So, I’m still playing catch up this week. I’ve had a few blog posts stewing, but haven’t published yet. This week and next, I hope to be completely caught up. In helping to understand the book of Deuteronomy I encourage you to read the “Foreword” for the book found in your Bible to understand the form and order of the text.
My friend and colleague, Cara Gilger, once said that one of the most striking things she found in the first chapter of Deuteronomy, where Moses is recounting the Israelite’s journey, is the idea of choosing your battles. In Deuteronomy 1:22-43 recaps how the Israelites were called into the land, but because of their doubt, they changed their minds about wanting to fight their battle. When told of their punishment for disobedience the Israelites then wanted to fight, even after being warned that God would not be with them.
Gilger writes, “How often have I tried to fight a “battle” that I knew I couldn’t win either with my family or at school or work? I think this passage reminds me of the value of listening to God in a discernment process. I think so often we get caught up in what we want or what will be easy or fun or in our best interest and we forget, like the Israelites that we are connected and one generation’s decision can affect many generations to come.”
Currently, in the news, the story about the oil pipeline being constructed in South Dakota strikes a chord with me about long term consequences for our decisions. Supporters of the pipeline encourage us to think about the jobs and economic benefits to come with this pipeline. Those opposed to the pipeline are against it because of the long term harm to the environment (disturbance in construction and potential future accidents) and the land that is considered sacred by the Tribes who live in that area. How is God speaking in this moment? What do we view as most important in looking toward the future? Are the economy and the environment on opposite ends of God’s voice?
Chapter 5 begins the largest portion of Deuteronomy which communicates the law. One my favorite passages comes from the sixth chapter where Moses commands the people to love their God with all their hearts and to share this with their children, at home and when they are away. How do we share our stories of faith? How might we consider that which God has called all of God’s people to do—share their stories of faith and love. How have you experienced God’s love at FCC? What else can we do?
Chapter 12 begins the restatement of the Law Code that dominates the purpose of Deuteronomy. This section of the narrative is to establish social order within the Israelite community as the people of God, giving them boundaries for what is appropriate behavior, how to treat one another and how to celebrate God’s presence properly. As you read these sections consider how these social codes can be still be seen in our culture and what ones seem silly or even ridiculous now. What strikes you as odd? What seems familiar?
For example, most of the foods the Israelites are encouraged not to eat in chapter 14 are still foods that we don’t eat, however they were banned from eating animals that chewed cud and one of the most eaten animals in the American culture is the cow. Some scholars have suggested that these food laws were developed over time and reflected an overall concern for the health of the community, but more than likely the concern was for ritual purity. At that time, there was a pressing concern for the purity of the community and this idea that an individual could contaminate the purity of the whole community. This was not in the metaphorical sense we think of today, but rather the Israelites would have considered this very literal since they did not see themselves as individual first and community members second as we do. Therefore, what each individual does to their own body effects the body of the whole community in the sight of God.
In chapter 27, tensions between law and grace emerge, tensions that are at the heart of the apostle Paul’s writings to the Romans and Galatians in the New Testament. As the people of Israel prepared to cross over the Jordan and into the Promised Land, the law appeared to be the indispensable key to success and achievement. Ronald Clements writes, “Yet for those, like the deuteronomic authors, looking back over what had happened since the death of Moses there was a consciousness of failure and disaster. The law had been the guidebook Israel had failed to follow. Accordingly, chapters 27-30, brings a consciousness to this fact very forcefully to the reader. The book of Deuteronomy is an optimistic document, setting out a story full of promise and hoped-for achievement. Yet hidden away in many of its warning speeches and poetry is a very gloomy and despairing note. It is a warning concerning the curse of the law and the pain of regret felt by authors surveying the prospect of a world that might have been. Only by coming to terms with this note of gloom and near despair does a fresh message of hope and renewal come to the surface.”
I wonder how Deuteronomy, on this level, speaks to us today…