Deuteronomy - Friday Night Genesis May 4, 2012Intro to the bookThe name of the book pretty much describes what you get. Deuteronomy is the retellingof the law, or “the second law“. In spite of that there are a number of reasons why I reallyenjoyed this book. First off, you get the history of the last 40 years in a neat littlesummary, and it also has a personal feel to it as you get to hear Moses’ own perspectiveon the events of those years, even his personal feelings as he freely and frequently laysit on the conscience of the Israelites that it was because of their behavior that he will notget to enter the promised land. And finally there is the tenderness of this elderly leader ofthe nation, as he imparts the last words of advice and wisdom to the people he has ledin the hopes that they will heed his advice, live long and prosper in the promised land.Historically we are pausing once again at the end of the 40 years of wandering throughthe wilderness putting us somewhere in the 1400‘s B.C. Last month I had a map to showthe journey, so we’ll quickly review this. (show map). So in Deuteronomy we have endedup here on the north side of the Dead Sea on the eastern shores of river Jordan. In 1997I had the privilege of visiting today’s Jordan. Of course for the 9 years after that I alsohad the privilege of explaining to every customs official I encountered why I had a visa tothe Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan plastered across the entire first page of my passport!During that trip I had the opportunity to go to the top of Mount Nebo from where Mosesviewed the promised land. Before I show you the pictures I’d just like to say that this wasin the days before digital cameras when you had your 24 exposures that you usedsparingly and hoped the pictures came out OK.Reading: Deuteronomy 30:15-20Blessings and cursesThis reading is a good sample of the flavor we find in much of the book of Deuteronomy.The blessings and curses. And it gives rise to some interesting theology later in the Bibleand even to the present day. If you were healthy and wealthy you must have been doingthe right thing and so won God’s favor and blessing. That’s why when Job losteverything his friends were sure that Job must have upset God something fierce to havelost everything in such dramatic fashion. You may also remember the disciples askingabout a blind man “who sinned - this man or his parents?” (John 9:2). In their minds, andbased on texts like this from the book of Deuteronomy, someone must have sinned forthat guy to have been cursed with blindness.There are two words that will be our words of the month as we explore the blessings andthe curses in the book of Deuteronomy: intrinsic and imposed. If a child of say 5 years ofage is running around the house at full tilt and you say to them “stop running or I will tanyour hide”, and the child continues running, assuming you carry through with your threat,will there be pain involved? Yes. Is it intrinsic or imposed? It is imposed - you imposedthe pain. If the child is running around the house and you say to them “stop running oryou might hurt yourself” and the child continues running, slips and crashes into the sideof the wardrobe, will there be pain involved? Yes. Will it be intrinsic or imposed? Thiswould be intrinsic - because the pain was a natural consequence of the actions theyengaged in. As a parent you may decide to opt for the imposed model, simply becauseyou can impart the lesson in a controlled manner by warming up their bottom, rather
than having them uncontrollably crash into something and learning about the intrinsicconsequences through an injury that may require a visit to the ER. Now if a 35 year oldwas running around the house, which method would you use? You’d just hope that bythe age of 35 they have learned not to run around the house!I believe this illustration helps us to understand God’s dealings with the Israelites whenHe gave them the blessings and the curses. The book of Deuteronomy reveals the heartof Moses as he councils the people he has led for all these year, but it also reveals theheart of God. As the Israelites contemplated with trepidation going into the promisedland where they will be opposed by giants, this is what Moses says: “Do not be terrified;do not be afraid of them. The Lord your God, who is going before you, will fight for you,as he did for you in Egypt, before your very eyes, and in the wilderness. There you sawhow the Lord your God carried you, as a father carries his son, all the way you went untilyou reached this place.” (Deut. 1:29-31) What a beautiful picture Moses paints of God’scare for the people He called His children! But as we all know the last 3 books werehardly all warm fuzzies between God and His children. Moses acknowledges this, butstill portrays it as another aspect of parenting: “Know then in your heart that as a mandisciplines his son, so the Lord your God disciplines you.” (Deut 8:5)So OK, God adopted the nation of Israel as His children and both loved them anddisciplined them as such. But why did God opt for the imposed model of parenting ratherthan the intrinsic? After all, was He not dealing with adults? Yes and no. Physically yes,but on many other levels not so much. You may have noticed that one of the biggeststruggles that the Israelites had was with following other “gods”. If you are dealing withpeople who see it as entirely sensible, even desirable to worship a chunk of wood, metalor stone as a god, may I suggest that you are not dealing with people who are matureenough yet to move on to the intrinsic method of parenting which does require somereasoning skills. People who could exalt animals and defer to them as deities, have notreasoned things through.Also up for consideration is an incident back in the book of Numbers. As spies returnedfrom the promised land with reports of giants living in the land, the people were afraid.Even though God said “Go, take the land, this is my fight” the people said “heck no!”.God deferred to them and said “OK, you don’t want to go, you can just stay here in thewilderness.” Suddenly the people decided that they didn’t like that solution, so theyquickly changed their minds, grabbed their swords and headed off all gung-ho to takethe promised land on their own. Now, does that whole scenario not look like a toddlerthrowing a tantrum?! And in that case God let them experience some intrinsic discipline.The Amorites came out against them and gave them a good whipping.It is this that gives us a bit of a glimpse into why God is using a good deal of imposeddiscipline. Here’s how Moses spells it out for them: “You were shown these things so thatyou might know that the Lord is God; besides him there is no other. From heaven hemade you hear his voice to discipline you. On earth he showed you his great fire, andyou heard his words from out of the fire. Because he loved your ancestors and chosetheir descendants after them, he brought you out of Egypt by his Presence and his greatstrength, to drive out before you nations greater and stronger than you and to bring youinto their land to give it to you for your inheritance, as it is today.“ (Deut. 4:35-38) TheIsraelites had every reason to be afraid - they were going up against nations that werebigger and stronger than they were. They were totally dependent on God. Had God usedonly intrinsic discipline they would have been completely annihilated! Some of the
imposed discipline was not pretty, but it was better than the alternative.So are the blessings and curses of Deuteronomy intrinsic or imposed? Yes. God initiallydid use a good deal of imposed discipline, but there are intrinsic blessings to followingGod’s laws. There are also intrinsic consequences to ignoring them. God is willing tostep in and use imposed consequences so that we may learn in a controlledenvironment until we are mature enough to understand the reasoning behind them. Infact, this is a stated goal in the book of Deuteronomy. Check this out: “See, I have taughtyou decrees and laws as the Lord my God commanded me, so that you may follow themin the land you are entering to take possession of it. Observe them carefully, for this willshow your wisdom and understanding to the nations, who will hear about all thesedecrees and say, “Surely this great nation is a wise and understanding people.” Whatother nation is so great as to have their gods near them the way the Lord our God isnear us whenever we pray to him? And what other nation is so great as to have suchrighteous decrees and laws as this body of laws I am setting before you today?” (Deut.4:5-8) In following God’s laws, Israel will come to be perceived by others as a “wise andunderstanding” people, because once they were reasoned out and seen in practice theymade sense.Israel’s king David would later say: “Oh, how I love your law! I meditate on it all daylong. Your commands are always with me and make me wiser than my enemies. I havemore insight than all my teachers, for I meditate on your statutes. I have moreunderstanding than the elders, for I obey your precepts.” (Psalm 119:97-100)Many centuries later apostle Paul would come to a revolutionary new understanding: “Ihave the right to do anything,” you say—but not everything is beneficial. “I have the rightto do anything”—but not everything is constructive. (1 Cor. 10:23) King James Bibleeven translates this verse as “All things are lawful to me”! Have we not over thecenturies proved that we really are free to do anything? God really has given uscomplete freedom, and we have used it to its full extent. Unfortunately in our freedom wehave done unspeakable things to one another. We have used our freedom to do a gooddeal of harm to both ourselves and others. With freedom comes great responsibility, andit is the job of parents to teach their children to responsibly use their freedom. As ourheavenly Father, God has also been teaching us how to use our freedom responsiblyand to our benefit. Yes we are free to do anything, but over time we come to understandas Paul did that not everything is beneficial or constructive. In these days of increasedknowledge and technology we have been able to look back through history and learnfrom it. We have also been able to do both scientific and sociological research andquantify many of the intrinsic benefits of following God’s commandments and theintrinsic detriments of failing to follow them. God has been much smarter than us allalong - we are only now starting to realize it.Of course, as any parent does, God too hopes that one day we will grow up into matureadults and move from the need for imposed discipline to understanding the intrinsicconsequences of our actions. “The days are coming,” declares the Lord, “when I willmake a new covenant with the people of Israel and with the people of Judah. It will notbe like the covenant I made with their ancestors when I took them by the hand to leadthem out of Egypt, because they broke my covenant, though I was a husband to them,”declares the Lord. “This is the covenant I will make with the people of Israel after thattime,” declares the Lord. “I will put my law in their minds and write it on their hearts. I willbe their God, and they will be my people. No longer will they teach their neighbor, or say
to one another, ‘Know the Lord,’ because they will all know me, from the least of them tothe greatest,” declares the Lord. (Jeremiah 31:31-34)What a privilege to have a parent like our Heavenly Father. He is willing to use theimposed model of discipline so that we would not do irreparable harm to ourselvesbefore we come to understand that there are intrinsic benefits in following God’scommandments. When we understand the intrinsic nature of the blessings and thecurses we will be willing to let God write His laws on our hearts and minds, and begin tofollow God’s laws simply because it is the good and right thing to do. Like king David wewill be yearning for the law, meditating on it and using it as our guide. When weunderstand the intrinsic nature of things we no longer see the commandments as aburden but as a helpful list of what is good and what is bad for us! We will actuallywelcome that kind of guidance! What we can learn from the book of Deuteronomy andsubsequent history is that God is a loving, caring parent who will use the necessary andappropriate methods to teach us what is right, good, beneficial and constructive for us,so that we may live well and prosper. Like a good parent, in His laws God is imparting tous His wisdom, so that we may use the freedom that He has given us with wisdom andunderstanding.