Sabbath School commentary for discussion on December 4, 2021.
Editor’s note: This week's Adult Bible Study Guide lesson covers Deuteronomy 8 and asks the reader to discuss how wealth impacts one’s spirituality. To go along with that discussion, here is an excerpt from Tom Stone’s book In the Shadow of the Pyramids: A Reflective Commentary on the Narrative of Deuteronomy that also examines Deuteronomy 8 and the question of wealth, appearing here courtesy of the author.
In the first seven chapters of Deuteronomy, Moses instructs the Israelites to be obedient to God’s commands, so that “it may go well with them” (Deut. 6:3). They were the set-apart nation. They were God’s chosen people.
His intention was to bless them abundantly. To make them rich beyond their wildest dreams. To give them a land flowing with milk and honey. God had already blessed them with freedom from slavery and now he planned to overwhelm their storehouses so they could bless the entire planet.
The Israelites would be the nation all other nations would look up to. The act of following God’s commandments was intended to bring success, wealth, and prosperity. A life where the memory of living as slaves for 400 years would become a distant memory. They were God’s children now, his treasure.
Nevertheless, God opens a bracket.
Deuteronomy 8 is God’s giant parenthesis to chapters 4, 5, 6, and 7.
It’s a warning.
The Israelites may have been mad enough to follow a pillar of fire into the depths of the sea when they’d been nothing but slaves for 400 years and emboldened with the hope of a brighter future. They may have been delirious enough to follow a pillar of cloud through an arid desert with no reliable water source or fertile ground when they had nothing to live on anyway. But what would happen when they did?
What would happen when they were settled in the promised land, with mansions, land, and an abundance of wine? Would they still be mad enough? Would they still follow?
Rags to riches
If you were an impoverished, overtired, overworked, uneducated fisherman, socially distanced from normal society and with no hope of a life outside of your boat, would it be easy to follow Jesus if he called you to become his disciple? If he called you to take the esteemed place as the disciple of a Rabbi, you would drop everything and run, wouldn’t you?
If you were a tax collector, an abomination to your own people and continually taunted by your boss, wouldn’t you drop everything and follow when Jesus requested your company on a lifetime adventure? When he asked you to be his brother on a global mission?
If you were a prostitute, outcast, humiliated, and mocked on a daily basis, wouldn’t you drop everything and run when Jesus invited you to be the honored guest at his dinner party? When the Rabbi sought your company above the “normal” folks, wouldn’t you follow straight away?
If all the generations your parents can recall lived as slaves to another race, existing as “inferior” people, as disposable workers, wouldn’t you drop everything and run if God called you to demand equality? To be the one who set his people free? To find your strength in him because there was nothing else to find strength in.
If you had nothing to lose, you would follow God anywhere, wouldn’t you?
But what happens when you’re rich?
Would the Ten Commandments look so appealing when it was your way of life, not Pharaoh’s, they upended?
Would you still follow God and hold dear to God’s way of life when it wasn’t so convenient? When life became comfortable, would God’s commands become inaudible? Would noises from commodity, productivity, and competing forces drown the quiet voice of the Creator who still calls you to inhabit a new reality?
Deuteronomy Chapter 8
When the promise of wealth, prosperity, and an abundance of grain and wine become a reality in the lives of the Israelites, what happens then? Will they still follow? Will they still stick to the alternative way of life that God had commanded them to follow? Will they still be faithful when other gods demand their attention? Will they still tell their children the stories of God’s faithfulness instead of their own success?
Chapter 8 is a warning to honor God when things are going well.
It’s easy to agree with God’s alternative way of life when you’re the poor, the destitute, or the lame—when it’s in your favor. But what if it’s your money, your house and car, Jesus is referring to in Matthew 19?
Will you still see the value in following God’s way of life, God’s instructions to create a self-sacrificial, other-centered society formed on agape when you’re the one who has to give? When it’s on you?
When you’re the slave-master, will you follow God and be a different kind of master, or will you simply become an imitation of Pharaoh?
When it’s your profits that will suffer, your wealth that won’t grow as fast, and your esteemed position in society that’s at stake?
Deuteronomy 8 asks us the question: when the power is in our hands, which god will we worship?
Will the promised prosperity make us a slave to always wanting more, to the gods of productivity, commodity, and self-centeredness? Will the promised prosperity lead to our betrayal of the One who called us, and, therefore, our inevitable spiritual and emotional death? Will our wealth lead to us losing our part in the Kingdom of God?
Or will we continue to say NO?
We do not live that way.
Rich, poor. Comfortable, uncomfortable.
I will not live that way.
I will keep the commandments of God. I will follow my Creator, and bring freedom to others, even if it means I lose out.
Like he did.
When I don’t get to bask in my “riches” as other people might, I will remind myself my treasure is elsewhere.
When my wealth has the potential to bring freedom to others, as my Creator’s does, I will continue to be other-centered and selfless, like my Creator is.
When it was his life on the line, his position in the universe, his wealth on the scales, he didn’t even blink. He gave it all up.
For me and you.
So, Deuteronomy 8 asks you:
When the scales weigh in your favor, how much are you willing to give up for the Creator God who gave up everything for you?
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
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