly believed Moses they would believe in him. After his resurrection he explained to the Emmaus disciples that everything in the Scriptures from Moses to the prophets was about him.

Later, the Apostles would make explicit what the Hebrew prophets hinted at -- Jesus, the Messiah of Israel, came to bring salvation to the nations. By his blood he destroyed the dividing wall of hostility between Jew and Gentile and brought near those who before were far off. Now we are being made a "dwelling place for God by the Spirit" (Ephesians 2:11-22).

Jesus is both the culmination and continuation of Israel's story. That story continues in the church, built on the foundation of the prophets and apostles. It continues in families who love and fear the God that Moses loved and feared, and it continues in the hearts of individual Christians. This grand story of redemption is brought into sharper focus during the season of Advent.

In Christ, my story and Moses' story merge into one. That's why I can say. . .

Lord, you have been our dwelling place in all generations.

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