Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Deuteronomy 1-10: Let's Review

Hurray, we made it through another book!  Now we are in Deuteronomy, which means "second law."  It's called that not because there is a second law, but because this is the book where Moses gives the Israelites the Law for the second time.  So pretty much everything in this book will be stuff we've already heard before, and hopefully that reinforces it in our minds better.  And actually, this book repeats some parts of Israel's history more than once.

In chapter 1-4 Moses recounts what happened in Numbers - how the people left Mt. Sinai and came close to Canaan but chickened out from going in, and then had to wander around for 40 years.  Then in chapter 5, he backs up and tells them about the commands God gave him on Mt. Sinai, starting with the Ten Commandments, and reviews the incident with the golden calf and Moses' breaking the stone tablets and having to get new ones.

In the middle of that story, in chapters 6-9, he goes into a bunch of warnings and admonitions.  This is where the Shema, the most important commandment, is found: "Hear, O Israel, the LORD your God, the LORD is one.  You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might."  Moses tells the people to keep God's words so close to them that they talk about them all the time, that they write them down and tie them to their door frames and even to their hands and foreheads - and later on they actually will literally do that.  He warns Israel against intermarrying with any of the foreign people because they would lead them away from God.  Now, as a clarification, a foreigner could join the Jews, be circumcised if he was a male, and become a sort of naturalized citizen, and then I think it was okay to intermarry (we'll see that later on).  But no Jew could marry a foreigner while they were still a worshiper of other gods and did not follow the Law.

Moses tells the Israelites not to be afraid of going into Canaan because God has promised to drive the people out before them, and if they just follow Him wholeheartedly, they will have a really good life.  Listen to these promises: "He will love you and bless you and multiply you; He will also bless the fruit of your womb and the fruit of your ground, your grain and your new wine and your oil, the increase of your herd and the young of your flock . . .You shall be blessed above all peoples; there will be no male or female barren among you or among your cattle.  The LORD will remove from you all sickness; and He will not put on you any of the harmful diseases of Egypt which you have known."  Sounds like a pretty sweet deal.  But in order to get this deal they have to completely remove all temptation.  They have to destroy the altars to pagan gods and not even use the gold and silver the idols are made with.

Moses reminds the people of how God has provided for them over the last 40 years.  I think it's great that he makes a point of saying that for all these years, their clothes and shoes haven't even worn out.  That's something I would have wondered about.

Then Moses turns back to the story of the Ten Commandments, and about the golden calf and all of that.  And Moses' point here seems to be that God didn't choose Israel because they were a great nation or because they were a good nation - in fact, Moses says they've been rebellious for as long as he's known them, and that's certainly the truth.  But God is blessing them anyway, because He loves them and because He made a covenant with Abraham that He will always keep.  God doesn't go back on His word, and He also doesn't bestow favor on us conditionally - that is, based on how good or great we are.

I think one of the main points in recounting Israel's history this way is to impress upon them what God has already done for them, so they will have courage and trust in what He is about to do for them.  The people might still have some fear about going into Canaan - except for Midian, this is the first time that they have been the ones going out on an offensive war, and the people they're going against are giants who live in fortified cities.  Moses wants them to have faith in God and be confident that if God could do everything He did over the last 40 years, taking Canaan will be cake for Him.

Another main reason for saying all this again is that some of the people are actually hearing it for the first time.  Keep in mind that this is the second generation: the person here, other than Moses and Caleb and Joshua, can be no older than 59.  These people were children, teenagers, or not even born yet when God first brought Israel out of Egypt.  A lot of them don't remember what it was like to be slaves, so God makes special rules for treating slaves and foreign visitors well, saying "remember that you were aliens and strangers in Egypt."  They don't remember how God miraculously delivered them from Pharaoh, so Moses is reminding them.  They may have been too young to pay attention to what was happening on Mt. Sinai, so Moses is telling them the whole story.  But some of them do remember, and Moses' goal is to make sure they don't forget like their parents consistently did.

Finally, I think Moses is telling Israel all these things to inspire love and devotion to God, as well as to keep them humble.  He says to remember what God has done so that later on they don't think it was their power or strength that make them rich.  Moses says, "You shall remember the LORD your God, for it is He who is giving you power to make wealth."  Everything we have is a gift of God - even the things we make for ourselves, we can only make because God gives us the ability to do so.  I think it's important to remember that it is only by God's grace that we have whatever it is we have, so that we are always filled with gratitude and so that we appreciate what we have, instead of becoming prideful and greedy.  Well, we'll see how the Israelites do with these lessons later on.

1 comment:

Michelle said...

AMEN! Love your blog, reading it is actually helping me keep one of my New Years Resolutions. Keep up the good work