Daily Office for May 30

May 30, 2007

Daily OfficeToday’s Old Testament lesson is Deuteronomy 4:25-31:

When you have had children and children’s children, and become complacent in the land, if you act corruptly by making an idol in the form of anything, thus doing what is evil in the sight of the Lord your God, and provoking him to anger, I call heaven and earth to witness against you today that you will soon utterly perish from the land that you are crossing the Jordan to occupy; you will not live long on it, but will be utterly destroyed. The Lord will scatter you among the peoples; only a few of you will be left among the nations where the Lord will lead you. There you will serve other gods made by human hands, objects of wood and stone that neither see, nor hear, nor eat, nor smell. From there you will seek the Lord your God, and you will find him if you search after him with all your heart and soul. In your distress, when all these things have happened to you in time to come, you will return to the Lord your God and heed him. Because the Lord your God is a merciful God, he will neither abandon you nor destroy you; he will not forget the covenant with your ancestors that he swore to them.

Why in the world would I choose this lesson to write about?  Well, for those who have been through seminary or EFM, no good reason.  But I think there is a lot about the Bible that can be helpful to everyone, not just those with an interest in formal Biblical studies, and I think this text– this otherwise rather plain text– is a great example of it.

First some background on where this occurs in the story.  This is set in Deuteronomy, after the Exodus, when Moses freed the Israelites from the bondage of slavery in Egypt and led them through 40 years of journeying in the wilderness seeking the promised land, a land flowing with milk and honey.  Now, in Deuteronomy, they are ready to cross over into the promised land, and before they do Moses is reminding them of their responsibilities to Yahweh as they move into this land.

Now that’s not really very interesting.  What is more interesting is that about 1000 years later, Israel would fall siege to Babylon and would be exiled into the lands around the region (diaspora).  Deuteronomy was not written until that time period.

Yes, that’s right– while it presents itself as a book originating at the time of Moses (around 1500 BCE), it in fact was not authored until nearly 1000 years later (sometime around 500-600 BCE).  There are a lot more layers to the story– monotheism was not quite the same concept that we think of today, and worship practices (along with the whole shape of Canaan/Israel) changed much over those 1000 years.  A very short version of a very long story is that slowly, towards the end of the monarchy in Judah, Israel began to see monotheism as an exclusive practice and the worship of any other gods or idols bringing Yhwh’s wrath on the kingdom.  Prior to that, things weren’t so simple.  The Canaanite pantheon of gods was commonly interchanged with the Israelite, particularly in the North– Baal is the son of El or Elohim, which is sometimes used for God in the Old Testament (while Baal is a common idol demonized in the Old Testament– some Psalms to God can even be found in ancient Canaan literature as poems to Baal!).  King Josiah initiated “reforms” in the South, when he “found” a book of law (2 Kings 22:8), and thus much of what we now have seen redacted to be the ‘revised’ origins of our history came to light in view of the new theological outlook.

So you should have a new take on this passage, knowing that the true audience for this text was not an audience of slaves fleeing Egypt, but an audience of Israelites wondering what was happening to their nation (which was synonymous with their religion), hoping for salvation as they were forced out of their country and into foreign lands with foreign gods.

Now read the passage again and see if it takes on new meaning:

When you have had children and children’s children, and become complacent in the land, if you act corruptly by making an idol in the form of anything, thus doing what is evil in the sight of the Lord your God, and provoking him to anger, I call heaven and earth to witness against you today that you will soon utterly perish from the land that you are crossing the Jordan to occupy; you will not live long on it, but will be utterly destroyed. The Lord will scatter you among the peoples; only a few of you will be left among the nations where the Lord will lead you. There you will serve other gods made by human hands, objects of wood and stone that neither see, nor hear, nor eat, nor smell. From there you will seek the Lord your God, and you will find him if you search after him with all your heart and soul. In your distress, when all these things have happened to you in time to come, you will return to the Lord your God and heed him. Because the Lord your God is a merciful God, he will neither abandon you nor destroy you; he will not forget the covenant with your ancestors that he swore to them.

The compilers of the first parts of the Bible frequently edited (redacted) the history in light of their theological view.  These parts (from Deuteronomy through 2 Kings) are called the Deuteronomistic history.  (Similar redactions (from a slightly different point of view) occurred in the first four books of the Bible by other writers.)  One of the biggest mysteries and wonders of the Bible is that conflicting and congruent voices have been left side by side in the text– whoever compiled the text did not take any effort to make it cohesive but left it as a diverse text with diverse theological points of view.

And that’s the reason I think it is so important for the Bible to be taught in this historical-critical way– too many people take the narrative at face value for its historical truth.  The Bible is simply not a historical document.  Example after example exists where the author uses narrative to make a point, which has nothing to do with historical truth.  But not being historically true does not invalidate other truths that are contained within it.

For example, in this brief passage is a wonderful reminder that even as we may, from time to time in our brokenness, wander from God, God is always there.  From there you will seek the Lord your God, and you will find him if you search after him with all your heart and soul. In your distress, when all these things have happened to you in time to come, you will return to the Lord your God and heed him. Because the Lord your God is a merciful God, he will neither abandon you nor destroy you; he will not forget the covenant with your ancestors that he swore to them.  We could pick apart the translations and maybe use words that are a little more modern, but in the end the point is that God is always there for us and doesn’t leave us.  Ever.  We might try and leave God but God doesn’t leave us.

That’s a truth that doesn’t change.  It doesn’t matter that Moses didn’t say it.  It doesn’t matter that the truth was written 1000 years after the it says it was.  It is still true.  It is scary for some folks to let go of the historical truths and embrace the deeper truths that the text holds for us.  But the truth is, those are the most valuable lessons that scripture has to show us.  Jesus didn’t teach in absolutes– he taught in parables.

Maybe there was a reason for that.

j

Advertisements

One Response to “Daily Office for May 30”


  1. […] often do we hear about the original intent of Nicea?  It’s a little like this post, where I wrote about the original intent of Deuteronomy.  “The Tradition” seems to, […]


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: