Friday, August 22, 2014

And we will thrive: Deuteronomy 8

In Summary: The people of Israel remain, as they have been for several chapters, loaded up and ready to enter the Promised Land. Deuteronomy contains the recounting of the covenant. A few sources I have read suggest that this is the “official” version of the covenant between Israel and YHWH, their God. The earlier books of the Pentateuch have contained narrative and statistics, primarily, or the early and scattered expression of the Law. This gains a little credence when we look at the back half of Exodus, for example, and see how much of this one-time use material: there is no need to build another Tabernacle, Ark, or Altar. The construction information is not part of God’s long-term covenant with Israel: these items serve as evidence of the heritage of the covenant.

I will note this: I have read this idea hinted at in a source or two, but I can’t put my hand on those sources right now. I think there are some issues with it, but it’s a moderately workable concept.

Alongside the heritage items that the people made in obedience, as if part of a precursor to the long-lasting covenant for the nation, we have Deuteronomy 8. This chapter gives a retelling of God’s provision for the people of Israel in the wilderness as well as summarizing what type of land that YHWH their God was bringing them into. It was a good land (Deuteronomy 8:7). Essentially, you have the setup here that God has proven, through durable shoes and clothes, through manna and water, that He is able to deliver His side of the covenant.

He also demonstrated, through protecting the Israelites from the dangers of the desert and through destroying their enemies, that He is not a God to be disregarded. If the people disdain the covenant, if they betray their word to the Lord God of Hosts, then the land will become their grave. They will perish there, not because God is not able but because they did not listen to Him. After all, He is promising a land with water and wheat and barley and vines and figs…well, elsewhere described as flowing with milk and honey.

In Focus: We ought not pass through this without addressing Deuteronomy 8:3. Note the contrasts in this verse, that God both allowed hunger and provided food to the Israelites. He did both things so that they would be humble and recognize this important truth: man does not live by bread alone. Man, rightly seen here as “all of humanity,” lives by everything that proceeds from the mouth of YHWH.

Consider this. All of the issues faced by Israel throughout the Exodus and Wanderings period were intentional, to teach them to rely on God. Further, they were to drive home the point that God is above all things, it is His word that brings results. Not even man’s whining brings results.

In Practice: This concept, though, that we rely more on the Word of God than on food has been, and can be again, perilously misapplied. The concept here is not that we never need to eat. The concept is not that we are able to neglect the effects of the Curse from Genesis 3: still we must battle the ground and pour forth the sweat of our brow to earn a living.

That does not mean, though, that life is consumed with making a living. What has God said? We have a record of His revelation, and it’s not just the book of Revelation within the Bible. It is the totality thereof, the whole revelation of God found in its pages. We live for Him. Further, we must note that it is His continued action of grace that sustains the world.

Even as we learn the processes by which He does so, like gravitational fields and nucleic forces, we keep in mind that the hand of God exceeds all the power of natural law. It is possible for Him to work within it or outside of it. And if He leaves us to the consequences of those laws, as they have been knocked toward chaos by sin, then it is part of our learning humility before Him.

So we practice humility, that we may be humble enough not to realize we are humble. And a good way to get there? Serve others, especially without regard to the recompense they may give you. I daresay that might include serving the rich and the poor—and taking no notice of their abilities or resources, only their needs. Or serving the “important” and the “unimportant” while making certain that they are each equally important in your eyes. Or standing with all those who need help, regardless of their circumstances, or even if we know them well. Humility serves.

In Nerdiness: Take a quick nerd-eye look at Deuteronomy 8:9. Not only is there abundant food in the land, but there are metallurgical resources! Both copper and iron are to be found in the Promised Land. This prepares Israel to work through the Bronze Age, which the region is in during the Exodus, and on into the rising Iron Age which is soon to come. This will enable the Israelites not only to develop the necessary weapons to contend with their neighbors, but also advance their agricultural techniques and construct musical instruments.

This mention is worth noting for a couple of reasons. The first is that it acknowledges the antiquity of the occupation: copper is mentioned as a mined item, which shows industrial involvement akin to archaeological and historical records of the Bronze Age. Iron is mentioned as being “in the rocks,” and the earliest iron usage was from iron meteorites, leading to industrial development. The land is described as one would expect for an occupation fitting between 1400-1200 BC, in little details that would one would not likely create out of thin air.

Second, it shows that the land is good for more than just survival for the people. Not only will they live, but they will thrive.

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