Covenant and The Center of a Person, PART 1
This month's book response come from Nicki Habecker who serves on the To The World Deacon Team. Nicki read through God's Kingdom Through God's Covenants and wrote a homily. Part 1 sets up the Mosaic covenant theology. Part 2 will then take a look at Jeremiah and Jesus.
As we read through book responses, may our ears be attentive to the Spirit and may our minds discern and consider truth well. Also remember the words of the Preacher from Ecclesiastes: The writing of many books is endless, and excessive devotion to books is wearying to the body. The conclusion, when all has been heard, is: fear God and keep His commandments.
If you are interested in being assigned a book to review and respond to, contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
God's covenant promise to Abraham was about to be fulfilled. The Israelites were standing on the brink of the Jordon finally preparing to enter Canaan, the Promised Land. Moses, the great leader and voice of God, stood before his people one last time reviewing the covenant that the generation before, their parents and grandparents, had made with God at Mt Sinai. That generation had broken the covenant and died in the wilderness, their bones bleaching beneath the harsh desert sun, because of unbelief and disobedience. Now he was standing before the children of this generation to make a new covenant, one that ratified their promise to keep the covenant of Mt Sinai. It was the same unconditional promise God made with Abraham, "I will be your God, and you shall be My people". God continued to show Himself faithful to fulfill His promises regardless of the faithfulness and obedience of His followers. This was Moses' final call to covenant and final reminder to the people to never forsake God, to love Him, to be faithful to Him alone, and to deal with one another in a truly human way.
For forty days Moses stood before the people exhorting them to follow the covenant. He rehearsed the Law and emphasized certain aspects of it, reviewed their desert experience, revealed their future course, taught them a new song to remember the covenant, blessed the twelve tribes, then prepared to die. As he rehearses the covenant and Law another theme permeates the book of Deuteronomy; that of loving God. Not only were the people of Israel to be holy, which is the theme of Leviticus, but they are now called to love God.
Moses was teaching the people that obedience to God was not only keeping the law but obeying out of love for God (6:4-5).
"Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the LORD is one. You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might."
Gentry states "[This] is the greatest among all covenant stipulations: to be completely devoted and loyal to Yahweh."
Gentry and Wellum in God's Kingdom Through Covenant describe the importance of the heart to Hebrew thought; the heart was the center of a person. It was the place of reasoning, thinking, emotions, decision making and plans, much like how the Western world defines the mind. There was no eighteen-inch gap between the head and the heart, but a place where the emotions, mind, and will operated in harmony.
The soul denoted the place of desire and longing. The Psalmists describe this well. "How lovely is your dwelling place, O LORD of hosts! My soul longs, yes, faints for the courts of the LORD. My heart and flesh sing for joy to the living God (Ps 84:1-2). And in Psalm 42:1 "As the deer pants for flowing streams, so my soul thirsts for God, for the living God." It is the place of deep longing and desire that must be filled to go on living.
The strength to love God was not in power, might, or physical ability, but to love exceedingly, greatly, to the fullest extent. This could be retranslated as "You shall love the LORD with your choices and plans, with your emotions and what you desire and long for. And you shall do this to the fullest extent."
Moses was calling the people to a way of life centered on Yahweh, not simply a set of rules that had to be strictly followed. Israel was commanded to love the LORD, to obey, to be faithful to Him alone. But from the beginning of time God has given people a choice. Who will you obey? Who will you love?
In Deuteronomy 28 Moses lays out a list of blessings for obeying God and curses for disobeying God. God makes it very clear what will happen.
"These are the good things that will happen if you keep me as your God and obey me, and these are the very bad things that will happen if you abandon me and start following other gods."
As Moses begins reciting the list of blessings he describes how they would come upon the people. It wasn't that blessing would be a part of obedience but that blessings would "overtake" them (28:2). This verb has a rich meaning. God would see to it that these blessings would pursue Israel like a hunter relentlessly pursuing his prey. They would be inescapable and would come upon them when they weren't looking for it or expecting it.
He then lists the curses of disobedience. Notice that the list of curses is about four times as long as the list of blessings. Why? I think it is because of God's mercy. He wanted to warn them as clearly as possible with many signs that life had gone astray and was heading for trouble, while there was still time to correct it. In this long section, he is writing again and again, “This will kill you!" When read through in one sitting, the curses are absolutely devastating. The same verb is used with the curses that was used with the blessings—they shall overtake you. Israel may have attempted to avoid the curses and escape them, but it was impossible. The curses were pervasive in nature and touched every area of life. They include physical discomfort and sickness, confusion and frustration, fear, plague, drought, economic collapse, defeat by one's enemies, growing isolation, family breakdown, exile to a foreign nation, and much more.
Following the list of blessings and curses Moses says, "I call heaven and earth to witness against you today, that I have set before you life and death, blessing and curse. Therefore, choose life, that you and your offspring may live, loving the LORD your God, obeying His voice and holding fast to him, for HE is your life and length of days, that you may dwell in the land that the LORD swore to your fathers, to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, to give them." Deut 30:19-20
Israel's history of covenant obedience followed an expected trajectory. They had times where they followed the Lord, but even more, times when they failed miserably. The dilemma was that they missed something Moses had taught in Deuteronomy, obedience to God comes through a relationship with Him. Moses repeatedly communicated the prerequisite of relationship. He stated in verse 20 that their evil deeds stemmed from the fact that they had forsaken God. They did not serve the Lord with joyfulness and gladness of heart (v. 47) but instead became ungrateful. They did not fear "the glorious and awesome name" (v. 58) of the Lord their God.
[...to be continued...]