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In March, there was Deuteronomy

March 21, 2013

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Of all Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy, Deternomy is my favorite.  If you haven’t read Deuteronomy lately, let me tell you just a little about it.  Deuteronomy is the Cliff’s Notes of the other three books.  In Deuteronomy, Moses is recounting for the people everything that has happened to them in the last 40 years.  He starts with God leading them out of Egypt and the book ends with someone else finishing the story and recounting Moses’s death.  Deuteronomy contains much more of Moses’ personal opinions and voice (or whoever the author of the book may be.  Moses obviously couldn’t have written about his own death).

One thing that Moses repeats over and over is, “You are a stubborn people.”  That stuck out to me, maybe because I know I am a bit stubborn (wait, persistent).  Stubborn equals proud and a know-it-all.  Stubborn is independent.  Stubborn is foolish and slow to change.  Stubborn is me.  Moses says to the Israelites:  “You must recognize that the LORD your God is not giving you this good land, because you are good, for you are not–you are a stubborn people.”  (Deut 9:6) and then a chapter later, “Therefore, change your hearts and stop being stubborn.”  (Deut 10:16).    Deuteronomy is a reminder to be that stubbornness can keep me from God.  Stubbornness is often a symptom of pride and if there’s anything that the Bible says repeatedly, it is that pride is destructive.

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Deuteronomy is also filled with some of the most quoted verses from the Bible.  It contains the Shema, the prayer that the Jewish tradition repeats many time throughout the day, “Hear, O Israel! the LORD our God, the LORD alone.  You must  love the LORD your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your strength.”  (Deut 6:4-5).  When Jesus is tempted in desert, he quotes Deuteronomy when he responds to the temptation to turn stones to bread, “People do not live by bread alone; rather, we live by every word that comes from the mouth of God.”  (Deut 8:3).  When Moses spoke this, he was reminding the Israelites of God providing for their needs in the desert–the manna and quail they received from God.

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Deuteronomy contains a lot of verses I’d rather just ignore as well.  There’s a lot of the whole retribution theology–God will give you what you deserve–that I don’t hold as true.  Job proved that for us, back in January.  There’s also a lot of death and violence—instructions to wipe out entire groups of people and stoning those who sin.  As a Christian who takes seriously the words of Jesus when he says, “love your enemies,”  I tend to gloss over the violence of Israelites and their move into Canaan.  I remember the words of Peter Enns, who helped me see the Old Testament as an incarnation of God to Jews who lived then–it was written for a specific people in a specific time.  Maybe I am doing some funny theology here, but Jesus’s instructions to love–always love–trumps God’s words to destroy all men, women, and children who laid in the Israelites path.  In the Sermon of the Mount, Jesus says, “I did not come to abolish the law of Moses or the writing of the prophets.  No, I came to accomplish their purpose.  I tell you the truth, until heaven and earth disappear, not even the smallest detail of God’s law will disappear until it’s purpose is achieved.” (Mat 5:17-18, italics mine).  And what is the purpose of the law?  The Shema noted above–The LORD is our God, the LORD alone.  Love the LORD your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your strength.  Those words allow me to let go of an “eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth” (Deut 19:21)  and learn the purpose of the law, which is to love, as Jesus says in Matthew 5:39, “But I tell you, do not resist an evil person!  If someone slaps you on the right  cheek, offer the other cheek also.”

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It is in Deuteronomy, we can get a clearer picture of the importance of Moses as well.  Not only did Moses speak with God and lead the Israelites for forty years, Moses also was a prophet.  As I read through words in Deuteronomy, I read words that foretold the destruction of Judah and Israel by the Babylonians–the captivity because Israel had fallen away from God.  In addition to calling the Israelites stubborn, Moses also reprimanded them for being satisfied with enough and turning away from God.  Once they became rich and well-fed, Moses said, they forgot that they needed God.  They sought other gods from the people around them (which is probably the reason for the instructions to kill the neighboring peoples–you can’t adopt their culture/religion if they’re dead) and forgot about when they were hungry and God provided, about when they were thirsty and God caused water to flow from rocks.   They forgot how God led them through the desert with a cloud by day and a fire by night.  They had all they needed, which replaced their need for God.

Hmm…I don’t think there’s anything we can learn from that,is there?

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Of all the books attributed to Moses, Deuteronomy is my favorite.  This is the book of instructions from Moses–instructions of how to live.  Moses talks of God as a mother and a father–talking about the God who had given you birth (Deut 32:18) and comparing God to an eagle that rouses her chicks and hovers over her young (Deut 32:11).  Deuteronomy is book to remind to love and worship God alone–there are no other gods but God.  While much of the instructions are conditional (if-then) statements of how we earn God’s love (which we don’t–it’s given to us without condition, always), it also instructs us how to respond to God’s love,  “Show love to the LORD your God by walking in his ways and holding tightly to him.”  (Deut 11:22).

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