Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Heart to Heart With God (Deuteronomy 1-12)

Moses begins his great speech by reminding the Israelites where they’ve been. They’ve become a huge people, they’ve been forced to wander the wilderness for their disobedience, and they’ve crushed two kings that, under normal circumstances, should have been able to wipe the floor with them.

We often take for granted just how easy it was for the Lord to topple these nations, since the story is so famous. I recently had a more historically knowledgeable man, Stuart Koehl, reflect on just what the Israelites were up against back when Pharaoh had them trapped:
The Israelites fleeing from the Egyptians were not soldiers. Their weapons would have consisted mainly of home-made spears, farm implements like sickles, and a smattering of swords and knives. Their armor would have been non-existent. To hold off the Egyptian chariots, they would have had to come together in a tight mass (horses don't impale themselves on sharp things, nor do they charge apparently solid objects like a phalanx). Once they did so, they would be vulnerable to Egyptian arrows. Assume that the arrows are only marginally effective (a big assumption, given that the Hebrews had no armor, and thus were utterly exposed), Simply by swarming around the Israelite formation, the chariots would have pinned it in place, allowing the accompanying foot soldiers time to come up. At that point, the Israelites would have been facing well armed and armored infantry fighting in organized formations. It would have been butchery. However, the Israelites, seeing the infantry coming on, and with their cohesion already weakened by the archery barrage, probably would have broken long before contact, and then been ridden down by the chariots, whose riders would have switched from bows to spears at that point.
Instead, they rout professional armies and sack fortified cities. God has blessed them tremendously, giving them what they would never have had otherwise – a rich land of their own!

So in the light of these great blessings that this great god has given them, Moses message is simple: obey his commandments so you will thrive and take the land. God wants nothing more than to make them the envy of the nations:
For what great nation is there that has a god so near to it as the Lord our God is to us, whenever we call upon him? And what great nation is there, that has statutes and rules so righteous as all this law that I set before you today?
They really do need to come to terms with how incredible all this is:
Did any people ever hear the voice of a god speaking out of the midst of the fire, as you have heard, and still live? Or has any god ever attempted to go and take a nation for himself from the midst of another nation, by trials, by signs, by wonders, and by war, by a mighty hand and an outstretched arm, and by great deeds of terror, all of which the Lord your God did for you in Egypt before your eyes?
God is the great god above all heaven, incorruptible and just, and yet he chose them of all people. All he asks is their loving faithfulness – taking his words and sealing them on their hearts, not letting the blessings of this fine land cause them to take him for granted, teaching their children so that generations to come will continue to obey and be blessed. Surely this is a no-brainer!

Above all, he warns them against idolatry – even idols used to worship the Lord. God has not shown them his form, and they damn well better not create one of their own after the image of their own evil hearts. The nations currently in Canaan are being dispossessed because their idolatry has reached the point where they even burn their children alive in sacrifice to their demon gods. Moses urges them to treat idolatry like cancer – not letting the slightest bit of it infect the people, isolating any idolatrous influence and destroying it.

And yet, God finally shows a soft side. He remembers how terrified the people were of him on the mountain, and how they trusted Moses to mediate for them:
Oh that they had such a mind as this always, to fear me and to keep all my commandments, that it might go well with them and with their descendants forever!
Here at last is the voice of the father who brought his son out of Egypt. He wants nothing more than to shower his love on this people. He wants them to flourish, to enjoy the good things of rural and civilized life, to have long and happy lives, all that they could ever want.

But, like a good father, he knows that he can’t spoil them, and that they are bound to fall short of where they need to be. And here he makes a resounding promise that will echo through the rest of the story:
If you act corruptly by making a carved image in the form of anything, and by doing what is evil in the sight of the Lord your God, so as to provoke him to anger…the Lord will scatter you among the peoples, and you will be left few in number among the nations where the Lord will drive you. And there you will serve gods of wood and stone, the work of human hands, that neither see, nor hear, nor eat, nor smell. But from there you will seek the Lord your God and you will find him, if you search after him with all your heart and with all your soul. When you are in tribulation, and all these things come upon you in the latter days, you will return to the Lord your God and obey his voice. For the Lord your God is a merciful God. He will not leave you or destroy you or forget the covenant with your fathers that he swore to them.
The Lord seems to have settled into his decision to stick with them to the end. No more thoughts of destroying them and starting over from square one. He knows that their hearts are evil even from their youth, and this is the very reason why he must not curse the ground again because of them. Something does need to be done about these hearts though, and so the great physician prescribes his law.

This is a good commentary, Wonders. Thank you for writing it.

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