How do we relate ourselves to the covenant we read about in Deuteronomy, the one with “statutes and ordinances” and mitzvot? Especially if we are Christian students of scripture? How do think and feel about this covenant, and how do we regard its provisions – what do we think they’re “about,” how do we think they apply to us, what do we think they tell us about God and God’s vision for humanity? This is an enormous question, a question with a long and sobering history, and it seems to be one of the central ones wrapped up in the texts we’re studying for Sunday, December 5: Deuteronomy 5:1-3, Deuteronomy 10:12-13, and Deuteronomy 27:1-10. [Some notes on the text are here.]
The lessons we use – the Uniform Series, with a nod to the Present Word curriculum – has this week’s study at the beginning of a quarter-long focus on “justice, law, and history.” Those are sometimes fraught topics, because what comes to mind when we say “justice” in our own culture is seldom what lines up with the Biblical concept of mishpat, God’s vision of a just world. And our notion of “law” definitely doesn’t line up with the Biblical concept of torah. So we may have our work cut out for us as we step into this study.
Here are a couple more questions we might want to reflect on, or discuss in class:
In Deuteronomy 5, Moses (the speaker) is about to remind the assembled Israelites of the contents of the 10 Commandments. Very shortly after that, he’ll go on to articulate the shema – which includes “you shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, and all your soul, and all your might.” [Christians often think Jesus said that – which he did, but he was quoting Deuteronomy.] Do we ourselves think of the 10 Commandments and the Greatest Commandment as part of “the law”? Why, do we think, or why not? Does that tell us anything about how we think and feel generally about “the law”?
Do we think of the 10 Commandments and the Greatest Commandment as related to “justice”? How? Does that tell us anything about how we understand the idea of “justice”? What? How do we understand that?
In Deuteronomy 10, Moses tells the assembled Israelites that God asks of them that they fear God, walk in God’s ways, serve God, and keep the commandments – all of this for their own well-being, their “good.” What are our thoughts and feelings about the various parts of that set of instructions? How do we understand those verbs – and why? Do we see the commandments of God as being for our good? How?
How have we arrived at our views on this? (For instance, have we learned this from experience, at church, from teachers or parents … ?)
One purpose of the instructions given to the Israelites in Deuteronomy 27 seems to have been to construct a permanent reminder of the existence, and the practical terms, of God’s covenant with Israel. Do we think of ourselves as being in covenant with God, as God’s people? Do we have reminders? What are they? How are they similar to the mound of stones on top of Mt. Ebal? How are they different? Are there any ways we wish we could have something more similar to that memorial in our own lives? Are there ways we feel what we have has advantages? [In short – what do we see as the advantages and disadvantages of the stones-on-Mt.-Ebal strategy, and what do we see as the advantages and disadvantages of what we have?]
Image: “Reading,” Alexander Moravov, 1913, public domain, via Wikimedia Commons