Let’s keep in mind that we’ve encountered in our earlier study much of what Moses is telling the people in this book. So, we want to look here at a) why Moses brings these matters up again and in the order he does, b) how what he says differs in detail from what we’ve already read, and c) the ways in which the narrative is important to listeners (including us!) who did not live through the events and lessons that Moses is discussing. Having our antennae up on all this will help us better understand what’s being said and why, and what it may mean for us.
12 If you listen to these case laws and follow them carefully, the Lord your God will keep the covenant and display the loyalty that he promised your ancestors. 13 He will love you, bless you, and multiply you. He will bless the fruit of your wombs and the fruit of your fertile land—all your grain, your wine, your oil, and the offspring of your cattle and flocks—upon the very fertile land that he swore to your ancestors to give to you.
I. We saw this idea at the end of Vayikra. Indeed it was a major element of the sermon that Mark and Sandy co-delivered at worship services that day. So, it’s not something we have had a chance to discuss in class. Let’s do so today. Is this covenant promise of blessing upon living as God expects one that manifests itself in physical and material ways, as the language suggests on the surface? Or is this about a deeper or spiritual sort of blessing, a richness of contentment and shalom, if you will? Or perhaps both?
(This should be a good opportunity for the class to get into a good discussion of different views here. Mark and I left it that it mostly seems true at the deeper spiritual level, where the gift of God’s blessing actually seems most valuable. That is to say, what material gift, whether wealth or length of days, is of greater value than the gift of contentment and God’s nearness and presence? This is fundamentally the meaning of being blessed.
Yet, there seems to be some truth intended at the material level. What is it? Is it that if we live according to God’s wisdom, say, in sync with these instructions (such as those in Proverbs), we might be inclined to share in these blessings? Or at least be more content with what we have?
But, yet again, aren’t there very good and Godly people who die young or are without resources? How do we square that? We see a mighty struggle with this in Job and some of the Psalms where the “quid pro quo” notion we see here seems far less clear.
Or is it that this text does not purport to speak for each and every human circumstance, but rather more broadly about the consequences for a community that is true versus one that is wicked?
Or, perhaps, more deeply, does this text address only, or mostly, a narrow and specific range of life’s circumstances? Maimonides teaches in this way: there are several causes of suffering - natural, social, and those brought on by our own doing (wrongdoing). The Bible is addressing only the latter cause here in that these chastisements are not related to, nor amount to a response to, the other causes. Indeed, one must be careful in seeing, and indeed avoid too easily seeing, God’s chastisement in human suffering. For one might be wrong far more often than one is right.
This is one of the toughest sets of issues in the Bible; so, I’m glad the class is in Mike’s capable hands, and I’m safely in Colorado!)
3 He humbled you by making you hungry and then feeding you the manna that neither you nor your ancestors had ever experienced, so he could teach you that people don’t live on bread alone. No, they live based on whatever the Lord says.
I. We’ve seen this verse many times before and likely heard it in many a sermon. The sense has clearly evolved from Exodus where it seemed to be simply a miracle of food. Do you see a fresh meaning upon a close read?
(One shouldn’t go too far in concluding that food is no longer necessary for sustenance or that the material no longer matters. Yet, we do go to the fundamental idea here that basically it is God that sustains us, in whatever means the Divine chooses.
Consistent with the theme in the book, we live and flourish because of God’s word. In other words, the type of food through which we are nourished is really the outer layer of the story. The deeper layer is that our lives and souls are in God’s care.)
III. A. 8:12-20
12 When you eat, get full, build nice houses, and settle down, 13 and when your herds and your flocks are growing large, your silver and gold are multiplying, and everything you have is thriving, 14 don’t become arrogant, forgetting the Lord your God:
the one who rescued you from Egypt, from the house of slavery;
15 the one who led you through this vast and terrifying desert of poisonous snakes and scorpions, of cracked ground with no water;
the one who made water flow for you out of a hard rock;
16 the one who fed you manna in the wilderness, which your ancestors had never experienced, in order to humble and test you, but in order to do good to you in the end.
17 Don’t think to yourself, My own strength and abilities have produced all this prosperity for me. 18 Remember the Lord your God! He’s the one who gives you the strength to be prosperous in order to establish the covenant he made with your ancestors—and that’s how things stand right now. 19 But if you do, in fact, forget the Lord your God and follow other gods, serving and bowing down to them, I swear to you right now that you will be completely destroyed. 20 Just like the nations that the Lord is destroying before you, that’s exactly how you will be destroyed—all because you didn’t obey the Lord your God’s voice.
A. What do we find here, and why is it emphasized?
(We’ve studied this idea before as well - that we must always understand that our well being and success are not due principally to our own doing, and, more precisely, that our heart should not grow so haughty that we forget that God’s saving hand is why we make it to and flourish in the land.)
B. Yet, why is Moses emphasizing this teaching here?
(Surely, he has the view that this bloated sense of self - this human tendency to self-adulation, virtually a worship of the self - is a dangerous form of idolatry that is responsible for many of the ways we stray. He’s seen it on the journey as one of the greatest flaws in the people, a source of huge danger, and something that must be understood and strongly resisted by the people in the land.)
C. Let’s look back and read the verse that precedes what we just read - verse 10.
10 You will eat, you will be satisfied, and you will bless the Lord your God in the wonderful land that he’s given you.
This has become the basis for the Jewish practice of saying a blessing after the meal (in addition to the short blessings beforehand). Given what we’ve just discussed, why does mention of this blessing come just before the teaching we just discussed?
(Perhaps it’s after we’re sated when we feel least dependent, more assured of our own satisfied needs, that gratitude to God is most in order. Wouldn’t it be then that we might most want to remember that God is the source of our sustenance, just as we might want to be sure to be grateful as we see our abundance laid out before us.)
IV. Read 9:7.
A. Here begins a long account of the many ways the people strayed, beginning with what must have seemed to Moses in retrospect the most stunning and disappointing - the making and worship of the golden calf. Why the lengthy treatment of this waywardness at this point in the narrations?
(This generation cannot lose knowledge of this, nor can any subsequent one. We have the instinct ourselves to stray. When acted upon, it was and always will be destructive, not only of us and our community, but also of our relationship with God and our presence in the land of promise.
Yet, they (we) must be on guard and vigilant, beyond being merely knowledgeable.
Like a caring parent and teacher, Moses has the greatest anxiety about this risk for the people; so he warns about its degree of seriousness and lays the foundation for teaching about how to avoid it in the future.)
V. Read 10:12-13.
12 Now in light of all that, Israel, what does the Lord your God ask of you? Only this: to revere the Lord your God by walking in all his ways, by loving him, by serving the Lord your God with all your heart and being, 13 and by keeping the Lord’s commandments and his regulations that I’m commanding you right now. It’s for your own good!
(In answering, keep in mind Micah 6:8 - What does the Lord require of you? To act justly, to
love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God.
These are very similar in that both involve walking in God’s ways. Micah emphasizes justice and mercy, which could be seen as his basic sense of what keeping the mitzvoth entail. Moses emphasizes love of God as well as awe, which Micah could mean by walking humbly with God. Moses uses a verb meaning “asks,” and Micah uses a verb meaning “requires.” Is there a difference here, in that one suggests more of a matter of choice, and one connotes being commanded?
Other thoughts about why Moses comes to this language here?
Moses clearly wants to keep returning to theme of what it means to live in covenant with God. This is a guide to blessed living and an antidote to rebellion and apostasy. This is his basic purpose in the orations: his plea to the people to be true and show fidelity to God as they enter and live in the land. These short accounts of what’s required are memorable and give the listener a good benchmark against which to plan and act in life.
VI. Read verses 16-19.
16 So circumcise your hearts and stop being so stubborn, 17 because the Lord your God is the God of all gods and Lord of all lords, the great, mighty, and awesome God who doesn’t play favorites and doesn’t take bribes. 18 He enacts justice for orphans and widows, and he loves immigrants, giving them food and clothing. 19 That means you must also love immigrants because you were immigrants in Egypt.
What does it mean to cut away the thickening about one’s heart? How actually do we thicken our hearts, and what’s wrong with it?
(Isn’t this pride, self-centeredness, stubbornness, acting like all good things are a result of our own doing, a selfishness to the requirements and needs of God and each other, an imperviousness to God’s call to us, a dullness to the spirit, a blocking of the heart to God’s wisdom and teaching, etc. These verses teach us that we must unblock obstructions we’ve allowed to build up to a sensitivity to God’s concerns, such as the Divine interest in the fatherless, the widow, and the stranger, as well as in fair play, especially in judging.)
VII. A. We will not stop at 11:1, but note that Moses repeats the paramount virtue of loving God and staying true to God’s ways. This is said again not because it’s new, but rather because it’s so crucial it bears repeating.
11:1 So love the Lord your God and follow his instruction, his regulations, his case laws, and his commandments always.
Likewise, we won’t review 8-17, which emphasize and describe once again the wonderful land of promise into which we will enter in covenant with God, the obligations we bear there and the consequences for us if we neglect our obligations. I encourage your reflection on what this means at its deepest level, what this land is in all of its dimensions, why Moses discusses it yet again, and what it meant to his listeners as well as to us.
8 So keep every part of the commandment that I am giving you today so that you stay strong to enter and take possession of the land that you are crossing over to possess, 9 and so that you might prolong your life on the fertile land that the Lord swore to your ancestors to give to them and their descendants—a land full of milk and honey.
10 The land you are about to enter and possess is definitely not like the land of Egypt, where you came from, where you sowed your seed and irrigated it by hand like a vegetable garden. 11 No, the land you are entering to possess is a land of hills and valleys, where your drinking water will be rain from heaven. 12 It’s a land that the Lord cares for: the Lord’s eyes are on it constantly from the first of the year until the very end of the year.
13 Now, if you completely obey God’s commandments that I am giving you right now, by loving the Lord your God and by serving him with all your heart and all your being, 14 then he will provide rain for your land at the right time—early rain and late rain—so you can stock up your grain, wine, and oil. 15 He will also make your fields lush for your livestock, and you will eat and be satisfied. 16 But watch yourselves! Otherwise, your heart might be led astray so you stray away, serving other gods and worshipping them. 17 Then the Lord’s anger would burn against you. He will close the sky up tight. There won’t be any rain, and the ground won’t yield any of its crops. You will quickly disappear off the wonderful land the Lord is giving to you.
B. In that vein, let’s read verses 11-12. This is a good occasion to share further ideas on what is
meant by the promised land. Thoughts?
(Note and reflect upon what the text means as to the “strength” needed to “possess” the land and “endure.” And always keep in mind that this is land looked after by God. “From the rain of the heavens you will drink water - a land that the Lord your God seeks out perpetually, the eyes of the Lord your God are upon it from the year’s beginning to the year’s end.”
First, what do we associate, at least in part, with water? The spiritual level of reality, no?
Second, while we must always acknowledge the physical level at which this operates, we must also search for the truths through which it operates within the spirit. One could make much of this text by simply exploring it deeply as the land of living within the spirit and expectations of God.)
VIII. Let’s read verses 18-21.
18 Place these words I’m speaking on your heart and in your very being. Tie them on your hand as a sign. They should be on your forehead as a symbol. 19 Teach them to your children, by talking about them when you are sitting around your house and when you are out and about, when you are lying down and when you are getting up. 20 Write them on your house’s doorframes and on your city’s gates. 21 Do all that so your days and your children’s days on the fertile land the Lord swore to give to your ancestors are many—indeed, as many as the number of days that the sky’s been over the earth!
(Lots of possibilities. If we live as God expects, life here has a touch of heaven to it. This could suggest a path from earthly life to heaven. Or it could be translated as if to say in a somewhat different vein that living this life has the blessing of heaven and is a promise that will be fulfilled so long as there is a heaven, in other words, forever.)
Conclusion: Read verse 22
22 It’s true: if you carefully keep all this commandment that I’m giving you, by doing it, by loving the Lord your God, by walking in all his ways, and by clinging to him,
We’ve talked about following the mitzvoth; we’ve talked about loving God; and we’ve talked about walking in God’s ways. Now we get an additional notion, some say of cleaving in them, or better, cleaving unto God. If translated that way, what does this mean?
(Ramban says it means to remember God’s ways and love always, so as to never separate oneself from Him in any phase of living. It’s certainly worth our while to strive in this direction, to where one’s soul “shall be bound in the bundle of life,” where one’s being becomes “a residence for the Divine Glory.” Ramban speaks spatially, which leads us to this wisdom: we go into a land designated for us by God to make it and ourselves “a residence for Divine Glory.)
Next week: The foundation of the teaching is now laid. Moses is ready to open the eyes of the people (and us, too) to see how to live as God expects. You can’t miss that! See you next Sunday.
Scripture taken from the Common English Bible®, CEB® Copyright © 2010, 2011 by Common English Bible.™ Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide. The "CEB" and "Common English Bible" trademarks are registered in the United States Patent and Trademark Office by Common English Bible. Use of either trademark requires the permission of Common English Bible.