Moses has his final words of remembrance and leaves his last testimony in Deuteronomy. The book’s name means a repetition of God’s instruction. His dying is noted in chapter and verse 34:5, ending this section of the Bible. The year is 1406 AD. He bequeaths his leadership of the nation of Israel to Joshua who is assumed finished the 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 could attain previously, would finally be achieved. Moses foretold of the one (Jesus) who would come that would be greater than he (Dt. 18:15). Later in Deuteronomy 21:22-23, it says God would curse any man, executing them for breaking God’s commands. The punishment is hanging a dead body on a pole for public display of judgment. This verse refers to Jesus who took on a curse meant for all of humanity.
Of all the books in the Pentateuch, this one is most debated over whether Moses ascribed it or not. Mainly the debate is over the rewording of the laws presented previously and some of the organization of the book does not make sense. A commentary on the side is helpful with this book. As mentioned earlier about the old covenant, biblical laws were presented an original audience where they are at rather than those in the future however the spirit of the law, as addressed in Deuteronomy, presupposes a future. This may account for some of the subtle changes. Deuteronomy is one of two places to find the Ten Commandments (Dt. 5:6-21). This one, after the one in Exodus (Ex. 20:1-17) could be a reaffirmation. This new generation going into the promises land had never experienced the Red Sea departing nor the original presentation of the commandments. If you want to organize or make sense of the additional laws, it’s been recommended to put the Ten Commandments each in their own cubby hole, for a total of ten. Then take each additional law and it will fit accordingly within one of the Ten Commandments.
One of the fun things (okay maybe not for everyone) is to figure out the euphuisms of some of the law verses tackling sensitive subjects written to the original audience. Like lawful and unlawful relations in Chapter 22 is basically about chastity and advice on not being equally yoked. Early on we see the reasons for graffiti, examples of perhaps when corporate punishment began, and explanations of the levirate marriage customs and refuge cities.
Most people read the Ten Commandments as a list of do’s and don’ts. The first four commandments are about a relationship with God, the remaining six are concerning relationships with others.
Presenting the commandments another way, they 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;
- keep your hands off things that don’t belong to you;
- be truthful; and
- to be thankful for God’s good gifts to us.
The above list is presented in more of a positive slant on how to live life (a paraphrased account copied from Ten Commandments for Kids by Ben Van Arragon). The Law of Moses, the law for the nation of Israel, is God inspired. It has the added bonus of a royal grant (that never ends) within it rather than like a constitution that we are familiar with or what they called a suzerainty treaty of that era (a vassal for the people with their King). A key verse is Deuteronomy 4:2. The covenant (the royal grant) shows God’s promise that he will honor his word if not through one person than he will with another down the line and is a message to us about Jesus Christ. By discovering who God is through the Ten Commandments is the beginning of a relationship. It’s a marked display of what other gods (of that era and now) don’t do, leaving their believers confused and bewildered on how to respond and act.
Record of the Commandments once could be easily found on display in most courthouses, public schools, and government buildings. We no longer see the commandments as often displayed 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 (which seems to be overlooked after the ten commandments were taken down from display); the biblical laws can be exhibited for display 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 part of the first amendment rights here particularly address the clauses on the establishment of religion (by a government) and prohibiting the free exercise of expressing faith on government property (particularly in the situation of military chaplains).
My children went to a parochial school through up to the 8th grade. One year, due to personal financial constraints, we enrolled them in them in public school. It happened to be an election year and as parents, we vocalized our concerns around “little” ears in the home during our political conversations. On the first day of school, my daughter (who is a teacher now in public school and provides a ministry of presence for her students) at the time was apprehensive about attending the first day of school (trust me this one loves the anticipation of the first day of school!). I asked her why she was scared, and she said because God wasn’t there and that she had heard us talking about it. Wow, I was caught short. I said something flippant like God and prayer would always be in school as long as there were tests then sent her off. Well, she came home that day all excited because “God is there,” she exclaimed, “We said his name in the pledge of alliance!”
From her statement earlier in the morning, I was convicted for the rest of the year to do a bible study with the kids before school to start their day, something I should have been doing anyhow and not rely on the parochial school to give them religious instructions. That was my job. Later I learned from her teacher (in congenial tones) at conferences that she observed my daughter announcing at lunch “Let us pray” and grab the hands of the girls on either side. A classmate then asked, “Why do we pray before we eat?” The teacher said my daughter answered because it makes the food taste better.
Deuteronomy 6:7 says to take the law and impress it on your children. To do this, it’s recommended to talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk (walking also meant as a show of 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 the boundaries parents set for our kids to safely play or about sending them to school for an education for their own good. Do we allow children to decide when to go to the doctor or when to go to school? For complete wholeness, its ideal if these compartments of life (mental, physical, spiritual) are nurtured congruently. But more importantly, a child doesn’t 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. He approached his pastor about it. The pastor responded by asking if the man remembered what he had for dinner the night before. The man said yes and told him what it was. Then the pastor asked what was for dinner last Tuesday? The man stopped for a moment then remembered and responded.
The pastor continued to quiz him on his meals on other days which eventually the fellow couldn’t remember. The pastor asked if the food nourished him and added strength and endurance even if he now can’t remember what he ate? That answer is the same reason as to what worship and bible study does to refresh and strength our souls.
The soul work of a child falls in the same category as medical help which begins 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 the rebuttal that I am teaching my child about my God. My life experience shows and the Word assures me that later (referring to Prv. 22:6) if my child indeed follows my God when he is young then eventually, as he gets older, he seeks out a personal relationship with God, making Him as his own God.
Once, my one of my other daughters, at around age five, 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 I 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 dark night of my soul (taken from the title of a poem by St. John of the Cross ), I began to question my precepts of life when it took an alternate route, abrupt detour from where I thought I was headed. Aristotle wrote in Metaphysics that man by nature desires to know. In my existential quandary, I wanted to know if what I believe is true. I eventually went back to the basic: the ten rules for living. A proven guarantee to not let me down, it is one of my go-to places to align and realign my moral compass. Jesus boils it down further in the New Testament when he gave a new covenant/promise (love God and love your neighbor as you love yourself).
God has not changed since he gave Moses this template on how to live life. And humanity has not changed much since then either. We still mess up. God’s primary message through Moses is love.
When 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 Johann Wolfgang von Goethe said we must always change, renew, and rejuvenate ourselves otherwise we harden our hearts and minds. Change is a constant, unavoidable. Emotionally immature Christians who are anxious about this truth, resist it. Usually, the underlying reasons to this resistance, are fear and control. And the more unpredictable their world becomes, the more they clamp down on controlling, usually the things and people closest to them.