Today I had the task of teaching the youth of my Sabbath School class  about the end of Moses’ life on Mount Nebo, which marks the transition between the wilderness experience of ancient Israel and the beginnings of the conquest. I would like to comment at least a little bit briefly on the nature of this transition and discuss some of its most salient points of interest, at least insofar as it comes to teaching children who themselves are at a transition between childhood and adolescence, where there is the simultaneous pull between the familiarity of the way things are and the lure of something desirable just across the river. In a sense, then, at least some of the children I teach are in the same place that Israel was when they were receiving the book of Deuteronomy, which makes for an intriguing area of reflection at least for me, even if I don’t know if the children I teach have that sort of reflection about themselves and the connections between where they are and what they are being taught. I suppose that sort of matter would require conversations more lengthy and serious than I tend to have with the children or their parents.
The first aspect of interest is the context of Deuteronomy itself. While Genesis is a single book that covers thousands of years of human history, generation by generation, and Exodus is a book that focuses on the beginning of the Wilderness experience, Leviticus focuses on the laws involving the priests and Levites and Numbers gives a very compressed account of the wilderness wanderings of Israel, focusing on its beginning and end and not on the interminable wandering in between. Deuteronomy is a bit of a pause, though, in that its events take place in a short time and in a fairly compact area on the plains of Moab just across the Jordan River from Jericho and its surrounding areas. This location not only points out the temporal transition of Deuteronomy, but also its geographic area, which is all the more interesting when one considers that this area prompts one of the few reminders within the Bible of the area of Sodom and Gomorrah , which would indicate that there was likely some sort of visual reminder of those places around where Israel was assembled at the time. Context matters a great deal.
There is also a lot of melancholy when one thinks of the context of Deuteronomy as well. After all, Moses has led the people of Israel through the wilderness, he led their freedom from slavery in Egypt, and now, as they are about to enter into the conquest of the promised land, he is going to die and will have to pass on that task to someone else. For forty years they have sought to get the slave out of the Israelite, marching all around the wilderness, dealing with the reality of the repercussions of the choices they had made and their lack of faith in God’s ability to fulfill his promises. And yet they became a nation in that wilderness, and by the time they were through walking around in circles, they were ready to fulfill, at least temporarily, the task that God had set out for them. To be sure, that did not last for a long while, but it lasted for at least a little while, longer than many human endeavors last. Yet if we are hard on the people of Israel for their hardness of hard, something that Deuteronomy deals with openly and honestly, how hard are we on ourselves for those same qualities that we possess in abundance?
When teaching this lesson to my Sabbath school students, there were a few areas they found of particular interest. For one, they were intrigued by the repetition of the call in Deuteronomy 31 for Israel and its leadership to be of good courage, something that was mentioned over and over again. For another, they were very intrigued by the poetic references to wine being the blood of grapes (Deuteronomy 32:14) and also were intrigued about the children of Levi not regarding their father or mother . They were also particularly interested in the fighting over Moses’ grave told about in Jude 9, and one could almost see the lightbulb going on as they speculated on the reasons why God would not have wanted the location of Moses’ grave to be known while Satan did. I am always pleased when the young ones show an interest in a biblical story, because that means that they are not merely listening to others talk about the Bible but that they themselves are thinking about it, musing upon it, and reflecting on it. Those are the moments when I feel I am best doing my duty to help instruct them in God’s ways, so that the Bible becomes more than something that they believe or know in a vague sense, but something that causes wonder and deeper thought and reflection.
 See, for example: