This Sunday - September 17th
This Sunday, we’re starting a series of services focused on passages in the book of Deuteronomy. Deuteronomy is the fifth book of the Bible. It consists mainly of sermons Moses preached to the Israelites just before his death. The sermons recap some Israelite history, then go on to review the laws presented earlier in the books of Exodus, Leviticus, and Numbers. It culminates in a summons for the Israelites to renew their covenant—their formal relationship with God—before entering the Promised Land.
The Book of Deuteronomy calls to mind those words from George Santayana, “Those who do not remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” The Book is apparently designed to remind later Israelites about the mistakes of their past. Even though the book is set in the time of Moses (about 1250 BC), it was probably written long after, during the time of the Babylonian Exile (586-538 BC). At that time, many of the Israelites were living far from their homeland, held as hostages in Mesopotamia. In part, Deuteronomy was designed to explain to the captives why they were in such a predicament. According to this book, Moses had explicitly warned Israel that if they failed to keep their covenant with God, he would send them into exile (Deut 28:36-37). But that’s only part of its purpose: Deuteronomy also encouraged the people with hope that God would be merciful and bring them home again (Deut 30:1-6). Even if they failed in their commitment to him, he would remain true to them. And when the people returned to their land, they would be reminded not to repeat the mistakes of their ancestors.
As we work through the Book of Deuteronomy, you might be surprised at how often the Israelites are admonished, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart.” It sounds sort of sentimental, but that's not the intention. In the Bible, loving God isn't about holding hands and giggling like schoolgirls, and it involves no “sloppy wet kisses.” In all the ancient covenant documents that we have uncovered, “love” essentially meant “loyalty.” Most ancient treaties included a requirement that the vassals would “love” their overlords. It simply meant that they couldn’t run off to make treaties with other kings.
God doesn’t command his people to feel affection for him; he commands them to be committed to him. There are times when even the best couples may resent or even dislike one another, but they stay together and don’t cheat, because they’re committed to their relationship. That’s what God demands of his people, too. Just as God is committed to us, we need to remain committed to following him. So loving God with all our heart means that we don't allow any other gods, or any other passions, or any other objects of desire to undermine our commitment to God.
Jesus said, “If you love me, keep my commandments.” That's essentially the message of Deuteronomy, as well. Don't gush about how much you love God; demonstrate your love by doing what he says.