Sat, 14 June 2008
Because Jesus' teachings build upon the Law which God revealed through Moses, Christians must take care not to overlook the Old Testament. The fourth chapter of the Book of Deuteronomy contains God's demand that we heed all of His statutes and ordinances and that we "do them that [we] may live" (v 1). One brings judgment upon himself if he decides to add or subtract any of the Lord's commands.
Acknowledging the weakness of man's memory, Moses repeatedly instructs the people to bind God's law to their hearts and to diligently put it into action. Although his approach may appear on the surface to be redundant, his repetition is a deliberate attempt to cultivate God's words deep into their memory. This type of instruction helps them realize what a profound gift God has given the people:
"Did anything so great ever happen before? Did a people ever hear the voice of God speaking from the midst of fire, as you did, and live? Or did any god venture to go and take a nation for himself from the midst of another nation, by testings, by signs and wonders, by war and by great terrors, all of which the Lord, your God, did for you in Egypt before your very eyes? All this you were allowed to see that you might know the Lord is God and there is no other" (4:34-35).
The fifth chapter of Deuteronomy contains the powerful giving of the Ten Commandments in the Covenant at Horeb.
Deuteronomy six is at the core of the Bible, for it contains our Great Commandment, the Shema Israel. Any pious person will spend a lifetime struggling to follow this command in its entirety; only a fool would take any portion of it lightly. God commands, "Hear, O Israel! The Lord is our God, the Lord alone! And [therefore] you shall love the Lord your God, with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength. Take to heart these words which I enjoin on you today. Drill them into your children. Speak of them at home and abroad, whether you are busy or at rest. Bind them at your wrist as a sign and let them be as a pendant on your forehead. Write them on the doorposts of your houses and on your gates" (6:4-9). Following the Great Commandment means that one seeks to offer every thought and action of his life in worshipful reverence to the one true God. This includes the way he handles his money. Notably, following this commandment means doing whatever possible to teach one's children and grandchildren to live it fully.
"When the Lord, your God, brings you into the land which he swore to your fathers, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, that he would give you ... take care not to forget the Lord, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, that place of slavery" (v 10,12). Like the Israelites, Americans must beware not to "follow other gods ... lest the wrath of the Lord" flare up against us (v 14-15). Our "other gods" today can come in the form of sex, money, or prestige.
The seventh chapter highlights the Israelites as a unique people, separate from all the other nations. So, too, Christians are "a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people he claims for His own" (1 Pt 2:9, cf Ex 19:6).
God demands these things from us for our own good. "Keep all the commandments, then, which I enjoin on you today, that you may be strong enough to enter in and take possession of the land into which you are crossing, and that you may have long life on the land which the Lord swore to your fathers he would give to them and their descendants, a land flowing with milk and honey" (Dt 11:9).
Only by binding God's commandments to our hearts and living them out in holy habits, disciplines that train one to habitually do the right thing, does one have any chance to defeat the devil.
God sets before us a blessing and a curse: a blessing for those who follow His commands, a curse for those who do not. The Book of Hebrews clearly shows that the New Covenant has raised the bar, for those who do not keep his commandments reap eternal punishment. The Lord knows the weakness of men's hearts and gives them the Sacrament of Baptism to circumcise this heart, the Eucharist to renew it, and innumerable other blessings. Let us firmly claim the blessings that He has given us, offering ourselves to Him entirely while we still have time to do so.
Music: Beethoven's "Piano Concerto No. 1 in C Major, Op. 15" performed by the Skidmore College Orchestra. www.musopen.com