Sabbath School commentary for discussion on November 20, 2021.
The opening of Deuteronomy 11 is a call to the parents. To the eyewitnesses of God’s mighty and awesome deeds. To the ones who had grown up seeing God act with their very eyes. It is a call for them to follow God’s commands, decrees, and statutes as examples to the next generation. To set the precedent for the next generation.
It is they who saw God in the fiery mountain, who witnessed the Red Sea envelop Pharaoh’s army, and who can testify that the Ten Commandments were written in God’s own handwriting. It is they who could tell stories of food falling from heaven and water spouting out of a rock in the desert. It is they who knew of God’s judgment on their surrounding nations and on their fellow Israelites who strayed to worship other gods. Chapter 11 is a call to the parents’ generation to be the example. To lead from the front.
To be living witnesses. The “tablets written on human hearts” to be read by the next generation (2 Cor. 3:3).
Yet, Deuteronomy 11’s call for obedience is a very simple one: “…to love the Lord your God and to serve him with all your heart and with all your soul” (Deut. 11:13).
Repeated word for word by Jesus in the gospels, this phrase summarises everything else Moses and the latter prophets called for. Every other commandment, decree, or statute of God is an expansion of this phrase.
To love him and serve him with your whole heart. To put God first. To have no other person or thing in your life that overpowers or overshadows God. To see God’s creation, God’s value, in every other person, and to treat them as such. To recognize that, regardless of what’s on the outside, on the heart level, you are your neighbor.
In your neighbor, you find community, friendship, and the place where God tabernacles with humanity. Just as in you.
The call for the ultimate love of God is echoed six times throughout Deuteronomy, and it is repeated time and again across the rest of the Old Testament, the gospels, and the writings of the apostles. It’s the central requirement of humanity. In fact, it’s what makes us human.
The commandment to agape God is what makes us sacred.
Our life mission, our purpose on earth, is to love God and put his ways first. To be royal priests of the Most High. To walk by faith. To pray and not cease. To give thanks in everything. To grow spiritually, physically, emotionally, and mentally towards the Light of the World.
To have no other authority that surpasses God in our lives. To reassess our hearts, our actions, and our thoughts so that they connect with the Creator of the Universe.
The Divine Covenant with the Israelites
For the Israelites, these weren’t just pointless requirements. The call for obedience and love of God was their part of the divine covenant. God would display miracle after miracle so that they could enter the promised land, live as free people, and bring the Kingdom of God on earth as in heaven, only if they obeyed the commandments. It was their side of the agreement. Their choice.
God would always be faithful to his side of the covenant, but for the total plan to succeed, they had to be faithful to theirs. It would only work with both sides living and acting in harmony.
The same is true for us. The commandment, reiterated by Jesus, to love God with all our heart, mind, and soul, is our side of the divine covenant. To enter the promised land, to allow the Kingdom of God on earth as in heaven in our own environment, we need to follow the same call.
Don’t get me wrong, this isn’t salvation by works. We are saved by the ocean of grace that flowed from the hands and feet of our Lord and Saviour Jesus, the Messiah. The King. Even so, the promised land, the Kingdom of heaven on earth, means practical, real-world changes in our lives and our behavior. To experience the blessing of God’s freedom, we need to live into it. Freedom is practical.
God’s freedom is a choice (Deut. 11: 26-28).
As such, the commandments are a requirement for us still. They were not “nailed to the cross,” as some people believe. They matter more now than ever before. God’s other-centered, self-less, community-orientated way of life matters to modern humanity as much as it did to ancient people.
Perhaps more so.
And so, it matters that we continue to obey, and continue to teach our children to obey:
• Valuing others before ourselves.
• Standing up for justice for the oppressed.
• Walking with lepers.
• Stopping and celebrating a weekly, neighbor-centered Sabbath.
• Honoring truth and calling out lies.
• Sharing our wealth with the least amongst us.
• Recognizing the blindness in our eyes.
• Putting God above all other powers and leaders of this world.
In short, following the practical example of Jesus daily still matters.
The message of Deuteronomy 11 is that, regardless of whether we are the second generation after the Israelite escape from slavery or the thousandth, the commandments still matter.
They are still worth teaching to our kids.
You shall put these words of mine in your heart and soul, and you shall bind them as a sign on your hand and fix them as an emblem[e] on your forehead. Teach them to your children, talking about them when you are at home and when you are away, when you lie down and when you rise. Write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates, so that your days and the days of your children may be multiplied in the land that the Lord swore to your ancestors to give them, as long as the heavens are above the earth. (Deut. 11: 18-21)
Tom Stone is Head of Religious Education at a secondary school in Reading, in the UK. He has a PGCE in RE from the University of Oxford and a BA in Theology from Newbold College. He lives in Reading with his wife, Rachel, and their 3 children, Penelope, LilyRose, and Abel. His book, from which this is an excerpt, In the Shadow of the Pyramids: A Reflective Commentary on the Narrative of Deuteronomy, was published by WestBow Press.
Image credit: WestBow Press
We invite you to join our community through conversation by commenting below. We ask that you engage in courteous and respectful discourse. You can view our full commenting policy by clicking here.