The meaning of the word Deuteronomy is “repetition of God’s instruction.” Moses repeats the law here and this book is his testament before he says goodbye. He dies in Chapter 34, bringing to a close this section of the Bible. He hands over his authority to a successor of the Hebrew nation to Joshua. It is assumed Joshua finished writing this book.
Moses was the mediator of the covenant between God and his chosen people at Mt. Sinai. It won’t be until the coming of Jesus that the same standard God set for people to live by yet never seem to attain, would finally be accomplished. Moses foretold of the one (Jesus) who would come that would be greater than he (Dt. 18:15), Later in Deuteronomy 21:22-23, he says God would curse any man by executing them for breaking God’s commands. The punishment is hanging the dead body on a pole for public display of judgment. This verse refers to Jesus, he didn’t break a command, we did. He took on the curse meant for humanity.
Deuteronomy is one of two places to find the Mosaic law or Ten Commandments (Dt. 5:6-21, Ex. 20:1-17). Most people read the covenant (a contract that cannot be broken) as a list of do’s and don’ts. The first four commandments are about a relationship with God, and the last six concern our relationship with others.
The commandments say:
- worship God alone;
- to not make our own pretend gods or let anything take God’s place;
- use our words to praise and honor God;
- save one day a week for rest and worship;
- listen to our parents, no matter what the age;
- avoid hating people or hurting others with our words and actions;
- respect our bodies and the bodies of other people;
- to not take what doesn’t belong to us;
- be truthful; and
- to be thankful for God’s good gifts to us;
The above list, presented in more of a “to do” perspective, aligns with how we should live (this paraphrased version is from “Ten Commandments for Kids” by Ben Van Arragon). This is the nation’s constitution for Israel presented after they left the 400 years of Egyptian captivity.
There was a time the Ten Commandments could be easily found on display in most courthouses, public schools, and government buildings. No longer are the commandments displayed as prevalently since the Supreme Court decision in 2005 (and from an earlier one in 1980 forbidding display in public schools) ruling to such on these properties. There is a legal qualifier, though: the biblical laws can be displayed if done in a historical context, with the court claiming first amendment rights. It’s noted in this qualifier that the posting the first four commandments, dealing with honoring God and the Sabbath does not favor one faith over another or adherence to religion.
The best place to display the covenant is in our actions. It should be written on our hearts. Deuteronomy 6:7 says to take the law and impress it on your children. How? Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk (walking also is meant the authentic behavior in our daily living) along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. Following on the coat tails of that scripture is: “Start children off on the way they should go, and even when they are old they will not turn from it.” (Prv. 22:6).
There was an informal gathering at my sister’s house that included my niece, brother-in-law, my kids, and my mom, the conversation turned to parents exposing children to worship, church, and God’s teachings. My brother in law said he wanted his daughter to make her own decisions about God when she was old enough to understand and grasp it, not to force feed it to her at a younger impressionable age. Before I could contain myself, I blurted out: “Who decides when she should go to the doctors, you or her?” I then went on to ask if he thought she had a soul who needs as much tending to as her health. I compared it to making them aware of the boundaries parents set for children to safely play or about sending them to school for an education for their own good. Do we allow children to make these choices initially, to decide when to go to the doctor or go to school? For complete wholeness, ideally, these compartments of life (mental, physical, spiritual) are nurtured congruently. But more importantly, a child does not need a theological debate but instead a nurturing of the soul. Unconditional love is part of that nurturing.
There is a story about a fellow who was having trouble recalling the preaching topic at church services a few weeks prior. He surmised if he couldn’t remember then maybe it wasn’t that important or even still maybe going to church isn’t either. Why go, he questioned himself? He posed that question to his pastor. The pastor responded by asking what the man had for dinner the night before? The man told him what it was. Then the pastor asked what he had for dinner last Tuesday? The man stopped for a moment responding a pasta dish I think?
“Oh,” said the pastor, “and two weeks ago, on Sunday what did you have for dinner? When the man said, he couldn’t remember, he was asked: “Did you eat the meal?”
“Did it nourish you? Did it add fuel to your body? Did it help maintain your strength and energy?”
“Not remembering what the topic of a worship lesson, much less what you ate at a meal, can still shore you up for yet another day or week because it is food for the soul. Just as we need food for physical strength and nourishment, we need regular worship and study to refresh and strengthen our souls.”
The soul work of a child falls in the same category. beginning at birth. If I don’t share my spiritual beliefs and understanding with my child, then I am going to leave a blank slate for someone else to fill. One way or another the soul will seek out needed sustenance. Otherwise, it will become anoxic and emaciated.
There’s a rebuttal that I am teaching my child about my God. I am telling them what to believe. My life experience shows along with the Word’s assurance that later (again Prv. 22:6) if my child indeed follows my God when he is young then eventually, with growing, he seeks out a personal relationship with God, making Him as his own.
Once, my daughter, at around age 5, asked the Pastor as we made our way out of Sunday morning worship, “What does God want from me?”
Without hesitation, he answered, “He wants a relationship with you.”
A recent definition of vulnerability read said relationships underlies our natural state because humans are meant to belong. Social work professor and scholar Brené Brown said that through her research she found vulnerability is the glue that holds relationships together.
Once during a night of my soul, I questioned my precepts of life after it took an alternate route from where I thought I was headed. I went back to the basics: the ten rules for living. It is one of my go-to places to align and realign my moral compass. Jesus boils it down in the New Testament when he gave a new covenant: love God and love your neighbor as you love yourself (Mk. 12:30-31).
God has not changed since he gave Moses this holy template on how to live. And humanity has not changed much since then either. We still mess up. God’s primary message through Moses is holiness and love.
Soren Kierkegaard says “That God is love means that He will do everything to help you love Him that is to change you into His likeness. He knows well how infinite painful this change is for you, and so is willing to suffer with you. He suffers more in love than you, suffers all the heartache of being misunderstood — but He is not altered.”
German writer and statesman Wolfgang von Goethe said we must always change, renew, and rejuvenate ourselves otherwise, we harden our hearts and minds.