Part of my childhood that I remember fairly clearly is Saturday morning TV, full of cartoons and adventure stories like The Lone Ranger, Bugs Bunny, Rin-tin-tin and Roy Rogers (especially Dale Evans!). Occasionally the excitement of each week’s program would build to what felt like the edge of a tall mountain and then stop abruptly with the immortal words of cliff-hangers everywhere, “To be continued.” Of course the next week as soon as the name of the program and the stars were named, there would be a brief “In our last exciting episode…” that recapped the action so far. Then it was time to see where that sheer cliff we’d been hanging onto all week was going to take us.
In this episode of the story of the Israelites, the travelers were getting close to their new home after years of wandering and camping in the desert. The opening chapter of Deuteronomy is a retelling of what has taken place so far, at least, from their seemingly long encampment at Horeb. Moses is reminding the people of how they got here, why, and how they acted and reacted to what they were told to do. The rest of the chapter isn’t all that favorable towards the Israelites; Moses doesn’t really mince words about their faithlessness to God, their griping and grumbling and their fear. It’s quite a tale.
Even without cliffhangers, periodically it is both good and necessary to reflect on history, how we got where we are, where we came from, who our leaders were, when important events happened and why. We have to know where we’ve been before we can go forward. We have to have a plan for forward movement, even if that plan has to be altered slightly, altered quite a bit or scrapped altogether in favor of something else. The purpose of history is not just to remind us of the glory days, the times when things went well and everybody was behaving themselves as they should have. History also has to call to memory the disasters, natural and human-made, that marked the landscape of our journey. We also have to recall the lessons we did (or should have) learned from the experiences.
Moses spoke of how the burden of sole (or almost sole) leadership had gotten to be too much for him and so he appointed leaders in a hierarchy so that every person would have access to a problem-solver or judge. Like the Supreme Court, Moses himself was the top of the pyramid, the final arbiter if things couldn’t be resolved lower down. Of course, if Moses got stuck, he had God to call on.
We put a lot of faith in our courts and judges. We hope that they will truly be fair and impartial but sometimes we really wonder to whom they are being either or both of those things. Of course, if we don’t like the verdict in a municipal court we can always take it up a notch to the next highest court and so on until we reach the Supreme Court who often kicks the decision back to a lower court for final adjudication. Still, there are going to be times when even the best case doesn’t come out the way we hoped it would or wanted it to. Someone (or some entity) always has to lose and losing isn’t something we do gracefully. Justice is supposed to be blind, but sometimes it seems it is not just blind but also deaf and with it’s mind already made up. The judgments don’t always seem fair to one side or the other.
Every good TV drama, especially crime shows or courtroom but even westerns or daytime soaps, has its cliffhanger when things reach a climax and we wait for the conclusion. The history has been told, the evidence has been presented. It’s the “To be continued…” time. Moses and the Israelites are on the last episode of their journey and heading toward a new life in a new land. They will make mistakes, big ones, but they will have experience and they will have leaders to help them stay on the right path. “To be continued” will soon change to “The End.” It will be the end of the journeying in the wilderness, anyway, and a new series of begins with “In today’s episode…”
Life is like that, full of starts, stops, journeys and changes in direction. If we are wise, we will have leaders who will be good, fair and impartial, and who will judge what is best not just for us as individuals but for us as a community or a nation.
Moses may not get to the Promised Land but his story will go on in the memory of his people. He has been judged, for all his faults and flaws, as a prophet and a man of God. There’s no higher accolade than that.
May we all live so that when we reach the end, people will remember us as good leaders, wise judges and men and women of God. It wouldn’t be a bad way to be remembered, would it?