Going Deeper 7-9-19

‚ÄčThe first lesson for Pentecost 5...
Deuteronomy 30:9-14  "and the Lord your God will make you abundantly prosperous in all your undertakings, in the fruit of your body, in the fruit of your livestock, and in the fruit of your soil. For the Lord will again take delight in prospering you, just as he delighted in prospering your ancestors, when you obey the Lord your God by observing his commandments and decrees that are written in this book of the law, because you turn to the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul.  Surely, this commandment that I am commanding you today is not too hard for you, nor is it too far away.  It is not in heaven, that you should say, 'Who will go up to heaven for us, and get it for us so that we may hear it and observe it?'  Neither is it beyond the sea, that you should say, 'Who will cross to the other side of the sea for us, and get it for us so that we may hear it and observe it?'  No, the word is very near to you; it is in your mouth and in your heart for you to observe."

Perhaps in a sense, it is appropriate for this text to begin in mid-sentence.  I say this because in order for us to understand what is stated here, we must know both the literary and historical context.  Otherwise, this kind of text serves well those who promote what has been called "the Prosperity Gospel."  And this has been a major theme of too many preachers in the past couple of generations.

On its own, this text (and perhaps the entire book of Deuteronomy) is based on what might best be described as "if-then" theology.  If we obey, then God will bless and prosper us.  If we disobey, then God will punish us.  While there may be an element of truth to this, it must be understood in the context of the Sinai Covenant God established with Israel after rescuing them from abusive slavery in Egypt, concluding with the incredible parting and crossing of the Red Sea.

In the context of the Covenant, "If/then..." follows after "Because/therefore...".  The Sinai Covenant follows a six-part format which was prevalent in that part of the world in that point in history, the first three of which are absolutely foundational to our understanding.  Part One is the "Prelude," and the person who has authority and power over the other party states "This is who I am."  Part Two is called the "Historical Prologue," which declares "This is what I have done for you..."  Here the authority figure recalls all of the things he has done on behalf of the second party.  And Part Three states the "Stipulations"-- what the second party is expected to do in response to the status and actions of the first party on their behalf.

I know this seems complicated, but it is very important to get this right.  In Exodus 20 we have the first three covenant parts laid out very clearly, beginning with "I am the Lord, who brought you up out of the land of Egypt."  There is the Prelude and the Historical Prologue.  What follows immediately are the Stipulations... given in the form of the Ten Commandments.  Because of who God is and what God has done for them, Israel was therefore to obey in response.

The "If/then..." does not appear until the sixth and final part of the Covenant, called "Blessings & Curses."  This laid out what would happen if Israel stubbornly refused to remember and obey, thus breaking Covenant.  If they kept Covenant--with "Because/Therefore..." providing the primary motivation, then they would be blessed.  If they continually broke Covenant, then things would fall apart.  And that is what happened time and time again.

The main point for us: avoiding God's wrath and punishment or in order to merit His blessings is not what is to move God's people.  We are to obey God/follow Jesus in response to His goodness and grace, not in order to merit reward or avoid punishment.  Gratitude, not fear, is the foundation of our desire to obey.  

With You in His Service,

Mark Gabbert, Pastor
Zion Lutheran Church
Wellington, Colorado

"No one cares how much you know until they know how much you care."