A Striking Parallel
For me, this part of incredible journey of discovery of the seal began on Mount Joy June 19, 2013 and ended this year on the 241st anniversary of Washington’s arrival, December 19. This passage had lasted almost exactly five and a half years. At the beginning, I took little note of the surroundings, other than to note that the names of the mountains were unusual, Misery and Joy, and to speculate about the great misery and perhaps joy that I imagined that the troops and officers must have experienced there. But the notion that any significance could have existed beyond the names had completely escaped me.
As a matter of course, in taking note of these events, and now seeing significance in the date, something deeper caught my attention. I had written in the book of the parallel that existed between the new nation of Israel, and the fledgling United States. The parallels are profound and surprising, and noted not only by a casual observer, but by the notable people of the day, who wrote of it, designed symbols to recognize it, and had received these thoughts deeply into their thinking and expression. Washington acknowledged it, the first expression of the seal declares it, seemingly every contemporary paid deference to the notion.
And now against the back drop of the full knowledge of the meaning of the seal, I catch my breath. The message of the seal in its many forms, offers America a choice. To chose to be a nation that does what pleases God, as proclaimed by its mottos, Annuit Coeptis, or choose not to act, and accept the deterioration of the foundation of our democracy and of loss of the blessings of God. This choice is much the same as the choice of Hercules proposed by John Adams for the seal. Aretê offering Hercules the virtuous way up the mountain, and Kakia enticing him to the easy way of self-gratification.
In every chapter of the book, we hear the voices of the founders calling us to virtue… aretê. In the final two pages of the book… are the call of God through the prophets Hosea and Malachi… return to me. Hold fast to love and mercy to righteousness and justice… choose to return to me and I will return to you.
It has only been in the past few days that the significance of these two things… the beginning and ending of the journey on Mt. Joy and the message of the seal calling us to choose has come into focus. The mountains, Misery and Joy, are a direct and strong parallel to two other mountains. Just as Misery and Joy loomed large in the early days of this republic, two other mountains did for the nascent republic of Israel—
God had instructed Moses to gather the people on two mountains, half the people on a mountain called Ebel, which means mourning, and the other half on Mt. Gerizim, which means to cut up, as in the ceremony of cutting up animals in a covenant. Shechem at the foot of Gerizim, was the site of a sanctuary called El-Berith, meaning God of the covenant. There, on those mountains, God instructed Moses to proclaim the blessings of keeping the covenant and also to warn of the curse that proceeds from failing to observe the commands.
God seemed to have been specially separating the two by a narrow valley in between. Creating a clear choice for the people… calling them to righteousness as keepers of the covenant. Clearly giving them the choice between two mountains - one of blessing and the other of a curse. We must not obfuscate moral choices, but must seek to know right and wrong. The people were told…. “the things that are revealed belong to us and to our children forever, that we may do all the words of this law.” And “the word is very near you. It is in your mouth and in your heart, so that you can do it.”
The parallels are striking… Mt. Ebel, Mourning vs. Mt. Misery. Mt. Gerizim, the symbol of the covenant vs. Mt. Joy, the promise of the covenant, righteousness peace and joy. The two peoples gathered at the mountain as a gateway to nationhood. Moses & Washington, who is compared by so many, so often with Moses. Franklin, Adams and Jefferson having chosen the figure of Moses to represent the figure of Washington leading the nation out of tyranny into a new land of freedom.
All this seems to me to be an exclamation point on the message of the seal. That day long ago the people heard this, “is not with you alone that I am making this sworn covenant, but [also] with … whoever is not here with us today…” seemingly directing these words to us here and now. Listen to the words God gave to Moses for the people, which a startling parallel to the words that Washington spoke to the people as recorded in the book. These are excerpts from the proclamation on Gerizim and Ebel, which reflect Washington’s own proclamations from Joy and Misery:
“See, I am setting before you today a blessing and a curse: the blessing, if you obey the commandments of the Lord your God, which I command you today, and the curse, if you do not obey the commandments of the Lord your God,”
“See, I have set before you today life and good, death and evil. If you obey the commandments of the Lord your God that I command you today, by loving the Lord your God, by walking in his ways, and by keeping his commandments and his statutes and his rules, then you shall live and multiply, and the Lord your God will bless you…”
“But if your heart turns away, and you will not hear, but are drawn away to worship other gods and serve them, I declare to you today, that you shall surely perish. You shall not live long in the land…”
“I call heaven and earth to witness against you today, that I have set before you life and death, blessing and curse. Therefore choose life, that you and your offspring may live, loving the Lord your God, obeying his voice and holding fast to him, for he is your life.”