Our daily lectionary this week is Deuteronomy 8-11; Hebrews 2-5 and John 2-4. I am focused on Deuteronomy and once more encountered notice of grace and faith in the Jewish Bible.
As we said earlier this week, God saves the Jews through unmerited grace, this comes home several times again this week e.g. 8:18-19 (God gives you power to get wealth in fulfillment of the covenant that He made on oath with your Fathers), 9:4-5 (say NOT "the Lord has enabled us to possess this land because of our righteousness [this Hebrew verb is translated by the Greek word Paul uses over and over]... it is not because of your righteousness and uprightness." Not because of what you have done are you blessed, but because of God's gracious faithfulness!
The Israelites are charged by Moses, again and again, as being stiff necked and disobedient---this is before they even enter the land! Stiff-necked may refer to the refusal to prostrate one's self and bow one's head in a sign of submission. The connection of faith and obedience is heard in 9:23 (you flouted the command of the Lord your God and did not put your trust (faith) in Him and did not obey Him.) He finished with this harsh assessment: "as long as I have known you you have been defiant toward the Lord." Yet recall, God faithfully saves them, over and over, and is very patient for a long, long time.
The New Testament Hebrews reading emphasizes the superiority of Jesus (Son) over Moses (servant). "We, the author writes, are His house." However, in speaking to Christians about their vocation, he uses Psalm 95. 95:7 "if today you hear His voice" (The Hebrew root, 'shema'--listen, hear, hearken-- occurs 75x in Deuteronomy, several times as a command) "harden not your hearts" Hebrews applies this psalm command to Jews to Christians, many of whom are Gentiles. His warning continues "take care that none of you has an evil and unbelieving heart." He continues to illustrate "those who sinned," "those who were disobedient," and "so see that they were unable to enter because of their unbelief." His parallel of Jew and Gentile expresses the continuation of the covenant (although he states the new in Jesus is superior) and the continuity, to some extent, of Christianity and Judaism.
Lent is a time to rekindle that flame of faith, to cry out to God for saving deliverance and ask Him for the gift of faith within us to be renewed. Faith is a gift and faith is a struggle. Believing in God is a cognitive challenge. Logic can give us some comfort because it is reasonable to believe there is a God. However, faith, believing in the God and Father of Jesus Christ, believing in the God revealed in Scripture, is more than an intellectual exercise. If I "believe in" this God that includes not only a mental assent, but also an assent of the will (I receive Him and give myself to Him-- faith here means trust). To trust God is also to obey Him. We cannot say we believe and disobey. Obedience is the firm content of faith/trust.
Our lives matter to God. He remembers His promise (covenant oath) and He is faithful. If He is "angry" with us (judgment is also a recurring theme in Deuteronomy, Hebrews and in the John section which we did not discuss) it is because He loves us so. But we do well to recall the ratio: judgment on three to four generations for unfaithfulness versus blessings for a thousand generations for faithfulness. The blessings are 250 to 333 times as great as the curse!
So fear not, beloved child of God, He means you well. Trust Him and be trustworthy and obedient...