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Thursday, February 19, 2015

Practical insights for daily life?

The Readings from Deuteronomy this week are from chapters 6&7. One key thing to keep in mind is that the first generation, those rescued from slavery out of Egypt, all perished in the desert. What generated their failure? In the end, they remained enslaved "mentally" even if they had escaped the hands of Pharaoh. Reading Deuteronomy spiritually and metaphorically makes it more applicable to our own lives. [NB, this is an approach to literature and interpretation, not a denial that the events happened. It is a question of what they can mean to us, today, at a deeper level]

There is an expression "a sober drunk" and it refers to the same thing. Our hearts can be wrong even if our outward appearance seems right. Out of the heart, says Jesus, springs forth what makes us unclean. The language of Deuteronomy, speaking of God carrying them like a father carries a child and God's promise to protect and deliver them in the future as He had in the past is juxtaposed with the Israelites' insecurities and failure to act on their faith. In the end, they were still emotionally unable to trust God for more.

Summarizing these chapters one hears several themes., First, there is a close connection between obedience and abundance. The "prosperity gospel" has always bothered me, the Crucified One dealing out Cadillacs seems offensive at some level. Yet, there is a correlation between blessings and behaviors.(Perhaps, the key is luxuries vs. needs.) At any rate, the offer of blessing is accompanied by a warning of wrath. Herein we see one of Deuteronomy's major teaching points. Do not forget God or you will pay the price. My guess is this is organic. Somehow, the problems of living outside the Reign of God are multiplied because God is excluded. If He is rejected and if He goes away then the rulers who fill the void (world, flesh, devil) are bent on destruction. If you reject love the remaining option are counterfeit love, indifference and hate.

The centrality of the land in all this cannot be overlooked. We Christians tend to talk "spiritually" (an influence of Greek philosophy and Gnostic heresy). Ironically, while we sound other worldly, most of us live with an abundance unparalleled in the history of the world. The needs of people of the land, i.e. those who work for their daily bread, leads to a focus on God the provider of our needs. We do well to remember that this land, this earth, this world is the place of blessings promised in the Jewish Bible (and in much of Jesus, too)

7:6 reminds us that grace is not a NT invention. YHWH your God chose you to become a treasured people to Him out of all the people who are on the face of the earth. It wasn't because of your being more numerous than all the people that YHWH was attracted to you so that He chose you, because you are the smallest of all people. But because of YHWH's loving you and because of His keeping the oath He swore to your fathers... (imagine God speaking that to you, especially on days when you feel small, weak and insignificant)

In other words, we cannot earn it, or cause it, or make it happen---it is the love of God for His people which motivates His choice. Now it is a mistake to think that unmerited love is "unconditional"; love is unconditional, but a relationship is not. God always loves His people, but He makes clear that there are limits to His patience. He gives us the freedom to reject Him. And remember that the chosen people are set aside for mission. God promised the Fathers (Abraham) that He would bless the world through them and their offspring. The painfilled history of the Jewish people (summed up in the Crucified) is a bitter reminder that to be God's precious one is no easy task. Do not be envious of the Jews special status. The cost is great. Every bit as great as following Jesus as a true disciple.

The words of Deuteronomy have a secondary or derived application to the church. We do well to understand the wisdom we can take from them, about who God is and how He acts. Greater minds then mine have debated the place of the Jews and the place of God's instruction since Jesus. We each must make a choice of what to do with these words. But I believe it is God's Word, and therefore it is inspired and useful for instruction. And that is why I love reading Deuteronomy.

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