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Thursday, June 20, 2013

The Deal

Reading Deuteronomy 5 the other day and delighted in meditating on the Ten Commandments. Now, one interesting thing about the Ten Commandments is that different streams of the faithful number and divide them in different places. This is pretty amazing and serves as a reminder that God's revelation is always heard and interpreted through a particular context and through the "lenses" of the person(s) hearing it. We agree there are ten of them, but the exact ordering is a different matter.

Which brings me to another point. In the ancient world most people did not, could not, read the Bible. They heard it. The importance of memory in such a context cannot be overstated. I have heard that with the advent of handheld computers and information devices we have lost the ability to memorize things. It makes sense, who needs to memorize what is available via a couple of clicks on a keyboard? In ancient times large amounts of scripture was committed to memory. The words lived within people. That discipline is useful today.

(Dtn 5:1) "Moses called all of Israel." One thing I notice is how often the word "all" appears in the Ancient Covenant texts. It is certainly a community focused idea, a great corrective to our individualism. I am studying the Benedictine way currently in preparation for Sunday school in the Fall. (It takes a lot of  study to make it appear that I am just talking without preparation) All of the authors are Protestant and they all agree that the monastic approach to life, loving God and neighbor in community, is the Biblical model. While we are not monastics, we can adopt the general "the rule of life" as a principle which governs and guides our own interactions. That is what the ten commandments are at their core, a rule of life.

I have also speculated that the word "all" includes later generations. In the ancient anthropology, the descendents are understood to be "within" the father. Hence, the argument about the better priesthood in Hebrews 7 makes this claims "One might even say that Levi himself, who receives tithes, paid tithes through Abraham, for he was still in the loins of his ancestor when Melchizedek met him." In light of that, I wonder if the outrageous numbers (in the hundreds of thousands and even millions) which we often see in the exodus accounts are not in fact a counting up of all the descendents as well. I have not seen any scholars make such a claim, but I do wonder...

Moses calls the people to "listen." Listening is a challenge to all people in all ages, but it is especially hard for us today. Our culture is so noisy, inside our heads and outside. I have been trying to be "more mindful" and "more present" in my daily living. It is not easy, but it is pleasant! I am always flipping through endless "to do" lists in my mind and the duties of father, priest and husband weigh heavy on me. Some days I do not seem to have a moment's peace and even my prayer times can be under duress as I try to "get it done" and generate some contact with God, even as my distracted mind is flitting from one thing to another. Every where we go there is background music and flashing lights and signs demanding our attention.

God does not yell loud enough to be heard over the bedlam. As Elijah learned on the Mountain, sometimes God comes in the whisper. And to hear the whisper one must listen.  Listening is our job, hearing is God's gift. Listening is what we do, hearing is what happens. If we listen to God's law what do we find? We find a way of life. Jesus fully fills up the law and He is The Way. Our relationship with Jesus is the source of life, but even Jesus saw value in the law. It is because the law is connected to the covenant with God. It is the deal YHWH made with the Hebrew slaves (and descendents). Some laws fade and others emerge over time in changed circumstances. New situations dictate new expectations. Yet, at the core, we find Ten Words (the literal meaning of decalogue) which summarize the expectations. God tells Israel, "Be watchful to do them." Be watchful. Richard Friedman's Commentary on Torah includes a reflection on that word wathcful. It is first used in Genesis to describe the duty of humans in the Garden. After the Fall, an angel is given charge to watch the Garden and keep man from the fruit of the tree of life. It next appears when Cain asks, "Am I my brother's watchman/keeper?" Later, in 26:5 God commends Abraham for having "kept my watch." Now here, the fifth use, for all Israel. Keep watch.

Those familiar with the New Covenant texts know that watching and waiting are key words used by Jesus as well. For me, busy doing, it is hard to watch and wait, wherein lies the fallacy of my heart. I turn to me, not God. I look to myself, not God. And I am too busy to even notice. Perhaps blogging is my watching and an entrance into listening? I hope so. More on Deuteronomy 5 in the days ahead.

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