St. Mark's Episcopal Church

124 North Sylvia Street - Montesano, WA, 98563

Pentecost 21




Pentecost 21

Deuteronomy 34:1-12

Psalm 90:1-6, 13-17


1 Thessalonians 2:1-8

Matthew 22:34-46

Today’s talk is a combo of a “history lesson” about the last of the 40 year journey for Moses and the Israelites in the wilderness (from our 1st reading in Deuteronomy 34), and a look at the Summary of the Law by Jesus (from the Gospel reading in Matthew 22). 


First, I want to point out that all we have been reading in Pentecost about the Jewish people during all of the timeframe pre-Egypt and Joseph up to this Sunday with Moses and the journey to the Promised Land has never been clearly proven to have happened at all.  There are writings in Egypt going back to this time but they do not discuss any of this.  And archaeologists have not found anything beyond about 700BC going back that clearly shows the 12 tribes of Israel, or the reigns of King David and Solomon and other Jewish kings.  Scientists have begun to try to explain such events as the parting of the Red Sea, and how manna exists.  It is clear that people lived at that time in the areas mentioned, but it is not definitive who they really were and what they did and who their God was.  We only have the Bible and the Old Testament writings that tell the history of the Jewish people, told by word of mouth and then first written down hundreds of years after they would have occurred.

That disclaimer aside, let’s look at the end of this 40 year journey that Moses and the Jewish people were finishing up to get to Canaan.  Remember that Donna described in her talk 3 weeks ago about the meandering the Israelites did around the Sinai peninsula.  Here is the map again.  (Explain how crazy this was, and that they eventually ended up going through the lands of Edom and Moab to get to the view of the land of Canaan, the Promised Land.)

Moses was shown by God from a high mountain (Mt Nebo) an amazing view of these lands looking west and north.  This supposedly occurred in 1406BC, just before Moses died.  He was also reminded by God that he would not get to enter these lands himself because he had disobeyed God. When the people were angry and thirsting for water, instead of pointing out where the water would come from (as directed by God), he had violently struck the rock and the water came forth, and he did not clearly give credit to God for it.  Anyway, he soonafter died and is maybe buried somewhere nearby this Mt. Nebo. 

Mt Nebo itself is in present day Jordan, part of an elevated ridge east the Dead Sea and the upper Jordan river.  It is about 2330 ft above sea level, but seems higher because the Dead Sea and surrounding lands below are about 1200 ft below sea level.  Jericho is straight west of this mountain and even Jerusalem can be seen looking SW on a clear day. 

A last thing I believe is interesting is the treatment of these events and land by Christian people and groups later on.  Similar to what has happened in many other “holy” places in parts of Israel, this Mt. Nebo has a long history of memorializing by Christian groups. 

On the highest point of the mountain, the remains of a Byzantine church monastery were discovered in 1933.  This church was first constructed in the 2nd half of the 4th century to commemorate the place of Moses’ death.  The church was expanded in the 5th and 6th centuries into a large basilica with a stunning collection of Byzantine mosaics and an elaborate baptistry. Though little remains of the early buildings, the mosaics can be seen inside the present-day shrine.  Finally, the church became part of a monastery and was increased in size to become a basilica and became the focus point of pilgrimage for over six hundred years.

After the area was totally abandoned by the latter half of the 16th century, the buildings were neglected and fell into a state of disrepair until the entire area was purchased in 1993 by the Franciscans, a Catholic religious order founded by Francis of Assisi in the 13th century. After a period of restoration and excavation, Mount Nebo is once again an active monastery, encompassing the Franciscan Archaeological Institute.

The Moses Memorial that houses the Byzantine mosaics was closed for renovation from 2007 to 2016. It reopened on 15 October 2016.