Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Deuteronomy 8

1"Be careful to obey all the commands I am giving you today. Then you will live and multiply, and you will enter and occupy the land the LORD swore to give your ancestors. 2Remember how the LORD your God led you through the wilderness for forty years, humbling you and testing you to prove your character, and to find out whether or not you would really obey his commands. 3Yes, he humbled you by letting you go hungry and then feeding you with manna, a food previously unknown to you and your ancestors. He did it to teach you that people need more than bread for their life; real life comes by feeding on every word of the LORD. 4For all these forty years your clothes didn't wear out, and your feet didn't blister or swell. 5So you should realize that just as a parent disciplines a child, the LORD your God disciplines you to help you.
6"So obey the commands of the LORD your God by walking in his ways and fearing him. 7For the LORD your God is bringing you into a good land of flowing streams and pools of water, with springs that gush forth in the valleys and hills. 8It is a land of wheat and barley, of grapevines, fig trees, pomegranates, olives, and honey. 9It is a land where food is plentiful and nothing is lacking. It is a land where iron is as common as stone, and copper is abundant in the hills. 10When you have eaten your fill, praise the LORD your God for the good land he has given you.
11"But that is the time to be careful! Beware that in your plenty you do not forget the LORD your God and disobey his commands, regulations, and laws. 12For when you have become full and prosperous and have built fine homes to live in, 13and when your flocks and herds have become very large and your silver and gold have multiplied along with everything else, 14that is the time to be careful. Do not become proud at that time and forget the LORD your God, who rescued you from slavery in the land of Egypt. 15Do not forget that he led you through the great and terrifying wilderness with poisonous snakes and scorpions, where it was so hot and dry. He gave you water from the rock! 16He fed you with manna in the wilderness, a food unknown to your ancestors. He did this to humble you and test you for your own good. 17He did it so you would never think that it was your own strength and energy that made you wealthy. 18Always remember that it is the LORD your God who gives you power to become rich, and he does it to fulfill the covenant he made with your ancestors.
19"But I assure you of this: If you ever forget the LORD your God and follow other gods, worshiping and bowing down to them, you will certainly be destroyed. 20Just as the LORD has destroyed other nations in your path, you also will be destroyed for not obeying the LORD your God.

Points of Interest:

· Much of the book of Deuteronomy consists of parting words from Moses. He knows that his own death is drawing near. The rest of the people will be going on to the promised land, but he will not be going with them. So, he’s taking a final moment to remind them of what they’ve been through, to tell them a few things he’s forgotten, and to give them some last words of wisdom. Moses’ own journey is nearly complete. The last thing he needs to do is to serve as a mentor, training a whole new generation how to have the same, exciting, larger than life, hero’s journey of faith he had. He’s learned a few things over the past 120 years of hero’s journey with God, and he wants to pass them on before he goes.

· ‘God led you through the wilderness for forty years’—Moses himself spent 40 years tending Jethro’s flocks before his hero’s journey really kicked in. Likewise, this new generation of Israelites has spent 40 years in the wilderness being trained and formed, to prepare them for the adventure ahead.

· ‘real life comes by feeding on every word of the LORD’—this is perhaps the perfect summary of Moses’ life lesson. He has learned this lesson himself powerfully by actually feasting off of God’s word rather than food for 40 days on the mountain, by seeing innumerable amazing things happen as he has obeyed God’s instructions, and—painfully—by facing the dramatic negative results of ignoring God’s instructions in the second incident of bringing water from the rock. Utter confidence in the truth of this statement is the ‘magic elixir’ Moses has gained through his life-long heroic journey with God, and he is now handing this key to success on to the people so that they can thrive in the new land God is going to give them.

· ‘the LORD your God disciplines you to help you’—having heard so much about the times the people of Israel have come to the edge of hunger or thirst might prompt us to ask the question, ‘If God is so good, why wouldn’t he provide for them more quickly?’ Moses gives us an answer here. First of all, he points out that in other ways God has been a miraculously generous nurturer and provider: their clothes have never worn out, and their feet have never gotten tired even though they’ve been walking in the same shoes for 40 years—not to mention the fact that God has protected them from their enemies during this time. So, obviously, it’s not that God is unconcerned for their welfare or unable to care for them. Why then does he let them get to the point of wondering where their next food or drink will come from? Because he is trying to teach them something. A parent’s intention in disciplining a child is not to act out of anger, nor to show hatred of the child, nor even to make the child feel bad. In fact, a good parent disciplines a child for the exact same reason he or she feeds a child or provides a good education: to prepare the child to thrive. That’s what God is trying to do for the Israelites as well. He has spent 40 years trying to teach them to trust him to provide, to ask him for what they need, and to recognize—as Moses did—that relationship with God himself is more important and more satisfying than any material blessing that he could give them. If they follow this lesson, they will have a great life ahead of them in the promised land.

· ‘It is a land where food is plentiful and nothing is lacking’—this whole time, God hasn’t particularly wanted to be in constant contention with his people. He’s desperately wanted to give them an awesomely good gift. At every point, though, their complaints, rebellion, or abandonment of him have gotten in the way.

· ‘that is the time to be careful!’—it will be even harder to remember to stay close to God when they don’t have immediate needs that force them to cry out to him. It is their relationship with God that will bring them into the place of blessing. If they forget that fact and abandon God for his blessings, they will cut themselves off from the source of future blessing.

· ‘Just as the LORD has destroyed other nations in your path’—at core, there’s nothing essentially different about the Israelites from the people they are replacing in the promised land. The only thing that makes them distinct is their covenant with the LORD. They’ve agreed to be God’s special people and to follow his instructions, and God has agreed to show just how good he can make life for a people who put themselves into his hands. If the Israelites ever decide that they are uninterested in maintaining this agreement, they are just like anybody else. God has promised to give them this amazing place to live, but he would also be willing to take it away from them if it comes to that.

Taking it home:

· For you: While it is certainly not true that every bad thing that happens to us is God’s will, it seems that this passage is saying that at least some things that we find difficult or unpleasant are actually signs of God’s love and care for us. God is using them to train us how to survive and how to thrive in life. What are some trying circumstances you’ve experienced lately—not evil things that have happened to you, but things that stretch your patience, trust, or faith? Ask God if he is trying to teach you something in that circumstance. If you feel able, express your gratefulness for the fact that he loves you so much that he is willing to help you build the skills and the character to really thrive.

· For your six: Remembering is a very important part of building trust in God. It’s all too easy for us to forget about the good things we’ve been given: in bad times, our memories of the good times are crowded out; and in good times, we quickly take the good things for granted. Pray that your six would have a good memory for good gifts they’ve received. Ask God to remind them even today of a wonderful thing that happened to them that they haven’t thought of for a while.

· For our church: Our church has had a pretty exciting history of great blessing from God. This passage warns us that times of blessing can easily become dangerous, because it’s easy to take the blessings for granted and to forget God completely in the midst of the enjoyment and pleasure. Pray that God would rescue us from any complacency, would protect us from forgetting in the future, and give us a limitless hunger for relationship with him above all else.