Synopsis Deuteronomy 28:53-63 3/22/2018
Moses prophesied concerning the Israelites. He warned them about failing the covenant and what would happen if they did. He anticipated that as the Israelites experienced the curses, they would become intensely selfish. He used the example of a famine so intense, the Israelites would disavow their love for community and even for family members and look to preserve their own lives at any cost.
Few In Number
Moses also described how the Israelites would become few in number as a result of the curses and plagues. He deliberately juxtaposed this against the promises to Abraham – that his descendants would be more numerous than “the stars of heaven”.
With this warning, the Israelites were told that they could not rely on the righteousness of their ancestors to secure their relationship with God. They were, Moses insisted, responsible for their own relationship with God.
The takeaway: It was possible for God to be faithful to His promises and yet for them to suffer curses – both personally and collectively.
God is Faithful
The possibility of my life is rooted in the promises of God. If I am attuned to Him – not just to His laws or precepts or commands – but to Him personally, then I can expect to enter into my possibility. But I have to be careful with this knowledge. It’s not really an exchange. It’s not a giving of one thing in order to receive another.
Being attuned to the person of Jesus is the possibility and the choice. Whatever the reality of that relationship might bring is a fruitful by-product that He is free to choose.
“No, I drive my body and train it, for fear that, after having preached to others, I myself should be disqualified.” 1Cor 9:27
Synopsis Deuteronomy 28:42-52 3/21/2018
Moses continued describing in graphic detail the hardship and curses that would result from infidelity to the covenant. The progressive terror of the curses climax with the threat of enslavement and loss of the land.
The Walls in Which We Trust
Moses made a particular mention of the walls in which the Israelites trusted. A curious anticipation since the Israelites had never, in all their history, lived in a walled city.
Moses knew that the walls in which the Israelites would learn to trust would eventually fail them – because walls always fail. Marvels of engineering they sometimes prove to be, they are a futility and a misplaced trust. The God of Moses won’t tolerate the nonsense.
Bridges and Walls
It seems everyone’s talking about walls these days.
I work my vision into reality and then build a wall around it to prevent anything from messing it up. The irony, of course, is that I’m usually the greatest threat to my dreams and visions and accomplishments. I protect with my walls. I hang-on to the status quo with my walls. But, this selfish hanging-on is a recipe for self-destruction. The real problem is that I can’t build a wall between me and my own selfishness.
Someone once said, “Love is your best offense, and defense.” But I was born in this world…I can’t help but be a little suspicious.
“Build bridges not walls” Pope Francis
“Now, I will let you know what I am going to do to my vineyard: Take away its hedge, give it to grazing, break through its wall, let it be trampled!” Isaiah 5:5
Synopsis Deuteronomy 28:30-44 3/20/2018
Moses’ continued to describe the curses that would befall the Israelites if they were to break the covenant with God. These curses focused on the persistent frustration and utter futility of all the people’s efforts.
Futility and Broken Faith
It is written, there is “No wisdom, no understanding, no counsel [that] prevails against the LORD.”
Moses was describing what the Israelites would experience if they departed from God. He made it sound like a deliberate wrath from God. And perhaps that was the intent. But it also describes what life is like for anyone who doesn’t know God or live in harmony with His precepts.
Scientist and author Per Bak has observed that, “self-organized systems” drive towards criticality – towards instability. In other words – they always eventually break. The Tower of Babel was an effort at self-organization. The effort broke. It resulted in a deep and profound frustration.
And yet, the universe, as far as anyone can tell, is expanding. It is stable. So, not everything is unstable. Not everything has to fail. Not everything has to be frustrating.
This is the offer that was extended to the Israelites. This is the offer before each of us today. The stability of God is found in the givenness of things.
The hope of success is found in responding to what is given.
“The law of the LORD is perfect, refreshing the soul. The decree of the LORD is trustworthy, giving wisdom to the simple” Psalm 19:8
Synopsis Deuteronomy 28:18-29 3/19/2018
Moses delineated the curses that would come upon the people if they failed their covenant with God. Moses’ list is long and provocatively detailed. It included both personal curses and curses upon the nation.
Skies of Bronze
No one would willingly chose any of it: The pain and suffering, the financial collapse, cursed soil, cursed offspring, and anxiety of every kind. But the worst of it is the “skies of bronze” – The knowledge that the prayers of the people were no longer making it to God’s throne in heaven. Prayers bouncing off an impenetrable sky and returning unheard. Separated and cutoff from God, life would be desperate.
How horrible a thought for these Israelites. They had grown up in the presence of God with the great prophet Moses available to interpret God’s commands. They knew the presence of God. Their entire adult lives, the Tent of Meeting was always within eyesight wherever they had gone.
They could not imagine the nation falling into such depravity. And yet, the nation of Israel would experience every single one of these promised curses over the next thousand years of history.
Nothing Going My Way
“I have my guru. I have my agenda. I know what I want to get done. I’m focused and determined. I am confident and relentless. And still things don’t seem to go my way. It’s the curses. I am cursed. Nothing ever goes my way.”
If nothing is going my way, maybe I need to find a new way to go.
But when he comes, the Spirit of truth, he will guide you to all truth. He will not speak on his own, but he will speak what he hears, and will declare to you the things that are coming. John 16:13
Synopsis Deuteronomy 28:4-17 3/18/2018
Moses described the blessings that the Israelites could expect if they remained faithful to God and the terms of His covenant. These included the personal blessings of children and successful farm operations.
Additionally, if the community remained faithful they could anticipate blessings on the nation. These included a national reputation as the place where God dwelled. The promises included being a lender to other nations but never needing to be a borrower. Finally, Moses described how Israel would be the “head and not the tail”, a leader amongst the nations.
Head not Tail
The head leads. The tail doesn’t wag the dog. At least in a rightly ordered dog it doesn’t. Instead the dog wags the tail.
We use different terms these days. We call this autonomy. And whether it’s personal autonomy or communal autonomy, this is the right desire of every human heart: To be the head and not the tail. To lead and not to be led – especially not be led by your own tail.
Givenness is Always the Head
Those who follow in the Way of Givenness are always the head. You can’t be the tail.
That’s not to say that you can control everything. This obviously isn’t the case for anyone. But the Way of Givenness receives everything that comes as a gift from God. In this way, you respond according to the value of the circumstances. Never flailing, or blaming, or wishing things were different than they are; you receive what’s given with joy and respond according to the truest good.
In this way, nothing has power over you; not food, or drink, or lust, or anger, or fear, or envy. It is a way of utter freedom.
This is our hope.
Jesus answered [him], “You would have no power over me if it had not been given to you from above. John 19:11
Synopsis Deuteronomy 27:16-28:3 3/17/2018
Moses commanded a rite for the Israelites as they crossed the Jordan and entered into the Promised Land. They were to arrange themselves on Mount Gerizim and Mount Ebal. Then, the Levites were tasked with announcing a series of curses for various kinds of bad behavior. After each one, the people acknowledged the evil and the consequential curse by proclaiming “Amen”
Curses and Mercy
With all the contemporary emphasis on the Christ who saves me – the individual – the thought of people willingly accepting a curse is strange.
When I’ve sinned – I cry out, “Father forgive me for I have sinned!”. When I walk to the altar to receive communion I repeat the ancient monastic prayer, “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me a sinner.”
I am wholly unwilling to accept the curse if I can avoid it – even if I deserve it, even if curses would be just.
My hope is entirely in the mercy of God.
A Community Project
So what do I have to do with people who willingly accept a curse as just compensation for evil deeds?
We could chalk this up to the difference between the old and the new dispensations. You know, the Old Testament is focused on justice and the New Testament is focused on mercy. But I don’t think any of these people were actually asking for these curses to fall on them. Instead, they imagined themselves to be righteous. They didn’t see themselves as sinners. They accepted the curses as the just penalty for the kinds of sins that they would never do.
It’s about the community. Accepting the curses as just punishment for these particular sins is a way of saying that the Israelites would never accept or condone these kinds of sins. They collectively rejected these behaviors and committed to not tolerate them within the community. It’s their declaration of the kind of community and nation they intend to be as they come to occupy their Promised Land.
So where are the lines for us? What won’t we accept? What will we condemn as behavior that is unworthy of the Authentic Community?
Christ ransomed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us, for it is written, “Cursed be everyone who hangs on a tree,” Gal 3:13
Synopsis Deuteronomy 27:3-15 3/16/2018
Moses commanded the Israelites to erect a stone altar on Mount Ebal. They were directed to set up the altar with unhewn stones immediately after they crossed the Jordan. They were tasked to inscribe the words of the law on the altar and offer communion sacrifices on it.
Moses then led the Israelites in a meditation on their special relationship with the Lord
Be Silent Israel, and Listen
It is said that a candle held next to the sun is insignificant. Light needs darkness to matter. Likewise, words need silence to matter.
Moses commanded the people to “be silent” – to listen intently – to listen with their whole being. To hear God through a world of noise.
The world isn’t getting less noisy.
You want to hear from God. You want to be more deliberate in the way you approach worship. You want to discover a more meaningful depth in your relationship with Jesus.
20 minutes. Twice a day.
“but he would withdraw to deserted places to pray” Luke 5:16
Synopsis Deuteronomy 26:14-27:2 3/15/2018
Moses led the people to accept of the covenant. He reminded them to observe all its precepts with whole hearts and whole beings. He also informed them that God had accepted their agreement. As a result, they could expect the blessings already mentioned in addition to praise, renown and glory from the nations.
Praise, Renown, and Glory
“…you will keep all of his commandments, and he will set you high in praise and renown and glory above all the nations he has made.”
It’s a promise that anticipates the praise of the nations. Moses anticipated that other nations would one day say of Israel, “For what great nation is there that has gods so close to it as the LORD, our God, is to us whenever we call upon him? Or what great nation has statutes and ordinances that are as just as this whole law which I am setting before you today?”
If it was embraced wholly, the lived covenant would surely draw attention. It was always supposed to. Being the “Chosen People” meant that they were chosen to mediate between the people of the world and the God of Creation. This kind of mediation first happens through the giving of an example. It wasn’t esteem for the words of the law that Moses anticipated.
Only lives lived have the power to evoke the recognition of glory.
For Christ followers, the spiritual journey is a quest. It is a way of givenness. We receive and respond to a wisdom – not of our own making. It’s a pure and authentic following.
When Moses encouraged the Israelites to live out the law with their “whole heart and whole being”, he was challenging them to willingly embrace this new way of life. Anything less, he anticipated, would be perceived as a worthless pretense.
“I urge you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God, your spiritual worship.” Rom 12:1
Synopsis Deuteronomy 26:3-12 3/14/2018
Moses directed the children of Israel to conduct a offering rite as thanksgiving for the harvest.
Rite and Remembrance
It wasn’t enough to simply give the tithe. The tithe wasn’t intended to be a payment. It was intended to be a gift that proceeded from the overflow of the heart and the abundance of the harvest. So, the gift was given in the context of remembrance.
Reciting this brief history was a part of giving rite. Sharing the offering of first fruits with the local Levites and the resident aliens was a microcosm of what the experiment in Authentic Community was always supposed to be.
The mark of Authentic Community is universal sharing in the goods of the earth. Acceptance and sharing – remembering that all good comes from God.
The overt act of remembering keeps the community grounded in this foundational reality.
“You are being enriched in every way for all generosity, which through us produces thanksgiving to God” 2Cor 9:11
Synopsis Deuteronomy 25:11-26:2 3/13/2018
Moses made decrees concerning the need to use fair weights and measures. He also demanded that Israel repay Amalek for mistreating the Israelites during the exodus from Egypt. He established a curious rule concerning a wife who intervenes should her husband become involved in a fight. Finally he established the requirement to give the first fruits of produce from the land as an offering to the Lord in the place God established for the tabernacle in the Promised Land.
Standards, Equity and Justice
It’s the double standard. It’s the disposition to take advantage of the other. I want to get a little more value than I’m due – to give a little less than I owe. Entitlement. Self-justification. Looking out for number 1. It all comes pretty naturally.
But God seems to hate it. It’s not love. It’s not His nature.
His passion is for equity. His eyes search for a heart trained to recognize value at its core. Who will see and respond to the deepest value? Who will perceive the immeasurable value invested in the being of the most ordinary man – this is the ultimate mark of a child of God. Recognizing this is true justice. Seeing the other is the beginning of authentic love.
The apostle observed that the whole of creation awaits in eager anticipation for the revealing: Who will live like this? Who will be a child of God?
“Varying weights, varying measures, are both an abomination to the LORD.” Prov 20:10