Deuteronomy 30:16-20 "For I command you today to love the Lord your God, to walk in obedience to him, and to keep his commands, decrees and laws; then you will live and increase, and the Lord your God will bless you in the land you are entering to possess. But if your heart turns away and you are not obedient, and if you are drawn away to bow down to other gods and worship them, I declare to you this day that you will certainly be destroyed. You will not live long in the land you are crossing the Jordan to enter and possess. This day I call the heavens and the earth as witnesses against you that I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Now choose life, so that you and your children may live and that you may love the Lord your God, listen to his voice, and hold fast to him."
The name of the book, Deuteronomy, literally means “second law”, but it is not a new law. Nor is it simply a rehash of the first law. It is a re-giving of the first law from Sinai, but something different is at play. Deuteronomy does not simply repeat the Ten Commandments or the holiness codes; it seems to have an entirely different agenda. It’s not new, but it’s not a repeat. Deuteronomy is interpretive. It is “preached law”. It’s the old law for a new context.
Time and again Moses found himself in a new context, in unchartered territory trying to lead God's people. In our text Moses finds himself standing on the far side of the Jordan River, waiting to cross over, preparing to give his last sermon to his people. In fact, Moses is about to deliver some of the last words spoken just before his death.
Think about the importance of that moment. The Israelites had just emerged from the rule of a brutal dictator, wandered in the desert for forty days and nights, and were now standing on the shores of the Promised Land. It was a second chance, a new day for their people. On this historic occasion, Moses preaches a fiery message to his people, ending with one of the best big bring-it-home sermon lines of all time: Choose life so that you and your descendants may live.
Let's look at that sentence a little closer, because I believe it contains one of the core principles of Christianity. Choose life, Moses said. While doing some research I came across a short story. It's about a friend of the commentator, who was about to commit suicide, and decided instead to open her Bible, at random, and found this passage. When she read, “Choose life”, she decided to do so, and claims she is only alive because of this passage of scripture. The commentator of course says that this isn’t the primary model of how to approach scripture, but it does go a long way to show us what is at stake in our text today.
Our passage here is about choosing God—for the sake of our future, for the sake of our children's future, for the sake of the world’s future. The decision Moses is demanding of Israel is the decision Scripture elsewhere calls faith. Part of what Moses is saying here is: The people can choose to obey God's law or not obey it - there is no middle ground offered. You're either for God, or against him. You're either in-Christ, or you're not.
The New Testament confirms this concept in 1 John 2:6, where the writer says, "By this we know we are in Him: whoever claims to abide in Him must walk as Jesus walked." So, in his last sermon, first and foremost, Moses reminds the people that they can worship the Lord or they can worship something else - and there are plenty of other idols out there in the world to worship. What they must not do, however, is worship the Lord and something else. For to worship anything other than God is to "turn away" from the Lord. (vs. 17)
Either God is the one and only God, or you are worshipping one of the other little gods and goddesses. Choose the God who has lead you to the promised land, Moses is saying, not the crazy idols the Canaanites worship in the land where the children of Israel were headed. As Moses warned earlier in Deuteronomy 29:17, "You have seen their filthy idols of wood and stone, of silver and of gold. And it may be that there is among you...someone whose heart is already turning away." In other words, stay away from all the other idols and everything will be just fine.
That is good advice for us too. We may not have a giant golden calf in our home but we do have things that we idolize or covet or prioritize over God's teachings; it happens to the best of us, we are human, but sadly it happens more often in our world today than it should. We all have our golden calf (things we think give us life and joy and sustenance). But Moses tells us that these things do not lead to life. That in fact they can lead to destruction. Idols can be powerful, controlling, influential things.
As Ralph Waldo Emerson once said, "That which dominates our imaginations and our thoughts will determine our life and our character. Therefore, it behooves us to be careful what we worship, for what we are worshipping we are becoming."
Jason E. Royle
Welcome to my blog. I'm an open-minded theologian committed to Christ-like compassion & understanding.
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